The use of hyperbolic language is a legitimate tool in seeking to minister into the lives of others. Similarly, speaking with an intention to shock people has a proper place in the aresnal of artillery that can be used in seeking to get people to consider their situation before God. However, I suggest that they need to be used sparingly.
A passage which is filled with hyperbole and shock is Matthew 23. Here our Lord is seeking to get the self-righteous religious Pharisees to think about the perilous position they are in. They have been so self-affirming about their ways and self-confident in their position before God that shock tactics are needed.
This approach by our Lord is not used regularly. It is only used in specific contexts when it is necessary to get people, who are steeped in their ways and traditions, to examine the full implication of their position. The normal ministry of our Lord is to listen, converse, persuade, exhort and generally walk with people so as to bring them into line with God’s will and thinking.
We should take heed to this. To be using shock tactics and emotive, even incendiary, language too often means that it loses it’s effect. Shocking people too often means that they become inured against the shock.
Let us look at a further example if the use of shock tactics. Let us look at the ministry of the Lord to Peter in Matthew 16:21-23:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
It is interesting here that the Lord from initially speaking to the disciples as one group takes Peter aside. He then rebukes him apparently on his own. It is as if Peter alone needs to be shocked here by the content of his response to the Lord’s declaration of His mission. Addressing a group to shock one person is not necessarily a good approach; there may be a lot of collateral damage from disturbed souls. Taking the person aside who needs speaking to is likely the best approach.
This reminds me of the need for much wisdom in pastoral ministry. There are times when the power of the Word needs to come to the gathered group; there are other times when a person needs to be spoken with individually.
Further, sometimes we need to intervene quickly in a situation, like with the Lord and Peter, and give a message to startle someone because that person is starting on a disastrous road. We need so much wisdom in these things, but let us be careful in our use of language in ministering to one another.