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Can you recall a time where you didn’t listen to someone as well as you should have? Or maybe a time where you didn’t take care to listen at all but rather spoke too soon? Or maybe even a time where you burst out in anger, causing more damage than good? The reality is that we can all probably answer yes to at least one of these questions. But as believers in Jesus, the way that we listen, speak, and control our anger should demonstrate the love of Christ flowing through us. Think about what James says in James chapter 1 vs’s 19-20: 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.  

To be quick to listen means that listening is the first thing that you do. The word “quick” that is used here is an adjective, meaning to move fast, to be swift, and to hurry. The emphasis here is not just on the quantity of listening but on the promptness of listening: be quick to do it. Being quick to listen goes against the grain of our flesh. When someone disagrees with you in conversation, or they say something that offends you, our flesh’s natural response is to interrupt or talk back. Or, when someone is talking to you, in your flesh you might zone out and be working on formulating your response in your head instead of giving the other person the attention they deserve. To be quick to listen is a discipline, it’s a conscious decision to make listening first a priority. Our desire to interrupt or to speak first implies that we know what’s best or that we are always right. However, if you humble yourself and be intentional about listening, you might find that you can learn from the other person. When you truly focus on what the other person is saying, you show that you truly love them and care about what they have to say.  

On the flipside of that, if we are going to be quick to listen, we must be slow to speak. The average person speaks around 7,000 words a day. How many of those are words are useful and edifying? Your words have the power to both build up or destroy. That choice is yours. Ephesians 4:29 says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, only speak what is good and helpful for building each other up.” You can never take back the words that you say, they are out there for good. The same goes for what you post on social media. It’s a lot easier to say something mean on a screen than in real life, but by doing so you are putting that out there for everyone to see. But Paul also says in Colossians 4, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Every conversation you have with someone represents an opportunity to be the salt of the earth, and you can give flavor and life to them in the way that you speak and respond.  

The last instruction that James gives us in this verse is to be slow to become angry. Anger is connected to listening and speaking. If you are quick to anger, you are not being slow to speak and quick to listen. James doesn’t say here “don’t be angry” because anger is a natural human emotion, However, James says be slow to anger, because while anger is a natural emotion, it is something that can be controlled. In Ephesians 4:26, Paul writes “In your anger do not sin.” Anger becomes sinful when it gets out of control. We must recognize when the slightest bit of anger starts to creep into our hearts and then deal with it in a healthy way. I encourage you to ask the Lord for wisdom in talking with those who make you angry and seek his strength for peace and to release that burden of anger from your heart. As believers we also should learn to be gracious and forgiving. Anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires, it only harbors bitterness.  

In our present time where tensions are high and everybody has their own opinion on what is right, we must hold to our biblical convictions while at the same time loving those who disagree. I encourage you this week as you interact with those around you, practice listening fully to the other person’s opinion before giving yours, and when you do speak, speak in a way that exalts Christ while at the same time honoring the other person. Doing so shows that while you may not agree, you truly value them as a person.