One of my favorite preachers told how he would reply when someone would come out of the audience after services and ask him, “Were you preaching at me?” He said he would ask them, “Well, did it apply to you?” In other words, if what he taught applied to them, then, yes, he was preaching at them. Not that he had targeted them, but that if they perceived that what he was teaching was targeting them then it must have been something they needed to hear and to which they need to respond.
When I teach biblical principles, whether in a public lecture/sermon or in an article for the general public, I am not targeting any specific individual or group. Of course, there are times in my speaking and writing when I am making a point about something a specific group – or even an individual – might have taught or promoted. Because the point is directly connected to a specific group or individual I will name them in connection to that point. But, even then, I am not necessarily targeting that group or individual. I am making a point, in connection with teaching biblical principles (positive or negative), with broader application than to just that group or individual.
But what about when I describe certain conduct to illustrate either the positive expression of biblical principles or the negative rejection of biblical principles? I am not “naming names,” so to speak, I’m just describing certain actions. But someone recognizes the described conduct as describing something in which they are involved. When that recognition is of a positive expression of biblical principles, the person will very rarely ever make mention of it. There is simply the humble acceptance of edification in knowing they are doing things they are supposed to be doing in obedience to their King. It is almost always when someone recognizes the described conduct as a negative rejection of Christlikeness that they will ask, “Were you preaching at me?”
Likewise, when someone says, “Were you preaching at me?,” it is almost always asked as though a response of “yes I was” would be offensive to them. But the simple truth of the matter is if the message applied to you, then, yes, I was preaching “at” (i.e. “for”) you. If the message brings to your awareness something that may be hindering your healthy relationship with Christ, why would you be offended by that? Shouldn’t that be something that is appreciated and responded to in a positive manner?
Consider Peter’s message to the general assembly of Jews on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14). Peter described how the Jews in Jerusalem had rejected Christ and campaigned for His death (Acts 2:22-23, 36). He flat out charged them with unlawfully murdering the Son of God! Were they offended by Peter telling them straight to their face that they had killed the Messiah? No! It says they were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). That is, they were deeply hurt by their own guilt of being part of a group that had so rejected their own Messiah. Keep in mind that the Jews in Peter’s audience were from a wide variety of locations (Acts 2:5, 7-11). During the three and half years of Jesus’ ministry, they would have been in and out of Jerusalem for the feast days and may or may not have been fully aware of everything that was going on with Jesus and the Jews around Judea and Samaria. Yet they were still “cut to the heart” because they belonged to the group, were under the leadership of the council, that had condemned Jesus to death. They recognized their guilt and wanted to know how it could be forgiven.
Peter most definitely had been preaching right at them! And they were very hurt by the message that Peter presented. Yet they were not offended by the message. They “gladly received his word” (Acts 2:41). Rather than being offended at Peter they recognized their own guilt and wanted to know what to do to be forgiven. When Peter told them (Acts 2:38), they “gladly” responded by doing what he said.
There is another example of those who were “cut to the heart” by the preacher’s message. In Acts 7:51f, Stephen most definitely preached right at them! Acts 7:54 says that “when they heard these things they were cut to the heart…” But, rather than recognizing their own guilt with a desire to be forgiven, they were offended at the preacher. They raged against the messenger, crying out against him and even “stopping their ears” (Acts 7:57f). They cast him out and stoned him to death!
So, when you’re made to wonder, “is he talking about me (us),” ask yourself why you might think that. Is it because you recognize described behavior that applies to you? And, if so, how should you respond to that? Will you respond the way Peter’s audience did on Pentecost, or will you respond as did Stephen’s audience? If you have to ask, “Is he preaching at me?,” the answer is probably “yes.” Not because I’ve decided to target you for some reason but because the biblical principles being discussed do apply to you. Again, how will you respond?
I want you to know that I am always available to you. If you have any questions or comments about anything you read in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me. I always appreciate hearing from you.