Summary: James asks his readers, us included, to listen to God and to each other carefully, and to put the word of God into practice.
The story is told of American President Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvellous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not until the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, "I’m sure she had it coming."
I once opened a meeting in prayer and referred to those words ‘everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry’ (1:19).
Afterwards a man approached me and said, “Warner if we were all to do that we wouldn’t achieve much would we.” As it happened I didn’t have a quick answer. I was very slow to speak! In fact I don’t think I said anything in reply, but when I thought about it later it seemed clear to me that if we were all quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry we would actually achieve far more for the kingdom of God. We would hear and understand God better, we would hear and understand one another better, and we would be better equipped to do God’s will.
James precedes this by saying, ‘my dear brothers [and sisters], take note of this’ (1:19). In other words, this is important! James says, ‘Nota Bene’, NB; and whereas it goes against the grain of our generation where people are encouraged to express themselves, and everyone’s opinions and beliefs are supposedly equal, this was accepted biblical wisdom: ‘Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry’.
For example Proverbs 13:3, “Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives; those who open wide their lips come to ruin”; and Proverbs 29:20, “Do you see someone who is hasty in speech? There is more hope for a fool than for anyone like that”; and Ecclesiastes 7:9, “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.”
You’ve probably it said many times before, but as a friend often reminds me: the truth is always worth repeating! God gave us two ears & one mouth. Could that mean that proportionally we are made to be able to listen twice as much as we speak? Certainly there have been times when that thought has helped me to not only bite my tongue (without drawing blood!), but also to focus on the person speaking to me as if for that moment he or she is the most important person in the world; and I guess if God has put them in front of me then at that moment they are my priority: Quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
James continues, “For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (1:20), and later says, “If anyone considers himself religious and does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (1:26). More often than not anger shows itself or reveals itself through words said and through actions too.