Question: "What does it mean that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19)?"
Answer: James 1:19–20 says, “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.” Being “quick to listen” means that we train ourselves to wait for the whole story before diving in with our opinion. “Slow to speak” is the flip side of that. We control our words and don’t blurt out everything that comes into our heads.
James goes on to talk about the tongue: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Later, he warns us about controlling our tongues: “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:5–6).
Our mouths get us into a lot of trouble. We profess to believe one thing, but then we are often betrayed by what comes out of our mouths. Jesus said, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34).
When we discipline ourselves to listen more than we talk, we can learn a lot. Big talkers are hard to teach. They think they already know everything they need to know, and they constantly express their opinions. Wise people have learned that more wisdom can be gained by listening, observing, and not rushing to judgment. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.”
The old adage is right: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” How many relationships have been damaged or ruined because we were slow to listen and quick to speak? How many mistakes could have been avoided had we only listened instead of talked?
We should be careful about the kinds of people we spend a lot of time listening to. Psalm 1 warns us not to listen to the foolish or the wicked. However, there are other people we should be quick to listen to:
• Elders because of their experience (Hebrews 13:17).
• Wise people because of their good advice (Proverbs 13:20).
• Godly people because they can represent God’s perspective on our situation (Psalm 141:5).
• Authorities because they represent the law (Romans 13:1).
Most of us are not naturally quick to listen, but we can train ourselves to be better listeners. Good listening is active. It engages with the speaker. It understands the speaker’s perspective, even if we disagree. When people feel heard, they are more willing to listen to our side. Being quick to listen actually opens the door to greater communication because listening shows respect, and when people feel respected, they are more likely to return that respect and listen to us. It is important for us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. God’s Word always shows us the best way, and when we follow it, we are blessed.