Summary: Being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry are attributes that matter a great deal in our everyday living. Following these principles can avert a lot of trouble and accomplish much good in our own lives and in the lives of others.
QUICK AND SLOW
INTRODUCTION: James goes into the next passage saying, “Take note of this” (listen up, pay attention). Not that anything James had said up until this point isn’t important but he’s indicating that what he is about to write is something he doesn’t want his readers to misunderstand or ignore. And with good reason because being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry are attributes that matter a great deal in our everyday living. Following these principles can avert a lot of trouble and accomplish much good in our own lives and in the lives of others.
1) Quick to listen and slow to speak (vs. 19a). What will help us to do this?
• Practice silence. Being silent means I’m listening to you. Listen and silent have the same letters. Practicing silence means I’m not thinking about what I’m going to come back at you with. What does silence create? It creates the opportunity to observe. When I’m silent I can see what’s going on around me. I can observe your body language. I’ll be able to notice the pain you’re feeling. It creates the opportunity to think. I can adequately reflect and process what I’m seeing and hearing. Giving myself over to silence creates the opportunity to silence my anger. In silence my anger can be subdued. Prov. 18:13, “He who answers before listening-that is his folly and his shame.” Why? Because when we speak before we listen we will say something we regret, we will say something foolish, we will make erroneous judgments we will damage our witness. If we are going to be quick to listen and slow to speak we need to practice silence.
• Desire to learn. Being quick to listen and slow to speak shows that I am willing to learn. It shows that I desire to gain knowledge, insight and wisdom. God gave us two ears and one mouth that we would listen twice as much as we speak. However, for some of us our mouth is open twice as much as our ears are. We have the tendency to get caught up in wanting to show how much we know. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. We are too quick to share our ideas, opinions and beliefs, sometimes with only a limited knowledge of the subject. Then we risk speaking non-truths and potentially misleading someone. This is especially dangerous when speaking on the word of God. We have to be careful that if we are stating what we believe scripture is saying that we clarify it. “I think this means…” you may be right; you may not be. No matter what the subject is, no matter what the situation is, we can’t go wrong by being slow to speak what’s on our mind.
2) Slow to anger (vs. 19b-20). What will help us to be slow to anger?
• Practicing the former will accomplish the latter. I can’t be quick tempered and quick to listen at the same time. I can’t be quick tempered and slow to speak at the same time. If I am a quick tempered person then it shows that I am not willing to listen. If I’m quick tempered then I will also be quick to speak. And if my tongue wags when my anger flares I am in trouble. Interestingly, if instead we would be quick to hear and slow to speak there would be less anger. If we were quick to hear and slow to speak we would automatically be slow to anger. So we see that practicing one often takes care of the other. One of the reasons for this is that upon listening to someone or watching a situation unfold we learn something that resolves the anger that was stirring up inside of us. The person says something that gives us understanding. The situation goes on and it suddenly takes a turn for the better and because we were patient and slow to speak and quick to listen, and also being quick to observe and slow to react, we see our anger appeased in the outcome. Being quick to listen and slow to speak will result in being slow to anger.
• The art of restraint. Proverbs 17:27, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.” Being slow to speak and slow to anger means we need to learn the art of restraint. Because if we don’t learn the art of restraint, there are going to be serious consequences. Prov. 14:17 says that a quick-tempered man does foolish things. People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing. And these consequences are not just for us but also for those who are on the receiving end of our anger. A lady once came to Billy Sunday and tried to rationalize her angry outbursts. “There’s nothing wrong with losing my temper,” She said, “I blow up, and then it’s all over.” So does a shotgun,” Sunday replied, “and look at the damage it leaves behind!” Sometimes it’s not over so quickly. For some, once the anger switch is flipped, all bets are off regarding what will happen from there. Prov. 17:14, “starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” Michael Costin, 40-year-old single father of four, was beaten to death on July 5, 2000 in front of his own children at a hockey rink in Reading, Massachusetts. The man who attacked him was reportedly angry because Costin had refused to intervene in a youth hockey game that Junta thought was getting too physical. In Atlanta, Georgia a two-year old toddler was shot through the neck by an irate motorist engaged in an argument over a road incident with the toddler’s father. Being quick to anger can lead out of control anger which can lead to death. If we are going to save a world of hurt we need to learn the art of restraint.