Be Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak

March 6, 2011

One of the major causes of conflict among believers is our inability to control our tongue. We recklessly blurt out whatever comes to our mind, or quickly pass on unverified information we hear. To those who have loose tongues, Jesus warned, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37). It is important that believers be mindful of what they say, because it reflects what is in their hearts. Our ability to speak properly is also influenced by what we hear. Many are poor listeners and are rash in their speech. Ultimately, they find themselves in trouble and are treated as fools. No wonder the Book of Proverbs says, “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame” (Prov. 18:13).

The problem with many is that they are not skilful listeners. They hear, but they do not listen. What is the difference between hearing and listening? Hearing is the ability to sense or perceive sound, while listening involves a conscious effort to understand and interpret the sound. Therefore, we are admonished, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Now, we have to be selective with what we listen to. We are to listen to the Word of the Lord more than the words of men. In many instances, we crave more for the words of men, even if they are tainted with slander. The Bible tells us that “the words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” (Prov. 18:8). The words of a gossip know no bounds. Gossip betrays confidence and destroys relationships. Therefore, we are warned, “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much” (Prov. 20:19).

The warning to avoid a man who talks too much is not without basis, because “when words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Prov. 10:19). Necessarily, when there are more words, we are more likely to utter something that could cause us to sin. Many make the common mistake of using an overabundance of words to explain their way out, because in doing so, they find themselves deeper in trouble. The best response is to be quiet, listen and wait for the opportune time. Again, the Book of Proverbs tells us, “a word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Prov. 25:11). In fact, King Solomon, in his wisdom, finally concluded, “The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?” (Eccl. 6:11). This is the reason why many go in circles, trying to explain themselves, and yet the hearers are not grasping the meaning. There is too much information to digest and they can barely understand anything.

The importance of being a good listener cannot be overemphasized. Adam and Eve were poor listeners and, as a consequence, they sinned. While they were commanded, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:16-17), they added a phrase that the devil took as a sign of weakness—and that they did not fully understand the command given to them. When the devil challenged Eve on her knowledge of the command, she responded, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Gen. 3:2-3). God never commanded them not to touch it. In this case, either Adam was not a good listener and passed on the wrong command to Eve, or Eve did not hear it right from Adam and misquoted the command to the devil. There was a complete failure in listening and communicating the command. Because of this, it can be presumed that Eve was tempted and actually touched the fruit many times before she decided to eat it. Since her initial touching of the fruit did not bring about what she was wrongly made to believe as the threatened consequence, she finally submitted to the devil’s temptation and ate it. Friends, let us avoid the same error. Let us master the art of listening. It is always good to be quick to listen and slow to speak. In fact, “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Prov. 17:28). While the apostle James called the tongue a restless evil and full of deadly poison, let us offer it to God and use it for his glory. Praise the Lord!