If you are like me, then every time you come across the name ‘James‘ in the Bible, you would perform a mental check in trying to figure out which James you’re reading about, and after 1 second you’ll probably give up. James is a nice name, isn’t it? One of those timeless names that is as popular today as it was 2000 years ago. Many say James the apostle, son of Zebedee and brother of John was martyred before this book was written, so the most likely one(out of 4 mentioned in the Bible) to have written this letter would be James, the brother of Jesus. It was also likely to be the earliest written book in the New Testament, and out of 108 verses in its 5 chapters, about half of them were commands. James focuses on the broad issues of Christian living, and in James 1:19 he encourages practical actions of the humble Christian.
Analysis: Being still
Admittedly I was one of those obedient ones who noted this down:
Silent your body to listen to your words.
Silent your tongue to listen to your thoughts.
Silent your thoughts to listen to your heart beating.
Silent your heart to listen to your spirit.
Silent your spirit to listen to His spirit.
When we are in silence, we leave many and be with the One.
Analysis: Offering your silence
Just a couple of weeks ago a pastor was speaking about the first couple of chapters of Job, and he offered his views on Job’s three friends Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite. I personally enjoy studying the book of Job, but even so, I felt this was very applicable to our verse today.
Job 2:13 – Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
That’s what true friends do. They came down from great distances, wept aloud, tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads when they saw how Job suffered from a distance. I don’t know if that was the culture then, but I can scarcely imagine the magnitude of Job’s suffering and their love for him to feel for him to such an extent. At least go closer to him before you cry for him! But that’s just me. The pastor didn’t say that, of course. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. They offered their silence, because they knew how much Job needed it. There were no words of comfort – in fact, none were necessary. What could they possibly say in that scenario that could possibly be of comfort to Job? Job was silent, and so were they.
We all know what happened next. When Job started speaking, the three friends felt morally obliged, perhaps, to correct him, and what could have been a 4 chapters book spanned into 42; with 28 of those charting the back and forth dialogue between Job and his three friends, which really led to some very strong words and accusations at some point, which were as untrue as they were unnecessary. Silence is precious. If we know how to keep silent, perhaps we can start over. Perhaps when Job had started to grumble, and they had kept their silence, Job will finish ranting and recover his faith. I don’t really have the heart to blame Job for ranting – we all have our moments of weaknesses (we will look more into Job’s case when we go into verses about Job). But instead of keeping silent, they tried to explain, and the more they tried to explain, the more Job raged.
Analysis: The balance between listening and speaking
The verse did not say silence. The verse said, ‘slow to speak’. It doesn’t mean we should never speak. It implies thinking before speaking. It implies that we should know the weight of our words. It implies we ought to listen more. At some point, when it’s time to speak, we need to move out of our silence, and speak words that do not stumble others. Even if you fail to encourage, that’s fine. Often, it is beyond us to encourage. That is the Lord’s work, and we’re merely tools and channels that he can use to do it.
There is no formula between listening and speaking. At which point should you listen, and at which point should you speak? Unfortunately, I’m probably worse at balancing the listening and the speaking than an average person. There are so many variant factors, and every case and scenario is different. But God knows the balance for each and everyone of us. And by God’s grace, we can somehow find that formula even without us understanding it.
To sit back and listen instead of speaking is a very humbling act. We like to think, we, we, we; I, I, I. We like to say, you should, he ought, she must. I can’t count the number of ‘we’s or ‘I’s in this post alone. When we listen, we give the person our attention, we show our respect to that person – we show our care and concern via a genuine interest. Listening – not just hearing.
Often one trait that leads us to be slow to listen, quick to speak and quit to anger is our defensiveness. We feel an obligation to protect ourselves and defend our actions, and when our beliefs or actions are questioned, our self-defence mechanism kicks in and we go on a tirade that is often more emotional than it is logical, and more unnecessary than it is necessary. Often the accusations against us are baseless and inaccurate, and our self-defence could be righteous – yet is it really necessary? And there are times when the criticism is constructive and objective, yet our pride refuses to accept it.
One aspect in which most Christians have, for centuries, struggled with would be the defence of our God, our faith, our religion, our Bible. Against doubters, against Science, against atheism, against philosophy… the list goes on. There are many arguments that we may win, if we are equipped with sufficient knowledge about our faith and the Bible – yet in our arguments and debates we often fail to honour God. We can triumph over our doubters’ arguments, we can even force them to concede their point, but more often than not, this is not the way to win over their hearts. They may stop their accusations, but that doesn’t mean they believe. Our faith, though filled with much wisdom and knowledge, is one based on love, and love is an emotion that defies human logic.
I don’t mean we shouldn’t defend the Bible. I don’t mean we shouldn’t condemn sins or that we should condone blasphemy. Where to draw the line? I don’t know, to be honest. But I suppose we can start with humility. When we humble ourselves down, we are less sensitive to the verbal attacks of others, and we’re more likely to respond in a calm way that can honour God. When we listen with humility, we will have a bigger heart to accept the criticism from others and filter out the gist of any strongly worded or even foul-mouthed argument. Provoking a person into a heated argument is always a good strategy of the devil to lead us to temptation and sin.
Words are precious. Cherish the words that a brother has shared with you with his heart. Be wary of the words that are at the tip of your tongue. Our actions can obviously hurt people, but we are often made to think that words are more harmless than actions. Words can kill a soul. Words can save a soul. Let us pray that God put His words frequently in our mouths, and give us a humble heart to listen; a discerning heart to speak; and a gracious heart to refrain from unholy anger.