James 1:9 (ESV): Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
This verse has always been a challenge for me; I don’t know about the rest of y’all. Its mainly the slow to anger part, I find that I encounter things nearly everyday which give me great potential for being angry; things in the news, things in our circles, things even in my family. But its those two preceding clauses which focus on the issue to be able to deal with that anger potential. They essentially boil down to what Paul said in 2 Tim 1:7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. The potential for anger in my life often comes from ‘a spirit of fear’. A ‘spirit’ of fearing the unknown, fearing those things out of my control, those people I don’t understand, or those people I think I don’t agree with. In my fear I make a quick response to those people and situations which in turn fuels and feeds my anger; SO I get angry, upset and most often unhelpful. However since in reality the Spirit given us by God is one of power, love, and self control this allows me to be able to resist the anger which wells up in side of me and thus I can be slow and not rash in my thinking and respond with prudence, wisdom and charity. This is how its supposed to work, whether it does all the time is entirely another question. But I praise God that it is in fact his Spirit of power, love and self control which allows me to be able to be slow in my anger and thus quick to hear and slow to speak.
I am often struck, in this culture by our inability to be quick to hear and slow to speak. Perhaps some of it is the influence of the rapidly advancing value of immediacy in our culture. This is were we are feel compelled to spit out whatever we are thinking or doing or whatever is happening, because there is a perceived (sometimes real or imagined) desire for this information from our fellow-man. This is evidence from the explosion of social media outlets such as facebook and twitter, as well as, the RSS feed where-in the latest and greatest celebrity story can be read/heard within 30sec of it happening. These media outlets can give one the assumption that the faster that information and opinions are presented the better. This is my thinking is antithetical to the call by James to be slow to speak. In being slow to speak one hopefully assures several things: 1) that there is no response in fearfulness to the situation at hand 2) that thoughts and opinions and fact are being digested 3) that a response can be crafted which can actually be helpful (ie. seeking the betterment of those to whom you are addressing) and 4) that this whole process is being driven by charity (love) as opposed to fear and pride.
Being ‘quick to hear’ is an interesting phrase. This is only thing in that verse that one should be quick to do. I suspect that James is not thinking about simply being patient here until on can actually say something in return or rebuttal, but rather he is exorting people to be active listeners, to engage with the speaker in such a way as to seek to understand (and this IS different that agreeing) his motives, context, and perspective. It is in this wholistic manner of listening that one can most accurately understand what is being said and then most accurately give a thoughtful intelligent and charitable response in the proper time. I do not think that an immediate response in a conversation is always necessary.
I keep finding myself using this word charitable (the old word for love in the Bible) because I am struck sometimes by the lack of charity (which is not just simply love but also respect) in our public and private discourse. This is most obvious, I think, in our nations political discourse, but more generally found as well. It seems to me that people I run into or hear sometimes believe that charity and disagreement cannot exist together. As in, the only ones I can love are those with whom I agree. This obviously is not Biblical; if this were the case Jesus wouldn’t have loved any of us, for in some measure he did not agree with any of us in our sin. It is often easier to be charitable with those with whom we agree, but these are not the only people we should love. I think sometimes the combination of NOT being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger presents us from being charitable with those who we interact with, as there is no space for perspective or any desire for it. Are we fearful of being caught without the right answer and thus damage our pride? yes. Are we fearful that if someone disagrees with us they may lord it over us and thus make us humble. yes. Are we fearful that we will appear foolish, we won’t win, and thus we and those like us will look bad. yes. Are we fearful that if we don’t respond immediately we’ll look bad and thus be humbled? yes. Are these valid concerns, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. You tell me.
Thanks for reading.