Sometimes preachers are criticized because their sermons are not practical; there isn’t enough personal application in them. On the other hand, sometimes preachers are rebuked because their sermons are too applicable; the sermon is thought to have “picked on” someone in particular. A scholarly Greek professor of a previous generation, A.T. Robertson, commented on the reaction to an article he published. Several individuals took his exposition as such a personal attack they canceled their subscriptions:
Many years ago I wrote an article for a denominational paper concerning Diotrephes. The editor told me afterwards that twenty-five deacons had ordered the paper stopped as a protest against the personal attack in the paper. What I did in the article was to show that Diotrephes was a typical church “boss” who ruled the church to suit his own whims. In Kentucky we have a phrase termed “the short-horn deacon” for this type of church regulator. I once heard of such a deacon who boasted that he had made every pastor leave that he had ever had.
[AT Robertson, Types of Preachers in the New Testament, 222]
It seems that they saw themselves so completely in the text that they assumed Robertson had them specifically in mind. If two dozen wrote in, how many others felt the same?
I have often been pleased to receive the compliment of a good-natured “accusation” that I must spoken to a spouse that week so that I could know such specific areas to preach on. It is especially remarkable to me to hear such a comment from more than one person following a sermon. It is heart-warming to see God’s people seek truths in God’s Word that will challenge and change them!