To say that doctrine matters more than feelings is not to say that the feelings of others are invalid or that they shouldn't be considered at all when communicating truth. Feelings are certainly to be considered when teaching or confronting someone, particularly when it comes to more difficult and even unpleasant biblical truth. Of course, the truth is to always be spoken in love; and, in fact, it is this love for others which causes us to be sensitive to how they might receive our words. That said, our consideration must only go so far. Biblical truth is not to be compromised or diluted for fear of upsetting and offending someone or in order to prevent making them uncomfortable. We shouldn't forget the reality that God has feelings. And to believe that doctrine matters more than feelings (whether someone else's or our own), is to believe that God's approval matters far more than man's.
In the name of love, it is tempting to cater more so to someone's temporal feelings than their eternal souls. But, the Christian must fear the discomfort of man more than the displeasure of God. Convinced that nice is a fruit of the Spirit, many in the Church refuse to teach or embrace many of the Bible's more difficult doctrines, such as sovereign election, hell, sin and repentance, judgment, holiness, discipline, lordship, evangelism, etc. The result is an over-emphasis on "the love of God." And this is not to say agape love (God-kind of, self-sacrificing) found in Scripture, but a version of love reduced to that which is only positive, encouraging, and feels loving. To redefine love in this way results in the exclusion of God’s other attributes. This is the problem, because the reality is that God is all of His attributes fully and simultaneously. And, it is this incomplete understanding of God which allows for the feelings of others to be considered above the feelings of God.
There are a couple reasons we may attempt to smooth out and gloss over the hard Biblical truth of Christian doctrine in an effort to space offense.
The holiness of God challenges our natural sense of goodness. His sovereignty assaults our natural sense of fairness. The doctrine of hell threatens our natural sense of justice. And the Lordship of Jesus opposes our natural sense of freedom. Sure, some Bible verses make great decoration for throw pillows and coffee mugs, but much of the Bible reveals a God, and demands a lifestyle that offends non-believers and casual adherents to Christianity alike. To understand this obstinate resistance to spiritual truth, we need to simply consider the natural (spiritual) condition of the lost. Paul tells us that the Gospel is foolishness according to those who are perishing. To preach the biblical Gospel to even a moral sinner is offensive, because the Gospel is predicated on the fact that they are morally wretched, spiritually depraved, and utterly incapable of doing anything that is truly good. The Gospel then communicates to them that they will certainly suffer God's wrath eternally unless they repent of their sins and turn their life over to Him as their Lord. You simply can't dress up the initial implications of the gospel. They are difficult and unpleasant truths. This, however, is only half of the Gospel. There is good news, however it is only as good as the bad news is bad (hard). The Gospel, of course meaning "good news," is that Christ lived and died in our place in order to save us from sin and death. This understanding leads those who are being saved into a deep love for Jesus. Now, we are the righteousness of God in Christ by grace and through faith in his perfect life and substitutionary death on the cross for our sins. God's gracious revelation in Scripture is not only the problem, it is the solution.
And to the surprise of many professing Christians, the hard truths do not end once we are saved. In fact, it seems it has only begun. The Apostles spoke of entering the gates of the kingdom through suffering (in this life). Christ's first commands are to repent, and lay down our very life and pick up our cross. Christ calls us to give up every worldly security and comfort. The Christian will spend the rest of his/her life mortifying the flesh and fighting to faithfully follow after Christ. Sadly, many Christians tend to live as though their challenges are over now that their eternal destination is settled. Others believe that to be a Christian is a sort of cure-all to life's problems and they can expect mostly circumstantial improvement or "blessing."
Ironically, the Christian life actually promises trials, discomforts, loss of relationship, deep sorrow, and much more. We are living in a foreign land, going against the grain. We must remember that the goal of God is not our circumstantial happiness or comfort, but rather our maturity and deep joy in the God of our salvation. While, no doubt, the Christian life offers a much greater sense of joy, hope, and purpose than the world will ever know, and while it leads to many significant pleasures in this life, we are not authorized to make the Christian life out to be easier than or less than Christ Himself makes it out to be. It is hard to imagine someone more offensive to the natural man than Christ, Himself. That said, the Lord graciously allows for even our trials to be something we take great joy in, because we know He is making us more like Christ.
Sadly, our post-modern, relativistic culture has dramatically increased our obsession with the feelings of others, and many Christians are giving into society's demand for increased inclusivity and tolerance. While believers are to love without partiality, holding to sound doctrine will inevitably cause us to communicate offensive truths such as God's righteous intolerance of sin. We must first be committed to God, giving Him the allegiance and obedience only He deserves. Whether it is the legal rights or the feelings of others, the truths and the commands God in His Word, even when spoken in love, will naturally lead to offense.
Not only is some of the content of Scripture offensive, but so is how seriously the content is taken. Biblical truth is more exclusive and urgent than what many are comfortable with. It's commands and implications apply to everyone, without exception, and it is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. Many shy away from sharing the full range of doctrine for fear of being perceived as either judgmental or insensitive. But, taking everything in Scripture as seriously as it demands must lead the Christian to action, despite perception or persecution. We must not forget Jesus was murdered for so-called "blasphemous" claims and for serious teachings that threatened the security, if not the livelihood, of most who dared to follow Him. If the Bible was filled with divine suggestions, this wouldn't be a problem. And while we desire peace, one of the signs that we are doing it right is when we experience persecution from a world that hates us and speaks out against us. Paul knew that Jesus' purpose for him to boldly take the Gospel to the world would result in much suffering.
There are not shortage of teachers in the Church who elevate the feelings and carnal desires of man above God's written Word. The heretical abuse of Scripture, known as the prosperity "gospel," amplifies the lie that God want you to be happy, healthy, and wealthy - as long as you have enough faith, of course. This false doctrine misses the important fact that God's Word is from God, is about God, and is therefore to be taken very seriously. In other churches, the Bible is frequently used primarily to solve life's problems, to meet the felt needs, and to appeal to the carnal desires of the lost. And, in order to do this the feelings and worldly desires of people must first be elevated beyond the Truth in God's Word.
The reality that doctrine matters more than feelings is to applied to our homes as well as our churches. One of the most difficult and offensive things Jesus said was that the love we have for our biological family must be equal to hatred in comparison to our love and devotion to Him. It may sound like Christ is saying we care about them too much. The reality is we do not truly love these people enough or else we would be willing to risk how the truth might make them feel in order that it would truly help, and even save them.
This is perhaps an over-used and predictable Illustration. But imagine you were about to be hit by a bus barreling down the road at 60mph. The most loving thing someone could do for you is tackle you to the hard ground in order to get you out of the way of the bus. Would you really stumble to your feet, after your life was spared, frustrated that you received a few bruises? Of course not. You would be grateful to be alive and that someone risked breaking your bones to prevent your sure death. But when it comes to being directly confronted by spiritual truth, many are so offended that someone else would make something so personal as their own faith their business. But, to be offended by Biblical truth is to not grasp the urgency of the spiritual life or the inevitability of eternity. We are commanded to confess our sins to one another, gently correct one another, and speak hard truth into the lives of those in the Church that they may treat their sin like sin. Jesus warned of the immediate danger of sin with a potent Jewish illustration that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Sin, and for that matter, the whole of the Christian life, is neither casual nor private. In a word, it is extremely serious.
As it turns out this sentimentality isn't new. Writing about one of the "pressing dangers" facing the Church in the year 1884, J. C. Ryle wrote, "You are not allowed to ask, "What is God's truth?" but "What is liberal, and generous, and kind?" And while some truths in Scripture are positive enough to readily appeal to the masses, there are many more that are too sober and serious for comfort. Our love for all people ought to influence how gently we engage people with truth, however, God forbid it ever prohibit us from speaking truth for fear of offending them or causing them discomfort. We must not be so unloving.