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
I like to pop this little verse out in the middle of a heated argument with my husband – as if spitting “Be quick to hear! Listen to me!” through clenched teeth will somehow soften his heart, derail the argument, and set us on a straight path where we both recognize we are on the same team. I conveniently forget my heart should be listening to him. Oops.
The problem is, to some degree, that I tend to divorce the instruction part of the passage (“Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”) from the reason part of the passage (“the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”).
All the trite little sayings and quips designed to snap our minds into focus do the same thing. (“God gave us two ears and one mouth, we should listen twice as often as we speak.”)
I need to listen. I need to hold my tongue. I need to slow my anger.
Great. Now I know what I need to do. But knowing is only half the battle…
It is important to be a ready listener, thoughtful, and to view the situation charitably and through the lens of scripture before I reply, but the reason for making this effort is so that God can produce righteousness in me.
If I am seeking righteousness rather than a three-step method to anger management, I will be slow to speak because I take the time to identify the actual problem, deal with what is going on in my own heart, and approach the other person with a desire to understand, not to overrule.
When I take the time to identify the problem this way and to seek God-honoring solutions rather than identifying another person as the problem and seeking to win, anger is naturally delayed – and righteousness has the opportunity to grow – in me and in others. I yield to the Spirit and choose righteousness over my rights.
Think about it with respect to mommy-ing. If I act in anger toward my children (with things like sighs, shouting, the silent treatment, withholding affection, unjust punishment, sarcastic words, criticism, not to mention cruelty or abuse), I am not growing in righteousness. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, right? Nor will they learn righteousness. They will be on the defensive. They might learn to behave to avoid my wrath, but they are not learning to be righteous. I end up training hypocrites: little people who look vastly different in their hearts than what they display in their actions.
I don’t want that for my kids! Truth be told, I don’t want that for me either, with them or with my husband. Or anyone else for that matter!
I can use reflecting statements to indicate I’ve listened (quick to hear). I can count to ten before answering (slow to speak). I can stuff my anger until a more convenient moment (slow to *expressed* anger). But none of that produces righteousness.
External solutions to internal problems are rarely effective.
So the question becomes: In my heart, is it more important to be right or to be righteous?