Today’s lesson is something which has been on my heart for years. I have shared the Biblical Plan of Salvation with many religious leaders, pastors and elders over the years. They are pretty quick to reject it. The one common factor in each case was their lack of willingness to listen to me… to hear me out.
Several years ago, I was amazed when I discovered that the Bible actually talks about this condition quite a bit so I thought I might share that lesson with you today.
Have you ever considered the critical emphasis, the Bible places on our ability or our willingness to “listen?”
From the opening accounts of Genesis where Adam and Eve listened to… but chose not to obey God’s commands, to the very end of the ages where the angel of Revelation tells us, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches;” there is an extraordinary and unmistakeable emphasis placed on our need to constantly listen for God’s direction and commands.
Regarding God’s directions, sometimes the message comes from the most unexpected place. This is why we must always be on our toes… carefully listening. Once, God’s direction came from from a burning bush. Once it came by way of a gentle whisper. Once, it happened all over Pharaoh in the form ten plagues. Godly advice even came from Jethro, Moses father-in-law, who was a pagan priest of Median, not a Jew.
Sometimes Godly direction or prompting comes through that patient small voice of a neighbor, close relative or even a child. God’s message might come to us in a variety of ways but the only reliable verification of what we hear are the scriptures themselves. Not every prompting which seems to come from God is from God. And, we must always carefully test the message.
The only way we can ever be sure is by carefully evaluating what we hear by exposing it to the light of scripture. While God providing direction might come from a variety of sources… God’s commands… which must be obeyed… will ONLY come from the Bible.
We must carefully listen for both God’s direction and commands. Let me present a few passages of scripture and consider just how critical listening is, EVEN for salvation.
In Luke 8:18, Jesus concludes a short parable with a very curious command. It is a very short phrase which most people misunderstand or gloss over. Here it is.
“Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”
Did you hear that? Jesus just told us to listen carefully, right? Nope. That’s not what he said. Check this out. Jesus is not telling the people to listen carefully to what they hear. Did you notice that? Listen to that opening statement again. Jesus said, “Therefore consider carefully HOW you listen.”
The verb is not “listen,” the verb is “consider.” Considering something is vastly different from listening to something! And what does he want us to consider? HOW we listen.
In effect, Jesus is telling the people: “Stop. Don’t just think about what is being said, think about how you are processing it. Think about wether or not you are giving careful attention and a fair audience to the message which is being presented. Don’t just dismiss things too quickly because you don’t understand it or have been taught another way. Think carefully about ‘HOW’ you are listening.”
Listening is the starting point for everything he was teaching. And, it is the mark of a good student to be able to entertain, evaluate and even argue an idea without actually adopting it. Stop being so defensive! Listening to a proposal does not mean you’re getting married to it!
Also notice, this statement was a command. It is not a suggestion. We must consider carefully how we are listening! After Jesus makes this stunning statement, he provides a chilling consequence… or blessing… depending on the outcome of us doing the very thing he just commanded. He says, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”
What do we have? What do we think we have? What could be taken away or increased? Did you catch the way he even seems to address a form of arrogance in the person who confidently “thinks” they have something? Why such a warning? What is Jesus talking about?
Well, in context, it would have to be our ability to hear or listen! If we are unwilling to consider carefully how we are listening to what is being said, there is a dramatic possibility that our ability to hear what is being taught will be cut off! That is a terrifying thought! On the other hand, if we carefully evaluate our listening skills… we will be given an even greater ability to hear and understand. In essence, the ability to listen is one of God’s most awesome gifts! Hearing God’s direction and commands is where everything begins!
In another place, the Bible talks about this special gift like this:
“At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. “
That was Matthew 11:25-26
In this passage, Jesus is praising God for hiding the truth from one group and revealing the truth to another group! Is that wild? This absolutely flabbergasts me! Why would God hide things from people and why would Jesus be happy about that… happy enough to praise God for it? Look at the two groups of people he is contrasting. One group, the wise and learned, was full of pride and arrogance. That would have been the spiritual leaders of Jesus day. We know from history, they would not listen to Jesus. The other group, the group Jesus was most excited about were those who accept the message like a little child. Children are eager to learn, humble and always hungry. They want to learn new things but more importantly… they believe there ARE new things to learn!
Which group are you in? Have you got it all together? Have you arrived? Or, could there possibly be anything new God may be trying to teach you… or even correct in your existing understandings?
In order to obey Jesus command to “Consider carefully how we are listening,” we must stop and consider… are we carefully and humbly listening to what is being presented, even if we do not fully understand or agree with the speaker. This is what the Pharisees failed to do! Are we taking notes and actually digging into the scriptures like a Berean would… to see if what is being presented is true and consistent with the rest of scripture?
Are you beginning to realize… that listening in this manner is probably super critical to the salvation process?
Consider this passage when Peter said in a post Pentecost sermon…
“For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’” Acts 3:22-23.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He did this by speaking the word of God. Those who accepted the message, because they humbly listened, would move forward in their relationship with him. Those who did not listen would be lost.
But you know what? The requirement of listening did not stop with Jesus. Jesus extended this requirement and offered it as a litmus test to his followers so they could determine if someone was open to the gospel….
Mark 6:10-11 says, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”
Luke 10:16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
The apostles were told, in effect, “You will be able to determine who is open to the truth and who is not by their willingness to not only welcome you but to listen carefully to what you have to say.”
If listening was the identifying quality of openness, what would have been the indication that a person was closed? Well, it would be just the opposite of listening. The Pharisees stand as a good example. They were critical, argumentative, combative, full of insincere questions, believed they already knew God’s will; they were defensive, and the message made them angry! They stand as an illustration of the extreme, but there are other groups of people who do not listen.
The parable of the sower identifies them. Some people are just oblivious to the message and it never really reaches their heart… and then it’s gone! Some have a hard heart and the message never sinks in. Some people accept the message but really don’t do anything with it because they are just too busy with other things. You know… we always find time to do the things we really think might be important.
It’s no different today, especially for those who think they have good solid religious practices already established. We shouldn’t stop listening just because we think things are going good! Remember the warning: “…even what he thinks he has will be take from him.” That phrase is clearly directed to the guy who is confident in what he believes! I think we should always be open to the possibility that we could be wrong.
Now, the requirement to listen did not end in the early church age either. Years later, James took this idea just a little bit further:
James 1:22-25 “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.”
Listening to the word with a child like heart is critical. But actually obeying the word is where the rubber meets the road. What good would it be to listen to God’s directions or commands and not obey them?
Today, as we seek and save the lost, the proof of whether someone is truly open to God’s direction, commands and calling is still the same. Their willingness to listen is still the litmus test for how we determine whether a person is moving forward and responding to God’s promptings or not. John gave us the ongoing test of openness.
1 John 4:6
“We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”
You know, many people claim to be Christians. This passage provides a really important method for evaluating that claim. It is based on a person’s willingness to listen. When someone will not listen to you, as you present the scriptures, it is a crystal clear indication of a spiritual problem. We must always be humble listeners.
A Faith that Obeys offers a powerful look at the Biblical plan of salvation. It challenges the modern world’s presentation of the Gospel by using the scriptures and asking sound, logical, reasonable questions. Because of the controversial nature of the material, it is easy to dismiss it and not consider carefully what is being presented. A Faith that Obeys, challenges the traditions which have crept into Christianity. Challenging long held traditions generates conflict. It did for Jesus. It does today. And there are still two groups of people. Those who will listen and evaluate what is being presented and those who will not.
Listening to an idea does not mean you adopt it. The real challenge never comes in accepting what you learn, the challenge is always whether we will truly listen or not. This is where the test begins for each of us, even for those who have been following Christ for years and are discovering the Biblical Plan of Salvation for the first time. Are we willing to listen.
At A Faith that Obeys, there are forums where you are invited to share your thoughts and ideas. It is a great place to present but maybe even a better place for listening.
Well, thanks for “listening.” Join the argument at www.afaiththatobeys.org/blog.