Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:19-27
This life is hard. It is full of trials, temptations, and conflict. Here, James encourages us to be quick to run to the Word of God while being slow to speak and slow to get angry.
How often in a day’s time are we tempted toward anger whether it be at our circumstances or at another person? How ready are we with a rash, thoughtless word? Yet, God’s Word is readily available to encourage and correct and guide us in all our ways (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Unfortunately, it can be the last place we turn.
Jesus taught that whatever is in our hearts determines what comes out of our mouths (Matthew 12:34). If we find ourselves quick to become angry and quick with careless speech, it is evidence of a deeper, spiritual issue.
James isn’t saying that all anger is sinful, evil should make us angry, or that we should never talk through our struggles with others. He is saying that first and foremost we need to allow God’s Word to work on our hearts so that our emotions and our speech are anchored in Truth.
Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.
Human anger is rooted in pride. We think too highly of our opinions and viewpoints and feel we know what is best, and therefore, should ultimately be the one in control. When we are challenged by a trial, by suffering, by temptation, by a fellow Christian, or someone who holds a different view than our own, our pride flairs up so that anger, self-righteousness, and harsh words proceed forth.
God opposes the proud (James 4:6). Prideful anger can never produce the righteousness God desires because it pits us against God. The righteousness God desires are the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Instead, James admonishes us to get rid of all the filth and evil in our lives and to humbly accept the Word God has planted in our hearts. As Christians, we should be seeking to purge our lives of all sin including prideful anger.
James has already shown us that sin is born of our own corrupted desires. God never tempts us to sin of any kind (James 1:13-15). We must be waring against our sin tendencies, and the only way we will do so successfully is to humbly accept the Word God has planted in our hearts (Romans 12:2).
It isn’t enough to listen to God’s Word, we are to accept it, receive it, and ingest it so that it becomes a part of us and transforms our lives.
We must receive God’s Word as the soil receives the seed. We mustn’t harden our hearts to it so that we become like stony ground. We must let His Word root deep into our hearts and grow up strong in our lives so that it will produce the fruit, or the righteousness, God desires (Matthew 13:20-22).
Listening is useless if it doesn’t translate into how we live. James likens such an attitude to looking in a mirror, seeing what you look like, and then going away unchanged.
Imagine rising in the morning, heading into the bathroom, and glancing yourself in the mirror. You see your disheveled hair, your teeth needing to be brushed, your unshaven face or the mascara smudged under your eyes, and your wrinkled pajamas, and then you proceed to walk out of the bathroom forgetting what was just seen and head straight to the office.
How foolish that would be! And, yet, is this not how we often treat God’s Word?
God’s Word is like a mirror showing us the truth of ourselves and our world, but many of us, having looked into the perfect law that sets us free, walk away forgetting what we have seen.
When I wake in the morning and see my reflection in the mirror, I take it to heart. I accept the truth it shows me and act upon it. I realize I need a shower, I need to brush my teeth, I need a little make-up and appropriate clothing for the day, and I proceed to take care of all the above.
The Law of God, like a mirror, shows us what is wrong with us. We see that we are sinners and we fall short of God’s righteousness, but we also see that there is no amount of combing, brushing or washing we can do ourselves to make us any better. We don’t just need to be improved; we need to be made alive. This is why God sent His only Son.
Jesus, being fully God and fully man, perfectly fulfilled the law in our place and died on a cross for our sin and then rose from the grave defeating sin and death forever for all who place their faith in Him.
This is what James is referring to in verse 18 when he says God chose to give birth to us by giving us His true word. Jesus is God’s true word, and it is by God’s grace and through faith in Jesus’ finished work on our behalf that we are born again into a new life (Ephesians 2:8-9).
In Christ, we are set free from the condemnation of sin and the power of sin. His victory over this world is our victory. We have hope, joy, and peace in the midst of our difficulties because He has defeated the world.
It is this good news that has the power to save our souls, and it is this good news which God has planted in the hearts of Christians at the moment of faith. We have accepted Jesus’ finished work on our behalf, and we are ever to be accepting it, to be always receiving it, to be living our lives in light of it, and allowing it to transform us from the inside out.
What is the proof of our religion? The proof is what proceeds from us. A lemon squeezed will give lemon juice. The troubles and trials of this life squeeze us, and what proceeds from our mouths is evidence of the truth of our hearts.
A quick temper and rash words are not the work of the Spirit. An unbridled tongue is evidence of an unbridled heart. We may claim to be religious, but we reveal our faith or lack thereof by what flows from us as we face various trials and temptations.
True religion is evidenced by obedience to God: living according to His Word (keeping ourselves from the corruption of the world) and loving others with His love, especially those who can do very little for us in return, who are the most vulnerable in our society, and who have little means and status… such as widows and orphans.
Today and every day, let us be quick to listen to God’s Word and obey Him so we do not end up merely fooling ourselves, but, instead, are able to receive His blessing. And let us be about the kind of religion that matters to God…loving Him above all else and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).