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The Morality of Listening and Speaking

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Most people know their speech is moral, but they might not know that the amount they listen and speak is also an issue of morality.

Many verses discuss the morality of our words. For example:

  • Matthew 12:37—Jesus said, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
  • 1 Peter 3:10—He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.

What we say is moral or immoral. The prophet Jeremiah suffered terribly at the hands of his fellow Jews. He lamented over his abuse, but he seemed to recover from the physical abuse easier than the verbal abuse. When Michal ridiculed David, their relationship was never the same. Words can have lasting consequences:

There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword.

Proverbs 12:18

When we think of the morality of speech, we typically think of what we say, but we should also think of how much we say.

The Morality of Listening Too Little and Speaking Too Much

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.

James 1:19

The verse contains three commands, which means we’re dealing with morality. It is moral to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. It is immoral to be slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. Anger and listening might be mentioned together because they’re closely related. As a pastor, when I’m counseling, sometimes it’s obvious early on who’s more at fault because they’re slow to hear and quick to get angry.

Ecclesiastes teaches that one way to identify fools is they talk too much:

A fool’s voice is known by his many words…a fool also multiplies words.

Ecclesiastes 5:3 and 10:14

David took so seriously how much he said that he prayed God would protect his mouth for him:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.

Psalm 141:3

Proverbs is filled with contrasts between wise and foolish people. One of the contrasts is wise people listen, but foolish people talk too much:

  • Proverbs 10:8 says, “The wise in heart will receive commands, but a prating fool will fall.”
  • Proverbs 10:19 says, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” Talking too much leads to sin, and the wise know when to remain silent.
  • Proverbs 13:3 says, “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.” Controlling what we say is so important God says doing so can save our lives. On the other hand, talking too much brings ruin.
  • Proverbs 17:27–28 says, “He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.” Wisdom is associated with listening, because that is how we learn. Even fools can fool people into thinking they’re wise if they’ll be quiet, but since they’re fools, they can’t keep quiet. They let everyone know they’re fools.

The Need for Self-Control

One reason talking too much is a sign of foolishness is it shows a lack of self-control. We all think of things we shouldn’t say. It’s wise when we keep them to ourselves, and it’s foolish when we let them escape our mouths. Peter is probably the best example in Scripture. He’s known for talking too much, and at the wrong times. At the Transfiguration,

Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.”

Mark 9:5-6

Peter didn’t know what to say, but he spoke anyway. The parallel account:

While [Peter] was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”

Luke 9:34-35

God the Father interrupted Peter and said His Son should’ve been speaking, and Peter should’ve been listening. Peter’s life reveals, on more than one occasion, that if we don’t know what to say, it’s better not to say anything at all. If you can’t improve on silence, don’t.

A Bigger Problem Than Ever?

In today’s culture, there are more opportunities to talk than ever, or a better way to say it might be: there’s never been another time in history when even fools can have platforms. Anyone can start a blog or get on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and say as much as they want, about almost anything they want. We have cell phone plans with unlimited minutes and unlimited numbers of texts. There are talk shows and call-in radio for people to constantly sharing their opinions. It’s never been easier to lack self-control, and give in to the temptation to talk too much

As Christians, talking too much even hurts our witness:

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.

James 1:26

People won’t take our religion seriously if we can’t control our mouths. It’s almost like they can’t see Christ because our tongues get in the way.

“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

Ephesians 4:29

If this verse set the standard for us, I wonder how much of our communication can really be considered good for building up and [giving] grace to those who hear it?

4 Responses

  1. I think all these scriptures point to foolish talk or inappropriate talk, not to the quantity of talking. Truly, if someone has trouble letting another take their turn talking then this itself is foolish talk. But, those that are comfortable talking are highly needed, in order to make those that are comfortable with having someone else carry the conversation comfortable. I love how God put me together with my mostly talkative husband, with me being the person more comfortable listening to him talk. Of course, at times, I will need him to turn that around and make sure I am listened to, a skill he has developed over the years. Let us who are a hand not take for granted someone who is a leg in the body of Christ. We come in many different shapes and sizes.

    1. Hi Cathy,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I think I understand what you’re saying: introverts need (or at least appreciate) the extroverts who talk, and extroverts need (or at least appreciate) the introverts who listen? I’ve heard this from another introvert before that she really appreciates others talking so she doesn’t have to. That makes sense. I appreciate the way we can all help each other and work together with our different personalities.

      Without necessarily disagreeing with you, more just wondering for my own good, if what you’re saying is true, why would God say to be slow to speak and quick to listen? What application does this have for extroverts? I’m genuinely asking. Thanks ahead of time for sharing your thoughts.

  2. One correction. The KJV does not misquote the verse in 1 Timothy 6:10 King James Version (KJV)
    10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. It makes it very clear that it is the “love of money” is the root of all evil and not the money itself.
    Enjoyed the lesson though and contains a lot of truth.

    1. Hi Dana,
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      I adjusted that portion slightly. The NKJV says, “is a root of all kinds of evil,” but the KJV says, “is the root of all evil.” In other words, the KJV still attributes all evil to money, which is untrue and different from other translations; therefore, I left that part. Thank you for your observation about “the love of money” versus simply “money.”

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