Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
The Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith through the Word of God. Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We live on the words that come from the mouth of God. And the words that come from the mouth of God are given to us in the Scripture. Jesus says, “You live on this Word.” Faith unites you to Christ who feeds you, nourishes you, and sustains you. He does this through His Word. This Word is to your life like bread is to your body.
God calls us to bring faith to the Word
“They were not able to enter because of their unbelief… The message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” Hebrews 3:19, 4:2
The writer is speaking about the Israelites who did not enter the Promised Land. They heard the message of the Gospel, but it was of no value to them. Why? Because they did not combine it with faith.
Christ sustains my life through the Word of God. So, I need to hear the Word. But if I do not hear the Word with faith, it will be of no value in my life. I’ll simply be a person who comes to church and hears many sermons. But these sermons don’t benefit me, they go over my head, because I don’t combine them with faith.
Jesus made this truth very clear in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:1-15). There is one seed, but four kinds of soil. Every weekend, the Word of God is preached. The seed is sown. But it has different effects in people’s lives.
For some the Word of God makes little difference. Their hearts are hard. Satan snatches the seed away. The Word is of no value to them. For others, the Word of God has only a temporary effect. Their hearts are shallow. Pressure comes and they shrivel.
For still others, the Word of God is choked by competing priorities. Their hearts are preoccupied with worries and money, and the desire for other things. And for some the Word of God is bearing a great harvest. Their hearts are good soil in which the seed flourishes.
Most of us know that parable, but here’s what Jesus said about it: “Consider carefully how you listen” (Luke 8:18). Here we are, all hearing the Word of God, but Jesus says, “Be careful how you listen, because it has radically different effects in different kinds of hearts.”
Today’s message is about how to listen to a sermon. Pastors study how to speak the Word of God. I want to help you to hear the Word of God in such a way that it will bear fruit in your life. Consider carefully how you listen. How do you listen?
Come with a Settled Conviction…
…that God Speaks through His Word
Some years ago, I was taking a wedding in the south of England. The couple was concerned for their unconverted relatives, and asked me to preach the Gospel at their wedding. I must have spoken for 15 to 20 minutes. The photographer hadn’t counted on this and he was desperate to get on with his work.
Our oldest son Andrew was just a baby, and while I was speaking Karen took him outside the church where she met the photographer. He was pacing up and down like a caged lion.
He said to her, “Who is that man who is going on and on and on in there?”
To which she replied, “Oh, that’s my husband.” To many people, that’s all the preaching of the Word of God is—a man who’s going on and on and on. Quite honestly, if that’s what you think preaching is, then there’s not much reason to listen.
In Thessalonica, people’s lives were being quickly and radically changed: “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). You heard the Word of God (at that time, the Old Testament Scriptures) from us. You did not receive it as the word of men. You received it as the Word of God, which it actually is. You grasped that God speaks through His Word. That’s how God speaks. That’s how you hear His voice.
That’s our conviction at The Orchard. We believe that God speaks through His Word. That is why, when we gather—we want to sing the Word, pray the Word, read the Word, preach the Word and hear the Word—so that we may receive the Word by which the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith.
How do you listen to the Word of God?
God speaks through His Word. When we know who is speaking, we listen differently. I listen to adverts passively. If something grabs my attention, I suddenly wake up and listen, but otherwise it passes me by. Candidly, that’s how some people listen to the preaching of the Word of God.
I listen to my enemies defensively. I know that they want to harm me, so I am on my guard. If you think God is your enemy that is how you will hear His Word. That is how some listen to His Word.
I listen to my friends in a different way. I hear them with an open heart because I know that they love me. When they tell me I am wrong, I listen because I know they are in my corner, they want to do me good. The way you listen to the Word of God reveals a great deal about your relationship with Him. God’s friends hear His Word gladly.
God chooses what He wants to say to you
When you know that God speaks through His Word, you will come expectantly. We all have our ideas of what we want to hear, what we think we need to hear. But when He speaks He chooses what He wants to say.
God spoke to me through His Word at the conference this week. In the last session, C.J. Mahaney was speaking from 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season…” And here’s the part the Holy Spirit spoke to me: “…with great patience.” I saw some areas of my life where I am impatient.
I didn’t go into that session thinking about patience. I wasn’t feeling a need in regard to patience. I wasn’t aware of a lack of patience, but God spoke to me about patience through 2 Timothy 4:2.
You may be thinking, “I’ve come to church this weekend, and I’m facing all these things in my life. A sermon on how to hear the Word of God is not what I need right now.” Can you consider the possibility, friend, that it may be exactly what you need?
God may be saying to you, “Instead of looking for a quick fix to the problems in your life, you need to establish a regular pattern of receiving My word with faith, so that it will bear long-term fruit that you have not been bearing in years.” You never know what God is going to say to you, but you know He is going to say it through His Word.
Let me encourage you with two practical things that I, and many others have found helpful:
1. Bring your Bible to church
Not any Bible, not the smallest one you can find. Bring your Bible. Have one Bible that you get to know and use during our times together. It will help you to discover what’s in your Bible.
2. Bring a pen and paper to church
Write down what the Holy Spirit is teaching you. I take a pen and paper when I go to breakfast with our church chairman. I do that because I know there will be things I need to follow through on. I don’t want to mess up.
If that’s my disposition when I am listening to the words of a man to whom I am accountable, how much more should that be my disposition when I am listening to the Word of God?
Come with a Healthy Appetite
“Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4
Jesus is making the connection between God’s Word and food. He invites us to think of God’s Word as a nourishing meal.
The preacher’s task is to prepare the meal. The table should be spread in a way that is attractive. The food should be placed where it is accessible to the guests. Most of all, what is served should be the nourishing food of the Word of God. God’s people are not fed on the dry bones of the preachers opinions. We are not nourished to eternal life by the preacher’s latest thoughts on how to improve your marriage or your self esteem.
God has never promised to bless my words. He has promised to bless His Word. So, the task of the preacher is to set God’s Word before God’s people so that we may be fed and nourished. But when the meal is prepared, when the meal is served, what is your part? Come hungry. Come with a hearty appetite: “Come all you who are thirsty come to the waters… Come, buy and eat. Listen to me… and your soul will delight in the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55:1-3).
How do you develop a healthy appetite?
Use the pressures of your life to increase your appetite for the Word of God. That’s what you find consistently in the Psalms:
“As the deer pants for streams of water so my soul longs for you, O God.” Why? “My tears have been my food day and night.” Psalm 42:1, 3
“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Why? “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in His dwelling.” Psalm 27:4-5
“As for me it is good to be near God.” Why? “My feet had almost slipped… My heart was grieved, my spirit embittered… til I entered the sanctuary of God.” Psalm 73:26, 1, 21, 17
If everything in my life was apple pie, I might not feel this hunger and thirst for God. But the truth is I face great pressures. My own sins are many. Therefore, I’m hungry and thirsty for God. That’s how to use the pressures of your life, whatever they are.
I’ve sometimes heard a pastor say at the beginning of a service, “Lord, help us shut out the pressures of our life in this world.” That’s impossible. You can’t detach yourself from the realities of life. You come to God with all the pressures of your life, and you use them to increase your appetite for the Word of God.
Learn to use a knife and fork
Infants need to be spoon fed. At one time in your life that was true of you. The rest of the family was sitting at the table eating their meal, and you were in your high chair, with your food ground to a pulp. Your mother or father, or maybe a sister or brother, were feeding it to you with a spoon.
But it was not long before you learned to use your knife and fork. The preacher’s task is to prepare the meal. But when dinner is served, it is your task to use your knife and fork to eat what’s laid before you. You can sit at the table, where a lavish meal is served. You can come with a hearty appetite, but unless you use your knife and fork, you will not be fed.
I’m using a picture: Whatever’s on the table, and however hungry you are, when the Word of God is preached, you need to make applications of the truth to the particular circumstances of your own life. This is what it means to use the knife and the fork.
Isn’t this the preacher’s job?
You may be thinking, “Isn’t it the preacher’s job to give me the applications?” When God spoke to me this week about patience through a message on 2 Timothy 4, I was in a room with 7,000 other people.
In that room, there were 7,000 situations where patience is needed, 7,000 situations where impatience is being displayed, and all of them different. That’s assuming that each of us has only one. I could think of at least three. It would be impossible for any preacher to make every application to every life situation in the congregation.
The Holy Spirit is given to you so that you may have wisdom to apply the Word of God, as it is being taught, to the particular circumstances of your life—circumstances that the speaker is not even aware of.
Infant Christians want to be spoon fed. They are always saying, “What’s the bottom line? Where’s the take away? Give me the application.” When the preacher reduces the application to a list of things to do, it obscures the unique way in which God speaks to each of us as individuals through His Word. Only God can do that by the Holy Spirit.
God is not building robots. He is raising sons and daughters who hear His Word, develop the capacity to apply it, and respond to it by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Preaching the Word of God is an act of faith, flowing from the conviction that God speaks through His Word. I would never dare to preach if I didn’t believe that the Holy Spirit is able to apply that Word in the hearts of God’s people in ways I’ve never even thought of.
Hearing the Word of God is an act of faith in which you ask the Holy Spirit to show you how the Word applies in circumstances of your life. When I heard 2 Timothy 4, I had to apply it to my life—just like 6,999 other people who had to use their knife and fork. Come to the Word of God with faith and your faith will increase: “To whoever has, more will be given” (Luke 19:26).
What If You Do Not Yet Have Faith?
“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17
Here’s the amazing mystery—that Christ sustains faith through the Word of God and He creates faith through His Word. You may have no faith today. Christ is able to create the capacity of hearing in you. And that hearing produces faith.
God creates by speaking. That is how the world was made. And that is how faith comes. “Faith comes from hearing and hearing [comes] through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Here is what you can do…
1. Place yourself regularly under the Word of God
Read it, hear it preached. Listen to this Word, not as the words of men, but as it actually is—the Word of God. Come with the settled conviction that God speaks to you through His Word. Come to the Word with a hearty appetite. Place yourself under the ministry of the Word.
2. Recognize you need God to do for you what you cannot do yourself
You need Him to give you ears that can hear. “Lord, unless you change me, I will be the kind of person who is always hearing and never understanding, always seeing and never perceiving” (Matthew 13:14). Lord you say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:8). Give me ears to hear. When you come to this place, faith is already beginning in you, because you are reaching out to Him.
3. Look to Christ
It’s so significant that Paul says here, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The Bible is all about Jesus Christ. Everything in this book is given to you so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ… and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
The message of the Bible is that though you are by nature a sinner, a rebel, and an enemy of God, He loves you and has sent His Son into the world to redeem you. Jesus Christ gave His life as a sacrifice for your sins to reconcile you to God. He rose from the dead and He is ready to forgive all who come to Him in faith and repentance.
He is able to give you peace with God, new life, new hope, and new power by His Holy Spirit. He is able to save you from the hell you deserve and bring you faultless into the presence of God in heaven. Look to this Christ today. Ask Him to save you.
© Colin S. Smith
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