Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
How to Rightly Listen to Preaching
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. 1 Thessalonians 2:13NKJV
This morning we look at Question 160 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What is required of those that hear the word preached?” It gives the answer, “It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.” Last time we saw how ministers must preach God’s Word. Today we consider our duty to rightly hear the preached Word.
Ordinarily we think of listening as a passive endeavor. However, for our Puritan forefathers, even quietly listening was seen in the light of our active responsibilities! Every time we sit and listen to a sermon the following active duties are incumbent upon us. First, we must attend upon the word with diligence, preparation, and prayer. If I believe I am about to hear a word that God at that moment is delivering to me for His glory and my good, I will surely listen to it diligently, which is to say attentively. I will earnestly and actively apply my intellect to what I am hearing and desire to focus on it and understand it. I should already have prepared myself to hear it. As much as is possible I should come to worship well rested, with my affairs in order so that nothing will distract me from the all-important duty and privilege to listen to God’s Word. Knowing that my heart is naturally hard and closed, I should enter the sanctuary having already prayed for God to graciously allow me to understand, believe, and do what His Word says.
Likewise, since the preachers we hear are not infallible, we are always responsible to be like the Bereans and test what we hear according to the rest of Scripture. Has the preacher accurately handled God’s Word of truth? If it sounds controversial or new to me, can I confirm it with another part of the Word of God? Can I find the same doctrine in other faithful preachers down through the ages? Once I see the message is true to God’s Word, I must believe it, strive to love it, and meekly allow it to judge me. I should do what I can to immediately put it into practice in my life. If it reveals a sin I am committing, I must confess it to God and seek to turn from it in my life. If it holds forth to me a promise from God, I should thank God for it and ask him for help in believing it, hoping in it, and doing whatever I can practically speaking to live in the light of it. If it provides instruction in godliness, I should strive to immediately put it into practice in my life in whatever ways are appropriate.
Meditating on the Word of God is a powerful way to practically and deliberately grow in thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Take one verse of Scripture and think about it as you are driving, cleaning, or cutting the grass. Say it over and over again in your mind, stressing each word in turn, considering what that particular word reveals to you about what you should believe concerning God and what God requires of you. To “confer of it” in Old English meant to examine by comparison. Here is where I apply each word and verse to my life, as I judge myself and my ways by the Word of God. Hiding God’s Word in my heart is the practice of memorization, which goes right along with meditation. When a text of Scripture is preached on in such a way that it powerfully impacts us, we should take that passage or verse and memorize it. Do not allow the Word that reaches you to return void. Strike while the iron is hot! Use those moments when God stirs your heart to commit His Word to memory: “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You!” (Ps. 119:11).
Finally we note the ultimate outcome of our rightly listening to God’s Word: that it would bring forth fruit in us. Here we are talking about the fruit of obedience, which is good works. God has saved us for the purpose of righteousness, and His Word is the means by which we are sanctified so that we do good works. Take some time today to consider your duty in rightly hearing the Word of God preached, and ask God to give you the grace to do it!