When You Don’t Believe What You Preach
Every preacher faces an occupational dilemma. It is the task of trying to build another in the faith when in fact, it may be that the preacher’s faith which may be weak. So, a preacher (I am including myself) preaches a message to encourage a believer, but may not fully believe the message that they have preached.
Thankfully, there are many great preachers to look at within the pages of scripture. I take comfort in this fact. I also find that God does not give us a ‘re-touched’ image of the preachers, prophets, teachers, and apostles of the past. In fact, scripture paints a very real picture of the circumstances that surround them and often their level of faith and expectancy from God. I find this especially true of the Apostle Peter. From a preacher’s perspective, Peter gives me hope in the sense that I don’t always live out what I am preaching, but rather in many cases, I struggle to live out the Christian life with the upward call of God in Christ. Peter is someone who I can look to because, in one small – yet crucial aspect of his understanding of scripture, did not fully believe what he preached until the Lord made it clear to him in a special way.
Let’s consider some text out of Acts 2 where Peter preaches (publicly for the first time) in the power of the Holy Spirit and 3,000 people are added to the church in Jerusalem. If we examine Peter’s message, we discover some preaching that Peter himself did not fully believe at the time, but would believe later. Let’s consider the following scripture:
‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people,and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.’ Acts 2:17
A quoted above, Peter recites scripture found in Joel 3:1-5. This is clearly a reference to the indwelling presence of God through the Holy Spirit made available to all, irregardless or race (the Spirit made available to Jews and Gentiles). This is what Peter preached on the day of Pentecost. Yet, when we come to Acts chapter ten, eight chapters later, we see that Peter did not yet believe that the gospel with the power of the indwelling Spirit of God was for the Gentiles. In fact, God had to graciously give him a vivid object lesson in order for him to believe that the gift of the Spirit was for all people (Act 10:1-22).
It was only after the lesson in the vision and Peter’s obedience to the Lord that Peter finally understood the text out of Joel that he preached on Pentecost. For we read the following In Acts chapter 10:34-46:
34 Then Peter started speaking: “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, 35 but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)– 37 you know what happened throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 with respect to Jesus from Nazareth, that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of all the things he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him up on the third day and caused him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by us, the witnesses God had already chosen, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to warn them that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 About him all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were greatly astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Looking at the example found in Acts 10, we see that the Lord was trying to let Peter in on the reality of the Gentiles to receiving the Spirit. For, the Spirit was for all people, as Peter had preached on the day of Pentecost. Yet, it is not until Acts chapter 10 that Peter fully realizes and believes the prophetic promise in Joel 3; namely that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all people.
When you examine the chapter of Acts 10 some more, you can see that Jesus, the great teacher, gave Peter an object lesson to deal with his crisis of belief. Often, in our own lives, Jesus will deal with our own levels of belief in a similar way. He will often give us gentle, clear, relatable, and compelling object lessons to help us with our own unbelief. When God makes our own unbelief clear to us, the gospel can spread and the Holy Spirit can really fall on the lives that God intends to touch.
So, what is the lesson for the preacher? Well, you could always believe what you preach the first time. Yet, this is easier said than done. We strive to take God at his word and obey. Experientially, this is is where the Lord leads us into all truth by the power of the Spirit. Old truth (The promise of the Spirit prophesied in Joel) becomes animated by the Spirit to become new truth realized (The Spirit being received by Gentile believers). God continues to do the revealing and the uncovering in our lives as we submit to Him. The Spirit makes the old new and uncovers what was once secret. God, in his sovereignty, even uses the unbelief of the preacher to see people believe in Him. Ultimately, it is His truth that transforms us as we believe it, obey it, and partner with it in seeing people come to know Christ.