Faith Comes by Hearing
Listening well to the preaching of God’s Word is foundational to spiritual growth and discipleship. Indeed, sanctification is not unrelated to how attentive we are to the faithful proclamation of the Scriptures (c.f. 2 Pet. 1:19–21; John 17:17). The inspired apostle reminds us that saving faith is created and nourished by the preached Word: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17, emphasis mine). In Luke’s gospel, we hear the voice of our heavenly Father joyfully and proudly declaring from the cloud, “This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to him!” (Luke 9:35, emphasis mine). Listening to the inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative, efficacious, and all-sufficient Word of God (i.e. the “Word of Christ”) is essential to saving faith and discipleship. Thus, it is vital that we consider what it means to be good listeners to the proclamation of God’s Word.
The first way to listen well to preaching is through godly preparation. We cannot expect to listen well to God’s Word without the tilling of the soil of our hearts during the week. Through daily personal Bible reading and regular family devotions, we foster a better spiritual frame and become more attentive to the preaching of the Scriptures on the Lord’s Day. On the other hand, if we haven’t opened his Word or spent much time in prayer Monday through Saturday, we become spiritually dull, and listening on Sunday proves difficult. Being a good listener on Sunday entails abiding in Christ during the week. Preparation also entails getting a good night’s sleep. One of my mentors once quipped: “If you are Saturday Night Live you will be Sunday Morning Dead!” In addition, if we are going to be good listeners, we cannot let our Lord’s Day become cluttered with lots of errands and activities. Listening well takes thoughtful preparation.
A second way to listen well to the preaching of God’s Word is with an open Bible in your lap. Sadly, few Christians bring their Bible to church anymore. One reason for this is that preaching, in many churches, has become man-centered, trite, and superficial. It demands very little of the congregation and does little by way of serious biblical exposition. With many modern-day sermons constituted of the preacher’s personal anecdotes, cultural analysis, and therapeutic solutions, the Word of God has become a footnote in the message. Thus, many churchgoers find it unnecessary to carry their Bible to worship on the Lord’s Day. Why should they? The pastor hardly ever refers to it.
In the churches of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), however, we have been committed to careful, biblical, verse-by-verse exposition of the whole counsel of God (c.f. Acts 20:27; 2 Tim. 3:16). This commitment to biblical preaching is in our denomination’s DNA as a Reformed and Confessional body. Indeed, we were founded to be unapologetic about serious exegesis and bold preaching through entire books of the Bible, leaving no biblical stone unturned.
Therefore, dear Christian, bring your Bible to church. Have your kids bring their Bibles to church. Leave your cell phone and its infinite distractions in your pocket or purse, and open your Bible, the Bible with pages that you can touch, turn, and mark. Follow along in the biblical text being explained and applied by the minister. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to be diligent students of His Word, not passive observers. So let’s be active listeners, and let’s hear those pages turning in Lord’s Day worship! Bringing your Bible to worship will help you better listen to the voice of your Savior in His written Word. It is in the Scriptures, not a still small voice, that Christ speaks to His sheep. John Calvin reminds us that “Every time the Gospel is preached, it is as if God himself came in person solemnly to summon us” (Sermons on Ephesians, xiii).
A third way to be attentive to the preaching of God’s Word is by taking notes. Over the years many have expressed to me how note-taking helps them to concentrate and focus during the sermon. Especially if they are not used to forty-five-minute expositions! Moreover, if you take a few notes you can review and digest what you’ve heard.
Dear Christian, these are three simple ways that we can all become better listeners to the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, since “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ,” may we all renew our commitment to be good listeners to the proclamation of the Holy Scriptures.