I am so happy to introduce you to a dear friend, Darien Gabriel for our guest post today. Darien is the pastor at Grace Christian Fellowship in Summerville, SC. I can’t begin to tell you the impact Darien had on my walk with Christ. He was there in the beginning when I came back to my faith as an adult. His patience and his teaching during my seemingly endless questions encouraged me to continue in my walk with Christ. I will be forever indebted to him.
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. James 1:19 NLT
I’ll admit–this doesn’t come naturally to me. I am impulsive and I am very verbal. No matter who’s around.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, is teaching his fellow Jesus-followers how to deal with anger. I’m not the only one, apparently. Through James, the Lord teaches us how to relate to other people when we’re tempted to lash out in anger–from strangers to those closest to us.
An Example of Not Being Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak
“You must.” This isn’t just a suggestion. This is an imperative. We must take this seriously. When we don’t, there are consequences.
This comes from a guy who was thrown out of an intramural co-ed basketball game for yelling at the referees. I got TWO technicals! It gets worse. The refs were just fellow students and I wasn’t playing–I was the coach!
Yep. A bad temper is something I am well-acquainted with. Scripture teaches this is a foolish and destructive way to live.
That same year at Clemson I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. He began to change me from the inside out. Though my temper was still there, God gave me greater self-awareness about it. He helped me become self-controlled over my impulses. Eventually, my pattern was not to lose my temper but to respond to difficult circumstances with more grace and patience. While this took years, the power to overcome my temptation was immediately available.
This had a good effect on all of my relationships. It was especially good for my marriage just a few years later.
James continues, “be quick to listen, slow to speak.”
I often tell young people when I’m speaking to them that God gave us one mouth and two ears. That must mean that he expects us to listen at least twice as often as we speak. There’s truth here. It’s really hard to learn when you’re doing the talking. Listening and wisdom go hand in hand.
In addition, being slow to speak is a great strategy. It means that we’re going to train ourselves to default to silence–to think before we speak. This is almost always the better route to go. This command makes the last part more likely to happen.
“be…slow to get angry.”
A Better Way
When we actually listen to people–as opposed to thinking about what we’re going to say next–we honor that person. We love that person. We respect that person. Is it really even listening if we’re working on our next zinger while they’re talking to us?
So we listen to honor them and to understand what they are saying. A good tool for disciplining yourself is to say back to them what you think you heard them say to you. This not only clarifies in your mind what they said (leading to greater understanding). It honors them by demonstrating you were listening with a desire to clearly understand them.
So we are quick to listen (instead of speak). We are slow to speak (because we’re busy listening, processing and filtering our next words). The result is we’re slower to get angry. We allow reason and perspective to overcome impulsive, undisciplined words (and eventually behavior). Harsh words rarely come out after we’ve really listened to someone–no matter how intense the conversation.
Why Is It So Hard to Be a Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak person?
Finally, I have a confession:
I can’t do this.
Nope. My tendency is to think about myself over others. I still want to lash out at people when I don’t like what they say to me. I’m selfish and foolish to the core. Yet, hope and help is available.
Hope. My need is to think with the mind of Christ. God saved my soul when I surrendered my life (and anger) to him through his son Jesus Christ. Now the Spirit of God is working in me. He’s working to change my thinking from selfish to selfless. Imagine how that might affect my words, my listening…my tendency to get angry.
James is writing this letter to the earliest Christians. They are suffering from persecution from the government and from fellow citizens because of their faith in Christ. They have good reason to be angry. They were likely tempted to take out that anger on each other too. You get abused by a Roman soldier one day. You then go home and yell at your wife because she simply asks about your day.
James writes these impossible words knowing that the only way anyone will live this way is if they surrender their life to Jesus Christ. It’s his Spirit in us that empowers us to think rightly and live with this kind of wisdom and self-control. He knows that it’s by God’s grace we’re able to live this way. You can’t. But you can–when you allow God to do this in and through you. From the inside-out.
What’s God saying to you today?
What are you going to do about it?
Who do you need to share this with today?