Living for the Glory of God ~ Vivir para la Gloria de Dios

Be Quick to Hear, Slow to Speak, and Slow to Anger (James 1:19) ~ A Daily Devotion for January 8, 2014

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” ~ James 1:19

Explanation of the Text: In verse 19 of chapter 1, James begins his longest section of teaching up until this point. He begins his teaching with three charges, which are be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. James uses the phrase ‘let every person’ making the reference that the teachings he is giving are applicable and necessary for everyone. He is not using this as an opportunity to address a select group of people, but instead is saying that the wisdom he is teaching is profitable and useful for all to take heed to.

Quick to listen:

During the time in which James was writing this letter, the New Testament was not existent in the same form it is today. They did not have the Bible written and bound together for them to conveniently carry with them to the synagogue or use as a quick reference. Instead, they had to rely on people to teach it to them orally. Usually there were teachers who traveled around the region, teaching God’s Word to those at each place that they stopped at. Without having the word in written form, each person had to rely on the person teaching, listening intently to every word so that they could learn exactly what the Scriptures were imploring of them.[1]

The point of listening is emphasized in both the Old and New Testaments. Both the Gospels of Mark and John say, “Pay attention to what you hear” (Mark 4:24; Luke 8:18). This appeal for spiritual perception is a call to duty for each person to give close attention to what is being said in order to hear it; “Superficial hearing must be avoided, especially in spiritual matters.” Likewise, Proverbs 15:31 equates listening with growing in wisdom. The emphasis of listening is not just found in the Old and New Testaments, but likewise, Jewish wisdom literature and writings of the church fathers also dwelt some on this point.

Slow to speak:

Like being quick to listen, slow to speak is also an attribute of humility indicating self-restraint. “A continual talker cannot hear what anyone else says and by the same token will not hear when God speak to him.”[2] If you are too busy reacting and talking, you are unable to obey the first statement, which is be quick to listen. Likewise, one should think about the words they are about to speak, determining what kind of impact they will have and whether or not they will accurately convey what they want to say (rather than simply a response of anger that will generate more anger).

Proverbs 17:27-28 says, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge….even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Like being quick to hear, slow to speak is equated with both knowledge and wisdom (see also Proverbs 10:19).

Slow to anger:

The text is forbidding thoughtless, unrestrained anger.[3] Anger is one of the most unproductive methodologies used in reasoning. It never results in the positive outcomes that people desire, and instead usually produces more anger. “When eagerness to hear and heed God’s Word is replaced by ambition to expound on one’s own ideas, bitter arguments can soon develop. This is especially true when several in the congregation share the ambition to speak. Those who are so certain they are right must be cautioned against wrathful argument.”[4] Earlier Proverbs 17:27 was quoted, but omitted the phrase, “and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” One not prone to anger, keeping calm instead, gives evidence of understanding.

Slow to anger is a characteristic of one who has the wisdom of Christ and is conforming to His character. In Colossians 3, Paul tells believers that if they are in Christ, they are to put off the old self and put on the new self. Specifically in verse 8, Paul says that this includes putting away anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from the mouth. To be conformed to Christlike character involves not being prone to anger.

Examination & Application of Text: Reading this text makes it pretty clear what the application is; be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. None of these is an easy task, but thankfully we have a helper in the Holy Spirit!

Individuals are called to hear, listening to the words being spoken. Listening itself is an attribute of humility, allowing another to fully say what they intend to before responding. It becomes an exercise in self-restraint, indicating control over one’s own emotions, attitudes, and actions. As Simon Kistemaker says, “Listening is the art of closing one’s mouth and opening one’s ears and hearts.”[5] By the art of listening, one begins to learn.

Looking more in depth at the phrase, ‘slow to speak one can realize that James is not merely speaking literally here. Instead, he is saying that one needs to not react quickly. As humans, our natural tendency is to react quickly, responding in anger, rather than to understand the situation and respond in love. The idea is to have the right heart attitude, responding to situations, trials, or tests in a Godly way. The response one has should be based on all of the information in a logical, understanding manner rather than in a way that is filled with only emotion. Being slow to speak signifies obedience to the word of God.

Finally, because anger is a natural reaction, James indicates that people should be slow to anger. When we are being confronted with something, the natural reaction is to either get angry or blame someone. However, James is telling the readers to not do that. Instead, do not get angry. Instead of being angry, this demands that one responds opposite, meaning in love, using it as an opportunity to evaluate one’s self.

What this verse has done for readers is outlines a process of seeking the Word. Listen to what it has to say and what it has to teach you about who you are, and who you need to be. Be slow to speak so that you may understand and obey the Word, even if it is difficult to be confronted by the Word. Finally, obey the Word. Do not get angry at what it reveals, because this is God teaching you. As you obey the Word, it becomes easier to conform to the Word. Instead of getting angry at the truth of the Word, one should conform his life to meet the righteous standards that God has emphasized in the Bible for your life. James will expand on each of these ideas in the following verses, expounding on what it means to be quick to hear in verses 22-25, slow to speak in verses 26-27, and slow to anger in verses 20-21.

[1] D. Edmond Hiebert, James, (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2009), 112.

[2] Donald W. Burdick, James, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 174.

[3] Douglas Moo, James, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 82-83.

[4] Homer A. Kent Jr., Faith That Works: Studies in the Epistle of James, (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2005), 49.

[5] Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Epistle of James and the Epistles of John, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1986), 56-57

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