It is common to wonder about the role of sermons in the lives of everyday Christians. Why do pastors spend so much time preparing a weekly sermon? Wouldn’t it be better if he spent more time in meetings with teams of leaders, counseling the hurting, building relationships with visitors, or discipling young believers? Of course, those are all key aspects of pastoral ministry. However, every Christian should recognize the role of preaching in their lives. Further, they should devote themselves to listening to biblical preaching. Even though we live in an age with multimillion-dollar action movies and TED talks, the weekly sermon in a local church is key to the spiritual growth of everyday Christians. Ordinary believers need to understand the Sunday sermon is grounded in a deep theology of the Word of God. Further, listening to sermons is essential for our spiritual growth. The church also needs a revival in our understanding of preaching as an avenue of grace. Spiritual maturity is linked to our ability to soak up a faithful sermon. Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the role of the sermon in our corporate worship as a needed reminder of the gospel.
2 Timothy 3:16 teaches, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” This phrase means God’s Word comes from inside of him. This truth is the ground for the biblical doctrine of inerrancy. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith (1833) is the origin of the Baptist Faith and Message 1925, 1963, and 2000. All four statements explain the Bible is truth “without any mixture of error.” The reason his Word cannot be mixed with any untruth is that only truth is found inside God. The Bible, therefore, is truth.
2 Timothy 3:16 builds on inerrancy to explain that because Scripture is from inside God and truthful it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” As truth “without any mixture of error” the Bible is useful. Specifically, the Bible is beneficial for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. God provides His Word for us to learn doctrine. We need to know it theoretically in order to apply it practically. Interpretation leads to application. His Word is how God chooses to convict. We perceive our sin as sin through Scripture convicting us. Therefore, the Bible makes straight what was crooked. It shows us the way we should go. As a result, it trains, educates, and disciplines us to live according to God’s way. The pathway to righteousness is through the Bible. The end result is that the Bible equips us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).
If the Bible comes from inside God and is truthful and useful to equip us for good works, then what should we do with it? 2 Timothy 4:2 says we are to “preach the word.” We are to proclaim or herald the good news of the Bible. It is truth and it teaches us how to live faithfully. We should urgently tell the world what it teaches. People need to know. But, what does preaching really mean?
Definitions of preaching abound. Sadly, due to so much unfaithful preaching, definitions have to be refined. Both a technical definition for expository preaching is needed as well as a simpler more straight-forward one. First, expository preaching consists of a Christian preacher uncovering an author’s intended meaning of a section of the Bible by means of the historical, grammatical, literal (consistent with the genre of the passage) exegesis as well as enlightenment by the Holy Spirit; then structuring a sermon not only built around the central idea of the text but also the structure and thought of the text; then placing the passage within the metanarrative of redemptive history; then interpreting a universal principle which he first applies to himself; and concluding by applying the Scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit to his audience. That was a mouthful! However, notice the definition includes five key components: exegesis, central idea and structure, metanarrative, universal principle, and application.
Second, expository preaching is simply defined as a sermon that explains and applies the passage preached. But, why is it so important for a pastor to explain and apply the Bible?
Churches and pastors should commit to preach the Bible because of the examples provided Scriptures. Beginning in Genesis 1, we learn that God ultimately creates by speaking Creation into existence. His Word (or communication) is what brings life. Another interesting example is the account of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37. God brings his prophet to a valley filled with bones. The bones are so dead they are described as dry. Again, God’s chosen method of bringing life is the communication of His Word. The prophet is told to preach of the dry bones. As a result of his proclamation the bones come to life. In the book of Ezra, we read of God’s people rebuilding the temple. We see scenes of God’s people gathering in order to hear the prophet explain and apply God’s Word. As a result, we see a familiar Old Testament phrase that the people are doing things “as it is written” (Ezra 3:2). Faithfulness to the preaching and explanation of God’s Word led to the application of rebuilding the temple.
We also see helpful examples in the New Testament where God’s Word is explained and applied. Between the testaments the synagogue system was established. Throughout the land of Israel buildings were built with the primary purpose of reading the Scriptures then explaining and applying them. Jesus provided us an example in Luke 24 where He appeared on the Road to Emmaus. He walked and talked with two who followed Him but strangely do not recognize Him. Jesus proceeded to explain the meaning of all the Bible to them. Then, upon hearing His explanations God enabled them to see Jesus.
A great example of faithful preaching was Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. He explained and applied texts like Joel 2 and Psalm 16 in order to call the crowd to repent and believe. Thousands were born again at the preaching of God’s Word. Finally, we are given an interesting account in Acts 8 that helps us further understand the importance of preaching. The Spirit led Philip to an Ethiopian Eunuch reading the book of Isaiah. The problem was the man needed to do more than just read it because he did not understand it. In Acts 8:30, Philip asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Understanding was what he lacked therefore he needed more than just reading. The Ethiopian Eunuch needed preaching. Philip proceeded to explain and apply the Bible to him resulting in the man’s salvation.
Again, preaching is explaining and applying the Bible. Communication of God’s Word leads to life. In fact, the biblical model of someone experiencing new life and being born again is through the avenue of the preaching of God’s Word. We need to read the Bible, but sitting at home alone reading it is not sufficient for a healthy spiritual life. Every Christian needs the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, we need a renewed understanding of preaching as a means of grace.
Spiritual disciplines are biblical habits that promote spiritual growth. 1 Timothy 4:7 calls us to train ourselves in order to become godlier. However, we have to be careful and not make the mistake of the Pharisees in believing the discipline is the godliness. Christians, unlike the Pharisees, understand spiritual practices are a means to an end. Further, another mistake of the Pharisees was living out their spirituality in their own strength. Moralism, being good or righteous through human strength, is contrary to the gospel. For example, in Philippians 2:12 God calls us to obey and to work out our salvation with “fear and trembling.” However, he goes onto say in Philippians 2:13 that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” As a result, not only is godliness the goal of our spiritual habits, but we cannot ultimately do them out of our own strength. Therefore, it is helpful to think of spiritual disciplines as means of grace. These biblical habits are how God pours out his grace in order to conform us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).
Biblically, we see a series of ways God’s grace conforms people into the image of Jesus. Bible reading is key to spiritual growth. Prayer is a vital means of grace. Ministry and service are also hallmarks of a healthy spiritual life. However, listening to preaching is also essential. Ephesians 4:11 explains God has given the church individuals gifted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Each of those god-gifted roles requires preaching. Paul goes onto explain the reason God has given us those ministers. He says they are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). Their preaching is a means of grace to help everyday Christians mature to the point of doing ministry. Like prayer or Bible reading or good works, preaching is a means of grace given to each and every Christian.
If preaching is a means of grace, how can everyday Christians be equipped through listening to the preaching of God’s Word? First, be prayerful to prepare your heart to hear God’s Word. Most Christians do not pop out of bed in the morning excited to hear a sermon. Therefore, we need the Spirit’s help. We need to pray to God to give us a heart to hear what we need to hear from the upcoming sermon.
Second, learn how you learn. Some people are classified as audible learners while others are visual learners. Some are active learners while others are reflective learners. While some learn through sequential steps others are called global learners. Learning how you are wired can help you develop proactive strategies to better hear God’s Word.
Third, take notes. The sermon is primarily an audible experience. However, even if you are a visual learner take notes on what you are hearing. Pastors should develop sermon notes and ways for the congregation to fill in blanks. Related, preachers should make the main points clear. However, preachers should not make note taking too obvious. Sequential learners need to see the flow of thought, but global learners need to figure some things out for themselves. Even if your pastor does not provide sermon notes, everyone learns best with a pen in their hand writing down key concepts as well as notable truths.
Fourth, listening to a sermon and taking notes will require someone to develop their concentration abilities. The success of apps like TikTok highlight our generation’s short attention spans. Pray for God to help you concentrate. Make it a game to see how long you can focus. Remember, concentration can be developed.
Fifth, in your mind or on your sermon notes, ask the “So, what?” questions. Educators understand one of the best motivations for student learning is to quickly demonstrate relevance and usefulness. God is communicating through every verse in the Bible, therefore our role is to determine the relevance of the passage. When we listen to a sermon we need to ask questions like: “What do I need to believe?, What do I need to turn from? How does this passage convict me? How does this verse encourage me? What does this say about my heart? What does this Scripture teach me about Jesus and his gospel grace?” Keep your mind active by discovering how your pastor’s sermon can transform your thinking, emotions, and behaviors.
During the pandemic we have all been reminded of the charge from Hebrews 10:25 to not neglect the habit of meeting together. For a season we had to neglect this habit. However, one of the main reasons we meet together is to hear the preaching of God’s Word. The sermon is meant to be a communal experience. Everyday Christians are designed to come together and collectively hear the Word preached. Together we are to learn, be admonished, and encouraged. Together we are to believe and repent. Together we are to remember the good news of the gospel. Brothers and sisters, do not neglect the hearing of God’s Word preached. We all need it. It is a gift. Preaching is a means of God’s grace. I pray your pastor sees you this Sunday with your Bible open and your pen in hand!