Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (Jas 1:19-20 ESV)
Part of not being deceived (see a previous post) is knowing what is right and true. James does not want these beloved brethren to fall into the trap of deception. Some types of knowledge are a necesary thing.
James is going to give them knowledge that is essential and applicable in so many ways. It is certainly good advice to listen more than you speak in social situations. In sales, good salesmen are those who listen more than they talk. However, James’ advice (while applicable in relationship to others) is directed at our relationship with God and towards listening and responding to Him.
Be swift to hear: When you want to do something, you are quick to get to it. If you are going to play a game with friends in the morning, you shower fast, dress fast, eat fast, and rush out the door. Excitement motivates you. (Hopefully the same excitement happens on Sunday morning for worship services….but I digress).
Someone once said “God gave us two ears and one mouth; we should use them in that proportion.” James would agree.
Slow to speak: The pause between another’s expression of thoughts and the words starting out of your mouth should be more than 5 nanoseconds. Allowing the time to fully digest the words to which you were intently (i.e. swiftly) listening will allow the nutrition of them to be processed and used more readily. This can sometimes take 10 full seconds…or even longer.
In this context, David’s words may apply. The righteous one “meditates” on His law. (Psalms 1) Hearing God’s words and then thinking about them and considering them before you act or speak rashly is a good idea.
Slow to wrath: Those with a quick fuse are going to have problems. In fact, by this point in the book, James might even be expecting some anger as his audience hears these words read to them. Read back from verse 2 to this point and see if these might not be responses in a person who was not quick to hear, slow to speak or slow to wrath:
- “What do you mean rejoice in trials? Life is hard, there is no joy!”
- “Why does my faith have to be tested? I am faithful. God shouldn’t need to test me.”
- “I didn’t know what to do and asked God, he didn’t answer me.”
- “What do you mean I didn’t have the faith in my request?”
- “I am what? double-minded?”
- “What exaltation? I am poor and that no good greedy rich guy won’t share his money so I am going to go occupy his Jerusalem, Rome, and Antioch” (oh wait, that thought won’t happen for 2, 000 years from when James wrote this.)
- “Why should I be humbled? I am rich. I should be treated better.”
- “God does too tempt me. It has to be Him, it can’t be my fault!”
For any one of these responses, God has something to say and James is delivering that message to these Christians. It is not, of course, an exhaustive list, nor does it need to be. If we will simply put into practice the art of listening to God and not trying to talk our way into what we want to do, or getting angry when things don’t go the way we want them to go, life will be better-especially the one to come.
Consider that he says ‘the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God’. How true that was with Cain. He brought an unacceptable sacrifice and became angry. God spoke to him but he was not willing to listen. He ended up killing his brother.
There is a difference between the anger of man and of God. God’s anger is directed at ungodliness whereas the anger of man is generally directed at godliness, especially when such godliness is showing their faults.
The reason why James wants us to listen more than we speak is because you can learn something when you listen. I have had the occasion, several occasions actually, to debate a point with someone only to discover after the conversation was over and time had passed, that his point was a good one or that we actually agreed and were arguing over semantics.
James will tell us what to do once we accept this simple advice in the next few verses. When a person will actually remove anger, stop talking and start listening, much can be accomplished.