More on Hearing the Word of God Preached: “Always listening is an act of worship.”

Eccles5-1-2The following excerpt from a Standard Bearer article was published this past Sunday in the bulletin of Covenant PRC in Ballymena, N. Ireland. I realized as soon as I read it that it would make a great addition to the series I had been doing on listening to the preaching of God’s Word.

In this article from the rubric “My Sheep Hear My Voice” Prof. H. Hanko has some profitable thoughts for us on the nature of listening as an act of worship, and it is from that part of the article that I quote in this post. May it lead us to worshipful hearing of the Word today.

Letter to Timothy

by Prof. Herman Hanko
(an article in the Standard Bearer, vol. 58, #6 – Dec.15, 1981)

In the last letter to you I mentioned, somewhat in passing, that our attitude towards the preacher and our attitude towards the preaching were inseparably related to each other. I want to say a bit more about that in this letter, especially from the viewpoint of what is involved in listening to a sermon. I wonder sometimes whether we have lost the art of listening. Or, if I may repeat that passage from Ecclesiastes which I quoted last time, “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.” Do we really know how to do this?

…Always listening is an act of worship. The whole of the church service on the Lord’s day is worship, of course. Fundamentally, worship, according to the Scriptural idea, is “bowing the knee towards” God, for that is the most basic meaning of the word which is consistently translated as worship. Worship is, therefore, an act of adoration and praise. It is an acknowledgement of God as the sovereign Lord and as the One who alone is worthy of all honor and glory. All worship basically involves this. Whether we sing or pray, whether we confess our faith or bring our offerings, this is the essence of worship. But listening to God’s Word is also worship. It is an act of adoration and praise at bottom and an acknowledgement of the absolute lordship of Almighty God.

Listening to the sermon is an act of worship, however, in its own unique way. Listening is worship because our listening must be an inward confession that the Almighty God of heaven and earth, our Jehovah who saves us, has the sovereign right to speak to us and require of us that we listen to what He has to say. There is an element here of listening as acknowledgement of God’s absolute sovereignty over us. We must listen because God has authority over us. Listening is acknowledgement of that. But there is also the aspect of praise and adoration because we listen to Him who tells us what great things He has done for us.

There are illustrations which help make this clear. If a parent is giving his child instruction in a certain matter and is using that instruction as a basis to admonish the child, the parent expects the child to pay attention. If the child does not pay attention, lets his mind wander while the parent is talking and assumes an attitude of indifference, then the child, by such conduct, refuses to acknowledge the authority of the parent in his life and the parent has the right to say, “Listen to me; I am your father.” The other aspect can also be illustrated. Supposing that I am a very poor beggar who has nothing in the world and who can survive only by eating out of garbage cans, fighting with wild dogs for a place to sleep, and struggling to keep warm in cold weather by lying near doors of locked buildings where a bit of heat may seep under the door; supposing further that the king of the land, for some reason known only to himself, calls me into the palace and begins to tell me that he intends to give me a very important place in his kingdom where I will have riches and influence, and opportunity to join in policy discussions and decisions, and the rule over others; supposing that while the king is talking about all this I am so unmoved by what he says and so indifferent to what he is talking about that I simply pay no attention and do not even hear what is being said—such conduct is an insult to the king and brands me as the crassest of fools.

To listen with thankfulness and joy, with adoration and praise to what God tells us of the salvation He has graciously given in Christ is the worship of listening. To listen with humble submission to the authority of our heavenly King is to worship in listening.

Paul tells us in II Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God. But He tells us too why God gave the Scriptures: they are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. If we listen to the preaching of the Scriptures we will be profited. We will learn doctrine, we will be reproved and corrected, we will be instructed in righteousness. And, according to II Timothy 3:17, this is all that we need that we, as men of God, may be perfect and thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

All of this requires that our listening be spiritual. But I think it best to discuss this with you in a subsequent letter.

And perhaps we can return to that article in a future post.