Peril of Smooth Things

by Doug Batchelor


A Protestant missionary who worked among the natives in the South Pacific for several years decided to return to the United States for a nine-month furlough. During this time, he planned to visit several churches and raise funds for their island mission. Before leaving the South Pacific, this missionary persuaded a local chief, who had converted to Christianity, to join him on his trip. This tall chief had an imposing presence with a dark, muscular body that was offset by his broad, pearly white smile. The missionary knew that a living trophy of their mission efforts would greatly impress the church members in North America to give more generously.

Excited about an opportunity to see the famous USA, the robust king agreed to go with his pastor friend to the mainland. When they arrived, the missionary took the chief from church to church. The missionary would show slides of their mission station, then parade the chief in his colorful native costume and tell of his conversion from paganism. However, as they journeyed between churches, the missionary decided to dress his island friend in typical western garments to avoid the gawking of onlookers. It was hard to find a pair of shoes wide enough for the burly native's rough feet, but they finally succeeded. To make their travel easier, the chief also began to eat American food. But after a nine-month whirlwind tour on which they visited scores of churches across the United States, the western lifestyle began to take its toll on the Polynesian king. His feet softened from wearing shoes, and he lost the definition and tone in his muscles due to a lack of exercise. Worse still, because the chief was unaccustomed to such sweet, highly processed, and refined foods, he began to lose his teeth and suffer frequent stomach ailments. By the time they returned to the chief's island home, he had drooping shoulders and soft feet. Where once there was muscle, there was now flab. He had so many missing teeth and such pale skin that many of his own villagers could barely recognize him. He was nearly ruined by "soft living."

Baby Food
In the same way that soft food and soft living make us physically weak, a diet of overly refined and fiberless spiritual pablum produces a church full of weak, infantile invalids. Physicians are constantly reminding us that to be healthy, we must have sufficient roughage in our diets. This also applies to our spiritual diet. Unfortunately, many Christians have been gumming baby mush for so long that they are offended by real food. "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." Hebrews 5:12-14, NKJV.

Tasty Terminology
In North America especially, our brains and bodies are slowly being destroyed by convenience stores, elevators, auto dial, and remote control. This love for soft, smooth living has also begun to infect the church. In this age of fast food, everyone wants a sermonette. (A friend of mine once said that "Sermonettes are for Christianettes.") And so, to secure popularity among their comfort-loving members, many pastors are falling into the same pattern as those politicians who travel from one district to another telling everybody what they think will please them. What follows is a list of some of the smooth and popular (yet poisonous) doctrines of demons that pastors are telling their flocks:

  • Once you're saved, you can't be lost.
  • It's not necessary to keep the literal Sabbath commandment as long as you are "resting in Jesus."
  • The second coming of Jesus might be centuries in the future, so don't be concerned.
  • As long as you pray over your food, you can eat or drink anything without suffering the normal consequences.
  • Abortion is not really killing an unborn baby; it's a "pregnancy termination."
  • Practicing homosexuality is not really a sin; it's simply an alternative lifestyle.
  • God is going to rapture His church before the tribulation, so we won't have to experience any fiery trials.
  • Jesus came to save us with (or in) our sins rather than from them.

In essence, the church is striving so hard to be politically correct and sensitive to the world that it has become indifferent before God!

Calling Sin By Its Right Name
The devil wants to soothe our conscience to sleep, lest we should awake to our peril and turn from our sins. He is afraid that we will discover how lethal sin really is and then start looking for a Saviour! Paul puts it this way: "That sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." Romans 7:13.

My grandfather smoked those pungent Lucky Strike cigarettes for years. He made a few feeble attempts to quit smoking, but because his health was fair, he was not too alarmed and therefore not very motivated. Then one day he was admitted into the hospital for a simple procedure and was appalled when he saw the man in the bed next to him smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes through a hole in his throat. The man's voice box had been removed due to a smoking-related cancer. That was all the motivation my grandfather needed. As soon as he understood how exceedingly dangerous smoking really is, he threw away his cigarettes and has never smoked since. (He is now 86 and still up and around.)

If a doctor is so afraid to upset you that he says you have a touch of poison ivy when really you have leprosy, then he is not your friend. Likewise, as Christians, we should honestly diagnose sin so that it can receive the appropriate treatment. Proverbs 27:6 says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." Ministers and church members alike have a responsibility to faithfully and lovingly warn the world around them that there is a heaven to win and a hell to shun. People need to understand that persisting to live a life of sin will end in eternal and irrevocable loss.

"So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul." Ezekiel 33:7-9.

As we near the end of the world and see the imminence of Jesus' second coming, now is not the time to proclaim smooth things. Every gospel presentation should be saturated with a sense of power and urgency. Isaiah 58:1 admonishes, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins."

Yet Jesus has told us that one of the signs of the end is that the church will be softly singing Satan's lying lullaby, "Rest in peace, in your sins." In 1 Thessalonians 5:3, God says that "when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail [labor pains] upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." I used to believe that this Scripture was speaking only of the world, but now I know that Paul was also warning us of conditions within the church!

The Truth Can Hurt
I have attended too many funerals where I had to listen to the pastor preach the deceased person right into heaven even though the individual had made no profession of knowing or loving God. Later, when I ask the minister about this, his response is usually something like this: "Well, you know, the family is grieving and I thought it would make them feel better." Such men think they are doing people a favor by preaching smooth things, but as a result of their carelessness, scores of others leave the funeral thinking that everyone is going to be saved regardless of how they lived or whether they made a profession of faith.

On many occasions Jesus had to say some rough things-not to be abrasive, but for the purpose of saving souls. And on more than one occasion, droves of followers turned away from Jesus because of His rough statements (John 6:60, 66).

I cannot improve on the following statement from the classic book Steps to Christ: "Jesus did not suppress one word of truth, but He uttered it always in love. He exercised the greatest tact and thoughtful, kind attention in His intercourse with the people. He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness. He spoke the truth, but always in love. He denounced hypocrisy, unbelief, and iniquity; but tears were in His voice as He uttered His scathing rebukes.1

The hard sayings of Jesus were never designed to wound or offend, but rather to save us and help us grow the fruits of the Spirit. Jesus said, "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." John 15:2. And in Hebrews 12:11, Paul wrote, "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."

False Prophets
Jesus has warned us that in the last days there will be many false prophets preaching smooth things (Matthew 24:11). That's why we must know how to distinguish the true from the counterfeit. To take the high, straight, and rough road of biting honesty when everyone else is sliding down the smooth road buttered with popular platitudes requires a rare and unusual breed of courage. In the first book of Kings, we find a story that dramatically illustrates how most people in this world are hungering to hear smooth things; yet God still has His faithful ones who want to hear and tell the truth at any cost.

Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, wanted to recapture the town of Ramoth-gilead from the Syrians, but he needed help in order to take on the superior army of Syria. So Ahab asked King Jehoshaphat of Judah to join him in a campaign against their common enemy. Jehoshaphat said that he was willing to join forces with Ahab but that they should first seek God's council.

Ahab had forsaken the Lord years earlier to worship the pagan god Baal, so he called in 400 hired prophets to come before the two monarchs and prophesy. From their magnificent thrones, the two kings watched as the false prophets, with a loud and dramatic display, said, "Go and fight the Syrians, and you will be victorious!" Judging by outward appearance, it was a very impressive pep rally. But Jehoshaphat remained skeptical and again requested to hear from a prophet of the Lord. With great reluctance, Ahab conceded that there was one prophet of Jehovah still living whose name was Micaiah. But he added, "I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil." 1 Kings 22:8.

Nevertheless, at Jehoshaphat's urging, Ahab sent a servant to fetch Micaiah, the prophet of God. When the king's messenger found Micaiah, he told him, "Behold now, the words of the [false] prophets declare good unto the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good." 1 Kings 22:13. Ahab's servant was advising God's prophet to preach smooth things! Micaiah replied, "As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak." 1 Kings 22:14. Now there's a novel thought! Tell the truth, regardless of the consequences. The brave prophet appeared before the monarchs and clearly told Ahab that if he went to fight the Syrians, he would surely die in the battle. Now Ahab was faced with a tough decision. Should he believe 400 prophets who preach smooth things, or one lone prophet of the Lord who delivers a rough message?

Stubborn Ahab persuaded Jehoshaphat to disregard the warnings of Micaiah and join him in the war. After all, how could one negative prophet be right and 400 optimistic prophets be wrong? Ahab thought he could outsmart the Lord by dressing in full armor and staying away from the front lines of battle. But he learned too late that you can never escape the Word of God. In the midst of the conflict, a stray arrow flying through the air struck Ahab in the joints of his armor, and he bled to death in his chariot. Ahab was killed by embracing the fatal flatteries of false prophets.

Jesus warned, "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets." Luke 6:26. The prophet Jeremiah put it this way, "Believe them not, though they speak fair words unto thee." Jeremiah 12:6.

An Upward Challenge
The apostle Paul tells us that in the last days, one of the characteristics of the church is that members will look for ministers to tell them what pleases the carnal nature-for smooth, easy religion without a cross. He says in 2 Timothy 4:2-4: "Preach the word; Be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." People want a form of religion, but not the power to overcome their sins (2 Timothy 3:5).

In an effort to "give the people what they want," many churches provide bazaars, bingo, and soothing social programs but do not preach salvation from sin. Their sermons are like a saw with no teeth. The sharp sword of God's Word is being replaced with a rubber-coated baby spoon! It's no wonder that people leave such worship services feeling like they have been feasting on molasses. It was sweet to eat, but afterward everyone walks away sticky and nauseated.

Abraham Lincoln was riding home from church in his carriage one Sunday when his secretary asked how he liked the sermon. "Not very much," said the president. His response surprised the secretary because the preacher was popular and most people considered him a very gifted speaker. When asked what the problem was, Lincoln replied, "He did not ask me to do anything great."

The true Word of God will always challenge us to press onward and upward to great things.

Read the Label
As I am aging and becoming more concerned with maintaining good health, I have found myself reading the ingredients on food labels more carefully. "Reading the label" is also a good practice for spiritual shopping. Proverbs 23:1-3 says, "When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee: And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his [Satan's sweet] dainties: for they are deceitful meat."

So what can we do to resist the temptation of gobbling up Satan's sweet but deceptive delicacies?

 

1. Measure all teachings by the Word of God.
"To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Isaiah 8:20.
2. Be willing to do God's will whatever the consequences!
"If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God." John 7:17.
3. Never accept a teaching just because it is popular.
"Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil." Exodus 23:2.
4. Place yourself under a well-balanced diet of spiritual teaching, and feed your own soul with God's Word and other inspired reading.
"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15.

A Faithful Focus
Several years ago, a man living in China bought a microscope. At first he was thrilled with his new acquisition and marveled as he looked at the wonders of flowers and feathers magnified hundreds of times. But one day he made the mistake of looking at his rice under the microscope and saw that it was crawling with tiny creatures. Rice was his favorite food. Very disturbed, the man smashed his microscope with a rock. It had revealed that his rice had bugs, and he didn't want to give up his beloved staple.

We are all faced with a similar challenge. We can either place ourselves under the scrutiny of God's Word and allow Him to boil away the bugs, or else we can turn the microscope of His law out of focus in order to blur our character defects. Those who choose the truth of God over the fancy fables of false prophets will follow the advice found in Scripture: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves." 2 Corinthians 13:5.

May our sincere prayer be like that of David, who said, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23, 24.

1Steps to Christ, p. 12.

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