Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19–20)
Are you “quick to hear”? Though this verse can be applied to many situations, I’m going to apply it to times when others criticize, point out a sin, failure, or weakness in us. We should be quick to hear when others reprove us in love (or not in love).
Why are we often slow to hear? We can be slow to hear because we are proud. Because we think we are right, or that we have the most accurate assessment of ourselves. Another reason we can be slow to hear can be because we view others’ corrections as attacks on us.
Another reason we can be slow to hear is because, even though we’re saved, we have an inadequate view of our ongoing battle with sin. Though believers are no longer “in sin” or slaves of sin, we still must put it to death on a regular basis. We need to be constantly aware of the temptation to be prideful or unteachable.
We may also be slow to listen when we have an inadequate view of how God accepts us in Christ. Insecure, we can always be looking to people for a sense of acceptance. We can interpret people’s correction as a lack of acceptance. But when we come to realize that God accepts us and is pleased with us in Christ, we can then receive criticism, for we are secure in knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that he accepts us completely.
Sometimes we’re slow to hear because we have prejudged someone. We assume we know their motives. We assume we know why they are bringing something to us and we write it off.
So how can we become more quick to hear? Next time someone corrects, criticizes, or points out a failure or sin to you:
- View correction as a good thing: Ps 141:5 says: “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” That’s how we should view the correction of a believer—as a blessing.
- Remember the danger of being wise in your own eyes. As Pr 26:12 says, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
- Consider that it may be really hard for this person to bring a negative comment to you—try to make it easy for them. Consider that if they didn’t love you they might not say anything.
- Determine that you really want to hear and understand their concern, even if it hurts, or even if in the end you don’t agree.
- Remind yourself that God gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud. You don’t want God resisting you.
- Remember we all have blind spots. We all have logs in our eyes at times. We can’t know ourselves perfectly and can’t see ourselves as others see us. Maybe this is something we’re blind to.
- Don’t be quick to defend yourself. God is perfectly able to defend you.
- Don’t be formulating your rebuff while the other person is still speaking.
- Ask questions. Draw them out. Seek clarification. Depending on the situation, take notes.
- Don’t write off their concern because they don’t deliver it perfectly. Even if they share in anger, the content could still be accurate.
- Even if most of what they share is inaccurate, there’s usually at least a grain of truth worth looking for in any criticism.
- Believe God can and will speak to you through others to sanctify you.
- If you don’t see it, tell them you really want to and that you will definitely consider it and pray about it.
- Thank them for bringing this to you.
- Ask them to point it out again any time they see you do it in the future.
If we are humble and are quick to hear, God will give us grace and we’ll grow. If we’re proud and quick to reject correction, God may have to humble us. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather humble myself than have God have to do it.
Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.