How does it feel to proclaim the word of God to the people around you? How should it feel? I think, if you get an honest answer from a faithful pastor, bitter-sweet will be the most likely answer. It is a joy to be used of God to speak truth. But it hurts. Truth is not always pretty. Some things that we must say in order to be faithful to the Lord are things that are uncomfortable, things we know will wound, things we know will be rejected.
If it seems strange that I would say this about the role of the preacher, or in fact the role of any believer speaking the word to family or friends, remember that this is the view seen in Scripture.
Revelation 10:8-11 – 8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9 So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10 And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. 11 And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
The image of John eating a scroll in Revelation 10 is a picture that borrows from a similar picture in Ezekiel 2-3. In both instances, a man of God is given by God a scroll with the word of God for those around him. In both cases, the prophet is to eat the scroll and then prophesy. In both instances, the prophet acknowledges the sweetness of that scroll when he consumes it. And there is an accompanying bitterness in John’s case, a sourness to the stomach that the words cause. In Ezekiel, the Lord simply follows the eating of the scroll with a reminder that the people will not listen.
Let me suggest two things to learn here. First, the proclamation of the word of God will not be without joy or pain. There is joy in preaching. There is joy in the truth of the word. There is joy in the God whose word we proclaim. But there is also sorrow. There is sorrow in the ugliness of sin. There is sorrow in the judgment many face. There is sorrow in the rejection of the word of God by sinful people who will not hear. This is to be expected.
The other thing that I want to suggest that we need to learn is that this pairing of joy and sorrow should be for us a check of our hearts and attitudes. There are some among us who find no joy in the word. That should make you wonder if your heart is really open to the word and the working of God. There are some who find great joy in proclaiming the word, but who feel no sourness, no sorrow in the proclamation of the word. What would that mean? I fear that, for some, it means that the heart of the preacher or Internet expert is hard. If you love to proclaim with boldness where others are wrong, where others are failing, where others are destined for judgment, yet if you have no feeling of sorrow for the lost or for those in error, if you lack compassion, there is something dreadfully wrong with your heart.
Christians, here is truth. Proclaiming God’s word will carry with it sweetness and bitterness. There will be both blessing and judgment in the word you must proclaim. You will both encourage others and you will call others to repentance. Some will hear you and some will face the judgment of Almighty God. And I would suggest that, if your heart does not feel either the joy of the Lord or a heavy compassion for sinners, something is amiss. Examine yourself. Ask, which of the two emotions do you more lack when you proclaim truth? Do you lack joy? Do you not love the word? Or do you perhaps lack sorrow? Do you lack kindness and compassion toward those you must correct? Do you too easily want to run from proclaiming hard truth? Do you too easily run to judgment without sorrow, kindness, or understanding?
I think what John experienced when he ate the scroll is what we all should have in our mouths and in our bellies when we speak the word of God to a church in need of correction or to a world in need of a Savior. May our hearts feel sorrow for those who face judgment. May we not gloat in making others look foolish or in pronouncing their doom. And may we shine with the joy of the Lord and embrace the sweetness that the word of God is the true and loving revelation of the Lord for his glory and our good.