James 1:19-21 “19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. 21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.”
I want to begin a series today on conflict.
If you’re a human being you experience conflict.
Conflict is defined as “a serious disagreement or argument, typically a drawn out one.”
We think of words like “quarreling, disputes, yelling, or knock down, drag out fights.”
In these very trying days in which we live, with:
Overseeing in-home, online teaching of children blocked from attending school,
the attack on God’s Word and traditional morals and ways of viewing things—
All these contribute to conflict!
Paul the Apostle predicted, “But understand this, that in the last days dangerous times [of great stress and trouble] will come [difficult days that will be hard to bear]” (2 Tim. 3:1 AMP).
We are in those times of great stress and trouble.
And that is why we need to talk about conflict, because this kind of stress and trouble contribute to and often cause conflict!
—People are on edge and easily ruffled.
—Road rage has risen dramatically.
—Long standing friendships have ended during this trying time period.
—Marriages have come under strong attack.
—One article reports that divorce applications and break-ups are skyrocketing around the world.
—In England, one law firm logged a 122% increase in divorce enquiries between July and October, compared with the same period last year!
So that said, what does the Bible say about handling conflict?
How can Christians experience victory over conflict?
How can you kill conflict before conflict kills you?
The Bible says, “The beginning of strife is like letting out water [as from a small break in a dam; first it trickles and then it gushes]; Therefore abandon the quarrel before it breaks out and tempers explode.”—Prov. 17:14 AMP
So let’s look today at how to stop a quarrel before tempers explode.
In our text, James provides three words of wisdom in this regard: “Be quick to listen, slow to answer, and slow to get angry.”—1:19
Let’s unpack them one at a time:
- Be quick to listen
In the first chapter, James begins by addressing Christian people who are ‘facing trials of many kinds.” Vs.2
He encourages them to persevere and to allow perseverance (stick to it-iveness) to fully develop. Vs. 3-4
He tells them that if they lack wisdom in how to handle all the trouble, go to God and ask Him for wisdom, and He will give it to them. Vs.5
He gives them an encouraging promise in verse 12, “12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
In verses 13-18 he lets them know emphatically that no temptation to sin ever comes from God, but from our own fleshly lusts.
And then in verse 19 come the words of advice:
“Be quick to listen, slow to answer, and slow to get angry.”
Now, this verse can be taken in two ways.
—ONE, we are to be quick to listen to God, slow to verbally respond to Him, and slow to become angry with what He allows.
—SECOND, in conflicts we’re to practice listening first, be slow and careful in our verbal responses, and even slower in getting angry.
So first he says, in a time of conflict, LISTENING is the first key to defusing it.
He’s instructing us to do what we naturally DO NOT DO.
We’d rather SPEAK first and LISTEN later.
But in most conflicts, a disagreement escalates into a fight when we quit listening to each other.
The word “listen” doesn’t just mean hearing someone’s voice.
It means listening with the intent to understand.
Jesus often said, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear.”
He didn’t just mean “hear the sound of my voice,” but hear with an attempt to understand, to get what He’s saying.
He often talked about people who “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”—Matthew 13:13
And this is what we do when disagreements escalate into conflict.
We stop listening to what the other person is trying to say.
While they’re talking we’re already formulating in our minds our next response!
We’re hearing them but NOT HEARING them.
And this is where the battle begins to be lost.
No doubt, in the heat of a conflict, listening is not easy to do.
Emotions are churning.
We’re on the defense.
It’s easy to become so intent on either winning the fight or defending ourselves that we quickly lose sight of what the disagreement was even about in the first place!
So the LISTENER must take a deep breath and try to hear the other person’s message.
ILLUS: The story is told of a Native American and his friend who were in downtown New York City, walking near Times Square in Manhattan.
It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening.
Suddenly, the Native American said, “I hear a cricket.”
His friend said, “What? You must be crazy. You couldn’t possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!”
“No, I’m sure of it,” the Native American said. “I heard a cricket.”
“That’s crazy,” said the friend.
The Native American listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket.
His friend was utterly amazed. “That’s incredible,” said his friend. “You must have super-human ears!”
“No,” said the Native American. “My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you’re listening for.”
“But that can’t be!” said the friend. “I could never hear a cricket in this noise.”
“Yes, it’s true,” came the reply. “It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you.”
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that clanged onto the pavement was theirs!
“See what I mean?” asked the Native American. “It all depends on what’s important to you.
So—In a conflict, we must learn to hear the cricket.
The cricket is what they’re trying to truly say, and you’ve got to pick it out amidst the noise of the conflict.
Second, James advises:
- Be slow to answer
“Slow” is from a Greek word meaning, “unhurried, while still moving forward after considering all the facts.”
So rather than pop off with hastily spoken words in the heat of emotion, we’re to be unhurried and careful, choosing our words wisely after considering the facts.
One man writes, “The ears are always open, ever ready to receive instruction; but the tongue is surrounded with a double row of teeth, to hedge it in, and to keep it within proper bounds.”
So true! If anything is hard to keep in check, it’s our words.
In chapter 3, James graphically describes the deadly power of words when badly spoken:
James 3:5-6 “5 So also the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A great forest can be set on fire by one tiny spark. 6 And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness, and poisons every part of the body. And the tongue is set on fire by hell itself and can turn our whole lives into a blazing flame of destruction and disaster.”
And this is so true in a conflict—the words we choose will either set it on fire or defuse it!
So I suggest a couple of things:
ONE, try not to use accusing words.
TWO, stay on track with what the conflict was originally about—don’t chase rabbits.
III. Be slow to wrath
“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”
Remember, slow means “unhurried, while still moving forward after considering all the facts.”
Listen to what the Bible says about being slow to anger:
Prov. 16:32 NKJV “He that is slow to anger is greater than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit than he that takes a city.”
Living Bible, “It is better to be slow-tempered than famous; it is better to have self-control than to control an army.”
The Bible says this about God: “The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.”—Ps. 103:8 NLT
You say, “But Jeff, it’s so hard to not get mad, to not blow my stack! How do I not go there?”
Pray a prayer under your breath, “God, by your Spirit, empower me to remain calm.”
God’s word tells us, “12 Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. 14 Sin is no longer your master…”—Ro. 6:12-14 NLT
Remind yourself that you DON’T HAVE TO YIELD TO SIN!
If we can remember this simple verse, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get mad,” it will help us to kill conflict!