What does it mean to hear?
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus Christ responded by saying, “‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31). Inherent in obedience to this law is hearing its words. Without the desire to listen to the message of the Gospel, our actions in this life are worthless. We are told throughout the Bible that “he who has ears, let him hear…” (Matthew 11:15, Revelation 13:9). Furthermore, Jesus states in Luke 8:21, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.”
With so many verses on “hearing the word of God,” we ought to consider what it truly means to do this. Can we hear and not obey? Can we please God without hearing? Can we accomplish anything in life without hearing instructions? Most importantly, is hearing an act of salvation? By hearing, of course, I do not mean the literal, physical act of receiving messages through the human ear. Otherwise, those who are deaf would never be able to obey the Gospel. In the truest sense of the word’s spiritual application, “hearing” means inviting the Word of God into your heart, either through reading the Bible or listening to its words spoken out loud. After all, “When you read you can understand [the apostle Paul’s] insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:4-5). And also, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). One writer said, “We once saw an educated mute, who was quite an intelligent member of the church of God. We wrote on a slip of paper and handed him the following question: ‘Sir, Paul says faith comes by hearing;’ as you cannot hear, how came your faith?’ He was a good penman, and quickly wrote the following answer: ‘Though I can not hear, thank God I can read. I heard the Gospel like I heard the question you asked me. John says, “Many other signs and miracles Jesus did which are not written in this book; but these are written that you might believe…” I read, understood, believed, and obeyed what was written.’ We were pleased with his answer, for it evinced that he know much more about the faith required by the Gospel than many who have ears to hear but seem not to understand what faith is, or how it comes” (The Gospel Plan Of Salvation, Brents, 214). It becomes quite clear from these verses that hearing is an absolutely essential part of our walk toward salvation. If we do not ingest the message of the Bible we will never be able to cultivate faith, which leads us to live righteous lives. Without hearing, we can never come to fully understand the mystery of Christ – the mystery being the free gift of salvation to all people who choose to accept the cross of our Lord (Ephesians 3:6).
When asked if hearing is a part of the steps of salvation, we cannot deny the fact that no person was ever saved without hearing the Word. In fact, 2 Thessalonians 1:8 makes it clear that those who never come to know God – either by ignorance or rebellion – will have retribution dealt out to them. Some will be appalled at the sweeping application of this verse, however, stating that so many have never heard, or that so many people never had the chance to hear. In response, we must always remember that the Gospel is a powerful book, and that its words are available for every person. “But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world’” (Romans 10:18). There is no excuse for any person not to hear the Word – after all, let us remember that Jesus said anybody who has ears has an obligation to hear! In numerous accounts of people being saved, hearing and believing the Gospel plays an essential part. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:37, the people “heard” Peter preaching and were pricked to the heart. This soul searching never would have happened had they not heard Peter’s words. In Christ’s prayer to the Father, He prayed for people who would believe in Him by hearing the words of the apostles (John 17:20). The faith of the Gentiles came in the same way, for Peter said, “Brethren, you know that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel, and believe” (Acts 15:7). In Acts 18:8, many of the Corinthians, after hearing, believed and were baptized.
But what if we choose to not hear? Can we not just
plead ignorance by plugging our ears and crying, “I did not hear?” That this
argument is self-defeating seems clear, for ignoring a plain truth does not make
it vanish! To close our ears when a teacher assigns homework does not expunge
that assignment from the grade book, does it? When our employer orders the
completion of a job in such and such a time, does turning and fleeing from him
remove all our responsibilities?
Can we make cancer disappear by plugging our ears when the doctor comes to tell us the bad news? Then how, my friends, can anybody think that ignoring God will detach us from obligation to His Law? Consider, for example, the Jewish leaders who stopped their ears and cried aloud to keep from hearing the sermon of Stephen in Acts 7:57. Did ignorance save the Israelites in the wilderness? Surely not, or else the Lord never would have pronounced a judgment against them in Psalm 95:7-11 and Hebrews 3. There are many reasons why people choose not to hear the Gospel – for some of the same reasons we choose not to listen to the good instruction of our parents, the warnings on a label, the posted speed limits, the disclaimer before a monster truck show, or the sermon of a preacher. How is it that so many people can “hear” these warnings, but never truly ingest them? Perhaps it is from stubbornness – some choose not to hear the Gospel because they do not want to admit they are wrong. “But they refused to pay attention, and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing” (Zechariah 7:11). Others do not listen because of family members, as if by becoming a Christian they would be condemning an unbelieving loved one. However, we must always remember that when we choose to obey Christ, it is not us doing the condemning of unbelievers, but God! Still others will not hear the good news because they do not believe they need it. It is the same when we try to tell a prosperous person that he needs to set aside for a rainy day, purchase insurance, or share his wealth. “I spoke to you in your prosperity; but you said, ‘I will not listen.’ This has been your practice from your youth, that you have not obeyed My voice” (Jeremiah 22:21).
Hearing must be followed by obedience
Matthew 7:24-27 is one of the most helpful scriptures when discussing how necessary it is for us to hear and obey the word of God. It is only fitting that Christ would save this story for the end of His sermon on the mount – having spoken so many beneficial things, He now bids the multitude farewell by presenting them with the choice of listening or ignoring. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine…” All people hear the words of Christ, for the message was designed to be spread unto all mankind (Matthew 28:18-20). Not only that, but when we read the words of Christ, we are not simply reading the wisdom of a ancient thinker, or an influential teacher, but of God Himself. “He who hears you hears Me, and He who hears Me hears Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16).
“…And acts upon them…” It is not enough to simply hear the message and do nothing. Hearing by itself never helped anybody! Similarly, reading a warning label on a medicine bottle is not enough to prevent an abuse of that product, for we must also heed the directions for how much and how often the medicine is to be administered. I cannot possibly pass a class if I hear the directions of the teacher but decide to follow my own educational course. I cannot please my boss if I hear him assign me a task, but then tailor the job to my own desires. We must hear and act, friends! “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (James 1:22-25). How ridiculous would it be to forget the details of your own face? Yet this is such an appropriate analogy for the person who hears and does not act. “James was clarifying the point that mere listening to the Word of God was not sufficient to fulfill the believer’s obligation. It is possible to attend a worship service where the Scripture is read and suppose one’s responsibilities have all been met.. The term ‘hearer’ has been found outside the New Testament of an attendant at a lecture but distinguished from a disciple. It suggests, therefore, a more casual listener or auditor. Unless the hearer of the Word responds with appropriate deeds, he is deceiving himself. He has deluded himself into thinking he has received the Word, when all he has done is let himself have a superficial encounter” (Faith That Works, Kent, 66).
“…May be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” The effectual doer of the word is just like a wise man who did all the things necessary to ensure the safety and stability of his house. The question that we must ask ourselves, therefore, is on what kind of foundation have we been building? To hear the Gospel is to come in contact with the very Word of the Lord – the written scriptures that lead us to Heaven, and instruct us in every good work (2 Peter 1:3). If we take these words and use them, and truly make them a part of our souls – doing and teaching all the things found in the wonderful Gospel – we have been intelligent and wise and built our souls upon a solid foundation. “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.” No matter what life throws at us, God will pull us through if we trust His Word and read it. After all, the Gospel “is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), so there is no other source of wisdom, no other collection of poems, no other book in the world that can possible be as spiritually beneficial as the Bible.
“And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them…” First, notice that those to whom the Bible applies are clearly defined as “everyone.” There is not a single person in this world who is not obligated to hear the Gospel and act upon it. “Having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent…” (Acts 17:30). Second, we have free will when it comes to acting upon the Gospel. We are not forced into salvation, but are given a willing opportunity to accept the gift of God. In the same way that the wise man acted prudently in building his house upon the rock, the foolish man has just as much choice about his foundation. So he chooses the sand! “...Will be compared to a foolish man who built his house upon the sand.” Sand may seem like an appropriate foundation at first – it is, after all, much easier to transport, to dig up, and to shape. One can very quickly plant the feet of a house into an area of loose sand. “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.” The easier it is to plant a foundation, though, the easier it is to uproot it!
These two men both heard the word. They both had the same opportunities to act upon that message. They both had the same building supplies. They both experienced the same catastrophe. The difference between the two of them, though, is that while one man planted himself in the shifting sands of self-righteousness, stubbornness, and sin, the other was grounded firmly in the Gospel which was both heard and heeded.
You have heard… Will you heed?
Friends, Jesus stands at the door knocking, pleading. It is our choice whether or not we will let Him in. If you have never heard the Gospel before, then you have heard it this day. If you have never heard the call of Christ, then you have been called today! Just as we read earlier, “If you have heard his voice today, do not harden your hearts…” (Psalm 95). The message which we preach is one of salvation. Having heard the Gospel, it is our duty to believe it, have faith in Jesus Christ, confess that faith (Romans 10:9-10), repent of our sins and start life fresh (Acts 2:38), and allow ourselves to be baptized into the blood of Jesus for the remission of our sins. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).