“The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher is to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men.” – Cotton Mather
Last week on The Pulpit we explored how preaching and listening to the Word preached is an essential means of Grace for the believer. After explaining the Parable of the Sower to His disciples, Jesus left an important command to them – “take heed how you hear”. We broke down The Parable of the Sower on the blog some weeks back and we gave tips for Listening to Sermons Effectively. However, merely listening to sermons might not be enough; it is crucial to ensure that the sermon you invest your time and soul into is genuinely Christ-centered. This article aims to help you assess the quality and content of a sermon. This article aims to help you discern if a sermon upholds the principles necessary for spiritual growth and development. Here are some essential points to consider when listening to Christian preaching:
Are the preacher’s teachings grounded in Scripture? A good sermon should consistently reference the Bible and draw key lessons from it rather than solely rely on anecdotes or popular culture. “Good theology (Godly truth) leads to good doxology (Godly praise)”. When Biblical truths are shared, authentic worship usually follows. In following the instruction of Jesus by taking heed to how we hear it is important that we are Berean in our approach to preaching (Acts 17: 10-11). The Bible described the Bereans as noble because they made sure what was being taught to them was in line with the Scriptures. A quality sermon will demonstrate accurate and thoughtful handling of Scripture. It is essential that the preacher exhibits a deep respect for the text, considering its context, as well as applying sound principles of interpretation and application. As listeners, asking questions like, “Is this interpretation in line with the overall teaching of Scripture?” or “Does the pastor try to understand the author’s original intent?” can help us evaluate the sermon through a Biblical lens.
The central theme of any sermon should be the person and work of Jesus Christ. While messages might discuss various topics and passages from the Old and New Testaments, they should always be pointing towards Christ and His redemptive work on the cross. “But we preach Christ crucified”(1 Corinthians 1:23). Sermons that lack a Christ-centered focus can turn into moralistic teaching or merely self-help tips, which is contrary to the Christian faith. Our ultimate goal as believers is to know Christ and to be conformed to His image (Philippians 3:10; Romans 8:29). Therefore, a quality sermon should always be pointing us back to Jesus and remind us of our need for Him. Additionally, the message should also emphasize how Jesus alone can empower us to live a life honouring God. Asking yourself, “Does the preacher ultimately glorify Jesus through the content and application of their message?” can be a valuable checkpoint in assessing Christ-centeredness.
Gospel at the Forefront
A Christ-centered sermon should emphasize and reinforce the Gospel – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through which humanity can experience forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life. The Gospel is the foundation of everything we believe as Christians, and our faith must grow as we dig deeper into its implications for our lives. A quality sermon will consistently preach the good news of Jesus Christ and remind us of the gracious work He performed. Messages that stray from the centrality of the Gospel may isolate listeners or leave them feeling confused about how faith serves as an essential part of their personal journey. We should reflect on questions like, “Does the sermon make the Gospel message clear and applicable to my life?” or “How doesthe text being preached point back to the redemptive work of Jesus?” when evaluating the sermon’s focus on the Gospel.
Relevance to Everyday Life
An effective sermon should bridge the gap between the spiritual and practical aspects of life. It should not only impart spiritual truths but also provide practical applications for living out those truths on a daily basis. Messages that lack direct or indirect connections to real-life struggles and challenges may leave listeners feeling disconnected or even discouraged in their spiritual journey. On the other hand, sermons that tackle everyday issues while remaining grounded in Biblical truths will provide encouragement and motivation to live a transformed life in Christ. When evaluating the sermon, consider asking, “Does the message provide practical insights, encouragement, or guidance for my personal growth, spiritual development, and relationships with others?” or “Does the preacher explain how the Word of God relates to my day-to-day experiences in a way that inspires me to grow closer to Christ and live out my faith authentically?”
Encouraging Spiritual Growth
A strong sermon should encourage and challenge believers to grow spiritually. This growth can be measured in various ways such as deepening our relationship with God, increasing our knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures, improving our prayer life, and fostering spiritual friendships with fellow believers. A sermon should also offer biblical wisdom on how to address issues in our lives, helping us to make godly choices and avoid sinful behaviours. Ultimately, the goal of each sermon should be to edify and build up the body of Christ into maturity. When assessing a sermon’s impact on spiritual growth, consider asking questions such as, “Does this message inspire me to draw closer to God and commit to personal spiritual growth?” or “How has this sermon equipped me to better understand and apply Biblical principles in my daily walk with Christ?”
Responsive to God’s Spirit
Lastly, a spiritually nourishing sermon must be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, both in its content and delivery. The preacher should rely on the guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit when communicating God’s Word, resulting in a sermon that is not only biblically based but also Spirit-led. Thus, such a message would engage both the intellect and the heart of the listener, stirring conviction, repentance, and transformation. When evaluating the spiritual responsiveness of a sermon, consider asking the following questions: “Does the preacher display a sincere dependence on the Holy Spirit throughout the message?” or “Do I sense the presence and working of the Holy Spirit, convicting me and leading me towards growth and change in my life?”
In conclusion, determining the spiritual nourishment of a sermon requires assessing various elements such as its biblical integrity, Christ-centeredness, gospel emphasis, relevance to everyday life, encouragement for spiritual growth, and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit. By asking critical questions and reflecting on the impact of a message on both our hearts and minds, we can discern whether a sermon effectively challenges and nourishes our faith, ultimately drawing us closer to Christ, transforming our lives, and enriching our walk with God. Ultimately, “Is Christ more magnified in our lives and in our sight?” is the question we should leave asking ourselves after listening to a sermon.