There was a knock at the door. I excused myself from my family at the dinner table to answer the door. It was two traveling “evangelists.”

They said they were on “a mission for God.” I said “Thanks, but we are believers.” They said, “Oh? What church do you go to?” I told them, and they proceeded to tell me that they had the real truth, implying that my church was suspect.

I tried to be polite and told them our family was having dinner. They ignored any hint and pressed on. They were arrogant and rude. It was as if they needed another notch on their religious belts. I said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and refused the literature they tried to pass off and closed the door. Personally, I give them a “A” for effort and an “F” for “speaking the truth in a spirit of love.”

The Apostle Paul addresses this issue in 1 Timothy 1:5-9. He says to young Timothy, “The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love—love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God. Those who fail … set themselves up as experts on religious issues, but haven’t the remotest idea of what they’re holding forth with such imposing eloquence.”

The good news about God’s love in Christ is very special. But it can be fragile and subject to abuse. And not just by zealots of sectarianism. In fact, some of the best pastors can slip into preaching the gospel in a way that communicates law. I know—it happened to me!

Sometimes we preachers get under stress. There’s a lot of challenges in ministry. However, that often can bleed over into the tone of our messages. We can preach the gospel in such a tone that it comes off as law—scolding, instead of healing.

Paul explains this in verses 8-11. He says, “It’s true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say.”

I’ve counseled pastors who are under stress. Their sermons have the right words, but the tone of their speech is accusatory, like scolding. This is an approach to lose members. However, the real issue behind the issue is stress—and the preacher may not even know it. So, share the good news of Jesus, and make sure your tone of voice is love.

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