My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
Some years ago I memorized the Biblical book of James. The book is five chapters long and is dense with wisdom and counsel for godly living, but for some reason the verses that stuck with me most, at the time I memorized them and on to today, are those quoted above. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. I could spend a lifetime trying to live up to such instruction. They are words that give me pause.
And the following verse too—beginning with a therefore. Therefore always links us to the previous sentence. Because of that, do this. This is true, therefore… I thought it curious that James spoke of being slow to speak and anger, therefore get rid of moral filth and evil. Why? Because moral filth and evil degrade self-control. Moral filth and evil elicit imprudent words. Moral filth and evil elicit rage. More thoughts that give me pause.
If you pay any attention to mainstream news, non-mainstream news, politics, blogs, social media, or any combination of these, you may be tempted to think we’re living in a world gone mad with imprudent words and anger. We’re getting shouted at from all directions. We’re hearing shoot-from-the-hip directness from every person with a voice. Millions are marching, millions are screaming. Millions are angry.
I wonder how to talk with my kids in this climate of simmering and frequently explosive hatred and disgust. How do I teach them to have ears to hear when virtually no one in the public square and so few in the private are modeling what that looks like? I wonder if we will ever collectively, as a people, begin to question the assumption that people are the problem, and begin to assume that evil is. What if we really did shun moral filth and evil? What if we really did simultaneously engage the gospel, seek to live it instead of weaponize it to our sides’ greatest advantage—what might that look like?
I am trying to envision how that might look in my home. I am trying to explore with my husband and kids to how to be a family that listens, a family that shuns filth and evil. I believe there is such a thing as righteous anger, but I don’t believe that is what we’re seeing in the marches and protests today. What we’re seeing on the public stage is catharsis, not progress.
Teaching our kids to love in a world filled with anger, evil, and hate takes more than a political stance. Loving in a world reeling from the effects of moral filth is a lifestyle practice, not a series of organized events. When we teach our kids how to share with their sibling, how to apologize, or how to include the kid sitting alone on the sideline, we do so not only so our home is more peaceful or their social network grows. We teach them such things so that they can go out into the world and apply those skills in ever more complex situations. It’s hard for a five year old to share, for a ten year old to stand up to a bully, for a fifteen year old to trade popularity for integrity. But when they do, they are that much closer to becoming an adult to knows how to listen without competing to be heard, to take a blow without retaliating in kind and perpetuating a culture of right-by-force.
I look out my door and I see a world full of bright people, intelligent people, thoughtful people, all thinking they are right and the “others” are wrong. And I see it not getting us anywhere. I wish there were easy solutions to all the world’s ills. I know there are not. But I will start in my home by quieting my mouth and opening my ears; by curbing a harsh reply; by guarding against moral filth and evil; by teaching my kids to do the same.