What Does the Bible Say About Listening to Others?

Listening is a critical skill for living a godly life. As Christians, we are called to be imitators of Christ and live our lives according to His example (Ephesians 5:1-2). An important part of that is developing the ability to truly listen, understand, and thoughtfully consider what others have to say.

The Bible has a lot to teach us about the value of listening. Here are some key takeaways:

Key Takeaways:

  • Listening demonstrates love, honor, and respect for others.
  • Listening allows us to gain wisdom, perspective, and deeper understanding.
  • Listening is vital for harmony, unity, and peace among believers.
  • Listening shows that we value and care for others.
  • Listening helps us become better counselors, friends, and witnesses.
  • Listening enables us to better discern truth from falsehood.
  • Failing to listen can lead to strife, division, and misunderstandings.
  • We should listen to others with discernment, through the lens of God’s truth.
What Does the Bible Say About Listening to Others?

Listening Shows Love, Honor and Respect

One of the most important reasons to listen to others is because it shows love, honor and respect. As Christians, we are called to love one another just as Christ loved us (John 13:34-35). An essential way we demonstrate that love is by truly listening to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The apostle Paul instructs us: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10). Part of honoring others is taking time to hear them out and listen to what they have to say. We show value, care, and concern for them by giving them our full attention and focus.

Even when we disagree with someone’s perspective, we can still listen respectfully and seek to understand them. As 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us: “Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Listening is a way to have dialogue and discussion, even over disagreements, in a thoughtful and gracious way.

The book of James has strong words about the importance of listening:

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

Listening demonstrates respect for the dignity and worth of others. It honors their experiences, thoughts, and opinions as meaningful and significant. Just as we want others to truly listen to us, we should extend that same courtesy by listening attentively to them.

Listening Allows Us to Gain Wisdom and Perspective

Another key reason to listen closely to others is that it allows us to gain wisdom and see new perspectives we would otherwise miss. The book of Proverbs continually emphasizes the value of listening in order to grow in discernment and understanding.

Consider these proverbs:

“The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.” (Proverbs 15:31)

“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” (Proverbs 15:28)

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Proverbs 17:27-28)

These verses remind us of the importance of carefully listening first, rather than quickly speaking out of turn. Listening provides us knowledge. It gives us time to thoughtfully consider wise responses, rather than rashly saying things we might later regret.

As Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 explains:

“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”

Thinking before speaking, pondering what we have heard, and listening attentively are wise practices. Listening helps us gain new perspectives that broaden our understanding. We benefit by thoughtfully considering views that may differ from our own.

Listening Promotes Harmony, Unity and Peace

The Bible also makes clear that listening is essential for promoting unity, harmony and peace among believers. Being quick to speak and slow to listen often leads to arguments, dissension and division. But taking time to carefully listen to one another facilitates mutual understanding. Even when disagreements persist, the process of listening can help prevent escalation into harmful conflicts.

We see this principle in passages like Proverbs 18:13: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Answering others without taking time to hear and understand them often aggravates tensions. But listening first makes de-escalation of conflict more likely.

Ephesians 4:1-3 highlights the importance of listening for unity in the body of Christ:

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Maintaining unity requires humility to listen, patience to understand, and bearing with one another even when disagreements happen. Likewise, as James 1:19 reminds us, being “quick to hear, slow to speak” prevents anger that harms unity.

Through humble, attentive listening we can gain insight into differing perspectives within the church. Listening demonstrates love. This enables us to maintain the peace and harmony Christ desires for his followers.

Listening Demonstrates Care and Concern for Others

Listening is also a way we demonstrate genuine care and concern for the needs, struggles, and concerns of others. Far too often we can come across as self-absorbed, focused on our own interests and talking about ourselves. But as Christians we are called to look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).

Taking time to ask questions, actively listen, and then thoughtfully respond is a way to show we truly care about what people are facing. Even when we cannot directly solve someone’s problems, compassionate listening provides emotional and spiritual encouragement.

Consider what James 1:27 says about caring for others in need:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

While orphans and widows are examples here, the broader principle is that we should seek to serve all those in difficult or distressing circumstances. An essential way we can serve them is by listening attentively as they share their burdens. Listening communicates that they matter to us and we want to understand their situation.

Likewise, Ecclesiastes 7:21 teaches the value of listening to servants:

“Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you.”

This illustrates how listening allows us to better understand those under our authority and care for them more effectively. We should listen not just to affirm what people already agree with us about. We should listen to hear the honest thoughts and experiences of others, which may challenge our own assumptions. Listening demonstrates genuine concern.

Listening Helps Us Become Better Counselors, Friends and Witnesses

Careful listening is also vital for becoming better counselors, friends, and witnesses for the gospel. Each of these roles requires understanding – understanding people’s struggles to counsel them, understanding friends’ feelings and needs, and understanding worldviews and beliefs to share the gospel effectively.

That understanding only comes when we listen attentively. Consider these Proverbs:

“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” (Proverbs 20:5)

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” (Proverbs 1:5)

These verses show how listening helps draw out deeper understanding between people. Asking thoughtful questions and carefully listening to the answers provides the understanding we need to come alongside people and point them to godly truth and wisdom.

Whether someone is struggling with grief, undergoing a crisis, or searching for meaning in life, listening demonstrates that we care about their situation. It opens the door to providing wise counsel from God’s word that can bring hope, healing, and purpose. Listening builds trust and relationship that enables effective Christian ministry.

Listening Aids Discernment of Truth and Falsehood

In addition, attentive listening helps us discern truth from falsehood. As Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me” (John 10:27). Listening is crucial to recognize God’s voice leading us, especially amidst competing voices in our culture. Likewise, careful listening enables us to thoughtfully assess teachings and ideas, rather than uncritically accepting whatever we hear (Acts 17:11).

However, just as important as listening to teaching is listening to people. Listening helps us identify and respond to deceit or manipulation in interpersonal interactions. Ephesians 4:25 says “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor.” Listening helps us speak truth by identifying when others are speaking falsehood.

Relatedly, listening aids shepherding God’s people away from false teaching. It allows pastors and teachers to become aware of faulty doctrine influencing their congregations (1 Timothy 1:3-4). Listening carefully can reveal where deeper instruction from God’s word is needed to guard against unbiblical ideas.

Overall, humble listening is crucial for exercising biblical discernment. It keeps us grounded in God’s truth amidst competing ideas. And it helps us lovingly direct others away from deceit and towards God’s truth.

Failing to Listen Can Lead to Strife and Division

Conversely, failing to listen well has very harmful effects. When we are quick to speak and slow to listen, it often leads to strife, division, and broken relationships. Many proverbs warn of the relational destruction caused by refusing to listen attentively:

“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” (Proverbs 11:12)

“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.” (Proverbs 11:13)

“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.” (Proverbs 20:19)

These verses caution against gossip, slander, and “babbling” in a self-focused manner. Failing to listen leads us to speak falsely about others, spread slander, and damage relationships. Rather than trying to listen and understand others, we end up belittling and speaking recklessly.

Proverbs 18:2 says “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” When we are arrogant and refuse to listen, we end up expressing foolish opinions rather than truth. This drives people away rather than drawing them closer in understanding.

When church leaders fail to listen humbly to their congregation and serve them through understanding, it breeds distrust, discord, and division. God takes this very seriously, as expressed in Ezekiel 34:2-6:

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them…”

This passage rebukes leaders who failed to listen to the needs of the people and care for them. Self-focus and lack of listening breeds exploitation, harm, weakness, and loss. Listening carefully is needed to properly strengthen, heal, nurture, and guide God’s people.

Overall, when we fail to listen well to others and seek to understand them, it fractures our relationships and sews division. That is why we must heed God’s word to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and pursue understanding.

Listen Discerningly, Through the Lens of God’s Truth

Although it is crucial to listen to others, we must do so discerningly. We listen through the lens of God’s revealed truth, not uncritically accepting whatever people may say. As 1 John 4:1 reminds us: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

While listening shows love and care for people, it does not mean we affirm beliefs or perspectives that violate biblical teachings. We should listen slowly, think carefully about what is said, and then respond graciously but truthfully (Colossians 4:6).

Additionally, while listening builds understanding, we interpret what people say in light of human fallenness and imperfection. We all have much room for growth in wisdom and godliness. So Christian discernment involves listening humbly to others and also listening humbly to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and guidance to know God’s truth.

In conclusion, listening well balances love along with wisdom. It requires the humility to hear others out, paired with the courage to then speak truth when needed. Listening demonstrates respect for the value and dignity of all people as made in God’s image. At the same time, it enables us to ultimately point people to the hope and healing that comes through following Christ alone.

As Christ’s ambassadors, we have the privilege of listening to bring reconciliation, make disciples, and powerfully advance God’s kingdom. May we steward that privilege well for His glory.

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