What Happens When Christians Lose Their Hearing (vv. 11,13)
Unable to Receive and Retain God’s Truth
It is a very serious thing for believers to lose their hearing. This means that they become unable to receive and retain God’s truth. Sluggish is perhaps the best synonym for “dull of hearing.” It is not that we stop listening to sermons, but we stop hearing them. It is not that we burn our Bibles, but they are closed to us even if they are open. I dare say that many of you can remember a time in your Christian experience when your spiritual ears seemed to have stopped working. When this came to your attention, you were likely alarmed and took decisive action. You called upon the Lord, and he healed your ears! It is remarkable, as I have said already, that these kinds of warnings are given to Christians. It is understandable that unbelievers are unable to hear, for their ears have never been opened. A believer in Jesus has experienced the new birth; his ears have been healed so that he is able to receive gospel preaching as the word of God. His attitude toward the Bible is very different than it was before.
But something happens to the believer that seriously injures his ears, which of course leads us back to his heart. Just like the tongue speaks from the heart, so the ears hear based upon the condition of the heart. If we want to know what we truly are, definitively or at a given moment, we should always consider what we like. This is not to discount struggle against sin, progressive sanctification, Satan’s many attacks, and depressing tendencies in our lives. It is simply to say that the way we hear God’s truth is a very serious matter, far more serious than today’s low attention span hearers and fun-seeking disciples would like to think.
Make Life Difficult for Pastors
Compounding the danger of losing our ability to hear the gospel clearly and efficaciously is that we lose out on further instruction. There are levels of teaching about God and his grace to us in Jesus, from milk, the basic truths of the gospel, to strong meat. There are seasons for both kinds of teaching and the whole spectrum between them. What is condemned in these lines is not the milk of the gospel but a heart that has grown so weak that it can receive nothing but the thinnest of milk. This makes a pastor’s duty very difficult, for disciples need stronger meat if they are to grow stronger. They are to hold nothing back that is profitable, and some of Scripture is difficult to understand (Acts 20:20; 2 Pet. 3:16). Paul’s teaching on Melchizedek would be an example. It is not that the life of this ancient man and his bearing upon Christ’s priesthood is esoteric or mystical teaching reserved only for the enlightened. At the same time, one must see something of the importance of Christ’s priesthood before he will be able to summon the attention required to hear out the apostle on the subject. If we say, “Yes, this is all well and fine, but give us something that will make all this trouble go away,” we betray an immature heart. If we had a heart to understand that like Melchizedek, our Lord’s priesthood is powerful, based upon the intrinsic quality of his life, and joined with regal power, we would receive precious truth that we need to endure difficult times of persecution. But alas, when our ears become clogged, so to speak, we lack the patience and persistence to search out the Scriptures. We lose our attentiveness when God’s everlasting gospel is preached. And we grow weaker in the process, for our Lord has joined “if ye continue in my word” to being “disciples indeed” and “bearing much fruit that glorifies my Father” disciples. The principle of his kingdom and presence in our lives is not stagnation but growth.
Unable to Tolerate Strong Meat
The inability to receive, digest, and improve solid spiritual food is a serious deficiency in the Christian life. This is not tied to age but to desire and use, as we shall see. But there are some, sadly, who do not want to move past the basics of the faith (6:1-4). They are quite content to remain in the church’s kindergarten programs. If they are pressed with weightier doctrines, all of which have their place of importance and practicality, they balk. Do not teach us these things! They may as well say, “We do not want to think! We do not want to be pressed! Do not make us grow up in Christ.” But if we have this attitude, we are like a forty-year old who insists upon eating with a plastic spoon and drinking out of a sippy cup – nothing that demands any responsibility or effort. This was a real problem among these Hebrew believers. They began well, but difficulties in living for Christ in the world had made them cross-averse. They fled from maturity, for that seemed to require more suffering for Christ. As a result, they lost their ability to receive the very teaching that would have strengthened and given them joy and peace in their troubles. They also lost what they had learned.
Why Christians Lose Their Hearing (vv. 12-13)
While the Lord has never set up one corner of his vineyard as judges of the rest, surely we are told to judge those within the church, beginning with ourselves (1 Cor. 5:12-13; 11:31). There has been great hearing loss in the church of our Savior! One needs only consider the kind of inanities and falsehoods that are publicly stated in the name of Christ to feel deep embarrassment at “how far the mighty have fallen!” However one assesses the novelties that attempt to resurrect the church’s witness and worship, one standard comes back – “to the law and to the prophets” – to which we should add “and to the apostles.” If we are not hearing the word of God, these are all wasted energies, for the Lord has given his truth once for all to the saints (Jude 7). We are not creators but custodians of truth, not gurus but humble disciples of the everlasting gospel. Yet, this is one reason that Christians lose their hearing. They forget what they have heard and do not profit from it. “For the time, when you ought to be teachers” – what an indictment! Consider how much truth you have already been given. While few believers are called to be public teachers and preachers (James 3:1), all are called to make disciples. Most have little seminaries in their homes and circles of influence in which they are heralds of God’s truth. “Freely you have received, freely give” is our Lord’s rule for gospel custodianship, kingdom growth, and the disciple’s joy and usefulness.
Another rule of his kingdom is that if we do not improve our opportunities, we shall lose what we once possessed. As a Christian, there is no “standing pat,” as they say. It is growth or declension. This is not a feverish dynamic of self-initiated piety but the reality of Christ in us. There are certainly seasons of rest and of chastening, in which it seems like we are going backwards. With our Lord Jesus, however, all the backwards are really forwards, if we continue to seek him. We walk by faith, and this means we do not walk passively. The talents and opportunities he gives must be energetically used and improved – or they will be lost, as his famous parable teaches (Matt. 25:29).
Never must we bury his gospel and grace in the ground of our laziness or fear. Ever we must ask for his Spirit to quicken us to hear and to bless the preaching of God’s word to make us fruitful. Our Savior said that if we abide in the word, we shall bear much fruit (John 15:1-8). If we are not bearing fruit, there is something wrong. Either we are not abiding in the word, or we are not using his word, or our hearts have grown cold and our ears dull. This is the reason Jesus said, “Be careful how you hear” (Luke 8:18). If we let sermons pound our ears outwardly without working diligently so that they sink down into our hearts, we shall lose the blessings we once enjoyed. It is a very serious matter for God to give us his word and gospel, for by these things he gives us himself. The Christian life is not a matter of starting out well, reaching a supposed “happy place,” and then contentedly remaining there without additional effort or zeal. We serve a risen Savior, and he will grow in us. We shall grow up into him, our Head. His word is the chief means (John 8:31-32). We must not become dull and lazy hearers!
Back to Kindergarten
If we do not improve God’s gifts but receive his grace in vain (2 Cor. 6:1), we shall lose them. This assumes that we are not judging ourselves and repenting of our coldness and seeking refreshment from the Lord – sure ways to keep our hearing sharp and our hearts hungry for Christ and his word! The warning is very sobering that Christians who began well and even suffered persecution have to return to spiritual kindergarten. He says that through neglect of God’s word, someone must teach us the “first principles of the oracles of God” (v. 12). “Oracles” is likely equivalent to “word” of God (Acts 7:38), although not limited to the Old Testament Scriptures but inclusive of the apostolic witness and growing body of apostolic Scriptures. “First principles” means the most basic Christian doctrine: man’s fall into sin, inherited depravity from Adam, his recovery solely through Jesus Christ, repentance, faith, and the necessity of good works. It might seem impossible that professing Christians should need to be taught these truths again, but look around you. Look at former denominations that were bastions of orthodoxy but now place Jesus in a pantheon of religious figures and even deities. Few even among Protestants affirm the fall of Adam and the curse his fall brought upon all mankind. Repentance and obedience are not preached as they once were. These are basics, ABCs of biblical religion, apart from which Christian maturity is impossible. These truths must be believed for salvation. They must be proclaimed for the salvation of the world. And yet, professing Christians can lose them and find themselves needing to relearn what they once professed.
Loss of Skill/Experience/Use of God’s Word
The Christian’s loss of hearing is a very serious matter! I will say that more than anything else, our collective hearing loss explains the present state of our nation and of the people with whom we daily rub shoulders. Why are they not flocking into the church to learn the way of salvation? One reason is surely that the condition of those inside the church keeps them away. Where is the honey of truth that draws? It has been replaced with the spoiled milk of immature believers and preaching ministries. The condition of believers inside the church is one of the main causes that so many stay outside the church. Where is our certain sound about basic Bible doctrines? When the world sees the church unable to blow a clear trumpet about man’s nature and destiny, sin, and salvation in Christ alone, why would it want to enter our confusion? Then, when professing believers lose what they had, they become miserable and unsettled. Is there within the church the joy of holiness and the peace that comes through righteousness? But we lose our skill in the word of God when our ears become dull. If we do not use the word, we shall lose its blessing and power in our lives. Then, our only recovery will be for God to graciously give us milk again, and not let us go.
The Way to Regain and Keep Your Hearing (v. 14)
Seek Growth and Maturity in Christ
Behind this warning lies the wonderfully positive truth that no matter what our outward circumstances, we are in union with Jesus Christ. And you, our blessed Savior, since you dwell with us by your Spirit, will make us grow and bear much fruit (2 Pet. 1:8). It may seem silly that the apostle was speaking of growing in Christ and warning against spiritual immaturity. The Hebrews were being attacked for their faith. It was a time not to get bogged down in spirituality but to do something proactive. The apostle did not think that way. What they needed was more of Christ – his leadership, protection, and wisdom in their lives. They needed to hear his word more clearly and learn that their lives were hidden with him in God. If we ignore him in a time of trouble, what good will our self-defensive and protective measures be? So we saved our lives in the world, or our property, or avoided persecution. What is the good in that if we lose Christ in the process (Mark 8:36)? If we “save ourselves” but do not abide in his word, shall we love our Savior more? If we “figured things out” but did not wait upon him and keep his way, we have only taught our soul that we do not really him after all. I cannot think of a more dangerous dynamic – for God to give you the desires of your heart but to send leanness to your soul (Ps. 106:15).
Ours is no stagnant faith, a “form of godliness” without power. Our faith is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” All the preaching and teaching we hear is unto this end – that we may know and grow up into Jesus Christ our Head, enjoy him as our beloved Savior, and submit to him as our adored Lord. If we love him, we shall want to hear him. Of course he uses lowly and weak instruments to secure us for himself; that is also his kingdom – crashing down all the pride of men and building his church upon the weakness of a crucified Savior and the foolishness of preaching. Many today would like the smells and bells of ritual, the supposed solidity of tradition, the arrogant claims of unbroken succession, and a whole host of other externals, but our salvation from hell and preservation in life depends upon none of these things. Nowhere has Christ ever said, “You had better be in this part of the church to be saved.” Or, “You must have these rituals or forms.” He has told us to hear his Word. If we believe upon his name, we have everlasting life. God has said to us, “This is my beloved Son; HEAR HIM!
Reject a Constant Milk Diet
There is a time for milk in the Christian life. In one place, we are called “newborn babes” and told to “desire the sincere milk of the word that we may grow by it” (1 Pet. 2:2). The old and basic gospel truths can never be exhausted in their richness and power, especially when they are connected by the preacher to a living and reigning Savior who continually brings his gospel to bear in our lives and in the presence and service of his living body! From another perspective, we must reject a constant milk diet. We should seek to “move on to maturity,” not ignoring the basics but being willing to listen to teaching about Melchizedek or other maturing doctrines of our faith. In other words, we should want to be challenged to grow, challenged to think more clearly and more deeply about our faith, both its rudimentary principles and its maturing heights. The Bible contains both, and we need both. Too many, however, want only milk, and strained milk to boot! Do not make me think. If the teaching does not make my life easier, then get it away from me. No old paths that might challenge my present idols; give me only new things that tickle my ears. Many professing believers think this way and search for their food in this way. It shows in their immaturity, in our immaturity, in the inability of the church as whole to give a clear gospel sound. It shows in the migratory patterns of jaundiced spiritual consumers who are ever in search of the next great show! How can we grow in Christ when everyone is running around looking for his favorite piece of spiritual candy?
Use the Word
The Spirit of truth closes his warning with a sure remedy for the Christian’s hearing loss. He says that we must exercise ourselves in the word, use it, think it over, pray over it, and apply it to our lives. We use it by learning to discern between good and evil – is this pleasing to Christ? Is this in agreement with God’s will revealed in Scripture? For those who are being exercised in the word in this way, who are growing in their experience of God’s word, they are able to receive and digest the stronger meat. Notice that the Spirit did not look at those weak and compromised believers and say, “Well, all is lost for you, you sorry turncoats.” He did not lay a guilt trip upon them. He instead challenged them to regain what they had lost and to move higher in their fidelity to Christ than they had previously gone. In other words, this is like our Savior confronting Peter on that dark night. “Peter, you are going to fall, but I am going to raise you up. I have prayed for you.” In the same way, Jesus said to these believers, “Look, you are in grave danger of a serious fall away from me. There is hope for you. Do not despair. Get back into my truth. Do not stay a baby in your faith but gain maturity through experience in my word.” He is certainly saying the same thing to us this morning. He may be saying it to some in particular. Hear him, dear soul!
We gain experience in the word of Christ, first, by regular reading and meditation upon his Scriptures, for God has now put them into our hand! Then, we must use them. A father faces a parenting issue or a family squabble – “Lord, what does your word say about this? Who can I talk with that understands your word? I will obey.” This is gaining skill or experience in the use of Jesus’ truth. The same is true of a mother needing an attitude adjustment or strength and purpose and perseverance in her daily duties. A Christian businessman and citizen must use God’s word to discern the times in which he lives and the way to go about his duty. This is the disciple’s path, and it is the path of growth in Christ. It is the path of simple, trusting, loving obedience to God.
Following Jesus is not about tired, old doctrines and traditions. There is no power in these. Where there is power is in his living voice and word. This is the reason Christians believe certain doctrines and reject others – because they are the thoughts of Christ revealed in his word. Above all, his will is that we grow up into him and not remain babies. Babies are sweet and adorable, but they need to grow strong to fight disease, learn, and take their place in God’s world. Growth is especially necessary for us, for Satan loves to kill the young – keep them away from Christ by plugging their ears against his word – put in the ear buds of the world – Jesus’ voice will be lost. Let this never be true of us but let us press forward to know the Lord and hear his everlasting gospel with all the attention of disciples who are keenly aware that we sit at his feet and live only by the words that come from his blessed mouth. And when he gives you that word, use it. He knows what you will need this week, the temptations that lie ahead, the attacks upon your hope and joy. He gives you the living and hidden manna of his word, but are you hearing it? Have you become dull of hearing? Life is too busy. I do not like the preacher any more. Away with our excuses and forward with our Savior! Let us hear and hold fast to him, for he is our life and joy. If we are growing in him, let Satan throw his worst at us, and we shall overcome in the power of our Lord!