Brothers and Sisters,
Did you know that you have a responsibility to prepare yourself for the preaching of the Word? And, not only to prepare, but actively receive and implement what you hear in your life?
Sometimes folks just think the sermon is the preacher’s thing. “Oh, let’s see what he came up with this week. Hope he doesn’t go too long. Oh, he did well (or not so well)?” The concern for the preacher “doing his job” through his diligence during the whole sermon process, from concept to hatching the egg, is extremely important. Indeed, the preacher is expected, accountable before God and the congregation, to labor in the text and bring the fruit of his labor to the pulpit for the edification of the congregation. The PCA BCO (53-3) states it thus:
Preaching requires much study, meditation, and prayer, and ministers should prepare their sermons with care, and not indulge themselves in loose, extemporary harangues, nor serve God with that which costs them naught. They should, however, keep to the simplicity of the Gospel, and express themselves in language that can be understood by all. They should also by their lives adorn the Gospel which they preach, and be examples to believers in word and deed.
That’s quite a charge upon a preacher’s life. But we are mistaken if we think that the preacher is the only one who has responsibilities concerning the sermon.
The Reformed theology of preaching not only addresses the preacher, but also the hearer of the Word. The congregation has a responsibility that is outlined in answer to the WLC question 160:
It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence (Prv 8:34), preparation (1 Pt 2:1–2, Lk 8:18), and prayer (Ps 119:18, Eph 6:18–19); examine what they hear by the scriptures (Acts 17:11); receive the truth with faith (Heb 4:2), love (2 Thes 2:10), meekness (Js 1:21), and readiness of mind (Acts 17:11), as the word of God (1 Thes 2:13); meditate (Lk 9:44, Heb. 2:1), and confer of it (Lk 24:14, Dt 6:6–7); hide it in their hearts (Prv 2:1, Ps 119:11), and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives (Lk 8:15, Jas 1:25).
Hearing a sermon is not a passive thing. The command of the Lord in Jas 1:22 is clear, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Hearing a sermon is an activity that involves effort and diligence on the part of the congregation, involving much more than simply sitting in the pew while the preacher does the work (Jas 1:22-25).
When was the last time you consciously prepared to receive a sermon? When was the last time you mentally engaged with the sermon, wrestling with it? When was the last time you meditated upon and hid in your heart the preached Word of God? And when was the last time a sermon actually caused you to truly evaluate your life in such a way that fruit was brought forth in your life from it?
Perhaps you do this every time. Perhaps you never do this. You know. The Lord knows.
Hearing the preached Word must be an activity of faith in the Lord and love for the Lord. We must not relegate the preached word to the equivalent of the opinion of a talking head we see on TV. As the subheading in the Second Helvetic Confession (SHC), an early Reformed confession ca. 1566, states in chapter one, “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” The SHC then elaborates, “When this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed and received by the faithful.” Indeed, the act of preaching is not a speech, or a lecture, or some other such secular activity. It is a distinctly Christian action. The preaching of a sermon is the act of a warrior of God stepping forth into battle in the pulpit against the evil one by speaking the Word of God. The message receives its power through no special attribute of the preacher but by the power of the Spirit of God at work in the lives of the hearers and the preacher.
Hence, preaching is a distinctly theological activity designed to be a means that the Lord uses to speak to and transform the hearts and actions of the hearers. The apostle Paul refers to the “foolishness of preaching” in 1 Cor. 1:21. It is this method that God has chosen for the gospel to be proclaimed in order “to save those who believe.” Although to the world, preaching and the preached message may seem foolish, they are effective because God provides the effectual power behind them. And so, Paul, speaking to the Corinthian Church, proclaims, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, righteousness and also sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor 1:30-31, my trans.). This truth is just as real in the local church today. None can boast in their own power—the preacher cannot boast in his effectiveness as a preacher; the people cannot boast in their life in Christ.
Does the Spirit of God take the preached Word of God and make it understandable for you, and does he take it to your heart and impact you to the core of your soul? Maybe he does every time. Or maybe never. The thing is, while the Spirit can override our stubbornness and faithlessness when it comes to how we receive the preached Word (2 Tm 2:25), our sin can hinder the benefits of grace in our lives so that we might wholly live for Christ, by quenching the Spirit (1 Thes 5:19-20; Eph 4:30; cf. Heb 10:26-29). Hence, the exhortation in Heb 12:1, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Just like our sin can sap our joy, so our sin can hinder our receiving the Word of God in its full power (2 Pt 2:5-9).
It is a wondrous miracle that through the power of the Spirit of God we can receive the Word with true spiritual understanding to where it impacts every aspect our lives (2 Cor 2:6-16). The Word of God transforms us, putting our lives in line with his will in our thoughts and actions (Rom 12:2). Don’t miss out on the power that is right there in the preached Word. Be faithful and diligent in your preparation for, reception of, struggle with, meditations upon, and living out the Word of God. Pray that the Lord will enable you to do this, to show you the way, to will and to work for his good pleasure concerning his Word.
May the Lord be with you!