Listening Skills

Published by Joel Saint on

I’ve been thinking about this lately: What is my responsibility when it comes to listening?

At the outset, I want to make a distinction between A) What is said, and B) The way it is said. Here’s my concern: The state of society (and most of Christianity, quite frankly) apparently holds to the following premise, that is, “Look, it doesn’t matter so much if what you say is true; what matters is the way you say it.”

Have I misrepresented here? How many times have we heard the excuse that we don’t have to listen to a particular person because of his “attitude”, or “the way he came across”?

I’m thinking that the more grown up we are, the less we are concerned about “The way it is said”, and the more we will be concerned about “what is said”. With small children for example, adults recognize that they have to “get down on their level”, so to speak. That is, the adults have two priorities: 1) To communicate accurately, and 2) To speak in such a way (slowly, clearly, etc.) that they are sure that the message is received.

But is it not true that, the more we grow up, the more we should be concerned with “what” is said and the less we should be concerned about “the way it is said”? Is it not a sign of our immaturity that we are so obsessed with the way something is said, rather than reflecting on whether or not what was said was actually true, good, helpful, or necessary?

The Bible speaks directly to this issue. I won’t go through all the examples with point-by-point commentary; instead, I’ll just list a few of those examples with references:

1) Zipporah’s comments to Moses (Exodus 4: 24-26) Please consider that the Bible indicates that Zipporah actually saved Moses’ life in this incident. However, she apparently “wasn’t very nice.”

2) God’s comments to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) when He pronounced judgment on them. Again, “not very nice.” But necessary. And truthful. And, ultimately good and helpful.

3) Zephaniah’s opening comments. You’ll find them in Zephaniah 1. He lays down an opening salvo that is absolutely unacceptable in today’s Christian “don’t tell me anything that doesn’t make me feel good” cultural context.

4) Did we mention Jonah’s message?

5) Christ’s rather unacceptable (I think we would call it insulting) question to Nocodemus, which I will paraphrase as “What, you are a teacher in Israel and you don’t know this stuff?”

6) Or, how about John 8 where Jesus calls his opponents children of the devil, and goes on to identify them as liars and murderers? How many professing Christians would call his statements “UnChristlike”? “Jesus, that’s not the way to talk to these folks; no wonder they don’t believe you”etc.

7) And who gave John the Baptist the right (Matthew 14: 3 ff.) to tell Herod that he couldn’t have his brother’s wife? Isn’t that Herod’s business? Isn’t Herod exempt because he doesn’t believe the scriptures like John does? “Hey John, of course you got your head cut off; you’re an idiot for talking to Herod that way!” Tell you what: Today’s Christian teachers would have quite a lecture to deliver to the hapless John the Baptist on Socially Acceptable Means of Communication: “Sit down, John, I have something to teach you…”

Well, I’m sure you get the idea. I say it’s time for us to be concerned about what is said far more than the way it is said. Time to be focused on facts rather than feelings. Time to worry more about substance and less about style.

When it comes to listening, it’s just time to grow up.

-Joel Saint

Categories: Christian Life

Joel Saint

Was providentially introduced to R.J. Rushdoony’s Institutes when he acquired a copy of it as a dispensational Bible college student in 1979. He was then guided by the influence of other young scholars who suggested other reconstructionist authors. After 20 years of career, study, and teaching ministry and through acquaintance and conversations with Toby Grater and Jim Mogel, he readily agreed to join them to launch the MARS organization. Joel is the Executive Director of MARS and teaches regularly at the MARS lecture series on a variety of social and political topics. Joel resides with his wife, Audrey, in Denver, PA and has 9 grown children and 12 grandchildren.


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