As we all sit in our pews on Sunday mornings, even as we stand in pulpits, the sad reality is there are dozens of things rushing through our minds, and if we are completely honest with each other, how to receive the Word is not one of them. Oh sure we know how to sit still and listen, we know how to follow along as the verses appear on the screen, we even take notes, but I mean something deeper, namely how do we glorify God as we hear preaching, Bible studies, even in private devotions?
Wait… did I just say glorify God as we hear something? I thought we come and worship (sing, pray, give money etc) and that is how we glorify God in our Sunday morning services? Do we ever stop to consider the way we hear the Word preached or taught, or the way we read is a vital part of obedient worship?
This truth actually comes from one of Jesus’ parables. In Luke’s account of the parable of the Sower, just after the disciples ask for the explanation of the parable, Jesus explains it, yes, but He also offers the following exhortation, “Take care then how you hear” Luke 8:18. The phrase “take care” is the english translation of the word, “βλέπετε” which actually refers to seeing or perceiving something physical, and then taking it into the physical realm. So what does this have to do with hearing?
I had an old baseball coach who used to say, “listen with your eyes” and what he meant by that is if you are not looking when he was speaking, then you could hear his voice, but had no idea what he was saying. The point is in order to hear to the point of listening, we need to fix our eyes on something.
When we come to the Word of God, especially as we hear it being preached, we are coming to hear God’s voice, and to see His glory as He has revealed Himself. So, how do we glorify God, in this case, recognize, worship and enjoy His glory as we hear His Word?
- We come with Christ-centered exultation. – This is where we come with fullness of joy, knowing that God has revealed Himself fully and finally in Jesus Christ, and we have been given eternal life which includes knowing Him! By giving us the gift of knowing Himself, God also gives us the capacity to enjoy Him, and that joy is centered upon Christ because He has been delivered up for our trespasses, raised for our justification and secured our redemption. Therefore, as we hear the Word and see the glory of the Word as it points to Christ, reveals Christ, or points back to Him, we are to be filled with exultation. Let us leave the Word each time saying as John did, “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:14-16.
- We come with self-humiliating submission. The “joy” part sounds easy, after all, you never hear anyone up in arms over their being forgiven of sin. What you do find however is extreme hostility when the Word strikes a nerve of disagreement with a view, idea or sin we are holding onto. When this happens, we immediately shut down, begin rationalizing, become defensive, and stop hearing the Word. The issue is we are refusing to see the true glory of God as He has revealed Himself, and we are elevating ourselves above His authority. Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim. 3:16. This means when we elevate ourselves above the Word, we elevate ourselves above the very breath of God! When we come to the Word, be it in preaching, listening or reading, we must come humbling ourselves completely to the authority of God, knowing that His ways, commands, desires, and will are completely perfect, and since we know Him we submit to Him even when we disagree. This does not mean every time you hear the Word preached someone is preaching it perfectly, it does mean however that our attitude in coming to preach, hear or even read is one of humble submission to what God has revealed.
- We come with honest self-examination. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul spoke with severity and authority, so much so the Corinthian believers were grieved over the letter. However, in his second letter he wrote the following, “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.” 2 Cor. 7:8-9. His letter, written under inspiration of the Spirit, although grievous, led to self-examinations and repentance! As we exult in God and submit to God, it requires an honest examination of ourselves. When we hear the Word, if we are to truly hear and receive it with joy, we have to be transparent with the ares of our lives where we are living in disobedience to the Word, repent, and begin embracing the Word in those areas. This may seem at first the same as step 2, the difference is actually admitting those areas of our lives where we refuse to obey God, honestly addressing those areas, and turning from our own ways to obedience to God.
- We come with determined obedience. Honest self-examination, humble submission, and Christ-centered exultation will show itself in determined obedience. What I mean is not that we resolve to do something by our own power, but rather we recognize the capacity to do these things has been given to us by the indwelling Holy Spirit, and we determine to walk according to the Spirit not the flesh. Romans 8 tells us plainly the flesh is hostile towards God, it does not submit to His law, in fact, it can’t. This reveals that every area of our lives where we are living in disobedience, arrogance, and dissatisfaction towards God, especially when we come to hear the Word, is directly related to coming in the flesh. We assume we can hear on our own, submit on our own, examine on our own and obey on our own. If we could do all of this on our own, the Spirit would not be necessary. It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63). We must recognize that our capacity, our ability to obey the Word can only come from the new life of the Spirit, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:7-9
- We come with Spirit-led expectancy. As we depend on the Spirit for our obedience, as we grow in knowledge of the truth, as we know God more and more through His Word, we begin to come to the Word with a Spirit-led expectancy. This is where the Spirit fills us with the joy of knowing that God has spoken through His Word, and as we hear the Word we hear God’s voice, and as we hear God’s voice we exult, we submit, we examine, we obey, we expect even more. Here we once again visit what Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim. 3:16-17. If all Scripture is from the breath of God, then He is speaking in all Scripture. If He is speaking in all Scripture, when it is preached, or taught or read, we can hear God! I am convinced the reason so many of us do not hear from God as we hear the Word preached, taught, or even as we read ourselves, is we do not really expect to hear from Him. In all honestly we have no desire to hear from Him. We are afraid that if we do hear from Him He will ask us to change something, or give up something, or obey something. When we come with the expectancy given by the Spirit, fear and dread turns into joy and life.
All of these attitudes are things we must discipline ourselves to, and prepare ourselves for. We do not just show up on Sunday, and they appear out of nowhere! If these attitudes do not characterize our daily relationship to God’s Word, we will not show up with them on Sunday! The good news is, that God has given us the capacity to enjoy Him, to hear His Word, to submit to His Word, to examine ourselves in light of His Word, and through the Spirit to be determined to obey His Word, and expect Him to speak each time we come to it. Let the reader (and myself) allow these truths to change the way we come to Church this Sunday, and even more the way we come to the Word daily. So as we hear, we must see His glory, and as we see hear glory, we exult, submit, examine ourselves, obey and expect!
In conclusion, let us tremble at the command of Jesus, “He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 13:9.