“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20
Don’t you just hate it when people disagree with you, or when someone tells you that you’re wrong about something?
Do you feel frustrated when people jump into conclusions and judge you without giving you a chance to explain?
If you’ve answered ‘Yes’, so what does it mean to be quick to listen and slow to speak?
To be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak” means to have both humility and respect for others. It also means taking the necessary time to listen to people instead of just speaking your opinion.
How about the opposites?
Being “quick to speak” is an easy trap to fall into, especially when dealing with your loved ones.
Or maybe you can relate to being “slow to listen” when you’re thinking more about what to reply rather than really listening to understand what the other person is sharing.
However, James advised that listening is something we should do quickly. But when it comes to speaking, we should take our time.
Now, when we flip those two commands – being “slow to listen” and “quick to speak”, it often leads to being “quick to become angry”.
Speaking too soon combined with not listening leads to conflict, and conflict often leads to anger.
But when we choose to live out the words of this verse, the promise of God helps us to defuse angry encounters before they even spark.
In fact, the Bible has much to say about talking and listening. Here are just a few about how to use our mouth and ears:
- “When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise.” Proverbs 10:19
- “Do you see a man who speaks too soon? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Proverbs 29:20
- “The one who gives an answer before he listens — this is foolishness and disgrace for him.” Proverbs 18:13
- “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” Proverbs 17:28
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After breaking down these verses into principles, there seems to be three warnings and one piece of advice.
The Three Warnings:
- Don’t speak too much
- Don’t speak too soon
- Don’t speak without first listening
The One Advice: Speak only if you need to
Warning #1 Don’t Speak Too Much
“When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise.” Proverbs 10:19
When we speak in rapid succession, we will almost certainly end up saying something that is sinful.
But a person who learns to control what he or she says is smart indeed.
Has your mouth ever gotten you into trouble, or even made you sin – all because you talked too much?
Do you recall that the more you spoke, the more your speech dug a deep hole, tripping you up and trapping you inside? Soon you were in a mighty tangled mess. It’s certainly happened to me before.
If we want to avoid offending our loved ones or committing any number of verbal sins, we first need to learn to control our lips. And taking a first step can be simpler than you might imagine.
When we sense the Holy Spirit telling us that things are starting to go downhill, we can simply say, “I’m sorry. I’m talking too much.” And then, we can “shut our ‘chatter trap,”.
However, before we can listen to the nudge of the Holy Spirit tapping on our hearts and telling us to zip our lips, we must have an attitude of prayer throughout the day that enables him to do just that.
Perhaps we need to ask God to “Put Your arm around my shoulders and Your hand over my mouth.”
Warning #2 Don’t Speak Too Soon
Do you see a man who speaks too soon? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Proverbs 29:20
Speaking too soon means:
- Speaking before all the facts are out.
- Speaking before we really understand those facts.
- Speaking before we’ve listened fully to the other side.
And most importantly, before we’ve had time to pray and process what we’ve heard with the Lord.
When we do any one or even a combination of those things, we are foolish.
In order not to speak too soon, we need to cultivate two habits: Perfecting the art of the pause and pondering
First, perfecting the art of the pause means giving white space in a conversation that enables us to sort out our thoughts before we let out our words.
Counting to ten before responding provides just enough room to really think through what we are about to say.
Second, ponder on what the other person said and perhaps go on a fact-finding mission. How easy it is to jump to conclusions when we don’t have all of the facts.
Holding our tongues, and our opinions, for a while often gives us time to assess the situation clearly before pronouncing judgment.
If you are in the middle of a heated discussion with someone and they ask, “Well, what do you think?” It is perfectly reasonable to tell them you don’t yet know what you think.
Yes, this may frustrate some people. They may think you’re copping out. They may even accuse you of not knowing your own mind. But I have found that many times what I was going to say was not in the end what I wanted to express.
Giving our thoughts time to settle and soak in Scripture is a wonderful habit that will keep us from answering too soon and looking foolish.
So pause. Gather facts. Think before you answer. Do not speak too soon.
Warning #3 Don’t speak without first listening
Most people tend to treat conversation like a competitive sport, where the person who says the most, makes the cleverest point, persuades others of an opinion, or even speaks the longest and loudest is the winner.
All of us fall into this trap. All of us find ourselves interrupting, speechifying, insisting, and coming up with facts to support our point of view or display our superior knowledge. All too often we listen to reply rather than to understand.
If you stop and think about it, in most conversations, the person who speaks the least benefits most and the person who speaks the most benefits least.
It’s difficult to carry out active listening because we think that we already have the answer to the solution. We get impatient with other person who is trying to express their ideas, thoughts or feelings.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
I’m not suggesting you to remain silent all the time. But it’s all too easy to speak thoughtlessly, with insufficient information, or out of a wrong assumption. That can make you look less intelligent than you are.
Most people go through life wishing to be listened to more. So by listening rather than talking, you are giving something valuable to the person who’s speaking, especially if you are really taking in what that person is saying and not thinking about something else.
Who do you listen to more closely: Someone who never shuts up, or someone who only speaks once in a while?
As with anything else, the law of supply and demand holds true: If you constantly share your opinions, no one will seek them out. If you only say what you’re thinking on occasion, or only make a point one time instead of over and over, your words are likely to have more weight.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you should always keep your opinions to yourself. The people around you need to know what you’re thinking, even more so if you’re in a leadership role.
But if you spend more time listening than you do speaking, people you’re speaking will feel understood and bonded with you.
Therefore, when you do speak your mind, they’ll be listening much more closely.
- Keep It Shut by Karen Ehman
- The Geek Gap by Minda Zetlin