The gospel is the weapon that God is using to destroy the forces of darkness and save the world (Rom. 1:16). Without the gospel, sinful man cannot be saved and those who refuse to obey it will be punished at the return of Jesus (2 Thes. 1:7-9). However, it must not be overlooked that God has chosen preaching as the vehicle through which the gospel is communicated (1 Cor. 1:21). Some may object to preaching and look on it as a thing of the past, but God does not. The preacher is not to preach his own philosophy and opinion but to preach Jesus and Him crucified (2 Cor. 4:5).
Every Sunday, members and visitors alike sit on the edge of their pew waiting to see what will come from the pulpit before them. Some began to slouch back for their mid-morning nap. Yet, others with open Bible and pen in hand are ready to take notes, examine passages, and be taught the things of God. There are, and always have been, different attitudes towards preaching. In the first century, after sermons were preached there were differing responses and attitudes (Acts 17:32-34). Many will size up the preacher by his educational attainments or his handling of the English language, but many never stop to think of what their responsibility is while he is preaching. The member that occupies the pew must not sit passively as the scriptures are taught. The listeners of the message have a responsibility to the preaching, and we all need to ask ourselves as we hear sermons week after week: are we fulfilling that responsibility?
The exercise of examination
The New Testament is clear that those who teach the Word for God will be held accountable by God for what they teach (Jas. 3:1). While heaven will no doubt hold men accountable for their teaching, there is also a great deal of emphasis placed on the hearers holding preachers accountable for what they preach. Paul told the Thessalonians to test everything and only retain what was good (1 Thes. 5:21). Christians are told to abstain from every form of evil; even if it is found in the things that are preached (1 Thess. 5:22). Near the close of the first century, John wrote to believers and he wanted them to test the teachers because many false prophets had already made their way throughout the world (1 Jn. 4:1).
Many times we talk about false teachers, but what about false listeners? There are those who desire to have their ears tickled (2 Tim. 4:3-4). There are others who, through a failure to examine what is taught, do not even realize they are being tickled with false doctrine. The truth is, false teachers cannot stay in business with empty pews. The member in the pew must examine what is taught. Every Christian not only has the right, but the duty to hold the preacher to the standard of scripture. Some go to an erroneous extreme and feel it is their duty to nitpick everything the preacher says, and there are others who do not pay enough attention to the things being taught from the pulpit. Every local congregation is only as strong as the Bible students that occupy the pews.
The exercise of encouragement
Every member of the church has gifts and abilities given to them by God. We read of the one talent man, but never of the no talent man. However, there are some who seem to have Ph.D.’s in discouraging the preacher. Brethren have the responsibility to try and test the things being taught, but they also have the duty to encourage the preacher. Paul reminded brethren that those who are taught the word should share in all good things with the ones who teach (Gal. 6:6). While this verse is often used to show that preachers should receive financial support, this would also include encouragement.
Barnabas—as far as we know—never wrote a New Testament epistle, or had any big “fame” in the church. But, he was commended as an encourager of preachers. When Saul of Tarsus was converted and began to preach the gospel, many would not receive him (Acts 9:26). Barnabas was willing to stand up for him and acknowledge that he had been a herald of truth in Damascus (Acts 9:27). A young evangelist named John Mark, dropped out on a mission trip early in his life for reasons unknown to us (Acts 13:13). Later, when Mark tried to return to the mission team Paul would not receive him, but Barnabas was there again to encourage a young preacher in the work of the Lord (Acts 15:36-40).
The congregation needs to be attentive to the words spoken and adhere to the truth presented. Like Paul from prison, those in the pew must not judge preaching based on whether they like the one proclaiming the message or not, but on the message that is preached (Phil. 1:14-18). We need to love the truth and rejoice in its proclamation (1 Cor. 13:6). While a topic may be familiar to us we must remember it can be foreign to others. We should not check out mentally during sermons on the “basics” like baptism or the one church. Our disinterested attitude can rub off on new converts and visitors. Our body language may communicate to others that what is being said is not important to us, and therefore should not be important to them. When the invitation is extended we should not use this as a time to pack up or reach for a song book, we should listen attentively and give others the chance to hear the plan that can save them, free of interruption. We must remember that the same truth that saved us can and will save others.
There are responsibilities to the one in the pulpit. Still, there are responsibilities for those in the pew. Jesus had much to say about hearing and listening (cf. Mt. 13:9; Lk. 8:18). Jesus placed demands on the hearers to do their part in response to truth. Those in the pew must hear, then do in order to be counted wise (Mt. 7:24-27). This Sunday, as you prepare for worship, prepare your clothes, your heart, and also your ears.