As we study through the book of James, there is much to learn, and the beauty is the simplicity with which James writes these important truths. Today we look at James 1:19-21.
James 1:19-21 “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness 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.”
Whenever I read these verses, I think of the many times I fall short of living it out. I tend to interject with my thoughts and opinions before I fully listen. With age and maturity, I have gotten better at listening, but is James just talking about listening to others, what about listening to the voice of God?
At the start of the study, we learnt that James wrote to the scattered Christians who were enduring trials and persecution. Going through persecution can take the wind out of our sails and sometimes the good from our intentions and behaviours. As the believers then, needed a reminder to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, we very much need constant reminding of it all too. As a community of faith, how well do we, be still and listen to God, how do we listen to those who might not agree with us or say hurtful things about us. And do we allow our anger to rule our behaviour? We might be conscious of allowing ourselves as followers of Christ to show God’s love first and foremost, but does that remain the filter through which we operate when we are in disagreement with another. At the start of verse 19 James writes ‘Everyone should’…, this reminder cautions against the excuse that some are just wired with a short fuse or no filter when they speak. We are meant to be intentional over these three things.
In James 1:18, James writes that we have a new birth through the word of Christ. The word of God is truth to us, it teaches us, convicts, and shapes us. Therefore, James admonishes that we need to be receptive to the word of God. He says we are to be quick to listen. With the widespread use of media and screens in everyone’s palm, it is very rare that our mind is blank, we are always intentionally or inadvertently allowing ourselves to be recipients of some narrative and thereby we listen. What we listen to shapes us in more ways than we think. How often have we felt the need to tone down the narrative of the world because it affects our peace? The word and voice of God should be the loudest in our lives so that the drone of other voices does not drown out what really matters. And the best way to do it is to ensure that you spend time with Him, in prayer and in bible study, both corporate and personal.
What does the Bible say about anger?
Psalm 37:8 “Refrain from anger and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”
Proverbs 14:29 “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”
Ecclesiastes 7:9 “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.”
Does God get angry
Isaiah 5:25 “The Lord’s anger burns against his people; his hand is raised, and he strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.”
Understanding the anger of the Lord requires us to remember that He is good and holy and as such cannot turn away from evil and injustice. God created us in His image, when we his people turn away from Him, place other things in the rightful place of worship that should be His in our lives, we commit idolatry, and that disobedience often leads to the stirring up of God’s anger towards us.
“The prophets Isaiah in the verse above, never portrays God’s anger as something that cannot be accounted for, unpredictable, irrational. It is never a spontaneous outburst, but a reaction occasioned by the conduct of humans…and motivated by concern for right and wrong.” (Abraham Heschel, The Prophets Vol. 2, “The Theology of Pathos,” p362.)
God is slow to anger
Psalm 86:15 says, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
A response of anger to injustices that happen is right and justified, after all, we are to be concerned with things that matter to God. But James says we are to be slow to anger. It gives one time to reflect on the underlying reason for that anger. Often, when my hubby and I feel wronged by someone, we allow at least a day if not more to pass, giving us both the time to pray about it and decide if anything needs to be said at all. It not only helps us refrain from reacting from our emotions, but it gives us time to seek God for wisdom, discernment, and guidance. And there are times when the Lord shines a light on our hurt pride as the cause for it all.
And why is it so important to be slow to anger, verse 20 says it all “because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” Take note that James specifies human anger. Anger based on man’s wisdom can mislead. Why is the anger of man different than the anger of God? Because humans are sinners (Romans 3:23) and God is perfect and holy (Psalm 99:9; Isaiah 5:16; Mathew 5:48). Since God is perfect and holy, his anger is within the bounds of His perfect and Holy nature. God can be angry and not sin.
James then writes to put off all moral filth and evil that is so prevalent. The prevalence of things that abhor the Lord seems apt as a description for today too. With intentionality we put off these things because we are a new creation in Him, no more slaves to our earthly desires but instead we are to allow the word of God that is planted within us to grow. And that growth can take place only if we ensure that we keep weeding out the evil that seeks to establish roots within us.
Let the word planted within us thrive, and as we take in these verses from James, let us be receptive to the word of God reflecting the work of Christ in us in the way we listen, speak and what we get angry over.