The Book of Proverbs, the centerpiece of wisdom literature in the Word of God, provides a great deal of advice for dealing with hecklers when street preaching. The following verses comprise a list I have written in my street preaching Bible. Some of the proverbs listed below are useful when publicly rebuking the foolishness of hecklers. Others deal with the heart attitude of the preacher when confronted by a heckler. Still others provide advice for how not to respond or when to say nothing at all.
A Word of Advice and Caution for Street Preachers
The Word of God is a powerful sword -- one that must be handled with great care and respect. It is very easy, even for the most mature Christian, to use the Word of God as a hammer -- using it to club people in an attempt to beat them into submission. This can easily happen in the emotionally charged environment of street preaching.
The Word of God should not be used for comedic relief, for the mocking of hecklers, or for the inflation of the street preacher's ego. The Law of the Lord is good, if it is used lawfully -- if it is used as God intended (1 Timothy 1:8). God's Word is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). God's Word is profitable for teaching, for reproof, and for correction (2 Timothy 3:16). But if the open-air preacher removes the sword from its sheath simply to get the best of a heckler, or simply to prove he knows the Bible better than the heckler, then he is not a responsible handler of the truth.
Sometimes it's hard for the street preacher to keep his cool, to not respond in kind when verbally attacked, and to not allow the motivation of one-upmanship to cause him to put the heckler in his place with a well-placed Bible strike. Nonetheless, God reminds and warns the Christian how he is to speak, regardless of the circumstances. So, before you read the following list of proverbs to use with hecklers, please take the time to carefully consider the following verses:
- "The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips," (Proverbs 16:23).
- "He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend," (Proverbs 22:11).
- "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person," (Colossians 4:6).
- "Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us," (Titus 2:7-8).
- "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ," (Ephesians 4:15).
- "For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness," (1 Thessalonians 2:3-5).
- "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another," (Titus 3:1-3).
- "For he who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment," (James 2:11-13).
Proverbs To Use With Hecklers
With each proverb I have included a brief commentary. I hope this is an encouragement to my fellow street preachers.
Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
This is a good verse to share with those who insist they have no fear, not even a fear of God. Only the foolish person despises those who seek to help them come to their senses, through the proclamation of God's law and gospel.
Proverbs 3:7, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”
Many hecklers think they're very smart and witty. Some actually believe their silly, negative remarks are original. They are wise in their own eyes.
Proverbs 3:31-32, “Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways, for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord, but the upright are in his confidence.”
Hecklers will occasionally devise plans to mock or assault street preachers. I have experienced both. Those who are devious are an abomination to the Lord. Sometimes it is wise to warn the crowd not to follow in the footsteps of such people. One heckler's false bravado can embolden a crowd of people to behave in the same way.
Proverbs 5:21, “For a man's ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths.”
People think they can actually keep aspects of their lives secret from the Lord. But the Lord sees every step every person takes.
Proverbs 6:16-19, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
This is a great passage for the "God is all-loving" crowd -- many of whom profess to be Christians. God not only hates sinful behavior, He also hates those who sin. Yes, the God who loves sinners also hates sinners. Because God is God, He can do this with perfect consistency.
Proverbs 10:23, “Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.”
Don't be afraid to let unsaved people know they are behaving foolishly. Hecklers, especially those in their teenage years, are particularly squirrelly -- especially if their immature behavior garners them any attention from others.
Proverbs 11:9, “With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.”
Some hecklers have sewers for mouths. Only a godless person speaks so disgustingly as some hecklers do.
Proverbs 11:12, “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.”
The ad hominem attack should be an encouragement to the open-air preacher. The reason is because those who stoop to personal attacks reveal that they have no intelligent argument to make against the preacher and/or his message.
Proverbs 12:1, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”
If people revile you for pointing out their sin, through the verbal expression of the law of God, the Bible considers them stupid.
Proverbs 12:17, “Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit.”
Hecklers often lie about themselves and lie about what they know. Most hecklers claim to have read the Bible and understand what it says. Yet they cannot answer basic Sunday school questions about The Book they claim to know and adamantly loathe.
Proverbs 13:13, “Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded.”
Many hecklers blaspheme God with words of contempt and derision against His holy Word. It is good to warn them that with every derogatory word they are heaping more judgment upon their own heads.
Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
Hecklers are notorious for calling evil good and good evil. Those who call evil good are on the fast track to Hell.
Proverbs 15:3, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”
God is omniscient and omnipresent. His eyes are in every place; and He hears every word uttered.
Proverbs 15:29, “The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”
Many hecklers assume God hears their prayers. God only hears the prayers of His children -- those He has adopted, through the sacrifice and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. God is far from the wicked. He does not sit on His throne answering the requests of those who hate Him (see also Isaiah 1:15).
Proverbs 16:2 -- “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.”
Most people confidently consider themselves to be good -- not perfect; but equal to or better than most. They believe it is their goodness, not God's grace, that will one day be the reason they are allowed into Heaven. They think they have a good spirit when, in reality, God is angry with their wicked spirit every day.
Proverbs 17:3, “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.”
Street preaching can, at times, seem very much like going through a crucible or furnace. God allows His preachers to experience times of testing, even persecution, to test their hearts. It is God's goodness and His love for His people that allows them to experience testing in their lives.
Proverbs 17:15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”
Many hecklers think God's love, grace, and mercy are superior to His holiness, righteousness, and justice. God is one. God is perfectly consistent. All of God's attributes, all of His character traits, are equal and consistent with one another. The same God who forgives sin is the same God who condemns sinners.
Proverbs 17:27, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”
Sometimes the best thing to say to heckler is to say nothing at all.
Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
Regardless of what people think of God, or what they believe God will do to or for them, it's God's plan that will stand. People make grandiose plans and they dupe themselves into believing that the plans they have for their lives circumvent the plans of God.
Proverbs 21:2 - “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.”
Many hecklers will object to the law of God, saying, "God knows my heart!" The preacher's response: "I agree. God does know your heart, and that's your problem. What you arrogantly think exonerates you before God is what will one day condemn you before Him."
Proverbs 27:19 -- “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.”
Jesus made it clear that what comes out of a person's mouth reveals the true condition of his heart. Hecklers can think whatever they want about themselves, but their deceitful and wicked heart is the true reflection of who they are.
Proverbs 28:1 -- “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”
The "mock walk" is what I like to call what hecklers often do. They have enough courage to do a "hit and run," mocking the preacher and the gospel as they walk away. Very few of them have the courage of their convictions to stand and defend their positions. They flee, even though no one is chasing them.
Proverbs 28:5, “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.”
Many hecklers believe justice is for others, but not for themselves. They will justify the most egregious sins (especially their own), but judge the preacher for daring to talk about sin. Unbelievers cannot understand the justice of God, for God's justice is a spiritual matter; and all unbelievers are blind to that which is spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Proverbs 28:9, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.”
Many hecklers are professing Christians -- people who have bought into the lie that God is love and not a judge. Any heckler that objects to the law of God needs to know that the God he professes to know does not listen to his prayers.
Proverbs 28:26, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”
The professed atheist lacks wisdom and understanding. They rely on their fallible intellect to explain creation and the laws (natural, logic, mathematics, etc.). God's Word makes it clear that such people may have some intellectual prowess; but, in the end, they are fools.
Proverbs 29:9, “If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.”
With some hecklers, the longer you talk to them the angrier they become. It is the fool who rages. Don't be like him by responding in kind.
Proverbs 29:11, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”
It is sometimes entertaining and sometimes frightening to watch fools emotionally implode as their minds vapor-lock, as they comes to the painful-to-admit reality that they are wrong. They have always known God exists. They simply try to suppress that truth with their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). When they rage, they are merely trying to cover up the deconstruction of their intellectual arguments and worldview.
Proverbs 29:20, “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
Many hecklers ask questions with no intention of letting the preacher answer. They are merely trying to justify their unbelief at the preacher's expense. When the preacher tries to answer, the heckler quickly interrupts. Preachers will sometimes make the same mistake. There is a reason why God has given each person two ears and one mouth.
Proverbs 30:5-6, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.”
I like what Paul Washer says in response to those who errantly quote Scripture (something many hecklers frequently do -- especially the false converts in the crowd). He says, "Twist not Scripture lest you be like Satan." Those who try to add to God's Word, or those who misinterpret His Word, must be held accountable for their error. To tell someone he is wrong, or to tell someone he is lying about the Word of God, is biblical. Ambassadors of Jesus Christ are not only heralds of the gospel, they are also guardians of His Word. No street preacher should ever take lightly the mishandling of God's truth by anyone, including himself.
"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things" (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)?
Street preachers carry with them the fragrance of Christ. For those who will not turn from sin and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, preachers carry the aroma of death; but for those who will be saved, preachers carry the aroma of life. Can there be a greater responsibility?
Open-air preachers must be sober-minded about this amazing, rewarding, and heavy responsibility to open our mouths to serve as a herald of the King. We must do our best to avoid doing or saying anything that could bring a reproach upon the name or person of Jesus Christ.
Paul ends the above passage with this rhetorical question: "Who is sufficient for these things?" The answer should be obvious. No one in his flesh and apart from the power of the Holy Spirit is sufficient for, or up to, the task. Peope who believe they are sufficient are likely to ignore the wisdom of God's Word regarding how to speak to others. These are the professing Christians who will be quick to lash out with their tongues, who are ready at any moment, or as a result of the smallest slight, to start a roaring fire with their tongue (James 3:5-12).
God's Word is both an offensive and defensive weapon. However, the Christian who carries and employs this powerful weapon should be neither offensive nor defensive, in a sinful manner, when putting this weapon to use. So, if you are going to use the proverbs with hecklers, keep in mind you are using the proverbs for them more than you are using the proverbs against them. Your hope must always be the salvation of the heckler. If your hope is anything less than that, then you must repent and love your neighbor as yourself.