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Quick to Hear, Slow to Speak

Perhaps it’s only an issue for men, but I’m fairly confident that the problem is more widespread…  Have you ever begun to mentally compose a reply while the person you’re speaking to is still in the midst of talking?  John Piper recently offered an illuminating meditation on Proverbs 18:13 ~ "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame."  Hmmm…notice the use of the masculine pronoun… Smiley

In what he wrote, Piper mused over ten reasons we should listen before we speak.  The full text of the meditation is available online and is worth reading through.  In fact, I got through writing reason #7 in short form before I decided that it’s too rich to abbreviate.  What follows below is the full text of his meditation…


Ten Reasons to Listen to Questions Before You Answer
Meditation on Proverbs 18:13

October 25, 2005

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”

  1. It is arrogant to answer before
    you hear. Humility does not presume that it knows precisely what a
    person is asking until the questioner has finished asking the question.
    How many times have I jumped to a wrong conclusion by starting to
    formulate my answer before I heard the whole question! Often it is the
    last word in the question that turns the whole thing around and makes
    you realize that they are not asking what you thought they were.
  1. It is rude to answer a
    half-asked question. “Rude” is a useful word for Christians. It means
    “ill-mannered, discourteous.” The New Testament word for it is aschēmonei.
    It is used in 1 Corinthians 13:5 where modern versions translate it,
    “Love is not rude,” but the old King James Version has “Love doth not
    behave itself unseemly.” This means that love not only
    follows absolute moral standards, but also takes cultural mores and
    habits and customs into account. What is polite? What is courteous?
    What are good manners? What is proper? What is good taste? What is
    suitable? Love is not indifferent to these. It uses them to express its
    humble desire for people’s good. One such politeness is listening well
    to a question before you answer.
  1. Not answering a question before you hear it all honors and respects
    the person asking the question. It treats the person as though their
    words really matter. It is belittling to another to presume to be able
    to finish their question before they do.
  1. Careful listening to a question often reveals that the question has several layers
    and is really more than one question. Several questions are all mixed
    into one. When you see this, you can break the question down into parts
    and answer them one at a time. You will not see such subtleties if you
    are hasty with your answer and not careful in your listening.
  1. A question sometimes reveals assumptions
    that you do not share. If you try to answer the question on the basis
    of your assumptions without understanding the questioner’s assumptions,
    you will probably speak right past him. If you listen carefully and let
    the person finish, you may discern what he is assuming that you do not.
    Then you can probe these assumptions before you answer. Often, when
    dealing at this level, the question answers itself. It was really about
    these deeper differences.
  1. Questions usually have attitudes
    as well as content. The attitude sometimes tells you as much as the
    content about what is really being asked. In fact, the attitude may
    tell you that the words being used in this question are not all what
    the issue is. When that is discerned, we should not make light of the
    words, but seriously ask questions to see if the attitude and the words
    are really asking the same question. If not, which is the one the
    questioner really wants answered?
  1. Questions have context
    that you need to know. So many thoughts and circumstances and feelings
    may be feeding into this question that we don’t know about or
    understand. Careful listening may help you pick up those things. It may
    be that there is just a small clue that some crucial circumstance is
    behind the question. If you catch the clue, because you are listening
    carefully, you may be able to draw that out and be able to answer the
    question so much more helpfully.
  1. Questions are made up of words. Words have meanings
    that are formed by a person’s experience and education. These words may
    not carry the same meaning for both you and the questioner. If you want
    to answer what they are really asking, you must listen very carefully.
    When the possibility exists that their question is rooted in a
    different understanding of a word, we will be wise to talk about the
    meaning of our words before we talk about the answer to the question. I
    find that talking about the definitions of words in questions usually
    produces the answer to the questions.
  1. Proverbs 8:13 says it is our “folly”
    to answer before we hear. That is, it will make us a fool. One reason
    for this is that almost all premature answers are based on thinking we
    know all we need to know. But that is “foolish.” Our attitude should
    be: What can I learn from this question? The fool thinks he knows all
    he needs to know.
  1. And finally Proverbs 8:13 says that it
    is our “shame” to answer before we hear. What if you are asked
    publicly, “My wife and I have had serious problems and we were
    wondering . . .” and you cut the questioner off by giving your answer
    about the value of counseling and what counselors might be helpful. But
    then they say, “Well, actually, what I was going to say was, “My wife
    and I have had serious problems and we were wondering, now that our
    counseling is over and things are better than ever, how you would
    suggest that we celebrate?” Then you will be shamed for not listening.

Still learning to listen with you,

Pastor John

Reprinted with permission from the Desiring God website.

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Author: John Pleasnick

John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church

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