1 Cor. 3 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (1 Co 3:20–23). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Because preaching is really, at its heart, a spoken literary form and not a written one, I find myself sometimes looking for the right word even as I am preaching the sermon. I don’t write manuscripts much anymore because I fell away from them when my vision was getting worse before my corneal transplant surgery in 2000. I literally could not read a sermon in the pulpit and then have the vision to finish the service. Somewhere in there, I discovered that I could preach without a manuscript and came to realize that most of the preaching in Acts was extemporaneous as well. (This does not mean that those sermons still didn’t have certain commonalities which mark true preaching, such as the crucifixion/resurrection of Christ and the preaching of Law and Gospel).
But this means that I will be preaching along and all of a sudden have to find a word which sums up what I need to say, quickly. I consider it part of the fun of preaching. It happened yesterday at the late service.
I was preaching about how even the Church is guilty of preying on the consciences of Christians by demanding more and more of them. Church Growth started this legalistic obsession by emphasizing numbers, but as the numbers continue to dwindle, too many Christian pastors have simply amped up the legalism. The result? Christians can’t let their heads hit the pillow at night and be thankful for what did get done. They have to continually beat themselves up with what was left undone. And I can hear plenty of sermons I have heard preached by others right now. “The world’s dying all around us…get busy! Christ is coming soon! Get busy!” While there’s some truth to this, you won’t get good works out of Christians you’ve just clubbed to death with the Law. Have we read Romans 7 recently?
Hence, I needed a word to describe what we were missing. That word was…
The smiles I saw out in the congregation were telling me that it was the right word. Not a word easily defined, it is probably best described as an onomatapeia–a word which sounds like its meaning. I don’t think the congregation could have defined the term (neither could I) but we still understood its meaning.
Just saying the word “umph” forces us to stick our guts out and get the sound of the word from our diaphragm. To say “umph” requires “umph.” It’s a word which comes from down deep.
In the Bible, mercy and compassion itself comes from “down deep.” The word for “compassion” in the Gospels is the word for “bowels.” When Christ has compassion and heals a sick person, he does so from down deep. He does so from the guts.
Remarkably, that’s not where compassion comes from in modern conversations. We tend to think it comes “from the heart.” Not in the Bible! It comes from down deeper. It comes from the gut. As Pastor Matt Harrison wrote wonderfully in his book, “Christ, Have Mercy,” showing compassion is “going with your gut.”
When we pressure Christians with endless legalism to do more and better, we’re not reaching the gut. In fact, legalism like that barely gets past the ears. I don’t think it gets even to the heart except in the form of guilt over not getting things done. The Law is a mirror. While the Law does have other functions, it always accuses.
Enter Christ, who always speaks a better word. Christ’s absolution of our sins defeats the Law’s (and the devil’s) accusation. And it sources our compassion and mercy for others. The Good News is the “umph” we need. The early church, the church in the book of Acts, is not operating on the legalism of today’s church (as well as the legalism of our more secular prophets such as Oprah). The Gospel speaks to the heart of the matter. The Gospel moves us to go with our gut. It is the Church’s “umph.”
I earnestly implore my brother pastors to seek to preach the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit provide the umph. Perhaps with this legalism heard too often from today’s preachers, we are attempting to do too much. Often when we try too hard, we fall far short. Christ, Him crucified and resurrected, our sins forgiven, this is the Church’s “umph.”
What sets the Church apart? Certainly not legalism. That’s what everybody else does. We have a better word. A word which provides “umph.”
The Lord bless your day.