Quick to Hear, Slow to Speak, Slow to Anger
About two months ago I preached on James 1:19-27 (you can listen to the sermon here). James 1:19-27 is probably the most well-known passage in the whole book, especially verses nineteen and twenty. Most often believers understand James 1:19-20 to say that in our day-to-day relationships with people we should be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. In other words, listen carefully, consider how you speak to others, and be self-controlled.
While the Bible has a lot to say about our personal interactions with others (especially with our tongues), I don’t think this is what James has in mind. Remember James is writing to Jewish Christians who are facing persecution for their faith in Christ. The context of chapter one is how the church is to deal with trials.
James 1:2-4: Have joy in trials for God is making you complete.
James 1:5-8: If you lack wisdom in trials, ask God for it and he will give it freely.
James 1:9-11: Understand the nature of trials. Trials can come to all people.
James 1:12-15: Do not find fault with God in trials.
James 1:16-18: God is good and his goodness is demonstrated in our salvation.
I believe that 1:19-20 is a continuation of what James has been talking about in chapter one. In our trials we must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. In our trials we are to be quick to hear the gospel. We are to remember God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. We must be quick to hear (or remember) what God’s word says about our relationship to him in the midst of trials. A loving God brings trials into my life to conform me to the image of his Son (cf., Rom 8:29; Col 3:10; Heb 12:3-11). Likewise, we must be slow to speak. What do we often say in our trials? God is mad at me, he has forsaken me, and he has turned his back on me. We speak out of our frustration, rather than remembering that a merciful God does all things for our benefit. Finally, we must be slow to anger. When we fail to remember the gospel in our trials we are tempted to become angry, bitter, and resent God. When we face trials we must not become angry with God, but with a teachable heart learn what God has for us. It is certainly biblical to have a righteous anger toward injustice, but when we suffer because of injustice we should never assign evil to God. In the midst of our trials we must live out the truth of who God has already made us (1:18) and we must live in the good of the gospel, which reminds us of God’s love, mercy, and grace.
Asaph was faced with the temptation to speak without knowledge in the face of his trials. He wrote in Psalm 73:12-17:
Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
Asaph realized that he was in no position to be angry with God, but in his presence remembered God’s justice, mercy, and love. As we face trials in our lives we must remember the gospel. We must recall the truth of God’s love found in the gospel. We must not speak falsehoods about God in our trials, but recite gospel truths. Moreover, we must not become angry with God when we face trials of various kinds, but understand that our loving Father deals with us as sons so that we might share in his holiness.
I appreciate what Tim Lane and Paul Tripp have to say about trials.
Trials do not cause us to be what we have not been; rather, they reveal what we have been all along. The harvest the trial produces is the result of the roots already in our hearts. (How People Change, p. 102)
Will we remember the gospel in our trials or will we forget it? What will be revealed to be in our hearts in the midst of trials?