ďHOW TO LISTEN TO A SERMONĒ
1. Churches are facing a crisis in America today because there are so many pastors of Churches who will not preach to the hearts of the sinners who are sitting in the pews in front of them. And in those few Churches with converted preachers who declare the whole counsel of Godís Word, folks are simply not responding to the preaching of the Bible.
2. The result is an entire country that is rushing headlong toward catastrophe while we are already experiencing the judgment of God. And what do we see while all this happens? Many who profess to be, and who may actually think they are, Godís people just sit in their pews and do nothing, for the most part.
3. It was a tragedy for Nero to fiddle while Rome burned, but it is a far greater tragedy for so-called Christians to fiddle around while the United States of America prepares to burn under the wrathful judgment of a holy and righteous God.
4. For a long time I agonized about this problem of unresponsiveness. I would ask God, ďWhy doesnít he respond to the preaching of your Word, Father? Why are their lives not changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, as your truth is proclaimed? That sermon should have hit her right between the eyes. Why did she not even flinch?Ē And I realized as I prayed such prayers that oftentimes God works in a personís life in ways that cannot immediately be seen by others.
5. But I have come to the conclusion that there are three possibilities to explain, on a human level, why the preaching of the Word of God seems to have little effect in the lives of some of those who are thought to be Godís people, in the lives of some of those who claim to be saved.
6. One problem might be sin in the life of the preacher. Certainly God cannot use filthy vessels, and will not bless the ministry of a preacher who is not right with God or, more likely, who is not even saved. The fact that many preachers are lost is why so few pulpits in America proclaim the whole counsel of Godís Word, but instead work at tickling and petting their audiences with mild expository teaching or irrelevant topical sermons.
7. Another problem might be sin among those who hear the preaching of Godís Word. Certainly Isaiah and Jeremiah had no gross sin in their lives, yet the response to their preaching was nil. Why? Sin. Simple sin in peopleís lives and an unwillingness to repent and turn to God. When the crowd is unresponsive to the preaching of Godís Word it could be sin. What kind of sin? Perhaps secret sins in the lives of Christians. But more likely, unregenerate hearts in the lives of those who claim to be saved but who have never really trusted Christ.
8. But there is a third problem, not directly related to sin, which makes for unresponsive hearers of Godís Word. And this problem is one which has not plagued the human race until the last fifty years or so. This problem is not seen in some of the more backward countries, but is an increasingly prevalent factor in the technologically advanced countries of the world.
9. This problem is the inability of people, in general, to properly listen to a sermon. Maybe a better term than inability is lack of training, or lack of self-discipline, or a short attention span. Many people nowadays do not know how to listen to a sermon because they have not been trained and have not found it necessary to actively listen to another person talking.
10. Do you call it attention deficit disorder? Having a short attention span is almost always caused by a lack of self-discipline. Could this be why the problem is found in western Europe and the United States, but is virtually unknown in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and eastern Europe? To be sure.
11. This inability to listen to sermons has been illustrated again and again to me as I have interviewed folks after preaching to them. ďWhat did I preach on this morning?Ē ďUhhhhh, sin?Ē ďUhhhhh, I donít know.Ē Now, I know that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, but it doesnít require spiritual discernment to comprehend the subject matter of my sermons. It only requires spiritual discernment to actually understand it.
12. I mean, a person may not understand what I meant when I preached about the lake of fire. That would take spiritual discernment to a degree, some level of illumination. But to sit through a sermon and not know that I preached a sermon on the lake of fire has nothing to do with spiritual discernment. It has to do with paying attention. Some of you listen to nothing I say when I preach.
13. How, in Godís name, can some of you sit here and have not the foggiest clue of the subject I preached on at the end of the sermon? Itís simple. You donít know how to listen to me preach. And itís important for you to know how to listen to me preach, because if you or if your kids do not know how to listen to me preach, and thereby do not listen to me preach, resulting in having no understanding of what I am saying when I preach the Gospel, you cannot be saved.
14. Can you imagine who the culprit is who trains millions of children and adults to slip their brains into neutral and passively listen to the words of another? What device is it that requires no effort to listen to? Right. Your television set, that wonderful instrument that was supposed to be such a powerful educational tool.
15. Television is responsible for 250 millions of Americans who are trained to sit down and turn their brains off while listening to just about anything, whether it be an ungodly soap opera, a sitcom, or a ďman of GodĒ preaching what he claims is the Word of God from behind a Plexiglas pulpit.
16. The response is always the same on the unconscious level. You sit down, you get comfortable, the talking starts, and the hearing of the talking triggers your mind to fade out just enough to doze off for a while, or just enough to miss the message from God you absolutely needed to hear.
17. Now, this is okay when you are listening to television, because the amount of attention or intelligence required to listen to the tube is almost zero. But not so with the Word of God. When Godís Word is being preached you have to pay attention with everything youíve got. This is the means of grace leading to salvation!
18. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to read the Bible when youíre tired or sleepy? The reason itís so hard is because you must actively attend to the matter of reading the Bible for it to benefit you. And the same is true with Scriptural Bible preaching.
19. For you, for me, or for anyone, to benefit from the preaching of Godís Word, especially a Gospel sermon, you must be an active listener. And the key word here is active. Only when you actively listen to the preaching, only when you consciously put forth the effort required to properly listen to the sermon, will you ever get anything out of it.
20. Only when you realize that you must participate in a sermon, both mentally and vocally, will Godís Word really begin to grab hold of your life, will the Spirit of God really begin to use the truth to convict you. And when that point in time comes you will no longer fall asleep in Church, you will no longer hit or miss in your Church attendance, and you will no longer skip Bible study. Why? Because you must hear Godís message for you from Godís Word. If you donít, all is lost.
21. As well, something will happen in your parenting when you actually listen to sermons. There will come a time that you will become so concerned for the conversion of your own children that you will begin to quiz them after Church, either on the way home in the car or at the dinner table.
22. ďTommy, what was the title of preacherís message today?Ē ďJenny, what were the main ideas of the pastorís sermon this morning.Ē ďSally, what did preacher tell folks to do today? Have you ever done that? Would you like to do that?Ē ďSam, how could you sit there and not know the one thing preacher said was the most common mistake folks make in that area?Ē
23. Folks, let me reiterate what I mentioned a few moments ago. If a lost person doesnít understand my sermons he wonít get saved. And there is no way he will ever understand my sermons unless he puts forth the necessary effort to pay attention. Day dream during my sermons and you will go to Hell. Pay attention and you just might get saved.
24. Now, letís stand as brother Isenberger comes and leads us in a great old hymn of the faith.
1. So you say, ďOkay, preacher, if active listening is whatís required to get the most out of a sermon, since Iím here and do not want to waste the time Iím investing in my Church attendance, how do I go about becoming an active listener?Ē Iím glad you asked that question, because in Acts 10.33 we see a beautiful example of an active listener in the person of a Roman centurion named Cornelius.
2. Letís stand to read that verse together: ďImmediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.Ē
3. Understand that this passage does not give the mechanics of proper listening, but it does suggest the proper attitudes that lead to proper listening. We see nothing here about taking notes, about the proper posture when sitting, about the proper amount of sleep, and the right kind of food that will help you to stay awake and attentive.
4. There is nothing said here about not sitting next to distracting people who want to talk or make cute comments at inopportune times. I have actually seen parents distract their unsaved children during Gospel sermons I have preached. These things certainly need attending to, but they are not mentioned here. Such things are far more likely to take care of themselves, you see, when the listenerís attitude is right.
5. If you will imitate Corneliusí attitude, and it is Godís will that you do just that, you will hurdle the greatest of obstacles that stand in your way of properly listening to Gospel sermons. And those Gospel sermons may be used by God to save your wretched soul.
6. Remember, James wrote, ďOf his own will begat he us with the word of truth,Ē James 1.18. So, God uses the Bible to bring sinners to Christ. But do not forget First Corinthians 1.21: ď. . . it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.Ē Thus, we see that God uses the Bible, specifically the Bible preached to sinners, to bring those sinners to Christ.
5. Do you want to serve God? Do you want to learn the Word of God? Do you want to become a more faithful servant of Christ? Do you want to get saved? Then pay close attention to what I say today as I show you three attitudes that will enable you to become a good listener when Godís Word is preached.
1A. FIRST, YOU MUST HAVE THE ATTITUDE OF EAGERNESS
1B. This attitude that makes for better listeners is seen in Corneliusí own words.
1C. Notice his reaction to Godís command to fetch Peter, recorded earlier in the chapter, so that he might be taught the things of God. He described his response to Peter in these words: ďImmediately therefore I sent to thee.Ē
2C. Does that tell you anything? It should. It tells you that Cornelius wanted to know what God had for him through the ministry of Peter, and he wanted to know right now.
3C. Friend, if you ever expect to get anything out of the preaching of Godís Word then youíd better discard the notion that listening to sermons is a chore, or that you are doing God a favor by being in the Church house.
4C. Oh, what lack of judgment and absence of wisdom is displayed by that individual who shuns those occasions when the Word of God is preached, or who does not magnify the importance of the preaching of the Gospel to his own family.
5C. Although brother Isenberger knows that I like good music to lead into my preaching, as a means of stimulating interest and to focus your attention upon the preaching, do not think that the presence or the absence of soul-stirring music in any way mitigates your responsibility to prepare yourself for the preaching of Godís Word.
6C. People need to understand that it is a privilege to hear sermons from the Bible, even if I happen to be the preacher. The important aspect of this whole thing is Godís Word. Amen? Oh, that the Spirit of God would apply Godís Word to the hearts of sinners through preaching.
2B. Here are some good reasons why you should be eager to hear sermons.
1C. Probably the most noticeable thing that happens when the Bible is preached is that men and women can get saved. If you want to be around when souls are getting saved, come and hear preaching. Amen? A man would have to be as spiritually cold as ice to not want to participate in something God uses to bring sinners to Christ. Is that not right?
2C. Next, Bible preaching is Godís preeminent way for Christians to be taught the Word of God.
1D. Some of you may be thinking that it is really the Sunday School where Christians are taught the Bible, but let me share something with you.
2D. In the year 2000 the Sunday School method of ministry celebrated its 220th birthday. Do you realize what that means? It means that for more than 1780 years the preaching of Godís Word was the primary instrument of teaching men the Word of God.
3D. I am not demeaning the Sunday School by any means. I am simply seeking to exalt the preaching of Godís Word. I am simply seeking to shed a Scriptural light on the place of preaching in your life.
4D. In Ephesians 4.11, Paul names the ministries of four gifted men given to Church members for the purpose of maturing them in the faith and teaching them the Word of God. Those men are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. They are all preachers.
5D. Are you eager to learn Godís Word and then to live it? Then you ought to be eager to hear Godís Word preached.
3C. My final reason for being eager to hear a sermon is because in a sermon you can hear Christ glorified in a way not usually found anywhere else. Some examples:
1D. When painting a verbal picture of the salvation which can be found only in Christ, can words be found to express the uniqueness of Jesus Christ any better way than these words preached? ďNeither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,Ē Acts 4.12. I do not think so.
2D. Or when lifting up our glorious Savior in the eyes of men with these words, and crying out for men to humble themselves before Him? ďAnd being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,Ē Philippians 2.8-11. Again, I do not think so.
3D. Or when convincing folks from liturgical religions of Christís exclusive role as mediator between God and men with these words? ďFor there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,Ē First Timothy 2.5-6. I do not think so.
4C. I donít know about you, but I am eager to hear Godís Word properly preached, because when it is properly preached through the power of the Holy Ghost men are saved, Christians are taught, and Christ is glorified in a way unparalleled by other means. That is not done with half-wit homilies, doctrineless devotions, or timid teaching. Only through strong Bible preaching does God wonderfully bless in this way.
5C. To listen properly to a sermon from Godís Word you must have an eagerness, a hungering if you will, for Bible preaching. That is what Cornelius had. That is what you need to have. If you do not have that attitude, you should set yourself to the task of cultivating it.
2A. SECOND, YOU MUST HAVE THE TOOL OF APPRECIATION
1B. Cornelius appreciated Peter coming to deliver Godís Word to him.
1C. This is seen in his own words again: ďand thou hast well done that thou art come.Ē ďIím glad you came, preacher.Ē Cornelius understood that Peter was a man sent from God with divine truth to declare to him.
2C. At first Cornelius attempted to show Peter extreme reverence, but Peter would have none of it. Peter was not self-deluded. He knew he was, after all, only a man, and not someone who would expect you to kiss his ring or anything.
3C. But Cornelius still appreciated Peterís ministry, even after it was clearly communicated that the preacher was only a sinner saved by grace, just like he was. But he was a sinner called by God and consecrated to His glorious Gospel ministry.
2B. So, Cornelius had definite reasons for appreciating Peterís ministry of preaching divine truth. You folks today have those same reasons, and more.
1C. Preachers ought to be appreciated because they are Christís gift to the Church, Ephesians 4.8 and 11.
1D. When the Lord gives a gift you should appreciate it. There is nothing more disconcerting to me than ingratitude.
2D. But too many Churchgoers are ingrates with regard to their preacher. Too many do not appreciate what God is trying to do in their lives through the ministry of their preacher, and in the lives of their children.
2C. Second, preachers should be appreciated for protecting the flock.
1D. Here is what Paul told the preachers from Ephesus: ďTake heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,Ē Acts 20.28.
2D. Examine the Old Testament and the New Testament. Take note of Godís means of protection for His people then and now. Thereís a difference.
3D. Then, God used the angelic host to protect His people. Now, God has seen fit to use God-called men to protect His people from supernatural attack and from divisive elements who would rip Churches asunder.
4D. You ought to appreciate the preacher for the protection he provides for your life, much of it coming through his sermonizing.
3C. And third, preachers ought to be appreciated because your appreciation of the preacher helps to prepare you to receive his message from the Book. You will simply be more receptive, barriers and resistance to truth will be reduced, if you genuinely appreciate the preacherís role in Godís plan for your life.
4C. Cornelius had reason to appreciate this preacher God had sent to him. And I know that it initially sounds self-serving for me to say that you do, too. But I am here to declare unto you the whole counsel of Godís Word, and your appreciation for my personal commitment to doing that is good for you.
5C. By the way, many of you are wonderfully appreciative as I preach. In that respect I am not complaining at all. But others of you are obviously less appreciative than you could be; not of me, but unappreciative of Godís provision for your spiritual well-being.
6C. Occasionally, as one young man once told me, parents completely undermine a preacherís effectiveness when they express to their children the opinion that pastorís preaching is ineffective in bringing their children to Christ. And the children will listen to what I preach after hearing a mom or a dad say that?
7C. Have the tool of eagerness. Have, also, the tool of appreciation.
3A. FINALLY, YOU MUST HAVE THE TOOL OF UNDERSTANDING
Letís read his words again: ďNow therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.Ē Cornelius understood that somehow God had chosen to communicate certain truths through the life of another man to him, and that for that truth he would be held responsible by God.
1B. I am not trying to imply that any mediatorial role was occupied by Peter, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches.
1C. We who read our Bibles and study them with discernment realize that no man or woman stands between you and Christ in that respect. No mere human mediator is needed, or is competent.
2C. For one thing, the Lord Jesus, Himself, is the sole mediator between you and God, First Timothy 2.5: ďFor there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.Ē He is unique in this respect. There is no one else like Him.
3C. Secondly, all believers are now priests, according to First Peter 2.9: ďBut ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.Ē Since I am a priest, why do I need a priest? Amen?
2B. What Cornelius understood, instead, was that God had chosen to use men with the Gospel to reach men, to use men with the Bible to teach men. And though these men are instruments in Godís hands, you will stand before God someday, responsible to Him for the truth that has been given to you by such men as me. Understand that.
1. Three tools that Cornelius had which helped him to be a good listener. Eagerness, which naturally reflected his emotional, intellectual and spiritual hunger to know Godís will for his life. Appreciation...of Godís servant as the channel by which much of Godís will for his life would be made known to him. Understanding ...of his responsibility before God to be obedient to that portion of Godís will that was declared through the preacherís ministry.
2. Do you know how to listen to a sermon? Does your family? Do you prepare yourself for Church and do you prepare your family by cultivating eagerness, appreciation, and understanding?
3. Are you an unconverted person? Then youíd better be eager, youíd better be appreciative, and youíd better understand that God has chosen me to guide you to Christ.
4. Prepare yourself in this way before you next come to Church. If you have children, prepare them as best you can before you next come to Church. As well, pray that God will bless me. And then cultivate an eagerness to see these prayers answered. Get excited about Gospel preaching. Parents? If you are excited about Gospel preaching your kids will get excited about it, as well.
5. Next, cultivate appreciation for those who minister to you. How can I be a man and not be especially concerned for the spiritual welfare of someone who I know appreciates my ministry? How can I not be particularly careful to remember that person in prayer? And do you not think the Savior is pleased when you appreciate the gifted man He has given to you?
6. Finally, ask yourself what you are responsible to do at the conclusion of my messages. Understand that you are responsible to God for the message from His Word to you. Because, you see, people who have all three of these tools (eagerness, appreciation, and understanding) and use them, are the people who end up getting saved, who I see growing in grace, and who seem to grow in spiritual stature. It is such people as these that God places His hand on to bless.
7. But I have never in my life seen a sinner come to Christ who was not eager during the preaching of the Gospel, who was not appreciative to me or whoever was preaching for the message from Godís Word, and who did not understand that heíd better get it, better get it right, and better get it soon, or he was lost forever.