Relational Advice (James 1:19-20)
…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. —James 1:19-20
I’m so glad that God gives clear guidance for relationships in His Word. The book of James is filled with practical wisdom, and he commends us to pray for that wisdom (James 1:5). James wanted his readers to know what they should do when temptations come. A guiding principle of life is to be ready to listen. What would the world be if we all were quick to hear instead of being quick to react? Too often we jump to conclusions or immediately try to defend ourselves. The emotion of anger can blind us to reasonable thought and action. And anger can often be a response borne out of fear. Discovering why we get angry can help us deal with it better.
When tempted to lash out at someone, let’s take a moment to think about what we are doing. A pause to figure out why we are reacting and experiencing feelings of anger, will open us to appeal to God for help. Words once spoken can never be taken back. Thoughtfulness, actually taking time to think before speaking, would prevent a lot of hurt in this world. "Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense" (Proverbs 19:11). And praying quickly before responding is a good preemptive practice.
A key to battling anger is in the next verses (James 1:21-22). Memorize the Word of God and meditate on it to plant it in your heart, so you are better prepared to face temptation. And don’t forget to be a doer of that Word.
Paul also gave relational instructions in many of his letters including this:
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord (Romans 12:17-19).
Jesus’ teachings are full of admonitions to love, do good to, and pray for even our enemies (Luke 6:27-36). We don’t ever know the whole story, but God sees the heart of all involved in any and every situation. God is the one perfect judge (James 4:12), and He is a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18). He alone can get it right as James 4 reminds us.
If anyone could have been justified in retaliation, it might have been Joseph in the book of Genesis. His brothers hated him enough that they sold him as a slave to a foreign land. Joseph could have felt fear, despair, and anger. However, he trusted God through that and other trials he faced. He recognized that he was not “in the place of God” (Genesis 50:19) to do his brothers harm. He learned that God had a larger plan—what his brothers intended for evil, God meant for good for the saving of many.
May I encourage you to have faith in who God is; trust Him when you are tempted to react impulsively. Pause and think before you speak. Consider how your tone and volume might come across. Be patient and pray “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3). You may be amazed at how much better your relationships have become. After all God gave us each only one mouth but two ears – let’s use them for His glory and the good of others.
When have you spoken too quickly and regretted the damage your words have caused? This is not limited to physical speech but written as well on social media or in emails.
What are some strategies you can implement to be slower to speak and quicker to listen? Take a deep breath, silently pray asking God for His wisdom, memorize verses that you can then call to mind in these instances, pause and think before you speak, rephrase as a question, etc.