In my humble opinion
Is there a difference having an opinion and being opinionated?
Recently it has been difficult to have or express our opinions on certain issues.
For Christians these issues include theological distinctives and religious customs and practices.
Living as God’s ‘salt and light’ in our everyday world there are many more issues that can generate conflicting opinions. Gender ethics, racial justice, and political integrity are issues that produce many potential battlegrounds.
One of the challenges at this time is that it is possible that the whole storehouse of a person’s wisdom can be cancelled by expressing an opinion that is perceived to be out of step with the prevailing viewpoint.
There are dangers in adopting both minority and majority viewpoints. There can be a mindset that if something is unpopular it must be authentic. It can be an elitist approach that looks down on those who are not so enlightened. Sometimes there can be a reason why so many people disagree with us; it is that we are wrong. There can also be an approach to the majority view that assumes: “How can so many people be wrong?”
The biblical story of the twelve spies who are sent on a reconnaissance trip to Canaan reminds us that the truth cannot always be determined by an opinion poll.
Ten of the spies said that Canaan was beautiful but that the opposition made victory impossible. By contrast, two of the spies put their heads above the parapet and issue a minority report:
“We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (Numbers 13:30).
This is a particular challenge for the preacher. People take note of our opinions on everything. Preachers are public people. Our words are heard and sometimes scrutinized. Preachers need to take care what they say in tweets, posts and blogs.
Each Sunday there is the expectation that we will speak a word from the Lord. The problem is that this word from the Lord gets mixed up with our words. That is of course the way that Christian communication works. Preaching is in the words of Phillips Brooks: “Truth through personality.”
Preachers are not like plain glass windows. They are more like stained glass windows. When the sun shines through all the rich variety of their personalities, background, quirks and opinions are displayed with astonishing clarity.
How can I hold opinions but avoid being opinionated?
We need a check list:
1. Is this an issue on which Christians disagree?
It is important to be honest about such issues and indicate what we think Scripture has to say about the issue, but when equally Bible-believing Christians take an alternative view it should counsel caution and humility when we state our own.
2. Am I expressing myself with sufficiently clarity?
Most often when I have got into trouble for what I have said in my sermons it has been because I have not been careful about what I have said. We cannot afford to speak about sensitive issues in a rushed off-the-cuff manner.
3. Have I sufficiently distinguished between what Scripture is saying and my opinion of what Scripture is saying?
It is important to realise that if everything is a die in the ditch essential, then nothing is.
4. What is my motivation for saying what I am saying?
Am I simply trying to get something off my chest or am I motivated to serve both the interests of truth and the good of all the people?
I guess that preachers need to learn to preach in such a way that when we are preaching on what every Christian believes we do so with clarity: “Preach the word.”
Yet when we are offering an opinion we do so in a manner of “for what it’s worth.”
Well that’s my opinion!