Perhaps you’ve heard of the older gentleman being tested for hearing aids? As the audiologist prepares for the test, he hears the wife telling her husband, “It’s not going to help. You’re not hard of hearing; you’re hard of listening.” I’m sure you’ve met people like that.
Over the years, I’ve had occasion to worship with and minister among people with many and varied theological views. Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Brethren; Arminians and Calvinists; Charismatics and Anti-Charismatics; Immersionists and Sprinklers; Pre-Tribulationists and Amillenialists; even occasionally Catholics and Orthodox. In each of those situations, the instruction and emphasis of each group has been on helping others to believe and worship like them. There has been very little desire by any of those groups to examine the teaching and worship of others with a view of learning, and perhaps gaining a new understanding of spiritual truth.
People tend to believe what they are taught at an early age. The way our childhood family functioned is the way we think families should function. Our thinking about morality – what we accept as right and wrong – is generally consistent with what we observed among our early adult leaders, usually our parents. Our spiritual life develops in the same way. Our religious beliefs and practices usually follow the instruction of our first significant Christian teachers; who may have also been our parents, but might also include a pastor or Sunday School teacher in the first church in which we participated seriously.
All of this can be good and healthy, but there comes a time in life – in personality, character, relationships, work, and spirituality – when we must be willing to examine all that we’ve been taught, all that seems right, with a genuine willingness to change. Perhaps many such times.
When Jesus came on the scene, he came to a people whose religious leaders were well versed in exactly the right understanding and interpretation of Scripture – right down to the tithing of plants and herbs. With a well documented lineage and a long spiritual heritage, these people knew they were chosen and they were right! Their superb knowledge of Scripture let them know where the Messiah would be born – Bethlehem – and where he could not come from – Nazareth. They understood that the Messiah would become a king, and restore Israel to its proper role among the nations. The people followed these leaders with such devotion that on one fateful day the people cried out, “Crucify him. His blood be on us and our children!” But they were wrong. Jesus lived and taught among these people. Sometimes he would emphasize his teaching with words like, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Everyone Jesus addressed had ears. Not everyone used those ears to hear.
Neither this phenomenon nor this saying was a new thing. Moses said this to the fledgling nation in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 29:4). Ezekiel said it to the nation in captivity (Ezekiel 12:2) And, just like Jesus, both prophets used the statement to indicate the hardness of the hearts of the people; the rebellious response to God’s word to His people shown by the refusal to examine their ways and make changes from the heart.
It’s like a parent saying to a child, “Did you hear what I said?” Knowing full well the child heard, but chose to ignore. Or perhaps hearing, but thinking it must be intended for someone else; because, after all, I’m doing what I’ve always done. Surely, there’s no reason for change.
How do we know when we’ve closed our ears; when we are failing to use the abilities God has given us for the purpose He desires? Maybe phrases like these are a clue: “We’ve always done it this way. We don’t believe that around here.”
History is valuable, and the beliefs and instruction of our forebears and our current leaders are a great blessing. We all have to start somewhere, and adopt some guiding principles. But we should never stop growing, learning, seeking. We should challenge our own views; examine our beliefs; test our understanding. And change wherever and whenever necessary. It might be that I, and not those other folks, am the one Jesus was admonishing to open my ears and hear.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22