Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak

[Jody note: My husband, Henry, is sharing with us today from his current study in James.]

19Know this, my beloved brothers and sisters, Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. 20For human anger does not produce divine righteousness.     James 1:19-20 (HN)

I’m a talker. It’s rare that I don’t have something to say. When I’m quiet, it’s usually not because I’m listening to the people around me. It’s more that I’m thinking about various things and—wait for it—coming up with more things to say! I’m also a teacher, so the book of James can be just a bit hard on me (see James 3:1).

But despite its challenging and convicting, and, let’s face it, just a bit annoying comments, James is filled with extremely good, practical advice. It’s no wonder most of us know the book in little pieces, like James 1:5 (do you want wisdom?) or James 5:14-15 (need healing?). But there are themes that run through the book and tie things together, and one of those themes is the idea of bridling the tongue, and how this relates to wisdom. The wise person knows how to bridle the tongue.

Notice how we don’t have a similar command to bridle our ears!

Just think about almost any incident in dealing with other people over whatever time you care to remember. Was it an argument with your spouse? An angry exchange with one of your children? Was it an unguarded moment when you said something you really wish you hadn’t?

In this day of social media, we might include reading as part of listening. How about being quick to read what your friends have said on Facebook, slow to write your own comments, and slow to get angry about what you see and hear? Might that make your life work a little bit better? I’ve seen many debates online become very heated (slow to anger? not so much!) in online forums or social media. But unlike our ordinary conversations the record was there for everyone to see, and it was easy to see that the participants were slow to listen (or read), quick to speak (or write), and quick to anger.

People’s careers have been harmed by things written on MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter; thoughtless things, but there’s a record. It’s not that social media makes it possible for people to be more rude than they ever were before; it’s that it provides a record, so everyone can see how rude you are.

But how about if we changed things around? Quick to listen, slow to speak. What amazing results we might see. And listening does not just mean hearing the words spoken. Listening involves hearing what the other person is actually saying. When you’ve really heard, then you have the right to speak—carefully.

But finally there is “slow to anger.” Anger is a necessary emotion I believe. There are things that should make you angry. But anger makes you react quickly when you ought to react more carefully. You need to take time to ask just what the results of an angry response to someone will be. Will it make their life any better? Will it make my life any better? Will it glorify God? As our text notes, human anger doesn’t produce God’s righteousness, nor the kind of righteousness God wants to produce in us.

I think this is a very good text for the year. No, I won’t stop talking. It’s part of my job. But I really want to listen, and listen long enough to avoid human anger.

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