Before starting this study, take a moment to read James 1:19-21. Although I’ll primarily be using the NIV version to prepare for this study, you can read from whichever version you prefer.
James 1:19-21 gives us a strong warning: we must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Like the rest of James’ letter, these three verses cut to the heart of a situation Christians face on a regular basis.
We tend to prefer speaking over listening. And trust me, I get it! I’ve always loved talking, and I haven’t always been the best about being quiet and listening to what other people have to say. One time someone asked me a simple question and I launched into a drawn-out, twenty-minute answer.
She wanted a short answer and I spent so much time talking that I missed her body language, which was screaming, “Please, just let me leave this conversation!”
This passage isn’t just about listening more than we speak (although that’s certainly a good practice). This passage reminds us that when we rush to speak into a situation, we’re likely to say the wrong things. When we try to speak without taking the time to listen, we miss the mark entirely.
Don’t Assume Your Anger is Righteous
James reminds us that it’s important for us to be slow to anger, since “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” While anger itself is not a sin, allowing yourself to foster a short temper puts you in a position where you’re one angry action away from sin.
Christians love the story of Jesus overturning the money changers’ tables in the Temple. After all, if Jesus can be angry, can’t we? That story is used as a proof text to justify anger. We love using the term “righteous anger” as we think about Jesus overturning tables in his anger. We tell ourselves that if we’re angry about the right things, it’s okay.
James provides a different perspective. When God’s people foster anger, it leads to unrighteousness. While there are some instances where anger is justified, anger does not lead to righteousness.
All too often, we assume that the anger we feel is righteous. Yet it’s important for us to seriously consider the dangerous implications of our anger. When we assume that our anger is righteous, we’re less likely to listen to others’ perspectives. When we allow anger to consume us, we numb ourselves to the voice of Holy Spirit.
If you’re angry, ask yourself, “Is this anger righteous?” More often than not, you’ll find that your “righteous anger” is only human anger cloaked in religious phrases and shaky justifications.
Holiness and Humility
Verse 21 reminds us that we’re called to get rid of all moral filth and the evil that’s so prevalent. As we strive to rid ourselves of those things, we’re called to humbly accept the word planted in us, which leads to our salvation.
So what does that mean? It’s important to look at James as a whole. In the previous verses, James talks about poverty, wealth, and trials of all kinds. Later in the book, he won’t mince words about the importance of holy living. This verse is a reminder that the way of the cross is different from the way of the world. What Jesus expects of us is far different from the standards of the world.
When we read the Bible, we’re called to read it and allow Holy Spirit to form us into Christlikeness. If we approach the Bible, thinking we have all the answers, we’re less likely to listen to God’s Spirit. We’re more likely to speak our own agendas into our reading instead of listening to what the Bible actually says.
How is God speaking into your life? Are you being obedient to Holy Spirit’s work in your life? Passages like this are a reminder that no matter how long you’ve followed Christ, there’s always room for growth.