As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. When this comes-and come it will!-then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” — Ezekiel 33:30-33
Again we are considering how people respond to the word of God. Now, obviously, Ezekiel was a true prophet, called and empowered by the Spirit to speak the truth and bear witness with regard to the plan and purpose of God. A part — possibly the main part — of a prophet's job is to convey the meaning and significance of events. Ezekiel was telling his people that the capture of Jerusalem and the deportation of its inhabitants was more than merely a demonstration of Nebuchadnezzar's military prowess. God had sent Babylon against His own people as a chastisement, a means of confronting with their failures and of correcting them.
Paul reflects upon the purpose of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16, saying, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness ...". The Bible is great literature, though the beauty of its truth far surpasses the beauty of its words. It contains some history, but, more importantly, it contains historical insight. It gives a truthful and reasonable revelation of the creation of man (though not a scientific explanation), but it also shows the end and destiny of man, which is far more vital.
Those who are preaching the truth are generally compelling, though not necessarily dynamic speakers. We are all familiar with Jonathan Edwards' sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" as a seminal work of American literature. As a Baptist kid I would have imagined Edwards declaiming with characteristic preacher "ah-oooom" sing-song style. I was a little amused when I later learned that Edwards would never have done anything so crass. He read his sermons directly off the page, rarely even looking up at the congregation. There was no drama in his delivery. He would have considered such a thing ungodly. Edwards simply used the power inherent in Scripture to bring his congregation to its knees. The story goes that many hearers were stricken with conviction and/or terror to the point that they clung to the columns in the church, so vivid was their fear of falling into hell.
But even the preaching of "hellfire and brimstone" can become more entertainment than enlightenment. This was the case with those who heard Ezekiel. He was not preaching easy, smooth, or pleasant things, yet people who listened to him were not being transformed nor were they being prompted to obedience by the unalloyed truth. Ezekiel was merely an entertaining novelty act, a plate-spinner. How many can he keep in the air at once? How many will fall and break? Though mesmerized by his "act", they put no more value his message than they would have on a clever song. Some people seem to think that having a pastor or teacher who talks really tough and is uncompromising a kind of evangelical status symbol. Others may flock to churches where holiness is emphasized in order to inoculate themselves against either hell or conviction.
No matter how hard a person preaches or how much the sermons center on our sinfulness, our need for redemption, the power of the Cross, or any other biblical truth, the word will have an impact on us only if we take it personally and seriously. I have some family members who are following a very questionable and detrimental path of conduct. They are, nonetheless, prominent members of a local church. One of the neighbors who attends the same church remarked that the pastor "preaches right at them", but it elicits no apparent conviction or response. This brings to mind a couple of points. The first is that it would be much more effective for the church to ask them to step down from positions of leadership and influence until their behavior is consistent with their testimony. That's not going to happen since they currently control the deacon board.
(As an aside, I hate deacon boards in the typical Baptist/Assembly of God church since they are really "boards of directors". Biblically, deacons are servants under leadership — not decision-makers.)
The second thing that bothers me about the neighbor's statement is that she needs to receive the word on her own. I am not saying that this person is not living in obedience. Rather, it is always a distraction and a temptation to judge others when we start to think that someone else needs to hear what is being said or read. If God is speaking to me from Scripture or through someone else, my first thought should be to figure out how the word applies to me. I will not say that I have never received a "word" for another person — but usually it will be a word of encouragement rather correction or reproof.
If I find out a friend is involved in some flagrant misbehavior such as cheating on a spouse, I need to tell that person that he or she is wrong. That is pretty obvious. Paul tells us that if someone is caught in any transgression, the spiritual should "restore him in a spirit of gentleness". He tells us to be careful for such actions are dangerous for the one doing the restoration, "Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted."
We have to be careful at all times to maintain an attitude of humility, to never think we are better than the ones who are failing and faltering. Nor are we to think that we are immune to such transgressions. As the old song goes, “it is me, Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” Jesus did not say not to help our brother get the mote out of his eye. He simply warned us to, first, remove the log from our own that we might see clearly to help. If I realize that I am blinded by the massiveness of my own problems, I may be less likely to criticize others for their minor irritations. If I cannot see, I have to hear.