James 1:19 “19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
James was emphatic when he penned these words. He said, “Take note of this.” In other words, “This is important!” His words weren’t just for Christian leaders or a certain group of people but for everyone. As a preacher I love the passage because it has three obvious points which makes for some easy preaching!
James tells us to be quick to do one thing and slow to do two others. Hence, this morning’s title: “Quick, Slow, Slow.”
The only detention I ever received in school was in Jr. High and resulted from me simply not choosing to keep my mouth shut! (Imagine that!) My high school shop teacher, Galen Locher, leveled the penalty on me, and every time I’ve seen him since he hasn’t forgotten it!
Perhaps you grew up hearing from your parents that we have two ears and one mouth which ought to be a symbolic reminder that we are to listen twice as much as we speak. Listening intently and speaking correctly both take discipline and Holy Spirit control.
I’ve been mentioning it lately in my messages, but there seems to be an overall lack of control when it comes to appropriate, helpful communication these days. In fact, some of the TV programs with the highest ratings involve groups of people in a reality TV setting who love to talk over top of one another (often loudly) and don’t care what they say or how they come across to others. Listening is absent from the script.
Let’s break these three points down one at a time:
Quick to Listen
How many relationships could benefit from participants who made listening to each other a priority? To go into a conflict with the goal of really wanting to hear what the other person has to say and to seek to understand how they feel would prepare the way for so much healing. What if married couples decided to find a night each month where they just spent time listening to each other? How would that enhance their oneness? How could they work together more effectively? How would their intimacy be increased? How would it enhance a company’s effectiveness if bosses and workers spent time really listening to each other? How more effective would our parenting be if we took as much time to listen to our children as we do to instruct them? What does listening really involve?
Good listening requires:
One thing Josh heard me say repeatedly during his fifth grade year was, “Read for understanding.” Being able to comprehend is an important part of understanding and communication. We need to listen for understanding as well. How can we be compassionate if we don’t really understand what the person is struggling with? How can we adjust our behavior or offer words of counsel if we don’t accurately process what a person is in need of?
Put down your cell phone when someone needs to be heard. Turn off the TV when your kids need to talk. While many people applaud their ability to multi-task, listening well is hard to incorporate into a multi-task situation.
Good listening requires:
While James says we need to be “quick to listen,” he doesn’t say we need to be quick listeners. Good listening will involve some time and patience. Some people can take a while to get to the point as every detail of the story is super important to them. Taking time to listen is a gift you have to offer, even when it involves someone’s aunt’s, sister, who is twice removed who used to attend church with you, but left to attend another church and now doesn’t go to church anywhere after moving to Arizona. J
Good listening requires:
When we really listen we demonstrate we are open to hearing and learning from the speaker. Even if it is just a friend who needs to talk in order to obtain clarity or guidance or to unload some stress, by listening to them you have an opportunity to learn something. Perhaps you will learn something about them you didn’t already know. Perhaps you will learn something about yourself which can assist you in dealing with a life challenge that is yet ahead. Perhaps the way your friend is processing what they are going through enables you to learn how not to handle something or how better to handle it the next time you have a similar situation to face.
If you are listening to someone in a conflict mediation situation, maybe you will learn how what you have said or done was received and caused hurt. Only when you embrace that you could have contributed to a conflict can you own that and help heal that hurt. Maybe it is 80% the other person’s fault, but if you are really listening with openness you can own the 20% that is yours.
Good listening requires:
People don’t always want a solution or advice or a critique of how they are handling their issues. Sometimes they just want you to listen. It can be difficult for some people to refrain from just wanting to fix the person’s problem all of the time.
We need to respect the Holy Spirit enough and respect the maturing process enough to give people the freedom from time to time to come to their own conclusions and struggle through their own issues. If we swoop in to save the day all of the time we can short-circuit the growth process in their lives. That’s why knowing when to speak and when to listen is so critical.
Good listening demonstrates:
As Christians, we should be seeking to mature in the way we deal with people. Listening more and speaking less will keep us from putting our foot in our mouth and from causing insult and injury. Good listening communicates value and lifts other people up. People know when you are half-heartedly listening. They know when you are distracted. It takes away from someone’s ability to be vulnerable if they think you don’t have time for them or if they think you don’t really care about what they are going through.
Let’s be quick to listen. James then offers a second piece of advice when he tells us to be SLOW TO SPEAK:
The first thing that pops into our minds to say isn’t always the best thing. In fact, it’s usually not. I’ve said it before, but as Christians who are trying to grow in the Lord, it should be a goal of ours to respond rather than react.
People who react put the first thing that comes to their injured ego on Facebook. People who react blurt out the first thing they feel or think to say. But, people who respond take time to think things through. They take time to pray about what would be helpful. People who respond have everyone’s best interests in mind; not just their own.
There seems to be a lack of attention to this part of communication today. I’ve heard people express it that many people today have no “filter” when it comes to speaking.
Some principles to assist us when speaking are also a part of our Rotary’s four-way test of the things we think say or do. We recite these at every meeting. They are:
- Is it the truth?
- Is it fair to all concerned?
- Will it build good will and better friendships?
- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
I’ll add a fifth for us as believers:
- Will it glorify God?
Let’s talk about those things. When we speak quickly we may be jumping to conclusions when we may not always have all of the facts. When we don’t know all of the facts, when we don’t have the total picture, when we don’t know the whole story, a quick response may not be a truthful one.
When we are quick to speak it is often because we are upset. When we are emotional we may embellish things in a quick response. When we speak out of emotion we may not speak fairly about the other people involved in the situation.
Quick responses often contribute to conflict rather than help bring healing. By taking a few minutes or few days to respond we can think about how best to share our thoughts in a way that won’t cause any more damage but will build up the relationship.
Your greatest resource in this life isn’t your bank account. It’s not the equity you might have in a home. It’s not a musical or athletic talent you possess or even your ability to comprehend complex situations or memorize material. It is your mouth! What you say has more power and influence than anything else you possess.
Proverbs 18:21 tells us the power of life and death are in the tongue. Let’s say your child comes home with a bad grade and you react with a statement like: “How could you be so stupid?” The injury caused from that reaction is far worse than a failing grade on a test or even several tests. A response, however, like, “What was going on with you before and during the test?” “Did you feel you were prepared and focused?” “How can I help you get ready for the next test?” “Would it help if we met with your teacher to discuss some strategies?” Those kinds of questions can help a kid feel supported and valued rather than lead them to believe they are a failure.
Christians have to be committed to the truth. God the Father is “truth” according to Exodus 34:6. God the Son, Jesus is “truth.” For He said about Himself that He is the “way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) God the Holy Spirit, is called the Spirit of Truth. (John 16:13)
“The Bible says that those who practice the truth will come to the Light of Jesus31 to be saved,32 and that the truth of following Jesus’ teaching will set one free from sin.33 One who receives Jesus becomes a new creation, established in truth in the likeness of God.34 The Christian puts on spiritual “armor,” which includes the belt of truth.35 The Christian is to “buy truth,”36 “love truth,”37 and rejoice in the truth.”38 The Christian is to be established in the truth,39 to love in truth and deed (not just lip service),40 and correct those who stray from the truth.41 The Christian is to think deeply about things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise.42 The Christian church is to be the “pillar of the truth.”43” http://www.godandscience.org/doctrine/truth_and_christianity.html
When dealing with conflict we are told to “Speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15)
Before we say anything we must make sure it is the truth.
Of course just because we know something is true doesn’t give us license to share it. The church should be a safe place to share a burden and receive prayer without someone sharing your request with others when it is not desired. It’s not fair to share something someone has shared with us in confidence unless it contains information about how they plan to harm themselves or someone else.
Not only do we need to consider if it is fair to share, but we also need to consider if it is helpful. There is no way we can be effective communicators without the Holy Spirit’s help. We must ask the Holy Spirit if it will be helpful to the situation or to the persons involved if we decide to offer suggestions, advice or correction. That said, sometimes God will lead us to say that which will cause someone else to be hurt or upset for a while, but if they embrace it, it will be for their benefit. No one likes to be corrected. But persons who are seeking to grow, who are seeking the truth, if something is pointed out in love, they will eventually be thankful for it. There are messages I don’t necessarily look forward to sharing because they are hard words to deliver, but I know they are what God wants to say. We must be committed to the truth even when it’s hard, but in doing so, we must be careful and considerate and certainly prayerful in the process.
Glorifying God with our words should be our heart’s absolute desire. Romans 15:5-6 “5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We can sin in speaking hastily. Proverbs 10:19 “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
In two places in Ecclesiastes 5 the writer talks about hasty speech. He says, “Do not be quick with your mouth,” (Vs. 2) and “do not let your mouth lead you into sin.” (Vs. 5) Those verses are in the context of making vows to God that you then don’t keep. We can be hasty to make promises to God because we want something from Him and then not keep those promises when He comes through. An Old Testament understanding of making vows to God and not keeping them tells us how dangerous that practice is.
The same is true in our words with others. Making a hasty promise to our friends and family just to get out of a jam or say what we think they want to hear is serious. Broken promises, according to the Scripture, lead us into sin. Before we commit to something we need to take some time to prayerfully consider if we believe we can fulfill the task.
I think there is a reason James put these issues in the order he did. If we listen first, we won’t be tempted to say too much too soon or to say too much with too much emotion or to say too much without all the facts. If we bypass the listening we may speak things in anger or rudeness or with condescension and half-truths. As Proverbs 17:27 says, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.”
Finally, we are to be SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY. The kind of anger described here is a destructive emotion. Anger can devastate relationships, separating husbands and wives, children and parents. It’s like a poison. That’s why in Ephesians 4:26-27, Paul says when you have feeling of anger, deal with them appropriately so that they don’t build and turn into rage.
As Christians we ought to be angry over injustices and the exploitation of others. We ought to be angry over the way Satan manipulates people and sin destroys lives.
Feelings of anger can give us an opportunity to understand ourselves better. When we start to feel angry, we need to ask God and ourselves why we are angry. We can become angry when we are misunderstood. We can become angry when we feel rejected. Those of you who are still living at home with your parents, is it easy to become angry when consequences are imposed that you don’t agree with or feel are too extreme? Do you feel angry when something doesn’t go your way? The food doesn’t come the way you ordered or the product doesn’t do what you were promised. Do you get angry? People get angry when they feel betrayed. What does it take to make you angry? How many of us are walking around with anger towards God? Towards family, church family, friends or co-workers? Are we angry because we have an unforgiving spirit? Are we angry because of things that we have endured in the past? There are many “reasons” angry feelings develop. How can we diffuse those feelings before they escalate?
Remember the order of James’ words again. We are to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. If listening and careful speaking are by-passed and your anger begins to boil over you won’t likely hear truth if it is staring you in the face. You won’t likely say anything helpful to the situation. Many people get and stay angry with someone that they have never sat down with to talk about their feelings. So much could be different for so many people if they would deal with conflict rather than let it simmer. Sometimes people get angry with someone and the person they are angry with has no clue they have said or done anything offensive and no clue that the person who is mad is even mad. What good does any of that do?
In Jonah chapter 4, Jonah was angry that God had sent him to the wicked city of Ninevah to preach a message of repentance. He was even more angry that Ninevah repented. He wanted them to burn! His anger had let to hatred for them. God told Jonah he had no right to be angry over people being forgiven of their sin, but Jonah thought they should pay for what they had done throughout the years as they had been involved in invasions of many people groups in barbaric ways.
When anger leads to the desire to assassinate people emotionally, spiritually or physically it has gone way too far. When anger leads to a point where we want to level consequences on people out of that anger (Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for justice to be done in certain situations) but when we want to legislate penalties out of anger on people we have in essence put ourselves in the place of God. Even when God legislates His discipline, it’s not out of a desire to hurt people. He simply has to act on sin. It is His desire that none perish and that all come to repentance.
Nowhere in Scripture are we told to get angry and get as angry as possible. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that it will be helpful to us to be angry. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that anger is the way to witness. In fact, Ephesians 4:31 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” It’s not something to cultivate in your life.
If irritated moves to frustrated and frustrated moves to miffed and miffed moves to upset and upset moves to ticked and ticked moves to hacked off and hacked off moves to honked off and honked off moves to anger you are just one step away from hatred, and the last time I checked, hatred is the complete opposite of what we are to do as Christians. How do we get there? We get there by nursing hurt and wounded feelings until we feel like we have the right to be angry, just like Jonah. There are so many steps between frustrated and angry in which we can choose to have a conversation with someone. There are so many steps in there which give us the opportunity to forgive.
But we’ve all been there. We have reached that point of anger. I find when a person gets there it is best that they start with God rather than with the person they are angry towards. God has thicker skin. J We can overcome angry feelings as we turn to God in prayer and confess our anger and need for Him to help us process it. “Well, I’m just Irish and we are quick-tempered.” “Well, I just have a hot temper.” What does Scripture say? “An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins” (Proverbs 29:22). It also says, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; …it leads only to evil” (Psalm 37:8). None of that sounds holy or helpful. “That’s just the way I am” will never fly before the God who sent His Son to die so you didn’t have to stay the way you are. I Corinthians 13:5 tells us, “Love is not easily angered.” If you are “easily” angered, that is, if you are just angry all of the time, yelling at your spouse, kicking the dog, slamming doors, shouting at the kids, spewing over the restaurant server, complaining about just general life stress, you have more than “situational” anger. You probably need some intense focused-help dealing with that, getting to the root of it, and walking with God in a way that submits your will to His until it is removed. But for many others, we just need to know what to do when those once in a while situations arise.
We can overcome angry feelings by not letting them build up over time. Let irritated and frustrated roll off of you. Life is too short. Take a nap or eat some chocolate. J But by the time you get to miffed, you need to consider having a conversation with the miffer J and you need to include prayer in the process.
We can overcome angry feelings as we are made new in the attitude of our minds (Ephesians 4:23). We get angry about way too much when we have no right to do so. If anyone had right to be angry it was Jesus. And while there were a few times the Father had Him display righteous anger over injustice and shallow religion, the earthly stuff, the petty stuff, the people stuff that you and I get so uptight about, He never sweated for a minute. Even as He sweated drops of blood, was betrayed by His friends and endured torture you and I will never imagine accurately no matter how many movies we watch, and through it all, Jesus forgave. The formula James prescribes? Quick, slow, slow. How well are you applying it to your life?