A Stricter Judgment

There has been a lot of discussion lately in the news and “around the water cooler” regarding the passing of well-known televangelist, Billy Graham. Many have praised and exalted his life’s work with statements such as, “Heaven welcomes home one of its faithful.” Many have also condemned him as a false teacher, stating he has gone to the place where he deserves to be. When I hear these kinds of reactions, the words of an older preacher come to mind, who said, “You can’t preach ‘em into heaven and you can’t preach ‘em into hell. You leave that for God to decide.” It is, indeed, true that it is not my place to judge the eternal destiny of any individual. That responsibility lies solely with God, for He is the judge of all (Hebrews 12:23).

What I do think about, however, is the amount of influence Billy Graham has had on so many lives throughout the years. How many soul’s eternal destination did he effect? Certainly, no one can deny the impact he has had on the American religious landscape. When I think of Billy Graham, I think of James 3:1, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” He will certainly be held to a stricter judgment. But, that verse also applies to me, as a preacher. I’m going to be held accountable, too. There is a great responsibility to anyonewho decides to teach or preach the Word of God. It can affect the eternal abode of the soul. With all the influence Billy Graham had, there was an over duty to “rightly divide the word,” (2 Timothy 2:15). Did he rightly divide the word of God, or did he lead people astray? To determine that, it puts the responsibility back on the hearers because the Bible also gives us examples of how listeners should respond to people like Billy Graham, or any preacher for that matter, and that is by comparing his words to the words of the Bible. Take the Bereans, for example, “they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so,” (Acts 17:11). We should also consider Paul’s admonition, “Test all things; hold fast what is good,” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). This implies that even the words of an Apostle of Jesus were not above careful, Scriptural examination, according to these verses. How much more so, then, should a modern day preacher’s words be scrutinized?

I wonder how many people, who listened to Billy Graham preach, actually went home and studied the Scriptures to see if what he had said was true? Or, did they just accept him at his word, thereby entrusting their souls to his teaching? I wonder how many do the same with my preaching? We should be reminded of stories like, Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10) who are frightening examples of what it means to ignore God’s instructions and replace them with one’s own thinking. Let their charred bodies be a warning to us that correct teaching, as well as, correct understanding of the Bible is serious business! It matters not, at this point, where Billy Graham is, or what he has said. What matters is what God says. What matters is our personal responsibility to know His will. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven,” (Matthew 7:21).