In Redeeming How We Talk, Ken Wytsma and A. J. Swoboda write: “Next to prayer, listening is perhaps the best way to create a positive context for conversation. Listening forces us to exchange hats with others, to walk in their shoes. When we exchange hats, we develop empathy and understanding. Then we can more tenderly voice our concerns or offer our advice.”
No wonder James exhorted us to be “quick to listen” (v. 19)! This admonition draws on the tradition of wisdom literature (see, for example, Prov. 10:19). In this context, several questions are also implied by today’s reading: What is appropriate behavior for those of us who have received God’s good and perfect gift of salvation? Exactly how can we endure trials and troubles in order to grow to mature faith?
To be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” is the beginning of James’ answer, which extends over most of the rest of the book. To listen more than to speak demonstrates self-control, as opposed to hasty words and actions that characterize ungodly anger. That behavior does not “produce the righteousness that God desires” (v. 20). Listening and self-control are part of godly perseverance and lead toward the righteousness and spiritual maturity that God desires.
The principle here is to “get rid of all moral filth”—including rash words and unrighteous anger—and instead to “humbly accept the word planted in you” (v. 21). Doing so will be countercultural, for evil is “prevalent” in the world. This will require humility or meekness. The verb “accept” enlists our wills and actions while keeping God’s will and actions primary. He, not us, did the planting and He, not us, is the One who accomplishes our salvation.
Doug Hastings, vice president of Moody Radio, welcomes your prayers for his teams in various areas of Christian broadcasting ministry at Moody. Give praise to the Lord for Moody Radio’s wonderful new studios and offices at the Chapman Center.