Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. – James 1: 19-20
Have you ever “put your foot in your mouth?” I have great experience in this matter. Sometimes, it has been relatively harmless and only embarrassing to me, other times it has been devastating. Devastating.
It’s not that speaking is the wrong action, but, as Ecclesiastes 3:7 reminds us, there is a time “to keep silent, and a time to speak.” The problem begins when we fail to recognize the difference.
Notice that James doesn’t tell us to avoid speaking. There is a time to speak up and stand for what it right, but he cautions us to give careful consideration of what we will say. Our words have a great ability to build others up and our words can even more easily serve to tear people down.
Closely related to “spouting off” is the problem of a quick temper. Again, we should take note that James doesn’t suggest that anger is never appropriate. The Gospels tell us that Jesus experienced righteous anger as the people turn the Holy Temple into a stock market (Matthew 21: 12-13). So the problem is associated with the “anger of man” that is present inside of us – the anger that is concerned with my agenda.
- Consider these personal questions:
- Think of the last time you spoke too quickly or lost your temper at the drop of a hat. Is it possible that you overreacted?
- How many times have I reacted in a rage based on what I thought I knew long before I even talked to the other person?
- How did you feel about the words you spoke or the actions you took afterward?
- How would your closest friends or family describe your reactions?
- Are you making strides in the right direction?
Now, what if we followed the advice of James from yesterday and really listened before responding to another? What if we really were thoughtful with the words we spoke? What if our anger was based on God’s righteousness instead of our own?
Years ago, we reminded our kids of this truth from Proverbs 15:1:
A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.