In our small group at church we’ve been doing a Hebrews Bible study. Not a Hebrew Bible study mind you, but a study covering the book of Hebrews. This past week, we looked at 5:11-6:12, with a bit of 6:13-20 toward the end. As we were engaged in discussion and study, I noticed a connection between 5:11 and 3:12-14 that got me thinking.
In case you don’t have it memorized, here’s Hebrews 5:11-14:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
We tend to construe “dull of hearing” as pertaining to gaining knowledge. But from context, both here and earlier in the book, I think it has more to do with obedience. Part of that is because the two words are closely related, especially in the context of Hebrews. This connection also features prominently in a recent book on listening. Ultimately, to “obey” is to “hyper-listen” or to listen deeply.
On this understanding, someone is “dull of hearing” if they are “slow to obey.” While it could be construed as not listening well on Sunday mornings, I think it has more to do with listening to God in general, specifically through his Word, and evidencing that you’ve heard by how you live. This comes out more in 5:14 as the contrasting position is called “mature” and that is defined as having “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” This more or less describes the wise person in the book of Proverbs, and implies that you distinguish good from evil in order to practice the former instead of the latter. We could say then that listening closely leads to living wisely.
With this in mind, think back to 3:12-14, which again if you don’t have it memorized is:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
Notice how important the community is for helping each other avoid sin’s deceitfulness. The word for “exhort” is parakaleo, which is the same word underlying “Paraclete”, the title Jesus gives the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit indwells believers, then they are able to function as a mouthpiece for the Spirit, doing his job (in part) in the context of Christian community. By being part of an active church body, you are “partaking of the Holy Spirit” if others are exhorting you toward living a godly life (cf. 6:4 and what this might mean in that context).
I tend to think that the way this should work is similar to an aspect of the way I teach piano. Often, I find myself listening very closely as a student plays through a song that they practiced during the previous week. It is rare that a song is played completely mistake free. However, as I’m listening closely and paying attention, I can discern the intentionality behind many of the notes. What I’m looking for is evidence of correct thinking behind the playing.
One thing that is difficult in being a piano teacher is that I’m essentially listening to someone play a song so I can point out their mistakes. I’ve had to think through how to do this well so that it’s not a drudgery to sit through lessons (for me and the student). I’m sure many of you had that teacher growing up. You know, the one that pointed out every single mistake, quickly saying “Wrong!” as soon as your finger touched that F that should have been an F# because you forget you were playing in the key of G.
What I try to do is to either wait for the student to correct the error themselves, or even wait until the end of the piece and ask, “What did you forget?” at which point they remember themselves that all the F’s were supposed to be sharp. Other times, when I wrong note is played, I’ll say “close” letting them know it wasn’t quite right, but in a way encouraging them that they’re right there and then they have the opportunity to move to the correct note on their own.
Thinking back to Hebrews 3 passage, it involves a similar kind of listening. Rather than pointing out every mistake individuals in our community make, we should listen closely to the overall melody their life is making. We should encourage them when the notes they are playing are close to the mark, and perhaps not rush to calling out every error along the way. If we are truly living in community together, we have more than passing interaction with one another and can discern patterns in others’ behavior that might need to be addressed.
Like a piano teacher that generally sees his students for a concentrate amount of timing weekly, we should seek to spend concentrated time with close community weekly. Doing so allows us to really listen to one another and even better exhort and encourage more melodic living in harmony with the Spirit within us.