Proverbs 29:11 A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
The word “spirit” here means anger, emotions, feelings.
This is much needed counsel from Solomon that blesses us in so many situations. When we can exercise control of our emotions and not just unleash and lash out or rage when we are stirred up or bothered, we can prevent extra turmoil or hurt from happening. Solomon says, “It is wisdom to check our emotions and anger and act with restraint.” This is a good practice to constantly do. Whenever we are stirred up or angered, it is good to take that to the Lord in prayer and to His word and even sometimes to a brother or sister to be checked first before letting it have its way. WHY? Because our flesh is sinful and self-serving and self-preserving. It doesn’t like to be offended and/or hurt, so our fleshly habit is just to lash out in an effort to cope or justify.
James gives great New Testament counsel in James 1:19 when he says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
When we are only thinking of ourselves, we will be quick to speak out regarding whatever injustice or offense has been made.
But when I am thinking of others, I will long to slow down and listen longer and consider how I might better understand their perspective and/or how the gospel applies to this situation. Think about it: How many fights have you had with a spouse, loved one, or close friend simply because you chose to fire back in your emotions before you gave them the benefit of the doubt or really tried to understand where they were coming from first? Empathetic listening is not just listening with the intent to understand what is being said, but it goes deeper; it is listening with the intent to understand why the person feels the way they do about what is being said. In my 20 years of pastoral ministry, I have seen this make some of the most significant differences in struggling relationships. Simply put, an other-centered, loving practice to be slow to speak and longing to really listen and understand where the other person is coming from really shows respect, care, and interest in the other person instead of you just spouting out what you think or feel with no real regard for them.
Hear me clearly: this is not just a practice for marriages or families. The counsel of Solomon and James is for all of us and any relationship. They are saying, “It will go better for you if you will slow down, hold back your immediate emotions and anger, and listen longer, empathize, and really try to hear them.”
Second, slowing down to really listen and give the benefit of the doubt gives you opportunity to prayerfully apply the gospel to the situation and to speak with a Christ-centered, loving disposition. What the gospel does in situations like this is gives us a renewed perspective: while the other party might have messed up or offended, the gospel reminds us that we are no better than them; without the grace of God and His power at work in us, we are just as capable of the kinds of things that are said or done to us. This keeps us from a self-righteous, self-justified response that looks to correct or condemn the other person in the wake of our anger and emotion. Not to say that you still don’t say “ouch” or speak honestly about the hurt or offense, but you speak after you have forgiven them and been reminded of just how desperate you both are for the cross to do anything that honors God or each other.
Let us be better at slowing down and avoiding emotional responses charged with anger and lacking grace of giving the benefit of the doubt. Let us go to prayer and to the word and, if needed, to a brother for accountability and counsel. In these things, we will be more ready to apply the counsel given for how we should act towards one another.
As I wrap up today’s study, I encourage you to meditate on Colossians 3:12-17, as it gives us great counsel as to how we should respond and act towards one another. May our God be honored and our testimony of Christ be bright as we fight our flesh and look to live in the Spirit, which made us new in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Colossians 3:12-17 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.