In about 12 hours times I’ll be back in the pulpit! Tomorrow, God willing, I’ll preach two Lord’s Day sermons, to the hearers in the congregation over which I have charge as a pastor.
How healthy, once again, to reflect on the timely warning James gives to would-be hearers lest they become ‘sermon-tasters’. It is also a forceful reminder to pray for the sort of Word-doing that is part & parcel of proper Word-hearing.
James puts this matter of sermon application so unforgettably in 1.22 of his epistle:
“Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
Having taken a few moments to identify some traps that ensnare sermon hearers each week, I have begun to realise how multifaceted this sermon-tasting deception can be. This explains in part the slightly weird title ‘Dodecahedron of Deception.’ Here, then, are twelve traps & pitfalls, that hearers may fall into & must prayerfully seek help to avoid or escape, when they attend their meeting-house tomorrow!
We deceive ourselves when….
1. We apply the message to others for whom we feel the sermon is most fitting, whilst failing to apply it to our own case & heart, for which God intended it.
2. We take great delight in the subject, style, sound or structure of the sermon given by the speaker, without it having any significant spiritual impact on our own personal daily walk with God.
3. We receive, during the sermon, strong resolutions or impressions, which quickly or gradually fade afterward, without renovating the spiritual fabric of our hearts.
4. The result of the sermon, in our case, is a superficial, fleeting, repentance, even accompanied by tears, or self-flagellation, without effecting a lasting breach with sins identified or specified in the sermon.
5. When what we hear is quickly forgotten & not impressed upon our lives by lack of assimilation, review, prayer or the presence of innumerable distractions, including, what seemed at the time, helpful discussions or conversations after the benediction.
6. We believe that what God requires of hearers is attendance in church, sitting in reverent silence, even prayerful contemplation, while we listen to good, meaty, clear, practical & doctrinal bible teaching – doubly so if the preacher is reformed & triply so if he touches on the ‘Doctrines of Grace’ [after all, are we not to be credited for getting out of our pit when others lie in bed, or we concentrate when the guy beside us nods off & starts snoring during the 3rd point?]. Without personally applying the Word, the necessity of the above remains, which in itself is good, becomes a dangerous, self-deceptive, half-truth!
7. Our response to the sermon is very practical but is unrelated to the matter dealt with in the sermon – thus we become ‘doers only and not hearers’ to salve our conscience with religion instead of dealing with the matter God put his spotlight on. Was this not like the sin of Cain who brought what he thought God might accept instead of doing like Abel who brought the required lamb as a sacrifice [Genesis 4]. Tokenistic religion will not wash with Christ – His penetrating gaze sees through all self-justifying, repentance-ducking, faithless works-of-flesh, disconnected from the Word!
8. We misapply the right principle in the wrong way – whether ignorantly, carelessly, crassly or disingenuously.
9. We delight in dissecting the theology of the text without working out the practical, particular, detailed implications for our daily life, marriage, church, work, plans, etc., or without praying in the Word to move the heart, mind & will, by the Spirit of free grace.
10. Teach it to others without teaching ourselves first, prayerfully & penetratingly, to receive that Word humbly, meekly & contritely.
11. We read it, memorize it, but fail to do what it asks [there is a scribe & pharisee that lurks in every heart].
12. We dismiss this & other ‘dodecahedrons of deception’ as the enemy of the Gospel, opposed to true, simple, saving faith in Christ.
I think James long ago drove a stake through the heart of that particular deception! As he puts it, a little later in his letter, 2.26:
“For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
May the Lord set us free from every shift & twist – How meekly, reverently, prayerfully, truthfully, guilelessly, honestly, repentently, gladly & brokenly we should prepare our ears to humbly receive the Word which is able to save us.