Listening

Verses like the one this morning make me cringe. Actually, most verses out of James make me cringe because so much of what James writes about is what I struggle with. And this morning is one that truly throws me for a loop.

James 1:19

19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

As I was reading this today, I realized something I never saw before. I always considered these three instructions to be individual. As in, we need to make sure that we are good, attentive listeners. We need to make sure we don’t talk too much. We need to make sure we don’t lose our temper. But as I was reading this morning, I started to wonder if instead of individual commands they’re actually connected.

How many times have I sat and listened to someone speak without interrupting them to tell them that they’re wrong and getting angry about it?

Listening is a sign of respect. Listening demonstrates that you love someone else more than you love yourself, that you’re more concerned about what’s going on in their life than you are about what’s happening in yours. Listening is hard. But that’s probably becuase it’s a good thing to do.

So what do you do when you’re listening to someone and they say something wrong? Or they say something offensive? What do you do? Do you jump all over them? Do you interrupt them and tellt hem that they’re wrong?

If we think about these three commands as though they are all connected, what are they saying to do?

Be quick to listen. That means we need to be eager and excited to listen to someone else’s story. But once they get started, let them finish their thought without interrupting them. And then, don’t get angry at them for expressing beliefs or opinions that contradict your beliefs or opinions. Let them finish their thought. Let them have their say. And then — calmly and without anger — explain your position. Explain your beliefs. Explain your opinions. And explain why you feel that way.

I struggle with this enormously, especially if someone is telling me something I have already heard before. If somebody is repeating something I’ve already heard, I usually interrupt them and finish the thought for them. And, honestly, that’s just rude. I should care more about the people who are talking to me than I do about what they’re telling me. So what if I heard it before? I shouldn’t be in such a hurry that hearing it again bothers me.

I am always quick to listen, but I’m not always slow to speak. And that’s something I need to work on.

Brotherly love

Love is such a strange word. It has so many meanings, and English tends to use the same word for all of its many meanings. Because there’s a big difference between saying you love somebody and saying you love the taste of coffee.  

I would be fascinated to know how the word love is translated in other languages. Because I’m sure that other languages have a generic word for love. I know Greek has many different words for many different kinds of love, but I don’t know about other languages. I know there’s a linguistic difference between family love and romantic love in Japanese, but I can’t tell you the different words.

The verse of the day made me think about the different kinds of love this morning.

Romans 12:10

10 Love each other with genuine affection,[a] and take delight in honoring each other.

I’m always curious when the Bible expands on how to love someone. Not just love them. But love them “with genuine affection” which in this case means “with brotherly love” according to BibleGateway.

It’s super easy to tell somebody that you love them. At it’s very basest definition, love is a word. And words are easy to use. What is difficult is meaning what you say. And when you mean that you love somebody, you have to back it up with action.  You have to spend time with them. You have to talk to them. You have to remember their birthdays. Etc. But then again, a lot of your action depends on what kind of love you have for that person. If it’s romantic love, you’d better be sending flowers and talking on the phone at all hours of the night. But what does it mean to love someone with brotherly love?

The same verse in the Amplified Bible uses the phrase “as members of one family.” That’s how we are supposed to love each other. I think that’s probably a very good idea, since technically we are members of one family. God’s family. But that begs the question, how do members of a family love each other?

It’s interesting to me that no matter how evil our culture becomes, families still seem to realize that there is a bond among them that nobody else shares. You still grow up together. You still live together, at least at the beginning of your life. And no matter where you go in life, you still have whatever your family instilled in you.

I have been extraordinarily blessed to have an amazing family. My mom, dad and brother are some of my closest friends. So it’s very interesting to me that the Bible says I am to love fellow Christians with the same love I have for my blood family. It’s that love that says, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, you are family and I love you and I always will. ” At least, that’s how brotherly love works in my family.

It also means we aren’t afraid to call each other on our crap, no matter if it’s a younger sibling doing the calling or not (again, this is also the way it usually works in my family). But always with love.

I don’t even really know what I’m saying this morning. And I’m not sure if I’m making sense or not. I rarely even make sense to myself.

I guess I was just needing a reminder that when the Bible tells us to love someone, we need to do it; not only say it but back it up with action. And when the Bible says that we need to love fellow Christians like they are family, we need to do that too. Because if we can’t love each other and get along down here, we’re in trouble. Because we’re going to spend eternity with each other. So we’d better work out our differences down here while we have the chance, right? =)

Unity

If you want a good time, you should put an Independant Baptist and a Southern Baptist in the same room and ask them what they think of each other. Hours of endless entertainment. And you don’t have to use Baptists. You can use any denominational group that thinks they’re better than everybody else. Frankly, just pick two people who claim to be followers of Christ, lock them in a room together, and see what happens. I’m pretty sure there will be fireworks within the hour.

Why?

Because Christians are the hardest people in the world to get along with. And most of the time we don’t even get along with each other.

I don’t know if it’s just Satan picking at us, convincing us that we’re better than each other, creating disharmony like he’s so talented at doing. I don’t know. That would fit his M.O. All I know is that usually the people I get the most frustrated with are believers. And I’m pretty positive I irritate the dickens out of people too.

I don’t think most Christians intentionally mean to create conflict with each other. I do think Satan plays a hand in some of it. But I also think we expect too much of each other, and I also think we expect too little of each other . . . if that makes any sense.

In any case, Christians shouldn’t fight. We should be united. It doesn’t matter what our denomination is. It doesn’t matter how differently we dress from each other. It doesn’t matter how differently we worship from each other. It doesn’t matter if one church does AWANA and another church doesn’t. It doesn’t matter if one church only sings hymns and another church only sings contemporary songs.

The only thing that matters is what you do with Jesus Christ. Those who follow Him are family, and family needs to get along.

I think it’s funny that Christians have always struggled with getting along, as is evidenced by today’s verse.

Romans 15:5-6

 5 May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. 6 Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Even the Christians in early Rome must have had trouble, it sounds like. This verse just points out the reason why we all need to work together.

We’re all here for a reason. God left us here for a purpose. He’s got something for us to do, otherwise we wouldn’t still be here. So instead of picking on each other, instead of only seeing each others’ faults and failures, instead of focusing on why we don’t like each other, let’s live in harmony together. Those of us who follow Christ should love each other, forgive each other, make allowances for each others’ faults . . . because Lord knows we have enough faults of our own.

And when we can do that, we will be able to worship God together. United. With one voice. One focus. One purpose.

If we can all get along, who knows what God can do through us? Two thousand years ago, 12 men who loved Jesus and were willing to work together turned the world upside down. I’m pretty sure there are more than 12 believers in the world today. So what would happen if all the Christians on Earth decided to stop focusing on our petty differences and put all of our attention on God? What would happen if together in one voice we asked God to do something incredible? What would happen if together we all did what God is calling us to do? What if we supported each other instead of tearing each other apart?

I don’t think the world has ever seen that. I know I never have.

The possibilities are as limitless as God Himself is. And He’s just waiting for us to take the first step.