Hearing and Keeping God’s Word

Adapted from a Prayer Meeting exhortation by Linus Chua on 28 Dec 2003

"And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it" (Luke 11:27-28).

The verses that precede our text and the verses that follow after can be found in other gospels. However, Luke is the only gospel writer who records this incident between a certain woman and the Lord Jesus.

It is interesting to note that Luke, more than the other gospel writers, reveals to us the Lord’s tender and profound regard for women. Think for example of the prominence that he gives to Mary and Elizabeth, early in the book. Then think of Anna the prophetess and Joanna, the loyal follower of Christ, who are only mentioned in this gospel. Think also of that beautiful story in which Mary sat at the feet of Christ to hear His word while her sister Martha was busy with the domestic duties. Again, only Luke records that incident. Or how about the parable of the widow and the unjust judge, which we only find in Luke’s gospel? There are other examples including our text.

And so Luke would have us remember never to think that God has less regard or concern for the weaker vessel. Indeed, as the apostle Paul wrote, "There is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus and heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3:28-29).

Let’s consider the immediate context of our text. Christ had just performed a wonderful miracle. But not every one was impressed. Some, especially the Pharisees were skeptical. In fact, they concluded that He had cast out the devil by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. But Christ knew their thoughts, and answered them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation and a house divided against a house falleth." In other words, if what the Pharisees had said were true, then Satan would be fighting against himself and destroying his own work, which would be unreasonable. Christ then went on to show them that He, as the stronger man, had come to defeat Satan and to divide his spoils.

Now when He had finished saying these things, a certain woman in the crowd who was so impressed by what He had both said and done, cried out, "Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked." We are not told who this woman was, but we know that she had a totally different view of Jesus from the Pharisees. Unlike the Pharisees, who despised and even blasphemed the Lord, this woman recognized the uniqueness of the Lord’s power and wisdom, and she openly and boldly pronounced a benediction. Perhaps she even recognized that Jesus was the seed of the woman who had come to crush the head of the serpent. After all, Christ had just cast out the devil by the finger of God, and had thus demonstrated His power over the kingdom of darkness.

As she reflected on what Christ had said and done, she must have also thought in her heart, "How truly blessed his mother must be to have such a wonderful son as Him!"

She could not refrain herself but blessed His mother publicly. Was this woman right in saying what she did? Well of course she was! Remember what Elizabeth, who was filled with the Holy Spirit, said to Mary, "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:42-43). In fact, Mary herself said, "My soul doth magnify the Lord…for He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed" (Lk 1:46, 48).

Yes, what this woman said was right. Matthew Henry, in his commentary says, "All that embrace Christ and his gospel will say,Blessed was the womb that bore him and the paps which he sucked," Indeed, it was a wonderful and true statement, but it was not quite complete as we shall see in Christ’s reply.

Notice that Christ did not rebuke or correct the woman for what she said. Instead, He used the word "rather". In other words, He did not deny that His mother was blessed. In fact, He confirmed it. But Christ also broadened the scope and widened the sphere of true blessedness so as to include not only His mother, but all those who are true and sincere believers.

Let us consider Christ’s reply to the woman in two ways: (1) negatively – what Christ did not say, and (2) positively – what He actually said.

What Christ did not Say…

Firstly, Christ did not say, "Blessed are they that hear the word of God." While hearing God’s word is good, it is not enough. Christ, in His parable of the sower, warns us of the various kinds of hearers who come short of true blessedness. And so we are reminded that it is not merely hearing, but keeping and observing the Word of God which makes men blessed. The puritan Christopher Love said, "The Lord does not bless you for hearing as many sermons as there are days in the year. But He blesses those who hear in obedience to His command and practice what they hear."

Secondly, notice that Christ did not say, "Blessed are you who keep God’s word." Again, keeping God’s word is vital but Christ does not want us to think that hearing the Word is not important and that a person can keep the word without hearing it. Our keeping of God’s word must always be in conjunction with and not separated from the hearing of it. The two must go together. It is foolish to think that you can leave off hearing while at the same time think that you can keep it. Only those who both hear and keep the Word are blessed.

Thirdly, observe that Christ did not say, "Blessed shall they be who hear and keep the Word of God", but "Blessed are they". This shows us that we shall not only be blessed in the life to come but that we’ll be blessed in so doing while we are here on earth. We don’t need to wait till eternity to enjoy the fruits and benefits of hearing and keeping God’s word. We can enjoy them right now.

Fourthly, notice that Christ did not merely say, "Blessed are they who hear", but "Blessed are they who hear the Word of God." I think this is especially relevant in our age when people don’t want to hear or keep God’s word anymore. The true and pure word of God is quite frankly out of fashion and out dated. There are better things to talk about and do these days. And so Paul warns us of a time when men will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Tim 4:3-4) But the word of Christ in our text is very clear – unless you hear and keepGod’s word, you’ll not enjoy true blessedness.

Fifthly, Christ did not say, "Blessed are they who hear My word", but "they who hear God’s word". While it is certainly true that the words of Christ are the words of God because Christ is the second person of the Godhead, yet on this occasion, Christ was careful not to use the phrase "My word" but "God’s Word". I believe that the reason is because He did not want the people to think that He had assigned a blessing only to His own preaching and to no one else. In other words, He didn’t want the people to go away with the wrong impression that unless they heard Him preach personally, they would not be blessed. And so Christ said, "Rather blessed are they who hear God’s word" – the word of God – be it preached by Peter or Paul or Timothy or by any minister of the gospel who shall come after Him till the end of the world. Christ would not limit the blessing to His own preaching but extends it to the preaching of all true ministers.

And so we have seen five things that Christ did not say as He responded to the woman’s benediction. Let’s now focus our attention on what He actually said.

What He actually said…

Christ said, "Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." From these words, we may draw one very simple and yet profound doctrine – that a believer who hears and obeys God’s word is more blessed in so doing than the Virgin Mary was for bringing Christ into this world. This is remarkable especially when you consider how highly blessed and honoured Mary was for being the mother of Christ. The angel Gabriel’s said to Mary, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women" (Lk 1:28). Mary was to be the mother of the long expected Messiah. Countless millions of Jewish mothers through the centuries earnestly desired to be the one to bring the Messiah into this world. But out of them all, the Lord chose a poor virgin of Nazareth to be the Messiah’s bearer. What a blessing and honour it was for Mary!

Yet here in our text, we see that it is a greater blessing and honour to hear God’s word and to obey it. Oh how this ought to spur us on to hear and to practice what we hear seeing that in so doing we will be more blessed than Mary for bringing Christ into this world!

Now by the phrase "hearing the word of God", we are to understand it as referring primarily to hearing the preaching of God’s word. It is primarily the preaching of God’s word that the Holy Spirit is pleased to make effectual to our salvation, as 1 Cor 1:21 says, "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." And in Acts 26:18, we are told that Paul was commissioned by Christ to preach to the Gentiles so that through his ministry, their eyes may be opened and that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Christ. It’s amazing what preaching can do, isn’t it? Yes, the preaching of God’s word, when it is accompanied by the Holy Spirit’s working, is the power of God unto salvation.

Well then, how are we to hear the Word of God as it is being preached? We must, in the words of our shorter catechism Q. 90, attend to it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love; lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives. I will like to just highlight one aspect of hearing God’s word and it is this – that we must be attentive rather than dull hearers of the word. Yes, outwardly, we may be sitting down quietly and comfortably listening to the sermon each week. But inwardly, our minds and our hearts should be actively and attentively following it. Luke 19:48 says, "all the people were very attentive to hear him (i.e. to hear Christ who was teaching daily in the temple)." The word rendered "attentive" literally means to hang upon the lips of the speaker and it signifies that the people heard Christ with great eagerness and diligence, and were ready to catch every word that dropped from His lips! And as Thomas Watson says, "Give attention to the word as to a matter of life and death." A matter of life and death…Yes, that’s the way we ought to hear God’s word every time!

Now we move on to the question – what does it mean to keep God’s word?

Firstly, it means to keep it in our memories. Oh how quickly and easily it is for us to forget what we have heard! We may have listened well during the sermon but if we don’t follow up on it afterwards, we will soon lose what we have heard. It’ll be good if we could discipline ourselves to set aside some time during the week, perhaps midweek, just to recall what we have heard on the Lord’s Day, and to meditate and pray over it. I think it’ll go a long way in helping us keep God’s word in our memories.

Secondly, keeping God’s word means practicing and observing it in our lives. It means ordering our thoughts, words and deeds in a way that is consistent and answerable to what we have heard. It is about making the word of God come alive in our daily lives. It is to be "a doer of the word and not a hearer only" as James puts it. Now if hearing sermons and remembering them well is difficult, putting them into practice can often be the most difficult! By nature we resist God’s word especially when it requires us to repent and to change our sinful ways. And yet we must do it, if we are to please God and enjoy true blessedness.

The Scriptures remind us in many places of the importance of keeping and obeying God’s word. Christ Himself illustrates this truth by comparing the man who hears and does His word to a wise man who builds his house upon a solid foundation so that it is able to withstand the rain, the floods and the winds. And on the other hand, the man who hears but who does not do is likened to a foolish man who builds his house upon the sand so that when the storm comes, that house is utterly demolished. This illustration is so graphic that we cannot forget it; and we must not forget the great importance of doing and keeping God’s word.

We have briefly considered the words of Christ in this text. Let’s now make some simple applications.


Firstly, we must examine our lives to see if we have indeed been hearing and keeping God’s word. The year 2003 has just gone by. Today is the first Sabbath of the year. Most of us here would have heard at least fifty if not a hundred or more sermons over the last one year alone. The question we need to ask ourselves is this, "How much of all these sermons do I remember?" And more importantly, "How much of all these things have I really taken heed to and practiced in my life?" Let us spend some time to take stock of how we have heard and kept God’s word in the year gone by.

A day is coming when we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of our lives to Him – of the things that we have done in this body, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10). And one of the things that we have to account for is what we have done with the numerous sermons we have heard week after week and year after year. Can we say to Him in that day, "My Lord, I have indeed taken heed to all thy words. I have treasured them in my heart and practiced them in my life." Or will we bow our heads in shame and say, "Oh Lord, thy words to me have fallen on hard ground and have brought forth no fruit", and then like that foolish man who built his house upon the sand, we will suddenly feel our entire world collapsing and crumbling to the ground at that time.

It frightens me to think of how many sermons and exhortations I have allowed to fall to the ground in the years that I have been going to Church. How am I ever going to give an account of all those wasted opportunities? I can only pray that the Lord will have mercy and pardon my many failures. But what is past is past and none of us can do very much about it. Nevertheless, we can and must look ahead, and resolve to do better in future, which leads us to our second application:

Secondly, let us resolve to be better hearers and keepers of God’s word in the year ahead. Let us strive to improve the way we receive the Word especially on the Lord’s Day. If Christ tarries and if God does not suddenly remove His Word from among us then there will be another hundred or more sermons awaiting us in the year ahead. Are we going to let them slip by or are we going to cease every opportunity to hear the Word and to keep it?

Thirdly, let us learn to prize very highly each sermon that we have received. Let us never view our attendance at the means of grace as some sort of chore or duty that we have to do and get over with as soon as possible. It is a sure sign of spiritual declension when we drag our feet to the worship services and to hear the word preached. Let us be careful not to allow ourselves to grow cold and weary towards God’s word. If we do so, God may chastise us by removing it from us altogether. Again, as Christopher Love said, "When the Lord shall see a people grow weary of and wanton with the gospel, He will cut them short. He will make them know the worth of the gospel by the want of the gospel... Oh how careful then should we be to improve the means of grace while we enjoy them, for if the gospel is gone all is gone. We had better lose the light of the sun than the light of the gospel."

Finally, we should be ever thankful and grateful to the Lord for giving us a minister to preach His Word faithfully each week. We must never take him for granted. There are many congregations throughout the world who do not have true gospel ministers to expound God’s word to them. Thank God that this is not so in our church and that we do indeed have a faithful ministry.

But we must also pray regularly for our minister. We must pray that he may have wisdom and strength to do the work faithfully; and that he may be kept from the assaults of the devil which may come in numerous forms. But especially pray that our minister may have a word in season each week for us. Remember that if God doesn’t first give him the word, he will have nothing of spiritual benefit to say to us, and we in turn will not be blessed because we won’t be hearing God’s word. So remember to pray for him and thank God for graciously supplying to us His servant to labour in our midst.


We have seen a description of true blessedness from the words of our text this evening. We have seen that a believer who hears and obeys God’s word is more blessed in so doing than the Virgin Mary was for bringing Christ into the world (even though that was the happiest and most blessed birth in the history of mankind!). And how this thought ought to spur us on to a right hearing and keeping of God’s word in the year ahead. May it be so in all our lives. "And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified." Amen.