James 1:19-21 “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life 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.”
When we don’t understand something, there are a number of different ways we might react. We might start speculating. We all love to give our opinions. Pop the hood of your car around a group of men sometime and start tinkering with the engine. Then see how many of them don’t gather around and start giving their ideas about what might be wrong. But unless one of them really knows both the symptoms and the engine well, the opinions do little good, and could potentially do major harm.
Sometimes when we don’t understand something, especially something that hurts, we just get mad. Then we lose control. We break things. We say things we will later regret. There is not much that is useful about that kind of anger.
So it is that, as we react to life’s trials, whether caused by people or circumstances, James tells us to be slow to speak. No one ever learned anything by talking.
And be slow to anger. There is such a thing as righteous anger, but most anger is just a self-pitying reaction that chases out love. Anything that works against love can’t possibly produce the kind of life that God wants us to live. Sometimes anger gets us what we want. If we storm around, then others will back down and let us have our way just to try to keep the peace. But this isn’t getting anything done the way God wants it to be done. It is nothing more than selfish manipulation.
In place of these, James urges us, “Be quick to listen.” If there are answers to be found, we will find them in the word of God. If there is a godly path for us to follow, that, too, will be found in the word of God. Let God’s word be heard when you have to deal with unpleasant people or problems.
That word is important for more than its ability to explain and guide. James concludes, “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.” James is writing these words to people who are already Christians. He isn’t urging them to accept the word and be converted. He is urging them to accept the word that has already been implanted in them. He is urging them to live the Christian life.
You see, just because we have become Christians, that doesn’t mean we have stopped struggling with what God’s word says to us. You know this by experience. Sometimes God’s word asks us to do things we have trouble believing could possibly be right. Sometimes God makes us promises we find most difficult to believe he will keep. Our own experience, our own sense of reason, and our own desires and preferences want to take us in a different direction than the one in which God’s word is leading.
So which do we follow? There is only one safe way. Let God’s word be heard. “Accept the word implanted in you.” Do so even when everything in you and around you seems to say the opposite.
What’s at stake is more than how we deal with some immediate problem. This is the word which can save you. But hasn’t the word already saved me? Yes, it has. But just as that word once gave us the faith that saved us, it is still God’s tool to feed our faith and keep it alive. This same word goes on convicting us of sin and assuring us of forgiveness. This same word enables us to rest our lives in God’s love even when trials are tempting us away. Let God’s word be heard, and we won’t be deceived into giving up on God and giving into sin. That word will make us strong for life now, and safe for life with him forever.