Rotating Header Image

why martyn lloyd-jones didn’t want his listeners to take notes when he preached – andrew lim

 

The very first recorded sermon that was preached convicted the heart of the hearers. Luke tells us that “…when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers what should we do?’” (Acts 2:37). Any talk of “preaching to the heart” will give two false impressions: one, that we are resorting to emotionalism; two, that the heart and mind are divided.

The biblical use of the word “heart” does not rigidly confine it to mean a person’s feelings or emotions. Instead the word “heart” denotes the inner life of a person – their character, their inner self, their mind, their will, their intention. It is the mainspring of their thoughts, affections, purposes, passions, desires, appetites, and their endeavours. It is what we have been warned to guard (Prov. 4:23).

We need to be careful that we do not adopt the gnostic dichotomy of head and heart. Schleiermacher made the mistake of degrading the objective thought (mind) of a person and extolling their subjective passions (heart). That is a view that is discordant with scripture. The Bible does not set a person’s intellect against their feelings. This is a Western category and not a biblical one.

Preaching that strikes at the heart strikes the whole person – mind and emotions. The very core of their being is hit so that no listener can remain comatose. They cannot not respond.

This does not mean that they will necessarily respond favourably. Often, they will not. But respond they must for they will feel violated, indeed assaulted. When the Athenians heard Paul in Acts. 17, some mocked and others wanted to come back to hear him out. Both groups were touched to their hearts. When Peter preached, people repented. When Stephen preached, they stoned him. Yet both preached to the heart.

Preaching that touches the heart is preaching that wrests a response from the hearer whether that response is faith or fury.

Why then, do most sermons not sting to the heart?

I believe preachers make two interrelated homiletical mistakes that work against this.

 

One: we are too technical.

In my early years as a student at Bible College, we were told, quite repeatedly: “By all means, work hard at your exegesis, be clear of the context, check your grammar, note the different interpretations, but once you are up there behind the pulpit, whatever you do, don’t let your petticoat show.”

 

Not that we wore them, but the point was made. We could see how an exquisite dress could be spoiled when the slip shows!

This, unfortunately, is a mistake we often see in our preaching. For some reason, we feel bound to present to the congregation all those finer exegetical points that we have laboured over during the week. We enlighten them with the original usage and meaning of a particular word. We tutor them about the theological backdrop of the passage we have studied, and we split hairs over some of the variant readings or interpretations.

We let our petticoats show.

With the result that our hearers cannot see the wood for the trees. They take down copious notes about the “facts” of the passage. They return home with fresh knowledge and new understanding of the text.

But their hearts have not been moved.

 

Two: we lecture rather than preach.

A sermon is not a lecture. One is informational, the other is transformational. A lecture educates while a sermon enlivens! One seeks to instruct, the other seeks to reawaken and regenerate.

The preacher is not to merely educate the people of the facts of the Bible. Rather they are there to declare a timely prophetic Word of God to elicit a response.

Far too many of us have stood behind the pulpit as a grammarian or a theologian

We need to stand behind the pulpit as a preacher.

When you give the impression that understanding biblical or theological facts is all there is to a sermon, your listeners will intuitively take notes.

But it is while they are taking notes that they miss out on the very thing a sermon is supposed to do – something “of the moment”; something that needn’t be jotted down and indeed can’t be jotted down. Lloyd-Jones rightly observes that note-taking during the sermon indeed work against the hearers from responding to the Word preached.

“I have often discouraged the taking of notes while I am preaching. . . . The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently. . . . While you are writing your notes, you may be missing something of the impact of  the Spirit.”  —    Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The   Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (Edinburgh, 1987), page 360.

Jonathan Edwards insists that the primary goal of preaching is to produce “an impression” and elicit a response from the heart. But that is not likely to happen if our hearers are immersed in writing notes instead of pausing to allow time and space for the Spirit to cut them down, and convert them in their seat right there and then.

Preaching needs to make a foray into the heart of the listener so that their mind is assaulted, and their will vanquished and subdued.

 

How then should we preach?

Keller says it best when he tells us that every sermon should have three purposes. You should “preach the truth, not just your opinion; you should preach the good news, not just good advice; and you should preach to make the truth real to the heart, not just clear to the mind.”

Then he gives us this practical advice. The preacher ought to preach affectionately (“If you want to preach to the heart, you need to preach from the heart.”); imaginatively, (“using illustrations”); wondrously (“we should always strive to let the wonder sink in”; memorably; Christocentrically and practically.

For that, we shall need to humbly depend on the Holy Spirit to empower our preaching so that no one listening will remain tepid, cold and impervious but instead have their sinful resistance buffeted, and their will crumble before the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

why preach the gospel in every sermon? – andrew lim

gospel-painting

The Gospel of Jesus is both the ground and resource for life and meaning. I’ve discovered that I will never preach a theological truth that is more profound than the gospel.

Preaching Gospel-centred sermons does not mean preaching an evangelistic Gospel message each week concluding with an altar call; nor does it mean hastily pegging it onto the conclusion just because you have to bring it up.

Preaching a Gospel-centred sermon is not preaching a sermon with the gospel attached to it.

A Gospel-centred sermon shows the people how their anxieties, failures and dissatisfaction all find their cure through the death of Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins. It shows the people how they will not be able to do what God requires of them, but Christ has done for them what they cannot do. It is calling on the people to rest on the finished work of Jesus and to respond with joy and humility.

We say “we preach Christ and Him crucified” but it is easy to go on preaching non-Christocentric sermons. We rail against sin and promote holiness, but Christ is often nowhere to be heard. And the people go home to pray harder and sacrifice more. But it’s a fool’s errand! It’s works righteousness.

Just about the only way to stop preaching such sermons is to start to grow a deep distaste, an allergy, even a repugnance, for moralistic sermons that do not promote the fame of Christ and stir people’s hearts to ravish Him.

How then should we preach?

 

  1. Begin with the unnatural.

Being Gospel-centred is not the most natural thing for us. Feeling safe and satisfied with Jesus is not our heart’s default setting. Our self-preservative instinct automatically kicks in when we’re afraid or hurt. Throughout the day, we need to learn to process our thoughts, attitudes and actions in light of the Gospel. We need to confess our sins of smugness and anxieties in the light of the love and forgiveness of God. For unless we’ve found sufficiency and satisfaction in the Gospel, we cannot be Gospel-centered in our preaching.

 

  1. Grow sensitivity to the invasiveness of the Gospel

When Gospel-centeredness becomes second nature, you’ll begin to see the implications of the Gospel in virtually every aspects of your daily living. You will see Christ as the solution to every human ill and how the Gospel relates to any text you preach; and you’ll seek to promote it so your people may be transformed by it.

 

  1. Get to Jesus in each sermon

Preaching from any text, you could either conclude by giving the people a list of what they should now do, or you could remind them about what Jesus has done on their behalf.

If you preach on greed and not bring the gospel in, the people will probably say: “I’m going to stop making money my security, I’m going to give more away to God” but that is never going to work because the heart’s desire for a supreme object of worship is unquenchable. Greed cannot be destroyed. It can only be dispossessed.

You need to get the people to look at Jesus the Almighty God of the vast cosmos coming down to this tiny cosmic speck earth to face head-on the fires of hell because of His sacrificial love for you. When the people come to see that loving you stripped Him of virtually everything, the object of their greed will cease to be captivating. Knowing this makes Jesus so beautiful their greed for other stuff becomes shamefully pathetic.

what i learned from preaching on job – andrew lim

suffering_job-705x500

Expounding Job is admittedly intimidating. The book defies easy understanding. The author utilises a spectrum of literary genres, similes and metaphors. The book contains such philosophical and theological perplexities as human suffering and the apparent malevolent ways of a benevolent God. Further, interpreting the many speeches of Job’s friends demands that the preacher sniff out those speeches that appear theologically sound but are either inherently flawed or proffered too simplistically to Job.

Yet for the following reasons, this book needs to be preached.

  • It is part of the “whole counsel of God”.
  • Our self-absorbing narcissistic culture and our spirit of self-sufficiency need to be humbled by a God whose knowledge none can fully plumb and whose purpose none can thwart.
  • The prevailing health and wealth gospel needs a biblical rebuttal.
  • Suffering Jobs are present everywhere and, in preaching this book you’ll likely be preaching to someone who is a Job or who knows of a Job.

How then shall we preach this book?

I have found the following disciplines helpful:

READ THE ENTIRE BOOK THROUGH

Job is more than a biblical response to the problem of theodicy. Only in grasping the flow of the entire book will the preacher develop a sound interpretive framework to expound it. Until you read the whole book through, you’ll stumble on numerous passages for which you’ll virtually have no topography on the map.

CONSULT YOUR COMMENTARIES

No single preacher has the breadth of wisdom and discernment to grasp the depth of Job’s message. We would do well to consult the finest commentaries. I’ve personally found Strachan, Gibson, Genung, Thomas, and McKenna to be invaluable.

BE PATIENT WITH POETRY

Some of God’s titanic truths are most effectively freighted to us through the vehicles of music, art and poetry, like The Messiah and The Return of the Prodigal Son. The writer of Job has 39 chapters in poetry partly because he is not content with spitting out propositional truths about suffering. He wants us to feel the throes of Job’s affliction. And for that we need to work at transfiguring those poetic passages so they connect with the aching angst in the human heart.

UNDERSTAND THE PURPOSE FOR THE BOOK

When God finally breaks his long silence, the purpose for the book starts to emerge. But to the end Job receives no explanation for his pain. Neither do we see any evidence of God ever giving him one. Instead God throws a barrage of questions at Job to help him see His sovereignty in all of life. And though suffering remains enigmatic to Job, he comes to see that suffering is neither random nor punitive; and that God is God and he is not.

WORK TO GET THE BOOK TO BREATHE LIFE FOR TODAY

If the book paints a portrait of a patient saint, it also paints a portrait of a headstrong sufferer. Job vacillates between the desire to yield and the temptation to dissent; between faith and anxiety; repose and terror. The average person in the pew can identify herself with him. Exploit those passages which depict Job’s anguish and ire. Openly address the heart-wrenching agony of human sorrow.

It is one thing to exegete Job satisfactorily with diligence; it is another thing to instill hope and inspire worship through it. This calls for prayer for a sensitive spirit.