"This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." (James 1:19-20)It seems to me that the best way to be slow to anger is to be quick to hear and slow to speak. However, most of us are quick to speak and we completely forget to hear. Conversation is one of the most basic ways in which we participate in relationships; in the sharing of our thoughts and hopes and in understanding the same from other people. However, when we let anger usurp our conversation for its own end, then we place all our relationships in danger.
For some of us, our speech had become the handmaiden of our anger. We use it liberally to express the emotions within us; destructive emotions that harm and oppress those closest to us. Instead of conversation, our speech becomes a one-way stream of emotion flowing from a darkened heart. Intending to show our anger and displeasure, we only show ourselves the fool. It is said that, "A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart." (Proverb 18:2 NKJV) When we care more for expressing our own heart than hearing the heart of another, the we have become a fool who is quick to speak and slow to hear.
Worse yet, the words we speak in anger becomes seeds in the lives of our hearers that grow to be weeds in our relationships. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit." (Proverb 18:21) When we speak our of anger, we speak death to our relationships; a death for which we have only ourselves to blame. Our words can sow life or death, the choice is ours.
The key to reversing the destructive nature of speech in our lives is to realize that the anger of man cannot and will not produce the righteousness of God. However, for some of us, righteousness is not our aim. We speak, not to bring righteousness into our relationships, but to hurt the other person, to bully them into agreeing with us, and to force them into submission to our ways of thinking. When someone hurts us with their words, our first response is not always to find a way to righteousness, but to hurt them back; to make them feel the same pain from our words as we did from theirs.
The first step in changing our speech is in changing our aim. If we want to hurt someone then we will pick speech appropriate for our aim, but if we want to bring life then we will choose words that are healing rather than wounding. Only when we are quick to hear and slow to speak will we have time to examine our motives; to see if they tend to revenge or reconciliation. We need that space in our minds between hearing and speaking to be honest with God and ourselves over our motives and the reasons why we are so anxious to speak in response. Only in that space can we allow God to speak and to change our heart and our words and to interject His grace in our conversation. Being slow to speak give God time to act.
Finally, even when our goal is righteousness, we must remember that it is not produced by our anger. As a parent, when my children were small, it was sometimes hard to find the right tool to drive out foolishness and secure righteousness in their lives. Some tools worked better than others and not all tools worked the same for all children. However, one thing we know for sure: the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God! This maxim, or universal truth, cannot be transgressed without reaping the destruction in our relationships. What ever position we are in, what ever the people we wish see moved to righteousness, though there be many ways to encourage righteousness, anger is never one of them. If we truly desire the best in other people then we must be done with anger and we must learn to be quick to hear and slow to speak that we will truly become slow to anger.