Boy oh boy, I’m pretty sure that today’s lesson is speaking directly to me. In November I wrote a post entitled Taming the Tongue. That post cautioned us to be careful of what we speak. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. (Matthew 12:34) Here, James is cautioning believers to listen to God and others, and to quell our tongues and anger. God requires us to be meek; to lay aside all irritability against the truth, and all pride of opinion, and all corruption of heart, and to receive meekly the ingrafted word.

“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 NIV)

Since God is the only source of good; since he tempts no man; and since by his mere sovereign goodness, without any claim on our part, we have had the high honor conferred on us of being made the first-fruits of his creatures, we ought to be ready to hear his voice, to subdue all our evil passions, and to bring our souls to entire practical obedience.

“The ears are always open, ever ready to receive instruction; but the tongue is surrounded with a double row of teeth, to hedge it in, and to keep it within proper bounds.”

The quieter you becomeBe quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger:  The attitude of mind which we should cultivate is that of a readiness to receive information from any quarter. How many of our conflicts would dissolve or never even materialize if we:

  • Listened to really understand a person’s concern or complaint,
  • Waited… till our typically wrong initial impulse passed, till we’ve prayed, till we’ve asked clarifying questions,
  • And then responded with patience, graciousness, honesty, clarity, and, if possible, brevity?

Listen. A quickness to listen is a mark of humility, something we do when we consider someone else more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Listening to understand before responding is a sign that we are not wise in our own eyes (Proverbs 12:15), not leaning on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:6).

Wait. Love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4). So waiting before responding to a concern or complaint—being slow to speak—is often a way God calls us to love others, even if they don’t expect or want us to wait. Prudently restraining our lips (Proverbs 10:19) allows us to get past our initial impulse (which is frequently wrong), to ask God for wisdom and discernment, and to ask clarifying questions that often don’t come in the heat of the first moment.

Respond. “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24). When we speak, it is so important that our words “give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Gracious words are sometimes tender and sometimes tough (Proverbs 27:6), but they are always measured, clear, honest, and if possible concise (Proverbs 10:19). They always aim for truthful restoration and agreement (2 Corinthians 13:11).

Being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry is very hard. James goes so far as to say, “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). We know what he means. But thank God that “what is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). God will provide us an escape from temptation if we want it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

So as we face conflicts today, if we listen, wait, and respond in the spirit of James 1:19, we will resist the devil (James 4:6) and may participate with Jesus in the destruction of the devil’s works (1 John 3:8) by what we don’t say.

“because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20)

Man’s anger does not produce the righteousness of God. Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that an angry rant against sin is any less sinful than the original sin itself. That is unbiblical thinking. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:3-8)

If you are angry, deal with it before it exits your lips. Angry speech never ministers grace to the hearer. It doesn’t “produce” anything righteous. Instead it sucks grace out of the room. Ephesians 4 is clear on this. “Righteous anger” is reserved by God for the day of judgment, and it is His and His alone to use. (Lord, I hear you!)

If you hate sin and realize that “righteous anger” isn’t the answer, what is it that equips you to change?  “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:11-13). It is the sharing of gospel grace that disciples us in righteousness! Gospel grace trains us to renounce sin and to replace it with godly living. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)