Though it’s been 25 years since I graduated seminary(No I’m not that old I’m just that much wiser), I can remember like it was yesterday Prof(Howie Hendricks) telling us that at weddings and funerals to always preach the Gospel. Since then it’s been forever etched in my mind. To me it’s part of being in Gospel ministry. To fathom anything other would be unthinkable. I mean, what else can be more basic than to be able to proclaim the Evangel, the Good News of free and full forgiveness found in Christ alone, especially when you have an audience of people who may not even grace the door of a church building other than on such occasions.
However, to many today, that is a foreign concept. You have to explain why it is important that on such occasions as weddings and funerals the proclamation of the Gospel ought to be part of the ceremony. Many people actually get offended.
I recall a few years ago at a wedding where I gave the charge to the newly married couple. I addressed them from Colossians 3:12-14 about the character qualities they are to put on, one of which is forgiveness. That was my springboard into the Gospel. I talked about the need for forgiveness, highlighting the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. I encouraged the audience to take to heart their need to turn to Christ alone by faith for forgiveness and not to postpone this all important response to the Gospel.
At the reception one lady left her table at one point and came and sat next to me at my table. I could tell from the body language and the facial expression that she was distraught about something. She was offended that I gave the Gospel because in her words the wedding is to be a joyous occasion. I did not apologize to her but rather explained to her that as a minister of the Gospel I am to proclaim the Good News, especially at such opportune times as a wedding.
More recently I was at a funeral where the pastor did a great job teaching the portion of Scripture he chose to encourage the family of the deceased and the believers in the audience concerning the perseverance of the saints knowing that the deceased was a believer who suffered the last few years of life. His text was Revelation 14:13. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” He said that in a hurricane of judgment this is a most strange place for a beatitude and that true believers persevere and this is not a command or a suggestion, but a biblical statement. But He did not preach the Gospel for anyone in the audience who needed to know about salvation in Christ.
I was speaking to someone about this and their response was, “I know faith comes by hearing, but…”.
At a recent wake, I had the privilege of preaching the Gospel. After offering my condolences to the family I spoke from John 11 about the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus alone is the resurrection and the life. I said that God is holy and just to punish sin, and because we are unable to do anything to reconcile ourselves to God, Christ did it on our behalf through His substitutionary death and resurrection. I said that our response is NOT to trust in our morality, or in our religion, or in our baptism, or in our pastor, or in our priest, BUT to trust in Christ alone!
So if you are a pastor who does weddings and funerals, here are some guidelines. Consider this your pastor’s handbook.
- As Romans 12:15 delineates, make sure you rejoice with those who rejoice(weddings) and weep with those who weep(funerals). Be pastoral. Show affection. Shepherd them. Both privately and publically.
- Preach the Gospel. By this I do not mean as some may think to play the hymn “Just As I Am” 20 times and have an altar call for people to come forward. What I do mean is present the content of the Gospel and leave the results to God. Here’s a basic format to help you with that.
- Who God Is – Holy and Just
- Who Man Is – Sinful, Corrupt, Heart is wicked and deceitful(Jeremiah 17:9)
- Who Christ Is – Lord, Savior, the God-Man
- What Christ Did – lived perfect life; died for sins as a Substitute, rose again
- What is Man’s Response – Repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ(Acts 20:21)
- If the deceased was a believer, mention that to encourage the family concerning the promise of heaven.
- If the deceased was unsaved, do not comment on the state of their soul, but simply address those who are still living, those who need to hear the Gospel.
Weddings and funerals. One a joyous occasion while the other a sad occasion. But both an occasion for being Christ’s ambassador, a herald of the King, to declare the Gospel!