The following is a reflection paper I wrote for class.
James grew up in an imperfect family with a perfect brother [Jesus]. His book is believed to be the first written epistle of the New Testament. However, we learn something rather unfortunate in John’s Gospel account. In John 7:5 we read that “not even His brothers believed in Him.” Can you imagine how this must have made Jesus feel? His own family—those closest to Him—rejected Him. Since it is likely Jesus was favored above the rest, especially because He never did anything wrong, His brothers lived their lives envious and filled with jealousy because of Him. Though they did not physically harm Him, they acted in a parallel manner to that of the brothers of Joseph some sixteen hundred years earlier.
I wonder if this is the reason James emphasizes listening above speaking and even spends so much time urging believers to guard their tongues from foolish talk, especially when speaking as an authority on something we know nothing about. The passage in John reveals that Christ’s brothers were antagonizing Him by pressuring Him to walk openly in Judea doing signs and wonders because they knew that the Jews were seeking to kill Him. Like Jacob’s sons and their jealousy of Joseph, this would have been an easy way to get rid of their brother. It is amazing however, to witness the transformation that took place in his life over the next few years.
The Apostle Paul informs us that when Jesus rose from the dead He appeared to James (1Cor. 15:7). The Lord never gave up on this man and the same is true for all of us as well. The ability to listen is a necessary skill to develop and mature in as we walk through this life. James is an example of when the inability to listen and understand was rooted in envy, jealousy and even a hint of hatred. However, not listening can also stem from fear, arrogance, manipulation, and so on—all of which are ultimately birthed from pride.
In my own life, I tend to function from a form of fear and arrogance depending upon both who I am speaking to and what we are talking about. If we are just having a casual conversation then, because of the fear of silence, I am often compelled to be thinking about what I will say next while the other individual is talking. I do not enjoy the awkward moments which many conversations bring, thus I have always tried to prepare myself while the other person is speaking so I can avoid the lulls. This, however, presents an issue because at some level I cannot hear everything the other person says and fully contemplate all the things I want to say without ultimately missing something, whether small or big.
In terms of arrogance, this one is somewhat more revealing of who I am. As an analytical, what I enjoy more than anything is digging down into the details of God’s Word and studying a passage so thoroughly that I am prone to dogmatism. For example, I have probably spent hundreds of hours reading through and studying the first five chapters of Genesis. Caitlin jokes with me that if I ever become a pastor, then our church will never teach out of anything outside the book of Genesis because that is probably where most of my study time goes. The problem, however, is not that I love studying, but rather it is because I study so much that when someone says something totally off the wall, I am internally [sometimes externally] blowing up.
I often lose sight of the fact that I too have believed a lot of wrong things and I am still blind to areas where I need to be corrected. This comes into listening well for me on a personal level. When I am in a small group and I find myself disagreeing with what has been said, I know that the Lord is training me to love them by allowing them to speak and share their thoughts. Yes, there are times when things need to be corrected, but there are also a lot of times when what I need to do is be quiet and entrust the situation and the viewpoints of the people to the Lord who judges wisely.
All that to say, I am learning to be a better listener in class, small groups, church, in my marriage and really in all realms of life. Ministry is working alongside other people and a big part of that is being a good listener. People do not always need me trying to correct their theology. What they need is for me to love them by listening to them. Listening and hearing them so they feel understood and valued. This will often lead them later to become more willing to hear me and understand where I am coming from which will present a much larger possibility of winning them to the truth.