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James 1.19-21 – Know this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
How do we learn to be quick to hear and slow to speak?
When James encourages us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,” we know this is the best course of action. I don’t know about you, but I have made countless resolutions to do just what James teaches, only to fail by speaking too quickly and by not listening soon enough.
What can we do to best respond to James’ counsel? The book of Proverbs has considerable wisdom about our speech. I have listed some Proverbs and included some personal impressions. You may want to think about how you respond to the message what the Proverbs are saying to you.
— Proverbs 10.8 – “The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.” There are times when I speak to impress someone with who I think I am. When I look back on those conversations, I realize I was just a “babbling fool.”
— Proverbs 13.3 – “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Note to self: Think about what you are saying before it comes out of your mouth. It may save you lots of grief.
— Proverbs 15.1 – “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” If I speak before I understand the whole situation, I may unnecessarily stir up either my anger or the anger of the person to whom I am speaking.
— Proverbs 29.11 – “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” If I think about my own opinions and realize that they are just that, my own opinions, I may be slower to impose them on others.
— Ecclesiastes 9.17 – “The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.” The wisest people I have know in my life were also some of the most gentle and considerate of others.
Your anger does not produce the righteousness of God.
James tells us that “your anger does not produce the righteousness of God” (verse 20).
I remember the very time and place when this verse first made its way into my heart. Since then, it has been a guiding path for my thoughts about anger.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, some people use anger because it works. At least, it works in the short run. When they don’t get what they want, they use their anger or the threat of it to get their way.
Let’s consider James’ words: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4.1-2).
Fights, quarrels, war and murder are the language of anger. At the root of this destructive behavior is self-interest and self-seeking that is opposed to love and consideration of others.
Anger works, but the purposes of God are not achieved by anger. The Crusades, the persecution of Jews, and religious wars are all profound examples of the truth of James. One example of how human anger does not bring about God’s righteous purposes is that of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) which wiped out 20% of the entire population of Germany.
Like being slow to speak and quick to hear, overcoming anger is difficult to achieve. Not only is anger something we have learned and practiced since childhood, it often helps us get our self-centered way.
To overcome anger we have to overcome the obsession to always get our own way. As we picture a tree, the leaves are the anger, but the root that nourishes the anger is unbridled self-interest and self-seeking.
I am a work in progress concerning all that James teaches in these verses, but I have found two things that help with my anger.
(1) It is very important for me to think about how I think. When I talk to myself and reason with myself about about the things that make me angry, it helps defuse some of the pressure.
One of my friends has taught me to “practice acceptance” (page 417 in the AA Big Book) and to ask myself, “Is it really that important?” I am a slow-to-get-angry kind of person, so this is a helpful procedure for me.
(2) I am slow to get angry, but I am also slow to get over angry thoughts. To do that, I apply a prayer that I have adapted from Galatians 2.20. Every time I begin to re-create my anger, reminding myself why I have been treated so unfairly, and why I am justified in being angry, I pray this prayer.
Dear Jesus, when you died on the cross, I died with you. But, I am alive. Really, you are living your life through me. You love (name of the person with whom I am angry). Please love that person through me. I am trusting you that you are doing that right now, even though I don’t feel it.
Praying like this has never failed to give me freedom from resentments and anger. There have been times when I have had to pray it several times a day for months on end. God is faithful to answer it. Please give it a try.
Put away and receive.
James challenges us to “put away” some things. When my wife, Toni, and I moved two years ago, we added several loads of junk to the landfill. Twenty years of stuff had accumulated in our house. Being worthless to us and to others, it was put where it belonged, the landfill.
James identifies what needs to be removed, but also what needs to be received. He writes, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1.21).
Who among us needs a box or two of filthiness in the basement of their soul, even if it is wrapped in a beautiful package? Who would like to have a shelf full of wickedness lodged in the corners of their heart? James sees these items for what they are. “It’s time to clean house and send this to the landfill,” he says.
What’s interesting about our junk, is that it took us 20 years to realize that it was taking up space in our house. One of my friends made a regular practice of asking Jesus, “Is there anything that you don’t like about my life?” That’s a great way to discover the junk in your heart. Jesus will bring it to your attention, and he will even help you remove it.
There are some presents, the Giver of all good gifts (James 1.17) wants us to have. He wants to plant his life-giving word in our heart. The way we receive his word is through meekness.
Please know “meek” is not weak. It is the pathway to living in a life-giving and productive relationship with Jesus. Psalm 32.8-9 is the perfect example of receiving the gift of God’s word with meekness.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you.” (Psalm 32.8-9)
There are some horses that are broken so perfectly (being meek) that they can be directed by gentle pressure from the rider. The sport of dressage is a highly performed skill of a well-trained horse and accomplished rider. The well trained or meek dressage horse is contrasted with that of a horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle.
God wants us to have such a genuine relationship with him, that he can give us a look of the eye or a whisper in our heart and we will respond. He doesn’t want to have to use the bit and bridle of life’s circumstances to get our attention, so we will stay near him.
When we receive God’s word in our heart in this fashion, it will produce life. It will save us from our self-centered, self-pleasing attitudes of life and bring us to the best life possible.
Thoughts from Rufus Moseley
Rufus Moseley was speaking at a church and someone recorded this conversation. I think it is an excellent summary of today’s article.
Moseley said, “You are born of the qualities you give out. If you give out hate, you become hateful; if you give out criticism, you become critical. If you give out love, you become lovely. So give out only love.”
Someone from the congregation said, “But Dr. Moseley, suppose they don’t return your love?”
Moseley answered, “Increase the dose!”
Dear Jesus, I thank you that you want us to live a full and rich life. Thank you that you show us what needs to be removed from our lives and what needs to be included. May we respond to your every direction and receive your life-giving word in our hearts.