Ephesians 4:11–13 tells us that Christ gives pastors and teachers to the church to the end that ‘we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’ Christ has ascended far above the heavens to give gifts to the church so that his glory will fill the earth. In his glorified state, Christ extends his kingdom by giving servants of the Word to his church. His goal is to bring his elect together in Christ-centred faith and knowledge.
The primary tool the Carpenter-King uses to build the House of God is his Word, first of all as taught by the pastors and teachers of his church. Therefore, the first mark of a faithful church member is receiving Christ’s Word — not merely as an individual reading his Bible at home but also as a church member listening to the Word proclaimed by the pastors and teachers of a local church and applying it to his life. Specifically, receiving Christ’s Word involves the following:
1. Personal hunger for the Word. In 1 Peter 2:2, the Apostle Peter urges all Christians to thirst for the sincere milk of the Word, ‘that ye may grow thereby.’ If you are sick and have no appetite, you only feel nausea when served a delicious meal. The longer supper lasts, the more restless you become. Some people experience the preaching of the Word like that; a sermon makes them uncomfortable. They blame a minister for preaching too long, but the problem is that they have no hunger for the Word. How different is the person who comes to the table with a full appetite! Even a simple meal of meat and potatoes is a feast to someone who is hungry. So it is with a person who has a healthy appetite for the preaching of the Word.
2. Faithful attendance at corporate worship. Hunger for the Word in church is expressed publicly by faithful attendance at church worship services. Hebrews 10:25 says we must not forsake assembling ourselves in corporate worship. Christian worship fills us with the Word. Colossians 3:16 says, ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.’ Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892) wrote, ‘There is no worship of God that is better than hearing of a sermo . . . it stirs all the coals of fire in your spirit, and makes them burn with a brighter flame.’2
3. Active listening to the Word. Jesus describes four kinds of listeners to the Word in the Parable of the Soils, only one of which receives the Word, perseveres in faith, and goes on to bear abundant fruit. In Luke 8:18a, Jesus says, ‘Take heed therefore how ye hear.’ On Saturday, prepare for Sabbath worship by asking God to open his Word to you and to open your heart to his Word. As you come to church, remind yourself that you are going to the throne of God to hear him speak. John Calvin (1509–1564) wrote, ‘Whenever the gospel is preached, it is as if God himself came into the midst of us.’3 What an awesome thought! When you sit before a preacher, stir up your mind to listen actively, as one who hears the living voice of God.
A grown man or woman would be ashamed of being spoon-fed from a jar of baby food, yet how many Christians expect a minister to spoon-feed them the Word! Cut your food and chew it for yourself. Think about what the preacher is saying. Train your soul like an athlete who disciplines his body by hard exercise to be stronger, faster, and more skilful. Take notes on the sermon, giving special attention to the main points, Scripture references, and personal applications. Listen with humble self-examination. Listen with delight at the words of life.
Thomas Watson (c.1620–1686) offered numerous directives on how to actively listen to the preaching of the Word, such as: come to the Word with a holy appetite and a teachable heart. Sit attentively under the Word, receive it with meekness, and mingle it with faith. Retain the Word by praying over it, practicing it, and speaking to others about it. ‘Dreadful is the case of those who go loaded with sermons to hell,’ Watson said.4
Ephesians 4:10–14 says the exalted Christ builds up his church through his Word. The risen Christ gave the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, all servants of the Word, to the church. Therefore we as members of that church must be faithful in receiving and seeking to profit by their ministry of the Word.