Tonight we almost made it to the end of James chapter 1, looking at verses 19-25. In the context of the trials and temptations discussed so far, James’s injunction to ‘be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry’ is a timely reminder of how to respond to such things. As a preacher once said, we have two ears and one mouth, so we should be twice as ready to listen as to speak… but so often, it’s the other way round! Listening (to God, to other Christians, to people) is a skill that requires concentration and constant practice. It’s only when we really listen to God that we get the ‘bigger picture’ of what He is trying to do through the trials of life and can gain an eternal perspective on our ‘light and momentary troubles’ (2 Cor 4:17) which often weigh us down. As Michael Card reminds us in the song ‘Stillness and Simplicity’, ‘You’re the Word who must be heard/ by those who listen quietly.’ Jeremy Camp tells us ‘I need to stop so I can hear You speak’ (‘Slow Down Time’). So often if we would listen first before speaking, we would save ourselves (and others) a lot of trouble!

Proverbs 10:19-21 reminds us that hasty words, often blurted out in anger, will inevitably lead to sin, whereas the considered words of the righteous are like ‘choice silver’ which can ‘nourish’ people. Anger itself is our usual reaction to trials: selfish creatures that we are, we blame God, other people and anything we can think of for our problems but rarely want to acknowledge the role our own pride and sin has. Eph 4:26 reminds us ‘in your anger do not sin’ and shows us the way forward when we are angry: chiefly, not to let that anger fester but to resolve matters speedily. God’s word incisively reminds us that God’s righteous life doesn’t grow from human anger. In our ongoing struggles against temptation, we have to put aside all that would trip us up and on the other hand, humbly receive God’s word which is planted within us.

Receiving or accepting God’s word is no passive thing, however. It requires active obedience, as James points out: ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.’ (Js 1:22) There is no escaping the scalpel or sword of the Spirit, which pierces us and shows us the way we should act. James reminds us, though, that every time that implanted word pierces us, we have a choice. We can disregard it, like someone who looks in a mirror and forgets straightaway what he looks like, or we can study it intently and then do what it says. We can never really win in our battles with God, so need to learn to obey what He says quickly and promptly – the way of living which leads to freedom and peace and blessings.