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TEXT: Revelation 1:3
SUBJECT: Watson on Hearing and Reading the Word #2
With all the excitement generated from reading the Book of Revelation, I wonder how many people are thrilled by its first promise? Jesus Christ promises a blessing-a happiness-to everyone who reads or hears the words of this prophecy. And what's true of this Word is also true for the rest of God's Word.
We are privileged to have the Word of God in our homes to read and to have the Word of God preached to us on the Lord's Day and at other times too! How honored we are to live in a land flowing with the milk and honey of God's Word!
With the privilege goes a responsibility. We are bound-not only to read and hear the Word-but to become good readers and hearers of it.
This brings us to tonight's study which is called Thomas Watson on Reading and Hearing the Word of God. Watson was a Puritan pastor and writer who was born in 1620 (or thereabouts). This chapter on hearing and reading the Word is taken from his great book, The Ten Commandments.
Last week we learned how to be betters readers of the Word of God. Tonight, with the Lord's blessing, we'll think about hearing it better than we do.
Some Bible lessons have no immediate application. An eight year old boy hears a sermon on being a godly husband. If he listens carefully, it will help him-but not for quite a while! This sermon, however, can be applied right now: for we've met tonight to hear the Word preached and that's what the study is about: becoming good listeners to God.
How do you change from a bad listener to a good one? Watson has a lot to say here-and the first thing he says is the most obvious, and therefore, the easiest one to miss. If you want to be a good hearer of God's Word-he says:
"Give great attention to the Word preached. Let nothing pass without taking special notice of it. Give attention to the Word as a matter of life and death. For this purpose, have a care to banish vain, impertinent thought which will distract you and take you off the work of hearing.
Banish dullness. The devil gives many hearers a sleepy sop, so that they cannot keep their eyes open at a sermon. They eat so much on the Lord's Day that they are more fit for a pillow or a couch than for the Temple.
When people do not mind what God speaks to them in His Word, God as little minds what they say to Him in prayer".
Under this heading, Watson points out two, very real and common things that hinder our attention to the Word of God. The first is mental-we come to church feeling well, but as soon as the preacher begins, we start thinking about other things. The things needn't be wicked things-most of the time, they are not! No, but they are other things: things like work or school or something that needs doing around the house. These are good things to think about-but not during the sermon!
You have to make a real effort to rid yourself of them! To do that-Watson says-you must remember what it is you're hearing and what effect a good-or bad-hearing of it will have on you!
If the preacher is discussing politics or poetry, it doesn't matter much if you hear him out or not. Good manners would keep you in your seat and your eyes open, but thinking about the ballgame at that time is no offense to God and won't hurt you in the least.
But is that what the preacher is talking about? Politics, current events, literature, the weather? No! He is speaking the Word of God-a Word infinitely more important than any other thing you might have on your mind! I am not an impressive man or an impressive preacher-but when I preach the Word of God, you ought to hear me as though I were a prophet, an apostle, or Jesus Christ Himself! Not because of how I say it, but because of what it is I speak: the Word of the Infinite, Eternal, and Almighty God-the same Word that once thundered from Mount Sinai-is spoken in this little building by a nothing of a man-and yet it demands a careful hearing because it's about the Message-not the messenger!
If a rich man promised you an immense fortune, do you think you'd listen to the promise with any care? If your commanding officer gave you strict orders, do you think you might listen up? Well, this is what God is doing for us in the preached Word: He is making promises and issuing orders. We would do well to pay closer attention than we do.
The second hindrance to good hearing is not spiritual or mental, but, rather, physical. The Puritan is quite realistic. He knows-for example-that a short night or a big meal will make us sleepy and inattentive to the sermon. That was especially true in his day, when sermons often went on for two or three hours!
Our sermons are far shorter than these, but am I the only one who has thought more about my Sunday afternoon nap than I have the Sunday afternoon sermon?
If you were taking the SAT on Saturday morning at nine o'clock, would you stay up until three in the morning the night before? Not if you wanted to be at your best, you wouldn't! What would you think of the pilot who watches the midnight movie before his flight at 6:00 in the morning? Would you want to be in the plane with him at the controls? Of course not! We all know that a good night's sleep is key to a good day's work.
Including the work of hearing God's Word.
So, do you put off everything until Saturday night at 11:00? If you do (unless you have a highly unusual metabolism), you'll be sleepy the next day when the Word of God is preached.
Thomas Watson also says something about overeating on Sunday. Some men, he says, so stuff themselves at lunch that they're no good for the evening service. This is a double whammy for us-as our evening service is held at 2:00 in the afternoon-and right after lunch. I'm not the most qualified person here to tell people to eat less, but I can say you ought to be careful on Sunday lunches because you need to hear the Word and you cannot do that if your stomach is yelling at you: lights out!
If you want to be a better hearer of God's Word-pay attention, Watson says-and do the things necessary to stay alert during the sermon.
A good friend of mine used to work Saturday nights, but he wouldn't miss church the next day. So, what he did was drink extra coffee in the morning and stand up in the back for the whole sermon! He was eager to hear the Word and willing to do what's necessary to hear it well!
This is the first rule for being a good hearer of God's Word: pay attention! The second rule is:
COME TO CHURCH WITH A DESIRE TO HEAR THE WORD
"Come with a holy appetite for the Word. The thirsting soul is the thriving soul. In nature one may have an appetite and no digestion, but it is not so in religion. Where there is appetite for the Word, there is also (for the most part) a blessing from the Word."
The tastiest food is lost on a man without appetite. In the same way, the best sermon bores or even sickens a man who doesn't care for the Word of God. Do you come to church hungering and thirsting for the Word-with a real desire to know the glory of God and His will for your life-even when that will contradicts your own?
The believer who hears a sermon with a strong desire for it will almost always be blessed by it. Even when the sermon is not well-prepared and is full of mistakes, he can get something good out of it. A disgusting salad may have good croutons in it! It's not much, but to the hungry man, it's delicious.
There's a story from Charles Spurgeon that fits here. He knew his Bible and theology long before he went to school. One day-at about ten or twelve years old-he met an old woman who loved the Word of God, but went to a church whose pastor didn't preach it. And yet, she always got a blessing. He asked her how she did it, and she gave an immortal answer. Speaking of the pastor, she said,
"To whatever he says, I add the word, `not'"!
Maybe the dear lady went too far, but I suspect we don't go far enough. We come to church without much longing for the Word and we get what we came for-not much! The Proverb says, "The desire of the righteous shall be granted". The believer who hungers and thirsts for the Word will get a blessing from the sermon-even when it's not very good.
We live in a consumer culture-people go to the mall wanting things-even if they don't know what it is, they want something and feel disappointed if they go home without it. I wish we had the same desire in going to church-we have come for a blessing and we'll stay till we get one.
Peter says as newborn babies, we ought to desire (or crave) the pure milk of the word. God give us the craving!
The third rule for hearing the Word of God is
"Be meek. Meekness is a submissive frame of mind-a willingness to hear the counsels and reproofs of the Word. Contrary to this meekness is a fierceness of spirit, whereby men are ready to rise up in rage against the Word. Proud men and guilty cannot endure to hear their faults.O take heed to this: If you would hear the Word with effect, lay aside all fierceness and stubbornness and receive the Word with meekness".
Nothing hinders the Word of God more than an unwillingness to hear it! The man who comes to church looking to find fault and contradict the preacher will not be blessed-even if the sermon is great. Remember what good preaching is-not the opinions of the preacher-but the Word of God, a Word whose authority we are under. A good soldier doesn't always like his orders, but he salutes the officer and obeys him. Many times the Word says things I don't much care for-they make me look bad, they hurt me, they tell me to give up some things I cherish and to do things I'd rather not do.
Yet if I want a blessing, I must meekly submit to the Word-even if the preacher doesn't live up to his sermon. That's between himself and the Lord-my job is to obey the Word of God!
Should you believe everything the preachers says? No. Should you listen with discernment? Yes. But when the Word is preached-even if it's preached badly and by a man unworthy of it-you're bound to submit to it.
This means: you ought to go to church expecting to hear things you don't like, but also willing to do them because Jesus Christ says so.
Let me tell you a little story: Leonard Buttrum was a pastor in Roseville, Californina, not far from Sacramento. One day, he read Romans 9 at church and a man stood up and said, "I disagree with you!" The pastor replied, "All I did was read the Bible". The man answered him, "I disagree with the way you read it!"
Not many of us would be as rude as that man was. But-deep down-we're often no better than he. We object to the sermon-not because it was false, but because it was true. Not because the pastor was hard, but because the Bible is! I don't believe that pastors ought to rant and rave and scold and lecture, but even if they do, we're obliged to welcome the Word into our souls. Because it is the Word.
Watson has a lot more to say on the subject of hearing the Word of God well, but we'll take up the rest of it next week (and maybe the week after, Lord willing). But for now, let's remember the main points:
Watson's advice is not complete, but he has provided a good place to start hearing the Word-and hearing it better than we have in the past. May the Holy Spirit give us the ears to hear, for Christ's sake. Amen.
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