I preached from James 3:1-12 last Sunday on the tongue. It was a difficult sermon to preach, because who feels adequate to speak the Word of the Lord and who is perfect (especially with regard to the tongue?), and I am sure it was difficult to receive. That it was hard to receive is evidenced by the grumbling and complaints some (I must add, very few) had about the sermon. Those who complain, though, tend to be the ones who need the message the most.
Many don’t realize how hard it is to preach sermons that warn and rebuke. Too many people assume that the preacher loves to get in the pulpit and let go with both barrels. No doubt many preachers do, but the conscientious preacher who is diligent to preach the Word, rather than his own ideas and opinions, is aware of how far short of the mark he falls.
However, the faithful preacher (faithful to the Word, I mean), is still faced with the task of confronting others with the Word just as he has been confronted. Such challenges produce growth (and there is no growth without challenge) but the preacher has two difficulties facing him: (1) While everyone wants to be liked, the true preacher of the Word must seek to please Christ rather than men; (2) It is hard (most of the time) to preach stern messages to those you love, just as it is hard to discipline your children. (And it is interesting how both John and Paul use this image for the relationship between pastor and people). The Proverbs say, though, that if you rebuke a wise man he will love you afterwards (Prov. 28).
The preacher has to remember what Barth said about Jesus’ statement in Matthew 12:36 that we will give account for every idle word. Barth says that as true as that is for everyone, how much more true is it for God’s messenger who stands before God’s people and speaks, “Thus saith the Lord!” May I not be found ashamed in the Day of Judgment.