Pillar Journal

How to Evaluate Your Sermons

Evaluate your preaching as a servant anticipating his master’s evaluation.

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

—1 Corinthians 3:5–15

In the 2010 Winter Olympics, speed-skater Sven Kramer was poised to win a second gold medal. He pressed forward in the last eight of twenty-five laps in the grueling 10,000-meter race. He had a six-second lead on the men behind him, and victory seemed sure. But then Kramer’s coach shouted, “Inner lane!” Kramer hesitated, then changed lanes, finishing the race for what he believed was a sure win.

His race earned him nothing, as Olympic officials ruled that Kramer’s cross into the wrong lane disqualified him from the race. The loss was far worse for his coach. “This is the worst moment of my career,” he said.1., accessed 11-10-10. I thank Paul Smalley for his assistance on this chapter, which is an address I gave in Homiletics I at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, November 16, 2010. What a tragedy for those highly skilled men after years of training!

It is far worse for a servant of the Lord to cross the boundaries of his calling, thereby losing some of the heavenly reward that might have been his. The Bible reminds us that an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). This tragedy is not limited to scandalous falls and apostasies that bring open shame to ministers of the gospel. It is also evident in the quiet lane changes by which godly preachers of the Word operate outside their Lord’s will. These errors do not disqualify a man’s pastoral ministry, but they do compromise his calling and will ultimately cost him some reward.

As preachers, we are like spiritual athletes who need to keep growing and developing our skills. We also function as spiritual coaches to Christ’s church. Our sermons seriously affect those under our care; our responsibility is great. It is especially frightening for a preacher to press forward with energy and satisfaction, realizing how he erred only after reaching the finish line.

We must regularly evaluate our preaching to know if we are growing as preachers. Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892) said to his ministerial students, “I give you the motto, ‘Go forward.’ Go forward in personal attainments, forward in gifts and in grace, forward in fitness for the work, and forward in conformity to the image of Jesus.” Spurgeon went on to say, “If there be any brother here who thinks he can preach as well as he should, I would advise him to leave off altogether.”2C. H. Spurgeon, “The Necessity of Ministerial Progress,” in Lectures to My Students (1881; reprint, Pasadena: Pilgrim, 1990), 2.23, 28.

How do you evaluate yourself as a preacher? A preacher’s view of his own messages can be an emotional roller-coaster ride driven by his moods and the responses of the congregation. We dare not evaluate ourselves by measurable results such as increased attendance or new members joining the church, for people often flock to false teachers like flies to manure. Nor can we gauge our effectiveness by a brother who shoots out of a worship service like a bullet out of a rifle while a woman gets misty-eyed and emotional in shaking your hand after a sermon. For all you know, the brother was suddenly taken ill, and the sister received bad news yesterday about a distant relative. Neither response necessarily has anything to do with your preaching. My father was once so moved by a child’s intense listening that he questioned her about what she found so important. She responded, “I was trying to figure out if you had shaved this morning.”

This does not mean we should plow forward without reflection, however. We need standards for self-evaluation. Our habitual standard should be to evaluate our preaching as a servant anticipating our Master’s evaluation. In 1 Corinthians 1, the apostle Paul addresses the issue of division within the church, specifically in people’s preference for one teacher over another, such as Paul or Apollos or Peter (1 Cor. 1:10–12). Chapter 3 opens with Paul accusing the Corinthians of petty, childish bickering. He says in 1 Corinthians 3:4, “For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” This sets the stage for 1 Corinthians 3:5–15, in which Paul tells the church how to evaluate teachers of the Word. The text has huge implications for how pastors and Bible teachers should view their own ministry. In telling us that we must each evaluate our preaching as a servant anticipating his master’s evaluation, this text suggests five questions to ask ourselves about our preaching. Each question provides both a motivation and a method for evaluating your sermons.

1. Did I preach as God’s servant?

The apostle says in 1 Corinthians 3:5–8, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.”

The word ministers (in Greek, diakonoi) refers to household servants under the authority of a master or lord (kurios, cf. Luke 12:37). No matter what their tax forms say, ministers are not self-employed. We are not independent agents free to do as we please; we are servants of the King. The Lord assigns to us our vocation, and He rewards us accordingly. Though the Lord gives us different gifts, different placements, and different degrees of fruitfulness, we are one in our calling as His servants. Instead of evaluating our work by comparing it to other preachers, we should evaluate it in comparison to the Lord’s commands.

We are also farmers who plant and irrigate our fields but cannot make the seeds grow. Cornfields often have signs posting what kind of seed the farmer planted, such as Pioneer, Agrigold, or DeKalb. The signs remind us that much depends on the life within the seed, not the farmer. A thousand factors determine the yield of a crop, almost all of which God directly controls. How much more, then, are ministers dependent on the work of God the Holy Spirit to save and sanctify people by the life-giving seed of His Word? We can do nothing by ourselves. Charles Hodge (1797–1878) said in his commentary on this text, “Ministers are mere instruments in the hands of God. The doctrines which they preach are not their own discoveries, and the power which renders their preaching successful is not in them.”3Charles Hodge, A Commentary on 1&2 Corinthians (1857–1859; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994), 51.

As a servant under the Lord’s authority, a preacher should evaluate his sermons based on their fidelity to Holy Scripture. First Corinthians 4:1 tells us that we are “stewards of the mysteries of God.” You are God’s delivery man to bring His message to others; you are not the author of the message. A messenger who rushes off without first listening to his Master’s words exposes himself to great shame.

So evaluate your sermons with what I am calling humble exegesis, with the criteria of a humble servant, asking yourself if you:

  • Approached the Scripture with a willingness to be taught and corrected by God or assumed that you already knew what the Scripture said;
  • Spent enough time and energy to study that Scripture text and let God speak to you through it;
  • Read the commentaries of godly and wise teachers to check your interpretation;
  • Derived the main idea and points from the clear statement of a Scripture text;
  • Spent time explaining what the text meant so your listeners could better understand it;
  • Based applications of your sermon on the Scriptures, not just on your vision for the church;
  • Preached a message that was faithful to the text’s meaning in its context;
  • Demonstrated to your hearers that your sermon came from God’s Word instead of your own ideas, thoughts, or opinions.
  • Since your ministry depends on God’s power, you should also evaluate your preaching in prayers of humble dependence. Without the Holy Spirit you are no more useful than an unplugged power saw. So ask yourself as a servant of the Savior if you:
  • Planned this series and this specific sermon, prayerfully asking God for wisdom;
  • Enlisted your congregation to pray for your preaching;
  • Studied the Scripture text on your knees, with fervent pleas for illumination;
  • Prepared the sermon in the context of regular, private prayers for the church;
  • Cried out to God prior to the worship services for the Spirit’s anointing;
  • Cried out to God after the services for divine application;
  • Gave God all the glory for any good that resulted from your efforts.

Do you feel an urgent need for the anointing of the Holy Spirit? One of the greatest preachers of the last century, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899–1981), wrote,

Do you always look for and seek this unction, this anointing before preaching? Has this been your greatest concern?… It is God giving power, and enabling, through the Spirit, to the preacher in order that he may do this work in a manner that lifts it up beyond the efforts and endeavors of man to a position in which the preacher is being used by the Spirit and becomes a channel through which the Spirit works.4D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 305.

You must ask yourself, “Did I preach as God’s servant?” Evaluate your sermons for any hint that you stood in the pulpit as a lord and savior instead of a humble servant and messenger whose authority comes solely from God.

Read More

Excerpt from
Puritan Reformed Theology: Historical, Experiential, and Practical Studies for the Whole of Life
By Joel R. Beeke

Puritan Reformed Theology: Historical, Experiential, and Practical Studies for the Whole of Life (Beeke) (1951 in Stock)

MSRP: $45.00 $33.75


Puritan Reformed Theology is a title with a subtle double entendre. It certainly delivers what it promises—theology in the Reformed tradition mediated especially through the life and writings of the Puritans. But it also celebrates the quarter centenary of the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, by presenting in one volume the wonderful series of essays its founding president, Dr. Joel R. Beeke, has contributed to the seminary journal.  

In these pages Professor Beeke handles a wide variety of subjects and turns them, one by one, into theological and pastoral gold. The range is extraordinary and yet focused on the main things. The ease of readability pleases the ordinary reader and yet there are footnotes in scholar-satisfying abundance. The sheer size of the book may seem intimidating, yet like a great cathedral it can be appreciated one stone at a time. Here then is a thesaurus of theological and spiritual riches, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of intellectual and spiritual pleasures. I feel sure that readers will find themselves frequently returning to Puritan Reformed Theology to find in it both theological treasure and spiritual pleasure.” — Sinclair B. Ferguson, chancellor’s professor of systematic theology, Reformed Theological Seminary; teaching fellow, Ligonier Ministries

Puritan Reformed Theology is a treasure trove of articles and sermons that reflect godly piety and biblical orthodoxy. Dr. Beeke has once again served us with a valuable work which I gladly recommend.” — John MacArthur, senior pastor-teacher, Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California

Read Sample Pages


Table of Contents:


1. The Age of the Spirit and Revival

2. Trust in the Incarnate Word

3. Our Glorious Adoption: Trinitarian-Based and Transformed Relationships

4. Paul and James: Are We Justified by Faith or by Faith and Works?

5. Gethsemane’s King-Lamb: A Sermon on John 18:7–8, 12–13a

6. The Man of Sin: 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12

7. Delighting in God: A Guide to Sabbath-Keeping


8. God-Centered Theology in the Ministry of the Word

9. Calvin on Sovereignty, Providence, and Predestination

10. Reading the Puritans

11. Godefridus Udemans: Life, Influence, and Writings

12. John Bunyan on Justification

13. Reformed Orthodoxy in North America

14. The Perspicuity of Scripture

15. Laurence Chaderton: His Life and Ecclesiology

16. Natural Theology: Some Historical Perspective


17. Calvin as an Experiential Preacher

18. The Puritans on Conscience and Casuistry

19. Assurance of Salvation: The Insights of Anthony Burgess

20. Wilhelmus à Brakel’s Biblical Ethics of Spirituality

21. Images of Union and Communion with Christ


22. Puritans on the Family: Recent Publications

23. Consider Christ in Affliction: An Open Letter to True Believers

24. Learning from the Puritans on Being Salt and Light

25. Puritans on Marital Love


26. God-Centered Adult Education

27. Plain Preaching Demonstrating the Spirit and His Power

28. How to Evaluate Your Sermons

29. Practical Application in Preaching

30. Authentic Ministry: Servanthood, Tears, and Temptations

31. Children in the Church

32. The Minister’s Helpmeet

33. Unprofessional Puritans and Professional Pastors: What the Puritans Would Say to Modern Pastors

34. Catechism Preaching

35. A Life in the Word

36. Why You and Your Family Should Go to Church: Biblical Answers to “Churchless Christianity”


37. Interview with Joel Beeke about Reformed Churches and Seminaries

38. Handling Error in the Church: Martin Downes Interviewing Joel R. Beeke

39. Practical Lessons for Today from the Life of Idelette Calvin

40. Rediscovering the Laity: The Reformation in the Pew and in the Classroom

41. In Commemoration of the Heidelberg Catechism’s 450th Anniversary: The Catechism as a Confession of Faith

42. How to Battle Hostility and Secularism

43. Busy but Fruitful: How to Manage Time

44. Nurturing Intimate Communication with Your Spouse



Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also serves as a pastor of the Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, and as editorial director of Reformation Heritage Books.



“First, congratulations to Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary on the happy occasion of your twenty-fifth anniversary, and to Dr. Joel Beeke on his completion of a quarter century of teaching there. The Lord is good, and He has shown His goodness in raising up and sustaining a school that is faithful to the Scriptures and Reformed theology. I’m grateful to God for you. Second, thank you to Dr. Beeke for this book, Puritan Reformed Theology: Historical, Experiential, and Practical Studies for the Whole of Life. Here is material for those in ministry or preparing for it (especially pastors, professors, missionaries, seminarians, and elders), as we aspire to better serve our flocks. And here is material for all Christians to feed and reflect on as we seek to grow in knowledge, grace, and wisdom. There is plenty here to engage the mind and warm the heart. It’s classic Joel: truth for devotion. Enjoy, learn, and grow.” — Ligon Duncan, chancellor and CEO, Reformed Theological Seminary

“Dr. Beeke is one of the world’s foremost scholars on Puritanism, and in this volume we have a marvelous collection of chapters covering historical, theological, and practical subjects of substance. I can think of no one I would rather learn from about these matters than Dr. Beeke. This collection contains the highest level of pastoral wisdom and doctrinal reflection through the lens of one of the best theologians and pastors I have ever known.” — Derek W. H. Thomas, senior minister, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina; chancellor’s professor, Reformed Theological Seminary; teaching fellow, Ligonier Ministries

“As I look at the title and author of this book, Puritan Reformed Theology by Joel Beeke, each of these words—Puritan, Reformed, Theology, and Joel Beeke—fit together perfectly. Like links forged together on a chain, none can be separated from the others. So it is that Joel Beeke has become virtually synonymous with puritan reformed theology. This collection of articles written by Dr. Beeke and compiled into this one volume, is certain to be a storehouse of theological wealth for all who read it.” — Steven J. Lawson, President, OnePassion Ministries, Dallas, Texas

“It is all here: Puritan, and therefore magnificently Christ-centered. Reformed, and therefore established on the foundations of the Reformation. Theological, and therefore unashamedly confessional. Historical, therefore rehearsing relevantly timeless truths and freshly exposing old errors. Experiential, therefore conveying pathos, warmth, and conviction. Practical, therefore applicatory on almost every page. And finally, massively comprehensive, and therefore suitable for relaxing reading and mind-stretching awe.” — Geoffrey Thomas, emeritus pastor, Alfred Place Baptist Church, Aberystwyth, Wales

“Joel Beeke’s commitment to the principle that doctrine is for life makes this collection of articles, along with its variety, a most profitable and joyous read. I cannot commend too highly this treasure trove of biblical, historical, systematic, and experiential theology. No doubt it is a volume to which the heart yearning for communion with God will return time and again.” — David B. McWilliams, senior minister, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Lakeland, Florida

“What a joy it is to congratulate Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and President Beeke on the achievement of twenty-five years of fruitful ministry. It is certainly the Lord who birthed this seminary, caused her to mature, and has now taken her into full adulthood. This collection of Dr. Beeke’s Puritan Reformed Journal articles is a fitting memorial for this celebration, and the sweep of his topics will provide engaging reading for anyone.” — Richard Gamble, professor of systematic theology, Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh

“When meditating on the beauty and wonder of Christ, the psalmist confessed that his tongue was ‘the pen of a ready writer’ (Ps. 45:1). It was his sight and love for Christ that gave energy to his stylus. The same can be said of Joel Beeke. This volume commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of PRTS covers a wide range of years and topics and testifies to his passion for Christ and truth that affects all of life. The Lord has given him the ‘gift of the pen’—or keyboard—to share that passion with the church and academy.” — Michael Barrett, vice president of academic affairs and professor of Old Testament, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

“It is a pleasure to commend this wide-ranging compilation of essays explicating the heart of biblical, Reformed Christianity. The range of material is especially impressive, culminating in a section titled ‘Contemporary and Cultural Issues.’ As with all of Dr. Beeke’s writings, a twin pulse beats and predominates throughout: Christ-centeredness and affectional heart religion. Read and be richly nourished in your faith.” — Ian Hamilton, minister, Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales

Puritan Reformed Theology by Dr. Joel Beeke offers a precious treasure of truth to readers who are hungry for God’s Word. These are edifying articles that open up and apply central biblical doctrines, often as expounded by the great Puritan writers of the past. I recommend this fine new book to all readers who love God’s Word, especially to men who have an eye to the ministry. Give this volume to a hungry soul, and you will train up a dwarf to become a giant.” — Maurice Roberts, emeritus minister, Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)

“Dr. Beeke and the Reformed theology of the Puritans are increasingly viewed as nearly synonymous. No other Reformed scholar has been so passionately committed to promoting and publishing the rich heritage of the Puritans as Dr. Beeke. This book affirms his thorough and comprehensive grasp of their Christ-saturated theology. Throughout the history of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Dr. Beeke’s students, including myself, have been the grateful recipients of his able transmission of the rich texture of Puritan Reformed theology articulated in this book.” — Bartel Elshout, pastor, Heritage Reformed Congregation, Hull, Iowa

“When the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS) was founded in 1995, there were great joy and thankfulness to God for answering prayer. What Dr. Beeke and his fellow prayer warriors in the Heritage Reformed Congregations had in mind was to establish a theological seminary that combined the best elements of the English Puritan and Dutch Reformed traditions. Beeke’s burden was to offer students a curriculum which would emphasize sound biblical and Reformed preaching that was also experiential and practical in its application. In chapter 27 of this commemorative book, titled ‘Practical Application in Preaching,’ Beeke, looking to Puritans like William Gouge as his model, writes, ‘Puritan preachers stressed the need to inform the mind, to prick the conscience, then to bend the will, believing that a sermon must connect with the people, and by the Spirit’s grace transform them and their wills. That is the heart of applicatory preaching.’ This book’s forty-two chapters cover a wide variety of theological, historical, and ethical subjects, thereby offering a good insight into the superb quality of the education provided at PRTS. May God bless this school of the prophets and prepare many more students from around the world there for gospel ministry at a time when worldwide apostasy is growing even as fields are ripening for a worldwide harvest.” — Cornelis (Neil) Pronk, emeritus pastor, Free Reformed Churches of North America

“Although Joel Beeke’s father often told him that ‘believers sometimes go to the grave with more questions than answers,’ if he could have read all the chapters of this magnificent book of his son, he would have said, ‘My son, you have supplied many answers to those questions!’ Puritan Reformed Theology contains much insightful teaching on numerous topics, especially about the great subject of a believer’s life: how to serve God ‘acceptably with reverence and godly fear.’ Having read through this book, I was not only amazed about the knowledge of the author, whom I regard as my brother, but my soul was also repeatedly urged to seek the Lord, to trust Him, and to serve Him; it drove me more than once to the throne of grace. Dr. Beeke informs our mind and convicts our conscience as he seeks to build up God’s church by directing us to the biblical doctrine and life of the Puritans.” — Wouter Pieters, pastor, Elspeet, the Netherlands

Puritan Reformed Theology is a resource teeming with exegetical, theological, and pastoral insights. Developed over decades of ministry, Joel Beeke’s collection of essays offers readers a resource to be regularly read and referenced for theological enrichment and edification in the service of Christ’s church.” — J. V. Fesko, professor of systematic and historical theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi

Puritan Reformed Theology contains a rich miscellany of informative, fascinating, and edifying articles on a whole range of important subjects, providing the reader with a veritable feast of scholarship and insight. Everything presented in these seven hundred pages of mind-informing, heart-stirring material is well worth reading and will richly repay careful consideration and further study, but I would like to make special mention of ‘The Age of the Spirit and Revival’; ‘Delighting in God: A Guide to Sabbath-Keeping’; ‘Calvin as an Experiential Preacher’; ‘Assurance of Salvation: The Insights of Anthony Burgess’; and ‘Lessons for Today from the Life of Idelette Calvin.’ We are again deeply indebted to Dr. Beeke and his prolific pen. May God bless this excellent material to the good of souls and to the strengthening of His church in this world!” — Malcolm H. Watts, minister, Emmanuel Church, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England