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Show a Little Dignity

By Tracy Jessup

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“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness” (James 1:19-20)

Do you recall a time in which humanity seems to be angrier and more opinionated than the present? People are angry and opinionated about politics and the pandemic. Fights about whether or not to wear masks or get the vaccine to play out in public and on social media.

In an article for Leadership Journal, Gordon MacDonald tells the story of meeting a man several years ago who was able to resolve a conflict involving multiple people and in which an aggressive spirit of hate and vengeance saturated the attitudes and conduct of those involved. When MacDonald asked how the mess was resolved, the man mentioned a friend who confronted him and said, “Someone has to show a little dignity in this thing. It really should start with you.” That phrase stuck with MacDonald whenever he faced situations “where the next word or the next deed would either fan the flame of conflict or spread the oil of peace.”

In today’s passage, the warning James gives is not against all speech and anger. Instead, it is a warning against a disposition that speaks too quickly and angers too easily. Eugene Peterson’s translation of these verses in The Message helps us see this: “Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger.”

Many commentators conclude that the command to be “quick to listen” looks back to the “word of truth” (v. 18). James is interested in the idea of cultivating our relationship with God, and what better way to do that than to listen to and act on the life-giving truth of God’s word. Jesus often would rebuke the Pharisees because while they had read and heard the scriptures, they did not allow God’s truth to penetrate their hearts. Hearing and listening are not necessarily the same thing. To grow in our relationship with God, we must be quick to listen to God’s truth.

Likewise, James is interested in the idea of cultivating our relationships with others – helping us get along with one another. One of the ways in which we cultivate relationships with others is to be slow to speak and slow to anger. Speaking too quickly does nothing to promote a listening spirit. The same is true of any anger that does not promote God’s righteous purposes. We should become angry at sin and injustice, but much of our anger does not stem from such things. Commenting on this passage, J.A. Motyer writes, “[Anger] is not a pure emotion; it is usually heavily impregnated with sin – self-importance, self-assertion, intolerance, stubbornness” (The Message of James, p. 66).

The correlation between being “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger,” and our relationship with God and others cannot be overemphasized. Near the conclusion of MacDonald’s article in Leadership Journal, he writes, “This increasingly crowded, noisy world is generating more and more of these kinds of moments where no one is really doing something bad … just stupid… But because our human dignity is eroded by these constant clashes, even our innocent mistakes point to the possibility of hateful exchanges and vengeful acts. You have to keep alert lest you get sucked into saying and doing things that you’ll regret an hour later” (“Show a Little Dignity” 11/23/09). 

Prayer: Lord, take our ears, our speech, our emotions – every part of us – and let them be consecrated to you.


Dr. Tracy Jessup serves as vice president for Christian Life and Service and senior minister to the University. He is a graduate of Gardner-Webb with a B.A. in Music and earned his M. Div. degree at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also teaches in the undergraduate department of religious studies and enjoys the opportunity to serve the local church through interim pastorates, pulpit supply, and preaching revival services. he and his wife, Teresa, have two children, Christian and Anna.

Read more Good Christian News from Dr. Jessup HERE.