The Greek word for “despise” is translated as the following words in the King James Bible: “despise” (6x), “set at nought” (3x), “least esteemed” (1x), “contemptible” (1x). It means to make of no account and to look down upon utterly. “Prophesyings”, in the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:20, refer to the proclaiming or revealing of God’s will or purpose, i.e. preaching. Despising preaching is to regard preaching as useless, worthless, insignificant and beneath one’s consideration.
Ignorance of the purpose of preaching will yield a condescending attitude towards it. This can be seen from the context of 1 Corinthians 14. The Christians in Corinth had undervalued preaching because they rather wanted to have the gifts of speaking in tongues or the working of miracles. They coveted after the spectacular ability to speak in tongues and perform miracles. In response to that, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:5, “I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.” The Christians in Corinth despised preaching because they had not understood that the purpose of spiritual gifts (and in particular, preaching) is to edify Christians. Preaching can edify others in the most direct and beneficial manner. When one speaks in tongues, one is unable to edify others without an interpreter. On the other hand, when the truth of God is communicated plainly to Christians through preaching, Christians are built up.
Preaching is the means that God has ordained for His truth to be communicated to Christians. Therefore, it must be highly valued and take centre stage in the church ministries. All church activities should as much as possible include and not sideline preaching. Preaching does not need any embellishments in order to be well received. When God works through the plain preaching of the Word, nothing else is needed. No sound effects, music, dancing or worldly entertainment is needed.
Regular access to sound preaching edifies Christians, but when any Christian thinks that he is wise or good enough after being in the church for many years and feels that he does not need continual instruction or reminder regarding his spiritual life, he is in fact despising preaching. As a result of that, he may slight or neglect preaching.
Preaching is also despised when one listens to sermons carelessly. A lot of attention is being paid to listening to schoolteachers, lecturers or worldly gurus who specialise in specific fields, whereas the same amount of attention is not given during preaching. One who listens to preaching carelessly will not bother to retain anything from the sermon heard. Two illustrations given in the Biblical Illustrator aptly describe this:
Father is ill and cannot go to church. Daughter, who has spent three years at a boarding school and is a communicant and a teacher in the Sabbath school, enters. “Well, Mary, did you have a good sermon this morning?” “Yes, splendid; I never heard Dr. X. preach better.” “What was the text?” “Oh, I don’t remember! I never could keep texts in mind, you know.” “What was the subject? Don’t you remember it or some of the ideas?” “No, papa, but I remember a beautiful figure about a bird soaring up into the air. Why, I could almost see it and hear its song!” “Well, what did he illustrate by the flight of the bird?” “Let me see. It was something about faith, or about going to heaven. I can’t just recall now what it was, but the figure was splendid.” And the father is satisfied. Why shouldn’t he be? That was the kind of listening to sermons that he taught her by his own example. If he had heard it he could not have made a better report unless there had been something in it about politics or the news of the day.
The story of the Scotch woman and the wool has comforted a great many careless and forgetful hearers of the Word. When criticised for claiming to have enjoyed and been edified by a sermon though she could not remember a single idea in it (or even the text), she held up the fleece she had just washed, wrung it dry, and said: “Don’t you see the water is all gone, and yet the wool is clean? So the sermon is all gone, but in passing through my mind, as I listened, it did me good.” We think that hers was an exceptional case. We don’t believe in cleansing hearts as she cleansed wool. Yet like her, we are losing the habit of attention and the use of the memory in the house of God. The Saviour said, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you”. And Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “By which also (the gospel he preached) ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you”. He evidently had no faith in the saving power of truth that merely rippled on the ear like water over a rock.
Many churchgoers, like the father, daughter and the Scotch woman in the illustrations above think that preaching is good when their ears are tickled by beautiful illustrations or stories in sermons, even though they have not understood the spiritual lessons behind them. The same group of churchgoers may also look forward to have their feelings lifted and entertained without retaining anything from the sermons preached. Christians must realise that the manner of listening to sermons matters. God is not pleased by your mere attendance in worship service or fellowship meetings. God is pleased by how you listen to the preaching of His Word. There must be retention of the things preached instead of just being emotionally touched or lifted by the things preached. We must “keep in memory” what is preached to us.
All praise and glory unto the most High God for His merciful deliverance in my life! On the night of 25th October, I experienced a rather severe allergic reaction to the gastric medicine I had taken. The linings of my oesophagus swelled and my throat constricted, such that I had difficulty breathing! Whilst on the way to the hospital, a fleeting thought entered my mind that I might possibly die on my birthday, which caused me to seek the Lord more fervently in prayer. I thank God that the allergic reaction only resulted in a partial constriction of the throat and did not persist for long. After a few hours spent in the observation ward, I was able to return home.
Other than the physical deliverance, I greatly praise God for spiritually reviving my soul through this trial. Amidst the physical afflictions, darkened indeed was the path I trod, which was accompanied with deep emotional pain stemming from other events. Yet, as one hymn-writer put it, “behind a frowning providence / He hides a smiling face”. Truly, God moves in a mysterious way. Through these providentially arranged events, the Lord has deadened my affections towards the things of the world, and drawn me much closer to Him than before. Having experienced His unceasing love and care towards me, “I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust” (Psalm 91:2).