Have you ever had someone say to you, “Did you hear what I just said?” I’ve heard this a few times. Typically, I’ll respond by saying, “I heard exactly what you said and repeat what I heard word for word.” The problem though hasn’t been with my hearing, it’s been with my heart.

There’s an interesting pattern that exists between Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:21–6:18 and Jesus’ words to the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Matthew 23. After telling the crowds and his disciples not to follow the Pharisees in their application of the Law, Jesus warns them of them of their pride: “Everything they do is done for people to see” (23:6), “they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others” (23:6–7). They “exalt themselves” (23:12).

Jesus follows a similar pattern in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells his Jewish audience six times, “You have heard…” but then tells them that what they have heard is not deep enough (Matt 5:21–48). And then, just as he does in chapter 23, he follows this up with warnings against pride: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them” (6:1). For example, “when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others” (6:2).

I think this tells us something very helpful, namely, that the reason the Pharisees were not correctly applying the Law was because of pride. And as we all know, pride stems from the heart.

Why is this significant? Because we’re often told that we need to ‘get more in touch with the Spirit’—and I’m a big fan of the Holy Spirit by the way—to better hear God. But the problem that Jesus seems to be pointing to is not our ears but our hearts. “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears” (Matt 13:15).

When I’m not hearing God, the reason is really quite simple, it’s because my heart is unwilling to do what my ears are hearing. You see, listening to Jesus requires faith. Thus, when Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give to the poor “the young man heard this” but “he went away sad [in his heart], because he had great wealth” (Matt 19:22).

Remember that idols “have ears, but cannot hear, . . . and so will all who trust in them” (Ps 115:6). Anyone then who hears but does not hear, does not need a hearing aid; they need to examine the idols of their heart.

Alan Stanley