Nothing makes me shrink back from holy ambition and the good fight of ministry like preaching a funeral.
I wrestle for days and nights on not only what to say but also how to say it. If I'm enjoying an encouraging season of life, I struggle to enter into the suffering of the grieving. Who am I to represent the feelings of the hurting family as they watch me attempt to honor their loved one? But much changed for me when I preached my dad's funeral last August. God gave me the insight of not just the preacher but also the family member.
This moment is never casual or easy. It takes much courage and help from the Holy Spirit. As we ask for God's help in prayer, we must not be careless with any of our words. What we say is powerful in such a vulnerable situation, and we should tread carefully. So here are five things we must avoid when preaching a funeral.
1. Do not refer to the departed saint only in the past tense.
Part of our duty as the preacher is to honor the Lord by talking about how this child of God loved Jesus and gave his or her life for his glory. However, too many times we can carelessly speak of the person in past tense. If we believe the deceased is alive in Christ and in his presence, we must refer to him or her also in present and future tense. In this way we remind family and other listeners of the hope of the gospel.
2. Do not forget God's perspective.
We're taught in Psalm 116:15, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." God is glorified when his children come home. Being in the unveiled presence of God is the highest joy a believer can ever receive. It is the end of the long struggle of sanctification and the beautiful beginnings of glorification.
3. Do not ignore the lost.
The lost are always around us. They may not lie in the casket, but they are dead in their sins. The lost need to be reminded that death is a reality of life, a transition we will all make one day. If there is any place for preaching the seriousness of sin and the grace of Christ, it is when preaching over the body of a saint into the eyes of the lost. Plead with them to repent and enjoy eternal life with the Savior. The honored saint is more alive than anyone can ever imagine.
4. Do not say or imply the deceased was perfect.
Real people are encouraged to hear about real life. And real life is full of both joys and sorrows. The honored saint has finished the race and fought the good fight of faith. We can learn from the life of anyone united with Christ.
5. Do not leave out the reality of heaven—expound on it.
The church needs to keep hearing and studying from God's Word about our future home. Lack of talk about heaven reveals our lack of faith, hope, and joy in it. This dearly departed child of God now enjoys God and the riches of his kingdom. For at least a few moments we can pull people out of their "here and now" perspective that shrinks the joy set before them in Christ. Remind them that Christians are always surrounded by grace and have nothing but heaven in front of them.
John Pond is pastor of students at West Jackson Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.