A loud and heated quarrel blows up between two people about…, you fill in the blank. Both talk just as fast as they can and with each passing word the noise level rises. If they were ever listening to each other, they’re not now and it seems like they do not care what the other is saying. At this point they each just want to win the battle of words.
Sadly, this may well describe exchanges we have all had far too often. Why we get into a war of words varies, but most of us are too quick to speak and too slow to hear. When we do not listen, but rather try to outshout someone, the result is never good. I have never known a conflict to end well when two people are yelling at each other. Instead, tension and anger can rise to a point where we just close our minds. It is as the wise man said, “A harsh word stirs up anger.” (Pro. 15:1)
James says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) We need to learn to hear better, and that means fully listening to what others say. Let them complete their thought and finish their point before trying to respond. As Solomon said, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Prov. 18:13) Honestly judge their words and statements before you disagree or answer.
We can make ourselves look pretty foolish when we speak before we know or think. Listen to the Proverbs, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Prov. 18:2) Sometimes it is just better to keep our mouths shut, than to speak up and confirm what people think of us. “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Prov. 17:28)
Good listening skills make life better in so many ways, but developing them is not easy. For example, when someone speaks, our focus needs to be on them and their words. We should be polite as they talk and try to understand their view. This may not be too hard when we admire our opponent and want to know what he has to say. (Acts 8:6) However, it can be painful to listen to someone we do not respect or we look down on. (John 9:27) Maybe they do not have the education nor the experience to be as wise and smart as us. (John 7:45-49) We may also dismiss their thoughts and beliefs because they are too old or too young. (1 Kings 12:8)
Listening is also difficult when we dislike the message. (Acts 4:18-21) As long as you agree with me and your words support my thinking then I love what you say. Have you ever gone into a chat with several people, disliking someone from the start because you thought he was going to oppose you, only to find out he thinks the way you do? The dumbest person in the room a moment ago, the one you thought would disagree with you, is now the smartest person in the room. When we like what people say it is easy to listen to them, but when we don’t, it is hard to give them a fair hearing. (Acts 23:6-10) If you think about it, the most disagreeable people may be the ones we need to listen to the most. They challenge and test us, and if they are wrong they need our patience and instruction. However, if they are right we need to pay heed to what they are saying. To do otherwise may prove harmful. (Acts 24:24-26)
The idea of hearing and listening focuses on our need to learn, and it begins by receiving the data and ends with us forming an opinion. Do we believe or reject the words and message, do we agree with the conclusions of the speaker, or do we understand the speakers intended meaning? Please know these same principles apply to a teacher’s spoken or written words. Even though we can no longer “hear” the inspired teachers themselves, we can “hear” their written words. We can listen by our own reading of Scriptures or we can listen to gospel teachers today. (Eph. 3:3-4 and Rom. 10:14)
The point of hearing and listening has not changed since the early church. We still need to learn God’s Will by studying His Words and understanding His meaning. Only then can we follow Him. As we live before God and try to serve Him it is important that we be “quick to hear” and “slow to speak”. I am reminded of Job, who was so quick to “justify himself rather than God” as he answered his friends. (Job 32:2) Perhaps he should have just kept his mouth shut instead of trying to defend himself.
Unfortunately, Job did what we often do; he spoke not knowing what he was talking about. God held him responsible and demanded Job answer for himself. Would it not be better for us to learn from his mistake and thus avoid opening our mouths when we should not? (Job 42:1-6) We should be quick to hear God’s Word, and that means all of what He said, but nothing more.