“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” James 1:19-21
James gives us a great template for the relationship between speaking and listening – we should be far quicker to listen than we are to speak. James is teaching us that there is great wisdom in taking time to carefully consider and ponder over what we say before we say it. Rash words usually lead to regret, and James is advising us it is better to take time to reflect on what we should say rather than have to end up apologising for the hurt words spoken in haste have caused. Our tongues have great power for both good and bad, and we must be mindful of how we use our words, aiming always to speak life and build up rather than to tear down and speak death. This is a theme James will return to later in his letter.
We must be slow to anger as well as slow to speak – James is urging us to exercise self-control. We must not be reactionary, flying off the handle when someone or something upsets or frustrates us. We must show patience and self-control.
James warns us against the anger of man. We should avoid earthly, self-centred anger that boils over when we perceive we have been wronged. That is not to say that all anger is wrong however. There is a righteous anger, anger at sin and the effects of it in the world. When we consider such horrors such as abuse, human trafficking, genocide or debauchery we should be angry. That is a righteous anger, and it should stir us into action, to work to bring about change and advance the kingdom. We see examples throughout the Old Testament of God’s anger at sin (for example Exodus 32:10 and Ezra 8:22). So too should we be angry when God’s name is profaned and His glory is denied. But we must take care not to get caught up in the anger of men. We are to be known for being slow to anger – our default position should not be to continually be disgruntled and angry with all we see wrong with the world. We must be filled with the joy of the Lord, showing those around us there is something better to trust in.
James teaches us the key to salvation lies in receiving the word of God. It is when we accept the truth of the word and trust in Jesus that our souls are saved. It is when we let the word soak deeply into our hearts that we are transformed and are able to avoid the anger of man as we get filled with meekness. It is through time spent in the word of God that we are convicted to put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and let the love of Christ shine through of lives.