Scripture: James 1:19-20
We have more ways of expressing ourselves today than ever before. There’s email, texting, phone, various chat services, letters, and face-to-face conversation. This unprecedented level of connectedness is fantastic, but not without its drawbacks. Have you ever sent an email or text message that you regretted as soon as you hit “send”? What about saying something you wish you hadn’t? In the book bearing his name, James cautions us about the “risks of speaking” as it were. He doesn’t say that we should never speak, but he does advise us to be careful with our words.
In chapter 1, verse 19, James advises us that we should be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath”. This is because, as he goes on to say in verse 20, “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God”. The first thing we should be concerned with is listening. After all, how do we know what to say if we don’t know what’s going on? Also, not talking does not count as listening. Listening is taking the time to hear and understand the other person. Many times we busy ourselves with how to make our next point instead of hearing what the other person has to say. Consider our relationship with God. One of the ways God expresses His love for us is the incredible amount of time He spends listening to us. No matter what we have to say or when we say it, He is always happy to listen to His son or daughter. We sometimes say that the love we show to others comes from the overflow of God’s love in our hearts. Perhaps we might also share the overflow of God’s willingness to listen as well?
After we have really listened, we can speak. Now that we at least know what the other person is saying, we can respond in an appropriate manner. Another reason that speaking comes second to listening is that it is very easy for speaking to become a selfish activity. In other words, it is easy for us to speak just to hear ourselves talk. Consider this: if speaking is first on our list, why is it first? Could it also be the case that we sometimes talk because we are seeking the praise and admiration of others?
Finally, James says that we should be slow to wrath. Anger is a normal and healthy emotion, but, like anything else, misusing it leads to trouble. A person could very well ask “how am I supposed to not get angry?” After all, we all have things that infuriate us or know people that never fail to agitate us. An important thing to realize is that there are things that you cannot change overnight. There is no magic “don’t get angry” button. However there are ways of proceeding that make being “slow to wrath” a less daunting affair. First, recognize the difference between acknowledging an emotion and acting on it. We don’t have to do anything in order to recognize that we’re angry. When we’re able to recognize that we’re angry, we can acknowledge our anger and ask ourselves why we’re angry. Once we know why we’re angry, we can determine whether or not our anger is godly and then proceed accordingly. By taking time to reflect on our emotions we can be less likely to do or say something we are going to regret later. In short, we can roughly divide anger into two categories. There is godly anger: anger that is an appropriate response sin and injustice; and there is ungodly anger: anger that is based in sin (i.e. pride, jealousy, etc.) James warns us to be slow to anger so that we don’t rush into ungodly anger.
One of the reasons are told to be very weary of the tongue is because it only takes a moment to utter a single word, but that word is not so easily taken back once spoken. James advises us to set priorities to help us avoid making these mistakes. We should listen first, talk second, and be slow to anger.
Questions for Consideration:
- Think about the people in your social groups; are the most popular people the ones who talk the most or who listen the most?
- How is anger portrayed in popular culture and media?
- Why is it so hard to not act on our anger?
- How can our relationship with God affect our efforts to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to wrath?