Why the Preacher Got Run Out of Town

The 260 Journey
The 260 Journey
Why the Preacher Got Run Out of Town

Day 119

Today’s Reading: Romans 2

Haddon Robinson tells the story of a lumber business settlement in the West, during the American frontier days. As the town grew, the citizens wanted a church, so they built a building and called a minister.

One afternoon the preacher spotted some of his parishioners dragging logs that had floated down the river from another village onto the bank. The owner’s stamp was marked on the end of each log. To his shock and dismay, the minister saw his members sawing off the ends where the owner’s stamps appeared.

The following Sunday he preached on the commandment “Thou shall not steal.” At the close of the service, people lined up and offered enthusiastic congratulations. “Wonderful message, Pastor.” “Mighty fine preaching.” “Keep up the good work.” It wasn’t the response he expected, so the following Sunday, he preached on the same commandment, but gave it a different ending. “Thou shall not steal. Thou shall also not cut off the end of thy neighbor’s logs.” When he got through, the congregation ran him out of town. While the church shouted, “Amen!” to “thou shalt not steal,” they gave the pastor a one-way ticket when the “thou” became “you.”

Romans 2 is about to get close to the heart of us all. Like that Old West pastor, the apostle Paul is about to address us cutting off the end of the logs with the owner’s stamps on them:

You have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? (Romans 2:1-4)

Later on, Paul says: “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?” (Romans 2:21-22).

The apostle Paul is challenging us to be careful about condemning others for what we do ourselves. It’s exactly what the congregation did that ran their pastor out of town. They cheered about not stealing but were doing it themselves. They loved the sermon on others not stealing but not the one on their theft.

It’s like the saying I heard recently, “We are very good lawyers for our own mistakes and very good judges for the mistakes of others.”

Paul’s challenge is for us to look no further than our lives. The church in Rome sees the sin issue as what others do but not what they do. Paul has to get them—and us—to practice some self-introspection.

When you speak as Paul did, people will cry out, “You’re judging me!” Always remember that correction is called judgment by those who don’t want to change their behavior. When someone says, “You are judging me,” they are using a smokescreen to avoid change.

Challenging people’s immoral lifestyle is not popular today. Rick Warren diagnoses why it’s a problem in our country. Consider these profound words: “Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

Verse four is what blows me away in Romans 2. Paul essentially says, “What’s incredible about God is that you will see His goodness on your life while you are living a duality of life, and yet God is still there.” Paul is saying that we must not misinterpret the goodness of God as the approval of God on our actions. God’s goodness is to get us to turn from our wicked ways to Him.

The verse in the Contemporary English Version reads: “You surely don’t think much of God’s wonderful goodness or of his patience and willingness to put up with you. Don’t you know that the reason God is good to you is because he wants you to turn to him?”

As someone once said, “Truth is like surgery. It hurts, but it cures. Lies are like painkillers. They give instant relief but have side effects for a long time.” Not only does our society need an injection of truth, but you and I need it too. We need it to start with you and me.