I have a confession to make: I check bags in the drive-thru line to ensure that I have everything that I ordered.
While I know my investigation slows the line down, I’ve gone home too often and realized that someone is missing part or all of his or her meal.
But I must admit, I don’t check bags at every drive-thru.
There are certain businesses that I receive the bag through the window, never glance in to see if everything is there, and drive off believing that my order is complete because I have learned to trust the integrity of that company.
And then, there are other places where I will check the bag right there. I don’t even begin to drive off. I open up the bag, search through it, make a count, normally ask for something that I’m missing, and then drive off.
Why would I do that? Because I have gotten used to certain businesses neglecting to be meticulous and failing to give me what I need.
Check the Sermon in the Bag
Many sermons are like that. Unfortunately, some preachers can be like that.
You find yourself learning to trust certain preachers and to doubt others. You find yourself trying to be polite but sliding your hand into the bag and counting to make sure what you ordered is what you were given.
Some are always on, some are sometimes on, and some are always off.
I am often sent a link to a sermon and asked, “What do you think about this message?”
The fact that you question a sermon is a good indication that something is off.
I know that bad preaching and bad theology have always been out there. The internet has made the good, the bad, and the ugly more available to all of us. We hear snippets, we watch things removed from context, we view entire messages from churches we will never attend, and something happens inside of us. Or something should happen inside of us.
“Did Not Our Hearts Burn?”
There’s a great account in Luke after Jesus was resurrected and met those unsuspecting disciples on the road to Emmaus. As he revealed the truth of Scripture, they asked,
“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
I have learned that there are two types of heart burn when it comes to preaching:
- The Truth Heartburn that points to Jesus and the truth of his gospel and makes your soul feel like it is instantaneously about to burst.
- The Error Heartburn that twists Scripture and leads many people away from the truth of God’s Word and makes you come down with indigestion and cause you to desire to flip over tables (don’t think I am being unreasonable here, I am just following “What Would Jesus Do?” in John 2:15).
You need to be able to discern between the two.
If you know the Word well enough, you will be able to discern when its truth is distorted.
As a pastor, I am well aware that more and more people are becoming biblically illiterate. It is scary to me. We are growing up in a culture where the most-used form of Bible discussion consists of someone reading a text and then asking the horrible question: “So what does this passage mean to you?”
It does not matter what the Bible means to you – it matters what the Bible means to God.
What did God intend when he inspired writers to write these words? The Author gets the last say in its meaning – not us.
As I taught on Jehovah’s Witnesses at our church Sunday night, we talked about what classifies a cult. Religious groups are classified as a cult because they either add, subtract, or twist something from God’s Word. In the final sentences of the entire Bible, God makes clear what he things about someone who does any of these actions.
Revelation 22:18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
Did you catch that? Have you read Revelation? There are some awful plagues in that book! And God is warning that if anyone adds or subtracts from the truth of God’s Word than it is going to be worse for them what was previously mentioned in the book. That should wake us up!
When you preach, or when you listen to preaching, the biblical text should be forefront. The Bible should be allowed to speak for itself. It doesn’t need improvement or tweaking. As a preacher, if I try to add or subtract to what God has already said, then I am saying I can do better than God. That is a dangerous place to be.
Why Sound Doctrine Matters
We live in a culture that constantly reminds us incorrectly that we shouldn’t judge one another. That is simply wrong. As believers, we are actually commanded to judge one another in order to keep the doctrinal integrity and personal purity of the Church intact.
And with that, we oftentimes have to address certain incorrect preaching and thinking. Why? Shouldn’t we just love one another and let things be?
I do not love you if I allow you to continue believing a lie.
The Bible is clear. We are to know sound doctrine, teach sound doctrine, and address false doctrine.
Read God’s Word on the matter (please don’t skip over this section – my words are nothing compared to God’s Word):
- Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:2-4).
- He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9).
- I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them (Romans 16:17).
- Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:16).
- Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).
- Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:13).
- But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).
- But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).
- But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (Gal. 1:8).
- Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return. I have paid attention and listened, but they have not spoken rightly; no man relents of his evil, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turns to his own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle (Jer. 8:5-6).
- If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
- Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).
- O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20).
- An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes (Jer. 5:30-31)?
- Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
- Who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions (Isa. 30:10).
- As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3).
- To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter (2 Thess. 2:14-15).
- When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:13-14).
- Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her. Though they say, “As the Lord lives,” yet they swear falsely. O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent (Jer. 5:1-3).
Does God have an opinion on preaching? Does he care about doctrine? Absolutely. His opinion is clear.
Preparing to Preach
It is an honoring and terrifying thing to handle God’s Word in front of a congregation. I have mentioned before how I learned the error of my former ways of preaching. I often twisted God’s Word to fit my message rather than allowing God’s Word to direct my message.
I have realized how idolatrous I was to think that my thoughts on Christian living could ever be superior to God’s living and active Word (Heb. 4:12) which is like a fire (Jer. 23:29) shut up in my bones that I cannot endure any longer (Jer. 20:9).
And here I am, Bible open trying to discern what God desires to say this Sunday at our church. It is a terrifying thing (Heb. 10:31).
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. -James 3:1
I understand the gravity of the situation in that some people will listen to my voice and think that I am a direct mouthpiece from God. How horrifying!
So if they will think that, it is of the utmost importance that I deliver that. I can be that mouthpiece for God if I allow God’s Word to speak and not myself.
God has promised that his Word never returns to him void (Isa. 55:8-11). If I preach his Word and his doctrine, I will never ever have to wonder if it accomplished something. It will be prosperous (Josh. 1:8). His Word is firmly fixed in the heavens (Ps. 119:89) and I don’t have to worry about how it perceived.
Whenever I preach, I regularly ask the question:
Would this people benefit more today hearing me speak or hearing God speak?
The answer is simple. I want to get out of the way and allow God’s Word to speak in the fullest, unhindered manner as possible.
I want to preach in such a way that God’s Word is so clearly evident that the hearers don’t feel the need to “check the bag” and make sure that everything that is supposed to be there is actually in there.
I want to preach in such a way that as I lift up Jesus, hearts are burning inside as living truth invades living souls.
For preachers and for listeners, let us digest God’s Word so much that we know when we encounter it and when we don’t.
Get to know the Word of God.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. -2 Timothy 2:15