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Sermon-listening in the Bible: Listening with Humility

pulpitDavid sat in the front row of church, directly in front of the pulpit, straight back, chin raised, arms crossed, inverted smile, and eyes defiant. He didn’t seem to enjoy church very much. His conversations never focused on the sermon. He never spoke of his personal walk with God. He didn’t engage in spiritual discussion.

Stephanie, on the other hand, was excited to get to church. She wanted to hear God speak. After the sermon, she always talked about what she had learned. She spoke of ways in which she could apply Biblical principles. She asked her friends to pray for her and she offered to pray for them. There was a humility to her that allowed the preached Word of God to play a big part in her Christian experience.

Who are you more like—David or Stephanie?

The wonderful Welsh preacher, Martin Lloyd-Jones [1899–1981]—affectionately known as “The Doctor”—wrote, “If a man can listen to such a sermon without being touched or moved I take leave to query whether he is a Christian at all. It is inconceivable to me that a man who is a true believer can listen to a presentation of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the glory of the Gospel, without being moved.”[1]

Humility is the trademark of a Christian. Since brokenness over sin is what drives a sinner to confession and to Christ for salvation, and since confession is the result of saying, “God you are right about my sin and I was wrong,” and since that attitude of self-correction and submission to God continues throughout a Christian’s life, then humility will be the heartbeat of every Christian. Humility means that we acknowledge we are not yet perfect—as Christ is perfect—and therefore we continually wash ourselves in God’s Word so that we may become more like Christ. That means that when we listen to a sermon, we do so wanting to be challenged—wanting to be transformed—wanting to be changed.

We don’t want to be like the lawyer who complained to Jesus saying, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too” (Luke 11:45). The lawyer’s words reveal a prideful heart that couldn’t stand the truth of Jesus’ message. He would have preferred an easier, less confrontational message. Paul also warned that a “time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3–4). If we’re going to avoid this wrong response to preaching, then we need to cultivate a heart of humility—the same kind of humility which was required to become a believer in the first place.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, instructed believers: “Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). How do you approach the sermon event in your context? Do you have an open heart that says, “I need correction. I need to learn God’s ways. I need to have my mind realigned to Christ’s mind. I am here to be changed”? That’s genuine humility.

There ought to be a longing for personal Christian growth—a willingness to say, “I’ve not yet arrived. I need to hear and heed this sermon in order to be more like Christ.” In doing so, we are living out the Apostle Peter’s instruction: “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote of the believer’s desire for the Word of God: “Wanting to listen to the Word is inevitable if men and women are born again and have become Christians. A babe does not understand, but he has an instinct for milk. He wants it! . . . He is alive and wants the mother’s milk, and rightly so.”[2] His point is clear: “One simply cannot be a Christian and have no desire for a knowledge of this truth—it is impossible.”[3]

Now, you may not listen to sermons like David does, with arms crossed or with an angry disposition, but maybe an indifference towards the sermon constitutes an equal amount of pride on your part. Indifference kills spiritual growth. That’s because genuine humility is not just the absence of anger toward the message or the preacher but the presence of openness, transparency, and a willingness to engage in spiritual discussion after the sermon. Humility means that we will be attentive and responsive.

We ought to approach the sermon experience knowing that God’s wisdom is infinitely better than ours. We admit that if left to ourselves, our minds become entangled with earthly concerns and worldly mindsets. We admit that our thinking often sinks to levels of foolishness, and we need God’s wisdom to be preached to us so that we can be reminded of God’s will and design. The fact is that biblical preaching will assault our worldly passions and sinful practices and will challenge us to change.

Listening to that kind of preaching is hard, but we admit that God’s Word is right. It’s the best medicine for our souls. It’s what we need to hear. Don’t run away from biblical preaching. Run towards it. Run to that kind of preaching which calls you to repent and live in a counter-cultural way—a Christ-like way.

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1971), 150.

[2] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 105.

[3] Ibid., 106.

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