If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.–Proverbs 18:13

What if I told you that we are not entitled to critique something or someone until we have demonstrated understanding of what we are critiquing?  If we took this little rule to heart, it would probably change the way we typically evaluate and talk about the world and people around us.  How easy (and self-gratifying) it is to evaluate, criticize and pick apart people and ideas–to be quick to form and give our opinions on various issues–only to later look like a fool because we really do not know what we are talking about.

The Bible warns against developing such habits, however, and graciously helps us to steer clear of speaking of things about which we know very little.  As the above verse indicates, it is actually foolish and shameful for one to “give an answer before he hears.”  But what does this actually mean?

Well, if we give a little thought to this verse, the meaning becomes clear rather quickly.  Think about your own experience.  Recount times that you have opened your mouth to give your opinion on something, only to find out how wrong you actually were about the subject, and how much better it would have been to be “slow to speak and quick to hear” (James 1:19) so that you could have received more information.  It has happened to me more times then I would like to admit.  So, what are the practical implications of this warning to not answer before we hear?

1.  We must give ourselves to actively listening to others.  We know what it’s like when we are talking to someone and you can tell that they have not heard a word you are saying but are only waiting to pounce and give their thoughts on the subject.  Or let me bring it closer to home.  You know how easy it is to nod your head act like you are listening when in reality you are only planning what to say next.  This is not only inconsiderate, it keeps us from true understanding and will actually increase our chances of giving foolish answers.  For kindness and wisdom’s sake, we should give ourselves to actively listening to others–to focusing on what they are saying and seek to understand it–not merely using their time to talk as an opportunity to think of what we will say next.

2.  We must learn to be patient and wait for all the facts.  Take the situation with Joseph and Potipher’s wife.  If all we had was the circumstantial evidence: Joseph’s garment was in Potipher’s wife’s hand, she had a credible story, and even some “witnesses,” we might be ready to condemn an innocent man (see Genesis 39:1-23).  But our “answer” would have been dead wrong because we were not patient to “hear” all the facts.  Had we have waited, we would have learned that Joseph actually reacted in a godly fashion in the situation.

3.  We must desire understanding more than giving our opinion.  Listen to this indicting verse: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2).  Wow!  If the habit of our lives is to parade our opinions rather than seeking to truly understand what we are talking about, we are nothing more than fools.  On the other hand, a humble, godly person does not merely throw out his or her opinion, rather, they only speak with true knowledge and understanding: “In everything the prudent acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly” (Proverbs 13:16).

So, as you look out on the world around you and seek to discern various ideas and teachings, give yourself to listening, to patience, and to real understanding. Then you will be wise and your mouth will be a fountain of life, and you will avoid the folly and shame that inevitably comes along with being quick to speak and slow to hear.

6 thoughts on “Hearing Before we Answer: Thoughts on Proverbs 18:13

  1. Yo D, Keep up the blitzkrieg of blogging. I thought you did a great job here bringing this Proverb to life and using other Proverbs to fill it out. I also liked the example from Genesis 39 because I am speaking on that text this Sunday!

  2. Dear Derek

    Thanks for the commentary on this verse. We are all sinners and probably all break the “rule” that this verse illustrates. Our problem is admitting it and asking forgiveness as we should for all our sins.

  3. do you know what the bible calls a fool?????

    Are you saying that every “stinking thing” must be listened to OR thee are a fool..

    JWs at the door – do you listen to them every time- as you say then you must!!!@

    maybe a word study instead of a blinded eye!!

  4. I was not finished so the bottom line

    I heard the “23 minutes in hell ” and the first verse he cited was Prov 18:13, implying that GOD wants you to listen before you make a ……. give the devil a break is that wahat he and thee are saying that GOD says….


  5. Stephen,

    It is difficult from your comment to know exactly what you are saying, but I will try my best to answer the questions I think (!) you are asking.

    1. I am not implying that one must listen to every “stinking thing” one says before they make a judgment, only that before making a judgment, a person needs to have listened well enough to have an adequate understanding of what the other person is saying. If you critique some person or some idea based on a wrong understanding of that person or idea, you are acting foolish according to Proverbs 18:13. Why? Because your judgment is not based on truth – you are misrepresenting the said person or idea. If JW’s come to my door, I do not need to listen to everything they say; but anything I critique or judge must be based on an accurate understanding of what they really believe. Therefore, I need to listen carefully and not “answer before I hear.” It is of no use whatsoever to argue against someone’s belief when I do not really understand their belief. When I do this, I am really making no argument at all.

    2. I am not familiar with Bill Wiese’s ” 23 Minutes in Hell,” so I cannot comment on it.

    3. On the one hand, the gospel of Christ is clear and simple. A person needs to understand that God is the Creator, that He is a holy judge, that he is angry at sin and at sinners and must punish sin because it is a violation of his law and therefore an affront to his character. They must understand that the penalty for sin is death, but in love God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to live a life of perfect obedience in our place and to suffer the penalty of death and satisfy God’s wrath in our place. They must believe that Jesus rose again bodily from the dead and that he invites sinners to turn from their sin and place their faith in him alone for salvation.

    On the other hand, if a person does not “count the cost” of following Christ, or “commits to Christ” before they have an adequate understanding of the gospel, then I think this verse would probably apply to them because they are giving their answer – “Yes, I will follow Jesus” – before they have actually heard everything they need to hear about who Christ is, what he has done, and what he requires of his followers.

    4. To be honest with you, my friend, your comment actually proves the point I was making in this post.


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