The Best Sermon


From time to time, people in the congregation will come up to me after a Sunday morning service, saying, “That was the best sermon you have ever preached!” I know that these words have been spoken as an encouragement of how the Lord is using me in their lives. However, it has often felt more discouraging than encouraging.

I have been discouraged because I think of what their statement implies about the many of other messages they have heard me preach. I think of how lousy those sermons must have been for this particular message to be categorized as “the best.” However, one verse in the Bible has helped me to receive these words as encouragement.

Paul wrote to Timothy, a young and often discouraged pastor, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:15). In the context, Paul was talking about Timothy’s public ministry. He was talking about the public reading of Scripture, his exhortations to the congregation, and his teaching of the church (1 Timothy 4:13).

Paul directed Timothy to aim for progress, not perfection. The goal is for those in the church to see Timothy’s growth in his shepherding of the flock. When I remember this, I’m not so discouraged whenever I preach a sermon that seemingly tops all of the rest. It shows my progress as a pastor.

Sadly, I don’t hear this every week. That’s because spiritual progress is often difficult and slow. But I’m encouraged whenever it is obvious to others.


Aiming for the Heart

Preachers are constantly evaluating their goals in preaching. Am I attempting to communicate truth? Am I attempting to touch on the emotions? What sort of response am I seeking?

When Paul gave his aim, he said that he aimed for the heart. “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). Paul wanted his hearers to love with purity. He wanted his hearers to have a conscience which doesn’t condemn. And he wanted a faith that was sincere.

Paul mentioned the desires of his opponents. They aimed for the head. They spend their time “[paying] attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation” (1 Timothy 1:4). Paul’s opponents were seeking to stir the imaginations of the people away from simple truth that could easily be applied to speculations that were interesting to think about. But, they ended up in little application.

What should a preacher aim for? The heart.

The Subway Guy

Perhaps you know the story of Jared Fogle, often known as “The Subway Guy.” He lost 245 pounds in one year by eating nothing but Subway, every day. Certainly, he didn’t gorge himself. Rather, he chose only the healthy items on the menu and ate them in moderation (two sandwiches a day with no oil, mayo or cheese). He was transformed from a 60-inch waist and 425 pounds to 180 pounds. Jared Fogle was transformed with a new diet.

Christians are transformed by faith in Christ. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we believe in Christ, we are changed people. Paul spoke of his transformation with these words: “I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (1 Timothy 1:13).  Those in Corinth were fornicators and idolaters and adulterers and effeminate and homosexuals and thieves and covetous and drunkards and revilers and swindlers, but were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Incentive and Reminder

I have a friend who works at the YMCA. She has said that the busiest time of the year is the month of January, when many turn over a new leaf and want to shed a few pounds. But, as with many New Years resolutions, those who began often trail off in their exercise regimine. What is needed is incentive and motivation to keep going.

I recently read of Robert Fraley, an agent for many sports figures (including Payne Stewart with whom he died in a plane crash). Above his treadmill, he had a quote from Augustine, the church father, who wrote, “We must care for our bodies as though we were going to live forever, but we must care for our souls as if we are going to die tomorrow.” (Game Play for Life, by Joe Gibbs, pp. 19-20). That’s a good incentive to exercise. It’s also a good reminder of our eternity. Perhaps you would be helped with such a quote placed in a strategic place.

1 Timothy 4:8, “Bodily discipline is only of little profit,
but godliness is profitable for all things,
since it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.”



1 Timothy 1:17 and Jonathan Edwards

When Jonathan Edwards was a youth, he was wrestling with the supremacy of God over all things. He didn’t like the thought. It was abhorrent to him. However, in 1721, he read 1 Timothy 1:17, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” This verse changed his life, leading to his conversion to Christ. Here’s how he describes what took place in his mind after meditating on this verse, …

As I read the words, there came into my soul, … a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. … I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up to him in heaven; and be as it were swallowed up in him for ever!

In many ways, this set the direction of his entire life as he pursued his happiness in God, becoming one of America’s greatest theologians in the process.

Beware of Thyself

In Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick, captain Ahab is a crazed ship captain, obsessed with one thing: to kill Moby Dick (the white whale), in order to avenge the loss of his leg. At one point in the story, Ahab is exerting his power irrationally, which caused his closest companion to warn him, “Let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man” (chapter 109).

Such is the temptation of all in leadership: exerting their power irrationally. To the elders of Ephesus, Paul warned them, “Be on guard for yourselves” (Acts 20:28). To Timothy the same advice was given, “Pay close attention to yourself” (1 Timothy 4:16). It’s no wonder that a spiritual leader in the church must not be self-willed (Titus 1:7).


Perhaps you know someone famous, like a famous athlete or a politician or a wealthy business owner. Knowing these sorts of people might help to give you access to certain privileges. For instance, if you knew a major league baseball player, you might gain access to some free tickets. If you knew a wealthy business man, you might be able to get an interview with a CEO, which might help to land a job. If you knew an actor in Hollywood, you might be able to access behind the scenes on a movie set. Much depends upon who you know.

Now, when it comes to God, the big question in this life is this: who do you know? Who’s going to bring you to the Almighty? Who has the connections to bring you to God? Jesus Christ is the one who can bring us to God. First Timothy 2:5 tells us, “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Through Jesus, we have access to God. His death has opened the door to heaven, that we might have fellowship with the Father!