Presented March 11 & 18, 2009 (3 lessons)


                 Most of us are familiar with the phrase, “The positive preaching movement”.  From time to time you might hear preachers warn about it either from the pulpit or in conversations.  But what is it really?  Should we be preaching a positive gospel?  And if so, why is the “positive preaching movement” wrong? What are some of the problems with the positive preaching movement? What should true preaching consist of?  Today, we want to answer some of these questions.


I.                    I.  What is the Positive Preaching Movement?

a.        It is NOT simply preaching sermons with a positive message.  That is something that needs to be done.  The overall theme of the gospel is one of hope and assurance. 
  God IS a God of grace, love & mercy. He demonstrated that love by sending Jesus to die for our sins.
  We have a hope of heaven after this life. 
  People need to be encouraged.  We are to live joyful lives.  That is the ultimate message of the Bible.

b.       It is a philosophy that says that we need to emphasize the positive aspects of the gospel by not directly condemning sin or being overly doctrinal.  It encourages preaching generalizations and lessons which improve one’s self-character (usually through the philosophies of well known men).  The belief is that by eliminating the negative and thinking positively, the positive encouragement will lead one to become more devoted to do what is right on his own.  But more often than not, this does not happen.
Its origins can be traced back to the philosophies of men.  For example, Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the church of Christ Scientist taught that sickness was a result of improper thinking.  Therefore, if you think positively, you can find healing. The business world adopted this philosophy nearly a century ago as well.  Speakers like Dale Carnegie who wrote, “How to win friends and influence people” (1936), presented a positive mental attitude which could lead to success.  (NOTE: I do not deny the effectiveness of a positive attitude in such things. As a rule, we need a positive attitude – which I believe the Bible teaches.  But, that is not the point here.) 
In 1952, Norman Vincent Peale published the book, The Power of Positive Thinking in which he adopted positive business attitudes such as Carnegie’s, but he called the “faith”.  His was a challenge to change your circumstances by first thinking differently.  His concept also involved eliminating negative thoughts which would lead to success.  These matters were applied to material success as well.   The ideas were adopted by many television evangelists (Oral Roberts, Robert Schuler, Jim & Tammy Bakker, etc) who in taught a “health and wealth” gospel.   The process has continued to develop.  Now there is Joel Osteen (Your Best Life Now) & Max Lucado whose many books present mostly the positive elements of the gospel.  But beyond these, it is a philosophy being adopted by many young preachers (and others not so young) even in the Lord’s church. 
(Some of these details thanks to a series of articles by Mike Willis in Truth Magazine, Vol. 31, April 1987).

c.        The movement is VERY successful, and with reason. 
In an article I read, by a denominational preacher, on this subject (he was against the idea of all positive preaching) it was noted that some influences that have led to positive preaching  include 1) that it is the direction society is going in its education and practices, 2) “the current climate in religious circles favors affirmative preaching.  Courses in pastoral counseling point to the advantages of non-judgmental, positive communication.” 3)”The pastor’s own congregation often pushes him to preach affirmatively.  These churches do not choose ministers to change them, but rather those who will confirm them in their current beliefs and practices.”
As a result of these reasons, congregations where such is practiced are more inclusive and therefore appeals to a larger audience. These include many of the mega-churches and others that are growing by the 100s on a yearly basis.  (NOTE: I am not saying that just because a church is growing it is preaching a positive gospel – TT)  It is also argued that because the preacher is less judgmental they are more like to open up to him privately.
If churches are seeking numbers over truth, the positive preaching movement is the way to go.
BUT, hopefully we already know the problem with all these reasons.  Every one of these things is related to a single problem which we shall notice in just a few moments. 

d.       It can be the elimination of all negative preaching.  True “positive preaching” avoids preaching about sin, controversial doctrines , and consequences.  The true positive preacher won’t tell you that you need to repent.  Instead, he will say, “I’m OK, You’re OK just the way you are.”  Furthermore, it

e.       It is the elimination of preaching on CERTAIN subjects which are negative.  Among brethren, this is the bigger concern to me.  Understand that the “positive preaching movement” is NOT necessarily preaching false doctrine.  One who is caught up in the positive preaching movement may not preach anything that is error.  Every word he says may be the truth. He may even throw in the TRUE plan of salvation at the end of his lesson (though some have also eliminated the invitation as well), but when you look at his preaching overall, he LEAVES OUT portions of the word of God.
There are churches that will not preach on certain subjects because they are divisive and upsetting to many within the congregation.   They approach other subjects such as morality in general terms instead of specifics (i.e. they will preach the need to live a moral life, but they won’t mention dancing or social drinking directly, immodest clothing, etc).  M-D-R is to be avoided at all costs. 
The reason - to preach on such might upset some of the membership.
As a result, they hire preachers who hold to these philosophies.  They choose preachers for Gospel Meetings that are popular and/or “safe” when it comes to dealing with such issues.

f.         It is not something that happens over night.  One thing to understand about churches that get caught up in this movement is that the change happens gradually.  At first it is the just the avoidance of certain topics.  But in time this leads to avoiding other topics. Before long, the congregation begins searching for someone whose preaching is influenced by the philosophies of men more than the Bible.  They find someone who uses very little scripture in his preaching.  But he is dynamic, entertaining and well informed about the latest trends in the religious world. The writings of men (such as those mentioned above) are often emphasized more than the Bible itself.  As such attracts crowds and the church begins growing rapidly it becomes necessary to avoid even more topics that might drive away these new members.  So the focus becomes EXCLUSIVELY about the benefits of Christianity.  Sins of society and eternal punishment are to be avoided as topics at all cost.  That is when you have a church carried away with the positive preaching movement.


II.                  II. Problems with All Positive Preaching

a.        It is unscriptural – Why? Because we are to preach ALL of the word of God.
Positive preaching by its nature eliminates much of what the Bible teaches.
1 Peter 4:11, when we speak it is to be “as the oracles of God.”  God spoke both positively and negatively.  Frequently He condemned sinful conduct and attitudes.  In the pages of His word we find STRONG warnings of wrath to those who do not obey Him – Rom. 2:5-9, 2 Thess. 1:6-10.
In Acts 20:27, as Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders he reminded them, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.”  Paul rebuked and became quite “negative” at times.  In fact, he wrote 2 Corinthians to defend he “negative tone” in his first letter (and possibly others)>
2 Tim. 3:16-17 – ALL SCRIPTURE is profitable to make the man of God complete.  Man is NOT made complete unless he applies ALL that scripture has to say.

b.       It is more about pleasing men than pleasing God
Continually, scriptures warn against pleasing men in our teaching and preaching -
  Gal. 1:10, “For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men?  For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.”

  Matt. 5:11-12 in speaking of being persecuted, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake…”

c.        It is often based on selfish motives
Related to pleasing men, true positive preaching is about you.  It is about your wealth, & health.  It is about hearing what YOU want to hear instead of what you NEED to hear.
Often, positive preaching soothes materialistic and worldly attitudes because it ignores what is really needed.  Sadly this is what far too many want when it comes to preaching. 
  2 Tim. 4:3-4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers…”
 Isaiah 30:9-10, “This people is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of the Lord; Who say to the seers, ‘Do not see’, and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us right things; Speak to us smooth things, prophecy deceits.”

d.       It can give a false sense of security
Positive preaching, because of what it leaves out can cause one to think he is saved when he is not.  Consider the prophets in the days of Jeremiah – Jeremiah condemned them because they listened to false prophets who said everything was fine.  Jer. 6:13-14 says, “Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely.  They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, Peace!’ when there is no peace.”
2 Peter 2:18-19 speaks of the great swelling words of emptiness spoken by false teachers who allure those who have escaped from error, “while they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption…”
How can the homosexual know they are wrong unless it is pointed out to them?  How can one living in an unscriptural marriage know such unless it is taught? 
Ezekiel the prophet was given a charge by God to be a watchman.  His responsibility lay in warning the people, not the results.  BUT, if he failed to warn them – God would hold him accountable (Ezek. 3:17-21).  There is a lesson for us a preachers in that!
Paul gave Timothy that same charge, though not in the same words – 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season.”

e.       It leads to ignorance -
Ignorance is a great concern in spiritual matters.  In fact, most of the time it is not good.  You would not want an ignorant surgeon operating on you.  You want him to be informed and you want to be informed.   The same ought to apply to hearing the word of God.
 Hosea 4:6 noted, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
More than once Paul wrote because he did NOT want brethren to be ignorant (1 Cor. 12:1, 2 Cor. 1:8, 1 Thess. 4:13)
Positive preaching by its very nature only tells us half of the story and it leaves out IMPORTANT parts!  In fact it leaves out the part we need – what we need to change about ourselves.
There are certain subjects that by their very nature are negative, but necessary – repentance, the reality of hell, Rom. 8:13, “Put to death the deeds of the body”, condemning division and identifying false teaching and teachers, etc.  When one only preaches a positive gospel he leaves these out.
Failure to warn the ungodly leaves them in their sins and in a lost condition.  And God will hold the teacher accountable as well (cf. James 3:1).
In Ephesians 4:11-16 we find teachers and leaders were given to build up the body so that, “we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of evil potting.” (14) 

f.        It can lead to apostasy -
Every church that ever left God did so by leaving the teachings of the Bible and following after the teachings of men.  Over and over, false teachers are described as predators that take advantage of the ignorant – Romans 16:18 speaks of those causing division being able to do so, “by smooth speech and flattering words deceive the hearts of the simple.”
  2 Peter 2:3 notes that “by covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words…”
IF the truth is NEVER taught on certain subjects (because they are controversial or negative) how will a congregation withstand the false teacher who comes in and wants to allow women in roles God has forbidden, instrumental music, changing the worship and work of the church, etc.?   

g.        It weakens the purity of the church and its members.
We NEED to hear lessons about morality and how to behave ourselves as Christians.  We need to know what is acceptable and what is not.
1 Cor. 6:18-20 warns to keep ourselves pure from fornication.
1 Thess. 5:21-22 tells us to abstain from every form of evil. 
What is a “form of evil”?  We will not know unless we take the time to learn and unless it is preached about! There are reasons Christians should not drink, attend modern dances, wear immodest clothing or go to places where such is worn, etc.  But those reasons will not be known if it is ignored in the pulpit.

h.       It leads to tolerance – tolerance of errors and those teaching errors.
Sometimes in ignorance, but other times simply because of the desire to just get along with everyone – which is a pivotal concept of positive preaching.
The church at Thyatira was condemned because they allowed “that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to…” sin (Rev. 2:20)
The  church at Pergamos was rebuked because they had in their midst those who taught the doctrine of Balaam and others (Rev. 2:14-16).   When false teachers are NOT exposed such will have their way.
Galatians 2:5 notes that Paul and those with him did not “yield submission even for an hour that the truth of the gospel might continue…” when false teachers brought their doctrine with them.

i.         It leads to intolerance – of those who preach what they perceive to be negative.  I am amazed at many of the liberal movements in our society today.
The homosexual movement calls for tolerance of their lifestyle.  The pro-abortion movement calls for tolerance of those who chose to abort their babies.  What is remarkable is while they call for tolerance – it applies to everyone EXCEPT those who disagree with them.
The same is true of those who are call for “positive preaching.”  They don’t want to condemn sin, false doctrine and immorality.  They call for those who differ with them to be tolerant, BUT they will not tolerate those who do condemn sin and immorality and false doctrine on a regular basis. And they are especially intolerant of those who would preach a sermon like this one!!!
The account of Ahab and Micaiah also shows this - 1 Kings 22:8-13 which describes an occasion when Jehosephat, king of Judah visited with Ahab, they inquired about going to war.  Multitudes of Ahab’s prophets said, “Go, you will be successful.”  But Jehosephat said, “Is there not still a prophet of the Lord here, that we may inquire of Him?” (vs. 7).  Ahab’s response was, “There is still one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the Lord; BUT I HATE HIM, because he does not prophecy good concerning me, but evil.” (8)  Later in that text the minions of Ahab plead with Micaiah to tell Ahab good things (13) rather than the truth.  That is how many are today.

j.         It can lead to a lack of trust – if you think about, how can you truly trust someone who will not tell you what you need to hear?  While positive preaching appeals to most at first, in time, when one needs real answers that are not sugar coated, they know they are not going to get them from their preacher.  AND, on the other hand, when one NEEDS to hear something negative that they don’t want to hear – the positive preacher is in a corner where he CANNOT tell them what they need because it is negative, and they just don’t want to hear that.

k.        It DAMNS souls to hell!  This is the ultimate tragedy of this movement.  The sad truth is that many who preach this positive only gospel don’t really believe in eternal condemnation in torments. 
The Bible teaches otherwise – John 5:29, 2 Thess. 1:8, etc.


III.                III.  True Gospel Preaching:

a.        Is from the word of God – NOT the philosophies of men (See above).
  1 Cor. 2:1-5 – Paul’s speech not with persuasive words – he determined to only preach Christ and
Him crucified.  That your faith should not be in the wisdom of man. 
  Romans 1:16-17 – the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation.
  1 Thess. 2:13 – it was welcomed as the word of God.
Brethren, the Bible is not something that we play with.  When we treat her with the reverence she deserves we will NOT add to her or take away from her. We will respect all of it.

b.       Is balanced – presenting both positive and negative topics.
It is the WHOLE counsel of God.
We have spent considerable time identifying the problems with All Positive Preaching, but let it be understood that All Negative Preaching is just as wrong. 
2 Tim. 4:1-2 – we reprove, rebuke and exhort
1 Tim. 3:16, 17 – it is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness.
Col. 1:28, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.
Titus 2:15, “Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority.  Let no one despise you.”

c.        Is what is needed -
As we have seen, all positive preaching, preaches what one WANTS, not what they need to hear.
Paul told Timothy to preach the word in season and out of season – 2 Tim. 4:1-2. 
Nathan told David, “You are the man!” 2 Sam. 12:7.   It is what was needed at the time.
Jeremiah 6:16, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls.’  But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”  Jeremiah preached what they needed.
Jeremiah 11:21 speaks of some who threatened Jeremiah to quit preaching to them.  They said, “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord, lest you die by our hand.”
In my life of studies and preaching, in congregations where I have seen certain subjects avoided I have found that such is usually what is needed to be preached about the most!
For example: A congregation that refuses to take a stand on M-D-R probably has some within its number who are in questionable marriages.  A congregation that will not preach on modesty, dancing, social drinking, etc probably has teenagers who are popular at school who are involved in some or all of those activities.  And the parents WILL take the side of their children over what the Bible has to say.  So they avoid it.

d.       Is timely
There are times when the negative needs to be emphasized and times when the positive needs to be emphasized.  When needed it exposes sin and error.  (BTW, when is that not needed?) 
AND there are times when people are hurting and need to be encouraged and built up.   

NOTE: Some subjects are always timely (unless they are overdone).  We need constant reminders of how to live and how not to live.

e.       Is specific –

                                                   i.       We need to do more than deal in generalities. 
At times we need to identify why a specific activity is wrong.  We need to show in scripture – not just by command, but also by example and inference (e.g.  principles) what one should not be engaged in certain activities.  WE also need to apply this in rebuke when we are not doing what we ought to do (cf. Jas. 4:17). 

                                                  ii.      1 Corinthians 14:8 we read, “For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?  The point of the text is clarity in our worship.  Paul is speaking of how we are to edify one another as we assemble to worship God.  This would INCLUDE the preaching.  Paul is noting that what is said needs to be understood.  Far too many today, especially in the positive preaching movement, preach in generalities that skirt the main problem.

                                                iii.      At times, we even need to name names!  In Acts 2:22,23 – “YOU have taken by lawless hands and crucified”.
Galatians 2:11-14Peter was rebuked by Paul in front of others for being a hypocrite.
Timothy was told, “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all” 1 Tim. 5:20
1 Tim. 1:20, Paul warned Timothy by name about Hymenaeus and Alexander and their danger.
Acts 7:51-53 - Steven was stoned to death for being specific and preaching TO his audience.
Jesus, at times, got VERY specific in condemning the corrupt religious leaders of the Jews

                                                iv.      Paul said, “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” Gal. 4:16

f.         Is preached with godly motives
It is imperative that any one who preaches the gospel or teaches others have a proper attitude.

                                                   i.       We need to teach and preach with love – that means that we care! 
1 Cor. 13:4 describes our demeanor in love.
1 Timothy 1:5 says, “Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from a sincere faith.”
1 Timothy 4:12, Timothy was to be an example in love, etc.

                                                  ii.       We need to be sincere – 1 Tim. 1:5 again speaks of the purpose being from a sincere faith…
2 Timothy 1:5 speaks of the genuine faith that Timothy had.

                                                iii.      We need to humble – James 3:1, teachers will receive a stricter judgment;
1 Cor. 2:1-3 – Paul did not come with excellence of speech
2 Timothy 2:25 – the servant of the Lord must in humility correct those who are in error.

                                                iv.      1 Timothy 6:11 notes a number of attitudes needed in preaching ,”But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.”

                                                  v.       I ask, Why do we think that only “positive” preachers have a patent on such attitudes?  The answer is they don’t!
One thing a gospel preacher must never forget is that his motives are just as important as his message.  When one realizes this, his presentation –whether it be reproof, rebuke or exhortation will be tempered with humility, sincerity and love.

g.        Will offend some people. 
Let us never forget this fact!  Not all are going to receive the truth.  Even Jesus, with His miracles and purity was rejected by the majority. 
To many the truth WILL BE a stumbling block and to others it will be foolishness. (1 Cor. 1:23).  That is just a fact.
Jesus said, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” (Matt. 11:6)
Matthew 15:12-14 the disciples of Jesus tell Him that the Pharisees were offended at His teachings.  Jesus noted that such were not of the plant the Father had planted.
1 Peter 2:8 speaks of those who are disobedient.  To them the teachings of Christ are “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.”

h.       Ultimately when one preaches all of the gospel it is positive.  Let me explain. 
2 Tim. 4:2 summarizes what I am talking about.  We sometimes hear preaching is to be 2/3 negative and 1/3 positive (Reprove, rebuke and exhort).  While there are 3 elements, the text is not exponential about how much of each is to be done.  ALL need to be done as OFTEN as necessary.  The point I see is that such is a process in dealing with sin.  You identify the sin, tear it down and then replace it with what ought to be there.  The ULTIMATE goal is to build up those in Christ.   And if that happens, regardless of the amount of reproving and rebuking had to take place – THE END RESULT IS POSITIVE. 
Why is sin exposed, doctrines and even people marked? Why are brethren to be rebuked when they are overtaken in sin or even when they just become indifferent?  The MAIN reason is to build them up.  But sometimes BEFORE you can build something up, you have to condemn and tear down what is there because it is bad. 
  When a surgeon cuts you, he is hurting you.  But why?  He hurts you NOW so that in the long run you will be healed and your quality of life improved.  It is the end result that prompts the hurt.
Why do (SHOULD) parents punish their children? Because they hope they will learn from the punishment to do what is right. The Hebrew writer CLEARLY pointed this out – Heb. 12:5-11.  God chastens us, as a father chastens his children – FOR THEIR GOOD!  IF a Father beats his child just to do it – that is abuse; If he beats (i.e. spanks) him as punishment to teach him to not do that again – that is love and discipline. 
May we as preachers ALWAYS keep that in mind!  This will regulate our attitude as we preach.  And it will cause us at times to become very NEGATIVE in the eyes of the world.  But the goal is to save a soul – 1 Peter 1:9.


Let it be understood that I am NOT opposed to uplifting messages.  I believe they are needed and there are congregations where they are neglected (i.e. a steady diet of what is wrong without hope and specific answers to overcoming various errors).  But the truth is, one cannot be saved by ignoring the very sins that are keeping him out of fellowship with God.  We need the WHOLE truth!  Paul told the Colossians, “Beware, lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Co. 2:8)

I would love to see a day when we can preach a purely positive message.  That would mean that the problem of sin has been totally addressed and overcome.  It would mean that all brethren are totally united based on God’s word and are all living pure lives.  It would mean that there are no more false religions in the world.  It would also mean that all men have been converted to the gospel of Christ.  BUT we know that in this life that is never going to happen. Satan is always going to be influencing the majority.  We are always going to be struggling with temptations, sin and those hostile to the truth.   Therefore, we must continue to expose error and warn of the dangers of immorality and ungodliness.  We must preach the whole counsel of God’s word.  The positive and the negative alike.  God will accept nothing less.  And neither should we!