Listeners: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
It is just as important how a person listens as it is to what they are listening to. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, “Therefore take heed how you hear” (Luke 8:18a). If a man lives a total of eighty years and listens to two sermons every Sunday. He will in his lifetime have listened to 8,320 sermons. How much he benefits from all these sermons has less to do with the quantity of the material as it does the quality of the message preached and the ability to listen and apply. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 13:9). He is not concerned about the physical auditory health of their ears. Instead, He is checking to see if they are really paying attention to what is being said. Furthermore, are they good listeners; are they truly comprehending and willing to apply the message.
During Paul’s first missionary journey, he arrives at the city of Antioch Pisidia to begin preaching at the local synagogue. Here in Acts 13:16-41 is Paul’s first recorded sermon. How will the people of Antioch respond? It depends on what kind of listeners they happen to be. There are those that are good listeners, bad listeners, and even ugly listeners. Which one they choose to be depends on the condition of their hearts.
Hunger for God’s Word
The Jews did not seem to have the same appetite for Paul’s preaching as many of the Gentiles. “And when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:42). The Gentiles truly wanted to hear what Paul had to say and “begged” for it. They had a hunger for listening to God’s Word.
Heed God’s Word
Those who truly listened to the Word were blessed with persuasion from Paul and Barnabas to keep on pursuing the grace proclaimed in the Gospel. “Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43).
Hear God’s Word
A week later almost the whole city came together to hear the Word of God. “And the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God (Acts 13:44).
Honor God’s Word
“Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:48). They obeyed the Word of God. The Greek word is doxazo, which would mean to give glory and honor, in other words, obedience. They believed and were baptized.
Holding Forth God’s Word
The Word of God was spread. “And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region” (Acts 13:49). The word was getting out to others. The great commission was being fulfilled by Paul among both Jews and Gentiles.
Missed the Prophetic Message
Paul quoted from several of the Old Testament prophecies while preaching in the synagogue. Many of the Jews failed to see the fulfillment of these prophecies. Therefore, they missed out on the Good News of the Kingdom. Sometimes failure to pay attention in the past results in poor comprehension in the present.
Envious of the Multitudes
During Jesus’ ministry many of the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees were often envious of the crowds who would follow Jesus. In fact, these Jews “had handed Him over because of envy” (Matthew 27:18) to be crucified. Paul had the same problem with the Jews of his day. “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy” (Acts 13:45a). The meaning in the Greek indicates they were filled with indignation. These Jews wanted the crowds to follow them and depend upon their traditions.
Contradict of the Message
Because of their envy, these bad listeners were “contradicting and blaspheming” (Acts 13:45b) the teaching of Paul and Barnabas. A similar thing happened to Paul while he was preaching at Ephesus. “But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9).
Opposing the Messengers
“They opposed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 13:45c). If you do not like the message, you attack it and the messengers. This was an effort to discredit them.
The term “blaspheming” in Acts 13:45 indicated the ugly attack on Paul and Barnabas by trying to vilify in an attempt to defame. This is what they did when Paul preached at Thessalonica. The captured Jason who was housing Paul and defamed the apostle and those with him by saying, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7). The Jews did the same to Paul at Corinth. “But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6).
■ Stirred Up Division
When the Jews could not dissuade Paul from preaching the gospel, through blasphemy they would attempt to stir up a mob. They used a divide-and-conquer ploy. “But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city” (Acts 13:50a).
■ Raised up a Persecution
The end result of the ugliness of these listeners was they “…raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region” (Acts 13:50b). Paul was often run out of town for preaching the Gospel. This however did not stop the good listeners from continuing in the faith. So, Paul would be back and strengthen them in his next missionary journey.
Results of Listening
The results of listening are twofold: good listeners will be rewarded, and the bad and ugly listeners would be punished. Paul indicates that the punishment would be self-inflicted by their rejection of truth, they would in effect reject eternal life. “Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles’” (Acts 13:46). The full responsibility for rejecting Christ lies with the individual.
Notice the graphic illustration Paul and Barnabas use to illustrate their judgment against these bad and ugly listeners. “But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium” (Acts 13:51). The shaking off the dust is symbolic. They rejected the truth, so Paul and Barnabas reject even the dust gathered from their city streets which have collected upon their feet. The dust is what will be left of those who reject the Gospel.
The good listeners are appointed to Eternal Life. “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Those appointed does not mean that God is a respecter of persons. But that God accepts all who accept the Gospel.
A further blessing of receiving the Word was “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). While the bad and ugly listeners were still filled with envy.
What kind of listener are you? Good? Bad? Ugly? The type of listener you are in regard to the Gospel will determine your eternal destiny.
– Daniel R. Vess