Peninsula Community Church
February 10, 2013
James – Slow Down, You Move Too Fast
James 1:19-21 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.
As a child, I always remember that when I would get angry the counsel I would receive would be to count to ten. Little did I know how great this counsel would be and little did I know, at that time, how close this was to the Bible’s counsel as well.
Another bit of counsel I would receive was from my grandmother. she would say that God gave us two ears and one mouth therefore we should listen twice as much as we talk. Once again I did not realize how close to scripture this counsel was.
As I was preparing for this message I was reminded of the lyrics to a song written by Simon & Garfunkel in the late 1960s that encouraged us to slow down. I am sure you remember the song. The lyrics went something like this: “Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last, just kickin’ down the cobble-stones, lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy.” While this is certainly just lyrics to a song, it is my belief that James had the same sentiment in the passage before us.
As we look at this passage, we see that James begins with a call to action. He says “Know this.” This would be the same as saying, “Listen up” as what I am about to tell you is extremely important. He in essence says, “Take notice of what I am going to tell you, if you want to know how to live your faith out in a practical way.”
How is this accomplished? To guide us James highlights three practices every passionate follower of Christ needs to develop in their lives. By putting these actions into practice our lives and our relationships will be positively affected. In this passage, he suggests that we need to be better listeners. We need to be slower in our responses and we need to be slower in letting anger get the best of us. If we do these things, most conflicts would dissolve and many conflicts would never develop.
Let’s look specifically at how James instructs us.
First, James instructs us to be quick to hear. How true it is that we need to be better listeners? Too many times we are thinking of our next line or the response we might give rather than truly listening to the other person? By doing this, we potentially miss out on what is really being said. The result is that we receive disjointed and incorrect communications. In years past, the emphasis on good communication was focused on the one communicating. If the message was not received then it was automatically the speaker’s problem. As information on this subject has developed, scientists have found that one can communicate perfectly and yet there will be a failure on the part of the listener to receive the data correctly. The one communicating can give one message but those in the audience can receive conflicting messages. Why is this? It is because they are day dreaming, they are thinking of what they have to do later, or they have an animosity toward the speaker. These and other reasons can impact what one hears.
To be a good listener is in reality a mark of humility. It is something we do as we consider others as being more significant than ourselves. The following exhortation from Paul supports this idea. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). To listen, means that we attempt to understand others before responding.
Second, James instructs us to be slow to speak. As we study the Bible, we find that the tongue can be a force for life or it can be a force for death, especially when we don’t stop to think about what we are saying. Too many times the problem for us is there is a tendency to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind and that is not always a good thing. Think back on your life when this has happened. What were the results?
The other aspect of note is that you cannot speak and listen at the same time. When we are speaking we are not listening or at least we cannot do both effectively. When we are busy talking we can miss out on what others are saying. All we have to do is look at the political rhetoric of our day. Rather than debates, we have monologues. Rather than true discussions, we have individuals who want to give their talking points without any interest in hearing another’s viewpoints. And, we wonder why so little is being accomplished.
The writer of Proverbs has some insight into this idea when he says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19). “There is one whose rash words are like swords thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Finally, he says “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3).
While listening is a sign of humility, waiting to speak is an action of one who loves others. In 1 Corinthians 13:4 Paul states, “Love is patient.” Waiting before I respond or being slow to speak is one way God calls me to love others. Prudently restraining my lips (Proverbs 10:19) allows me to get past my initial impulse (which is frequently wrong). It gives me a chance to ask God for wisdom and discernment, and to ask clarifying questions that often don’t come in the heat of the moment.
Third, James admonishes us to be slow to anger. In life, we need tough skins and soft hearts. We need to understand that people around us are not always listening to us and that they sometimes says things before they think them through. Once we recognize this, we will be more apt to understand those around us. Too often, we respond to others who do not think their words through and we jump the gun before we think things through ourselves. The result is that we say and do things in haste that we would not do under normal circumstances.
The problem is that in anger we say things that injure others. The fact is, our words effect others for good and evil. They bring life and they bring death. Listen to what the word says about this. “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24). When I speak, it is so important that my words “give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Paul states, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Gracious words are sometimes tender and sometimes tough according to Proverbs 27:6, but they are always measured, clear, honest, and if possible concise according to Proverbs 10:19. Gracious words always aim for truthful restoration and agreement (2 Corinthians 13:11). Deadly words aim to destroy, wound and bring pain which is the opposite of gracious words.
In this passage, James is not saying that anger is wrong because anger is a God given emotion. It is an emotion that we cannot help, but we can control. Anger can be used for healthy outcomes or it can lead us to sin and evil. Angry words can be spoken that can tear down a relationship in an instant. Remember these verses? Proverbs 14:17a states, “A man of quick temper acts foolishly” while Proverbs 29:22 says, “A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.” Misplaced anger accomplishes nothing positive in either person.
So how does all of this apply to us. When we are quick to listen, we can hear the heart of the other person in ways that will not occur if we are busy talking or attempting to think of our next line or comeback. When we truly listen to others, we get to know them more than just a surface understanding. We can hear their heart. We can read their body language and their verbal cues. If you truly listen, you might be amazed at what you might hear.
When we are slow to speak, we are more likely to take the time to evaluate our response thereby more clearly communicating what we want or need to communicate in a better way. When we are slow to speak, there is less of a chance to have to apologize for my actions later because I have said something stupid. The fact is that it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks but that does not mean that we have to speak everything in our heart.
It is for that reason that James instructs us to put away filthy things and unwholesome things because these things will affect how we respond. Sometimes we are quick to respond because we want to cover up who we are and we believe that by controlling the conversation, we cover up who we really are. A pure heart speaks pure things. A pure heart that is quick to listen and slow to speak will be one that is less likely to get angry or upset. That is God’s will for us,