The Importance of Hearing God’s Word
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1)
The Scriptures frequently urge God’s people to hear the Word of God diligently and attentively. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4; emphasis added) “Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today…” (Deuteronomy 9:1, emphasis added). “Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!” (Isaiah 1:10; emphasis added) The Lord Jesus Himself compares those who hear and do His words to a wise man, whereas those who hear His words but do not do them are compared to a foolish man: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock…And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” (Matthew 7:24, 26; emphasis added) The Book of Revelation pronounces blessing upon those who read aloud, hear and keep (i.e., obey) its contents: “Blessed in the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Rev. 1:3; emphasis added)
Why this repeated emphasis throughout Scripture on the importance of hearing the Word of God? Isn’t reading the Bible enough? Of course, it is certainly a good idea to read the Bible. If you do not make a sincere effort to acquaint yourself with the contents and teachings of the Bible, then your Christian faith is likely to be weak, and you are in greater danger of being vulnerable to the deceptions of false teachers and false prophets (whom Jesus described in Matthew 7:15 as wolves in sheep’s clothing), more so than you would be if you knew your Bible well. But while personal Bible reading and personal meditation upon the Word is important and helpful toward spiritual growth and stability, the Scriptures throughout place special emphasis on the importance of hearing the Word of God as it is publicly proclaimed and taught. Again, why is this the case?
The answer to this question is found in passages such as Romans 10:17 – “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” In other words, God is pleased to use His Word, and especially the hearing of His Word as the good news of Christ is preached, to bring sinners to personal, saving faith in Christ — the faith by which we receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation as He is offered to us sinners in the gospel.
This is why listening to the public reading of Scripture and to Bible-based sermons is so vitally important to our spiritual health. Passages like Romans 10:17 indicate that, under ordinary providential circumstances, hearing the Word or message of salvation through Christ is necessary for faith; and faith in Christ, who is offered to us in the gospel, is necessary for eternal salvation. When it is blessed by the Holy Spirit, the Word — especially the Word as it is faithfully preached — supernaturally creates a believing response in the hearts of sinners who are ordained to eternal life (Acts 13:48). The Word, blessed by the Spirit, has the power to create faith within the hearts of sinners! In the words of the Westminster Shorter catechism, “The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.” (Answer to Catechism Question # 89, How is the Word made effectual to salvation?; emphasis added)
Of course, God is absolutely sovereign in all of this. He is the One who takes the initiative in our salvation, and we are brought to faith and salvation by His sovereign grace alone. Therefore God alone deserves all the glory for our salvation, and man has no grounds for boasting! At the same time, God is ordinarily pleased to use means or instruments to bring us to faith and to keep us in the faith. While the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsiblity involves deep mystery which our finite minds cannot fully grasp, Scripture indicates that God’s sovereignty in bringing us to faith in Jesus through His Word does not negate our genuine responsiblity to listen attentively to that Word and to respond to the Word with faith and repentance.
What this means for you and me is that if we are neglecting to hear the Word of God as it is faithfully proclaimed and taught, or if we are “hearing” it only superficially or without careful attention, then we can’t put the blame on God if we lack faith, or if our Christian faith is weak and faltering. We are responsible to hear the Word of God with diligence, attentiveness, and reverence if we expect the Word to exert its power within our souls. To quote again from the letter to the Hebrews: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1)
The Westminster Larger Catechism offers sound, Bible-based teaching on the duties required of those who hear the Word preached, in answer to Question # 160 (“What is required of those that hear the Word preached?): “It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruits of it in their lives.” May God grant that we would all take these duties to heart, and practice them in our lives.
The recent podcast of “Mortification of Spin” (featuring Dr. Carl Trueman, Rev. Todd Pruitt, and Mrs. Aimee Byrd) features a brief and engaging discussion on this very topic of the importance of listening to sermons, entitled “You Snooze You Lose”. Go here to listen: http://www.mortificationofspin.org/mos/podcast/36991
All quotations of Holy Scripture are from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Holy Bible.