1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NKJV)
21 Test all things; hold fast what is good.
If you’ve lived long you no doubt have come to learn that effective communication is difficult. Not only is it challenging to explain things to others, we frequently find that the one to whom we’re speaking just isn’t willing to listen. This is especially true in times of conflict. We speak to the best of our ability and it seems that our words just bounce off our hearer.
It is this dullness of hearing among his audience that Paul will rebuke in our text today. They were in danger of not understanding him – not because the subject matter was overly challenging but because they were unwilling to listen to what he was saying.
When we come to the text we will highlight the problem with this attitude when faced with the biblical text. As human beings made by our Creator, we are to listen to the Word of God and pay heed to the voice of wisdom.
But as Paul indicates in 1 Thessalonians, there are times when we should close our ears. “Test all things,” he writes. “Hold fast what is good.” We are called upon to listen carefully, understand honestly, and then test what is said, clinging only to that which is good. This implies, of course, that we are to reject that which is evil. So how do we distinguish? We assess what we hear in light of the Word of God. God has revealed that which is good in His Word and as we feast upon His Word we will be enabled to recognize falsehood when it rears its head, no matter how alluring it may appear.
Solomon describes this benefit of gaining wisdom in Proverbs 2. “When wisdom enters your heart, And knowledge is pleasant to your soul, Discretion will preserve you; Understanding will keep you, To deliver you … From the man who speaks perverse things… [and] From the seductress who flatters with her words,” (Prov 2:10-12, 16). Gaining wisdom protects us from folly, from giving heed to that which we ought not. It protects us from the man who speaks perverse things and from the seductress who flatters with her words. It teaches us when it is appropriate to close our ears and refuse to listen.
I was reminded of these things while attending a debate this week between Doug Wilson and Andrew Sullivan over the resolution Is Civil Marriage for Gay Couples good for Society? Mr. Sullivan professed to believe in Jesus and serve him while simultaneously living as a homosexual in union with another man. He was very winsome, very passionate, very articulate. But if we know the Word of God; if we know what God has to say about the abomination of homosexuality; if wisdom has entered our soul, then it delivers us from the man who speaks perverse things, it enables us to recognize the folly of the position.
Our calling as God’s people, therefore, is twofold. It is both to listen and not to listen. Our calling is to listen to God, give heed to what He says, believe it and embrace it for the good of ourselves and our children after us. Simultaneously our calling is not to listen – not to listen to the subtle or not so subtle temptations of those who would turn us from Christ and teach us to listen to some other god.
This reminds us that as human beings we frequently fail to listen to the right voices and instead listen to the wrong, And this is certainly becoming increasingly true of America. We are shutting our ears to the voice of God and listening to the voices of others. Reminded of this, let us kneel and confess that we have become dull of hearing.