Why Christians Should Listen More Than We Speak

When you’re passionate about what you believe, it can be tempting to focus more on being heard than listening to others. While it is certainly not sinful to express our thoughts or beliefs, we often get caught up in making sure our voice is the loudest. That’s especially true when we disagree with someone else. 

The Impact of Social Media on Listening

In the book of James, the Bible calls Christians to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” In today’s world, that’s more challenging than ever. Even if we’re not literally yelling at people in our day-to-day lives, social media has made it incredibly easy to speak without listening first. We can read a comment and react with anger in a matter of seconds, firing off a response we might never say to someone face-to-face. We read articles and posts already on the defensive, ready to combat them with our existing opinion at any second. 

We often fall victim to forming an opinion and never wavering, even when confronted with new information. It’s never been easier to be “quick to speak” and shut out the thoughts and opinions of people who disagree with you. For every person on the internet who expresses a contrasting opinion, there is another person who agrees with you. We can simply ignore what we don’t like and dig our heels further into our position. 

The Bible references this kind of behavior as foolish: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.” (Prov. 12:15, NKJV) Especially online, it’s easy to be convinced we are right in our own eyes and ignore everyone else — or worse, talk over everyone else. If we are wise, we can choose to listen first.

Being “Quick to Listen” in Relationships

While this behavior is clearly detrimental to relationships online, it’s dangerous in “real life,” too. In fact, sometimes it can be even more difficult to listen to someone you love share an opinion you disagree with. It’s harder still when a loved one shares that something you did or said hurt them. Too often, we feel that knee-jerk reaction and rush to defend ourselves or brush it off. We don’t want to feel the discomfort of conflict or the guilt of having hurt another person. But in these situations, it’s even more important that we are quick to listen and slow to speak.

At its core, this command is a call to humility — to see ourselves rightly in light of who God is. It is certainly not easy to do, but we can take encouragement from the fact that this appears in the Bible over and over again. That means we are not the only generation to have ever struggled with it. It’s in our sinful human nature to put ourselves first, but we are commanded to live differently. It’s clear throughout Scripture that God opposes the proud (1 Peter 5:5, James 4:6) and calls us to be humble (Prov. 18:12, Eph. 4:2, Phil. 2:3). 

We should see ourselves in light of the holy and most high God, remembering that we are dust — like grass, here today and gone tomorrow (Psalm 103). To foster this reverence for God and posture of humility, we can worship God daily for who He is. We can attest to His holiness and worthiness by reading and praying the scriptures — even saying them out loud every day to remind ourselves who He is and who we are.

When we remember our true identity — sinful humans, unfathomably loved by the Creator of the Universe — we can feel confident in who we are and where we stand. The need to be “right” dissipates because we are loved no matter what. We are more inclined to have empathy for others and try to understand their perspective. Cultivating humility is essential to living the life Jesus has called us to.

Listening before we speak is a product of humility, but it also generates it. If we can practice listening first, seeking to understand before we interject our opinion, we gain the opportunity to understand others better. That breeds empathy and understanding, which also fosters humility.

As followers of Christ, we are called to stand out. And in today’s world, listening before you speak is rare. Let’s choose to listen first.