Loving and Listening Without Condescension

Learning to listen well is necessary in all healthy relationships. And learning to listen well is both a grace and an art. It is something that we should seek from God and it is something that we must develop much the way an artist develops a story or a picture.

Everyone who would learn to listen to others must work very hard against the way we are taught to cultivate the all too common attitude of condescension. Condescension makes us we feel better than others. It is a way of feeling superior and then of lowering ourselves to the place where we begin to think someone else is less important than us, at least in our estimation. This is why Paul says, "Knoweldge puffs up" (1 Corinthians 8:1). And this is why theology can become a knowledge that is used to destroy relationships.

The question we should ask, when we desire to really hear someone else, is this: "How can I listen well?" Can I keep my faculties of reason and good judgment and also highly regard others enough that I can really hear what they are saying? Paul not only tells us that "knowledge puffs up" but adds, "love builds up" (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Some years ago I confessed to a group of Christians that I had pursued knowledge over love in several significant ways. I then shared how I had worked within a group of Christians that met privately to listen to differences among us. I told the group that I was slowly learning to seek love first and thus I had actually begun to hear what some brothers were really saying that I had previously rejected. I can still recall one bold person praying, in front of the entire group, that God would have mercy upon people who lose their judgment and become soft on sins and theological error.

Those who are condescending in their attitude toward others, and who refuse to humble themselves so that they can really hear what others are actually saying, are almost certainly going to fall at some point. It is always better to recognize that in dealing with others, especially with their controversial ideas, that the person who refuses to act in a proud or haughty way will be the same person that experiences real grace, both personally and relationally. Put aside the spirit of condescension and you will only grow in God’s grace. By this means you will also become an artist who can tell a healthy story, or paint a beautiful picture, of what it means to truly follow Christ in meekness and humility.

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