The Bible says, “My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.”
This is quite a challenge, especially in today’s society. We are saturated with all forms of instant communication. Your cellphone is now basically another appendage that never leaves your side. There was a recent study that found that over half of teens “couldn’t live without their phone for a week.” We have the capability, through Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, etc… to know, within a matter of minutes or seconds even, what is happening anywhere in the world, from huge world events, to the fact that your acquaintance living halfway across the globe is tired today. Not only do we have access to this information, but we are expected to participate in the conversation in the same rapid speed. I remember when I was a kid, if my mom and I went out to the store we may be gone 30 minutes or 4 hours, and we didn’t have cell phones to call and check in, and that was ok. Today, if you send someone a text or give them a call, and they don’t respond within about a minute you start to worry or wonder what is wrong or if you offended them in some way. And, I am just as guilty as anyone else of all of this.
The other thing with this age of instant communication is that, if you want to be part of the conversation you need to be quick to speak. “He who hesitates is lost.” This is so true in today’s fast-paced society. Conversations move so quickly that if you wait very long, it will have moved on to another topic, and whatever you have to say will be outdated. This requires people to receive, absorb, react, and respond, all very quickly. It does not allow time to digest and think about things before responding, which often results in people speaking “off-the-cuff” with knee-jerk impassioned responses, and all to often, this means they say things that either: are untrue, that they don’t mean, that they regret, or are just plain dumb.
Now, as I said, I am just as guilty as everyone else of getting wrapped up in this. I love Facebook and Twitter, my phone is always on me, and when my daughter caught a towel at the Isotopes game the other night I had snapped a picture and posted it for the world to see within a minute. None of this communication and connection and technology is inherently bad, but we need to get back to what God says in His Word. “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger…”
Let’s start with “quick to hear.”
Hear can can have multiple meanings. Some of the general definitions of hear are:
to listen to; give or pay attention to
to learn by the ear or by being told; be informed of
One of the Biblical definitions of this word is:
to attend to, consider what is or has been said
Being quick to hear does not simply mean that you “see” or physically “hear” a message. As I said before, we all “hear” things constantly and quickly, in the sense that we are exposed to information, but many of us fail to truly hear, in the sense of paying attention, learning, and considering the message. I know for myself, that often when I am hearing something, my mind is instantly formulating my own opinions about it or creating a rebuttal to it. However, I need to be quicker to truly hear what is being said. To truly pay attention and attend to a message, to consider it and learn from it, these are invaluable assets for anyone, but they don’t come naturally. We truly have to learn the art of “hearing” and train ourselves in it. Our natural inclination is to respond without learning, but it is important to realize that, with almost every message there is something you can learn, even if you disagree with the message, and with EVERY message we need to pay attention and consider what is being said in order to truthfully and effectively respond to that message, whether or not we agree with it.
God tells us that we should be “quick to hear,” and He knows what he is talking about.
Next, “slow to speak.”
I’ve already talked a lot about this. Being slow to speak, carefully considering what you are going to say, how, and when you are going to say it is an extremely powerful talent. It is said, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and this is remarkably true. Words are extremely powerful. With words you can affect and change people’s opinions, beliefs, thoughts, ideas, etc… It is words that rally people to fight for a cause or to abstain from fighting. An eloquent orator can be just as powerful as a victorious and seasoned military general. Because words are so powerful, it is imperative that they are carefully considered. Just as words can be a great benefit for you, a flippant, not-though-out comment can be just as powerfully destructive to yourself, your cause, or someone else. After we have heard a message, we should be “slow” to respond, not reacting out of passionate overflow with powerful words haphazardly spewed out.
The other part of this, though, is that we should speak. We should be careful in our speech. We should be slow to speak, but when it is time to speak we need to stand up and speak. We cannot sit on the sidelines, hearing everything that is said, but never respond, never speak. God speaks into every area of life and society, and we should as well. We cannot be ashamed into silence. We should be smart in what and how we speak, but we absolutely need to speak.
Finally, “slow to anger.”
As I’ve said in plenty of blog posts before, we live in a society where people are quickly offended, and slowly appeased. We are fragile, and many are already broken, so we are quick to take offense, to become angry, at the slightest word or action that might be perceived as being negative or contrary to us, our beliefs, etc… What God is saying here is that this is not the kind of people we need to be. We need to be “slow to anger.” Anger in and of itself is not a sin. There are appropriate times to get angry and appropriate circumstance to get angry about. they key, however, is not to rush into anger. This goes along with the first two. If we are receiving a message and taking the time to learn from it and understand it and then slowly, carefully, considering our response and replying in an appropriate manner, we are going to be much less likely to become passionately angry over a miscommunication or poorly chosen word. Often, there is little good that comes out of a discussion, argument, debate, etc… when those involved become angry. Anger, in most cases, tends to cloud the mind and obscure the right path, not always, but often. So being slow to anger is much more conducive to healthy discussion and learning, to sharing the love of God with those around us.
It’s amazing to see how quickly people become angry today. We can see it all over the news, all over the world, stories about people who kill other people because they became angry over the most insignificant thing. It’s really sad. You can see this as well if you read the comments on almost any story on Yahoo or CNN. Regardless of the story, it takes almost no time for people to be ridiculously angry at each other and tearing one another down, calling them all sorts of names and wishing all sorts of evil on one another. Anger is so prevalent in the world, that if you are slow to anger, you are going to stand out, people are going to notice, and you are going to have an opportunity to share Christ with validity and power.
“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” – James 1:19-20