Intro: When I was in high school I took a class to learn how to speak in public (public speaking 101) Later I joined the debate team and was taught the methods and techniques of speech and debate. I learned how to outline a talk and put points in their proper order. I am still learning but we can be taught how to speak, and thus communicate – at least that is half of communication. I have never had of listening 101. I do not know where to go to take that class. Do you?
My objective tonight is to consider the subject of listening, but specifically listening to God.
I. Listening and Living: I want to consider the subject of listening in the context of James 1:19-27 – 19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
A. The context is crucial to proper exegesis of a passage. It helps to see the progression of a whole section (not just single lines). Notice this in James 1. How do they start and how do they end?
1. It begins with listening and ends with living. “Let every man be swift to hear,” or “quick to listen,” (NIV). By the time you get to v. 27 the subject has moved to living. “be doers of the word,” (22), and “continues in it” (the law); “blessed in what he does”; visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (v. 27)
2. If we fail to see this connection in our study of the Bible, we will fail. The point of bible study is Bible living. So listening to God, though hearing His word, is designed to lead to living for God.
3. Unfortunately we can get accustomed to being careless in our listening. For the most part we talk too much and listen too little. We allow things to distract us and sabotage our understanding. Not much changes. We do not stop hearing words. In fact we hear a lot of words. The average person who attends worship services on a regular basis hears between four days and a full week of sermons each year. How much difference does this listening make in our daily decisions, and the quality of our lives?
B. Be Ready to Listen (“quick to hear”) The NIV translation of verse 19 says we need to be “ready to listen” – (What if your rich uncle died, and you heard you might be mentioned in the will. How would you react to the reading? Pay close attention for your name – hang on every word, or casually tune in & out?) James tells us that God purposed through the “word of truth” to bring us to life again. As Christians we need to be ready to hang on every word that God speaks. (Jesus told Satan that man lives not on bread alone but on “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”.)
1. This implies a desire to continually hear God’s word – a steady diet. James’s appeal is for believers to seize every opportunity to increase their exposure to Scripture, to take advantage of every privileged occasion to read God’s Word or to hear it faithfully preached or taught.
a. The Christian recognizes the relevance of scripture. Because of that he places importance on the time spent in study and meditation. He strives to understand. The people of Ezra’s day became aware that they were living in violation of God’s law. They requested that Ezra bring the book of Moses and read it before them. Neh 8:3 – He read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. Neh 8:8-9 – So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. 9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.
b. There is no substitute for hearing God’s words. We must be ready to listen. John 6:68 – But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
II. Obstacles to Listening: James zeroes in on three obstacles to listening effectively to God’s word.
A. Talking (“slow to speak”)… Talking, by very definition limits our ability to listen effectively. (those who are not listening to you because they are thinking of what they were going to say next)
1. In this context, however, it seems that slow to speak includes the idea of being careful not to be thinking about one’s own thoughts and ideas while someone else is trying to express God’s. We cannot really hear God’s Word when our minds are on our own thoughts. We need to keep silent inside as well as outside. Gano Garner often cautioned me about spending too much time reading books about the Bible instead of the Bible.
2. Included in this admonition is that, when the appropriate time to speak does come, we should say what is true (what God has spoken). Listening carefully has value as we are called to speak.
B. Emotions: (“slow to wrath”)… Certain emotions can get in the way of good listening, Anger creates a barrier to communication among ourselves, and it does with God as well. “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” A classic example may be Moses in his anger with the people failed to listen closely to God. This principle applies equally well to all of our emotions.
1. We must be able to control our passions and emotions, and not let them get in the way of an objective search for the truth. Some who held carefully produced convictions from a study of the word, abandon those convictions when they become emotionally involved in its application (divorce and remarriage; homosexuality, etc) If we are defensive, sensitive, or in a reactive mood, those feelings can stand in the way of good listening. Talking, getting mad, impulsive self-defense and a debating mode can all keep us from good listening and learning.
a. The word for anger here denotes resentment, long held anger. It seems to point to anger towards the words of God.
C. Sin: – “lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness,” – n verse 21 James admonishes us to get rid of all moral filth and evil. The heart must be prepared to accept the truth through repentance. In order to prepare the Jews for the Kingdom messages of the apostles, Jesus & John the Baptist came preaching repentance.
1. Notice Jesus reasoning in John 8:38-45 …vs. 43-44 “Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” They did not hear what he said because they didn’t have a mind to quit sinning.
2. Notice Peter’s admonition in the context of receiving the word. 1 Pet 2:1-3 “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all guile, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (NKJ)
III. Submissive Reception: (“receive with meekness the implanted word”) The words of God are designed to be received by us.
A. Humbly (with meekness) W. E. Vine describes this word as “an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly toward God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting“
1. It is a quality of self-deprecation that is able to receive discipline: Matthew Henry says: “we must therefore yield ourselves to the word of God, with most submissive, humble, and tractable tempers: this is to receive it with meekness. Being willing to hear of our faults, and taking it not only patiently, but thankfully, desiring also to be molded and formed by the doctrines and precepts of the gospel.” (from Matthew Henry’s Commentary) The scriptures are not a collection of proof texts designed to congratulate us and condemn the denominations. To humbly receive the word is to see it as applicable to me… to save me. (vs. 21b)
B. The word we are to pay attention to is the “implanted word” which is able to save our souls. God’s word is considered as a seed that is planted (embedded) in our hearts through teaching, and has the power to bring forth fruit (Luke 8).
1. The importance of the word is seen in its ability to ultimately save. Heb 4:12– “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. The Word of God is the gospel in its fullness and “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).
C. Some people will listen to the word of God up to a point.
1. In Acts 22, Paul defended himself in Jerusalem. The Jews listened to Paul concerning his birth (v. 3), education (v. 3), zeal towards the law (vv. 3-5), they even listened to the facts concerning his conversion to Christ (vv. 6-16). But, when Paul mentioned the Gentiles, that did it! (Acts 22:22 – 2 And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!” Their prejudices were so blinding that they would hear Paul no more.
2. The Athenians listened to Paul in Acts 17:22-31. But, “when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter” (Acts 17:32).
Conclusion: The whole process of listening is consummated in doing. God promises to bless us when we do something in response to His word. He says that a man will be blessed in what he does (vs. 25), not what he hears or even knows. Later James focuses attention on obedience as the single criteria that separates a living from a dead faith. James 2:24 – 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
- The writer of Hebrews described some of audience in Hebrews 5:11 “of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” The term “dull” does not mean boring, but slow or indolent. They were unwilling (hesitant) to listen carefully to God’s words. Note that when a person has this problem, it is hard for others to explain things to them! The fault is not with the “subject” material, nor the “presenter”, but with the “listener”!
- Mark Twain once said “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand that bother me.” Knowing what God expects of us can be scary, when compared to how much we do. What do you know that God expects of you that you are not, or have not, done. Are you listening?