Tony Woodlief | Author

On the separateness of preaching and healing

Preach and heal. This is what Christ asked of his apostles, before sending them out in pairs:

“And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matt. 10:7-8)

Churches struggle to conjoin them. People struggle, don’t we? You want to love this self-destructive person you happen to care about, which is a miracle in itself because it can be so hard to love, and yet you love him all the same, in his brokenness, in his need, and surely this love must come from God, for you are just a sinner, after all, selfish and fallen. But how is it love to tell him the pain-filled truth, which is that in his lust or sloth or despair he is deeply, unrepentantly rebelling against God? How can a loving person even believe such a thing?

Preach to him? No, I’ll just love him. He’s already heard plenty of preaching from those whose hearts are shrouded by doctrines, by self-righteousness. I’ll love him, and my love will be my witness.

But this, even though it is borne of an earnest desire to show compassion, is arrogance. Christ, who is God, who is love, labored himself to preach, even to the point of driving away the bulk of his amassed followers. If Christ, who was first described as “the Word” by John, who later declared himself a sword dividing families—if the Savior who is God did more than witness himself through loving acts, then who are we to imagine we can shirk that duty?

But we are tempted to do so, especially when the one we love has been hurt—we know this because he recounts it to us in tears and fury—by others who have preached at him. We’re even tempted to tell ourselves that his troubles stem less from his rebellion, his refusal to submit on this one small point that should hardly matter to a God who is so big and loving and mysterious, than from the people who judge it sin. Love must rule the day. Love.

Some broken people you want to love, and other judgmental people (even though we know in our hearts that this, too, is a form of brokenness) you want to give a double-barrel of exegesis. They’re too literal or too narrow or too expansive, they are too . . . something, the chief characteristic of which is that they disagree fundamentally with you about what the Bible means, you with your great love for God and your many years of study and your membership in a church that really pursues Jesus.

Some we want to shield from preaching, and others we want to scorch with it.

In our omissions born either of selfish affection or angry righteousness we neglect the fullness of the commission itself, which is to preach and to heal. Worse, sometimes we confuse one for the other. We imagine healing comes solely from preaching the Bible’s truths at someone, or we imagine that a testimony of the truth can come solely from our compassionate care and acceptance. We make ourselves Christ when we do this, and more even than Christ, who himself submitted to the need to do both.

A question all we who seek to be doers of the word and not hearers only, then, is how we might both preach and heal. Sometimes this means we will cause someone to feel wounded and angry, which hurts us in turn, because it appears to be living proof that we have been unloving. Other times it means that we will let dirty, sinful, awkward people into our lives and homes and churches, which means we’ll confront our own ugly feelings towards them, which means confronting the ugliness that dwells within our own darkened hearts.

All of which is why, I suppose, Christ said to take up a cross rather than a party hat.

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