“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
- James 1:19
One of Aesop’s fables tells about a tortoise who was jealous of the geese who swam in the pond next to his home. As he listened to them describe the wonders of the world they had seen, he was filled with a great desire to travel. But being a tortoise, he was unable to travel far. Finally two geese offered to help him. One of them said, “We’ll each hold an end of a stick in our mouths. You hold the middle of the stick in your mouth, and we’ll carry you through the air so you can see what we see when we fly. But be quiet—or you’ll be sorry.”
The tortoise loved the idea. He took hold of the stick, and away into the sky they went. The geese flew up above the trees and circled the meadow. The tortoise was amazed at his new view of the world. He marveled at the flowers on the hillside. Just then a crow flew past. Astonished at the sight of a tortoise flying through the air carried by two geese he said, “Surely this must be the king of all tortoises!” The tortoise started to answer: “Why, certainly…”—but as he spoke, he lost his grip on the stick and plummeted to the ground below.
The moral of the story: While there are times we need to speak up and take a stand, more often we find ourselves in trouble because we talk too much. As James 1:19 tells us, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” This is great wisdom, and it applies to every relationship in our lives: husbands and wives, parents and kids, brothers and sisters, fellow Christians in the church. Jesus Christ calls all of his followers to listen patiently, speak patiently and react patiently. We must be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” especially during times of trial or temptation.
James is essentially saying, “When the trials and temptations of life come your way, don’t close your ears, shoot off your mouth, or blow a fuse.” Instead, we should look up and ask God for wisdom. Most of us know this. But what we often forget is that God brings us the wisdom from His word in a variety of ways. And the number-one way He brings us wisdom is through His word—the Bible. Sometimes He brings us His word’s wisdom through our personal Bible reading or through prayer. Sometimes it comes through a sermon or Bible study. Sometimes it comes through a conversation with a Christian friend. Sometimes it comes from a perfect stranger. So, after you ask for it, do you remember to listen for wisdom? Or when someone gives you sound Biblical advice, do you lash out at wisdom?
Whenever you attend a church service or Bible study, listen to a sermon, or receive the counsel of another Christian—open your ears and listen to it. And during a period of trial or temptation, open your ears extra wide. Listen more intently than ever before. God may be speaking to you and giving you the perfect insight that you need to hear in order to make it through.
Here’s something else to think about. Often, when we as Christians are going through trials or struggling to resist temptation, we say we don’t have the answers. But the truth is, much of the time we have already learned the answers to our questions. They’re already there, in our minds and in our hearts. The word of truth has been planted inside you, and it is alive and active. It is a spring of living water. So, when you are experiencing trials or temptations, call to your mind what you have already learned from God’s word.
“I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6). “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:16). “These who hope in the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). “I know the plans I have for you—plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11). These verses are already in your mind and heart. So, when times of trial and temptation come, cling to their wisdom. Because they are God’s wisdom, given to you for such a time as this.
Then, remember to USE what you’ve learned. James 1:22 admonishes us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Listening to God’s word is vitally important. But if we’re only listening to God’s word and not obeying it, we’re just fooling ourselves. God’s word is meant to be obeyed. This verse reveals one of James’ greatest concerns about his Christian readers: They knew the word, but to a large extent they weren’t living out the word. They listened to solid teaching, but they weren’t living out the solid teaching. They had enough head knowledge to make them mature Christians, but because they weren’t practicing what they preached, they weren’t mature Christians. Christianity has never been about just listening to the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord. It’s about living out the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord.
In verses 23 and 24, James tells us that a man who only listens to God’s word is like a man who looks in a mirror, and once he turns away, immediately forgets what he looks like. How much more foolish is it to look into God’s word and see the things in our lives that need to change, then close the Bible and refuse to change. The Bible is a mirror. It shows you what looks good in your life … and what needs some work. If you listen to what the Bible tells you that you need to fix and you choose to ignore it, don’t expect God to bless your listening. God will only bless your listening if you follow it up with some doing. Don’t just be a listener of God’s word. Live out what it’s telling you to do.
Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Join us for our worship service tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the new Dr. Ralph Baker School in Victorville. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.