At the beginning of this new year we are examining a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.
Lest we lose the “big picture”, let’s put before us again the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:
- Expect God to speak
- Admit God knows better than you
- Check the preacher says what the passage says
- Hear the sermon in church
- Be there week by week
- Do what the Bible says
- Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!
We have considered in past weeks #s 1-3; tonight we consider #4 – “hear the sermon in church.” This may seem so obvious to us, but Ash makes another important point here, especially in light of our day of “virtual” church (concerning which he says “there is no such thing”!) and private “digital” listening to sermons via the Internet anytime we want, maybe sometimes in lieu of the Word in church on Sunday with God’s people.
“So what” you say? Listen up! as Ash reminds us why we must “hear the sermon in church.”
…The normal place for preaching is the gathering of the local church. We are to hear sermons as a people gathered together; they are not preached so that we can listen to them solo later.
…This church was defined by the call of the word of God to gather under the word of God. It began when God said to Moses: ‘Assemble the people before me to hear my words” (Deuteronomy 4 v 10). This set the standard shape and pattern for the people of God, who are gathered by the word of God (God takes the initiative to summon them, and us) and gathered to sit together under the word of God (‘to hear my words’), to be shaped together by His word. God’s purpose is not to shape a collection of individuals to be each like Christ, but to form a Christlike people.
We may even say that preaching is properly done only when the people of God in a local church gather. When we listen to an MP3 recording of a sermon, we are not listening to preaching, but to an echo of preaching in the past (pp.12-13).
Do you see the biblical basis for what Ash says? Do we see the pattern God set for us? But there are practical reasons why we need to hear the word together too. I like what Ash says next:
When we listen to a sermon together, we are accountable to one another for our response. Hearing while gathered is significantly better than hearing alone.
…When we listen together, you know what message I’ve heard, and I know what message you’ve heard. I’ve heard it. You know I’ve heard it. I know that you know I’ve heard it! And you expect me to respond to the message, just as I hope you will. And so we encourage one another and stir up one another to do what the Bible says. By being with you, I make it easier for myself to respond the way I know I ought to respond. …If I pay no attention to the sermon I heard with you sitting beside me, you will know, and I would hate you to know I wasn’t listening!
When we listen together, we respond together… (pp.13-14).
Isn’t that a valid point? And a very practical one? I need you to help me listen to the Word preached properly. And you need me. And so we need to be in church together to hear the Word together.
Let that truth help us prepare for worship tomorrow. Including the determination to be there. In church. Next to you. I’m going to pray for the preacher and for God’s blessing on the Word he brings. And for you as you hear. Will you pray for me? We are in this “together.”