With the click of a button and the typing of a few keys, we have access to thousands of messages taught by some of the most popular, influential and impressionable teachers. YouTube, SermonAudio.com, personal websites and apps, give hosting places for past sermons preached, to be accessed by those who want to keep up with a pastor's latest sermon series.
While it is amazing that we have been afforded the opportunity to access some awesome content at the visit of a particular URL, we have to keep in mind some things when listening in. The truth is, everything that is out there on the inter-webs, isn't always helpful to our Christian walk. Whether the content of the sermon is Gospel-less or contains many verses taken out of context, we cannot listen without a critical and careful ear.
Much of our spiritual growth is linked to those whom we allow to feed and shepherd us. Whether that pastor is a thousand of miles away or right down the street, it is pertinent that we employ measures to guard ourselves from eating at tables that leave us feeling more impressed by a teacher's delivery, than we are concerned on how the food we're being served was prepared.
Let's gather together today, and talk about 5 things to look for when listening to a sermon, that will both challenge you to engage your mind and Bible when hearing teachings online or at your own church.
NO. 1 | THE GOSPEL
There are many churches that claim to preach The Gospel. Faithful churchgoers of some churches will even tell you that a specific pastor preaches The Gospel message faithfully, even if it is non-existent to others. Some teach The Gospel message in part, some completely distorted and some not at all. Therefore, when listening to a sermon, especially at a church we're just exploring, we need to listen hard, to see if The Gospel message is being preached consistently and truthfully.
The Gospel isn't an addendum to a powerful anecdotal message or moving service. The Gospel is the main event and should not be hard to recognize. When Christ is exalted, His Gospel will be too. When He is made much of from the lips of those who have been given the responsibility to be faithful in their pastoral call, in turn calloused hearts actually have something worth hearing to respond in faith to. The Gospel is the ONLY means by which we can be saved. God has ordained this to be so. And because He has, if we don't hear The Gospel being preached clearly and consistently and not just at the "altar call" of every service, we may need to reconsider why we are giving our time and attention to those who don't believe that God's mission is the ultimate mission.
NO. 2 | THE BIBLE
This one can be tricky, right? Sometimes it is hard to discern whether or not a sermon is accurate or faithful to God's Word, especially when the teacher is using The Bible.
But as women, we know that just because someone has something in their hands, doesn't mean that they're using it correctly. I mean think of all of the things we as women use on a day to day basis that to others, if they didn't know how to use them, would be useless in their hands?
For example, think of all of those cute videos of little kids finding their mom's stash of Aunt Flo's luggage pieces. Upon discovering them, they usually ask what it is or what it's for, but aside from that, they wouldn't know how to correctly use it, even if you explained it to them. Just because they held it in their hands, didn't simultaneously mean that they knew how to use it rightly. In the same likeness, just because there are people who stand from pulpits with open Bibles and eager eyes staring back at them from the pews, doesn't mean they are using The Bible correctly when they teach from it.
As Biblically Sound Women, we know that The Bible is not just a book that we use to get our points across or sift through to collect ideas to craft a good message. The Bible is God's authoritative Word that we look to to know more about who God is, what He has done, what He will do and receive guidance on how those things should cause us to live. It is a historical account of God's goodness and mercy towards His people, His posture towards sin and unrighteousness, His faithfulness in securing redemption for those He came to save, and His plans for the future consummation in which Christ will return back for The Church He died for. If the sermons we're listening to are not revering God and His Word in this way, then they are not being faithful to it, no matter how many pages they flip through and Scriptures they quote.
NO. 3 | CONTEXT
Not only is using The Bible correctly imperative, but teaching Scripture within its proper context, is just as important.
This is a biggie ladies. I literally listened to a message a week ago in which the speaker totally taught Matthew 13 out of context. Not only did they take The Scripture out of context, but they said that God "gave" them that particular message and told them to preach on it.
When a pastor or speaker doesn't handle God's Word carefully by teaching Scripture with respect to its intended meaning, original audience, historical context and cultural situation, they run the risk of falsely encouraging and teaching God's Word. We must learn to be on guard and know our Bibles so well, that our ears will perk up at the sound of Scripture being misinterpreted or wrongly taught. We communicate to God and to others when we continue to listen to sermons and support teachers who consistently abuse God's Word, that it's okay to dishonor God.
The truth is, no teacher has been called by God to do what they're doing, if they consistently and unrepentantly teach error. We don't get the liberty to teach Scripture the way that we want to, to encourage others or even to validate our "personal revelations" we want to share with everyone. God has called all Christians, to rightly divide The Word of Truth, not to improperly mishandle The Scriptures. God has drawn lines that we must not cross when doing the work of interpretation. And we don't get to re-draw them. We submit to what is there and die to ourselves when we are tempted to be reckless with our personal agendas. God will never be okay with sermons that make much of man and make less of Him and the proper context of His Word.
NO. 4 | HOW WELL YOU KNOW THE TEXT
For much of my Christian life, I spent it listening to different sermons that I was super encouraged by, but didn't really have much experience in the text that was being taught out of. And because of this, much of what I learned wasn't through first hand knowledge of the text, but secondary, chewed up and spit out knowledge of the text.
When babies are just learning how to eat foods with texture, parents will serve them pureed food that are easy for them to consume, or sometimes they will even smash little pieces of their foods so that the baby can eat it too. When the baby welcomes the delicious pureed bananas or smashed potatoes into their mouths, they aren't aware that it was in another form originally. They just know it tastes good and they pretty much trust their parents to not put anything in their mouths that shouldn't be there.
Ladies, we can be like babies sometimes when it comes to listening to sermons. We take what someone is teaching us and just eat, eat, eat away. But we don't spend much time if any in learning about what that banana actually looked like before it got to us. In order to guard ourselves against false teaching and learning Scripture out of context, we must assess how much time we actually spend in the text learning on our own.
Our guard often goes down when a teacher we like opens up with a story or testimony that inspires us. When they bring Scripture in, we often aren't thinking to test it and see if it's being taught accurately, but we're listening to be encouraged alone. That is why, we must be honest about how well we know the text that is being taught. We must spend regular time reading and studying The Bible so that when we hear it taught from someone else, we're able to discern if it is accurate. This gets us in the habit of knowing God's Word for ourselves and also being able to identify teachings that may lead us astray.
NO. 5 | HOW WELL YOU KNOW YOURSELF
Let's be honest.
We all have our pitfalls, weaknesses, strengths, great moments and low moments. And depending on where we are in a specific season of life, or how we are feeling on a particular day, we may dismiss truth as error, and accept error as truth. This reality of life, can show itself visible in what sermons we choose or choose not to listen to, as well.
If you are a person who is obsessed with being wealthy in life, you may be prone to listening to sermons from people who use The Bible to teach concepts on how to make that a reality.
If you are a person who struggles with identity and worth, you may gravitate towards teachings that talk about a whole lot of you and a little about Christ.
If you are a person who believes that your good works and performance make your salvation secure, you may find yourself berated by teachers who constantly feed you more legalistic ideas to add to your already heavy-burdened load.
We have to be honest about the human condition and aware of our propensity to be less than authentic about our struggles. If we hide behind a false sense of who we actually are, then we will live according to lies instead of truth. And that may just show itself in what types of teachings we'll listen to to encourage us, even at the cost of Biblical accuracy.
Know who you are so that you can:
• Be on guard of what you may be susceptible to.
• Discern when your emotions are being your gauge of truth instead of God's Word.
• Ask The Lord to strengthen you in these area(s).
• Ensure your choices of churches, sermons and pastors aren't based on charisma, but of a sound mind, faithfulness to God's Word and a heart for truth.
Whether virtually or locally, when listening to sermons, we should employ healthy methods to approaching them. The work may be strenuous, but it will make us better in the end. The more we practice the art of careful and critical thinking and listening, the easier it'll be to detect when something is worthy of praise or reconsideration.