Speeches can be divided into two categories. Some speeches are given merely to entertain. When heard, they are in a sense consumed at that moment. Nothing lasting is expected from them. The after-dinner speech is a good example of this type. We enjoy it, but nothing further is expected from us as listeners.
The second kind of speech is the one that intends to make a lasting impression. This speech is designed to inform or motivate the listener. The lecture of a teacher is a good example of this type. The final exam always involves more than simply: were you there when the lecture was given.
It is perilous for the listener when he confuses the second kind of speech with the first. Merely consuming and enjoying a lesson intended to inform or motivate is to fail as a listener. The consequences depend on what kinds of lessons are being ignored.
Such was the situation in the days of Ezekiel. He ministered to the Jews in captivity in the years before and after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The people enjoyed hearing him, but they were approaching his words in the wrong way. God says to Ezekiel:
As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. (Ezekiel 33:30-32, NIV)
The people could give Ezekiel compliments for the enjoyment of his lessons, but they failed as listeners. They failed to put into practice God’s message.
This raises an interesting question for the church. The goal of those who teach and preach is in the words of Peter: “whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11, RSV). The goal for teachers and preachers is to make the content God’s message not their own. The question we must ask is: can we fall into the same trap as the people of Ezekiel’s day? Can we view those who speak to us as “singers of beautiful songs” and then fail to be doers of the word we have heard (see James 1:22-25)? Each must search his own heart, but the message from the book of Ezekiel is clear. As listeners, hearing God’s word must be more than entertainment.