Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to [listen] hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19).
Don’t you just hate it when people disagree with you?
When someone tells you that you’re wrong about something?
Don’t you hate the feeling when someone says, “Would you mind if I share something with you?” Or when your wife says, “Can we talk about…?” Or someone just blurts out, “I’m sorry I just don’t see it that way.”
Why is it that in this fallen world, everyone can’t see that I’m always right?
Knowing When To Be Slow To Speak
James 1:19 can help us be slow to speak to many situations:
A fellow believer confronting you or disagreeing on a point of doctrine, or expressing an opinion on how to educate children, or any number of issues.
This verse addresses conflicts of every kind: marital conflicts, conflicts at work, church conflicts.
It applies to conflicts with unbelievers as well.
It speaks to those times when someone shares with us a struggle they’re having and a quick and easy solution pops into our head. We want to stop them mid-sentence and say, “Wait! No need to keep on detailing your struggle. Just trust God! There you go! End of discussion.”
Have you ever noticed how, in almost every situation, when we quickly speak whatever is on our minds, it doesn’t go well?
It simply doesn’t help people.
Have you ever solved a problem in your marriage by being the dominant voice?
Has it ever been effective when you immediately fire back when your someone corrects you?
What about in a meeting at work? Does it make people more productive when you shoot down all their ideas?
There is beauty and power in being slow to speak. It transforms relationships and allows us to hear the Holy Spirit speak to us before we speak to others. In other words, when we wait to respond to someone, it gives the Spirit time to prompt us on what to say.
What Does It Mean To Be Slow To Speak?
So what does it mean to be quick to hear and slow to speak? Here’s a concise definition:
To be quick to hear and slow to speak means having both humility and respect for others. It means you take the necessary time to listen to people instead of just speaking your opinion.
Here are a few ways to apply this verse.
#1 – To be slow to speak means we let the other person express themselves
We don’t interrupt. We hold our thoughts and give them time to finish. It means we try to be slow to share our opinion or thoughts on a matter and wait until the other person has had plenty of time to share their thoughts.
Frankly, this should be common sense. If we’re going to truly understand a person and honor them properly, we should always let a person fully express themselves. When we don’t, we can’t even respond properly.
#2 – We thank the other person for being willing to talk with us.
Some people find it very hard to disagree with, contradict or share a different perspective with others. Sometimes this is due to their personality. Or they have had bad experiences with spiritual abuse. Or maybe they’re simply shy by nature.
Over the years many people told me they were fearful of talking to me because I was a pastor. So I wanted to try to do all I could to make it easy for people to bring things to me, even if it was something I need to be addressed on.
#3 – Quick to listen and slow to speak means we are not offended when someone disagrees with us or corrects us
This one can be really hard when it comes to being quick to listen and slow to speak. It is so easy to take things personally. Our internal personal defense lawyer immediately yells, “Objection!” the moment someone disagrees. Most of the time this is simply due to our pride.
We need to be able to “step back” and remember that disagreement or correction isn’t necessarily an attack on us as a person. This is not someone being disloyal to us.
#4 – We don’t focus on HOW the person expresses themselves, and make that an excuse for not listening
It’s so easy, when someone comes to us in anger or frustration, to write them off because of their delivery and not listen to what they have to say. At times like this, we really need to pray for the fruit of the Spirit – for patience, love, and grace not to respond in kind.
We need the help of the Holy Spirit to be slow to speak and quick to listen.
#5 – To be quick to listen means we are slow to make excuses, slow to defend ourselves, slow to contradict, slow to give our opinion
We want to defend ourselves because we’re proud. We don’t like to think we have weaknesses. And we really don’t like it when others see our weaknesses.
But listen. Don’t say anything. You’re never going to improve in your life if you can’t admit you have needs to grow and improve and see things you may not have seen yet.
#6 – To be quick to listen means we try to be humble
A humble person doesn’t think he knows or sees every issue perfectly. A humble person can learn from anyone.
If we’re humble, we understand that God has given every person unique gifts and insights that we don’t have. Like us, they too are a temple of the Holy Spirit, being led and guided by God himself. In order to grow in our relationship with God, we need to benefit from those gifts and insights.
#7 – To be quick to listen means we genuinely want to try to understand what the other person is saying
This means we really want to try to see the issue from their perspective. Only God has the perfect perspective on all issues.
Only God understands every issue completely. Only He knows the motives of men’s hearts. Only God understands his Word absolutely perfectly.
Our perspective may be right but it could also be wrong or imperfect. We consider that we may really need to hear the other person. That they may be right, even if we can’t see it right now.
#8 – We realize that even if we disagree there are things we can learn by listening to them
Even if we only learn that others see the issue differently than we do. Even if we learn how someone else struggles with an issue that we don’t struggle with. Even if we learn how we might help someone.
When we’re slow to speak, it allows us to understand other people more effectively. To gain a fuller knowledge of what it means to be a Christian.
#9 – To be quick to listen means we remember that we have blind spots
We all have things we are blind to, areas we need to grow in, things we don’t realize about ourselves. Remember how David asked God to send brothers to rebuke him? David considered that a blessing.
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. Psalm 141:5
#10 – When we share our thoughts, we share them with gentleness and without anger
For some reason, we tend to think that if we speak forcefully or with anger, they’ll come around to our perspective. We forget that James says that anger does not bring about the life God requires.
However, when we believe that only God can open their eyes to see your perspective, it allows us to speak with gentleness. If God really wants someone to see something he can make it happen.
#11 – To be quick to listen means we trust God’s timing
We don’t have to win the argument now. We can share our perspective, then leave it up to the Lord to show them our side. That might not be during the current discussion. We both may need time to consider each other’s perspective.
Less Wrangling, More Listening
William Gurnall helpfully said:
It’s not easy to be quick to hear and slow to speak. But the Lord can help us! Now get out there and listen! And please don’t disagree with, confront or correct me.