I introduced my last study by saying that the way I listen to preaching has changed in the last 18 months or so.
To summarise the difference between how I used to listen and how I listen now: I think previously I was listening like the people Paul talks about in 2 Timothy 4v3 with itchy ears, accumulating teachers to suit their own passions. Of course, I didn’t see it that way at the time. I would’ve asserted very strongly that I wanted to listen to preachers who faithfully taught the Bible, but the thing was, the way I judged whether a preacher was faithfully teaching the Bible wasn’t actually based on whether I could see for myself that they’d got what they were saying from the Bible, I just judged whether a sermon was any good based on my existing understanding of Christianity.
Now, to be fair, I think my understanding of Christianity was pretty good, but I don’t think it was perfect, and I still don’t think it’s perfect now. So I don’t want to use my current understanding of Christianity as my guide for working out whether what I’m hearing is a good sermon or not. I think the Scriptures are a much more reliable guide, and therefore, I now want to listen to preachers who reason from the Scriptures, which I think is the way the noble Bereans listened to Paul’s teaching in Acts 17v11.
What I want to do this time is to very briefly re-cap from last time what I think we can learn from what Acts 17 says about Paul’s teaching, and how the Bereans responded to Paul’s teaching, and then I want to bring in some other texts that I think represent the Biblical principles that have led to the change in my understanding on what we should be looking for in a sermon.
Last time, from Acts 17v11, I noted that the Bereans “examined the Scriptures daily to see if“ what Paul was saying was true (they didn’t just sit there and passively accept everything Paul said, assuming he was being faithful to God’s word unless he said something that blatantly contradicted what they already believed; they actively checked what he said against the Scriptures). Then I noted that “they received the word with all eagerness” (they eagerly received God’s word. Not “they eagerly received sermons that challenged them”, or “they eagerly received historic reformed teaching”, or the preacher’s favourite topics, but God’s word). And they “examined the Scriptures to see if these things were so” (they expected to be able to see for themselves how the preacher got what he was saying from the Scriptures).
Then from Acts 17v2, I noted that Paul “reasoned with them” (he used logic to persuade them of the truth. It wasn’t about his passionate delivery or emotive language. The Jews in Thessalonica were good at stirring people up, but they stirred them up to fight against the truth. Not that stirring messages are always bad, but the fact that a message stirs us up doesn’t mean it’s good, we want to be stirred by our understanding of the truth contained in God’s word). Also, Paul “reasoned with them” (he made sure they understood his logic, rather than studying in private and just declaring his conclusions, expecting his listeners to accept everything he said just because he was cleverer than them). And Paul reasoned “from the Scriptures” (he worked out what the Scriptures said, rather than starting with what he wanted to say and looking for quotes he could use from the Bible to support his opinions).
We’re going to be looking at a few different texts, but the passage I’m going to refer to several times is 2 Tim 3v16-4v4:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
Now, to give you some idea where I’m going with this, first, I want to look at two types of sermon, then I want to look at the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching, and finally I want to look at listening to preaching as beholding the glory of God.