It was one of the most difficult weeks of my life. But right in the middle of that week I took a break from my troubles, walked into a beautiful sanctuary, and sat down to listen to a sermon. A sermon was just what I needed. I needed to be reminded of God’s great love. I needed to hear the Bible faithfully preached. And that’s just what I heard.
But it didn’t help me one bit.
The reason? I was taking one of those really hard classes you have in school where it seems that every day gets more complicated. This particular week, we were working on a big project. Each day was built on the previous day. And each day I seemed to make more mistakes. Some people feel like they’re spinning their wheels in school. My wheels were going backwards.
There are different kinds of teachers. Some are patient. They don’t allow you to settle for anything less than your best but they bear with you as you work out your bugs. Others are more like defensive-line coaches whose goal it is to tear you down and build you back up again. The teacher I had for this particular class followed the defensive-line model. The only difference was that time ran out before the building-back-up part started. From day one, I was torn down.
This teacher’s words and demeanor crushed me. I wasn’t looking for a trophy or even a pat on the back. I would have settled for just being ignored. Instead, I got words that were confusing and discouraging and spoken in a harsh tone. I had enough. I was broken. I wanted to be done with school. Forever. Remember when I said that I walked into a sanctuary? That’s not really true. It’s more like I crawled.
The sermon I heard in that sanctuary was top notch. The exegesis was perfect. The gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed. The balance between faithfulness to the Biblical text and application to daily life was just right. Spurgeon would have been proud.
So why didn’t the sermon do anything for me?
Because the person who preached it was the same person who had been tearing me down in class.
Pastors, there is something to be learned from this. We can preach beautiful sermons. We can make our old professors proud by the way that we exegete the text. We can sit down when it’s all over, confident that we have done the job well. We can do all of these things and still not do our people any good.
Don’t get me wrong: our people need to hear the Word preached. But they also need to be loved.
If we faithfully proclaim the text but do not faithfully love the people who look or vote differently than we do, we gain nothing.
If we preach Jesus with our words from the pulpit but do not model Jesus with our words in the church parking lot, we are nothing.
If we exalt Jesus on Sunday morning but tear down those made in his image on Tuesday afternoon, our sermons are nothing more than noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.
The tongue is connected to the heart. That may not be anatomically true but it most certainly is spiritually true. Jesus says so (Matthew 15:18). Our problem is not primarily dirty mouths, but dirty hearts.
Pastor, as you do you sermon prep this week, I hope that you read good commentaries. I hope that you are able to study the original languages. I hope that you come up with some really good insights that are grounded in sound, biblical doctrine. I hope that you find a nice story to grab people’s attention at the beginning of your sermon.
But don’t forget what could very well be the most important part of your sermon prep. Ask God to work in your heart so that you proclaim Christ in your everyday speech throughout the week, not just in your sermonic speech on Sunday.
Pastors tend to put a lot of weight on the Sunday sermon; that’s a good thing. But let’s remember that the rest of our words and the way that we use them are just as important.
Pastor, you have never spoken an insignificant word.
“I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak.” Matthew 12:36 (CSB)