How To Judge A Sermon
By Pat Donahue | Alabama, USA
It is a common practice after a worship assembly for people to discuss the merits of the sermon just delivered. Many times there is agreement about whether the lesson was a good one, but every now and then there is disagreement. It seems people judge a sermon based upon different criteria. Just what does make a good sermon? Let’s go to the Bible to find out.
Most people judge a sermon based upon how good a job of speaking the preacher did. When discussing the sermon they talk about the style – “he yells to much,” “he doesn’t preach with a strong enough voice,” “you know he is sincere because he cries just about every sermon” (think Jimmy Swaggart in yesteryear), “he shows too much emotion when he preaches,” etc. The Bible teaches that this is not the way to judge a sermon. Who wouldn’t agree that Paul was an effective preacher? Yet Paul himself states in I Corinthians 2:1 that he declared the testimony of God, “not with excellency of speech.” How good a speaker the preacher is, has no bearing on how good his sermon is, according to the Bible.
A lot of times people judge a sermon based upon the wisdom (man’s wisdom) that they perceive was expressed by the speaker. One comment to a speaker after a lesson went like this once, “you used too much scriptures references and not enough of your own ideas.” A casual reading of I Corinthians 1:17-2:5, 13 shows this is not a good criteria upon which to judge a sermon. Notice especially Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 2:4, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstation of the Spirit and of power.”
How then should we judge a sermon? Let the Bible suggest to us three points …
The truth must be preached. Only the truth sets us free from sin (John 8:32), not error. Christians are commanded to speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). If a Christian preaches anything but the gospel that Paul preached, “let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
Many Bible verses must be used in the sermon. Paul told Timothy to “preach the word” (II Timothy 4:2) not his own stories and jokes. Romans 1:16 tells us “the gospel … is the power of God unto salvation,” not good speeches. If the scripture itself is not read and taught, where does that leave God’s power? True faith only comes from hearing God’s word (Romans 10:17). The scriptures themselves are the only thing profitable for doctrine (II Timothy 3:16). How could we say a man is speaking “as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11) when he delivers a forty minute sermon and only refers to an oracle of God once or twice? Read Acts 2:14-36 and Acts 7:2-53 and notice how often inspired preachers made reference to the scriptures in their sermons. And if men whose very speeches became scriptures saw fit to quote the Bible so often, how much more should the uninspired Christians of today use the actual texts of the Bible in their lessons.
If the truth is preached, and many Bible verses are used, it should go without saying that the passages given should be used to backup the truth that is preached. Apollos “mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ” (Acts 18:28). Paul didn’t just assert that things were so, he proved it (Acts 9:22). How can a listener “prove”, or test a sermon if the speaker doesn’t prove what he says by the scriptures (I Thessalonians 5:21)? Have you ever wondered why some preachers read a verse and then proceed to talk about everything else under the sun except the passage read? Notice in Nehemiah 8:8 that the sense of the passages read was given, not a great explanation for the different experiences in the preacher’s past life. Commandments without proper scriptural support are simply “commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9) and nothing more. Unless verses are given, how would a listener know if the teaching was from heaven, or from men (Matthew 21:25)? A listener would certainly be under no obligation to obey such teaching (II Thessalonians 1:8). Even if he did, he would be obeying man’s word, not God’s. So if a preacher doesn’t prove what he teaches by God’s word, we should “let it go through one ear and out the other.”
Let’s remember what’s important and what’s not. God’s word is what counts and not “good words (or good ideas of men) and fair speeches.” (Rom 16:18) The next time you are shaking a preacher’s hand after his sermon, don’t tell him it was a good sermon unless the lesson was filled with Bible passages proving the truth of God.