Overcoming Excuses

By David Stearsman

Last summer at Polishing The Pulpit, I heard a preacher with decades of wisdom make a poignant remark. To paraphrase, the speaker said, as preachers, we should feel like the biggest hypocrites. The reason he gave for making this statement was that we commit sin but have to preach against it weekly. Sin can easily capture us all and only the “author and finisher of our faith” ran the race to perfection (Heb. 12:1-3). It is natural and essential for all preachers to feel a certain sense of inadequacy. Paul said, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16)!”

A good friend (and fellow FSOP alum), Mike Elledge, was one of the finest preachers I have known. He once told me that he did not really feel like a preacher. I have often thought about his statement. I knew what he meant: that he did not feel like typical minister. I told Mike, at the time, that this was a quality he possessed, rather than a hindrance. This was a quality that made him relatable. One of the strengths of FSOP alumni over the years has been the range of personalities proclaiming the truth.

Yet it is possible to take a view opposite of Mike and feel inadequate to such an extent that we do not use our talents. Overcoming excuses is a struggle for preachers, and for all of us who attempt to “walk worthy” (Eph. 4:1; Col. 1:10; 1 Thes. 2:12).

In considering Moses, I am reminded of some of the excuses we make to ourselves, whether in preaching or in daily living. Moses’ early life reflected a God who was willing to care for him providentially as a baby in a basket. He put him in Pharaoh’s court, as an adopted child of Pharaoh’s daughter when Pharaoh demanded to cull the population of Israel by killing all their male infants (Ex. 1:15-16). When the Hebrew midwives disobeyed him, Pharaoh sought to throw all the males into the river (Ex. 1:22). Yet God worked things out so much in Moses’ favor that he ended up being brought up by his own mother, Jochebed (Ex. 2:9), whom his sister Miriam suggested to Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses had a stand-in Egyptian mother as well as one from his own tribe. The beginning of the scenario seemed hopeless, but ultimately turned out to favor Moses.

When Moses came to sense injustice, he killed an Egyptian whom he witnessed mistreating a Hebrew (Ex. 2:11-12). When he later saw two Hebrew men quarreling, he tried to be a peacemaker, but one of the men recalled his killing an Egyptian, so he fled to Midian (Ex. 2:13-15). After his marriage to Zipporah, God appeared to him at the burning bush (Ex. 3:1-6). During this encounter, God reassured Moses that He would be with him, saying He had “seen the oppression … heard their cry … know their sorrows,” and had “come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians” (Gen. 3:7-10). The first visual encounter Moses had with God was for the purpose of reassuring him that God would be with him and his people.

Despite these reassurances, Moses began a series of excuses to God. His first excuse was, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11). According to Acts 7:22, Moses would have been the perfect ambassador, being “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and … mighty in words and deeds.” Even with experience as Egyptian royalty, Moses felt like he was a nobody. God chose Moses because he was the most qualified of anyone to do the job. A Hebrew raised by Egyptian royals who considered his own brethren to be the children of Israel. The excuse was just the cover story. The real reason Moses asked, “Who am I?” was because he feared rejection. He dreaded the scenario with Pharaoh because he anticipated a negative reaction.

Moses then asked God which name He should call God before the children of Israel, to which God responded, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). Would Moses have been clueless about how to convey God to his own brethren? The answer is obviously not, but Moses was more focused on his own personal reputation and feared the reproach of two nations. By this simple answer, God informed Him that the solution to fear and pride was the same: promote God’s name first and He will take care of the rest. A habit in making excuses is to focus on self. If a person is concerned about personal reputation first and foremost, excuses will come when challenges are presented. In the aggregate, whatever good a person does should be done ultimately for God’s glory (1 Tim. 1:17).

In Exodus 4, Moses asked, “But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you’” (Ex. 4:1). Here, Moses felt like he was unconvincing. God then showed Moses three signs to give Moses reassurance in every setting (Ex. 4:2-9), proving His domain was everywhere (Ps. 145:13). Moses would be able to turn his staff into a snake (Ex. 4:2-5), thus holding power over a wild animal. He would be able to make his hand leprous and then heal it (Ex. 4:6-8), showing power through God to heal himself. Finally, he would be able to change nature itself by turning the water from the Nile into blood (Ex. 4:9).

These overwhelming proofs did not put an end to the excuses Moses had ready. He complained that he lacked eloquence of speech, being “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Ex. 4:10). Moses felt inadequate. He is not the only Biblical figure to mention this problem (1 Cor. 2:1, 4), but God was angry with him over the excuse. God answered, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD?” (Ex. 4:11). By finding fault with himself, Moses implicated God in wrongdoing! Like Moses, we sometimes regard our areas of weakness as being crippling to the cause of the Lord.

The problem in such matters is not the recognition of our own shortcomings, but the failure to even attempt to make improvements. The remedy to not being a great speaker is to work on speaking, but some would rather condemn themselves than make necessary resolutions (Mt. 25:24-30). Thus they become their own negative, self-fulfilling prophecy. When Moses requested that God send anyone else beside him, God obliged. His older brother, Aaron, was put to the task and became Moses’ “spokesman” (Ex. 4:16). The patience God extended to Moses was remarkable and showed God loved Him even though he disappointed Him.

A little feeling of inadequacy never hurt anybody. Peter warned against “false teachers” (2 Pet. 2:1), whose defining feature was “they speak great swelling words of emptiness” (2 Pet. 2:18). We should resist such people and even being like such people. If we never felt inadequate in any way, we would never seek to grow in the faith. Paul urged the Corinthians to imitate him, not because he was the standard, but because he imitated the standard of Christ (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1). Paul was encouraging the Corinthians that the standard of Christ worked when applied. His life demonstrated that a person could have faith in every command.

As a preacher, I have returned to the text in Exodus 3 often, after hearing those words at Polishing the Pulpit last summer. Preachers have to guard against making excuses, but the same can be said for all Christians. Running to excuses has always been one of the biggest obstacles for God’s people to overcome. The problem with these excuses is that they’re almost always self-imposed. We should ask ourselves soul-searching questions about excuses we may be making. Could I give more than I do (2 Cor. 8:12; 9:7)? Am I reaching out to the lost with the gospel on a regular basis? Would others view my life as an imitation of Christ?

Am I promoting Christ’s name, first and foremost, which I put on in baptism (Gal. 3:27)? Do I show others that I am concerned most with “the name which is above every name,” Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:9)? Do I firmly believe Jesus when He said we are blessed for our persecution and have a great reward in heaven (Mt. 5:11-12 cf. Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17-18 )? If so, the eternal acknowledgment of hearing Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” awaits (Mt. 25:33).