Words Have Power – The Letter of James, Part Two

When chatting with friends or family over the phone, we can be doing other things at the same time. But there are other times, when listening carefully is incredibly important. How well do we listen to others? More importantly, how well do well do we listen to God’s voice? Listening well is both thoughtful and sacrificial. Truth is, there are times when it really matters how well we listen. Words have power — What we do with words, both those we speak and those spoken to us, greatly affects the way we live.

I have sometimes called this ‘double listening.’ Listening to the voice of God in scripture and listening to the voices of the modern world, with all their cries of anger, pain, and despair. – John Stott

In days of adversity we can be much slower to listen and quicker to speak. We often turn inward and become consumed by whatever circumstances we are facing. In those moments, we are likely to hone in on our problems and allow them to drown out everything else in our speech. James teaches that while in the midst of trouble, our tendency is to speak more than we listen, and our speech can lean toward anger. When our listening slows not only does our speaking rage, but also our temper.

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.

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jas 1:19–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

In 1:20 James writes that ill-mannered tempers are not pleasing to God. His writing here is to help Christians wholeheartedly live out their faith and in particular, James is mindful of how many readers are facing trials and temptations of various kinds. New Testament Christians faced problems and today’s Christians face problems. Many of these problems are the same in nature. Our lives, and those of others, will continue to be in shambles until we begin to live for the purpose of loving God and loving other people.

Living in a manner that prioritizes love of God and others is such a simple idea, which is precisely why it’s part of Christ’s gospel. Carrying the name of Christ (Christian) should be about being like Christ. We are called to live according to His desires; we must be led by our relationship with Him. Listening is incarnational. Loving others well means we listen like Jesus listened. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

It is God’s love for us that he not only gives His Word to us but also lends us His ear…But Christians have forgotten that ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.

Rather than spew thoughtless language when in the midst of trouble, we should pause for a heart check and ask ourselves, “What do my words speak? Whom does this speech honor?” What happens when we aren’t careful about what we say (1:26)? What can our actions do to us as well as others? Before we speak, we would do well to listen to God’s voice, His Scriptures, remembering the words of James.

For further study: Read James Chapter One.