Jesus’ Teaching on Listening

Three well-known stories/teachings of Jesus help us understand how listening is connected to a strong faith and to knowing God. The synoptic gospels all include all three of these stories/teachings. Matthew places them in three separate chapters, Mark places them in two chapters, and Luke places them in one chapter.

The Luke 8 account of these three stories/teachings especially emphasizes listening by placing them one right after the other. Mark 4 and Matthew 13 also bring insight into listening as part of our maturing faith.

Parable of the Sower

This story is an illustration of three types of listeners, conditions of the heart, receptiveness to Jesus’ teachings, etc. Some listeners hear with deaf ears (i.e., seed that falls on the path), and the truth easily is stolen from them. Others are emotional listeners (i.e., rocky ground). Their enthusiasm quickly fades, and they quickly return to old habits even after hearing a message they connected with.

Then there are those who hear and receive but get distracted, busy, and unfocused (i.e., thorny ground) and fail to apply what they hear. Finally, there are those who hear God’s word, receive it, and cultivate its truth. They are the good soil and make Jesus their priority.

Parable of the lamp

The light referred to is Jesus’ teachings, and they are meant to be displayed (i.e., lived out, talked about, etc.). The light reveals (shows sin) and illuminates (gives wisdom and understanding). The bushel is the world, old habits, distractions, busyness, etc. In verse 17, Jesus is saying that all his teachings will eventually be understood by all.

Jesus’ mother and brothers

Jesus is not rejecting his biological mother and brothers here. He’s saying that those who hear (i.e., listen, receive, apply, gain understanding, etc.) his message have intimacy with him; they are his family.

Listening to Jesus

Between the parable of the lamp and Jesus’ comment about his mother and brothers, Luke 8:18, along with its counterparts in Mark and Matthew, get at the overarching (i.e., main) point that Jesus is making with these three stories/teachings.

“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” (Luke 8:18)

“Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! And be sure to pay attention to what you hear. The more you do this, the more you will understand – and even more, besides. To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But to those who are not listening, even what they have will be taken away from them.” (Mark 4:23-25)

“For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Matthew 13:12)

These verses (along with Jesus’ teachings in Luke 8:6-21) have much to say about listening. They can help us improve our listening skills and thus increase our intimacy (i.e., closeness) w/God. They tell each of us to:

  • Be willing to hear, listen, and understand (Mark 4:22). The first three types of soil heard. Two of them listened. Only one moved into understanding. Are you fertile soil? Do you hear Jesus’ teachings but let Satan steal the truth? Are you driven by emotions and unable to let them into your mind and heart? Maybe you’re just too distracted or busy to take the time to study them out and pray over them. Jesus is asking for us to be willing to hear, listen, and understand instead of letting the things of this world steal the truth from us.
  • Be careful how you listen (Luke 8:18). The quality of your listening matters. Hearing is not necessary listening, after all. A quality listener moves from hearing to understanding. They don’t let emotions keep them from letting the truth change their hearts and minds, and they refuse to be too distracted.
  • Be careful what you listen to (Mark 4:22). Focus matters. Are you focusing on the world or on what Jesus gives us to live in victory within it?
  • Ask for wisdom and apply it (Luke 8:18; Mark 4:25; Matthew 3:12). Effort matters, too. The way to intimacy with Jesus comes by asking for wisdom, cultivating the soil of your heart and mind for receiving it, and applying the truth as the Holy Spirit shows it to you.

You Have Control

In a world where we don’t feel in control much of the time, we have a tremendous amount of choice and control over our walk with the Lord. You have as much understanding as you want if you’re open to being taught.

“For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Matthew 13:12)

If you’re not teachable, confusion will be your path. What you have will be taken from you. If you realize, however, that you control your time, attention, and submission (e.g., personal devotions, Bible study, church attendance, fellowship, intentional application), you understand that there’s endless wisdom available to you.

Jesus promised abundance to those who pay attention to his teachings. For those who have a deep desire to hear, listen, understand, and apply what Jesus taught, they will receive more than what they ask for.

God wants us to have light (i.e., to have knowledge and wisdom), to know how to live in his will, and to have an intimate relationship with him. He also wants us to be able to tell the difference between truth and lies, and the only way to do this is to know the truth.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)

Ask God to help you make him your main priority. Ask him to help you to be good soil, to cultivate what you hear, and to move to understanding. Ask him to help you to display truth and to not hide it through poor habits, distractions, and busyness. Ask God for wisdom and trust that he will give it to you generously and abundantly.