The Danger Of Preference
“That was good sermon.” That is a loaded statement. It holds many more connotations and questions. How do I personally measure what makes a sermon “good”?What sermons do I consider “not good”?
Sermons have become something we find ourselves evaluating more often than receiving. We find ourselves saying or hearing others say things like. “That message was good.” “That message was exciting!” and “That message was boring.”
We evaluate sermons under a plethora of criteria. How did it make me feel? Did the speaker agree with me? Did it keep my interest? Was I bored? Surely each of us could add to this list to make such an exhaustive criteria that no single sermon could ever meet.
But it is not only sermons that come under our personal evaluation. We also evaluate articles, devotionals, lessons and music under the same microscope of our personal criteria for a “good” lesson, sermon, worship service or song.
But, only a few criteria truly matter: Was it biblical? 2) Was the sermon directed by God? 3) Was God glorified and the gospel magnified?
We live in a time when we have available at our fingertips so many styles of teaching, so many styles of worship, so many types of sermons that we do not need to search long to find a message, song, or teaching that matches our chosen tastes. Therefore it can be difficult to hear from God when we find ourselves hearing or reading that which does not align with our preferences.
I am reminded of one of my favorite Bible teachers, J. Vernon McGee. McGee’s style of teaching was not exciting in its delivery. There were no theatrics behind his words. He was plain spoken and matter of fact. Some may even call his teachings boring, and because of their preferences miss out on the amazing depth of his teachings.
I know some of us reading this begin to think—“Exactly!” But lest we begin to think we are off the hook—let us be reminded that preference for quiet or plain speaking is still a preference.
I can miss what God is trying to say to me in a sermon, worship song, or lesson regardless of the style I prefer. Should I prefer hymns I can easily miss the hand of God upon a contemporary worship song. Should I prefer contemporary worship songs. I can easily miss the glorification of God in a hymn. Should I prefer exegetical sermons I can easily dismiss and miss the leading of God in a topical message. Should I prefer topical messages I can easily miss the application and transforming power of the Word of God shown so well in careful biblical exegesis.
So what shall we do? Our preferences can blind us and deafen us. How do we escape them? We must retreat from every preference and become like the Bereans. “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:10).
No doubt we have heard this passage and principle spoken of many times. We praise the Bereans for their habit of testing the teachings they heard by the Scriptures.
The praiseworthiness of the Bereans comes not from a singular, but a two-fold characteristic: 1) They received the word with all eagerness; 2) They examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. These Bereans did not simply go to the Scriptures to attempt to disprove Paul and Silas’s teaching. No, they received the word with eagerness!
Indeed every teaching must come from and come under the authority of the Scriptures. We must know the Scriptures! Reading them daily as the Bereans did. But, in our reading and in our listening each of us must recognize that we are not immune to the distracting effects of our own preferences.
Even more so than their listeners, biblical teachers must remove their preferences and self from their examination of the Scriptures and their efforts to fulfill the call of God in their lives to teach and shepherd. They must endeavor to speak and teach only as the Holy Spirit directs. This indeed is a powerful argument for exegetical sermons to be more commonplace than topical sermons, but both have their place.
Family of God, let us be like the Bereans—receiving the word with eagerness! May our primary desire when receiving the word be as theirs—to grow in our relationship with God! May we be ready to receive from the Holy Spirit and the Word whatever He might wish to say or do in us. May we be willing to receive regardless of the preferences we bear. May we no longer be conformed to the pattern of clinging to preference as taught to us by the world and may we instead be transformed by the renewing of our mind as we submit each preference to the Word and will of God.
Pastor Brian Torres
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12 ESV).September 1, 2018