Christians Should Be Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak


Christians Should Be Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak. In James 1:19 Christians are instructed: ‘My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry’(NIV). This is a great principle that every believer should be trying to follow.

All of us have surely fallen into the trap of not listening properly and speaking too soon at times, and for many I think this is a bad habit that needs some real attention.

When we speak before listening carefully enough, our words are probably going to be misguided to some degree and can often cause problems. This can happen in various situations.

In the verse itself, the instruction to be slow to speak is immediately followed by another that we must be slow to get angry. Being slow to get angry is a worthwhile thing to strive for in its own right, but it also ties in with one way in which being quick to listen and slow to speak is a good principle to live by. All too often someone can lose their temper with a person, only to find out later that they had rushed to judgement and that that person was not in the wrong in the way they first thought.

Getting angry with people when they don’t deserve it can often really damage relationships. Much of this can be avoided simply by being quick to listen and slow to speak.

Another area in which this principle is very helpful is when giving people advice. One of the marks of a good Christian counsellor is that they are good at listening and will not rush to give advice before taking on board and considering carefully all that the counsellee is saying. They will also often be cautious about the advice that they give, avoiding simplistic over-confidence about the benefit of what they are saying.

Going to someone for advice and being given a quick-fire solution that will supposedly solve the problem easily is usually just going to lead to disappointment. A carefully considered response is much more likely to be helpful.

When we are forming our views on things is another time that being quick to listen and slow to speak is an excellent principle to follow. For those of us who live in Western countries this means going against the grain of the culture, which encourages people to have views on things even when they have little knowledge of the matter in question.

There is a good side to this aspect of Western culture, insofar as people are encouraged not to blindly follow the views of others. But in the West it is seen as normal and appropriate for people to voice confident opinions on almost any matter they choose to, even if they have little knowledge of the subject, and this is very unhelpful.

TV news reports, as we know, often have interviews with members of the public, asking them what they think about various issues and airing their answers. I am in my 40s and I have always taken an interest in what goes on in the world, but on many occasions when I have felt that I don’t know enough about an issue to have much of an opinion on it, I have seen interviewees on TV, sometimes children, voicing confident opinions about that issue in a very simplistic way. And the interviewer always seems to give the impression that the opinion of the person who voices it is valid and worthwhile.

Of course, there are times when even the most unlearned people can have clear insight into the will of God on a subject, including when that subject is a moral issue. But nevertheless, Western culture encourages us to be quick to speak and slow to listen when giving our views on things, and this is something that Christians should resist.

Similarly, in forming our views on specifically Christian issues we should all be quick to listen and slow to speak. There are many Christians who always seem to have confident opinions on every area of Christian theology or practice and are not slow to say what they think.

I would suggest that if someone is confident about what is true in all or almost all aspects of Christian life and belief, something has probably gone wrong. The apostle Paul speaks of Christian insight in this life as being like seeing indistinctly in a mirror (1 Cor 13:12). In ancient times mirrors were made of polished metal, and when people looked into them the image they saw was a hazy one, just like the image we can see if we look at a piece of polished metal today. Paul is saying that here on earth we don’t see things clearly. This surely means that it is normal for Christians to be uncertain about many things.

I am well aware that this mustn’t be taken too far. The Bible is clear about many issues, and as we grow as Christians we should be growing in our insight into things. But in my experience, despite a lot of prayer and thinking about some matters, I have not been able to reach confident conclusions on them, although I have been a Christian for many years now. However, I don’t think this is unusual or contrary to the normal Christian life as it is found in Scripture.

Again, Western culture is unhelpful at this point, since this culture encourages us to think that holding strong opinions on things is a virtue. Someone who really knows what they believe is held in esteem in a Western value system.

I would suggest that this is sheer nonsense. What people believe is the all-important factor. It is much better not to have a clue about something than to have a firmly held belief that is opposed to the will of God. Even to cautiously hold a wrong belief is better than to firmly hold it.

In addition to the examples I have given, there are doubtless many other ways too in which being quick to listen and slow to speak is going to be beneficial. Whenever someone is slow to listen and quick to speak, in whatever situation, they are failing to act in humility. Something of that person is forcing itself onto the scene in a self-centred way. When we are listening, however, something other than ourselves has to be the focus.

The better we act out the principle of being quick to listen and slow to speak, the more Christ-like we will become and the more we will be able to help others.

Also read: Why You Must Never Retaliate

Written by Max Aplin