Why are sermons such a big deal? The Bible tells us to sing as the gathered church. The Bible also tells us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and baptisms. But why are sermons essential?
Sermons are essential because they teach God’s truth so as to exalt Christ, encourage and build up, and exhort the gathered church.
First, the teaching aspect of the sermon is important. Its importance is seen all over Scripture (e.g. Neh. 8:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:2). God has spoken and so helping people understand and apply the revelation from Him is life-changing. God’s people, however, are able to understand His truth. This is because all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:22; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16), Jesus has made all those in Him priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:5-6), and Scripture is clear on the things which are “necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation” (The Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 1). Qualified teachers are still vital, however, because sound (or healthy) doctrine is vital. That is, in part, why pastors must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24) and defend the truth (2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 1:9). We also see in Scripture that right teaching leads to maturity and the body of Christ being equipped for every good work. Believers may be able to subsist on milk but teachers are able to provide needed meat (2 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-13).
Second, communicating God’s truth in sermons is vital because the Bible is the authoritative word of God and it is uniquely profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It is our sole authority for faith and practice. Scripture is a light (Ps. 119:105,130), a sword (Eph. 6:17), a hammer (Jer. 23:29), and a surgeon (Heb. 4:12). Scripture is more essential than bread (Matt. 4:4), better than gold (Ps. 19:10; 119:72), and we need it to live (Ps. 119:144). Scripture is perfect (Ps. 19:7), true (Ps. 19:9), pure (Ps. 19:8), and eternal (1 Pet. 1:25). Scripture contains the words of life (Jn. 6:68) and the words that are breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). Scripture gives joy (Ps. 119:111; Jer. 15:16), makes wise (Ps. 19:7), equips (2 Tim. 3:17), guards (Ps. 119:9), guides (Ps. 73:24; 119:105), saves (1 Pet. 1:23), sanctifies (Ps. 119:9,11; Jn. 17:17), and satisfies because by it we know God (1 Pet. 2:3 cf. Ps. 16:11; Jn. 17:3).
Here are a few things I really appreciated from Eswine’s book:
1. Eswine points out that “We’ve grown reactive, consuming of others, and hasty, and all of this for God. This means that we are likely to mentor others into these qualities as well” (149). Sadly, I see this propensity in my own life. My thinking sometimes goes, go, go, accomplish, accomplish, accomplish. Eswine reminds me of the importance of embodied presence. Even when it seems less efficient.
2. I can be envious of other places and other people. When I read this from Eswine it convicted me: “Please forgive me. I have prayers to say for persons you’ve never heard of. I’d best get on with this good work of the day. You’d best get on with yours too” (145). How true! I’m abrogating my responsibilities when I’m envious of someone else’s responsibilities. I shouldn’t envy other people for the places they serve. And I shouldn’t envy others for the gifts they have either. I found this helpful to reflect on too: “Anything another minister does well becomes an occasion, not for our gratitude to God for the sake of the other minister and the cause of the gospel in our generation, but a reason for us to wring our hands and pressure ourselves because now we too must equal or better what that other minster can do” (145). This should not be so. I should rejoice at the gifts and abilities of others.
3. Eswine reminded me of the broken nature of all people, spiritual leaders included (Cf. 100-101). Noah had courage and faith as well as a lapse of drunkenness. Abraham is remembered and honored for his faith but he sometimes acted in selfish fear. Moses led courageously but he also murdered, shrank back in fear, and his bursts of anger cost him dearly. We sing songs that David pinned but we also read of the chaos he wrote. Jonah preached and many turned in repentance to God but Jonah raised his fists at grace. James and John were close to Jesus (and they wanted to be at His left and right hand), so close that Jesus gave them a nickname—“sons of thunder.” Paul teaches us and tells us of transforming grace, grace he himself experienced as an accomplice to the first Christian martyrdom. Peter boldly exalts Christ but he also repeatedly and cowardly denied him. We too are like the heroes of the faith. We are struggling saints and sinners.
4. I think this quote gets at one of the most helpful things in the book: “We cannot do everything that needs to be done, which means that Jesus will teach us to live with the things we can neither control nor fix. We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try” (99). It is vital that I remember that “sickness, death, poverty, and the sin that bores into and infests the human being will not be removed on the basis of human effort, no matter how strong, godly, or wise the effort is” (97). I must humbly recall “There is nothing we can do in ministry that does not require God to act, if true fruit is to be produced (John 15:5). Everything pastors hope will take place in a person’s life with God remains outside the pastor’s own power” (97). These truths are humbling but they are true. They are also comforting. I don’t have to be the Lord, I can’t. I’m not. I need to repent of even trying. And I need to rely on and pray to God for help.
5. I grew up in a small poor town. And I left as soon as I saved up enough money to do so. I was nineteen. Yet, as Eswine says,“The Holy One of God has a hometown” (76). The Holy One of God inhabited a locality on earth. He limited Himself to a specific place at a specific time. And in many ways, His hometown was a small poor town. It’s wild and powerful to think about Jesus walking those streets and working as a carpenter. And He did so for thirty years. “Jesus had a world to save, injustice to confront, lepers to touch. Isn’t greatness for God squandered by years of obscurity? What business does a savior have learning the names of trees?” (77) I need to learn from Jesus. I need to be satisfied and faithful no matter the season. I need to remember that the poor small town that I grew up in is not insignificant. I also need to trust my Father’s will for my life, whatever that looks like.
1. Zach Eswine quotes Francis Schaeffer as saying, “First of all, man is separated from God; second, he is separated from himself (thus the psychological problems of life); third, he is separated from other men (thus the sociological problems of life); fourth, he is separated from nature (thus the problems of living in this world—for example, the ecological problems). All these need healing” (p. 42).
2. “Beginning with sin instead of creation is like trying to read a book by opening it in the middle: they don’t know the characters and can’t make sense of the plot” (p. 44).
3. “In Eden person were created for:
This is not an ecclesiology. But it does tell you a lot about the church. As the church we are…
Welcomed and Welcoming
We remember that Jesus Himself was criticized by religious leaders because of the type of people that He hung out with and helped (cf. Matt. 9:9-13; 11:19; 21:31-32; Mk. 2:15-17; Lk. 3:12-14; 5:29-32; 7:36-50; 15; 19:1-10). So, we’re not like the hypocritical religious leaders. Instead, we’re like our Leader, the One who reaches out to heal our brokenness.
The church is a gathering of the redeemed. We are made holy. We were not innately holy. The church is a place where those who know they are sick come to the Great Physician (cf. Lk. 5:31). The church is a monopoly of outcasts. It is filled with struggling ex-thieves, ex-drunkards, ex-adulterers, and ex-revilers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).
The church is (or should be!) a welcoming place for all because we have all been welcomed at Jesus’ own expense. Colossians radically says that in the church “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).
The church is filled with all sorts of people with all sorts of problems. Let’s not be prideful about our problems and prudish about the problems of others.
We all have emotions. How often do we consider emotions from a biblical perspective though?… Yet, what better place to turn than God’s word! So, what does the Bible say about emotions?
Emotions are part of God’s good design
First, it is important to realize that “Our emotional capacities are part of our nature as personal beings created in the image and likeness of God.” Second, Emotions are part of God’s good design. Third, We often don’t think about it but we are actually commanded to be emotional. For example, Psalm 2:11 says “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” And there’s a bunch of other examples (Deut. 28:47-48; Ps. 51:17; 97:10; 100:2; Matt. 6:25-34; Rom. 12:9, 15; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:15).
So, Jay Adams says:
“The fact is that there are no damaging or destructive emotions per se. Our emotional makeup is totally from God. All emotions of which He made us capable are constructive when used properly (i.e., in accordance with biblical principles)… All emotions, however, can become destructive when we fail to express them in harmony with biblical limitations and structures.”
You may have heard: “Don’t follow your emotions” or “don’t let your feelings get the best of you,” or “use your head.” But emotions are not bad in themselves. God created us with emotions.
Even our negative emotions are not always wrong. It’s not always bad to feel bad. Sometimes feeling sad and angry is good and right. It’s important to realize that in the Psalms the genre of lament is most dominant. It is also important to remember that there is no book of Joys but there is a book of Lamentations. We don’t always have just “good” feelings and that’s okay. On the other hand, God made us at least in part to experience profound joy and to experience this forever, Psalm 16:11 says. So, our first take away is for us to realize that emotions are not bad in themselves.
But what’s wrong with emotions? Or, why is it that sometimes we can’t or shouldn’t trust our emotions? Because…
Emotions are broken by sin
A lot of us remember the (true) story of Adam and Eve. John Frame has said, “the fall… was rebellion of the whole person—intellect as much as emotions, perception, and will—against God.” After looking at Genesis 3:1-6 (notice the highlighting) we can agree with what Frame says:
How should we understand the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility to evangelize? J.I. Packer’s book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, is a helpful book for those considering this important question.
God’s Sovereignty and our Responsibility
Packer gives various examples of the sovereignty of God. He points out that just by praying to God we acknowledge His sovereignty. Packer points out that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are taught side by side in Scripture. And “far from making evangelism pointless, the sovereignty of God in grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility—indeed, the certainty—that evangelism will be fruitful.”
God’s sovereignty is a great means of encouragement to us in our evangelism. Packer helpfully says that in our evangelism we
have every reason to be bold, and free, and natural, and hopeful of success. For God can give His truth an effectiveness that you and I cannot give it. God can make His truth triumphant to the conversion of the most seemingly hardened unbeliever. You and I will never write off anyone as hopeless and beyond the reach of God if we believe in the sovereignty of His grace.
So, we are responsible for sharing the gospel but God is sovereign. A proper understanding of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility is important and practical. It is important for us to realize, as Packer says, that “it is God who brings men and women under the sound of the gospel, and it is God who brings them to faith in Christ. Our evangelistic work is the instrument that He uses for this purpose, but the power that saves is not in the instrument: It is in the hand of the One who uses the instrument.” So, “the belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect the necessity of evangelism.” Will Metzger, in agreement with Packer says, “We should not consider… sovereignty and responsibility as enemies but rather see them the way the Bible does—as friends!” So, God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility may seem at odds but they are really not, although we may not understand. We must remember that the secret things belong to the LORD but the things that have been revealed belong to us that we may do what God has called us to do (see Deut. 29:29).