Thabiti Anyabwile has featured a five post series on ‘Filtered Listening’ at his Pure Church blog.
The posts seek to encourage those who listen to sermons to think about how they hear, and what may be obstructing their understanding and Gospel response to the preaching of God’s Word.
Anyabwile explains his purpose:
In this series of posts, we’ve been attempting to think about how to listen to sermons to derive the most benefit and to understand the preached word as best we can. We’ve been using a filter analogy to picture what sometimes happens with our listening. Imagine something like an air conditioning filter lying across your ears. The preached word is the clean air we need to breathe and enjoy in order to live well. But our filters may have varying amounts of dirt and dust collected in them, making the word’s passage into our hearing and understanding quite difficult.
To hear and understand we need clean filters. But a number of things may clog the filter, like our preferences, our feelings, sources that rival the Bible, or our misunderstanding of Christian freedom… one final issue I want to consider…: what to do when we’re convicted by the word and the Spirit during a sermon.
The first and most important filter for the listener is a “True or False” filter. The listener must ask themselves: “Is what I’m hearing true or false?” A true/false filter is a clean listening filter for those wanting to grow by the word of God.
Second filter: Source
Everything that comes to us from the word of God, properly explained and rightly handled, is to be eagerly and joyfully believed. As Jesus prayed in John 17:17, “Your word is truth.” Truth is for our good and comes from God, especially the truth of Scripture. So, the Bible is that one infallible source for knowing the mind and will of God and knowing how to live before him.
But, again, a preacher may make claims based upon other sources. He may quote philosophers, interact with scientists, or draw from research and personal experience. As we said earlier, these things may be drawn into service to the word.For the authority we give to claims based in sources other than the Scripture is not the same kind or degree as the authority we give to God’s word. We may know things from other sources, things that may change or be improved upon, or things that may later be refuted. But the Bible tells us what God knows, things that can never be improved, changed or falsified. His word is truth. Not just true, but truth itself.
Third filter: Application
Reading the text and explaining the meaning of the text are the foundation and walls of preaching. But the house isn’t finished until the roofing of application takes place. In application, the preacher moves the text from the page to the life of his listeners…
There are two basic kinds of debris that clog our listening filters when it comes to sermon application.
First, there is legalism that clogs the filter. Legalism is simply the idea that our justification, or righteous standing, with God depends on the things we do to earn that standing. Legalism makes reconciliation and acceptance with God a product of our own attainments…
Second, our listening filters may be clogged with a licentious or antinomian mindset. Here, the listener isn’t bound by legalistic attitudes; rather, he or she rejects any imperatives in the Christian life at all. They turn grace into license, forgetting that true saving grace teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly lusts (Titus 2:11-12)…
Fourth filter: Feeling or Thinking
Feelings are a gift from God. Used properly, they are for our good and help us to commune with our wonderful God. Fear, for example, may alert us to the danger of sin. Or, empathy may help us to care for others in need. When our feelings are rightly tuned to God’s word and Spirit, they are allies in the quest for godliness and joy.
But, like the rest of our nature, our feelings are also fallen. Sin corrupts our emotions. This means, then, that a godly monitoring of our feelings is necessary. For not every emotional reaction is a godly reaction. We may tend to over-react at times, and at other times to under-react. Or, we may react with the wrong emotion given the situation. Perhaps a situation calls for sadness, but in our sin we respond with anger. And sometimes, we may become emotionally numb. Our feelings may become impaired as a result of prolonged hurt, depression, or other causes.
However our emotions are responding on a Sunday morning, we may be sure of this: as listeners, we feel. And how we feel may hurt how we listen.
Finally: Conviction and Condemnation
One reason some professing Christians do not like the feeling of conviction is that they don’t distinguish those feelings from condemnation. While conviction opens our guilt before us, it does so in a way that leads us back to Christ and His atoning work. The apostle Paul summarizes the difference thus: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Because of Christ’s work, work we could do in the weakness of our flesh (Rom. 8:2-4), we sho are in Christ are free from the condemning power of the Law and sin.
“Condemnation” is a condemnatory judgment, a verdict rendered against the offender. For the Christian to feel condemned before God, there must be the woeful forgetting that Christ satisfies God’s justice on our behalf. One forgets that Christ bore the wrath, He suffered our condemnation, and He freed us from the separating negative judgment of God. Our sin and guilt were nailed to the cross.
These are worthy of collection into booklet form.