There are few habits that are easier to establish and few habits that are easier to foster than the habit of critiquing the Sunday sermon. There are also few habits that require less skill, that demand less character, and that bring less benefit.
But it’s so easy to do, isn’t it? It’s easy to do because we listen to a fallible man attempt to explain an infallible Word, a finite man explain the riches of an infinite God. We listen to a man attempt to apply Scripture to circumstances we have experienced while he has not. We listen to a man who may have substantially less knowledge of the Bible or of doctrine than we do. And perhaps all week long we listen to the preaching of men of exceptional talent before, on Sunday, listening to the preaching of a man of merely average talent. (After all, by definition the average one of us attends an average church led by an average pastor.)
Though critiquing the sermon is easy to do, it requires no great skill and no substantial Christian character. It requires dedicated effort to prepare a sermon, but no effort to criticize one. It takes substantial skill to preach a sermon, but no skill to critique one. There is a massive disparity between what it takes to prepare and deliver a sermon and what it takes to pick one apart. Three or four days of laboring over Scripture and commentaries and many hours of prayerful pleading can be dismissed with a single word.
It is better far to listen receptively than to listen critically, to search diligently for every strength while quickly overlooking every weakness. It is better far to listen as a broken person than one who is convinced he is already complete, as a hungry man than one who is convinced he is already full. It is better far to listen from a position of need than a position of self-satisfaction.
You may find an apple tree in the back corner of an orchard that at first glance does not appear to bear a lot of fruit, especially when compared to the trees that are in much more prominent positions. But as you reach up into that tree’s high branches, you will find some ripe fruit and it will be every bit as sweet and every bit as nutritious as an apple from the most bountiful tree. And that apple is no worse for the extra effort it took to pick it.
In that way, there is good to be had from any sermon when it has been preached by one of God’s servants. God’s Word is too powerful to return void and too satisfying to leave you empty. There is blessing to be had and benefit to be gained if only you will search for it and find it—if only you will commit to being an eager listener rather than a harsh critic.