Meditations in James: 12 : When Slowness is Good
Jas 1:19,20 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
Sometimes in Scripture you look at a verse and wonder how it comes to be there, but part of our studying should be to see the flow of thought in the writers mind. Our verses here today are rather like that. Let’s consider what James has been saying. His overall thought is to write to the church scattered in the world, no longer focused in the little spiritual stronghold of Jerusalem but now scattered all over the place. He’s spoken several times of the difficult times that we can face, living in this world, and has counselled us accordingly. One of the bits of counsel, the last one that we saw, was to remind us that God is good and, from that, what has happened to us because He is good, to remind us that we are special people who God has drawn to Himself and to whom He has given new Holy Spirit life. He has called us first fruits, those who belong to God who are used to remind the rest of the world that it belongs to Him. With this in mind James now moves on to touch on a way that, living in this sometimes difficult world, we might be tempted to be less than the people God has designed us to be.
Consider what it’s like living in this sometimes difficult world. Things go wrong; people do silly or nasty things. We feel frustrated with it and wish someone would deal with the stupidity or nastiness. When you are part of the Christian minority, frustration is a very real factor in life and the main expression of frustration is anger. When we are angry our temptation is to blurt out lots of unhelpful comments (Understatement!). James is a wise pastor, and he knows these are the thoughts and feelings that churn inside sometimes when this world appears to be going stupidly wrong.
Notice however, the gentleness with which he approaches us: my dear brothers. Ladies don’t worry about this; you’re not the ones who tend to struggle in this area. It’s the forthright men, men who are naturally macho, who want to do things, achieve things, change things, who get frustrated. Ladies tend to more gently approach the problem. It’s like James says, guys, I understand how you feel but we really mustn’t let this world and its frustrations get at us, take note of this, pause up and think about it with me, will you.
He then comes up with a little threefold strategy. Part one: be quick to listen. So often we get angry and frustrated because we do not understand what is going on and we don’t know what is going on because we don’t bother to listen carefully to others. If we listened to what others were saying, we would understand them more fully and if we understood them more fully we would see their need and, as Christians, would have compassion for them, feel sorry for them. Compassion is an incredibly good antidote to frustration with people. It may not be people; it may simply be circumstances going wrong. Again the temptation pushed before us by Satan, will be to launch out with angry, foolish words against God. “Why have you allowed this happen? Why don’t you do something?” It’s not wrong to have questions, but it is wrong to get angry with God about the frustrations of life. It simply shows we don’t understand the dynamics of life on this Fallen World, or the resources that are available to us from God. In the difficult circumstances, go to God by all means, but be quick to listen, listen instead of talking, and see what the Lord will say to you about the situation. He wants you to be a person of understanding. Understanding often counteracts frustration and subsequent anger.
Part two of the strategy: be slow to speak. Solomon wrote, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19). The more you speak, the more prone you are to say the wrong thing, and sin. For a while I wrote a weekly comment on the week’s events from a Christian perspective and came to realize afresh how easy it is to make shallow comments based on little knowledge, or comments based on inaccurate or incomplete knowledge. It is a dangerous thing to make comment on the world, yet we all do it all the time. Listen to any conversations in church, in the street or in the office. So many conversations about what is happening in the world. TV, radio and newspapers have made us all much more knowledgeable about what is going on in the world. How easy it is to denigrate someone else. It’s so easy to do when you know they are wrong! I find the more I write on the Internet the less I want to speak into such conversations. Be slow to speak.
Part three of the strategy: be slow to become angry. This last part should be the outworking of the first two, but it is something we need to purposefully do. What good does anger do? It merely vents your frustration instead of dissolving it in compassion and understanding. Anger so often breeds anger and, as James says, “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” There is the target we need to keep holding before ourselves: a righteous life. Perhaps a simple check at the end of each day is to ask ourselves, “Is there anything I have said and done this day that is unrighteous, that I know Jesus would be upset by?” Do we have thoughts, ideas and attitudes that come out of frustration, that are tainted by anger, that are in all honesty, unrighteous? If we don’t deal with them, God will, and that will be more painful. It’s better to confess and crucify them than be caught by them. Let’s take on board James’ threefold strategy today.