James continues his practical guidance with words about listening. Christians need to listen well both to people (James 1:19) and to God (James 1:22–25). “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). We listen, not as a technique to influence anyone else, but as a way to let God’s word “rid [ourselves] of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness” (James 1:21). Interestingly, James suggests that listening to others—and not just listening to God’s word—is a means of ridding ourselves of wickedness. He does not say that other people speak God’s word to us. Instead, he says that listening to others removes the anger and arrogance that keep us from doing God’s word spoken in Scripture. “Your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. . . . Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls” (James 1:20–21). When others speak words that we do not welcome—words of disagreement, criticism, dismissal—it is easy to respond in anger, especially in high-pressure situations at work. But doing so usually makes our position worse, and always discredits our witness as Christ’s servants. How much better to trust God to defend our position, rather than defending ourselves by angry, hasty speech.
This advice applies to all kinds of work and workplaces. Listening is well established in business literature as a crucial leadership skill. Businesses must listen carefully to their customers, employees, investors, communities, and other stakeholders. In order to meet people’s true needs, organizations need to listen to the people whose needs they hope to meet. This reminds us that the workplace can be fertile soil for God’s work, just as the Roman Empire was, hardship and persecution notwithstanding.
To give one example, the first result on the Harvard Business School Publications website www.harvardbusiness.org on Sept. 18, 2009, browsing under the topic “Interpersonal Skills,” is “Listening to People.”
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