The Sermons We Need To Hear
G.K. Chesterton once wrote, ‘It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own.’ He is saying that the principle of entropy applies just as much to our thinking as it does in chemistry and physics. The path of least resistance, the natural outcome is drift.
Paul says in Romans 12:2, ‘Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.’ Paul is saying here that unless we intentionally go after the renewing of our minds, we will slowly but surely be conformed to the way the world thinks. As Chesterton says, it’s easy to think that way, the difficult thing is to keep your head when everyone else is losing theirs.
And so, in the midst of all the times we say that ‘church is to be enjoyed, not endured,’ there must also be times when church has to be endured and not enjoyed. Why? Because renewing minds means challenging thinking, attitudes and established patterns of belief. Transformation is a painful process when it means dying to old ways of thinking and living. It means confrontation, correction, even rebuke. And if we never get to these things, we never grow.
In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul commands the young pastor Timothy, ‘Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.’ If you only ever walk out of church not rebuked and not encouraged, there’s something wrong. But if we only ever walk out of church encouraged but rebuked, there is something equally amiss. We need all of it. Why?
Paul goes on to say in verses 3-4, ‘For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.’ In other words, people will measure the success or efficacy of a sermon or church service based on how spiritually entertained it left them. This leads to missing the truth, turning to myths and effectively living a lie. Jesus says that it’s the truth that sets us free. So let’s determine that the measure of success in a service or sermon is not just in how it made us feel, but if it was transformative. You may have been a Christian for 20 minutes or 20 years, I can guarantee that none of us have attained such a level of maturity and holiness that we never need a correcting word, challenge or rebuke. So let’s be ready to receive it all: the encouragement, the comforting word, but also the timely truth, in the sermons we need (but don’t always want!) to hear.