“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19,20).
In June, as George Floyd’s murder led to marches and protests and some protests became mixed with looting and riots, a dear Black brother in Christ told me, “Every one of my fellow Christians agrees that racism is sinful. What’s hard is when they disagree with me on my own experiences.”
My friend’s hurt was simple: When he would share what his experience as a Black man was like, his fellow Christians often didn’t listen. Instead, they were quick to tell him that his experiences were not any different than their own—even though the experiences he shared happened explicitly because of the color of his skin. They were slow to listen and quick to speak.
That didn’t just cause pain. They missed a chance to show love for a brother in Christ and to share God’s comfort.
Speaking well requires listening
God calls us to speak. He sends us with the good news of Christ that is the answer to the world’s evils. The Bible is filled with commands to proclaim the gospel. But James reminds us that, often, speaking isn’t the first step.
James wrote to Christians in the earliest days of the Christian church. He addressed issues that are still timely: economic prejudice within the church, hateful slander, and faith that doesn’t show itself in genuine acts of love. James warned believers against hypocrisy and guided them in Christian living. Here’s his point: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
The Bible is filled with commands to proclaim the gospel. But James reminds us that, often, speaking isn’t the first step.
The spirit of our age is much different! We are slow to listen—especially when people speak to us about real hurts or pains that might make us uncomfortable. We dismiss or ignore their stories. We talk too quickly and too much. If that was true of Christians in James’ day, how much more in the age of social media! James devotes his third chapter to the damage done by sinful speech, saying that our tongues can set entire lives on fire.
His words are an honest and serious call to believers of every age to reflect on our habit of quick speaking and slow listening and to repent. Praise God for the forgiveness he pours out in Christ Jesus!
Listening well leads to a righteous life
God did not give those words through James simply to shame us. They are to guide us in our Christian living. What a blessing it is for my brother in Christ when believers listen to the racism he’s experienced and share God’s anger over it. What a blessing for the world when Christians listen carefully as an act of faith so that rather than giving in to human anger, we proclaim God’s anger and his forgiving love in Christ.
In James’ day, Christians in the world were few. What an urgent time to speak the gospel! The world was ready for that message. But James impressed on those believers that if the church wasn’t going to descend into hypocrisy, they needed to be quick to listen. Only then could they gain the credibility and integrity to live—and speak—in the righteous way God expects of his disciples. May God grant that among us!
Author: Joel Seifert
Volume 107, Number 09
Issue: September 2020