The sermon occupies a most important place in our worship. The congregation has come to hear the Word of God. This should be borne in mind by both the preacher and the congregation. There is always the danger that we forget this. The preacher can easily forget that he is an ambassador of Christ. The temptation to place the audience ahead of God in importance is greater than we think. And if we are not on our guard we may listen far more to the man than to God. The preacher must be convinced that he can say, Thus saith the Lord, and the congregation should be deeply impressed with the fact that God is speaking to it by mouth of his servant.
We cannot expect a blessing and certainly will fail to have the favor of the Lord rest upon us unless we are constantly aware that the God of heaven and earth is speaking to his people. We would consider it an insult if we were talking to someone and this person would not pay any attention to what we were saying. It is a grievous sin to sit in church and not be deeply interested in the proclamation of the Word. And yet how easily do our thoughts wander. How difficult it seems to be for some not to fall asleep. It is so easy to blame the minister. Of course, all ministers are not equally talented. But let no one think that the minister is to blame when we are not interested. There may be exceptions. A mother may have been awake most of the night because of the sickness of a child. There may be other such reasons. It is a comforting thought that the Lord knows our circumstances. But never :forget that as long as the minister presents the truth of God, the soul of the righteous will respond. The big question is whether we are hungry souls. Is our love for God so great and our love for the Christ so intense that we are eager to know what they have done for us and what is now expected of us?
Some excuse themselves for their lack of interest by saying that they have heard the things spoken from the pulpit so often. They complain that there was nothing new in the sermon. I am well aware that the preacher should put forth every cHart to present the old truths in their concrete application to an ever changing world. But any one who finds that the old truths are losing their hold on him, would do well to examine his heart whether he is perhaps in the sad condition of having lost his first love.
There is no biblical truth which ever loses its meaning for life. There never comes a time when anyone can honestly say concerning the truth of God that he already knows it, and that it has therefore nothing to say to him. It is very difficult for me to put this into words, but the truth is a revelation of God and there is no knowledge of God which does not call for development and expansion. A sermon which brings the message of God’s truth feeds the hungry soul and quenches the thirst of the spirit seeking to know God’s will. Lack of interest is a symptom of spiritual sickness.
We must allow the sermon to have its way with us. The Word of God comes to us to instruct us. The instruction of the Word may show us that our way of life is not in conformity with the will of God. In that case the Word will reprove and correct us. God wants us to be perfect, and since even the most advanced have but a small beginning of this perfection, (the truth often hurts. If we are truly children of God we will accept correction gladly. It is always a sign of lack of spiritually if we are angered by the correction of the Word. Some demand that a sermon must always bring comfort. Remember that this is exactly what the true proclamation of the Word always does. It is however very well possible that the comfort can only reach us by humbly accepting the correction.
We should listen to the sermon with the prayer in our heart that it may please the Holy Spirit so to apply his truth that we may be builded up in the faith. Such a prayer is always pleasing to God and surely will be heard.
We may have to listen to the sermon for the sake of others. It is often said that we should not do this, and in a certain sense this is true. On the other hand we must often listen for others. The husband maybe in church and his wife at home because of small children, which cannot yet be taken to church. There may be some one sick at home. We should listen for them too. We should be able to carry the message home for them.
Parents should listen to the sermon having the need of their children in mind. We often hear the opinion expressed that the preacher should have the children in mind while he is preaching the Word. Undoubtedly this is true. Even so it will not be possible for the preacher to remain on the level of the understanding of children. Most of the time he will be addressing himself to the adult mind. It is the duty of the father and mother to speak with their children about the sermon. They must find out how much the child has heard and understood. It may surprise us to find out that a believing child understands so much! Today we find many parents who leave their children home and are satisfied to send them to Sunday school only because the children get nothing of the sermon anyway. Let us not forget that the Holy Spirit is busy during the preaching of the Word and he does not forget the little ones. Sometimes it is amazing what the child has gleaned from the sermon. And this will increase in the measure in which father and mother make an attempt to explain the sermon to their children.
We must listen one for another. We as Christians are called to keep watch over one another. If we know of sinful ways in the life of our neighbor and we hear the testimony of the truth in connection with such error, we certainly ought to make use of this to bring our neighbor from ways of sin to the way of righteousness. This is, of course, something altogether different from using the sermon to talk about our neighbor and his faults behind his back.
The sermon is important because it has pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save sinners. It is well for everyone to make good use of the instruction, the correction and reproof afforded by the preaching of the Word. The Word of God never returns void. It may bring us nearer to God and the goal of perfection which the children of God always seek; or the preaching of the Word will harden our hearts. It is possible to know the way and not to walk in it. May our prayer always be “Teach me thy truth, O Lord.”