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Be Slow to Anger, Slow to Speak, and Quick to Listen

by Bob Russell

Posted on 6/14/2020

James 1:19-21

     Another week gone by, yet it still seems no one is listening to the other.  People are angry and shouting but not paying much attention to one another’s hurts or convictions.  So this week, I’m continuing to follow the advice of James 1:19-21:  “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”  

        Have you ever witnessed a heated argument when both sides are shouting at each other, and no one is listening?  No one is being persuaded to change regardless of how compelling the rationale.  While one person is ranting, everyone else is thinking about what they are going to say as a counterargument.   The shouts get louder, the wounds get deeper, and nothing positive is accomplished. A few days later, when cooler heads prevail, a lot of apologies are owed.  Otherwise, good relationships are jeopardized.

       It seems to me that’s where we are in America today when it comes to racial and political issues.  We’re all in agreement about the unjust, brutal treatment of George Floyd. That kind of excessive use of force has to stop.  But now we’re shouting at each other in public protests, social media posts, and heated conversations about the need for justice and order yet no one is really listening.  We share articles and repost rants that reinforce what we believe, yet no one is persuaded to change their thinking.

       I’ve read accusations that are so exaggerated they defy reason.  “You’re a racist!”  “You’re a Marxist!”  You’re insensitive!”  You’re destroying the country!”  And that’s between friends or fellow Christians!  Protesters shout “F… the police!” while a woman in an apartment above them mumbles a similar curse and drops a bucket of ice on their heads.  Really? Is that what we’ve become?  Mark Twain wisely observed, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”    

        Martin Luther once said, “When I’m angry, I can pray well and preach well.”   Not me.  I discovered early in my ministry that when I preached out of anger, I overstated my case, shouted louder, and often used hurtful rather than healing words. I wound up alienating the audience and sometimes making myself look foolish.  So I made a promise that I wouldn’t preach on a subject if I were mad about it.  I confess I broke that promise a few times, but I always regretted it later. 

       I’m angry today over many of the chaotic events of the past few days.  I’m tempted to vent all my frustrations in this article, knowing that for a few minutes, I would feel better.  Those who already agree with me would likely shout “Amen!” while those who disagree would respond by spewing venom, and the lines of division would be more deeply etched between us.  Not much would be accomplished. 

        So this is no time for me to be writing another blog even though I’ve had the habit of writing one every week for ten years.  This is a time for me to take my own counsel and hold my tongue, turn off my computer and say nothing more at the moment.  In last week’s blog column, I expressed my conviction that racism and retaliation are primarily a sin problem that only Christ can resolve.  So, I’m just going to say ditto and wait for my temper to cool and try to obey the Scripture that says,

     “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (James 1:19-21).

     Come to think of it, that may be wise counsel for many reading this article today.  There’s a time to speak and a time to be silent.  We’ve all done a lot of speaking in the last few days.  I think now is the time for us to pause, let our emotions settle, and be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”  Let’s take a couple of weeks to be still, and hopefully, we’ll arrive at some common solutions that will benefit us all.  Then we’ll discover that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

 

       Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, KY.

 

www.bobrussell.org

 

 




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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4