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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  1. Helen March 20, 2007 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks John.
    I think there’s a very strong connection between listening and humility.
    I’d like to see Christians spend more time on teaching each other ‘the art of listening’.

  2. Adam March 21, 2007 at 5:51 am

    I agree with Helen. Humility is the heart of it. It is what many Evangelicals lack. I think it is rooted in our approach to scripture and our ideas of certainty. If we always can know we are right and our Christianity is based on knowledge not faith then we don’t have to listen to anyone. We are right so what is the point. I directly had a friend of mine say that when I was talking about interfaith dialog. He said “I don’t have anything that I can learn from them so what is the point of conversation, except maybe to build a relationship to convert them.” Even if he does try to build a relationship to convert them, his attitude will shine through and he will likely not be successful because he was unwilling to listen. Thanks for the post.

  3. Helen March 21, 2007 at 6:49 am

    Thanks Adam.
    Wow, it’s occurred to me that the way Christians teach evangelism implies “I don’t have anything that I can learn from them so what is the point of conversation, except maybe to build a relationship to convert them.” But I didn’t know whether there were actually Christians who think that way.
    To me your friend has missed the whole point of relationship and what it means to love other people. If you love them then you are curious about them, you delight in who God made them to be, you are interested to get to know them. _Even_ if they don’t currently share your beliefs. You _let_ them tell you why they believe what they do, since that’s only fair, if you expect them to listen to why you believe what you do. Why would you expect them to listen to you if you’re not willing to listen to them?
    That’s how I think it ought to be, anyway.
    When James wrote “Be quick to listen and slow to speak” he didn’t say “unless you are talking to a non-believer, in which case the more you can talk and he/she listens, the better – since he/she is the only one of the two of you who is going to learn from your conversation.”
    And when Peter wrote “Be ready to give an answer, with gentleness and respect” – that implies a question has been asked. If we don’t ask other people questions then why would we expect them to ask us any?

  4. Kevin J March 21, 2007 at 9:31 am

    I think the reason why we don’t want to listen to others, especially in regards to spiritual matters, is that we have our own agendas. We support others who support what we think. If we feel we have chance to bring soneone over to our camp, then we listen to them. If we sense that there is no chance, then we turn them off. It is our selfish ambition. Philippians 2:3, “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Apostle Paul even felt that he wss the least of the apostles. 1 Corinthians 1:9, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” I have discovered that those who know themselves and know who Jesus is, are quiet and they listen. They respect others. They know the value of establishing relationships because they know Jesus who listened and quielty established a relationship with them and respected them. We need to listen to others. We need to care for others, because “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Why? Because this is God’s character and God wants to work through us to reveal himself to others. Relationships do ont have to be “efficient”. Simply loving others is reason enough.

  5. P. Andrew Sandlin March 23, 2007 at 10:41 am

    This post is deeply convicting, but love and listening deeply characterize your own ministry in a day filled with strident partisanship in the church and culture and unwarranted certitudes in Christendom.
    I am privileged to be your friend.
    P. Andrew Sandlin

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