The type of listener we are determines how we will respond to the teaching of the gospel.

I was recently asked to "fill in" one Lord's Day morning at a congregation whose preacher was away holding a meeting. As I was speaking, I happened to notice an individual sitting fairly close to the front of the auditorium and on the end of the pew. As I would look out over the audience, this individual was situated in such a way as to be directly in my line of sight. As the sermon progressed, he nodded his agreement; he even offered the occasional smile of encouragement. Towards the latter half of the sermon, I began to talk about the clothing we were when we come to worship; and how we in this society dress to the occasion. Immediately the head nodding stopped and quickly the encouraging smile was replaced with a not so encouraging frown. As I began to expound on the point, it wasn't long before this individual's eyes narrowed slightly, the Bible abruptly slammed shut, and the arms crossed with a definite not of finality. I thought to myself, "It's official; a nerve has been struck."

At some point when one is presented with the gospel, something is going to strike very close to home. Occasionally, a bombshell is going to be dropped right on top of your head. No one likes to be confronted with a discrepancy in his or her lifestyle. No one likes having to admit to some type of error. We would all agree, situations such as these can be very uncomfortable and unpleasant; but isn't that the point?

It has been my experience that whenever a preacher, or anyone proclaiming the gospel for that matter, teaches something that steps on someone's toes, you can generally expect one of the following three responses:

They Will Get Angry: -- This is what happened with the brother I mentioned at the beginning of this article. How often have we sat in those pews and nodded in hearty agreement with something the preacher said? How often have we thought to ourselves, "I hope brother or sister so and so was listening. They really needed that," then promptly changed our tune once something we needed came out of nowhere to blindside us with some weakness in our lives? The Bible slams shut (or at least is not used throughout the remainder of the lesson), the eyes narrow, the mouth tightens, and the person sits back in an outraged huff, insult and injury oozing from every pore. This person has constructed an impregnable wall. They won't hear another word of the sermon.

They Are Touched, But Promptly Forget It: -- Interesting study here. This is the person who has agreed with everything you have said up to this point. They have nodded, they have smiled, they have followed along in their Bibles; when suddenly and unexpectedly a painful truth slaps them right across the face. You can see them suddenly sit up a little straighter. The cast furtive glances to each side, almost as if they are afraid someone will realize that one of thier weaknesses has just been exposed. Sometimes they seem to get a little angry, sometimes they seem to get a little distraught, and sometimes they suddenly seem to get quite distracted and can look everywhere but at the speaker. Usually, you can see the exact moment they dismiss it. After a few more quick glances and a roll of the shoulders, almost as if they are shrugging something off, their attention returns and things get back to normal. The smile and nod are back, stronger than ever, and the offending rebuke has effectively been terminated from the memory banks.

They Receive It And Are Moved With Godly Sorrow: -- This is truly a wonder to behold. You can quite literally see when the power of God's word works upon something they are struggling with. These are the ones who begin nodding even more vehemently at a particularly stinging truth. Oftentimes, the nodding is accompanied by an expression of resolve. They recognize that what is being said is true, no matter how bad it hurts, and they are determined to take care of whatever problem is hampering their walk with the Lord. Godly sorrow leads to repentance right there in the seat and a small smile usually plays across their lips. Needless to say, this is the reaction preachers love to see.

I have walked out of many a service with awfully sore toes. I have walked out of many a service with whatever kind of bubble I may have entered with long since burst. I have walked out of many a service wondering how it is that my ears have not burst into flames. But I need that! I need to be challenged! I need to be pushed! When I am wrong or struggling with some particular weakness, I need to be corrected firmly. Above all else I need to be reminded to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). All Christians need this!

I would ask that you consider two reactions in the book of Acts. The first one can be found in Acts 2:37. Peter had just preached that powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost and accused the Jews of crucifying the Christ. Notice their reaction: "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'men and brethren, what shall we do?'" The second reaction I ask you to consider can be found in Acts 7:54,57. Here we find Stephen preaching a powerful sermon very similar to that of Peter. Notice the reaction: "When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord." Which reaction best describes you?

By Adam Litmer in Biblical Insights, Vol. 4, No. 11, Nov. 2004.

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