“‘What is the chaff to the wheat?’ says the Lord. ‘Is not my Word like a fire … and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’” – Jeremiah 23:28-29 (NKJV)
In one of Aesop’s fables, the wind and the sun debate which of them can take off a man’s coat. When the wind tries to blow off the coat, the man wraps it around him tighter. The wind is cold and sharp. However, when the sun tries the man quickly takes off his coat. The sun is warm and inviting.
I used to think the sun was how Christians should approach evangelism, but it’s worldly wisdom. Many so-called Christians today say they don’t like preaching to unbelievers. They just don’t want to beat the Bible over sinners’ heads as if it were a hammer. Their own words show that the Word has no place in their lives; it’s not rooted, abiding, and growing in them (John 5:38, 8:37). That’s a scary thought.
Still, preaching is a necessity. The Great Commission commands us to “preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15) and “repentance and remission of sins” (Luke 24:47). Sinners can’t hear the gospel without a preacher (Romans 10:14-15). Preaching the cross of Christ is foolishness to this world, but it “save[s] those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). So Christians who refuse to preach are disobedient. They don’t know the heart of God either – evangelism, missions, saving the lost.
Preaching also displays divine power. In the beginning, “God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). The sustenance of the universe, and of all mankind, hangs on a word (Job 34:14-15, Hebrews 1:3). So Christians who hate preaching don’t know its power.
The Word of God produces different reactions in different people. To obedient believers, the Word is like dew, rain, and milk (Deuteronomy 32:2, 1 Peter 2:2). God wants them to grow spiritually. To disobedient ones, it’s like a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). God wants to produce repentance and spiritual separation. To unbelievers, however, the Word is like fire and like a hammer (Jeremiah 20:9, 23:29). God wants to melt and break their hard hearts.
The fire and hammer of God’s Word is a colorful metaphor, but it has roots in real life. Like the Ethiopians then and now, ancient Jewish stonemasons built a fire on top of a large rock in order to soften and split it in half. They then used hammers to break these halves into small pieces. Through this process, the stonemasons obtained material for their buildings.
Physical buildings are nothing next to spiritual ones. Our God is a master builder. He wants “living stones” in his “spiritual house” so that his children “can offer up spiritual sacrifices” through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4). So God uses the fire of his Word to melt sinners’ hearts, his hammer to break them. Through repentance and salvation, they become “living stones.”
Unbelievers don’t respond to spiritual dew and rain. Besides, they need to be born again in order to drink the Word like milk (John 3:3-8). So the gentle method preferred among some Christians today doesn’t work. It’s not getting the job done. Sinners aren’t being saved. God knows what these people need. He knows their stony hearts must be melted and broken in repentance. If a sinner feels “the Bible hammer” on his heart, then God is trying to break him spiritually.
By refusing to preach the Word to sinners, we’re just standing in God’s way. We have “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men”; we don’t let them enter in, but we don’t go in ourselves (Matthew 23:13). So who are we to think that we know more about salvation than God? That is arrogance, for which we must repent. Maybe some Christians don’t like God’s “Bible hammer” because their own hearts are hard. Yet no Christian should have a hard heart. God’s heart is soft. Ours should be too. Hard hearts signify disobedience and sin. So we must repent.
Every time we approach sinners, we should ask God what he wants us to say to them. Maybe sinners need the Word of fire to soften their hearts. Or maybe they’re ready to receive “the Bible hammer.” Let us give it to them. We may gain a brother or sister in Christ.