Note: This was the last post I had planned in this blog series about faith. Due to the situation in which we find ourselves I am going to extend my writing on faith for some time yet. I hope that you will find it a help in times like these.
Hebrews 3. 17 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?
18 And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?
19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
4.1 ¶ Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.
2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
3 For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
In Hebrews, we often find the writer comparing the events of the New Testament era to the events of the Old Testament era. He does so here. He mentions the Jews fleeing Egypt could not enter into the Promised Land due to their unbelief. He goes on to explain that, just so, if we would enter into the rest of Jesus/Heaven it must be by belief. Along the way, almost as an aside, the writer discusses the concept of preaching and why it seems to help some people but not help others. Why did some Jews find preaching beneficial while others did not? For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
Just the other day I happened to be watching a cooking competition. It was a team exercise. One of the courses the Blue Team was preparing happened to be polenta, and it was not going well. In fact, it was an utter disaster. At one point, five different chefs stood around the pot trying to come up with a plan to rescue the dish. One of the guys hit upon the idea of adding milk. He stirred it in and, voila!, everything turned out splendidly. So it with preaching. As a pastor, I can preach the pure Word of God diligently until I am blue in the face, but if that preaching is not mixed with faith in a receptive heart the preaching will be unprofitable.
With that by way of introduction, let me give you three corollaries to this idea. First, let me say that the hearer must have absolute faith in the Word of God. Faith in God must include faith in His Word. Do not tell me you trust me if you do not trust what I say. There must be, driven deep into the heart of each hearer, an absolute embrace of the inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, and sufficiency of God’s Word. It is never wrong. About anything. It says so repeatedly, and I must believe that if I claim to be a believer in God.
Psalm 12:6 The words of the Lord are pure words: As silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
Psalm 19:8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
Psalm 119:140 Thy word is very pure: Therefore thy servant loveth it.
Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
Romans 7:12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
This unshakeable faith is a necessity for preaching to minister to you.
Second, in addition to an absolute faith in the Scriptures, the hearer must have some level of faith in the preacher. I write this cautiously. Obviously, I believe our faith must be placed in the Lord. But there is a sense in which I must have some measure of trust in the preacher to whom I am listening if I am going to get anything out of the message.
Many years ago, I was out door-to-door soul winning in Niles, Ohio, with my father. At one particular door, a distinguished looking gentleman answered our knock, and in answer to our queries explained that he was a born again Christian. He went on to say that he was active in his church, teaching the young married couples class. In the course of our conversation, the fact that he was divorced happened to come up for some reason or other. As we walked away, my father quietly said to me, “Would you put a divorced man in charge of a married couples class?” I have never forgotten the wisdom of that quiet statement. Why? For the same reason I do not give weight loss advice. Quite plainly, it is not my area of expertise. The sad truth is if you do not have some level of confidence in a preacher you will respond to his preaching with suspicion at best and/or criticism and bitterness at worst as you reject everything he says.
Paul understood this. He often cites his own experiences in order to help people understand that he knows what he is talking about. Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus (Galatians 4.13-14).
Along this line, let me offer two appropriate suggestions. First, cultivate a balanced faith in the preacher, with the key word of this sentence being “balanced”. Yes, he is God’s man but he is still just a man. The authority is in God’s Words, not his. By the same token, he just a man, but he is a good man. He is a genuine man. He is a tested man. He loves you, loves his family, loves his neighbor, and loves God. Grant him a measure of trust and esteem. It will open your heart to the truths of God’s Word he is holding before you.
Additionally, I might suggest that you be wary of the tendency all of us to allow our spiritual discernment to morph into fleshly criticism. Do not check your brain at the door. Do not swallow anything whole that anybody says. If a preacher is wrong you ought to know your Bible well enough to spot it. By the same token, when you see a critical spirit developing in your heart, fight it. The preacher you are listening probably is not on par with Jim Jones. He is human, yes, but not evil. It is highly doubtful he spent all week in his office plotting how to manipulate you into something spiritually dubious. Have a – important word here next – little faith in him.
Thus far, in looking at the importance of mixing faith with preaching, we have looked at the necessity for faith in the Word of God and the help there is in having some level of faith in the preacher. Third, then, I would counsel that the hearer should mix in this specific mental approach to every sermon: “Lord, you show me and I’ll do it.” Seven times in James 2 we find some form of the phrase faith without works is dead. If I am going to mix faith in with the message I hear that faith, if it is a genuine faith, will result in some work or action on my part. In other words, if the sermons I listen to do not cause my life to change at all then I must not be mixing them with faith. Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves (James 1.22).
I realize that some sermons do not call on me to do anything differently. This is the case if I am already practicing what is being preached. If the message is about forgiving my enemies and I already have then nothing needs to change there. If it is addressing bitterness and I am not bitter then I not need to take action. Other messages I hear from time to time do not apply to me. If I take my teenagers to a Youth Conference, and the preacher waxes eloquent on choosing the right spouse carefully I can sit back and pitch in with a hearty Amen, but I do not need to do anything about the message necessarily. But many, if not most, sermons do have an application that I should personally incorporate. And my default approach must be that if there is a personal application that applies to me in a sermon then I will seek to apply it. This approach should be foundational. It should be part of who we are at our core. We should think this way with every message we hear.
I love to preach, but I am neverendingly frustrated with some people who sit in my church. Week after week, month after month, year after year there is no change. Meanwhile, Bro. So-and-so who sits one row over is growing like gangbusters. Why? Bro. So-and-so had the wisdom to mix in faith.
You will hear some preaching this week. Do not sit there like a bump on a log, challenging God and the preacher to move you. No, beloved. Bring to it an absolute faith in God’s Word. Throw in some trust in the preacher. Add in a dash of “Lord, you show me and I’ll do it”. And it will taste so much better.