Therefore my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath, for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. – James 1:19-20
I have rarely found myself in trouble when I’ve just listened. I when get into conflict, it is most often a result of something I said. As I examine those instances, I can usually see it was a result of me not listening clearly and quickly speaking about something in a way which didn’t help the situation.
Further, since I wasn’t really listening, I didn’t get the full picture and therefore I became upset and quickly allowed anger to overtake my demeanor. This of course usually doesn’t bring out the best in me and doesn’t reflect anyone’s idea of righteousness very well.
That’s why this admonition of the Apostle James strikes home with me. He gives us three commands in quick order. We are to be 1) swift (or quick) to listen, 2) slow to speak and 3) slow to wrath (or anger). It’s the relationship trifecta.
James uses some strong language here and rather than bore you with all the details of the original language, let’s just say it’s like he is grabbing us by the lapels, pulling us close and stating in no uncertain terms that we as believers are to follow these three steps. Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to wrath. Doing these will help us produce the “righteousness of God.”
I submit to you these three commands are not meant to be stand-alone elements but are really three steps, to be taken in progression.
Swift To Listen
We are first to listen. It is to be the first thing we do – listen. Some of us are better at this that others, but I’m convinced listening is an acquired act. It takes some determined effort to just listen to someone, especially if have a point of disagreement with them. But we need to listen. We need to listen first before anything else is done.
Proverbs 18:13 says this another way; “He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him”.
Before we are to speak on a matter, we need to listen. We need to hear what is being said. And really listen to the other person and not mentally rehearse what we’re going to say, but really listen with full attention. Only then can we actually speak to the issue.
Slow To Speak
The next step is to be slow in our response. I suppose there are exceptions to this, ie, needing to call for help during an emergency or shouting a warning to someone immediately before they step into a hole. But most of the time, we need to be s-l-o-w to speak. Think about what we’ve heard, formulate of thoughts and then speak.
Jesus said in Luke 6:45 “Out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.” In context, He is speaking about one bearing positive fruit especially in areas of conflict. What we say (or how we respond) under stress is very revealing about our character.
Slow To Wrath (Anger)
The final step in this three-tiered progression is to be slow to anger or wrath. Whatever term you prefer, it is obvious what James is speaking about, the emotion of anger. This is not just a simple annoyance, but it can often begin as just that – a simple point of irritation that left unattended can lead to anger, even rage.
Notice he doesn’t say we can’t get to an emotional state of anger, but we are to get there slowly. My experience on this is that if we take it slowly – especially if we’ve listened fully and spoke thoughtfully, the less likely it is that we display the “wrath of man” as James describes it.
Notice how these three progressive steps lead us to produce the righteousness of God as opposed to the wrath of man. Our relationships are better because our testimony better reflects His character and nature when we use these three steps.
When facing difficult circumstances, we are often tempted to point our anger toward God. I’ve even heard teaching that “we should just get all our anger out all toward God. He’s big enough to take it.” He is big enough to take it but is that the right way to approach the Almighty?
It seems to be that when faced with a difficult situation, if I am quick to listen to Him and it’s only after I’ve heard Him that I begin to pour out my heart to Him. Finally, I find I am not nearly as emotionally distraught as I may have been earlier because I’ve been slow to respond emotionally.
James pushes us throughout his writing that we are to be different, full of good works, speech and treat each other in a positive manner. By following these steps and being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger, we better reflect the righteousness of God.
Blessings my friend