Are You Willing to Listen?
“BE SWIFT about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath” is good counsel, which, if followed, would save many persons from grief.—Jas. 1:19.
This admonition to hear or listen came from one who knew what it meant both to listen and not to listen. He was a half brother of Jesus Christ. During his early life he undoubtedly grew up with Jesus and knew of his fine qualities, his love, his humility and understanding. One might think that James and his brother Jude (who wrote the Bible book of Jude) would have been among the first to become followers and apostles of Jesus. But this was not the case.
The apostle John has recorded for us what happened about six months before Jesus’ death. He wrote:
“[Jesus’] brothers said to him: ‘Pass on over from here and go into Judea, in order that your disciples also may behold the works you do. For nobody does anything in secret while himself seeking to be known publicly. If you do these things, manifest yourself to the world.’ His brothers were, in fact, not exercising faith in him.”—John 7:3-5.
It appears that it was not until after Jesus’ death and resurrection that these half brothers of his reviewed the things that they had heard but to which they had not listened, and now came to the conclusion that he was indeed the Messiah. But their not listening during his lifetime cost them the opportunity and joy of serving with and being taught directly by Jesus during the three and a half years of his preaching the good news. It was only because of the undeserved kindness of Jehovah and of Jesus himself that they finally had their eyes opened and were accepted as followers of Christ and made his spiritual brothers.
How do you listen, particularly when God speaks to you through his Word? Or when one of his representatives, an overseer or another faithful brother, speaks? Do you take the information to heart, getting the sense of it and applying it to yourself? The proverb says: “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, in order that you may become wise in your future.” (Prov. 19:20) And King David, who underwent strong discipline, wrote: “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head.”—Ps. 141:5, Authorized Version.
OVERSEERS SHOULD LISTEN
Perhaps you are one in a position of oversight. How do you listen to others? It may be that you are an overseer in the Christian congregation or perhaps a supervisor or foreman of a work project. When someone under your oversight comes to you with a suggestion, a problem or a request, are you ‘too busy’ to listen? Or, do you brush the person off as though what he is saying is unworthy of your consideration? Maybe you even ‘laugh off’ his request, belittling it. Or perhaps it is your policy to meet his request first with a brusquely expressed “No” rather than being open to discussion.
If you do these things you are not really qualified as an overseer. You are not approachable. You are acting in a self-willed way, contrary to the requirement set forth for overseers at Titus 1:7: “An overseer must be free from accusation as God’s steward, not self-willed.”
It is also required of an overseer that he hold “firmly to the faithful word as respects his art of teaching.” (Titus 1:9) But, if the person approaching you is wrong in his suggestion, problem or request, your turning him away without listening and reasoning pro and con on the matter has certainly not taught him. In fact, you may have made him more convinced that he is right. He is likely to be very downcast in spirit and reluctant to appeal to you later on other matters. He may even tell fellow workers about the inconsiderate treatment he received from you, thus turning them away also from approaching you in the future.
One who has supervisory responsibilities should realize that “there is salvation in the multitude of counselors.” (Prov. 11:14) This can often prevent one from making a serious mistake. Jehovah God the Creator is the only person who does not need someone to counsel him. (Isa. 40:13, 14; Rom. 11:33-36) As an overseer you may be very much helped by a discussion with someone else. You may get fresh ideas. Also, you may be kept ‘in touch’ with what is going on and with the feelings of those working with you. By listening to a problem or request, looking into it thoroughly from all sides, you may be able to avoid much bigger problems later on.
Moses was the God-appointed leader of some three million people. Yet he did not consider it below his dignity to listen to his father-in-law Jethro. At Jethro’s suggestion, Moses appointed men as chieftains in order that he himself might not have to bear the entire burden of making all decisions and judging all disputes.—Ex. 18:13-26.
Even Jehovah God listened to Abraham’s earnest request. Here it was not a matter of Abraham’s giving counsel, or adding to Jehovah’s knowledge. Jehovah was listening to Abraham’s plea in behalf of any righteous persons that might be in Sodom. Of course, it was entirely in harmony with Jehovah’s merciful disposition that no righteous persons be killed along with the wicked. But it may be noted that here, as in many other cases, Jehovah accorded his servant dignity as a friend and coworker by listening patiently and granting Abraham’s request, though the evidence later showed that there were not even ten righteous men in Sodom.—Gen. 18:20-33; 15:5; compare Joshua 10:12-14.
Husbands, though you are heads of your households, you should listen to your wives as ‘junior partners.’ What they say should be given respectful consideration. For a happy marriage, conversations should be freely engaged in. Similarly with children, their questions and problems should be heard with the same attention that is given to those of grown-ups. This will build confidence and close-knit family groups.—1 Pet. 3:7; Eph. 6:4.
WEIGH THE WORDS OF OTHERS WITH DISCERNMENT
It is important, also, to be discerning when listening and acting on the advice or appeal of another. Adam was the head of his household, but he failed to exercise proper headship. He should have demonstrated unbreakable loyalty first to God, to whom he owed everything. But, as Jehovah later said to Adam: “Because you listened to your wife’s voice and took to eating from the tree concerning which I gave you this command, ‘You must not eat from it,’ . . . in the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken.”—Gen. 3:17-19.
Being careful about whom you listen to for guidance is essential. In the Christian congregation it is good to seek out those who are experienced and who have a strong background of service to Jehovah God. The Bible injunction is: “Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.”—Heb. 13:7.
Listening to the wrong persons can cause one’s death, or can even bring about the defeat of a nation. King Jehoash of Judah did well as long as he listened to wise and faithful high priest Jehoiada, but after Jehoiada’s death, Jehoash, instead of following this good counsel, turned to the princes of Judah, who were idolaters. His listening to their bad counsel, contrary to God’s word, brought Jehoash under responsibility for murder, caused ignominious defeat for the nation of Judah and, finally, diseases and assassination for Jehoash himself.—2 Chron. 24:17-25.
Earlier, Solomon’s son Rehoboam, king over the twelve tribes of Israel, lost ten of the tribes from his dominion because, instead of listening to the older men who had been wise counselors of his father Solomon, he listened to young men with whom he had grown up. They advised the king to refuse to entertain the plea of the people, but, rather, to become more harsh, oppressive and unapproachable. By following this advice, Rehoboam caused a division of this nation that was never healed, and that was a factor in the ten tribes’ plunge into idolatry.—1 Ki. 12:1-20.
You can put yourself into real danger of following a wrong course when you listen only to those closely related to you by family or friendship ties, or to those who refrain from correcting you because of some advantage they might gain from you. Whoever these may be, there is no excuse, if you are a Christian, for departing from the Source of wisdom, Jehovah.—Prov. 2:6-9.
If anyone, either slyly or openly, tries to induce you to deviate from Jehovah’s Word or from the Christian congregation, which is “a pillar and support of the truth,” you should immediately repel that one. (1 Tim. 3:15) The rule is stated by the apostle Paul: “Even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond what we declared to you as good news, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8) Before Israel entered the Promised Land, Moses told the assembled people: “In case your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or your cherished wife or your companion who is like your own soul, should try to allure you in secrecy, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ . . . you must not accede to his wish or listen to him, nor should your eye feel sorry for him, nor must you feel compassion, nor cover him protectively . . . because he has sought to turn you away from Jehovah your God.”—Deut. 13:6-10.
But toward those who come to you in sincerity, whether to ask something from you or to correct you, you should never fail to exercise Jehovah’s fine qualities of mercy and consideration. You should also be humble, with a wholehearted desire to please Jehovah above all things. (John 8:29) In doing so, you will truly be following the apostle Paul’s counsel: “In showing honor to one another take the lead.”—Rom. 12:10.