Know Your Bible

VOL. 13                                                                                                                         September 7, 2014                                                                                                                            NO. 27



I have often told of the time Sue and I visited a gospel meeting where an old acquaintance was speaking. On the way out I heard Sue tell the preacher, “That was a splendid sermon.” As we traveled home I reminded her that despite the number of sermons she heard me preach—she “never gave me a splendid.”

A preaching colleague told me that after he preached a sermon on Satan, a dear lady told him: “I never did understand the devil until I heard you.” Usually, however, those making comment after listening to a sermon say something like: “Good job” or “That was a good sermon.” The majority say nothing at all. This got me to thinking about how people listen to sermons.

Preaching is the means by which God’s word is conveyed. “. . . it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). Therefore, it is no wonder that throughout the book of Acts we find men of God preaching His message. Such was the case when Paul traveled to a small hamlet called Berea (Acts 17:10-11). After Paul preached to the Bereans Luke records how they listened to the sermon. “These were more fair- minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”

At least three things of importance are seen in this verse. One: they had open minds (“received the word with all readiness”). Two: they had their Bibles handy and consulted them (“searched the Scriptures”). Three: they rearranged their schedules so they could listen (“daily” is the key word here). The attitude of these Bereans is commendable—they knew how to listen to a sermon. How do you approach a sermon? “That was a good sermon” we say (or think). Well, what exactly do we mean? Unfortunately most do not mean what was expressed in Acts 11. Most have in mind the entertainment level of the preacher. Was he interesting? Did he have a good delivery? Was he able to keep our minds from wandering? Did he have any irritable mannerisms that tended to be distractive? Was his voice deep and velvety or high and shrill? All too often we mean: “He was entertaining!”

This is because we are living in a culture where entertainment has reached an all- time high in terms of its centrality and importance to people, including Christians. We want movies, books, TV and music that entertain—and so it is just a small step to begin viewing preaching as something designed to entertain. Certainly we desire eloquence instead of contemptible in the sermons we hear.

Well the New Testament reveals to us that some preachers were eloquent (Apollos, Acts 18:24) and others contemptible (Paul, 2 Corinthians 10:10). Preachers are men, men with strengths and with weaknesses. To benefit from the sermons we hear we must move beyond the man to the message. Now wait! I am not lobbying for boring, long-winded, sloppy, uninteresting, indulgent preaching. Just because a man wants to say something does not mean he should. While we emphasize the qualifications for elders (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1), we habitually overlook the fact that the books of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are filled with qualifications for preachers too.

Those men who preach the Word of God should do so with passion, clarity and articulacy. Preachers should endeavor to preach with such clearness as to do what Paul did in Galatia. “. . . Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified” (Galatians 3:1). This being said: how should we listen to a sermon?

Listen with a desire to learn and know. Remember the Bereans had their Bibles with them. They searched the Scriptures. Do you open your Bible to read along or to consult a biblical reference? Do you even have a Bible with you? Those who just sit and stare are not emulating the fair-mindedness found at Berea. Do you really have a desire to learn? If so, open the Bible! “But,” someone says, “The passages are occasionally reproduced on the screen.” This is to supplement not replace your open Bibles. Have you ever considered that the reference could be wrong? Honest mistakes can be made—but we wouldn’t know unless we search the Scriptures.

Pay close attention to what is being said. Jesus admonished us, “Therefore take heed how you hear” (Luke 8:18). The Thessalonians understood the messages they were hearing were special. They were not being entertained by some smooth talking superficial sales-person. They were hearing the very words of God. “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Be respectful and reverent during the sermon and teach the same to your children. When Cornelius welcomed the preacher (Peter), he said: “Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God” (Acts 10:33). Those present to hear God’s word included Cornelius’ family (vs 24). Knowing the attitude of Cornelius it is doubtful to me that his family wandered in and out of the assembly. These people recognized that when the message of God is preached the audience is in the presence of God—an assembly unlike any other!

Make a personal application. This is the most challenging thing for hearers to do. It is much easier to think: “I sure wish so-n-so was here because she sure needed that!” Or, “I hope old so-n-so is listening because that sure does apply to him.” Or, perhaps we just become angry at what was said—because it fit us so well. There is something to the adage: “The hit dog howls.” So, instead of making a personal application—I might just talk down the message. In truth the thing to do is make a personal application. When Jesus told the disciples that someone eating with Him would betray Him, they did not begin to apply His words to others. Peter didn’t say: “Is it John?” James didn’t say: “Is it Andrew.” Instead each one took the message to heart. “And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, Lord, is it I?” Such introspect would serve us well!

Guard yourself against personal prejudice. When Jesus came to Nazareth preaching the kingdom of God, His message was rejected because of their prejudice against Him (Matthew 13:53-58). “So they were offended at Him.” Jesus had grown up there—they knew His parents and siblings and for sure, “He’s not gonna tell us what to do or believe.” Perhaps we have a personal dislike for the speaker, so we just dismiss the entire message. “He hurt my feeling once and so I don’t ever want to hear anything he has to say!” Or maybe we conclude that he does not have the expertise to speak about the subject he selected. A young preacher preaches on the role and responsibilities of husbands—but his sermon is rejected because he isn’t married. His marital status in no way changes what the Bible has to say. Or perhaps the preacher has a son or daughter who has left the faith and he preaches on raising children. Should his message be rejected because his child became an apostate? No! If the message is true—it is true despite whether his child remained faithful. Some reject the message because the preacher had a moral failing but humbly returned to the Lord. “I’ll never listen to him again after what he did” is often the response to moral failings. Peter practiced hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-13) should he be rejected? John Mark made a disappointing decision (Acts 13:13) but Paul concluded that he was indeed profitable to the ministry (2 Timothy 4:11). Remember the power is not in the man but in the message (Romans 1:16).

Listening is not simply passive; we must put forth an effort so as to benefit from the message preached. In the words of the Master: “Therefore take heed how you hear” (Luke 8:18). 

---J.R. Bronger

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