Some years ago, a Baptist preacher, Dr. George Stewart, preached a sermon on a Sunday morning. During the sermon exposition, he used the word britches. That was in a day before the word was commonly used as it is today. Unknown to him, Dr. Stewart’s use of the word ruffled a few feathers. Following the service, as the pastor stood in the vestibule to greet the congregation, one dear lady came by to greet the minister. As she shook his hand, she said, “Dr. Stewart, I cannot understand it. A man of your dignity and office, a man of your sophistication using the word britches.” He replied, “Did you hear anything I said before I said britches?” She responded, “Well, no.” He asked, “Did you hear anything I said after I said britches?” She said, “I guess not.” He declared, “Then I am glad I said britches, or you wouldn’t have heard a word of my sermon.”
Like the woman in our story, it is easy to miss the point of a sermon and fail to profit from the profitable Word of God. So, if we are to get more from a sermon, we must give more attention to better listening. Preaching is a joint venture, during which the expositor speaks the truth warmly and well and, in response, the hearer receives the truth warmly and well (1 Thess. 1:5; 2:13). Worship services must be marked not only by expository preaching but also by expository listening, where the congregation comes prepared to think through, take in, and live out the Word preached (Psalm 81:8, 13; Luke 11:28).
Preaching is work, but so is listening. I fear the church has suffered more from lazy listeners than from drowsy preachers. C. H. Spurgeon was right when he said, “We are told men ought not to preach without preparation. Granted, but we add, men ought not to hear without preparation. Which, do you think, needs the most preparation, the sower or the ground? I would have the sower come with clean hands, but I would have the ground well-plowed and harrowed, well-turned over, and the clods broken before the seed comes in. It seems to me that there is more preparation needed by the ground than by the sower, more by the hearer than by the preacher.”
Heeding that admonition, we would be well served to consider James 1:19–25. Within this text we find six steps to better expository listening. (1) Be ready and eager to hear the Word read and expounded (James 1:19). (2) Zip your lip to premature judgments or opinions (James 1:19). (3) Subdue negative emotions toward others that would impede the sweet work of the Spirit through the Word (James 1:19–20). (4) Repent of known sin and come with a clean heart to make a fresh start with God (James 1:21). (5) Humble yourself before the authoritative Word of God Almighty (James 1:21). (6) Do what you hear. The disciple of Christ is not to be a sermon taster, but rather one who ingests the truth and then digests the truth by walking it off in an obedient response (James 1:22–25).
Let’s not fail to profit from the profitable Word. The preacher should not be the only one working hard on a Sunday morning. Expository preaching is work, but so is expository listening. Getting more from a sermon requires giving more to a sermon.