December 17, 2017

How to Listen to Preaching

Scott Williquette

As a pastor, I teach and preach from God’s Word numerous times weekly. Each time I stand before my people I pray that the Lord will give them listening ears and humble, teachable spirits. But when Christians listen to preaching, or for that matter read Christian books, they must possess not just a humble and teachable spirit. They must also employ a discerning spirit.

Obviously, it would be wonderful if every sermon from every preacher and every book in Christian bookstores were guaranteed to be driven by the text of Scripture. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Men whose preaching is not governed by their text sometimes occupy pulpits across the land, even Fundamental Baptist pulpits. And sadly, the shelves in Christian bookstores contain heresy as well as help. So what are we to do? When my people sit in church next Sunday, what are they responsible before the Lord to do? As Christians listen to preachers and teachers, read books, and even engage in conversation, what are they to do with the ideas they encounter?

In 1 Thessalonians 5:20–22 Paul supplies the answer to that question. He writes, “Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.” Paul’s point in these verses is that God’s people must listen to preaching with eager and discerning ears. Each believer today should take Paul’s challenge to heart and become an eager and discerning listener to the proclamation of truth.

Taking a Closer Look

But what does Paul mean here by “prophesying”? The early church included both apostles and prophets. Aprophet, by definition, is one who foretold and forth-told God’s revelation. In other words, a prophet received direct revelation from God and communicated it to God’s people— foretold the future when God wanted him to and preached God’s message as he received it. This is exactly what Paul means. In the church at Thessalonica prophets received direct revelation from God and preached that truth to those in the church. Remember, the New Testament had not been written yet, and most believers did not possess those portions that did exist. So, in the words of Ephesians 4:11, God “gave some [to be] apostles, some [to be] prophets, some [to be] evangelists, and some [to be] pastors and teachers.” Paul is saying to the church in Thessalonica, “Do not despise the Word of God when it is being proclaimed by God’s prophets.”

This word “despise” is especially strong. It means “to treat with contempt” or “to see something as of no account.” Apparently some people in the church were disregarding the proclamation of God’s truth. They heard God’s message proclaimed, but they disregarded it. They viewed it as insignificant and tossed it aside.

The question arises, “Does this command have any application for today?” We must never disregard the proclamation of God’s Word. So let’s ask the question, “In what ways do God’s people toss aside the proclamation of God’s Word today?”

Skipping Church

One way in which some people disregard God’s Word is by not attending church services where it is proclaimed. The church exists to glorify God by edifying Christians, evangelizing the lost, and expanding the Lord’s work. One of the chief ways the church accomplishes those goals is by preaching and teaching God’s Word. That’s a primary task of the pastor—to preach the entire counsel of God faithfully. However, one of the primary tasks of a church member is to be in church when the doors are open in order to hear that preaching.

I can’t recall how many times someone has said to me, “You should preach a series on such-and-such. That would really be interesting . . .”

Frequently I’ve had to respond, “I just preached on that two Sundays ago,” or “I just preached an entire series on that topic during the Sunday evening services,” or “I taught that in Sunday school.” In other words, I preached on their topic, but they weren’t there to hear it. What benefit is the preaching of God’s Word if we are not in church? What are we communicating when we treat church attendance flippantly? Aren’t we saying that the preaching of God’s Word is of no account to us?

Wandering Thoughts

Another way in which some people disregard the proclamation of God’s Word is by not paying close attention to what is taught. What do we do as we listen to preaching? Do we daydream? Do we plan the next meal? Or do we listen closely? Do we take notes so that we can better remember what is taught? The average adult attention span is six minutes. That’s why the Tonight Show has a commercial break about every six-to-eight minutes! We need to develop our attention span when it comes to God’s truth.

Tuning Out

Likewise, we disregard the proclamation of God’s Word when we listen selectively. Evidently there is a hearing disorder called “selective hearing.” It infects all children of all ages. It also infects most husbands when their wives hold a “honey-do list” in their hands. The story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid attention to what he said in those lines. One day, during a reception, he decided to do an experiment. To each person who came down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work,” and “We are proud of you. God bless you, sir. It was not until the end of the line, when greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Unaffected, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”

“Selective hearing” is a choice people make not to listen to something being said. Some people develop selective hearing the minute they step into a church auditorium. Maybe they hear something that steps on their toes, and they choose to tune it out. Or perhaps they don’t appreciate a particular doctrine and opt to let it pass unheeded. But the Bible is not a smorgasbord meal where a person can pick and choose only what appeals to him. When a spiritual meal is laid out during a sermon, we have no choice but to listen, absorb, apply, and humbly submit to it.

Excuses, Excuses

Harboring an attitude of skepticism is another means of disregarding God’s Word. For instance, certain people cling to a favorite excuse for ignoring Biblical preaching. They may justify their contempt for Biblical preaching by mentally attacking the preacher. They think, “He’s not perfect; why do I have to listen to him?” “He sins too, so why should I submit to what he says?” Of course, no preacher or Bible teacher is void of sin. But we cannot disregard God’s message simply because the messenger is flawed. As long as the messenger is preaching God’s message and not his own, we must not dismiss it. Those who preached in Thessalonica were flawed. They were sinners. But nevertheless Paul commanded the believers in Thessalonica, “Despise not prophesyings.”

Content to Be Shallow

Sometimes we disregard the proclamation of God’s Word when we are concerned only with general truth and not the deeper issues. I personally know a person who, whenever doctrinal discussions come up, responds, “Let’s not talk about these kinds of things; I have a simple faith.” That’s a veiled way of saying, “I’m not teachable” or “I’ll be the judge of how much of God’s truth will control my life.” In other words, “Even though God thought these harder doctrinal truths were important enough to reveal to me, I don’t believe they’re important.” When harder, deeper, truths are preached, it’s not time to take a nap. Instead, that’s the time to lean forward and listen more intently.

Elevating Entertainment

Knowingly exchanging Bible-based preaching for entertainment is also disregard for the proclamation of truth. Many churchgoers would prefer to have entertaining stories, drama, music, or secular psychology instead of detailed Bible exposition. Noticing this tendency, C. H. Spurgeon once commented, “Do not go where it is all fine music and grand talk and beautiful architecture: those things neither fill anybody’s stomach, nor feed his soul. Go where the gospel is preached, the gospel that really feeds your soul, and go often.”

In Proverbs 2:1–5 Solomon provides a graphic description of the eagerness with which a child of God should seek an understanding of God’s truth. He wrote,

My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.

Next Sunday, when your pastor opens his Bible to proclaim God’s truth, be there with ears ready to hear and a heart eager to submit to God’s truth. Be on time. Be attentive. Listen with humility. Attend to the teachings of God’s Word no matter how deep and mind-stretching they might be. But above all, never despise, disregard, or toss aside God’s truth—not for any reason.

Scott Williquette is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Rockford, Illinois.

(Originally published in FrontLine • September/October 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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