Having Ears to Hear—Listening to Understand
During his public ministry, Jesus made as many opponents as disciples. His most vocal opponents, the scribes and Pharisees, should have been his strongest supporters. They knew the scriptures well. If anyone should have recognized the Messiah when He arrived, it was them. Yet, all they could do was find fault with Him and resist His teaching. I’ve been wondering exactly how it is that a competent leader can find themselves opposed by very people who should be their strongest supporters. The problem for Jesus seemed to be the way in which the scribes and Pharisees listened to Him. Often, after delivering a message, He would say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
What exactly does it mean to have “ears to hear?”
It simply means that when we read or listen to a message, we have in our heart, a sincere desire to be instructed—to understand what the writer or speaker is saying. Unfortunately, many times what we have in our heart is not a desire to understand, but a desire to find error and refute it. That was true of the scribes and Pharisees and it has been true of me.
After I became a Christian, I attended a Bible-teaching church that taught a fundamentalist view of God. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself, but the teaching I came under happened to have a subtle agenda few of us understood. As much as we desired to memorize the scriptures, we were also being trained to detect and refute anything that did not line up with what the Bible taught. To be truthful, we looked for that which did not line up with our understanding of what the Bible taught.
We developed filters.
These filters were like lie-detectors that had one purpose—to detect false teaching. Once identified by the lie detector, a false teacher would be added to the mental list we created of people whose teachings we rejected. During this time, I read as much to find and refute error as to find truth. It’s good to discern teaching that plainly contradicts the main tenets of our faith, but if your heart is inclined to finding error, you won’t listen to understand. Your ears and eyes will look to find fault and you’ll become just like the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus commented that they strained at a gnat but swallowed a camel. From their perspective, they were only doing their due diligence to detect anything theologically fishy. But their obsession with finding fault had caused them to miss the most important truth of all—Israel’s long-awaited Messiah had finally come.
You may have the gift of encouraging others. Such individuals use this gift by leaving comments that encourage writers to continue their work. But what if an encourager becomes a critic? Instead of noticing the positive aspects of a message, they notice that the author tends to view God through an old covenant mindset. Or they may feel the writer overemphasizes the supernatural, or the role of church leaders. Instead of leaving positive comments, they find things to complain about.
If you’ve found yourself in the habit of reading (or listening) to find and refute error more than to understand, you might consider making a change of heart. The change could be as simple as asking the Holy Spirit to remove any filters you’ve created that cause you to be overly critical. Ask Him to highlight the positive aspects of a message, and when you see them, you might consider developing the new habit—acknowledging them and perhaps even leaving a positive comment.