APOLOGETIC EVANGELISM – Pay Attention to How You Listen

Active Listening_04

Luke 8:18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

18 Therefore, take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.”

Jesus’ caution to his audience about how they listen proves just as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago. If one only hears the words, but not what lies behind those words, he will find himself in trouble with his spouse, children, employer, and everyone else he communicates with daily. More importantly, it could jeopardize one’s hope of eternal life. We need to consider more than the words themselves.

We must hear the words that are spoken, as well as the way it is said, the tone and the body language, to get the sense of what someone means. A common complaint of wives to husbands is that they passively listen to them, blocking out much of what they do not want to hear because they oppose or are not interested in what she is saying. Sadly, we tend to be less appreciative of those who are closest to us than total strangers. Active listening is a form of listening that results in the speaker and listener having a full understanding of what is meant. There are seven points to active listening:

(1) Pay close attention to what is being said; listen for the ideas behind the words. Do not just hear, but also feel the words. Let the speaker know that you are listening, by leaning forward a little, looking at him, not staring, but having sufficient eye contact.

(2) Look at a facial expression, the tone of the voice, the inflection of the voice, the mood and body language. Get at the feelings behind the words. People generally do not say all that is on their mind or convey their true feelings at times, so the listener must pay close attention to the non-verbal signs.

(3)  Turn off your internal thinking as much as possible. In other words, do not be thinking of how to respond to certain points while he is still talking, because you are going to miss the whole of what he has said.

(4)  Let the speaker know you are paying attention by nodding from time to time, as well as acknowledging with verbal gestures.

(5) Reiterate is not a common word, but it means to repeat what you think the person meant by what they said, but in your own words, to see if you understood them correctly. “So, you mean … right?”

(6) The person you are speaking with will acknowledge that you are correct, or he will correct you and will restate what they meant, and likely in a more comprehensive way since you misunderstood. Pay even closer attention as they explain again, what they meant.

(7) When they have explained their message again, you must repeat your reiteration.

Considering how to listen proves vital if we are going to be an effective evangelizer. There has been no greater teacher than Jesus Christ because he was an effective communicator, as well as an active listener. While some may be effective speakers, very motivational and moving, they lack teaching skills. Every time we open our mouths to share the Good News with another person, be it five minutes, or an ongoing study with them, we must build a relationship with them.

Jesus in the Temple at Twelve Years Old

Luke 2:41-47 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

41 Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to the custom of the feast. 43 And after the days were completed, while they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. And his parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the company, they went a day’s journey; and they began looking for him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for him. 46 Then, it occurred, after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers and listening to them and questioning them47 And all those listening to him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

This incident develops into something far more magnificent than one might first realize. Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament helps the reader appreciate that the Greek word eperotao, which means to ask, to question, to demand of, for “questioning” was far more than the Greek word erotao to ask, to request, to entreat, for a boy’s inquisitiveness. Eperotao can refer to questioning, which one might hear in a judicial hearing, such as a scrutiny, inquiry, counter questioning, even the “probing and cunning questions of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” for instance those we find in Mark 10:2 and 12:18-23.

The same dictionary continues: “In [the] face of this usage it may be asked whether … [Luke] 2:46 denotes, not so much the questioning curiosity of the boy, but rather His successful disputing. [Verse] 47 would fit in well with the latter view.” Rotherham’s translation of verse 47 presents it as a dramatic confrontation: “Now all who heard him were beside themselves, because of his understanding and his answers.” Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament says that their constant amazement means, “They stood out of themselves as if their eyes were bulging out.”

After returning to Jerusalem, and three days of searching, they found young Jesus in the Temple, questioning the Jewish religious leaders, to which “they were astounded.” (Luke 2:48) Robertson said of this, “(The) second aorist passive indicative of an old Greek word [ekplesso]), to strike out, drive out by a blow. Joseph and Mary ‘were struck out’ by what they saw and heard. Even they had not fully realized the power in this wonderful boy.”[1] Thus, at twelve years old, Jesus, but a boy, is already demonstrating he is a great teacher and defender of truth. BDAG says, “To cause to be filled with amazement to the point of being overwhelmed, amaze, astound, overwhelm (lit., strike out of one’s senses).”[2]

The Jewish culture, and especially Jesus’ Jewish family, displayed an effective ability to listen. The Jewish religious leaders, on the other hand, seemed eager to speak, not listen. Jesus was not in the temple to win conversations with the greatest teachers of Jewish Law, but rather to listen. It says in verse 46 that the twelve-year-old Jesus was “listening to them.” Once he listened to them, he then knew what they meant, their motives for what they said, and it was at that time, he proceeded in “asking them questions.” Good listening leads to good questions.

Verse 47 says, “All who heard him were amazed at his insight and his answers,” which means that Jesus’ questions were intensely insightful, and even penetrating. If one finds himself in a conversation with a Bible critic in a public setting, where others are listening, we must listen. If one discerns that the Bible critic does not have a receptive heart, and nothing we say will open his eyes to the truth of God’s Word, we must consider others who may be listening. Because of that larger audience, one will then do as Jesus did, use effective questions to put the Bible critic on defense, so that those around know we do have answers for the criticisms, giving them faith in the message they heard.

Do Not Allow Yourself to Get in the Way

Passive involvement in a discussion can lead to getting in the way of our own objective. One must be aware that not everyone has taken the time to read a book on effective communication. Therefore, a person in the conversation may be someone who goes on for some time and gets lost or sidetracked with other subjects not relevant to the discussion. If that occurs, respectfully stop them, and briefly explain that it would be best to stay on topic, and offer that person the point that they were making.

Overzealousness also proves another way that we get in the way of our own objective. A trap that one can fall into with a very active mind is anticipating what the speaker will say. It can be rude to interrupt them by finishing their thoughts, or worse, to assume what they will say, and then offer feedback on one’s assumption. Many times, that leads to the response, “I was not going to say that at all, what I was going to say was ….” Each time one interrupts the other speaker unnecessarily, that person withdraws further and further from being an active participant in the conversation. Rather, let the person finish their thoughts and hold off for a few seconds to see if they will start again before you respond.

The person, who may seem like a Bible critic, can make a believer defensive, which can unnerve most evangelists. If someone approaches a believer with an alleged error or contradiction, what should we do? We should be frank and honest. If we do not have an answer, we should admit such. If the text in question gives the appearance of difficulty, we should admit this as well. If a believer remains unsure how to answer, simply say that you will look into it and get back to them, returning with a reasonable response.

However, do not express disbelief and doubt to people who have legitimate concerns about the Bible, because they will be moved even further in their disbelief. Moreover, it will put them on offense and place the believer on defense. With great confidence, tell them there is an answer. The Bible has withstood the test of 2,000 years of persecution and is the most printed book of all time, currently being translated into 2,287 languages. If these critical questions threatened its credibility, the Bible would not be the book that it is.

The evangelist must keep Paul’s words “knowledge puffs up” at the fore of his thinking because as one grows in knowledge and understanding, it is too easy to fall prey to a haughty spirit. After the evangelist has spent hundreds of hours listening to unbelievers talk about the Bible, one will hear the same thing many times. This is like watching the same uninteresting movie dozens of times. This can cause the evangelist to start speaking in a disdainful tone to the person who is speaking. It may be blatant, or even subtle, but the unbeliever will notice it, and while they may respectfully finish the conversation with the evangelist, they will not care what the believer said before the end of the conversation.

Proverbs 16:18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

18 Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.

In the end, God has given each of us the right to make our own decisions. The evangelist that respects another person’s right to their views may win the day in the end. If a Bible critic goes through a conversation with both speakers having an equal time, they will feel were respected. They will be open to speaking to another Christian at another time. We must keep in mind that we are planting seeds of truth. Life experiences have a way of altering heart conditions. One unbeliever may have something happen in their life, which makes them more receptive to Bible truths, and the next Christian they engage will have success in watering those seeds.

Getting Beneath the Surface

In witnessing to others, there will come times when one feels the other person is holding back. The unbeliever really does not want to go deeper into the conversation because perhaps she does not wish to offend. Maybe she views the Bible or God as foolish, and anyone that holds them as truth, just as foolish. Therefore, they just give surface answers to finish the conversation. Gently and respectfully ask some questions that will probe beneath the surface answers that she has been supplying. One could ask, “Can you tell me more about …? What is it that has brought you to this conclusion?”

In some cases, people hold back because of past hurts. Maybe their child died, and this has only reinforced to them that there cannot be a loving God. They may not feel like sharing the hurt, so he attempts to get out of the conversation. If a couple of tactful questions might get them to open up, go ahead. However, if it seems that additional questions will do more damage than good, let it go because they will respect the believer for handling the conservation that way. On the other hand, if the searching questions prove effective, and the person becomes emotional in explaining why they have not been able to accept God, do not get analytical; rather, be a comforter who is an empathetic and understanding listener.

How questions are asked can make all the difference. If one seeks answers that lie beneath the surface, we should avoid the “why” questions because they come across in more like an interrogation. This may make the other person close down even further. You can use qualifiers to get deeper. Thus, it would not be, “Why do you not believe in God?” Rather it would be, “What has contributed to your understanding of God?” Another way might be to ask, “How have you have come to your current position on God?” Searching questions at the right time come about because a believer has been an active listener.


Spend one week doing nothing but listening and asking questions of people. You can offer some thoughts but focus on drawing out everyone you meet: family, friends, coworkers, fellow Christians and anyone you evangelize. Let your questions draw out their inner thoughts and use their answers, to enable you to ask more questions and acknowledge that you were listening in some way.

Biblical Interpretation: After reading James 4:7, The student will explain the results of the steps that he followed:

Step 1: What is the historical setting and background for the author of the book and his audience? Who wrote the book? When and under what circumstances was the book written? Where was the book written? Who were the recipients of the book? Was there anything noteworthy about the place of the recipients? What is the theme of the book? What was the purpose for writing the book?

Step 2a: What would this text have meant to the original audience? (The meaning of a text is what the author meant by the words that he used, as should have been understood by his readers.)

Step 2b: If there are any words in this section that one does not understand, or that stand out as interesting words that may shed insight on its meaning, look them up in a word dictionary, such as Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

Step 2c: After reading your section from the three Bible translations, doing a word study, write down what you think the author meant. Then, pick up a trustworthy commentary, such as Holman Old or New Testament commentary volume, and see if you have it correct.

Step 3: Explain the original meaning in one or two sentences, preferably one. Then, take the sentence or two; place it in a short phrase.

Step 4: Now, consider their circumstances, the reason for it being written, what it meant to them, and consider examples from our day that would be similar to theirs, which would fit the pattern of meaning. What implications can be drawn from the original meaning?

Step 5: Find the pattern of meaning, the “thing like these,” and consider how it could apply to our modern-day life. How should individual Christians today live out the implications and principles?

Review Questions

  • Why should we “consider how we listen?” What are the five points to active listening?
  • Why might we address a Bible critic’s questions in a public setting?

Why is it best, respectfully, to stop a person, who is jumping from subject to subject? What is the result of being too active in the conversation, unnecessarily interrupting? How should we handle a question on the Bible when we do not know the answer? Why can we express confidence in the trustworthiness of the Bible, even if we do not have an answer to the current question? Even though we may have heard it all before, why should we approach a person’s concerns as though it were the first time? Even though we may not overturn false reasoning, what might a respectful attitude accomplish in the end?

[1] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Lk 2:48.

[2] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 308.







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