Hate Evil, and Love Good (Amos 5:6-7, 10-15)
20th Sunday after Pentecost (October 10, 2021)
The other day I received an email from a woman who wrote that she was from out of town had visited one of our services in August. She went on, as she stated, to offer me some advice for my preaching.
She began with an off-handed compliment, “On a positive note,” she wrote, “I want to say that I admire your passion.” Okay, I thought, so far so good. But her “positivity” immediately morphed into scolding criticism, complete with yellow highlighter. She continued, “I do, however, have to take issue with your bringing politics into your sermons. Specifically, you said:
‘What is the greatest threat you and I face today? Is it radical Islamic terrorism from such groups as the Taliban or Isis? Is it drugs and gangs pouring in to our country through our southern border? Is it the aggressive and expansionistic actions of China? Is it the Deep State or a feckless and incompetent President? Or, as the ever present environmental alarmists continue to insist, is the gravest threat to the world’s population today global warming, or climate change, or whatever the latest term being employed to refer to the environmental Armageddon they insist we are heading for?’”
She then offered the following “advice”: “I recommend you confine your topics and examples to faith issues, biblical issues, good works issues, and the like. You lost me, and I suspect I was not alone, when you ventured into politics. It doesn’t serve you well to disparage the leadership of your country either. I can only wonder what you must have said in the years 2016 - 2020.”
Her comments leave little doubt where her own “political views” lie. In fact, from them it appears that in her mind what made my comments unacceptable and “political” is that they didn’t square with her views.
I have found that pretty typical with all of us. We all have a tendency to feel that others who express their views are just being political and divisive but when we express our views we are just exercising our rights to free speech!
One critical point this emailer failed to acknowledge in her critique, however, is that aside from those three sentences she found “political,” the rest of the 20 minute sermon was in its entirety an exhortation to fear the loss of faith in Jesus Christ and the salvation He alone gives us more than anything else. Hardly a political message but certainly one of gravest spiritual and eternal importance!
All this leads me to ask: What does it mean for a preacher to be “too political?” I can certainly concur that it is not my place in a democratic republic like ours to be advocating for certain candidates for political office. That would be playing politics instead of preaching the Gospel. Citizens are certainly free to vote for whoever they deem to be best suited for the office. I would also have to admit that speaking derogatorily about a leader or other authority would be breaking the Fourth Commandment and dishonoring them. I sincerely ask God that in His mercy and for Jesus’ sake He forgive me for those times I have done just that in my private life as well as in my preaching.
However, it is certainly worth asking if raising questions about the morality or wisdom of policies or laws enacted by political leaders is being too political? Are called Christian preachers of the Gospel, when they utilize the clear Word of God, not allowed to call attention society’s sins or call to repentance society’s leaders who even God considers and names as “His ministers”? (Romans 13:4-6).
If such preaching truly is too political and as such out of bounds, then someone should have told the prophets of old who not only called their own priests and kings on the carpet for their moral failings and ungodly decrees but even publicly chastised and condemned foreign leaders and nations.
Likewise, someone should have told John the Baptizer that he was being too political when he very publicly and fiercely called the Jewish Tetrarch Herod Antipas of Galilee and Perea to repent of His adultery with his brother’s wife. And, yes, someone should have chastened Jesus Himself for being too political when He frequently, and very publicly, preached against the false teachings and practices of the Scribes and Pharisees, calling them “white washed tombs” and “a den of vipers,” let alone when he took it upon Himself, not once but twice, to chase all the sellers and moneychangers out of the Jerusalem temple.
Holy Scripture calls God’s prophets; that is, his called and appointed preachers, His “watchmen.” We read in 33rd chapter of Ezekiel: “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.”
In our Old Testament Reading this morning we heard from a fiery prophet named Amos. He certainly did not confine himself to “faith issues, biblical issues, good works issues, and the like.” As we see in the small excerpt of his preaching that serves as our focus today, here he is boldly proclaiming God’s judgment upon his whole society for its idolatrous practices, as well as its unjust system of taxation whereby the rich are favored at the expense of the poor. He rails against the total corruption of the whole judicial system which had no penchant for the establishment of truth and true justice but was mired in bribery and the total abandonment of the needy. He rails: “Seek the LORD and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel” (v. 6). How about this for being “political”?
In my view at the heart of all that Amos preaches here, as well as what is right and proper for you and me to preach and proclaim in our very politics driven society today is his counsel to: “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate…” (vs. 14). After all, effective warnings of evil do indeed require true passion! (By the way, this verse along with v. 15 are at the very center of Amos’ whole book. He is thus signifying that these two verses lay out the central theme of his whole prophecy. (Concordia Commentary; R. Reed Lessing, CPH, 2009, p.333))
In Amos’ day and society, the city gate was the place where the city elders would make their judgments and legislate what is good and right for how the people should live, transact business and conduct themselves in the worship of God. Central to it all is the right and judicial distinction as to what is evil and what is good. No city could prosper or even survive if its elders were not principled men of integrity, wise in the ways of God’s Word, and courageous men of conviction who could clearly discern and name good from evil.
Then, too, being Yahweh’s chosen people guided and governed by His Word, the very definition of good they were taught to know is of and from the only true God (Yahweh), the Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the true and ultimate Judge of Heaven and Earth, the only Redeemer and Savior of Sinners, and the One who from the beginning had promised to come Himself in human flesh and save fallen man (Gen. 3:15) Evil, therefore, is not what everyone can decide for himself or herself, but it is that which is in opposition to Yahweh, His will and His Word.
Likewise, if preachers today, God’s watchmen, cannot or will not point out clearly and directly in their preaching what in their society and world is evil and what is good in the sight of this true God then they may as well hang up their Bibles and vacate their pulpits. For they are useless to the world, unworthy of their calling, an offense to the truth and even a detriment to people’s eternal salvation.
At the same time, the proper articulation of good and evil cannot happen if the one preaching, or the one pointing to the wickedness, does not personally hate the evil and love the good. Just calling something evil or good is not enough. Just like the speeches by speakers with no passion for what they are saying simply go in one ear and out the other of the hearers, so simply calling something evil or good without the obvious hate or love for that evil or good will move no one to do anything about it.
We hear and bemoan this all the time on the part of so many of our leaders, politicians, and, yes, even so called pastors. Depending upon the audience they are speaking to, they will gladly identify certain policies or actions as either evil or good but they rarely seem to do anything about it because they have no conviction for it. All they seem to be passionate about is getting reelected or securing advancement or keeping their positions.
Jesus said to the church at Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold or hot. I wish that you were either one of the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold- I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Rev.4:15,16).
It is causing me grave concern today that we Christians are losing the ear of our society, as well as, losing the cultural war that is going on all around us. Why is this? In my estimation it is because we are impassionate about what is truly good and what is truly evil. Oh, we might preach and teach The Ten Commandments, as well as other injunctions in the Holy Bible to ourselves. And, yes, we might proclaim the true Gospel of Jesus Christ in church or in our classrooms. But when we are presented with public “pulpits;” like family gatherings, discussions with friends and neighbors, public meetings wrestling with the vast array of public policies, we all too often remain silent under the guise that we do not want to offend anyone.
Truly in certain volatile circumstances in order to keep a sense of order and civility the better part of wisdom would be to reserve our comments for a more opportune moment. But often our silence at those times when we do have the opportunity to give a clear witness to the truth stems from our own cowardice or lack of passionate conviction for the truth ourselves. For example, do I really hate the evil of abortion, which murders innocent children, if I insist that I personally view the practice as wrong, but I defend the right of a woman to choose an abortion? Or how about when those who legislate our laws signal that they are going to pass a law prohibiting the teaching that human beings are either male or female and I say nothing? Do I really have any passion at all for God’s truth? Do I even care? Where is my passionate love for God and His Good, created, order?
I’m afraid the same cannot be said about the advocates of these evil philosophies and practices we condemn or those who oppose what we preach as true. They are in our face with their bully pulpits in the mainstream media, at community meetings and on social media. They have no problem passionately expressing their love for what God clearly calls evil or their hate for us and our Biblical preaching!
Amos was quite passionate in his confrontation of the enemies of truth in his day, acknowledging their hate for truth and righteousness and calling them to repentance. He proclaimed: “Seek the LORD and live, lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel, O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth…”
The aggressive and passionate opposition to God’s truth and godly righteousness being exhibited today by such groups as the Black Lives Matter, supporters of critical race theory, the LGBTQ community, as well as heterodox Christians, who deny clear teachings of the Bible and proclaim a false gospel of salvation which is nothing more than a permissiveness to do evil, cannot be fought with mild-mannered reason.
These enemies of God are passionate in their love for what God calls evil and in their hate for what God calls good. Their hatred of good and love for evil must be met with our passionate love of God’s good and a hatred of what God calls evil. That’s the only way. Jesus did not give up His life to save us and all sinners so that we should remain silent in weak resignation! If we have no passion for His truth we will hardly put forth much effort to proclaim the truth of Christ, which alone can set you and me and all people truly free from God’s impending judgement! (John 8:32).
If people criticize us for being too passionate or too political, or call us evil itself, or try to silence us, publicly harass us, humiliate us, or even attempt to physically assault or imprison us, so be it! The One who endured the shame and suffering of the cross that we might be declared right in the only court and before the only Judge that eternally matters, has promised us, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
It is true that we cannot make people believe what we know to be true by God’s Word. But neither can we allow the rhetoric and propaganda of those opposed to the truth to stand with any sense of legitimacy. These “anti-truthers” views and claims are not innocuous. If allowed to continue unopposed they will lead people down the road to hell. And this Yahweh truly does not desire. For the truth is He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).
May our fervent prayer be that which Harry Emerson Fosdick taught us to sing in his hymn a few minutes ago, “LORD…save us from weak resignation To the evils we deplore…” (LSB 850:4).