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Many pastors have a difficult time determining whether—or what—to preach at a funeral. Here are four "shoulds" and two "should nots."

We Should:

1. Preach the gospel.

Funerals force all in attendance to admit their mortality, including their eventual death and judgment. Although we hide ourselves from death continually (do you see animals die, do you bury your own dead, etc.?), funerals force us to look mortality in the eye. Whenever we admit that death is real, understanding that it’s “the wages of sin” is just one step further. God is the one who has judged sin temporally through death; however, He has crucified His Son so that sinners will enjoy Him forever through Christ. Christ’s death propitiated God’s wrath toward sinners. Sinners simply must repent, placing their trust in Christ alone for their salvation. Hopefully, this “face-to-face” meeting with mortality will send your hearers running to the cross for salvation.

2. Accommodate.

Some of you may disagree with me on this; however, I will gladly read poems that speculate concerning eternity if the family of the deceased requests it. I will, however, qualify what I’m about to read by saying, “The family has asked me to read this poem titled __________.” Just because you read it does not mean that you necessarily approve of all the theology that it contains. Although I will not read a heretical poem for anyone, I will gladly read a poem that I disagree with that is still in the realm of orthodoxy.

3. Preach the truth concerning heaven and hell.

There are more sermons on heaven than on hell in today’s pulpits. As pastors, however, we should emphasize both places since the authors of Scripture emphasized both. You should not allow this rare opportunity to pass you by to preach the result of trusting in Christ: heaven, and the result of rejecting Him: hell.

4. Preach the gospel from the deceased’s perspective.

Something interesting that the Scriptures teach is that both heaven and hell are full of entities with a desire for evangelism. Peter says that the heavenly angels desire to look into sharing the gospel (1 Peter 1:12), and Jesus says that those in hell wish someone would share the gospel with their loved ones so that they wouldn’t have to come to such a place (Luke 16: 27-31). Bring this reality up by saying, “If the deceased could be here today, he would tell you to place your trust in Jesus Christ; for he knows today more than ever that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one gets to the Father but by Him (John 14:6).”

We Should Not…

1. Correct theology beyond the gospel.

If the gospel does not hinge on the theology that is believed or being presented by someone else at the funeral, then you have no need to correct it at this time. The gospel should be the emphasis, not 100% correct theology. Basically, whatever is in the realm of orthodoxy should be tolerated. Only come against what you know to be 100% false, and don’t be arrogant. After all, you should not be as sure about eschatology as you are about the resurrection of Christ.

2. Speculate about the deceased’s location at this moment: heaven or hell.

Regardless of how godly or ungodly a person was, we do not know 100% whether this person is in heaven or hell at this moment. We must be careful not to preach people into heaven or hell. Instead, we must seek to be vague about what we do not know, and instead, focus on the power of the gospel for those who believe. Your sermon is not for the deceased (he’s not there) but is rather for those present. Emphasize the fact that all those who trust in Christ will be reconciled to God through Christ, absent from the body and present with the Lord until the day Christ returns, and their bodies are raised from the dead and join their spirits to rule and reign with Christ, forevermore exalting God. Oh, happy day!



Jared has served in pastoral ministry since 2000. He is the pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Hustonville, KY. He is the author of 10 Sacred Cows in Christianity That Need to Be Tipped. Jared is married to Amber and they have four children. He is a teaching assistant for Bruce Ware at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and a  PhD Student in Systematic Theology at SBTS. You can take Jared's Udemy Course, "How to Enjoy God Through Movies, TV, Music, Books, etc." with this link for 43% off. Engage popular culture with Scripture. Enjoy God through popular culture.

 

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Mike Kramer

commented on Oct 31, 2014

Common sense

E. Marcus Stewart

commented on Oct 31, 2014

I used to hate to preach funerals. My father was to the best of my knowledge unsaved at his death. I preached the Gospel, but every word broke my heart as I realized I would never have the opportunity again to witness to him and see him come to the Lord. This all changed though when I was called upon to preach the funeral of a true saint. She was a true handmaid to the Lord, and a blessing to everyone who knew her. It was a pleasure to preach her funeral, and she forever changed my view of preaching funeral messages. No matter the condition of the person at their death, the funeral was not for them, it is for the living who are left behind. We are called to preach the cross to them, to share the salvation message that Christ died to provide atonement, and restoration to a relationship with Him forever. We should never despair preaching a funeral, it is an opportunity to preach salvation from hell, and life eternal with God. That's good news, and at a time when there is great need of it!

Ricky Dean Mauldin

commented on Oct 31, 2014

Jared, I thought you did well, and I especially appreciated Point #4. Do you know how we sometimes know something, but someone has to articulate it well before it finally completely snaps into place? Well, your point was like being slapped upside the head with a wet flounder! Even a lost person knows more about salvation than the best seminarians once he's confronted by Jesus...wow. Adds juice to the rich man realizing that Lazarus was infinitely ahead and the need for salvation of his relatives. Thanks for the picture.

Terry Phillips

commented on Nov 1, 2014

Thank you for your offering. Charitable without compromise; theological and practical. Altogether helpful.

Minister Sanders

commented on Nov 2, 2014

The worst thing we can do is preach a person into heaven in order to please their loved ones or hell because we felt they lived ungodly we just truly don't know where that person is going only the Lord knows. We are to use the opportunity of preaching at a funeral to let those present know John 3:16, "that God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son and Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have Everlasting life"......

Brian Wilson

commented on Nov 5, 2014

I thought this a very helpful article, encouraging us to take the opportunity to preach the Gospel and also to be sensitive and wise in the situation. I was a little concerned at the article's conclusion, however. It's right that we can't state definitively (and should certainly never do so at a funeral) that a person is not with God - they may have trusted Christ in a way we know nothing about. However, having just experienced my Dad's loss, one thing that comforts me is that he knew Jesus. It was not remiss of the preacher at his funeral to say that he had trusted Jesus - and that therefore he was now with his Lord and Saviour. The preacher also encouraged the congregation to come to the same Jesus and experience eternal life. We are not called to speculate about eternal destinies but can, in the case of the saints, be sure about them and state what it is. That is not ignoring the fact that our prime concern is to comfort the sorrowing and challenge with the Gospel. It is not ignoring the call to proclaim to the living.

Chris Hearn

commented on Nov 20, 2014

Good article, but I disagree with point #2. Ironically, for the point mentioned, that we are preaching to those there and not the deceased. Yes, we are preaching to those there, so why not give them the peace and comfort of knowing that their loved one is currently in the presence of the Lord? If everyone thought that the deceased was a true believer when alive, why suddenly not mention that now that he/she has died?

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