Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak, Slow to Anger
There is a well known biblical phrase, that says “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Of course, understanding Bible verses can help us live deeper, fuller Christian lives.
The Six-Letter Word – Listen
You may find it odd that an outgoing, relationship-driven extrovert who likes to talk loves the book of James with all its references to guarding the words of our mouth. Trust me. I find it pretty amazing as well.
But maybe because I am this kind of person is the very reason I am drawn to this short book in the Bible. I know just how much I need to think through what I’m going to say and how it will impact those who will hear me, something I do more today than I used to but something I’m still learning.
And then there’s that six-letter word that can change everything: listen. I’ve learned over the years that listening doesn’t mean simply not talking—and believe me that can be hard enough. My husband is an active listener. He really absorbs what I’m saying. And I am so thankful!
So why all this talk about talking and listening?
An Important Verse
I would like to share one of the most powerful verses in the book of James, in all of Scripture actually.
James 1:19 says,
“Know this . . . let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
Stephen Covey’s wise words gave me much to think about. He said, “Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.” These words are very much in keeping with the verse we read.
To those of you who are good listeners, I say, “Kudos! And thank you!” I also ask you to be patient with the extroverts and talkers in your own lives who are still learning how to do this.
Of course this doesn’t mean that those of us who always have something to say—on pretty much any topic—should clam up and never utter another word. But we must remember what God says in Philippians 2:3,
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Will our words bless those who hear them? Will they add value to the conversation? Will they honour God? These are good questions to ask ourselves before speaking.
James 1:19 has numerous applications to family life. Let me share just a few.
Quick To Listen
We are to be “quick to hear.” That means we have to stop and give the other person our attention. How many times have we heard the words, but then, when asked a question, we’ve realized we hadn’t really been paying attention and don’t actually know how to respond?
We must model this willingness to really listen, to really hear. And when we can’t do so, we must let the other person know we will give them our undivided attention as soon as we’re able—and then remember to do so.
Slow To Speak
And for those of us who are extroverts, the second imperative in the verse is likely the most challenging. We are to be “slow to speak.” That can be tough when a dozen responses immediately pop into our head.
But not everyone is looking for our insights and so-called wisdom. Sometimes they just need someone to listen. They may be working things out by voicing their thoughts and ideas. What they actually need is a loving, caring sounding board. Our response just might have the opposite effect than we intend. We may want to help, but the underlying message the listener hears—even though it isn’t what we intend—is this: You are not capable of figuring this out; you need my help to do so.
Of course there are times we should speak up, times we must speak up, but we need a great outpouring of God’s wisdom to know when it’s appropriate to speak and when it’s best to remain silent. And, in most cases, it’s better to err on the side of remaining silent when we should speak than vice versa.
Slow To Anger
And what about the last part of the verse? We are commanded to “be slow to anger.” When my children were young I struggled regularly with anger that would bubble up within like corrosive acid. Sadly, it often splashed over and hurt the people closest to me, my husband and our three children.
While I couldn’t simply flip a switch and turn off my anger, if I had truly surrendered to the Lord and asked Him to help me walk in obedience, things would have been much more peaceful. Thankfully, I have the most patient husband on the planet, as I’ve mentioned before. Plus, God has blessed my relationships with our three now-grown children and I enjoy an undeserved closeness with each of them, emotionally though not geographically.
James 1:19 is a wonderful verse to explore in our times of family devotions. We can discuss practical ways in which to apply it to specific situations within our home and beyond its walls. If we begin by prayerfully considering and sharing how we can apply this verse rather than pointing fingers at how others should do so, our family members may just follow our lead.
As in all things, it is important to be open and honest—while showing respect to our spouse and our children.
So today, let’s be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”
Stephanie is a freelance writer and a contributor to our Christian internet radio station, HopeStreamRadio.
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