Lessons in Humility

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (v. 19).

- James 1:19–27

James has told us that we need wisdom in the midst of the trials and circumstances of life. He has promised us that God gives it freely. Now he tells us where we can find it—in the Scriptures. God gives His wisdom to us in the Bible.

Therefore, we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. One of the problems in our day is that our educational system does not cultivate ceremonial respect for teachers. In the old days, students rose to attention when a teacher entered the room. Even in graduate school, students stood to greet the teacher and sat quietly taking notes while he or she lectured.

In Europe, if you want to ask a teacher a question or debate an issue with him, you make an appointment to meet with him privately. In America, however, graduate students often view the classroom as a place to wrestle with the teacher. Perhaps we should want something in between. We have erred on the side of too much speaking and not enough listening. We should treat human teachers who know more than we do with respect. We should treat the Bible and those who have been trained to teach it with the same respect.

The man who is quick to speak is also quick to become angry. This stands to reason: A man who does not listen well will invariably put his foot into his mouth, and then become angry when he is rebuked. James goes on to exhort us to hear the Word in humility, and he characterizes the tendency to speak too much as “moral filth and prevalent evil” (James 1:21).

Then James says that not only must we humbly listen to the Word but we must also obey it. Reading Tabletalk, going to church, attending Bible studies, and listening to tapes is not enough. We must put into practice what we hear, obeying God before His face. Coram Deo means “before God’s face,” and thus each of these lessons has a suggested action you might take in response to the Word. This is how wisdom is gained, says James: We must look intently into the mirror of God’s Word and continue steadfastly to do what it says, not forgetting about it. If we do this, we shall grow in wisdom and be blessed (James 1:25).

Coram Deo

The ability to listen to many sides of an issue before adding one’s own opinion manifests self-control and a teachable spirit. Those who are quick to speak are selfishly concerned with their point of view—they like to be heard. The church needs believers who will be quick to listen with discernment and slow to speak words of true wisdom.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 10:19
Philippians 2:1–10
1 Peter 5:5–6

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