Why Attentive Listening Is Essential for the Witness of the Church Today

“In our minds holiness is usually about what we abstain from. But Jesus saw holiness as what you give yourself to. Namely mercy, love and hospitality. In the end, the holiest person is the one who loves well.” —Rich Villodas

Holiness Begins Not With Abstinence But Sharing in Christ.

We habitually associate holiness with the act of abstinence. After all, holiness in the Scripture is linked to avoiding things that can contaminate our body and spirit (Lev. 11:44; 2 Cor. 7:1).

But holiness is first and foremost an attribute of God. “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16, Lev. 11:44-45) is not God’s demand for us to practice an outward imitation as morally superior people; it is a statement of who we are in Christ as a result of our union with him.

Our holiness does not originate from an act of abstinence, it begins with the act of sharing. We share in Christ and partake of him (Heb. 3:14, 2 Pet. 1:4). Holiness starts from us sharing God’s holiness (Heb. 12:10). It is not a bunch of “do-not”s that resembles the foolish list of “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”(Col. 2:21). It is no surprise John Wesley defined holiness as “perfect love” while J.C. Ryle described holiness as “the habit of being of one mind with God”—both indicate a type of unity and harmony with God.

Pursuit of Peace and Holiness Go Together.

Just as union with Christ is a continuous matter, holiness is also a continuous pursuit (Heb. 14:12). But it is not merely an individual but a corporate one, for we are called to be a “holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9). To live out this holiness corporately, we must also pursue peace with all people:

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

This holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord, mirrors in a striking manner the purity mentioned in Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Where, however, do we see God? The Beatitudes as a kingdom manifesto are not to be read as something far in a distant future. Here, Jesus clearly is not referring to our meeting with the Lord face to face after we die. Rather, God’s fingerprints are everywhere to be seen at the moment: through his creation, his Word, his people and our neighbor via common grace.

The pure in heart in God’s kingdom see God everywhere because they sit from a posture of humility. They want to see and learn from the Christ in each member of the body. They assume the best of everyone. Consider Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without grumbling or disputing, so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent” (emphasis mine).

Innocent here is sometimes translated as “pure.” Peacemaking displays our pure heart and leads to blameless behaviors.

Attentive Listening: An Act of Peacemaking and a Sign of Purity

“Disunity is the result of many necessary conversations never had.” —Kyle J. Howard

If we desire to pursue holiness together with a pure heart, we will see the need of conversations.

Real conversations, however, require not just talking—but also attentive listening.

The pure in heart play no double standard. They listen to the word of God attentively, and they do the same to their brothers and sisters, knowing Christ also speaks through the members of the body. They understand what Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together:

“But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either. They will always be talking even in the presence of God … Those who cannot listen long and patiently will always be talking past others, and finally no longer will even notice it. Those who think their time is too precious to spend listening will never really have time for God and others, but only for themselves and for their own words and plans.”

Many conversations go to waste because of the lack of careful listening. Bonhoeffer says later:

“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.” [4]

If we constantly see flaws in other people’ eyes, it only proves one thing: we have logs in our own eyes (Matt. 7:3–5). If we constantly refuse to listen but impute impure motives into others and assume the worst of others, it only reflects the impurities and pride of our own hearts.

Create in Us a Pure Heart

David Turner, reader of All Souls Church London, spoke recently that while we are not to forsake gospel truth, being defensive of our own version of truth to an extent of abandoning peacemaking is just as troubling as wanting to make peace by abandoning the gospel. Peace is not always achievable, but we should strive to maintain it: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceable with all” (Rom. 12:18).

“Holiness” is not a license to burn bridges.

“Purity” is not an excuse to stir up quarrels.

Holiness is a product of sharing in Christ which prompts us to a corporate pursuit of peace that requires attentive listening out of a pure heart. It moves us to listen as our brothers and sisters’ keepers rather than to wrangle as self-proclaimed gate-keepers. Let us then pray together—for the sake of God, his body and our neighbor—David’s prayer:

“Create in us a pure heart, O God.” —Psalm 51:10

This article originally appeared on MissioAlliance.com.

Keri Hui
Keri Hui

Keri Hui is currently a student at King’s College London—Hong Kong University, and attends All Souls Church in London, England.