As many of you know, James was the pastor of the Jerusalem church before the Jewish Christians were persecuted and driven out of Jerusalem. James writes this book to the believers who are scattered among the nations, and it is easily argued that he would have personally known at least some, if not many of the original readers. He writes this letter with not only compassion for their suffering but also a pastoral edification challenging them to live worthy of their calling and position as children of God.
Because James has such a deep concern for the original readers, he enters into this exhortation with the genuine concern of a caring pastor. He refers to his readers as dear brothers and sisters. There is no doubt that James has suffered during this time and he knows full well that his readers have weathered many trials.
“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)
With full confidence that his motivation is love and compassion, James enters into a firm expectation about how the Christ follower should engage with those around him. There is no simple way of putting it, so James implores his readers that each one must be quick to listen, take time before we speak, and be patient when we have reason to become angry. Too often, our anger or frustration loosens our tongues and we say things we do not really mean. Too often, we desire to be heard first and ignore the necessity to listen. This affects all types of relationships from our home and work environments to the ball field and church pew.
I think it is important to pause here and truly assess where we stand with this expectation. When am I speaking first and listening less? How is my anger keeping me from guarding my tongue and the things I say? What must I do to get control of these aspects of my life?
The expectation is more than just taming the tongue, which we will spend more time discussing in James 3; it is about controlling one’s anger. There is a clear prohibition of unrestrained anger and it is based on the fact that anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. As Christ followers, we are to live out the Fruit of the Spirit. Anger that causes us to say things that are hurtful and lead to uncontrolled speech is the opposite of what God desires from each of us.
How well do you control your anger? How well do you control the things that you say? How important is it to you that you listen more than you speak? Take some time today to examine your actions on these matters. The answer will help you identify where growth and maturity need to take hold in your life. It can be difficult to be honest with yourself in these areas, but it is vitally important. Just think about the positive change and impact you can have on your relationships if you can get a good handle on these things.