“Listening To A Sermon”

After the sermon folks strolling past the preacher say something like: “Good job” or “Good sermon;” the majority say nothing. This got me to thinking about how people listen to a sermon.


Preaching is the means by which God’s word is communicated (1 Corinthians 1:21). Therefore, it is no wonder that throughout the book of Acts we find men preaching God’s Word. Such was the case when Paul traveled to Berea (Acts 17:10-11). Luke records how the Bereans 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. One: they had open minds. Two: they had open Bibles. Three: they had open schedules so they could listen. 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. What do we mean? Some have in mind the entertainment level of the speaker. Was he interesting? Did he have a good delivery? Was he able to keep our minds from wandering? Did he have any irritable mannerisms? 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 importance to people, including Christians. Thus it is just a small step to begin viewing preaching as something designed to entertain.


Now wait! I am not lobbying for boring, long-winded, sloppy, uninteresting preaching. Just because a man wants to say something does not mean he can. Those men who preach the Word of God should do so with passion and clarity. Preachers should endeavor to preach with such plainness 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 searched the Scriptures. 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! 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 message they heard was special. They were not being entertained by some smooth talking insincere sales-person. They were hearing the very words of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). When the Word of God is preached the audience is in the presence of God (Acts 10:33).


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.” Or, perhaps we just become angry at what was said—because it fit us so well. So, instead of making a personal application—some 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?” (Matthew 26:22). Such introspect would serve us well!


Guard 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). Jesus had grown up there—they knew Joseph and Mary, His siblings, therefore “Who is He to tell us what to do or believe?”


Perhaps we have a personal misgiving about the speaker, so we just dismiss the entire message. “He hurt my feelings once and so I don’t listen to a thing he has to say!” Or maybe we conclude that he lacks 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 does not change what the Bible has to say.


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