With our ears we can enjoy varieties of music, experience the thrills of explosions in movies, listen to the whispers of friends or loved-ones in our ears, or be alarmed by loud sounds that startle us. But the ear also has a function that is essential for the soul. It can hear words that go deep into the heart of a man. Destructive words can cause a person to hate others and altogether become bitter and angry. Encouraging words can cause a person to be filled with comfort and courage.
Jesus emphasized the importance of hearing through his ministry. In the parable of the sower, Jesus shows us that the way in which you listen, can make a dramatic difference in your life.
Having Ears to Hear
In the parable of the sower, Jesus states what would seem unnecessary, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:8). Obviously, Jesus is not talking about simply hearing and understanding the meaning of the words. Everyone who understands the language and hears Jesus speak would certainly understand what Jesus said. But Jesus is talking about a type of hearing that includes the mental attitude. Read the parable and see if you can detect the different types of hearing:
““A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” ” (Luke 8:5–8)
At first glance, this parable seems to have nothing to do with hearing and more to do with sowing seed. But in the following verses Jesus makes it clear that he’s talking about hearing:
“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. ” (Luke 8:11–15, ESV)
Poor hearing doesn’t start with old age; it can happen to those with young and perfect ears. Perhaps you can pick out and listen to a conversation from across the room. Perhaps you have ears that are have acquired a fine taste in music, able to appreciate the complexities of a symphony orchestra. But can you hear the words of Jesus in such a way that it stays within your heart and bears fruit over the long-haul? If the answer is “no”, then you have poor hearing.
Let’s first set the context before examining the causes of poor hearing. Imagine that you are sitting in a church service, and there is a preacher, who is faithfully explaining the gospel; God came in the flesh, lived the perfect life, and died on the cross for the forgiveness of the sins of those who believe. The sermon explains the prophecy that predicted Jesus would come, and the miracles and resurrection that authenticates the truth claims about Jesus. You are sitting in one of the seats, listening to this message. Let’s look at what might cause poor hearing in these situations. Keep in mind, the scenarios I describe are not meant to be an exhaustive and completely accurate description of every type of listener, but it is meant to describe scenarios that I think are abundant and real.
The Casual Listener
The casual listener is described in the parable as “ones along the path”, “those who have heard” but “then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved”. What is interesting is that they appear to be listening with an amount of intensity that it actually makes it to the “heart”. The heart of a man is the place that steers the mind. It’s the deepest center of our being, it is the place where things are treasured and valued. And imagine that you have taken the message from the sermon and found a place in your heart to store these words.
Perhaps you recognized Jesus as a man who displayed a tremendous amount of love for his fellow man by sacrificing time and energy to help the poor. Perhaps you appreciate the integrity of Jesus as a man who didn’t seek positions of wealth and power. Perhaps you recognize that you have made mistakes and desire the forgiveness of God for entrance into heaven.
But then you think, what if this is not true? What about people of other religions? There’s lots of good people in this world that don’t believe in Jesus. You think “Buddha or Ghandi are also good teachers, what’s wrong with following them?”
This may sound harsh and narrow minded, but Jesus provides the prognosis for your situation. Satan has snatched the word of God from your heart!
The self-centered Listener
This person heard the sermon and received it with joy. They even believe it for a little while. Imagine that you have heard the sermon and you are excited about love, warmth, and acceptance. Your life had previously been spiritually dry and perhaps even emotionally depressing. The preacher’s gospel message seemed to promise good things through this person Jesus Christ. Your life would be transformed and you felt that you would begin to experience blessings like never before. You imagined that the dark days are over and there’s nothing but shiny happy lucky days ahead.
Well, some times passes and things don’t seem to go as planned. Perhaps you loose your job or work seem like daily torture. Your marital relationship is difficult and challenging. You live in the same old house, with those same annoying neighbors and those in-laws that you never liked. Perhaps something very tragic happens, such as the loss of a loved one. You begin to feel as if the blessings are not coming. You begin to re-evaluate the Christian religion and consider it a bag-of-lies.
Jesus says that the word had “no root” in your heart. It was suspended in a cloud of joy but when the joy disappeared you no longer believed in God’s words or promises. Your faith was based on a self-centered view of the Christian life as a means to provide you all the things you wanted or thought you deserved. You considered that God owed you blessings and that he must either hate you, or has forgotten about you to let you go through such trials. You never truly understood the gospel or the meaning of Jesus words. Your faith could not persevere through the trials. And your faith could not save you from your sins because your faith was a making of your own mind, and was not the faith of God.
The Busy Listener
This person heard the word and headed towards fruitfulness, but became distracted by the cares and riches of the world and so they never finished what they started.
Imagine that you heard the sermon, recognized the noble value of Jesus message. You see that Jesus teaches things that you want your children to learn. You want this good godly character for you and your family. You admired Jesus’s drive and passion. He worked hard long days and achieved his goals. He submitted himself to the authority of God and was able to performs miracles, raise people from the dead and provide forgiveness for generations of Christians.
You started out a plan of action to jump-start your Christian life. You came on Sunday, you read your Bible everyday, you even tried some study groups. But all these efforts didn’t seem to be producing the results you wanted.
Perhaps you feel frustrated on those days where your day job seems to be piling up the work and there unfinished work around the house. In addition, you have hobbies and past-time events that you feel are an essential part of your life. You have goals of your own that include a beautiful home, with modern upgrades and luxury cars. You feel that you must work more than full-time to achieve your life-goals.
As a result, you don’t have time for church life. You have come to realize that the Christian life seems counterproductive and at-odds with your life. You like the idea of Jesus as your Savior and a God who saves you from your sin, but you simply don’t have time.
Jesus says that your fruit did not mature. Sure, you may be fruitful and productive in the world, but Jesus doesn’t even recognize that fruit when you left the spiritual fruit to rot.
The person with good hearing hears the word properly holds it fast in an honest and good heart and bears fruit with patience (Luke 8:15). Imagine that you came to hear the sermon anticipating that you would hear the very words of God explained. You recognized that although it was a man preaching from the pulpit, that he was a messenger of God, speaking words God wanted you to hear.
Something was stirring in your heart as you listened to this message. The gospel message seemed like the most valuable thing you have every heard. You recognized your utter sinfulness and your desperate need for forgiveness. You recognized that before this wonderful, holy God, you certainly deserved wrath. Joy sweeps over your heart as you recognize the grace and forgiveness available to you through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.
Sure, doubts enter your mind from time to time. You wonder at times how this can be true. There are tough verses in the Bible that confuse you at times. But you press on, knowing that God will complete the good work He started. You have faith that everything will eventually work out for your good.
Through trials and the difficulties of life, you continue to stay the course and run the race. Sure, you sometimes find yourself off the Christian walk, but you are open to rebuke and correction from your fellow Christians who love you and care for you. You spend time among your brothers and sisters in Christ so that these valuable relationship work to encourage you. In fact, you are mutually encouraging one another and helping the weaker in the faith become stronger.
Without realizing it, you have become fruitful and you have worked out your faith through several seasons of life and produced fruit that may not be readily apparent to you, but from God’s point of view, the fruitfulness includes both fruit born in your godly character and in the lives of others.
From Bad to Good
So you might ask, “how does a person go from bad hearing to good hearing”. As it turns out, we all start off with bad hearing (Rom 3:10-11) . But the beginning of good hearing starts with repentance. John the Baptist had prepared the way for Jesus by calling people to a baptism of repentance in the wilderness (Matt 3:2). Repentance, recognition that we are utterly sinful before a Holy God and turning from sin and to God includes a radical change in your mind, and in your disposition concerning yourself and God. If you find this difficult, then cry out to God in prayer, for it is a gift of God to be granted repentance and faith (2 Tim 2:25). But true repentance leads to an understanding and knowledge of the truth and in light of this parable, an understanding of God’s word that is held fast in the heart, bearing fruit with patience. May God grant you true repentance. Amen.