In my previous post, I argued that James’s admonition “be quick to hear” applies first and foremost to the response we are to have to trials in our lives: we are to be quick to hear God speaking in His Word. And if that is the case, then it stands to reason that the next two admonitions that follow in James 1:19—“slow to speak” and “slow to anger”—must also refer primarily to God as well. If we are to be quick to hear God in our trials, then surely we are also to be slow to speak against Him and slow to be angry with Him. This is the mindset we are to have toward God whenever we experience difficulty. We are to be slow to blame Him for our losses and slow to complain when our circumstances are not what we would choose for ourselves. And we are also to be slow to get angry with God or to hold a grudge for the losses that we endure and the crosses that we bear.
Trials hurt—sometimes, incredibly so. They are not what we want because they always involve loss. But if we remember who God is and what He is doing in and through our trials to make us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4), then it gives us a different perspective and should help change our attitude toward God even in the most painful of circumstances. Here again is another connection back to vv. 16-18. The character of God, which is the theme of vv. 16-18, stands behind our trials and this is the foundation for the mindset that James is calling us to embrace here in vv. 19-21.
But we can say more than this. If we are quick to hear God speaking in His Word, then we will also be quick to hear others when they speak, because the one who is attentive to God will usually be attentive to others as well. Being quick to hear God speaking in His Word requires a humble and teachable spirit. The humble and teachable person understands that he or she does not have all the answers to life’s questions and needs the Lord to provide wisdom and guidance. This is an attitude or a mindset that should carry over into our relationships with other people.
And if we are quick to hear others, we will also be slow to speak and slow to get angry with them. I say that because the person who is quick to speak and quick to anger is not generally one who is quick to hear. Speaking and being angry tend to be more self-focused realities, whereas hearing is others-focused. In other words, hearing and speaking work against each other. It is difficult, if not impossible, to hear when we are speaking. So if we are quick to speak that tendency will almost always trump any effort to be quick to hear. But being angry and hearing also work against each other. Anger typically closes our ears and opens our mouths instead (usually with increased volume too!), so that the one who is quick to anger will probably also be quick to speak and therefore slow to hear.
How do we “remain steadfast under trial” (James 1:12) and not be completely loosed at the root when our losses “like sea billows roll”? James says that we should focus upon who God is and what He has done (vv. 16-18) and that we should give priority of place to the Word of God in our lives (vv. 19-21). We turn to God rather than turning away from Him. We give our attention to His Word. First. We read it; we study it; we hide it in our hearts; and we seek to apply it to our lives. In the words of Psalm 1, we “delight…in the law of the Lord.” We “meditate” on it “day and night.” And, when we do, we experience the reality of the promise that we will be “a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.”
If we are quick to hear God in His Word, we will also be slow to speak against Him and slow to be angry with Him for the losses we experience and the difficult circumstances that come into our lives. We will take Him at His Word and trust Him even when we cannot see what He is doing. We will allow His Word to govern our thinking, our speaking, and our feeling.
What is more, this mindset will affect our attitude toward other people. We will become a people who are quick to hear others, slow to speak to them or against them, and slow to be angry with them. Being quick to hear the Word of God will have its way. It will be effective. It will not return empty but will make us more and more attentive to God, to His Word, and to the people He brings into our lives—even in the midst of trials of various kinds.