A man walking into church late asked one of the ushers, “Is the sermon done yet?” The usher replied, “The sermon has been preached someone, but it has yet to be done by anyone.” What an answer! The word of God is not just meant to be preached. It’s meant to be practiced. It’s not just meant to be delivered, it’s meant to be done! The book of James gives us a step by step procedure.
We have spent the last few weeks talking about trials and temptations. James has been blunt and transparent in his instructions. He has given us commands, imperatives, that we are to follow if we are to allow the faith on the inside to be lived out on the outside. Today is no different. Today the rubber meets the road. Today he is going to command us specifically how to respond to trials and temptations in our life!
Know this, my beloved brothers, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19, 20)
A Careful Ear
We live in a time of information explosion. I read recently that over 100 billion emails are sent each day. That’s more than ten times the population of the whole world. Each day 5000 new books are published. This year the number of text messages will exceed 6 trillion. Everyone is sending communication, but is anyone really listening?
If we take the year Christ was born as our starting point, it took 1500 years for all the knowledge in the world to double. The next doubling took only 250 years. It doubled again in 150 years. By the end of World War II, knowledge doubled every 25 years. Today knowledge is doubling every 12 months.
No wonder we can’t keep up. According to Stephen Davey, “If you happen to read the New York Times newspaper for one week, you will be exposed to more information than the average person, living in the 1800‘s, came across in their entire lifetime.” (From the message “Tutored by Truth.”)
We are being swamped by a tidal wave of information that pours in 24/7/365. The whole world is now “live” and in “real-time.” Stories change every few minutes, and the screen you’re watching may have an anchor reading a story with an image to the right, a sidebar to the left, with a screen crawl at the top and another at the bottom so that you’re following five different information sources at the same time on the same screen.
We are easily distracted therefore we must cultivate the discipline of listening. No wonder we are easily distracted. We look without seeing, we listen without hearing, and we speak without understanding. We are a wired up, tuned in, hyper-caffeinated generation that seems to know less than ever.
Listening is a discipline that must be cultivated. Isn’t it amazing that when we bring a little critter into the world, we can’t wait for the baby’s first words. We hope and long for the day that they say “momma” or “dada.” Once we hear them speak that first word, we practice it with them over and over. We teach them new words. As they grow, we teach them to pronounce them more clearly, we practice better diction, and better grammar. We carefully cultivate their speech.
But how careful are we to teach them to listen? Is not one of the greatest frustrations of parenting that our kids talk back too much and listen to our directions too little? Listening is a discipline that must be cultivated. We must learn not only how to hear, but how to really listen! James says that we are to have a careful ear. “Let everyone be quick to hear…” This verse is naturally connected to everything that has gone before, and that which will come next.
James is telling you today that you are going to face trials and temptations, and when you face trials and temptations, you are going to need wisdom, and if you are to gain true wisdom, you need to understand that wisdom comes when we listen more…The word translated “quick” was used in a slightly different form in John 20:4 to describe Peter outrunning John to the empty tomb. That’s a helpful picture. We ought to be “outrunning” ourselves to find out what God has to say to us.
I read of a man who says that he and his wife have a simple morning rule: “No Bible, no breakfast.” I like it as a personal worth adopting. We would all be better off if instead of checking Facebook first thing in the morning, we went running to the Word of God. I can’t make rules for you or for anyone else, but here’s a challenge to think about. Being “quick to hear” doesn’t happen by accident.
A Controlled Tongue
James says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak…” When you are in a trial or temptation, or when you are in need of wisdom, have a controlled tongue. Ecclesiastes 5:2 says it this way: “God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” It’s hard to argue with that. We need more wisdom and less words! Have a controlled tongue. Solomon wrote a book on Wisdom, called Proverbs. Over and over again in this book on wisdom, he wrote of having a controlled tongue.
- Prov 10:19 In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.
- Prov 13:3 He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.
- Prov 17:28 Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered wise.
- Prov 29:20 Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him
Social media encourages quick feedback. Someone says something we don’t like so without thinking it through, we post a snappy reply, a snarky comment, a clever comeback or a mean-spirited innuendo. Sometimes we are so eager to post our comments that we hit Send and then start chuckling over our cleverness.
Slow down. Stop. Control yourself. When James says “Be slow to speak,” he is thinking about our tendency to speak when we are angry and frustrated. I’m sure you’ve heard it said: Speak when you are angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret. So talk less and listen more. Specifically, listen to the Word of God.
A Calm Temper
James is not saying don’t get angry. That’s unrealistic. We’re all going to get angry from time to time. The word translated “anger” actually refers to a deep-seated rage. It doesn’t refer to a passing moment of displeasure which is soon gone and forgotten. No, James is speaking of that deep emotion which, when released, is like a volcano erupting. It spews red-hot lava all over the living room.
Anger is under your control. Sometimes we talk of “blowing up” as if it happened against our will. But that’s a cop-out. Anger is under your control. When you are in the midst of a trial or a temptation, have a calm temper.
Anger is an emotion we control. Here’s the proof. Have you ever had an argument with your spouse and the phone rang right in the middle of the argument? You were raising your voice and getting red in the face and then, “Hello, how are you? I’m so glad you called. Goodbye.” You hang the phone up and go at it again. That’s because anger is an emotion you can control.
But notice the progression. If we are quick to hear, we will be slow to speak. But if we are slow to hear, we will doubtless be quick to speak. Quick speaking leads to quick anger. A controlled tongue leads to a calm temper. The angrier we get, the faster we speak, and the less we hear. The more controlled the tongue, the calmer the temper.
I think James knew we would have an issue with this third command so he added a reason in verse 20: “For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” The CEV offers this practical warning: “If you are angry, you cannot do any of the good things that God wants done.” Did you ever know a person who was angry all the time? They get up angry, they shower angry, they eat breakfast angry, they go to work angry, they come home angry, they watch TV angry, and they go to bed angry. When they are happy, that makes them angry. Nothing pleases a person like that. Anger leads to jealousy, harsh words, and it can even lead to murder.
That sort of anger can never produce a life pleasing to God. That sort of anger only destroys; it never builds up. That sort of anger brings the smell of death with it. Jesus didn’t come to make us nicer people. He came to make us new people. If you are going to live like God wants you to, you must actively get rid of the moral filth that has become like spiritual earwax. You cannot obey when you cannot hear.