When I study the Hebrew roots of my Christian faith I often discover a difference between the Hebrew meaning of words and my Greek knowledge of them. One such word is “hearing” which in Hebrew is “shema” (pronounced “shmah”). Shema means to hear or listen.
In our culture, hearing is often a passive activity that our ears do. But in scripture, the word “shema” means not only hearing but gaining wisdom and understanding, taking heed, being obedient, doing what is asked. When I asked one of my kids to do something, I would often follow it up with “did you hear me?” because I expected action. I expected them to hear what I said, get up and go do it. That is also the expected response to God’s word.
Interestingly, whenever the Bible uses the word “obey” it is often translated from the word “shema”. To hear is to obey. This translation helps us understand why Jesus frequently said “he who has ears to hear, let him hear” after teaching or telling a parable. The expectation was, if someone hears, he will act on what he has heard.
The prayer that observant Jews say every morning and evening, based on Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is also called the Shema:
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
To hear that command is not considered complete until the love for the Lord becomes an active expression in every aspect of daily life.
The kind of spiritual hearing that becomes active in our Christian faith is what helps us become doers of the word and not hearers only as James 1:22 instructs. Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, and we must act on it to receive it. It is also the kind of hearing Paul referred to in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 when he commended the church for their obedience to God’s word:
“For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”
It’s only when we are willing to step out in active obedience to God’s word, hearing with our hearts and not our ears only, that we will experience the transforming power of it in our lives.
Check out an earlier post by Cindy here.