You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of a male does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
To be able to listen is to be close to the kingdom of God. To be clear, one can listen and listen very well and not be following Jesus as listening is a capacity every person has, but a transformed life in Christ will lead to a person who listens well to God and to others. In a period of time where expressed anger and rage are the currency of credibility on social media, it behooves us to be able to listen and listen well. God’s righteous vision for human thriving and life is not realized when anger is the currency of the day.
To be clear, there are times to get angry at the face of obvious injustice and callous evil. The Scriptures affirm the existence of God’s anger, wrath, and judgment against those who oppress and abuse others and even God’s anger toward His people when they go down the path towards resembling their oppressors as the people of Israel made a golden calf reflecting Egyptian mythology.
However, in the midst of all of this, God doesn’t have a hairline trigger with His anger (Exodus 34.6). God’s heart is for love, not conflict. Anger produces anger, defensiveness, and bitterness in response that works against love. Sometimes that is the only option when people’s hearts are far from living with the godliness that creates thriving and well-being for others, but even in justified anger there is often an extended period of deescalation that is necessary for faith, hope, and love to grow in people’s relationships once again.
Nevertheless, the problem with our anger, even if it is ‘justified,’ is this: our anger is readily an expression of our own, human righteousness. We might be angry about the same things God is angry about, but the way we respond and express ourselves in our own righteousness leads to very different outcomes than God’s righteous anger. Our words, our actions, the things we focus on, and the goals of our actions when angry can all lead us to dovetail away from God’s purposes.
This is why listening is close to the kingdom of God: when we are quick and long to listen to God and to others, the times where we do get angry will be more formed by God’s own righteousness vision for human well-being and thriving and a more complete understanding of the problems.
However, listening is more than just about when and how we get angry. Listening to God and others gives us the opportunity to know where we can do good for others. When we listen to God through the Scriptures and in the private place of heart where the Holy Spirit produces life-giving desires within us and we listen well to others, we begin the discovery of intersections between God’s life-giving purposes and the circumstances of the world around us. When we listen well and act accordingly, our actions may give birth to real trust in others, serving as a grounds for a living hope that can culminate in a godly love.
The struggle that I observe with many Christians today is that our vision of listening tends to be unipolar. On the one hand, there are many who speak of listening to and hearing from God, but yet I witness the way they represent others, especially those they disagree with, as often being exaggerated, stereotypical caricatures. They long to hear from God while at the same time they create people built of straw in their own minds. On the other hand, there is also the tendency to treat God and His will as simply a legitimation and direction to listen to others, but one’s learning from the Word and Spirit becomes fitted into the categories of one’s cultural and personal upbringing with little openness to the transformation that God brings to us.
However, in the Scripture from James provided above, the people are called to both receive the word from God implanted within them and to listen to each other. There is a close connection between listening to God and to listening to each other in this passage, but they are not reducible to each other. Instead, listening to God and listening to others are connected to the reality of the people’s hearts: pushing back against the excessive vulgarity and malice that the society around them inculcated, their hearts would become more attentive to God’s Word and be freed to hear from others.
It is only as we grow in our listening to God and listening to others that we ourselves becomes actual agents of God’s righteousness as the Apostle Paul spoke of himself in 2 Corinthians 5.18-21: as an ambassador for Christ who brings the message of reconciliation because Christ’s own bearing of sin without sinning enables people to embody God’s righteous vision of human well-being and thriving in relationship to God and each other.