As Christians who are committed to the authority of God’s Word, we hold preachers to a high standard of faithfulness to the Scriptures. And rightfully so. In the context of Christian ministry, Paul said that “it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4.2). In fact, quite often we hear prayer requests asking God to help our pastor preach faithfully: “Lord, help Pastor John not to say anything that isn’t from you,” as it’s often phrased. And, again, all of this right.
So what happens when we’ve identified that kind of faithful ministry? The Bible’s answer is that we submit and pay attention (Heb. 13.17, 2.1).
In other words, we are just as responsible to be faithful hearers as our pastors are to be faithful preachers.
“We are just as responsible to be faithful hearers as our pastors are to be faithful preachers.”
Preaching Ultimately Depends on the Hearers
For faithful preaching to have its God-intended impact, it must be mixed with faithful listening (Heb. 4.2). And it may be that the simplest, easiest way to be that kind of listener is to approach each sermon armed with a single question: “How does God want my life to change as a result of this sermon?”
Over the course of my life as a believer, I have been impressed with the sheer volume of emphasis there is in the Bible on faithful preaching in contrast to the amount of material there is on responsible listening and obedience to what is heard (see Hebrews 2.1, for example). This contrast has also caught the attention of Ken Ramey, pastor-teacher of Lakeside Bible Church in Montgomery, TX. In his book Expository Listening, Ramey writes:
…it is astounding when you consider…that the Bible says more about the listener’s responsibility to hear and obey the Word of God than it does about the preacher’s responsibility to explain and apply the Word of God… God is very concerned about how preachers preach. But based on the sheer amount of biblical references to hearing and listening, it is unmistakeable that God is just as, if not more, concerned about how listeners listen (Ken Ramey, Expository Listening: A Practical Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word, Kress Christian Publications: Woodland, TX, 2010).
Depending on how long you’re a believer, you may listen to anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 sermons during your lifetime. Ramey goes on to write:
At the end of your life you will give an account for every sermon you heard. On that day, God will…ask you, ‘How has your life changed as a result of the thousands of times you have heard my Word preached?’ (ibid.)
Prepare to Listen This Lord’s Day
As the week progresses and we move toward this coming Lord’s Day, I would dare say that the most needful prayer in your church is not for your pastor, but for yourself and the brothers and sisters in the pews around you. If you truly attend a church that is faithful to the Scriptures, you likely have faithful preaching. What you really need, then, is faithful hearing.
God wants faithful preaching. But God also wants faithful hearers. In fact, if the hearers aren’t faithful, it doesn’t matter if the Lord Jesus Christ himself is the one proclaiming the message (Jn. 8.37-47). At the end of the day, the Word must find ready and fertile soil in the hearts of those who hear.
So again, we commend to you this simple question: “How does God want my life to change as a result of this sermon?” As you listen to your pastor this coming Sunday, arm yourself with that question, ask the Lord to help you answer it, and then listen for the answer as the Word is proclaimed.
“If you truly attend a church that is faithful to the Scriptures, you likely have faithful preaching. What you really need, then, is faithful hearing.”