The Speed of Righteousness

by Scott Brooks

James 1:19-20

Sermon Discussion Questions

Today’s message is about speed. The fastest car ever recorded was the Thrust SSC. It had 2 jet engines on it and was clocked going 763 mph. The fastest train is in Japan. It’s propelled by magnets and has been clocked at 374 mph. The fastest manned plane was the x-15 in the USA. It was clocked going 4,519 mph. It was more like a manned missile than a plane. The fastest elevator is in China in Shanghai. It can go 40 mph. The fastest roller coaster is in Abu Dahabi. It is clocked at 149 mph. The fastest person ever clocked is Usain Bolt at just over 30 mph. The Cheetah can hit speeds over 70 mph…okay that’s boring we all know that. But did you know that the fastest fish is the sailfish. It can reach speeds over 70 mph. And this is in the water! But the fast animal on the planet is the peregrine falcon which has been clocked at 240 mph.

It’s cool seeing all the fast stuff but going fast isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You can killed going fast. Interestingly, right at the turn of the 19th century the first speed limit was posted in Connecticut – 12 mph in the city. At this point, Texas boasts the highest speed limit of 85 mph. We moved to Montana right after they took the unposted speed limit signs down (infinity)…sigh. sad sad day. The limits were put there because going that fast is dangerous because someone can lose control and not just kill themselves but someone else. Duh.

The Speed of Righteousness:

I’m talking about speed today because James is the one who brings up the whole topic of speed. Trials have this ability to push into the zone where all the wrongs things speed up and all the right things slow down. As we look in our culture today it would seem like we are in an epidemic of rage and anger that keeps gaining more and more speed and accelerating far beyond even just a decade ago. Two more black men killed by police and overnight the chaos of righteous anger and unrighteous anger gained even more speed. The political scene and the media have become this high octane fuel to the engine of anger and rage. We hear of persecution against the church from the classroom to the courtrooms to the public sphere and I see the anger as Christians talk about certain politicians or public figures. I see the anger even in the church. At this church over 20 years ago a fight broke out in the elder board. At my previous church in Montana a fist fight broke out in their elder meeting and other stories of Christians even at our church in these past 14 years full of anger towards each other.

It’s into this same mess that James wrote in chapter 1, verses 19-20. These two verses beg the question, “Is it really worse than it has ever been?” Apparently not. James clearly thought people in his time when trials hit were slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to anger. When I first read through James 1, I kept wondering why did James throw this in right here but the longer I’ve been in this chapter the more convinced I am that God put it here because it fits perfectly with trials. We’ve talked about how trials are this crucible God uses to test us and see what is in our heart. How He uses trials to perfect and complete us by stripping away that which is not of Him. Trials, then by necessity put us in places that forces us to look at our souls in ways we avoid.

And James says there a speed to righteousness when trials come. Some things get the brakes slammed on it and other things accelerate. James was warning them though that they were speeding up the wrong things and slowing down the wrong things. Why do we do this? Why are slowing down and speeding up the wrong things? This is over simplistic and a bit of a crash course but there are a few factors that could be driving us in trials. Imagine a car we’re driving weighed down with these things.  1. It could be our emotional health: The formative life experiences as children can cause significant wounds and destructions and we take these core emotions with us into adulthood. Memories and wounds of our past produce these primary emotions of fear, frustration, anxiety, sorrow, feeling diminished, guilt, shame, rejection, abandonment, failure, humiliated, emotional, and physical hurt. If we never deal with the emotional core of our life it will control us. 2. Another aspect is our physical health of stress, margin, rest, diet, and exercise. Folks if we are abusing our bodies at some point we will begin to fall apart. 3. Spiritual Health is one more aspect. The last category I’ll mention our spiritual health and lifestyle. We covered last week in verse 18 how God has brought us forth by His word of truth. He’s put the truth of the gospel in us – redeemed, child of the king, and a whole new identity. If we don’t take our spiritual life and spiritual health seriously we will simply gravitate back to life without Christ. Back to the old temptations and sin-filled life and all of the death that comes with it.

So when trials comes we have all this stuff we’re carrying with us and we get into a pattern of responding in unrighteous ways from these areas and it can slow us down or give us the wrong kind of momentum at the wrong time. And these trials will always temp us to irrationally slam the brakes on what is good or accelerate to life-threatening speeds into unrighteousness. Even when we do deal with them we will get healing but we will always have to be aware of them.

Quick To Listen

And James comes to us and he says, “When trials hit we must be quick to hear”.  The last thing we want to do is listen. We want to be heard! This isn’t an American thing, this is a human condition thing. We stink at listening when we are in trials let alone when life is normal…whatever that is. But for sure trials have this powerful effect of slamming the brakes on listening or else James wouldn’t have to write this.

I’m convinced that 70-80% of the issues people face could be healed or overcome through Christian brothers and sisters who would just listen.  After my masters, the pastoral counsel training, and 18 years of counseling and hundreds of couples and singles who all come into their marriage with their own baggage – I would say not listening to someone ranks up there as one of the leading causes for the breakdown in relationships. But the problem is if we have all this stuff going on under the surface it becomes virtually impossible to listen. If we do, we’ll be taken advantage of, we’ll be hurt again, we’ll be rejected, we’ll be ignored, we’ll be “whatever”.

Listening is not a natural desire in us. But James says what should speed up in trials, what should be accelerating in trials is our ability to listen. Listen first to God. Can you hear God? Hearing from Him is imperative in trials. We should be developing this pattern of increasing our ability to hear which means life might need to slow down in order to hear.

Quick to listen to those we are in relationship with. Those who love us and who have our best interests in mind. To be quick to listen to their counsel. Quick to listen to the warning and rebuke or the encouragement and affirmation. Quick to listen to those who we might have even hurt. Quick to listen is also about us seeing those around us, even in our trials, and listening to them. Pursuing them. Pursuing their heart and hearing what is going within them. Being quick to listen means we actually are seeking to not just hear their words but to hear their soul. And listening is not just sitting there, it requires us to pursue someone. To ask the follow-up question. Is there more to that? How did that feel?

Slow to Speak:

James goes on to write “be slow to speak”. That’s so hard! The pressure trials bring out is the human nature to be quick to speak. We say things in trials that we would never speak in moments of self-control. It’s amazing how we can go from 0-60 in less than a second and words start coming out of our mouth. Words we can’t bring back. And if we still have all that baggage it’s not like we’re starting at zero. We’re already humming along at 60 and then trials hit out of the blue and we gun it and we’re hitting over 100 before you know it. Our speech is unleashed on people around us and people we love around us can get slammed. But when we’re in conflict with someone look out. Our speech is like a 18 wheeler seeking to smash everything in its path. Make them pay. Put them in their place. And James says, “Slow down your speech.” Put the brakes on our speech.

Slow To anger:

The last in this series, James hits is “Be slow to anger.” The funny thing about our anger is that we all think we are justified in our anger. I have yet to meet a person in their anger who doesn’t feel justified in it. Right? Like God is on my side. Apparently people were doing it back in James time because he brought up two types of anger. Righteous and Unrighteous anger.

What is righteous anger? The best examples are those moments when the Bible described God getting angry at the unrighteous behavior of people. For example, just after God had delivered Israel from 400 years of slavery by sending the 12 plagues, sending the tornado, a wall of fire, parting the red sea, and then appearing to Israel in fire and smoke on Mt Sinai. Moses went up to the mountain and the people after 5-6 weeks thought Moses was never coming back so they built a golden calf to worship – with God still up on the mountain! Exodus 32 says that God’s anger burned hot and killed a lot of people that day in judgment. That’s what we call righteous anger. But if you look in the Bible nearly all the references to anger and us is, “Don’t do it.” Shut er’ down. In fact God is incredibly pessimistic about our ability to handle anger. The overwhelming evidence is that our anger is more often than not unrighteous anger.

In trials our anger plays a huge role. Especially if we’re traveling loaded down with all the baggage from the past. We’re rolling along with anger already. How many times are we just looking for a reason to gun it and let er’ rip? “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9 ESV) “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (Proverbs 29:11 ESV)

CONCLUSION:

The speed of righteousness is to slow the right things down and speed the right things up. Slow down our anger. Slow down our speech. And speed up our listening. Take a deep breath. Give space and time. What does this practically mean?

Application: Do not do conflict by email, text, Snapchat, Facebook and in any way that is not face face. Too much misinterpretation and miscommunication happens through these mediums. Folks, I’m not talking to just the students. I keep hearing of people even in our church doing conflict on their phones and computers and the subsequent blow-ups that happen. When it’s not in person, our anger and speech can go to light speed almost instantaneously. We completely stop listening. We draw incorrect conclusions. We get brittle and sarcastic in our responses. We start getting self-righteous and take the moral high ground and confront and rebuke and retort at blinding speed and relationships blow up. Folks even the secular culture talks about how dangerous it is to do conflict this way.

As a staff and elder team we do not do any disagreements by text or email. In my marriage and my friendship I refuse to do conflict over by text or email. When disagreements come up, our practice is to stop immediately and agree to talk in person or at the next meeting we have. When we’re in person we can see someone’s face and hear the tone of voice and body posture. When we’re in person it slows us down because it brings more restraint in our anger. It’s a person in front of us that we might hurt. It’s a relationship we might lose. I’m not above bringing other people into the conversation because I don’t trust myself or them. I have a rule of when I’ve written an email in response to an attack or a criticism I wait at least a day and sometimes I’ll wait two or three days. Slow it down. It’s not blowing it off it’s just taking time to find the right speed of righteousness.

Application: One of the most painful applications of this message may be for you to ask someone you love and trust what they truly think: Do you think I’m an angry person? Do you think I’m quick to speak in conflict and say harmful things? Do you think I’m slow to listen? Take inventory of the speed you are cruising at. Is it righteous? Is it unrighteous?