“When He entered Capernaum again after some days, it was reported that He was at home. So many people gathered together that there was no more room, not even in the door way, and He was speaking the Word to them” (Mark 2:1-2).
The pastor walks to the pulpit, opens the Word, and reads that text. Closing the Bible, he peers over his spectacles at his congregation–filling perhaps half the pews in the auditorium–and begins.
“Did you see what happened here? The word got out that Jesus was in town and people rushed to hear Him. You don’t read anywhere about them being told to come. There are no commands given here for those people to assemble together. And yet, they came. They overflowed the house, so eager were they to meet Jesus and hear His Word for them.”
“Now, contrast that with people today. They just don’t come to church like that. If they did, we would not have room in this building to hold all the people.”
From there, this man of God who holds a black belt in guilt, slams the people who did get up and come to church today because some did not.
This is the cheapest kind of preaching. And the easiest.
Take Luke 2, for instance. After the angels announced to Bethlehem’s shepherds about the birth of the Christ “lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths,” these sheep-tenders looked at each other and said, “Let us go even unto Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has come to pass.”
They left their sheep and hastened into the city, running from stable to stable until they discovered the one with the little family and a newborn. And they worshiped.
The angels did not command the shepherds to do anything. “This is how you will recognize Him,” the angel of the Lord said.
In preaching this passage, I love to point out that the angel gave the shepherds a certain amount of credit. Surely, if they knew where to find the newly-born Messiah, they would drop everything and go there. And they did exactly that.
What we must not do however is extrapolate too much about our present situation from that instance. We are not shepherds, the pastors are not angels (okay, in one sense they are, but in a literal sense they are not), and Jesus is not visibly and physically in the church building. And so, I the preacher will have to watch myself lest I heap guilt upon my people for “not dropping everything and coming” to church every time we announce a meeting. Come to Christ for salvation and worship? You bet.
Guilt-inflicting is so easy to do. And let’s admit the obvious here: Some people seem to have a need to feel guilty. They are forever begging (or harassing) the preacher to “Preach on sin.”
The Mark 2 incident is a great story for many reasons. But what it does not do is give the preacher an excuse to harp on church attendance.
I can guarantee that if the people of my community or yours had not seen the Lord or heard anything about Him for centuries and suddenly He was rumored to be in town, speaking at this very moment down at Peter’s house, half the population would drop everything and try to crash that party.
In former days when the only Scripture available was the KJV, some preachers did something else with our text. When the four men brought their paralyzed buddy to the house, the KJV says they could not get in “for the press,” meaning the press of the crowd. No one was leaving. But we hear that some preachers used this as an excuse to preach against the media, aka “the press.” Cheap guilt, and not supported by the text.
How does a church member guard against allowing a teacher or preacher to load them with guilt for no reason?
1. You need to know your Scripture.
2. You need to know the Lord and how He operates.
Our Lord said the Holy Spirit would “convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8). First, it’s the Lord’s job to convict about sin, and not mine. Second, notice the three areas given here: SIN because they do not believe in me (the sin of unbelief), RIGHTEOUSNESS because I am going to the Father (His presence made people feel guilty; now that’s the work of the Spirit), and JUDGMENT because the ruler of this world has been judged (Satan has had it).
Those who love the Lord do not shrink back from the nearness of God through the Holy Spirit, but are overwhelmed by His goodness and His love.
3. You need to know how some preachers operate.
The preacher who specializes in guilt-production most often teaches very little scripture. In most cases, such a man will read scripture only until he finds a jumping off place to light into one of his tirades.
If you have a choice, move along and find another preacher, one who will preach the whole Word of God, not just his pet theories and favorite verses.
4. You need to stay humble before the Lord and always be willing to ask, “Are you speaking to me today, Lord, through this message?”
God can use any speaker He pleases, even a donkey. He can get His word across by any means He chooses. A sign of maturity in the believer is that we are always open to Him, always listening for His Word, and always willing to obey Him.
There is a good guilt and we should learn to appreciate it.
If I am embezzling funds from my employer and the pastor preaches on avarice and greed, I should feel guilty because I am. If I am lusting after my neighbor’s wife and the pastor preaches on guarding one’s heart and devoting himself to his own marriage, I should feel guilty because I am guilty. If I am missing church regularly, I should feel guilty without the pastor having to say a word. If I am not reading God’s Word or praying or loving my neighbor or helping the weak, I am in violation of specific instruction from the Holy Word and my guilt is a sign the Holy Spirit inside me is making me aware and urging me back into the path of righteousness.
If I can sin and not feel a twinge of guilt, something is bad wrong.
“The Lord disciplines (chastens) whom He loves” (Hebrews 12:6). He “punishes every son whom He receives.” In fact, “if you are without discipline–which all receive–then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (same text)
People who study these things tell us a child feels loved when the parent punishes him/her for rebellion or transgression. It’s a sign the parent has the child’s best interests at heart. This is why Proverbs says, “He who spares the rod hates the child” (13:24).
Be thankful for well-placed and timely guilt: The Father loves you.
Reject cheap guilt, manufactured by a teacher or preacher with bad mental health out to manipulate his audience.