Listening to Sermons
Every sermon entails at least three parts: the Word, the preacher, and the listener. As we listen to sermons, we ought to first recognize the importance of the Word and the role of the preacher. We then focus on how to listen well, in right and proper forms.
The Bible is God-breathed, therefore every sermon ought to be based on the Word of God. Its highest achievement would be to open the listener’s ears to the truth God is revealing through his written Word, now expounded, exegeted and explained in a sermon. In fact, the Sunday message ought not to be the full meal of a given week, but rather the appetizer that draws the listener into studying the Word of the Lord in more depth. At the same time, other sermon venues (online, podcasts) are not to replace the Sunday message: the latter is being preached to us sheep by our shepherd for the purpose of caring for us in a personal way. Podcasts and TV screens cannot achieve this shepherding, even if they still direct us to the written Word. As such, they are not to replace sitting under our pastor’s teaching.
He is the essential means by which God speaks to the hearts of his flock during worship on the Lord’s day. In preparing the sermon, the preacher spends hours meditating on the Word, submitting his will to God’s, nourishing his mind by the divine truth, opening his heart to his love, and purifying his thoughts by his beauty. This culminates in the preacher’s highest act of worshiping the Lord when he spends himself delivering the sermon message to the flock he shepherds, with a desire to feed and care for the church body. Many can be good speakers; anyone may give a speech; a man of God exegetes the Word as he delivers the sermon to both heart and mind.
God often shatters man’s expectations in bringing forth his purposes. Such also is the way with sermons: while we may expect to hear one thing, or think we need a certain message, we ought to approach every sermon as tangible truth, one that is needed for a lifetime of faith, rather than a quick momentary fix. God, in his eternal and supreme wisdom, devises what is needed for our daily sanctification, in ways we may not have fathomed or expected, and to which our own pride may have blinded our eyes. God speaks to us through his Word, and we should expect him to speak to us through our pastor’s sermon. Therefore, we ought to prepare our minds through prayer in the Word, for the preacher and for the sermon. We must be attentive, minimizing distracting ourselves, others and the preacher. We ought to be still, knowing God is speaking through his Word that is being preached. We need be willing to hear, ready to be renewed by truth, and humble to be changed.
A sermon is addressed to believers first and foremost, and its intent is for the Spirit of God to work through it in our heart and mind in order to be more conformed to the image of his Son. If we listen well, we shall be better equipped as members of the body to serve it well, more shaped for a better unity in our diversity, better disposed to keep the peace, thoroughly taught in order to further both individual and corporate sanctification. In keeping our focus on the One behind the message, we persevere in worshipping with the body and fellowshipping with the other members. We also strengthen the ties and the bonds of love which ought to have the outside world wonder about the reason we love one another. In like manner, we would be enabled to use our different giftings to better love and serve one another.
The Christian life is marked by progressive sanctification. A great way of so doing is by being attentive to the word delivered by the preacher, not distracting or discouraging him. Listening attentively is one way of caring for the pastor and encouraging him, ensuring the field where he sows is fertile land. He is not there to entertain us, but rather to incite us to be more obedient. We love our pastors well by praying for them, listening to them, thanking them, and honoring them by submitting to their teaching.
Proverbs 4:20 says: My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Worldly people treat their senses as tools by which they mindlessly entertain their brains. But we believers should strive for our ears to be senses by which our consciences listen attentively to the Word of truth, read, spoken, and preached. Our bottom line should not be what application I can get out of this, but rather how I should apply my life to this teaching. Let us incline our ears, and hear the words of the wise, applying our hearts to his knowledge (Proverbs 22:17).