“Quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”

James 119, 20 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.

“Bad listeners do not make good disciples,” wrote British author John Stott. Like Grandma said, “God gave us two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we speak!”

The author then proceeds to give a threefold admonition or warning, using three key words whose themes are further developed: to hear in verses 22–25, to speak in 26–27, and to anger in 20–21. [1]

Quick to Hear

To hear what? James answers that question in v. 18: “the word of truth,” and v. 21, “humbly accept the word planted in you.”

James tells us we should be quick to listen to God, but how is God speaking to us today? Do you remember the story of the little boy Samuel in 1 Samuel chapter 3?

8 The Lord called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

In the past, God spoke directly to men like Abraham, Samuel and Saul of Tarsus. Today God speaks directly through his Holy Bible and He also speaks to us through his creation. For the Christian, God also speaks through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In addition to listening to God, we need to learn to listen to each other. That means listening to our spouses at home where communication is critical to our happiness. It means to be keen observers in the workplace and the community where listening leads to action. It especially means listening to one another in our fellowship.

When we choose not to listen, we are saying, “You are not important.” When we listen intently, we have the opportunity to say, “You are important to me. I love you.”

“Slow to Speak”

This is a fascinating admonition. James might be encouraging people to not quickly become a preacher (See 3:1 – 12), but it is also good advice for dealing with anger, his third admonition.

Slow to Become Angry

See Ephesians 4:26, 31.

Why is anger mentioned in this context? “Or, if we understand the previous admonition as against preachers who are too eager to preach the word of God, the anger mentioned here could conceivably be understood as a sort of contempt against or hostility to others, arising out of a person’s arrogance and zeal for the word of God.”[2]

On the other hand, this is simply good advice for everyone. Batsell Barett Baxter observed, “Of the four major destructive emotions: fear, guilt, hostility, and failure, hostility is the worst.”

What causes so much anger in our world? It could be a reaction against depersonalization. Do you ever feel like you are just a number? When you are forced to “Press 1 if you …. Press 2 to talk with …. Press 3 to …,” do you feel like you don’t really matter? Often, we are reduced to just a number and it fills us with frustration and that leads to anger.

Selfishness is another source of anger. I want things done my way and I want them done now. I don’t want to wait in line. I don’t want to take a number. I don’t want to eat __________. I, I, I and I become angry!

What does the Bible teach about anger? First, anger is a God-given emotion and anger is not necessarily sinful. The phrase “the anger of the Lord” appears 18 times in the Old Testament and Jesus himself became angry (Mark 3:5). However, there are times when anger is wrong. It can disqualify a man from serving as an elder. Fathers are not to cause their children to become bitter – the fruit of an angry childhood (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). Jesus taught anger prepares a person for the fires of hell! (Matthew 5:21-24) Yet, there are times when anger is the proper response (2 Corinthians 7:10, 11).


  1. What safeguards should my anger have?
  2. What should I become angry about?
  3. How can I safely express my anger?

[1] Loh, I., & Hatton, H. (1997). A handbook on the Letter from James. UBS Handbook Series (41). New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Loh, I., & Hatton, H. (1997). A handbook on the Letter from James. UBS Handbook Series (42–43). New York: United Bible Societies.

Published by

John McKeel

John is a teacher, author, adventurer, and the minister for GCC – the Groton Church of Christ.

One thought on ““Quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger””

  1. The only times I have “seen red” is when I saw old people disrespected. At the time I wanted the people who were doing it blown off the face of the earth. Today, it still infuriates me but I know that all I can do is the let the other know I stand by him or her , pray for the bullies, and if need be take other non-violent action up to and including reporting to authorities.

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