So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20
It is important to keep in mind the reason James wrote this book. He wrote to God’s people who had been scattered in various places. This book was written to give practical instruction on daily living. Verses 19 and 20, of the first chapter, give some sound advice that we should apply daily.
Have you ever flown off the handle? Yes, I mean gone off! Now, how many of you have gone off before you’ve gotten the whole story? Come on, tell me I’m not the only one.
Sadly, I know that I’m not the only one. It is so easy to just go off on a wild tangent before you really hear the other person out. This especially is true when facing trials. This results in increased tension, hostility, and aggression.
James appealed to the saints to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. Such advice is essential to keeping the enemy at bay as he attempts to steal your peace and wreck your relationships.
When I hear this verse, it fondly reminds me of my charge to my 2ndgraders: STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN. To follow James’ advice, I changed it a bit to STOP, LISTEN, and LOOK.
STOP. It is important to stop yourself from reacting too quickly. Our reactions should be slow. Don’t speak, yet! Don’t become angry, yet! But first hear. James places this imperative first, purposefully. You cannot adequately speak to a matter that you have not heard fully. It is unwise to respond in anger before you even know what you are angry about. How can I stop myself? Invite the Holy Spirit in to help you. He will give you that gentle nudge in the right direction. Listen to Him when He does. Obedience is the best way to stay sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s direction.
Read Proverbs 18:13. Rewrite this verse in your own words.
He who answers a matter before he hears it,It is folly and shame to him. (NKJV)
In the admonishment, “be swift to hear,” hear means much more than what happens when sound goes into the ear canal. It comes from the Greek term akouō, which means to attend to, consider what is or has been said; to understand, perceive the sense of what is said.” Don’t just hear, but actually listen to what is being said. Seek to understand the other person. Seek to hear their heart. This is another opportunity to invite the Holy Spirit’s help.
Now that you have listened effectively and gained clarity, deal with how you respond. We should LOOK! Look to God to aid us in expressing ourselves in ways that yield the fruit of righteousness.
READ Proverbs 17:27. How does this verse describe someone who uses restraint with words?
The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. (NIV)
We should be “slow to speak.” After we’ve stopped and listened (and enlisted the help of the Holy Spirit), we should look to the Lord to help us form a response. Don’t just say what pops in your head. Don’t speak with a sharp or even forked tongue. But rather let your speech be seasoned with grace. There is an advantage to using restraint with your words.
James also admonishes us to be slow to anger. This was not the first time the hearers of James had heard this admonishment.
Look at the following passages. Do you notice a repeated thought?
Neh. 9:17, Proverbs 14:17, Ecclesiastes 7:9, Ephesians 4:26
Each passage warns us to be slow to anger. There is folly—foolish recklessness— associated with unrestrained anger. Simply put, you stir up more trouble when you respond in anger. As Psalm 37:8 says, “So turn from anger. Don’t rage, and don’t worry—these ways frame the doorway to evil” (The Voice). Responding in anger only leads to greater harm.
Why does James strongly urge believers not to respond in anger? Because “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (vs. 20). Your anger cannot generate God’s righteousness. It’s not God’s way. This is why the scriptures tell us “’Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). We can get angry, but we cannot afford to stay angry. We do not have the capacity to hold on to anger. It makes us bitter, malicious, and spiteful and leads to sin. We cannot allow anger to have that effect on us. To do so is to give the devil room to work, and to give way to every evil thing.
So what do we do when we see injustice, murder, child abuse and wickedness in the world? We look to Jesus. He alone can carry the weight that we cannot. God’s way is peace, love, mercy, and justice. And when we love righteousness, we will rid ourselves of anger quickly, giving every care to Jesus.
What cares cause anger in your life? How can you give those cares to Jesus?
IT APPLIES TO ME
- How does today’s passage apply to you?
- What are some practical steps you can put in place to align with James 1:19?
TAKE THE NEXT STEP
- Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help you in this area. His help is always available to you.
- Is your anger out of control? Seek help. There are spiritual and medical counselors available to help you deal with explosive anger.
WANT TO DIG DEEPER
- Take a look at the following passages: Proverbs 14:29, Proverbs 15:18, Proverbs 16:32, Proverbs 17:14.
- Along with the other verses we’ve seen, why do you think this warning was so vital?