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. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:19-21)
How many times have you been in an argument with someone and before they have finished talking you already know your response and talk right over them? The conversation keeps going as the two of you try to get the last word in.
These conversations happen all the time. It makes sense because we live in a world that teaches us to speak our minds. We put people who are witty and loud up on pedestals.
In our own lives, we are always expressing our opinions, triumphs, and whatever else we think needs to be said. But James challenges us to do the opposite: be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
Why is this so hard?
The difficulty of being quick to listen and slow to speak comes from self-centeredness that is in each one of us. Our natural inclination is to talk first and say whatever we want because we feel that is our right. We feel what we have to say is important because we feel that we are important.
We are instantly focused on ourselves. However, God commands us here in James to be quick to listen and to focus on what the other person has to say.
To go along with this, James also commands us to be slow to anger. There are righteous types of anger, but often unrighteous anger comes when we are irritated that our circumstances are not the way we want. Again, this is being self-centered.
When we are quick to listen, we are taking the emphasis off ourselves and putting it on other people.
Our willingness to be slow to speak shows others around us that we care about what they are saying. It also allows us to slow down and think about what we are saying, so that it may be wise and uplifting.
Likewise, we should become slow to anger as it shows that we are not simply acting out of our own self-centeredness, but rather being patient and loving. Granted, this is much easier said than done. How is this difficult task to be achieved?
James urges that if we want to be able to accomplish this, we must look into our souls and rid ourselves of those sins that pollute us. Or, as he calls it: “moral filth” (v. 21, NIV).
Consider for a minute when you host people in your home. When you have people over to your house for a nice dinner there is much preparation that must be done before they arrive. One of the many important chores any good host will do is clean up the house: sweep the floors, dust the furniture, and clean any dirt stains out of the carpet.
The key is that you want the house to be clean and presentable to your guests. Just like cleaning our homes, we want to clean our souls of “moral filth.” And cleaning means doing something different than just stuffing everything into a closet.
Similarly, we cannot just hide our sin from others. What we have dwelling in our souls is what will spill out into our lives.
If we have a sin or sins that we have failed to deal with, they will eventually manifest themselves in an ugly way. This will make being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger impossible.
Therefore, James emphasizes the necessity of searching our souls for our indwelling sin and ripping it out!
Making our Homes Ready for Company
James goes on to admonish us not to just rid ourselves of sin, but to replace it by humbly accepting the word of God in our hearts with the knowledge that it alone can save us.
Why is this profoundly helpful? Because when we reflect on God’s word and humbly take it to heart it makes us realize that we are not our own but God’s.
It calls us to be a people that love God and other people more than ourselves. Most of all it, makes us aware that we owe all that we are to Christ. For without His sacrifice of love and grace we would be lost.
If this is what is dwelling in our souls then we will be able to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
Let’s go back to our analogy of hosting people in the home. It is not simply enough when you are hosting people to clean, but we must also prepare a meal, light candles, and ensure that there are provisions for them to enjoy their stay.
When we humbly fill our souls with God’s Word and plant it in us, we are creating an environment to host the Holy Spirit within us. When God’s spirit rests in us, it will allow us to be a people that listens and cares for others.
It enables us to be slow to speak and allow our speech to be life-giving and good for building up other believers. It helps us to be slow to anger as we reflect on Christ’s sacrifice and how in his mercy and grace he is slow to be angry with us.
When we are intentional about putting these words into practice, we can transform our relationship with God and with others. Consider how much better workplaces, families, and churches would be if people were intentional about James’s wise counsel.
When listening, being slow to speak, and slow to anger become difficult always remember this: God is a God who listens and hears the cries of his people.
When God speaks to us, it is always out of a place of love, even if it is hard to hear. Most importantly, God is slow to anger and rich in love (Psalm 145:8).
Let this be our reminder as we serve the Lord this week.