By Dr. Greg Gifford, Professor of Biblical Counseling
Prideful people are terrible listeners, aren’t they? They don’t take an interest in you, they don’t hear you out, they misunderstand you, and they weaponize your words against you. Whereas when we talk with the truly humble person, it looks the way that C.S. Lewis describes it: “Probably all you will think about him [the humble person] is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.” Humble people take interest in you, they do hear you out, they take time to understand you, and they protect your words. If 2020 taught us anything (sorry to use the dreaded word, “2020”!), it taught us the importance of being people who promote peace, rather than stir conflict. In this short article, I hope to show you that humble people are the best peacemakers, in part, because they are great listeners.
Humble People and Peace
Humble people are described in Scripture as counting others as more significant than themselves (Phil. 2:3), preferring other people’s interests (Phil. 2:4), as submissive to God (James 4:10), and as gentle (Eph. 4:2). Humble people are truly a joy to interact with, not because they are dejected, and we feel superior when we talk to them. Rather, it is because they are winsomely engaged in relationship with us. Honoring and serving with us. Listening and talking with us. Humble people are truly interested in us.
It should be no surprise that where the antithesis of humility—self-ambition—exists there is “disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16). Self-ambition is the dynamite to peace: It destroys peace and leaves pieces of discord everywhere. Selfish ambition brings conflict and anarchy. Selfish ambition leaves in its wake conflict; humility leaves in its wake peace “and a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18).
In Matthew 5:9, Jesus describes a peacemaker as “one who makes peace” or “a person who restores peace between people.” Peacemakers help facilitate the peace of God in relationships. Where chaos and quarreling exist, peacemakers bring quiet and clarity. To be a peacemaker, a person must be willing to “get the log out of his eye.” These are the direct words of Jesus in Matthew 7:5. He is saying a peacemaker must be willing to honestly evaluate what is causing the conflict, and take responsibility for any actions that contribute to it.
An old proverb once said, “there is none so deaf as those who won’t hear.” And prideful people will not hear. They do not want to hear about what they could improve, they do not want to evaluate how they could change. To use Jesus’s words, they will not “remove the log.” Conversely, humble people will promote peace because they are willing to remove the log or consider if there is a log.
Humble People are Better Peacemakers
That is what makes humble people better peacemakers. They are willing to listen and understand. They see nuance. They ask … to listen … to understand. Prideful people do not do this because they ultimately don’t care. They are not interested; they have their own agenda. But humble people, as C.S. Lewis said, take a real interest in what you say to them. I’m convinced that we can disagree, while completely understanding each other, and still be at peace with each other on matters of preference. That’s what it looks like to be a peacemaker.
Perhaps this is the message of promoting peace that needs to permeate our 2021? Be humble and work on your listening skills. When you write-off what another person is going to say, before they have said it, that’s not humility. When you put a person into a certain category, without hearing them out, that’s not humility. Or when you have a response before you have listened, that’s not humility either. Humility, as opposed to selfish ambition, propels us to listen to others. And when we listen to others with understanding, we find less discord and more peace.
To Listen or Not to Listen …
This past year, I received an email from a church member, one of our missionaries. He criticized our church for choosing to corporately sing during those few weeks in 2020 when corporate singing was temporarily banned. He did not want a response. He told me we were a bad witness to our community and that we did not need to take Colossians 3:16 literally. To be honest, that email stung a bit. I wanted to type out my own zinger and reply quickly. But I remembered that humble people are peacemakers partly because they are great listeners. At that moment, I had the option of “returning fire” or seeking to understand his perspective.
No, I didn’t draft a hate letter and click “send” … yet. (Only kidding!) I tried to understand his perspective and create a space where I could ask and answer questions. It is hard to disagree and promote peace. But when Paul appeals for there to be unity and peace in the Philippian church, he does so based on humility—the humility of Christ (Phil. 2:5). Christ did not cling to his own rights. He forfeited them. He became obedient to the point of death. And if Christ can put the interests of others before his own, what would stop us from doing the same? This year let’s be humble listeners who promote peace, not conflict.
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