What’s the Difference Between Listening to And Hearing the Word?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Jesus said that everyone who hears His words and keep His words will receive eternal life, so what’s the difference between listening to the Word of God and hearing the Word of God?

Hearing the Word

Jesus said that everyone who hears His words and keep His words will receive eternal life, so what’s the difference between listening to the Word of God and hearing the Word of God? Our Lord said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). We can hear how to put on a parachute, but we are careful to really listen close if it means we might have to jump. We might hear things in the background, but if there’s engine noise on our plane, then we’re listening a little closer, right? That is, we’re really paying attention. Today we can still hear Jesus’ words as found in Scripture, but if we stop at hearing and not believing in them, we’ve missed the boat. The word “believe” comes from an Old English word, meaning “to live,” so if you are believing, you will be living what you are believing (with apologies to my old English teacher). In other words, you are living out what you are believing. We actually show we believe in Jesus when we hear His Word and listen to His Word but also obey His Word.

Listening to the Word

We know we have the pure, unadulterated Word of God in our hands today. Regarding the Old Testament, the author of Hebrews wrote, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Heb 1:1), but also we have the New Testament, coming through the apostles and Jesus Christ, Who “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Heb 1:2). Having or preserving the purity of the Word of God changed the reason for Jude writing his letter or epistle, saying he “was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). And that faith is still around today, being faithfully delivered by believers, although Satan has his own perverted versions of the gospel, which is no gospel at all, but we are without excuse in failing to hear the Word and listen to the Word (read) and obey the Word. Scripture is sufficient for us to saved and the Spirit efficient to reveal our need for Christ. If only we would listen and hear God’s voice.

Keeping His Word

God warned the early church, mostly Jewish, to “not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness” (Heb 3:8). Ancient Israel heard the Word and listened perhaps, but they did not really obey it. Instead they grumbled against a good God. To refuse to hear and obey the Word of God puts the listener at risk for responsibility in hearing the gospel. To whomever more is given, more will be required (Luke 12:48). This is why God pleads with the sinner, while it is yet today (2 Cor 6:2), saying, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Heb 3:15). It is more than listening to His word, but doing His Word, for “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24).

Obeying His Word

You can drive if you have a licensed car, driver’s license, and so on, but that doesn’t mean you’re free to break the law. You can read or listen to the laws of the land, but if you still refuse to obey them, they will break you (and me). Many might claim to know Jesus as Lord, but these same many will be turned away someday because they were not really doing or keeping His Word (Matt 7:21-23). Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. . . . For the Son of Man . . . will reward each person according to what they have done’” (Matt 16:24-25, 27). If we lose our own life, it means we give up our own agenda, and take up Christ’s agenda (Matt 28:18-20), then we’re obeying His Word. We are doing more than just listening to His Word. We are doing more than just hearing His Word. We are obedient to His Word, sharing His Word (Matt 25:35-36, 40).


Everyone listens…but do they really hear? Many people look, but do they really see?  We can read the Word of God but if  we’re not listening to what it’s saying, we’ll miss the opportuity to obey the Word.  That means we’ll miss opportunities to be the Body of Christ that Jesus intends for us to be (Eph 2:10).  We can hear things but it can go in one ear and out the other, however if we really listen close and pay strict attention, we can remember the Word of God and Jesus’ teachings. We can listen to His Word, we can hear His Word, and then we can obey His Word by memorizing His Word. The Spirit will be our Helper in this process, but if we only listen, we’re not really hearing, and if we’re not really hearing what the Spirit says, we’ll not be doing what the Word says. We must listen…we must hear…and we must obey. All other ground is sinking sand.

Here is some related reading for you: How Can I Hear From God?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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