By Rev. Matt Adams,
First Presbyterian Church, Dillon
Let me set the scene, you and your wife have the rare opportunity to go out to eat. Wanting to make the most of it, you choose a restaurant you have never tried, but that has a good reputation and you make reservations. Before getting there, you go to their online menu to see your dinner options. So, before you even sat down, you already knew what you were going to have – in fact, you had been thinking about it all day. That little amount of planning and preparation allowed you to enjoy your meal and time with your wife that much more.
Does this sound familiar? I’m sure you have done something like this before. I know I have! However, I wonder if we give the same effort and attention to the preached word as it is “served up” every week by our pastors in the local church? Can we say that week by week we have fed upon the Word of God as fully as we might? Or could all of use a little more diligence in this area to improve our spiritual appetite?
Don’t misunderstand me, I know that it is upon the pastor to, “Preach the word in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2); however, there is an equal duty upon the hearer to hear what is preached.
Let me refer to a “catechism question.” Catechisms are a means of teaching truths of the faith, and they were especially taught to new believers and children as they learned what it meant to be a Christian. A certain compilation of these “catechisms” is called the Westminster Larger Catechism. Look what question #160 says, “What is required of those that hear the Word?”. We can break down the answer into three parts — before, during, and after — the sermon. Let’s take a look at each one:
Before the Sermon
Most churchgoers believe they are doing well if they show up, and don’t get me wrong that is a huge part. However, the catechism says that it is required to “attend upon the preached word with diligence, preparation, and prayer.”
In other words, there is an expectation for what will occur in and through the preached word and worship service. Just like you had an eager expectation for the meal at the restaurant, or you might have excitement for an upcoming event, so the believer should have an expectation for what the Spirit of God will do through the Word before it is given and have made preparations to receive it.
But what does preparation look like? Like arranging your schedule so that you can be in attendance and free of other work and distractions; being in prayer for yourself, those attending, and the pastor as he prepares and then delivers the message; reading the Scripture passage beforehand so as to already have your mind set upon it.
During the Sermon
While listening may seem like a passive activity, being a good listener takes a lot of active effort. This is especially true while the word is preached and why the catechism calls for two actions – examining and receiving. The hearer of the word must, “examine what they hear by the scriptures.” This calls for discernment to know that what is being said is the truth of God. If it is, then it is not the preacher’s words, but it is God’s word to His people, and therefore should be received as such.
That preached truth is therefore to be received, “with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God.” In other words, the hearer is to allow the word of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to deeply penetrate his or her heart, mind, and life. To bring to bear the full comfort and conviction of God’s living and active word through the sermon.
After the Word Preached
Even when the sermon is over the requirements are not done. In reality the catechism seems to place the greatest emphasis on the work to be done after the sermon is preached, as it calls to, “meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.”
The truth of God’s word should stick with us in our hearts and minds. We should bring it to thought throughout the week and ponder on it some more.
Furthermore, the truth of that preached word should find roots in our hearts and minds, and by the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit bring forth evidence of it in our lives.
So, when you go to church this Sunday, please remember that this wonderful catechism question helps you! All of us as the Body of Christ have a part to play when it comes to the preached word and having the “ears to hear.” Let us therefore give greater attention to the requirements of the word preached for our individual and corporate good.