How many times have you heard it said, “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger!”? From those guys who deliver court summons to the preacher in the pulpit, this has been the plea of many a person who is tasked with delivering news that may, or may not, be well received.
In times of war, messages were often sent to the enemy camp through some unlucky fellow tasked with delivering it. Who could forget that scene from ‘Gladiator’ when a headless messenger is sent back on his horse to the Roman army from Germania, to have Russell Crowe quip in response, “He says, ‘no.'”?
I think this axiom is especially pertinent in regards to preachers, who are called to be heralds of the Word of God in a world and a culture that is increasingly hostile to anything, or anyone, that would seek to restrain its unbridled will. It reminds me of Pauls’ warning/admonition to Timothy in 2 Tim. 4 when he is told to be ready to preach the Word “in season and out of season.” Surely, the Word of God is becoming increasingly “out of season” and by remaining faithful to its truths, many a messenger has been shot at!
But before we simply clear the table and absolve all ministers of any responsibility, there is something more that needs to be considered. Imagine this scenario:
A herald or a messenger is given a message of woe to return to his own army or city. And what if that messenger then, out of fear of retribution, or perhaps for hope of some sordid gain, changed or altered the message somehow, either as a false declaration of peace or even a ‘close’ victory that needed more financial support to be successful.
How would you then treat such a messenger if the truth of their actions were to be discovered?
One of the recurring themes of the Old and New Testament is the subject of false prophets or false teachers. In the OT we see “prophets for hire” like Balaam in Num. 22 destroyed by God b/c of their unfaithfulness. In the NT we see Paul go all “Driscoll-in-the-old-days” on a false teacher named ‘Bar-Jesus’ in Acts 13 saying (while “filled with the Holy Spirit”), “You son of the devil, you enemy of righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”, after which he strikes the man blind! Jude describes these false teachers as “hidden reefs” (v.12) and “wandering stars” (v.13) – two nautical references that would have devastating impact on a vessel at sea – as well as those who, “pervert the grace of our God.”
James reminds all who would seek to be God’s heralds in chapter 3 of his epistle that, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”(James 3:1 ESV) It should be painfully evident to all that – in the midst of faithful men and women seeking to herald the good news of the Gospel – there are those who would willfully and maliciously “change the message”, either out of fear of condemnation or for their own personal gain (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Such false teachers may try to shamefully hide behind such a statement of, “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger!” But in light of the massive weight that Scripture puts on messengers – when the truth of their actions is discovered – in fact, this is exactly what you should do!
*note understanding the world we live in today (and seeking here and now to relieve myself of any legal entanglements) let me state here plainly that i am NOT suggesting that anyone should literally “shoot” anyone! I am rather here speaking in a spiritual and metaphoric sense only.
“With the weak sheep you cannot be too gentle. With the wolves you cannot be too severe.”
– Martin Luther