Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
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. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourself. Do what it says.
Sometimes when we’re out for walkies, my dog gets distracted by a particularly interesting smell, and ends up lagging behind with her nose in the grass. Walking on ahead, I’ll call her name and whistle for her to come to heel. She’ll look up, spot me, and then go right back to sniffing. She is a perfect example of one who hears a word of instruction but does not do what it says.
Do you ever have those dog-sniff moments? James is assuming – rightly, I think – that we all do. In this passage, he is reminding us that as followers of Jesus’ way, we need to be quick to listen and obey. To just listen and then go right back to sniffing (as it were) is to deceive yourself.
But there is more – it’s not just about being quick to listen and obey, as important as that is. James is also instructing his readers to be slow to speak and slow to become angry. Any Christian who finds themselves in a heated argument should, first and foremost, seek to listen rather than respond.
This feels like the most basic advice, doesn’t it? Listen to understand, not to reply. Don’t get cross unnecessarily. It’s the kind of thing your parents might well have drilled into you from a young age… and yet I, aged 26, still struggle with this most days – and especially in lockdown life, where pent-up bodies and emotions can sometimes find their outlet in petty arguments.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t become angry at the things that deserve it – unjust actions, thousands dying alone, the sheer brokenness of the world, the thought of countless people who are unsafe in their own homes during lockdown.
On a day-to-day basis, however, it’s likely that our anger is more about wounded pride or deep resentment than it is about right and wrong behaviour in God’s sight. And it is often mis-directed – coming out in snapped words, snarky comments, and passive aggressive actions, rather than being brought to God and left at the foot of the cross.
And so, we come full circle – don’t just listen to God’s instructions to be slow to speak and slow to anger. Don’t just acknowledge them as good advice and then – like my Labrador – proceed to ignore them. Act on them this week. Hear – receive – obey. No matter how good the distracting smell might be.