And at end of your life you will stand before God and give an account for every sermon you heard. On that day, God will essentially ask you, “How has your life changed as a result of the thousands of times you have heard My Word preached?” So we see that it is vital that you are ever welcoming the Word of God and diligently seeking to put what you hear into practice, thus proving “yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).
A PLEA FOR LISTENERS
Those who take to heart God’s call to listen will transcend the discouraging trends in the church today. All around us, clear, convicting, authoritative preaching straight from God’s Word is being devalued by both those standing in the pulpit and those sitting in the pew.
The church growth movement that boomed during the eighties and nineties concluded that preaching is an outdated form of communication in our technologically advanced, media-savvy society. Surveys found that most listeners were interested only in hearing amusing and inspiring messages that addressed the practical problems they face in life (relating to your spouse, raising kids, surviving the rat race, battling addictions, etc.).
In the last few years, the Emergent Church Movement has undermined biblical preaching even further by declaring that people no longer recognize the authority of propositional truth or the authority of the preacher. Consequently, preachers must be less authoritative, add more dialogue—swap out biblical confrontation for mere conversation. In fact, some in the movement have gone so far as to hold that the traditional form of preaching characterized by bold declaration is detrimental to the church. Apparently, even the use of a PA system has become unhelpful because it “creates the situation where the recipients are powerless to speak back. What makes this situation even more insidious is when the person with the power of the microphone is also the person who is presuming to speak for God.”3 But isn’t that precisely the situation the church was designed to create—a dynamic duo of faithful herald and fervent listeners?
The Thessalonians understood this supernatural dynamic and it caused them to have a great appreciation and affection for the preached Word. They loved to listen to Paul preach. They could be truly described as preaching enthusiasts, preaching fanatics even. Augustine urged his congregation to attend preaching with “burning thirst and fervent hearts.” Likewise, the Puritans, as we will see throughout this book, understood this dynamic of biblical exposition—that when a man is faithfully preaching the Word of God it is actually the voice of God being heard—which should cause you to pay earnest attention to every sermon you hear. From the very first Sunday I began preaching expository sermons to the congregation God has called me to shepherd, I have sought to develop in congregants a robust appetite and a real appreciation for preaching that comes straight from the Bible, along with an uncompromising commitment to do whatever the Bible says. By and large, they know that “congregations never honor God more than by reverently listening to His Word with a full purpose of praising and obeying Him once they see what He has done and is doing, and what they are called to do.” My desire within these pages is to create congregations that share this passion to honor God by being discerning hearers of His Word, diligent doers of His Word, and devoted lovers of His Word, preaching fanatics, even, who come to church like a thirsty man craving something to drink and whose hearts fervently long to hear the Word preached because they know that in it God speaks to them.
BIBLICAL AUDIOLOGY: A THEOLOGY OF LISTENING
“Hearing is the provision made for the soul’s eternal well-being, its everlasting welfare depends on it; if you fail here, your souls perish without remedy. For salvation comes by faith and faith comes by hearing. It is an act of eternal consequence. According to our hearing, so shall the state of our souls be to eternity.” David Clarkson
For “whoever will call on the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Hearing is a precious thing. The apostle Paul says hearing is required for us even to have faith. Faith comes from hearing. Hearing is not enough though. There’s also heeding—and not all of those who hear heed. That is to say, even if the trillions of tiny pulsations of air pressure reach the unimaginably intricate machinery in your inner ear, where they are inexplicably translated into words that form ideas in your brain, you might not actually listen. You might choose to do nothing with the information. In fact, there may be any number of problems with your hearing. It could be that you simply lack the discernment to know whether or not you are listening to biblical preaching. Perhaps you are listening to preaching you would do best to ignore. Perhaps you have sought out preaching that only makes you feel better about yourself. Or perhaps the preaching is good, but you are the problem. You are burned out on listening. It seems like all you do is listen, while experiencing little growth and change in your life. Week after week, good sermons go in one ear and out the other without ever penetrating your mind or piercing your heart and transforming your life. Perhaps you have the discernment and the desire to obey, but you’re listening to and watching so much during the week that’s not important or entirely accurate that you’ve trained yourself to only half listen, a habit you can’t seem to “turn off” on Sunday mornings. All these hearing problems are the result of never being trained to properly appreciate and practically appropriate God’s Word.
We are in desperate need of both theological and practical instruction in the area of listening effectively to the preaching of the Word. Becoming a better listener begins by establishing a basic theology of listening, a biblical audiology. This should be simple enough to formulate, as listening is a dominant theme in Scripture. Almost every book of the Bible contains some reference to hearing and obeying God’s Word. From Genesis to Revelation—through the poets and prophets in the Old Testament and through Christ and the apostles in the New Testament—God beckons us to hear and heed Him. The God of the Bible commands us to listen to what He has said, and He threatens punishment if we don’t, while promising blessing if we do. The pattern is pretty difficult to miss: It goes: command, threat, promise. And in between, there are examples, narratives describing those who endeavored to obey God—Enoch, Abraham, Stephen—and those who chose not to—Adam, Pharaoh, Judas.
We might systematize everything the Bible teaches on the subject of listening by arranging the verses under four summary statements, or theological truths, as follows:
1. God has spoken and commands us to listen to and obey what He has said.
2. We all fail to listen to and obey God and deserve to be punished by Him.
3. God grants us the ability to listen to and obey Him by His Holy Spirit, whom we receive through faith in Jesus Christ.
4. God promises to bless us both now and for all eternity if we listen to and obey Him.
Notice how each of these statements is related to several other key theological themes in Scripture. The first statement relates to the nature of God and His Word. The second statement relates to the nature of man and sin. The third statement relates to the nature of salvation, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ. And the fourth statement relates to sanctification and future things. So the theology of listening overlaps and intermingles with virtually every aspect of systematic theology. It’s almost as if the theology of listening comprises an entire catechism or statement of faith!
*Ramey, K. (2010). Expository Listening (5–11). The Woodlands, TX: Kress Biblical Resources.