I was speaking one night in a church around the theme, “God’s Great Gift of Salvation.” I was to spend the weekend there teaching through the book of Ephesians. The particular passage from which I taught talked about how that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world and how He has sovereignly bestowed redemption and revelation upon us. The text is one of those times when the Apostle Paul scaled the heights of heaven in describing God’s grace. It is a majestic passage. I taught the text in an expositional way. I dissected what the Bible says, examining the key words in the verse. I used relevant illustrations of what the text taught. I spoke with enthusiasm about the glorious grace of God. The people were responsive as I spoke.
After the service, I was having coffee with a few of the members when someone commented about the message: “That was good, but what we need in our church is something practical.” “Are you aware that I’m teaching verse by verse through the book of Ephesians?” I asked. “Yes,” he answered. “Did I teach what the passage said?” I continued. “Yes,” he answered, “but maybe it would be good to show us more practical application of truths like that.”
I felt frustrated by his remark. I was only in the first chapter of Ephesians. The passage I had taught was doctrinal, not practical. The Bible (Ephesians included) is filled with practical instruction. But it also contains passages which are primarily doctrinal in nature. I wasn’t sure how to respond to his criticism. I wanted to respond graciously, but I wasn’t sure how to tell him that I thought he was wrong.
Later, after I had forgotten about the incident, I was reading the Bible in Numbers 11. God had given His people manna (an Old Testament type which pictures Jesus) to fill their hunger and meet their need. Then I came to Numbers 11:4 where the King James Bible says that the people “fell a lusting” and said, “Who shall give us flesh to eat?” Suddenly I thought about the man’s comment who had spoken to me from church.
“Who shall give us flesh to eat?” Yes, that’s it. Sometimes people are at a place where the manna (Jesus) isn’t enough. They “fall a lusting” and they want flesh. That’s the trouble with legalism – it is never satisfied unless there is an ingredient telling me what I can do or must do. To simply celebrate what Jesus has done? That becomes tasteless very quickly to one addicted to the taste of flesh.
Practical preaching is important, without a doubt. But the insatiable appetite to be told what to do every time we come to the Bible is wrong. Yes, the Bible speaks about behavior – in places. But sometimes we need to forget about what we are to do or not do and simply celebrate and worship Him for what He has done. That can be very practical.
Don’t fall under the deception of thinking that you must be told what to do every time you hear a sermon, under the illusion that you are being “practical.” Maybe those of us who preach the Bible need to just share pure, undiluted grace with the church until Christians are broken from their addiction to flesh and learn that Jesus really is enough. Let’s do it, pastors. Let them cry for flesh, but have the courage to give them only grace.