Over the last number of years I have had the wonderful privilege of being able to go around different churches to preach God’s word. It is such an honour to serve the church in this way. What a joy to open up the Bible and give God’s truth to God’s people.
The preaching of the word, if it’s being rightly handled and faithfully communicated, is one of the primary means God uses to edify and sanctify His children.
Just to know the divine promise that God’s word will never return to Him void but will always achieve what He has purposed and desired it to accomplish, gives me great comfort (Isa. 55:10-11).
Yet, after preaching, if I’m being honest, I’m not long in forgetting such a promise. This happens when receiving the different responses to the sermon at the door after the service. Most of the time, you will hear comments such as: “I really liked what you had to say this morning/evening… thank you” or “I enjoyed that… you preached a good sermon, son”. So, God’s people liked it, they thought it was a good sermon, they enjoyed what they heard…
… I’m encouraged…
… I’m happy…
… but is God?
Are sermons supposed to be liked?
Are they supposed to be enjoyed?
I remember hearing a preacher a few years ago; he was a missionary who served in Peru. Just before he began the exposition of his text he said something that was quite profound, he said, “If I handle this Scripture correctly, it will be as if God were speaking through a man.” If that’s true, and I believe it is, then that’s frightening. God speaks and then we say, “Cool… I liked that, God… that was enjoyable, thanks for sharing”. It sounds crazy, but if we think about it deeply enough that’s what we’re ultimately saying. And being a hearer as well as a proclaimer, I’m just as guilty of this as anyone.
In the Bible God is speaking, preaching even. In the Scriptures God is revealing who He is and what He has done. Therefore, when we come under the sound of God’s word we should be in awe. Then after hearing the word we should reverently respond in worshipful obedience.
Let’s not get into Facebook mode and decide whether we ‘like’ it or not based on our homiletical preferences. No, we should earnestly come before God with an engaged mind, responsive heart and an open Bible, ready to listen and obey the voice of our Saviour. In these moments our prayer should always be – “Speak O Lord”. Yet, how often we sit in judgement over God’s word and irreverently assess how much we ‘like’ it.
We don’t judge the word, the word judges us.
We don’t critique the word, the word critiques us.
The writer to the Hebrews said,
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
“When the Scriptures are faithfully preached God speaks. Our responsibility as hearers is to listen humble, learn diligently and, by faith, obey what God commands in his Word. To treat this lightly is a disservice to God himself, who has chosen to speak to us in this way, and shows disrespect to our leaders, who serve God and us by labouring in studying the Scriptures (Heb. 13:7, 17).
The preached word is the “Thus says the LORD” event of the worship service. And in response to this announcement of divine truth, we must humbly pray, “Your word I receive LORD, please grant to me the grace I need to obey your will”.
Think of the last sermon you listened to.
What did you think about it?
What comments did you make?
What do your answers reveal about how you listened to what God was saying?
Too often I have judged the sermon based on how it was delivered – I let the messenger get in the way of the message. Don’t misunderstand me, sometimes the messenger does get in the way with his constant joking, his ‘holy whisper’ and his monotone voice, but even these reasons are superfluous if the word is being handled correctly. Moreover, there are times when we must be discerning about what is being said, there are times when ‘righteous’ judgements are appropriate, as there are ‘many’ false teachers (1 John 4:1). Nevertheless, the message always validates the messenger, not the opposite. So if the word has been preached faithfully and the Scripture has been exposed accurately and biblical truth has been applied properly, then our response should not be to evaluate how much we liked it but rather discern what God is communicating for our obedience.
With regard to this subject, Tim Challies has written, “At the end of it all, ‘How did you enjoy the sermon?’ is simply the wrong question to ask. Far better is, ‘What did you learn from the sermon?’ or ‘How did the Holy Spirit speak to you through the sermon?’ These are questions that elevate the form or medium far above our preferences, and call upon us to submit to the Spirit as he is present in preaching.”
In conclusion here are some questions I ask myself after listening to God’s word. I hope these questions will help you to better ponder on what God has said that you might apply God’s word appropriately, as they have me.
What did God reveal?
What did you learn?
In what way did God lead you into greater repentance? What sins did God expose?
In what way did God increase your faith? How were you edified?
Were you rebuked? Were you encouraged? Were you corrected? Were you disciplined? Were you instructed? Were you exhorted? Were you comforted?
What biblical truths engaged your mind? How do you now better understand the gospel?
What applications encouraged your obedience? How can the gospel serve your response?
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)