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Do Your Words Give Grace to the Hearer?

By Dr. Don Dunlap
Pastoral Counselor
Review a Listening Etiquette Checklist and learn how to encourage others with your speech.

Family Counseling Ministries   -

Although the tongue is a small part of the human body, when it is not restrained by God’s Holy Spirit, it can do limitless damage to others. In the second installment of a four-part series on the power of edifying speech, Dr. Don Dunlap provides readers with a Listening Etiquette Checklist. He also discusses practical steps for Christians who desire to obey God’s directive to speak words that “give grace to the hearer.”

Katie was a woman in our church who had become known as a troublemaker and a busybody. She had been guilty of gossiping, of misrepresenting facts, and of prying into other people’s affairs. She agreed to meet with me to discuss how to biblically control the use of her tongue. We established the goal that we would help her learn to edify others with her speech, and thus glorify God.

When we speak words that are not edifying, we defile the person we are talking to, and we defile ourselves.

I referred her to James 3:5,6,

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire? And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.

We then looked at Proverbs 15:4,

A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.

I explained that her speech could either tear people down, or build them up, depending on her obedience to God’s commands regarding the use of the tongue.

I urged her to consider how obedience to these passages in God’s Word would enhance her testimony for Jesus Christ.


I explained how Satan works division among Christians, when they are not careful to obey God’s directive to speak “words that give grace to the hearer.” I challenged her to faithfully apply the principles that we would be studying, and to ask the Lord to use her to build unity in our congregation.


I suggested that we both memorize James 1:26 before our next meeting the following week. Katie agreed to the plan, and we wrote the verse on cards so that we could carry it with us throughout the coming seven days:

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

We began our second meeting with a discussion of what I call the “Listening Etiquette Checklist.” I told Katie that one of the most important steps in learning to accurately report facts is listening attentively and politely when someone is speaking. I asked her to fill out a brief yes/no checklist, to help her determine whether or not she had mastered this skill.

1.      When someone is talking to you, either individually or in a group setting, do you ever whisper to someone else, or listen to someone whispering to you? Yes/No 

2.      Do you ever gaze around at other people or things when someone is talking to you? Yes/No 

3.      Do you frown, yawn, or make other negative facial expressions when someone is speaking to you? Yes/No 

4.      Do you look at your watch or a clock when someone is talking to you? Yes/No 

5.      Do you ever ask inappropriate or prying questions when someone is relating facts to you? Yes/No 

I knew for certain that Katie had frequently been guilty of all the offenses listed in the checklist, but I wanted to give her the opportunity to realize and acknowledge this for herself. She answered Yes to all five questions, and we proceeded to examine specific ways that she could change her present behavior.


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