Dr. Richard L. Strauss
September 22, 1974
There was a cartoon of two men standing in front of a brand new church building. One of the men was obviously a member of the church--he knew a little more about it than the other man--and he was pointing to it and he said, "Isn't it a beautiful church? It sleeps nearly 1500."
Maybe that's true in many, many churches. Maybe ours sleeps 1650. There are days when I begin to think that that's the way we ought to describe it; I don't know. Not that all of you are ever asleep...at the same time!
1. Listening to the Word of God
Much time during our Christian lives is going to be spent in church, listening to some sermon or lesson--listening to someone speak. Now that's true because God intended it to be true. We're here because God wants us to be here; I trust that's why you're here. In Hebrews 10:25, the writer to the Hebrews says we are not to forsake "the assembling of ourselves together as the matter of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching." If we ever saw the day of Christ's return approaching, we see it today. That means we ought to be here more and more and more.
Exhorting one another--when we come together, part of our time is spent exhorting one another. That word means to urge, to exhort, to encourage, to comfort. It's a word that's often used in the New Testament of preaching or teaching.
When we come together, it is to hear the Word of God preached or taught. Either in a sanctuary or in a Bible class or Sunday school or weeknight studies, or whatever it is. One of our reasons for coming together is to hear the Word of God taught.
Now, this is emphasized throughout the New Testament, from the birthday of the church forward. In Acts chapter 2, we find an emphasis on preaching and teaching the Word of God. Look at Acts 2:42. Right after Peter's penetrating and convicting sermon and 3,000 people got saved in Acts 2:41, we read this statement: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching [KJV says doctrine] and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."
The word doctrine means "teaching." They continued in the apostle's teaching. They kept gathering together, listening to the apostles' teach them the Word of God. That was the heart of the early church, you see.
Turn over to Acts chapter 6. There were some problems that came up. Physical, material, financial matters, had to be handled. The apostles were so bogged down in these things they were not able to give sufficient time to preparing their own hearts in prayer and to teaching the Word of God, so they appointed deacons who were to be helpers. These helpers took care of these physical matters. So the apostles could say, "We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4), because it was so vitally important in the early church: the ministry of the Word.
Turn over to chapter 18 of the book of Acts. Paul went to Corinth. Some people got saved and the church of Corinth was founded. "And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the Word of God" (Acts 18:11).
A year and six months: the Bible Institute of Corinth, where the Word of God was taught. Because that's how Christians grow, you see, through the Word.
Over in chapter 20, Paul stopped at Troas for a little while. "Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the next day, and he continued his speech until midnight" (Acts 20:7).
That's how important the teaching of the Word of God is. Aren't you glad I don't preach until midnight on Sunday nights? Paul could get away with it, but I don't think I could.
I want you to notice Paul's advice to young pastor Timothy. Now we've seen the precedent in the early church in Acts--I only showed you a few passages; there are many more about teaching. But turn over to 1 Timothy chapter 4. Paul says, "Till I come, give attention to reading"--that's the reading of the word--"to exhortation" from the word, "and to doctrine," or teaching the word (1 Timothy 4:13). That was to be one of Timothy's primary functions: to teach the Word of God.
Paul also says, "And the things that thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach each others also" (2 Timothy 2:2).
Timothy, you know the truth. You heard it preached. Now you commit it to others. You teach it to others and you teach it to mature men who will be able to take it and teach it to others, because the whole church is built upon the teaching of the Word of God; it's vitally important.
So the exhortation comes: "Preach the word" (2 Timothy 4:2). Not personal opinions. Not pretty little stories. But the Word of God. Preach the Word.
Now, God has provided men to preach and teach His eternal truths. It wasn't too long ago that we preached on Ephesians and mentioned the purpose of spiritual gifts. In Ephesians 4:11, God gives certain men to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor teachers. They're the local men on the scene. Pastor teachers. Plural. They're plural in every local church. The pastor teachers. Not all churches have more than one pastor, but there are other men who perform this function along with the pastor. The elders of the church are pastor teachers.
And why do they teach the Word? "For the equipping of the saints for their work of ministering…" (Ephesians 4:12).
So that the whole body of Christ may be built up. So that believers may become more effective servants of Jesus Christ. This is God's plan for the local church. Men who teach the Word to equip the saints so that they can become involved in effectively serving Jesus Christ. So teaching and preaching is one of the key things in the church. It's primary.
Since listening to sermons is one of God's primary ways of fitting us for our Christian life of service, it would seem wise that we learn how to listen well, and get as much as we possibly can when we come to hear the Word of God proclaimed.
How well we listen may determine how effective and successful we become in our Christian lives. There are problems, however.
Researchers have found that the average college student remembers only about 25 percent of a 10-minute lecture two weeks later--two weeks after it was given. Now that's just a 10-minute lecture. Only 25 percent is retained two weeks later. As the length of the lecture increases, the percentage of what is retained goes down.
Now, I guess an average message of mine takes about 40 minutes. I don't know what percentage folks would remember two weeks later. Probably less than 10 percent, if we were to poll, or give an exam, two weeks later. Oh! You wouldn't like that too much, would you?! A test two weeks later would probably reveal that less than 10 percent is remembered.
Now, if we're teaching the Word of God, and it's God's Word that brings us to maturity in Jesus Christ, and we're only remembering 10 percent of what we hear, it's going to take us a looong time to learn what God wants us to learn, isn't it? And to grow to the place God wants us to grow through the application of His truth to our lives. If we're only average, it's going to take quite a while to learn what God wants us to know. We need to be above average, somehow. We've got to increase our percentage of retention.
There's another problem. Some folks, particularly those who were raised in church, learned from their very earliest days--as they were brought to church as babies, and then toddlers, and then youngsters right on through--to keep their mouths closed but also to keep something else closed. Because they didn't understand what was going on around them, they learned to keep their ears closed, too. They learned to enjoy themselves through fantasy. I mean, little children don't understand what we're talking about--little tiny children. And therefore, they learn a habit pattern of not listening.
I was carried to church in my parents' arms from three or four or five days after I was born, I guess, and it was fun, because to keep me quiet, they gave me Lifesavers and let me look at pictures in their wallet. In the first church we went to--before my dad was even in the ministry, when I was just a real little guy about three years of age--this real old pastor always had Lifesavers in his pocket and in the middle of the service, before he was about to go to preach, would motion to me and I'd go up to the platform, and he'd give me a Lifesaver, you know. And I'd have something to keep me occupied through the sermon, you see. And then my parents would have to have some along with them, too, because one wouldn't make it through the whole service and I had to have another one. And you know, I had to draw pictures. I didn't hear a thing. I learned some habit patterns in those days to tune out what was going on around me. I have to fight those habit patterns to this day.
You see, we believe in children's churches in this church, and it's part of our educational philosophy, because we think it's good--it works. We put a child in a worship service that he can understand, on his level, where he listens, and participates, and becomes involved, so that hopefully, when he comes into this service, he's old enough to understand a good bit about what's going on and he can listen, and participate, and be involved. And he never learns those bad habit patterns: tuning it out. But some of us have that problem.
Some folks have gone to church all their lives and they still don't know what they believe and why, because they've never heard. They've come and come and come, but they still haven't heard. Just because you've been a Christian 35 years and you've been going to church all that time, doesn't necessarily mean you know the doctrines of the Scripture. It depends on whether you heard.
I think God may hold us responsible for the truth that has been proclaimed in our presence. So, we need to learn to overcome the problems and rise above the average and learn how to listen. That's what we're going to talk about today: How to listen to a sermon--five principles.
The first principle for how to listen to a sermon is: listen expectantly. Listen expectantly. Now if you're really expecting to learn something when you come to church, you're going to start by going to bed on Saturday night, rather than Sunday morning because it will be pretty hard to stay awake if you don't get a good night's sleep.
Now if you're really serious about growing in the Lord, if coming to church is more than just a game to you, then in all probability, you're going to get a good night's sleep on Saturday night. And you're going to confess your sin to God in the moments before worship, prepare your heart to worship, and you're going to ask God to teach you something. I mean, if you're really interested in learning then you're going to ask God to teach you something significant for your life through that worship service that day.
Maybe we ought to ask ourselves the question, why do we come to church? A lot of people come for different reasons. Some come because they feel like they have to. Maybe your wife dragged you here today, I don't know. Maybe some wives are dragged by their husbands. It doesn't often happen that way, but sometimes. Some people come because, oh, they're just going to suffer through another sermon, you know. Well, I would imagine that people do suffer through some of my sermons, sometimes--maybe all the time, I don't know.
You know, I learned something in seminary that I think is pretty appropriate. I learned in preaching class that even the driest speaker had something to teach me if I was willing to listen expectantly. And we had some pretty dry speakers in our class. Some guys were so dry, they never did find a place in ministry after graduation. But you know, God was still working in their lives and when they got up to expound His Word, they had something to say if I would listen carefully. As hard as it was to listen, if I could concentrate and follow, God taught me something.
Maybe you come because you want to be well thought of. Maybe it's to see your friends or to be seen of men. Or to catch up on the latest gossip. Or to show off your clothes. Or, maybe because involvement in church work is an area where you can exert some influence. You don't have it at home and you don't have it at work, so you do it here.
Maybe it's because you just because you didn't have anything else to do this morning. [Laughter.] Anybody here for that reason? Probably not. We can all find something to do, I guess.
But why should we come? One reason is because we ought to want from the depths of our souls to honor the Lord. And He tells us to come and we want to obey Him and worship Him and bring glory to His name.
And there's a second reason. We ought to come because we have a hunger for God's truth and we want to learn the Word of God that we may be better equipped to serve Jesus Christ any way He wants us to.
Now, I don't say something new, spectacular, or earth-shattering every time I stand up to speak. As a matter of fact, I don't say something spectacular or earth-shattering very often at all, if ever. But I'm convinced if you will come expectantly, God will teach you something that will be significant and meaningful for your Christian life--maybe something you'd never heard before or didn't know before. Or something God wants to review in your mind and reinforce in your experience. If you'll listen, God will teach you something that will help you in your Christian life.
When I graduated from seminary, I went to a little church in Ft. Worth. Just over 100 people. It was a little church. But in spite of its being little, some of the greatest preachers of this century had stood behind the pulpit of that church because of its proximity to Dallas Theological Seminary, where these men had been on occasion, and they'd come over on Sundays and preach there as visiting speakers. You know, men like William L. Pettingill, A. C. Gaebelein, Harry A. Ironside, Louis Sperry Chafer. Men like those in our community, like Charles Feinberg, John Walberg--our contemporaries. Great men of God had preached there; I was a little scared. And I wasn't the only one.
Several years later, a dear old lady whom we had grown to love and who appreciated our ministry immensely, said to me, "You know, when you first came to this church, I asked myself, 'What can this young man teach me that I never heard before?'"
And she was right. I probably never said anything in my six years of ministry there that she never heard one of those great Bible expositors say. But you know, that woman became one of the most appreciative persons I've ever ministered to. Because she got that attitude straightened out very quickly and said, "God, You sent him here. And if You sent him here, You've got something to teach me through his ministry so give me an open heart." And she came expectantly and she learned. And if she were standing here today, she would give testimony that God did enrich and bless her life, even through me.
God can teach us if we come with open hearts if we really want to learn. Whoever we are, whoever is standing behind the pulpit. God will teach us if we want to learn. Expectantly.
Secondly, I want you to listen creatively. Creatively.
The experts tell us that one of the big problems with listening is that the mind thinks four or five times faster than the speaker can talk. We think about 500 words a minute. The average speaker speaks about 125 words a minute. And that leaves a gap. Our mind may refuse to be slowed down to follow patiently with attention. And this provides the impetus--this gap provides the impetus for mental excursions. Daydreaming.
Perfecting your golf swing while you sit in the seat. Casting that fishing rod out there and landing one of the big ones, you know, while you sit there in the seat. I don't know what's going on in your mind. Maybe it's what you're going to prepare for dinner and exactly how you're going to prepare it, and the raves you're going to get from your family as a result.
Whatever--all right. Come on back, now! I got you off there for a minute and I want you to come back, right here, OK?
But sometimes, the gaps provide that impetus to go off and gather a little wool. One solution is to listen creatively. Now let me tell you what I mean by that.
One thing you could do would be to guess at the next point. Don't let your mind get on something else, but try to guess what's coming up. If you're concentrating, you may be able to anticipate what's next. If you're right, you may never forget it. If you're wrong, then it'll give you some food for thought after the message is over. Why was I wrong? Could this also fit? Right or wrong, you'll remember more for a longer time.
Another way to listen creatively is to challenge what has been said. Is the speaker giving ample evidence for what he's saying? Is it his opinion or does the Word of God say this?
Now, I usually expound the Scripture. I'm not doing that this morning; I'm giving a topical message. The Word of God doesn't say all the things I'm saying to you today. I think they're true. I think they're necessary. I'm not saying that a speaker has to have chapter and verse for every single thing he says, but is it consistent with the whole tenor of Scripture? Is he omitting other areas of Scripture and passages that may contradict what he's saying here? Now I'm not saying, either, that I have to deal with every problem passage when I'm teaching a truth. I wouldn't have time to do it. I'm trying to establish a truth, but maybe you can think of other passages that bring a question to your mind that you want to find the answer to, or ask somebody about, so that you see the Scripture in its harmonious whole as it was intended to be.
Nobody's infallible. I make mistakes sometimes and I need to be corrected. I made one last Sunday morning and somebody corrected me. I don't know whether anybody else heard it or not. It takes light eight minutes to get from the sun to the earth, not eight seconds--and somebody informed me of that afterward. And I checked them out in an encyclopedia and they're about right. So I appreciate that--that fellow was listening. I don't want you to become critical and negative, but it's a way to listen creatively.
Then you can summarize what has been said. During pauses or transitions between points or familiar material, ask yourself, "Now what have we learned thus far?" Review it in your mind. Now you do that and you may never forget the truth that God is trying to teach you through the exposition of His Word. You'll certainly retain more if you summarize it in your mind periodically.
Third, listen searchingly. Searchingly.
Now I don't mean searching for grammatical errors or mispronounced words or counting the number of times a preacher uses his pet phrase or whatever it is. You know, not searching for those things. Sometimes I need to be corrected in my grammar or pronunciation, and I'm open to suggestions in this area. But if you're looking for those things and you come to church to find those things, you're going to miss the whole thing God wants you to have.
When you come searchingly, look and listen for some specific things that will help you understand and remember what is being said. Then-and here comes the key to it--write it down. Write it down.
So listening searchingly is to look for things and then jot them down so that you'll have those things in your possession. Remember, only 25 percent of a 10-minute lecture--two weeks later. That doesn't mean you're going to remember very much of my sermons unless you write things down.
Some people say, "I can't listen when I write. If I take notes, I miss half of it." Maybe that's true. But I tell you, the half you hear, you'll remember longer. And frankly, I think maybe that might be a little more important.
You know, over 100 of our people were at a Gothard seminar last week, and we had publicly endorsed this ministry. It's interesting to me that Bill Gothard, who ministers to hundreds of thousands of people a year, gives out notes on his lectures after the lecture. Did you ever notice that? Lots of people tried to get him to change that. "Please, won't you give us the notes before so we don't have to write so much?"
I mean, he's tried it out hundreds of thousands of times a year and he's come to the conclusion that people will learn more if they have to write down what they hear. Then he gives them the notes afterward. It works.
You say, "I can't listen when I write."
I say, "Why don't you try it sometime?" Maybe God will help you get some things in your mind and also provide them in such a way that you will have access to them in time to come.
Now there's some things to look for when taking notes. That's why we gave you that sheet of paper and we want you to look at it as we go along here.
Look for the title or the subject of the message or lesson. If it isn't printed in the bulletin, then listen to hear if it's mentioned. You're obviously not going to learn anything if you don't know what the speaker's talking about. Listen for the title or the subject matter.
Then, listen for the thesis. That's the proposition he's going to prove, or explain, or develop. This is the major theme of the message. There are literally hundreds of ways to present a message. Today, we're talking about methods (how). We may talk about reasons (why), or times (when), or places (where), or provisions (for). There are literally hundreds of other things. But listen for that key phrase that will tell you where we're going and how we're going to develop it.
Now in this message, the thesis is, "Let us learn how to listen to a sermon." The key word is "how." You expect a series of adverbs to follow that. Expectantly. Creatively. Searchingly.
And so the thesis, or the proposition of the major theme, leads us next to the outline.
Now every message I preach doesn't have an outline, and every other message preached from this pulpit does not have an outline. You may look in vain to find points in an outline. That's all right. Every speaker doesn't have to present the truth the same way. But if one is there, sometimes the speaker will give you a preview of it before the message begins. Now, I didn't do that this morning. I didn't give you the five points before we started. So when we're through, if you're taking notes, maybe you'll want to come back to that box labeled "Outline" and jot down the major points. Jotting them down will help fix them in your memory--it will help you think back over the message a little bit; it will be good.
If the preacher gives a preview, then jot them down as he says it. Then as the message develops, you'll be able to follow and you'll already have where he's going right there in front of you, in that box called "Outline." So look for the outline. Write it down.
Look for the Scripture passage being expounded. Write down the Scripture. So when you come back, you know what passage of Scripture this message covers. And then follow the explanation being given in each verse. After all, the speaker has probably studied the passage and he may have something significant to teach you from it.
Jot down the meaning as it is expounded. Some folks might be able to explain difficult passages that have disturbed them greatly in past years. If they had taken some notes when a passage was preached or taught, they could go back to it and say, "Well, look, this is dealt with and that problem was answered, and here are some notes on that."
If you write it down, you'll be able to use it. Listen like maybe you had to preach the sermon tomorrow morning. You may, you know. Maybe you'll be called on to teach a Sunday School class and you'll have some material. Maybe you'll have to witness to somebody tomorrow and some things that were dealt with in the lesson today have the answers. Listen like you had to preach it tomorrow. That is listening searchingly.
Then listen for illustrations. When you're searching, search for illustrations that shed light on the truth. But don't forget the truth the illustration is supposed to illustrate. Sometimes people have told me a story a preacher told from the pulpit and I'll say, "What truth was he illustrating? What was he trying to teach you?"
And they scratch their heads and they think, "I can't remember what he was trying to teach me."
They remember the story all right, but they can't remember what it illustrated. Illustrations are to shed light on truth. Don't forget the truth they illustrate. They're just tools to bring us to a knowledge of God's truth.
Fourth, listen personally. Listen personally. By that I mean apply what you hear to yourself. Not: "he's sure giving it to them today," you know.
There's an old story and it's so old I'm sure all of you have heard it, but I'm going to tell it anyway because it illustrates the point. It's about a farmer who went to a country church. Every Sunday, as he left the church he told the preacher the same thing. "Preacher, you sure gave it to 'em this morning. Man, you sure gave it to them today!"
And the pastor was really getting a little disturbed about this because he knew there were some things in this man's life that needed to be changed. And even as he was preaching, he was praying, "God, use the Word to really work in old Farmer Jones' heart today."
And he'd go out the church again going, "Boy, you sure gave it to 'em today, preacher!"
One day, there was a tremendous storm. A huge storm. Nobody showed up but the farmer. He lived closer than everybody else to the church and he got there but nobody else did. And the pastor said, "Oh boy, this is my chance to really show him that his life needs to be changed."
And he stood up there. One guy in the audience. And he preached his heart out. He just gave him the whole load, you know, dumped it on him. Boy, he needed it. Nobody else but him.
And the pastor walked to the back and he stood at the door and he said, "Ah! He can't say it this morning. There's no way he can say it this morning."
And the farmer approached the preacher and stuck out his hand and he said, "Well, preacher, you'd sure've gave it to 'em this morning if they'd a-been here!"
Now, most of us are not quite that bad. But sometimes we approach that, right? Now please don't tell me, "You sure gave it to them this morning," when you go out this morning!
Anyway, I heard somebody say one time, "We need to listen with a rake instead of a shovel." Now there's a good comparison or illustration. Some people, as the truth is proclaimed, they kind of dump it in front of them and they kind of pick up the shovel and they pass it back to the next guy in the next row. God wants us to listen with a rake. He wants us to pull it in to ourselves. Not shove it on to somebody else, but pull it in. Gather it together for your own heart and life.
Listen personally. I think some folks listen to what applies to somebody else but they don't hear what applies to them.
A classic illustration was in our series on the family. [The series is called "Family Studies."] When we talk to the wives, well the husbands are there with a smile on their face, jabbing the ribs of their wives until they're sore or broken. And when we we're talking to the husbands, the wives were there--smile on their face, jabbing the poor guy in the rib. We can all hear what's for somebody else. But strangely enough, when God wants to deal with our lives, we have a way of hearing so that it goes in one ear and out the other. Rather, hold onto it.
This is no better illustrated than when I get into a church where people shout out "Amen!" a lot during the preaching of the sermon. I appreciate someone responding audibly when their hearts are blessed but I would have to agree that I don't care very much for amens much during the course of my message. Sometimes someone will say "Amen" in an odd place and it will shake me all up and I'll forget what I'm trying to say, you know. And in some churches I get into, they do this. And it's very interesting to me. In fact--I guess I'm kind of a mean guy down inside--sometimes I'll really get on things I know that they're guilty of, just to see what their response will be. And sure enough, as long as I'm preaching about someone else's sins, "Amen! Yeah! Amen!" As soon as I get on theirs...quiet. Absolute silence. We love to hear what's wrong with other people.
Listen personally. When we come to church, we ought to be asking, "What is God saying to me today through this sermon? What is God trying to tell me? Why did God want me to hear this message? What changes does God want to make in my life as a result of hearing this message?"
And then write those personal applications down. Maybe after the message is over, after you go home, write down:
- What changes God wants to make in your life
- What particular things God wants you to do as a result of hearing this message
Maybe the message was on love. Think of particular people you know you haven't been very loving toward and think of constructive ways you can show them the love of the Lord Jesus; and determine in your heart that you're going to do it with God's help.
There are changes He wants to make in every single one of our lives. Some of us come week after week, year after year, and never even begin to believe that God wants to deal with me. But He does, starting right here. Me.
Listen personally. Ask God what He wants you to do as a result of the sermon.
The fifth principle of listening to a sermon is the most important of all: Listen obediently. Listen obediently.
I mean, doing the first four, even number four, by applying it to my life, really is going to be worthless unless I go out and do it. Obey the Word of God. Practice it. Do what it says.
"Be doers of the word and not hearers only" (James 1:22).
If you hear it, and you don't practice it, you're kidding yourself, James says.
You want to be blessed of God? James 1:25 gives you a formula for blessing: Whoever bends down and stoops over and takes a good long "looks into the perfect law of liberty"--that's what the word looks means: to stoop down beside, a good long look--"and continues in it, he being not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his doing." God blesses the lives of those who search their own lives, apply the Word of God, and then go out and obey it.
I don't think there's anything more distressing in any preacher's life than to preach the Word, and ask God for people's lives to be changed, but to meet with stubborn, rebellious resistance to the Word, and an unwillingness for people to bend and bring their lives into conformity to the Word.
Poor Ezekiel had that problem. He preached his heart out. Everybody loved his preaching but nobody did anything about it. Listen to this for an assessment of a man's pulpit ministry. God is speaking.
"So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument" (Ezekiel 33:31-32a).
Evidently, Ezekiel was an orator. To hear him preach was like a beautiful song, and the people loved it. And they said to Ezekiel, "Preach on, Ezekiel! Oh, it's beautiful! We love your sermons; oh, they're so well laid out--just beautiful!"
But verse 32, the end of the verse, says: "For they hear your words, but they do not do them." They will not practice what you're saying. What a distressing thing that was for Ezekiel.
You know, this is one of the reasons why there are not more people prepared to assume leadership responsibilities in the church. Like, take Sunday School classes and so on. Some have been in the church for years and years, but they haven't begun to practice what the Word has taught them.
The writer to the Hebrews says, "Of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing" (Hebrews 5:11).
He had a lot of great truth he wanted to teach those people, but he couldn't teach them because they were dull of hearing. Now why were they dull of hearing?
"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food" (Hebrews 5:12).
In other words, you've been listening to the Word for so long you ought to be able to share it with others and really begin to communicate it and build it into somebody else's life.
"For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:13-14).
"But solid food belongs to them who are of full age...those who by reason of use"--there's your key word right there. "Use." Why don't you circle it? "Who by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."
What causes you to be able to understand the Word to a greater degree, so that you can absorb more of the Word? Putting it to use. If we're not practicing what we already know, then we can't absorb and assimilate any more. So we come and we daydream and we do other things and we let it bounce off of us. Or we may even get a little bit of it, but we can't begin to put it into practice because we haven't started to practice the more basic things, you see.
It's use of the Word of God that equips us to accept more of the Word, and go on growing in the Lord, so that we, in turn, can share the good news with others. We need 25 or 30 teachers right now in our children's department. I don't want just anybody in those classes. I don't want to grab just anybody and say, "Well, you know, you can teach a class. Why don't you take it?" No, no. I want people who are qualified to communicate the eternal truths of God to our children.
What qualifies them? Hearing the Word of God with their ears, and their hearts, and their understanding. Taking it out and beginning to use it. Putting it into practice in their lives so that they can share with their students how God's Word works in their own experience. They teach them the Word. They illustrate it from their own experience. And that changes lives.
"Who, by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." If we just keep coming, trying to take it in, and we're never using it, we get spiritual indigestion. It's like lying on a couch all day eating chocolate candy, day after day after day. It may sound good for a while, but soon we get fat and flabby and weak, and sick. Why? Because we are not expending the energy we assimilate.
Now, God wants us to turn His Word into spiritual energy and then use it. And then we'll be ready for more, and we'll be growing stronger in the Lord, as we absorb more and as we put that into use and share it with others, we'll just keep growing. Eating, exercising. Eating, exercising. That's what brings physical growth. That's what brings spiritual growth as well. Are you doing any spiritual exercises lately? Are you putting to practice the Word of God you learned, week after week, through your own personal study and through the ministry of our teachers?
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Maybe you've been coming to Emmanuel Faith Community Church for some time and you've heard the gospel. Maybe you've heard it over and over again, and you haven't done anything about that. That's where you need to begin. Before you can do something about the rest of what we share from this pulpit, you've got to do something about the fact that Christ died for your sins. He died in your place. He hung on that tree for you. Why not do something about that today? Make it personal.
You say, "Well, what do I do?"
God wants us to acknowledge that we're sinners, that He died to forgive us of our sins, to save us. You say, "Well, what's that mean? Saved?"
To be saved means to be saved for God's glory forever. You see, we are lost in our normal state--lost to God forever. God wants to save us for Himself forever--deliver us from our sin and redeem us for Himself. He does that for us, when we're willing to acknowledge that Jesus Christ paid for it all when He died on that cross. We don't deserve it, but He died for us, so we accept Him and His gift of salvation. And He saves us. Why not start there, and do something about it today?
This message has been basically for believers, but you can get saved today if you're willing to admit your sin and trust Jesus Christ. Let's pray.
Father, we ask you to deal with our lives. We pray that as Christians, we may be willing to listen, to learn, and to practice what Your Word tells us. Father, we pray that some may be willing to embark upon the Christian life today by acknowledging their own sinfulness in Your all sufficient salvation through Jesus Christ. Father, save some, we ask You.
While we're praying together, let me just say a word to you. True Christians are praying now and asking God to save souls. And the Spirit of God is working in our midst. But let me give you an opportunity to seal the decision. What is it again? It is that we are sinners, forever separated from our Father in heaven. We admit it. The wages of sin is death. But Christ died for our sins and so He can give us the gift of eternal salvation if we admit we're sinners; we need His forgiveness. We can find forgiveness no place else. We trust Him as Savior. Are you willing to trust Him?
Would you open your heart to him right now and say:
"Lord Jesus, I know I'm a sinner. I believe You died for me. Come into my heart and save me."
Why put it off? Why not do it now?
Heavenly Father, eternity is at stake in some hearts right here today. God, convict with such power, we pray, that no heart may resist You any longer. Bring some to know the Savior, we ask you, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
Continue to CA-01B: What Is a Christian?