Slow to Click “Send”
It’s one of the most uncomfortable moments, whether it happens to you in ministry or your personal life. You unsuspectingly open your email or answer the phone, expecting to have a typical conversation with your friend. But instead of the norm, you find that she is upset…with you.
There could be a myriad of reasons. Perhaps she believes that you let her down in some way. Maybe something you said hurt her. She might have been watching you in ministry for a while and has seen something amiss that she wants to bring to your attention.
Regardless, my first inward reactions are not helpful. Usually it’s combination of feeling terrible that I’ve done something to offend her and the strong desire to defend myself. I want to apologize and point out her faults at the same time. To make it better immediately while at the same time listing off my record of righteousness.
Into this moment, before a word leaves your mouth or a keystroke is made, the book of James has great wisdom to impart to you: “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.” (Js. 1:19-20) And in this one verse, there is a way of dealing with that moment that will make all the difference in the world.
Be Quick to Hear and Slow to Speak
I like words a lot. Without them, communication doesn’t happen . And in every relationship, they are our way of dealing with conflict. That said, I usually have too many words, and the wrong ones, right after someone has criticized me. The ones that tumble out of my mouth in that moment tend to be excuse-making ones or blame-shifting ones or even ones that wrongly take the blame for something I didn’t do, just to make the other person happy . These are ones that feel so good when I type them out, but regret when I return to my “sent” box and re-read what I wrote. Moreover, when the words come too quickly, it usually means that I haven’t thoroughly heard what they have to say to me in the first place.
In contrast to this, I consider how Jesus responds to me when my relationship with him is broken for some reason. Even though my complaints against him are never justified, he listens sympathetically. We see this time and time again in the Psalms, where God lets people direct their frustration with his ways to him.
When God does respond to my prayers, it is always through the truth of his Scriptures that point me to Christ. It might come through reading the Bible or through a hymn or at Bible study. However it comes, he reminds me that I am forgiven because of the cross. He brings to mind his unreserved love for me and how it was shown on Calvary. And he teaches me of his goodness and sovereignty in every situation, also shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
So following Jesus’s example, I’m called to listen. Listen even when she is upset, even when every part of me feels uncomfortable with it. Then, when it’s time to speak, I need to point both of us to what Jesus has done for us .
“All very well,” you may be thinking, “If I had any desire to love her in that moment. But really, I’m just so angry and frustrated with her!!!” I hear you, and this brings us to James’s second point.
Anger Won’t Get You What You Really Want
James is aware that, even when we know we’re supposed to be quick to listen and slow to speak, anger can still get in the way. That’s why the next words out of his mouth are, “Be slow to anger.” And then he gives a reason, “For the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.”
That cuts to the quick, doesn’t it? James just openly declared that, not only will my flash of anger not accomplish the righteousness of God, but also that it means that the righteousness of God is not my top priority in that moment. What is? Usually myself and my reputation . And I want to move from wanting this to wanting the righteousness of God. But how?
The gospel has the answer to this question, too. And here it is: Because you have the righteousness of Christ, you do not need to be right. Ever. It is this truth that will move you from anger to wanting the righteousness of God.
Here’s how it works itself out in your conflict. Let’s say for a moment that your friend is right in her criticism of you. The cross itself has already shown the world that you are a sinner in such great need of rescue that Jesus had to die a horrific death to save you. The cross frees you to admit that what you’ve done is wrong, to ask forgiveness, and to attempt to do right by your friend . Because of the cross you can know that you’re forgiven and free…even if your friend is still mad at you. This enables you to move from wanting to be right to wanting what’s best for your friend. You now want the righteousness of God.
On the other hand, let’s assume that she is completely wrong in her criticism of you. Jesus was also falsely accused….and with an accusation that you rightly deserved. But rather than defend his reputation, he bore the shame and entrusted his righteousness to the Father. This was because Jesus cared more about obedience to the Father’s will and more about you and me than he did his own reputation. And Jesus’s act of literally dying to his reputation of righteousness accomplished the righteousness of God. Because of Jesus’s death, his righteousness is imputed to you.
This reality makes all the difference in the world! You can react by venting your frustration to the Lord and entrusting your need to be right to him. It sets you free to respond in a way that honors him and loves her. When you ask, he will give you the ability to forgive. You can talk to her with her best interests in mind. Though you may need to say that you don’t think her criticism is valid, it is no longer in a self-righteous way. You can honestly admit that you are not above whatever sin she’s just projected onto you! Jesus death showed the depths of your need for forgiveness. Your response can be humble and is more likely to restore the relationship, rather than drive a deeper wedge between you. And this, rather than man’s anger, accomplishes the righteousness of God.
A New Way
So the next time you or I read that upsetting email, let’s letJames’swisdom take root in our hearts. Because of what Christ has done, you can love your sister by truly listening to her and being slow to click “send” on that angry rant you spent hours composing. Instead, you can cling to Christ who will, though you, accomplish the righteousness of God.