Last evening at our life group, where we are studying James, the very popular “slow to speak” verse came up. We talked about how difficult this is for most of us.
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. – James 1:19-21 NIV
I know this is especially difficult for me because I never seem to do a good job of listening and sometimes find myself interrupting to make my point. This sinful tendency is aggravated by the fact that this world is moving so fast. By example, work meetings have moved from hour long affairs to 10 minute “stand-ups” and family dinners are no longer consumed at the actual table, but in a rush in the car on the way to something. This leads us to feel that we must be quick to speak, in anger or otherwise.
But, we all know that we are not to do this. How many times have we heard about not “butting in”, “actively listening”, “putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes” or God help us “mansplaining”. And as the verse goes on, we remember that, if we read the Bible and remove sin from our lives, we will be in a better place spiritually and emotionally to HEAR that we are giant buttheads from those in our lives.
The funny thing is, this open assault by pastors, teachers, parents, friends and spouses, on our prideful verbal vainglory has not worked. Besides these very personal teachings, countless blogposts and stories like the one you are reading rehash the issue ad nauseam, but the problem still exists. It might be worse. What to do, What to do?
And then it struck me. Is that really what the James is talking about in his Letter? Is the standard that we are failing to meet simply the requirement to slow ourselves down long enough to understand another person’s point before we make our own? Is God’s standard so low?
I don’t think it is, I think that, as usual, we’ve missed the mark. The world’s standard is to listen without arguing. God’s standard is much higher.
This section of the James 1 is entitled “Listening and Doing” or “Hearing and Doing the Word”, in the common NIV, NLT and ESV translations. This heading imply that there is a separation between these two parts of James’ letter. We read it like this, “Be a good listener” and also “Do good things like visiting widows and orphans”.
I don’t believe these two ideas are meant to be separated. We are not to simply be slow to speak – listening to someone else’s point and then calmly communicating ours, again, that is the world’s standard. I believe that we are meant to be Really Slow to Speak. We are to listen with the Lord’s ears and then seek His opinion, in His word and through His Spirit in prayer, and then act – by loving the other person. The ESV does a good job of connecting the two ideas (if you cross out the section heading).
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. – James 1:22-25 ESV
Here is the key point, understanding each other’s position is great, but what does the Lord’s think about it?
It seems to me that most times we don’t know what God’s position is, because we do not ask. (James covers this later in chapter 4). And really, isn’t God’s opinion the most important? He understands the entire picture and the work that He is doing in each of us and we only know our position, and maybe our spouses’ if we listen with the world’s ears.
But, one might say, “When do I get to make my very important point?” Hmm, How about never? Or, better yet, why don’t you ask God’s opinion by mentioning your thoughts during your prayers. Fit it in as your humble request (Supplication) right after your Adoration of the Lord, the Confession of your sins and the Thanksgivings for all the blessings the Lord has provided. Later, if you want to check to see if you heard the Lord correctly in His response, James provides us the perfect answer key.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. – James 1:26-27 NIV