One of my favorite stories about hearing vs. listening is about President Franklin Roosevelt (possibly apocryphal). He was complaining to his aides that people in dinner parties and receptions never paid attention to what he said. So he decided to try an experiment. He was in the receiving line for the ambassadorial guests at a dinner the White House was hosting. Representatives from several nations bent down to shake his hand as they entered the room. As they bent down, he whispered in their ear “You know, I murdered my mother-in-law this morning.” Most of the people to whom he told this bit of news simply nodded and acceded, saying something like “That’s wonderful, sir! Keep up the great work!”
But one man actually caught what he said and understood. So the nonplussed dignitary paused for a moment and responded “Well, I’m sure she had it coming, sir!”
There’s a huge difference between hearing and listening, and there’s nowhere truer than in the case of God’s word. The Lord told Ezekiel that his message seemed to be really popular. People were telling each other “Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.” They'd come from all over to hear his message. Ezekiel was really pulling in the crowds.
And not only were they coming to hear him. They were saying wonderful things about it. Basically they were commenting on his charisma and speaking ability. They recognized him as eloquent and pleasing to the ear: “one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well.”
But you can’t judge the effectiveness of a message/sermon by how many people sit and listen to it. And you can’t even measure it by the compliments that people give it. And least that’s not how the Lord sees it.
His criterion was pretty simple: Were people repenting? Were they putting Ezekiel’s admonishments and warnings into practice? Were their lives being changed? Imagine for a moment someone coming on Sunday and hearing a sermon on being honest in one’s business dealings (yes, there’s plenty of material on that in Scripture). The man listens to a preacher eloquently preaching on the Lord’s expectations in this matter. As he leaves, he says to his wife “Wow, that was a great sermon! I nearly cried when he told that story.” But then on Monday his conduct is exactly the same as before: He cheats his customers and lies to them about what he’s selling them. That’s what we’re seeing in today’s passage.
Let me tell you something. I know I can speak for every God-called and God-fearing preacher and teacher out there: We don’t care about any compliments you have to give about our eloquence or charisma. We care about the impact on your life. We care if you were doing things your way and now you’re doing things God’s way.
Now, we need to clarify something. If someone listens to a sermon or Bible study and don’t put it into practice, that’s not a failure on the part of the preacher/teacher. That’s a failure on the part of the listener. If someone is faithfully presenting God’s word in an understandable format, that’s success on his part. No, I don’t mean that it leads to success. That is success. At least it is as far as the Lord is concerned, and that’s all that matters.
Of course the application questions are pretty predictable. “Am I a hearer or a listener?” “Do I judge a sermon by its eloquence, or by its faithfulness to Scripture?” “Am I letting God’s word change the way I think, talk, and act?” And yes, I’m asking them of myself. And the more often I ask, the better.
Father, am I listening? Does it show?
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