Series Introduction: Recently our new Associate Pastor, Nigel Shailer, challenged us to be “Community Listeners” as we hear God’s Word taught each week. Focus, the ministry to seniors at FBC, has been working through this topic following Ken Ramey’s excellent book Expository Listening. This series of six articles comes from that study.
The fourth chapter of Expository Listening addresses the problem of hearing what needs to be heard. Some people just want to hear an entertaining message and feel good – they aren’t interested in being challenged with their lifestyle. Preachers who focus on entertainment and positive feelings are actually teaching their listeners false doctrine. Indeed, many of their sermons do not even contain the gospel. From 2 Timothy 4:1-4 we see some principles that are helpful for listeners as well as preachers. While the commands are directed at a young preacher, we will look at them to see how they might also be applied to listeners.
First, if the preacher has to preach, then the listener has to listen. That sounds so simple! Paul said in verse 2: Preach the Word. The “Word” is obviously the same message that was proclaimed as inspired at the end of chapter 3. To preach it means that you are acting as a public messenger to announce an important message. If it’s public, then we will be listening with others, meaning we will be in church. If it’s important and if it’s from God Himself, then the listener better be careful to listen to what is being said. So Paul might say to the church where Timothy was located (Ephesus), “Listen to the Word. Don’t go looking for something that will just amuse you. Be challenged.” So here is our command: Listen to the Word. It’s urgent. It’s important. Start listening.
Second, if the preacher has to be ready all the time, then the listener has to be ready all the time. The next command to Timothy was to “be ready in season and out of season.” The word “ready” suggests the idea of standing at the ready. A soldier has to be prepared at all times. He does not just prepare for one battle, but for any battle. That requires a preacher to be a student of the Word constantly, a man who walks with God throughout the week. How about you as a listener? Are you always ready to hear God’s Word? In fact, are you hungry for it, wanting to get the best message that will challenge you in the way you live?
Third, if the preacher has to reprove those who hear, then the listener has to be receptive to reproof. Timothy is commanded to confront people with the truth. It may be that their lives are not consistent with Christlikeness. Possibly there has been acceptance of false teaching. Such things need to be corrected. What do you as a listener need to do? Listen for areas in your life or doctrine that are not consistent with God’s Word. Have a desire to see areas that need to be corrected.
Fourth, if the preacher has to rebuke, then the listener has to be receptive to rebuke. This is the follow-up to reproof. Once the false doctrine or sinful living has been exposed, people need to be challenged to be changed. Expository listeners want to change. They look for problems in their lives or weaknesses that need to be strengthened. Rebuke is not a threat to them; it’s an opportunity to grow.
Fifth, if the preacher has to exhort, then the listener has to be receptive to exhortation. What is exhortation? It is the same word translated as encouragement and comfort. Someone is coming alongside to help implement the needed change. Though the expository preacher has started the process with a message from the Word, help is often needed to put that change into practice consistently. Get involved in a small group or in a discipleship relationship with just one other person, someone who can assist in bringing about positive change in your life.
Listener, are you looking for a positive change in your life? When you hear the Word, find something you need to do that you have not been doing. It may be something new, or it may be something that you used to do but that has been left behind at some point. Be ready to listen, be willing to evaluate your life in light of the message, and take action to put into practice what you have heard. The preacher is to be faithful in teaching God’s Word – we should be just as faithful to hear it and let it change us.