Take Care How You Listen! Part 1

For Whoever Has, to Him More Shall be Given

When a large crowd was coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: 5 "The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. 8 Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great." As He said these things, He would call out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." 9 His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. 10 And He said, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND. 11 Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. 12 Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. 14 The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. 15 But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. 16 Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. 18 So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him."

How Do We Prepare for Preaching and How Do We Respond?

Last week we asked the question why preaching has such a prominent place in the corporate worship services of the church. This week and next week we ask: How should the people prepare for preaching and how should we respond to preaching? To answer this question I have chosen a text that is all about hearing the word of God preached. So the first thing I want to do is show you that this is indeed the case - this text is all about hearing the word of God when it is preached.

It's a very sobering text for preachers, because it does not hold out the prospect of huge success in terms of numbers of people who are lastingly affected - one in four, perhaps (like the soils), if you take the text that way. I doubt that the proportion should be pressed to mean that we can always or only expect a 25% lasting response. But surely, Jesus is at least warning us preachers from being cocky, lest we think we can change people easily, or discouraged, if there are many hearers who do not respond with lasting change.

Is Preaching an Effective Way of Communicating?

Sometimes people will say that the day of preaching is over because it is not an effective way of changing people. The answer is: It has never been statistically very effective. Nor has any other form of communication, statistically. And the reason is not in the method of communication. The reason is Matthew 7:14, "The gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." Which is why Jesus said, in Luke 13:24, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able." When the Word is preached and the way to life is shown, strive to enter.

That is what this text is about. It's about hearing and yet not hearing. Seeing and yet not seeing. It's about those who think they have heard, but have not heard. And so it is all about how to prepare for preaching and how to respond to preaching.

Let me show you this so you can see it for yourselves. May God give us eyes to see and ears to hear and good hearts to bear fruit. What we are doing now - and do every Sunday in these moments - is huge and has eternal implications for what you do with what you hear.

Start in verse 5 with the beginning of the parable of the soils: Jesus tells a parable that begins, "The sower went out to sow his seed." Then in verse 11 he interprets: "Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God." So he is telling a parable about the preaching and hearing of the Word of God. The sower is the one who preaches the Word.

A Parable About Hearing

Then there are four responses to this preaching of the Word - four kinds of soil. What we want to notice especially is that Jesus interprets every one of them explicitly as four ways of hearing the Word. It's all about hearing.

Verse 5 says that, first, some seed - some Word - "fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up." Then in verse 12 he interprets, "Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved." That's one kind of hearing.

Verse 6 says that "Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture." Then verse 13 interprets: "Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away." That's a second kind of hearing.

Verse 7 says that "Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out." Verse 14 interprets: "The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity." That's a third kind of hearing.

Finally, verse 8 says, "Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great." And verse 15 interprets: "But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance." That's a fourth kind of hearing.

He Who Has Ears to Hear

Then at the end of verse 8 Jesus makes sure we got the point about hearing, and says, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." That means it's not enough to have ears on the side of your head. Everybody has those. But there is another kind of ear that only some people have. And those can hear. "He who has ears to hear let him hear." There is a spiritual ear, or a heart-ear. There is an ear that hears, in the preaching of the Word, more than mere words. There is a beauty and a truth and a power that these ears hear as compelling and transforming and preserving. That's the kind of hearing Jesus is calling for. That's what this text is about.

Then to stress the issue of hearing even more, Luke tells us how Jesus explained the purpose of parables in his situation. In verses 9-10, "his disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, 'To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that "seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand."'" This is a shocking word. To those whom Jesus has chosen, the mystery of his kingdom is opened and he gives them the gift of understanding. Verse 10a: "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God." Understanding the kingdom of God is a free gift of God for those whom Jesus has chosen as his disciples.

But then he says (in verse 10b) that for the others the reason for his parables is "so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand." The issue is hearing again. "Hearing they may not understand." That means there are two kinds of hearing: one with the physical ears of the head and one with the spiritual ears of the heart. "Hearing (with the physical ears), they do not understand (with the spiritual ears). And this he says, is one of the reasons he uses parables - "so that" hearing, they may not understand. In other words, the parables are part of Jesus' concealing and hardening ministry as well as part of his revealing and saving ministry.

The Word Saves Some and Hardens Some

This hard word is a quote from Isaiah 6:9-10 where God tells Isaiah his ministry to Israel will not only be saving for some but hardening for others. God says to Isaiah, "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.' Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed." In other words, time had run out for these people and the Word of God was no longer effective to save them, but was only effective to render their hearts insensitive, and their ears dull, and their eyes dim.

This teaches us something very important about preaching. Even when preaching the Word of God does not soften and save and heal, it is not necessarily ineffective. This preaching of the Word may be doing God's terrible work of judgment. It may be hardening people, and making their ears so dull that they will never want to hear again. There is a judgment in this world - not just in the world to come (Romans 1:24) - and oh, how we should flee from it. Which in this text means: take heed how you hear! Don't be cavalier in the hearing of God's Word week after week. If it is not softening and saving and healing and bearing fruit, it is probably hardening and blinding and dulling (see 2 Corinthians 2:16).

The Effectiveness of Hearing

Which brings us to the last mention of hearing in this text. It comes in a surprising place. I would have expected it to come right after the parable - right after verse 15. But it comes in verse 18: "So [= therefore, the conclusion of the matter] take care how you listen [hear!]" That's the point of the text. And that's my main point this morning. Take care how you hear. Preaching is one thing - and it is crucial. But hearing is another thing - and it is just as crucial. There is nothing in this text about the effectiveness of preaching. It is all about the effectiveness of hearing. The point is not, "Take heed how you preach." But: "Take heed how you hear."

Now notice the reason given in the rest of verse 18 for why you should be so vigilant over how you hear. It says, "For [= because] whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him." Now what does that refer to?

Whoever Has . . .

Well, there are two parts, the positive ("whoever has, to him more shall be given") and the negative ("whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him").

Take the positive first: "Whoever has, to him more shall be given."

This refers first back to verse 8, at the end of the parable of the soils. Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Why? Because "whoever has, to him more shall be given. If you have spiritual ears, then you will be given understanding. It also refers to the fourth soil described in verse 15: "The seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance." Whoever has, to him more will be given. What they have already is "an honest and good heart." And the more that will be given is fruit. They "bear fruit with perseverance."

So take heed how you hear! Hear with spiritual ears, not just the ears on your head. And hear with an honest and good heart, not a deceptive and evil heart.

"Whoever does not have"

But now look at the negative half of verse 18: "Whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him." What does that refer to? It refers to the other three soils and the failure to hear with a good heart and with true spiritual ears. In each of the first three soils (verses 12-14) there is a hearing of the Word of God. But in each case what they think they have, is taken away from them.

Verse 12, the first soil: they think they have the Word, but the devil snatches it away. Verse 13, the second soil: they think they have the Word and true spiritual faith and joy, but they have no root to sustain them in time of trial. Their faith is a superficial enthusiasm that is real only for fair weather days. And so when the trial comes, what they think they have is taken away. Finally, in verse 14, the third soil: they think they have the Word of God, but when the worries and riches and pleasures of life come, what they think they have is taken away, and they fail to bear fruit.

So the point of verse 18 is to interpret what was happening in the four soils. Three times it comes true: "Whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him." And one time - the fourth soil - the opposite comes true: "Whoever has, to him more shall be given." If you hear with an honest and good heart (v. 15) then more will be given to you.

Next week I will try to answer the question why the sayings about the lamp and the lampstand (verses 16-17) are sandwiched between the interpretation of the parable of the soils and its practical conclusion in verse 18.

Take Heed How You Hear

But for now the main point is clear and very urgent: "Take heed how you hear!" To the one who has more will be given. Do you have ears to hear? Do you have a new heart?

I'm going to talk very practically next week on how you prepare yourself to hear like this. But this morning I simply want the weight of it to land on us. Hearing is huge. I believe with all my heart that I am called to preach the Word of God. And many of you are called to teach it in various settings. But this text is about another great calling - the calling to hear the Word of God. And it is no small thing. The stakes are very high. There is a hearing that barely gets started and the Word is gone before you get out the door. There is a hearing that lasts until there is a hard time in life, and then one turns from God to other messages. There is a hearing that flourishes until the riches and pleasures of this life choke it off. And there is a hearing that defeats the devil, endures trial, scorns riches and bears fruit unto eternal life.

That is the hearing we want. Let's ask God for it. Psalm 40:6 says that God opens the ear to hear: "Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; my ears You have opened." So let us pray. Just like we prayed back during prayer week, "Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law" (Psalm 119:18), so let us now pray, "Open my ears, that I may hear the Word of God, with an honest and good heart and be saved (Luke 8:12) and bear fruit.

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