Worship (XIII): Teaching (2)
We have considered the worship of the New Testament church in reference to its program of teaching from the point of view of its distinctive message. Now, let us consider the worship through the program of teaching from the point of view of the members' responsibilities during the presentation of the word of God.
Preacher Problems Which Cause Poor Reception
Sometimes the word of God is poorly received by the audience because of preacher problems. His presentation might be poor because of a monotone in speech, no facial gestures, no emotional involvement in the sermon, etc. His sermons might be too lengthy; he might not be presenting new biblical material to his audience (i.e., he preaches nothing but first principles). Each of these things make it more difficult for the audience to learn God's word.
Sometimes the material is good but the preacher's attitude is poor. He is sometimes vindictive, using the pulpit to till off every person who crosses his path. Some preachers are discontent with preaching and use the pulpit to gripe about all the things which a preacher has to give up. At other times, preachers fail to get involved with the members and, therefore, do not present lessons pertinent to the problems which face the members.
Still another thing that causes this part of the worship to be poorly received by the members is the preacher's life. If the preacher is obviously not living up to the moral standards presented in God's word, everything he says is drowned out by his manner of life. Paul warned, "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (I Tim. 4:16). The preacher must "take heed unto himself" in order to be well received; his life must be exemplary (I Tim. 4:12).
Members Do Not Always Hear As They Should
Not all the problems with reference to this part of our worship are caused by the preacher; sometimes the non-preaching members do not act as they should when the word is preached. Even in New Testament times, members were not all that they should be in this regard. Some people wanted to hire preachers who would tickle their ears (2 Tim. 4:3-4). 1 see evidences of similar incorrect attitudes today when brethren look for a preacher who will entertain them with anecdotes and humorous stories; they seemingly want a sermon with few scriptures in it. They prefer that it be short (twenty minutes) and are very aggravated when the preacher preaches too long regardless of what the reason may be (a difficult subject or the presence of someone who might be ready to obey the word). These attitudes must be corrected.
That the ones who hear the message have some responsibilities is evident from several references in the Scriptures; the preacher is not the only person with problems with reference to communicating the word of God. Jesus, the world's only perfect preacher, was not always understood and obeyed. He warned of improper attitudes toward hearing the word of God. His parable of the sower warned of several incorrect attitudes toward the hearing of the word of God; consider the following attitudes drawn from this parable (Matt. 13:1-23):
(1) The wayside hearer. This man was not receptive toward the word of God because of his hardened heart. He was like the wayside path which was hardened by people walking on it to the point that nothing could grow there. Some people's heart is so hardened that the word of God cannot grow there. Sin has hardened their hearts (1 Tim. 4:1-3; Eph. 4:17-19; Heb. 3:13).
(2) The stony ground hearer. This hearer heard the word and quickly ,obeyed it. However, when persecution or tribulation came because of the word, he was offended and fell away. This hearer is the man who obeys the word without counting the cost of discipleship. When he first obeys the word, he is a "ball of fire." Soon, however, this fire burns out. They are like the boys who are impressed with the soldier's uniform and join the army but are dismayed when they find out that a soldier is expected to fight. Such a hearer needs to learn to count the cost (Lk. 14:25-33).
(3) The thorny ground hearer. This hearer heard the word and obeyed it but soon allowed the cares of this world to choke him out. Concern for riches, recreation, etc. continues to choke out the gospel in hearers today. We need to put Jesus first in our lives (Matt. 6:33) and learn that the things of this world are passing away (1 Jn. 2:15-17). Having this attitude toward the things of this world will prevent the cares of this world from choking out the word of God in the life of the Christian.
(4) The good ground hearer. This heart was good and honest (cf. Lk. 8:15). It received the word, understood it, and obeyed it. Consequently, it brought forth much fruit to the Lord. This is the kind of heart which each of us should seek to have. "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt. 13:9).
Here are some things which prevent men from hearing in the manner that they ought to hear: (1) prejudice (Prov. 18:13); (2) envy (Acts 13:44-46); (3) Love of sin (2 Cor. 4:3-4; Acts 24:25; Matt. 19:16-22); (4) lack of interest in spiritual matters (cf. Festus in Acts 25:18, 19; 26:24); and (5) seared consciences (Eph. 4:18, 19; Heb. 3:12, 13; Acts 7:51). When we find the preaching of the word of God uninteresting to us, we should conduct a serious self-examination to see if the cause lies in us.
The Ideal Hearer
Of course, the ideal hearer is the hearer with an honest and good heart (Lk. 8:15). Let us notice some of the characteristics of such a heart. One of the things which comes to mind is his attitude toward the word of God. Those who obeyed the word of God on the day of Pentecost, "gladly received his word and were baptized" (Acts 2:40). Contrast the attitude of the ones who were pricked on their hearts on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:37-40) with those pricked by the words of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60). The good hearer will have the attitude which Samuel had when God called him; Samuel said, "Speak; for thy servant heareth" (1 Sam. 3:10). We, too, should receive the word with meekness (Jas. 1:21).
The conversion of Cornelius shows us a good example of the kind of hearer which every preacher likes to address. You will recall the miracles which preceded Peter's arrival in Caesarea. God sent an angel to Cornelius to instruct him to send to Joppa to fetch Peter who would tell him words whereby he and his family could be saved (Acts 10:1-8; 11:13-14). In the meantime, Peter saw a vision from which he deduced that "God is no respector of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness is accepted with him" (Acts 10:34-35). Hence, when the Gentile messengers from Cornelius arrived at the house in which Peter was staying, Peter returned with them to Cornelius' house. When he arrived in the house of Cornelius, he found that Cornelius had gathered together his kinsfrien and near friends (Acts 10:24). Cornelius explained this gathering in this way: "Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God" (Acts 10:33). This was the ideal audience! Notice its attributes:
(1) We are all here. How good it would be to address a congregation in which all of the members sought to be present at every service. Frequently, we find a goodly portion of many congregations who miss the worship services for any excuse they can think of. They attend only at the Sunday morning worship services in order that they might partake of the communion, as if it were the only part of New Testament worship which was important. The rest of the time, they forsake the assemblying of the saints (Heb. 10:25).
(2) Present before God. These hearers recognized that they were in the presence of God during the preaching of the sermon which Peter was going to deliver. If we had the same attitude toward the preaching of the word of God as these at Cornelius' house had, we would not see some of the things happening in our worship services which happen. We would not see whispering, note passing, giggling, people clipping their nails, etc. Habakkuk said, "But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him" (2:20). We need to manifest a similar reverence for the worship of the Lord in the congregational assembly.
We show respect when the flag is raised; we show respect in the presence of the dead at a funeral home (note the whispered conversation when the body is lying in state). We should learn a similar respect for the worship of the Lord. We should recognize that we are in His presence.
(3) To hear. Cornelius' family and friends assembled for the purpose of hearing. We should recognize that this is the purpose that we have come together. We do not gather to engage in social conversation, to see the new dresses which others are wearing, to discuss the weather, etc. We have gathered for the purpose of listening to the word of God. As this is our purpose, we should bring our Bibles, a pencil, and paper that we might make note of things delivered in the sermon which we need to study in more detail.
(4) All things that are commanded thee of God. This should tell us what we should want to hear. We are not interested in any new jokes which the preacher has learned; we are interested in the word of God. We want to hear what God has commanded us. We are hungering and thirsting after God's word (Matt. 5:6; 1 Pet. 2:1-2). Furthermore, we want to hear all of God's word and not just a part of it. We should expect the preacher to give us a message which we need to hear, not just a message which will tickle our ears. We do not want a man who will withhold from us any part of God's word; we want all of it.
People with this attitude are not the type who sit and daydream during the preaching of God's word. They sit trying to soak up every detail which the preacher might say. They are not the least bit bored by the sermon. Rather, they want to hear the word preached and make every effort to learn from each lesson.
Our worship would be considerably improved if each of us manifested the attitudes and actions of an ideal hearer. We would not see people trotting off to the rest rooms simply to find something to do while the preacher was preaching. We would not see day-dreaming, whispering, note passing, playing with the small children, and other things which distract people from worshipping. Let us resolve to have a reverent spirit when we assemble to worship God.
Questions - Lesson. XIII
Truth Magazine XXIII: 45, pp. 727-729