The Priority of Expositional Listening in the Life of the Christian, Part 2
Over the last two weeks we’ve been looking at why expositional listening—that is, receptively and actively listening to, and seeking to be changed by, God speaking through preaching that proclaims a Bible passage’s meaning—ought to have priority, both in the life of the gathered church and in the life of the individual Christian. This week, we’re going to narrow in on three ways that such listening benefits a Christian’s personal walk with Jesus.
Expositional Listening Promotes Humility
First, expositional listening should have priority in our personal relationship with Christ because it promotes humility. Listening, because it is a one-way street, because it involves attending to another, is uniquely suited to fostering meekness. Listening has important advantages over private study in this regard. It’s all too easy for a Christian to develop a sinful pride in their knowledge of, and skill in interpreting, the Bible. Listening not only exposes us regularly to others who are in the Word, but it also induces us to devote a dedicated time to hearing the results and application of another person’s work in interpreting Scripture. The very act of listening—as long as it's expositional listening, meaning receptive, attentive listening—is an exercise in humility.
And the cultivation of humility ought to be a key objective in our spiritual lives. We as Christians seek to be like Christ, for he was “lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). It’s not coincidental that in the very passage God describes “the one to whom I will look,” he couples humility with the very kind of listening we’ve been learning about: “he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” The very act of listening to another speak God’s Word to you is a not-so-subtle reminder it's not about you--that life in the church, the entire Christian life, the Gospel, God’s plan of redemption, and even your own personal discipleship are, ultimately, not about you!
Expositional Listening Fosters a Spirit of Submission
Sermons take time. Gathering for worship, where preaching is the centrepiece, takes time. That’s time out of your day. Time you could spend on other things. Time you could devote to other priorities. The Christian who makes expositional listening their priority has to submit these preferences and desires to the need to gather and hear. And the very act of listening is itself an expression or exercise of submission.
Public teaching and preaching is an exercise of authority. Indeed, public teaching, as our brother Clint Humfrey has written elsewhere, “is the primary place where a new elder accrues authority.” This is the key reason why women cannot serve as elders, for they are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men (1 Tim. 2:12). What Christians may sometimes miss in that text, due to the gender implications and the controversy surrounding them, is the relationship—the contrast—that Paul is presuming in this text between submission and the exercise of public teaching and preaching. In 1 Timothy 2, women are to learn quietly and with all submissiveness (v. 11) in contrast to—rather than—teaching or exercising authority over men (v. 12). To make it a bit more clear, the contrast Paul is drawing is between a woman who listens and a woman who teaches, not between a woman who listens and a man who listens. Or is Paul saying that men who listen to teaching and are under authority are different, that they can “learn loudly with all authority”? By no means! After all, all those who are “younger” are to “be subject to the elders” (1 Pet. 5:5) and all believers are to “obey your leaders and submit to them” (Heb. 13:17). Paul is saying that as those who are not teaching, as those who are under the authority of the Word, women—like any other hearers!—are to learn quietly and submissively.
Submission is commanded of all Christians. Well, listening to teaching and preaching is an exercise of submission. And because it is a way to practice submission, it teaches and fosters submission in the one who makes it a habit.
Expositional Listening Confronts The Hearer
Finally, expositional listening, even more than other disciplines like private study or prayer, confronts the hearer with the meaning and implications of the Word of God.
One of the outstanding benefits of serial expositional preaching (that is, preaching that proceeds passage by passage or verse by verse through whole books of Scripture) is that it forces preachers to reckon with texts they might otherwise avoid or skip over. Preaching this way prevents pastors from hiding from uncomfortable truth, because the congregation can see the passage coming in the weeks before and therefore expects to hear it treated.
Well, one of the greatest benefits of expositional listening is that it provides precisely the same benefit to the hearer as serial expositional preaching provides to preachers and whole congregations, when compared to personal study. It causes the hearer to be confronted by texts and applications that he might otherwise avoid. It forces the listener to deal with ideas and truths he might prefer not to hear. It prevents the student of God’s Word from conveniently skipping over tough or uncomfortable passages he might otherwise conveniently miss. And notice that it's only if one’s primary biblical learning is being other-directed rather than self-directed that this benefit is made possible. As an illustration, children in a home where their parents are attentive to their nutritional needs will every so often be confronted with broccoli and kale on their plates—while a young college student living away from home can easily avoid such things in favour of pizza and wings every night! So expositional listening prevents Christians (as long as they are part of healthy churches with healthy preaching) from some of the pitfalls that self-directed learning might otherwise leave them prone to.
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