Years ago, while living in Barcelona, Spain, a Chilean preacher mentioned a phrase that I’ll never forget. He said that “Jesus didn’t tell people what they wanted to hear but rather what they needed to hear.”
A perfect example of this is found in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. After Jesus miraculously fed a multitude of five thousand, He realized that they were following Him not because they believed His teachings but because He fed them (John 6:26). Perhaps they believed that Jesus was a walking supermarket and that from then on they wouldn’t have to worry anymore about working to obtain their sustenance. Their interest was not spiritual but material. They didn’t appreciate the meaning of the miracles as a sign from God that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
There were at least two things that the crowd needed to hear: (1) they must come to Jesus for His teachings (John 6:44-45), not for food, and (2) they must be united with Christ by means of His sacrificial death (His “flesh” and “blood”) in order to receive eternal life (John 6:53-58). One takes advantage of this sacrifice and enters a spiritual union with Jesus upon being immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins (Romans 6:3-8; Acts 2:38).
Likewise, the faithful gospel preacher must tell people not what they want to hear but rather what they need to hear. He must “preach the word” and not satisfy the listeners’ “itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:2-3). He must strive to please God with the message that he proclaims rather than men (Galatians 1:8-10).
He must “be ready” to tell people what they need to hear “in season and out of season,” that is, whether or not it is convenient to do so. Instead of “be ready,” other versions say, “be earnest” (YLT), “be urgent” (ASV, RSV), or “insist” (GNB) upon proclaiming this message. According to the inspired writer, Paul, sometimes preachers have to talk about things that are not agreeable to people. After all, no one likes to hear that what they are doing in their lives does not enjoy God’s approval.
What we really need is someone who will tell us plainly what God’s word says, who will “give it to us straight,” even when the message highlights our sins and encourages us to repent. Like Jesus, a faithful preacher of the gospel will always tell us what we need to hear because it’s for our own good!