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"This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;  for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God."
At first reading, these verses appear to me to be good home spun advice-you know, the kind of thing your grandmother would tell you-just good old fashion wisdom. And I suppose it is. Being quick to listen is good advice, as is being slow to speak and slow to anger.
But after looking at these verses more closely, I think James has a specific application in mind. The key is a phrase he uses in verse 22, "doers of the word." Now we'll talk more about that in just a minute, but for now, I want to point out that James is referring to listening to the word, not listening in general.
Today, we would immediately apply that advice to what you are doing right now, listening to a sermon. But I'm not so sure that is what James is saying here. Remember that in his day, everyone didn't have their own copy of the scripture, instead, they gathered together and listened to a reader who read from the sacred scrolls.
Perhaps, James is saying that listening to God's word is more important than speaking your own. Definitely he is saying you will not be able to hear God's word if you are speaking. One application I take away from this text is that I should not be quick to say I understand a familiar text or to simply repeat what I've been taught about what the Bible says, but that I should listen to God as He speaks through His word.
Think of this advice in context with your Sunday School or Encounter class. If you speak, others will hear what you think, but you'll learn nothing. But if you'll listen, you have a unique opportunity to learn from others. Does that mean you should never speak? Of course not, but it does mean you should listen.
Yes listen to others, but also listen to God's word itself. You know, the Bible will shed a lot of light on your opinions if you'll read it.
Not only does speaking keep you from hearing, so does angry outbursts. Anger and religion often go together. Probably because we care so deeply about the things we believe, and because we think God is the author of our beliefs. We passionately defend our views because we think they came from God.
In Exodus 2:12, Moses became angry at the way the Egyptians were treating the Hebrews and in his anger, he killed a man. Certainly, Moses' outrage was justified, but when he acted out of his anger, he committed a great sin. Later, God would use Moses to free the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery, but he would use a meek Moses, one under control, not an out-of-control hothead.
Another way to express the teachings of James 1-19-20 is to say that
if we are to truly hear God when we read his word, we must lay aside our
preconceived ideas about the text and our agendas. We don't read it to
confirm our ideas or prove our point, we read it to hear the voice of God.