19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 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.
I really do love the book of James! He starts with saying “hey! Get a pen and write this down” (my translation J). Here’s what he tells us:
Listen up. There is a reason God gave us two ears, after all. We are to be “quick to listen”. How much miscommunication, misunderstanding, and misfires would avoid if we were not quick to “run and do” but were quick to stop and listen? I remember the (ever so brief years) I played football. Inevitably, the coach would yell, “Hey! Listen up!” He didn’t mean, “finish up what you’re doing and when you get around to it, come on over and let’s have chit-chat”. He meant, “Stop! Be still! Listen!” The coach was instructing us in how to do what we were doing better. When coaches in our lives today provide counsel to us, it still serve us well to stop, be still, and listen. Solomon writes “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).
Speak less. It is our mouths that often get us into trouble. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26). It is in speaking that we manage to get ourselves into trouble. Have you ever said something only to immediately think, “why did I say that?!” I have. Our speech tells a lot about what’s in our heart. David counsels us, “…keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies…” (Psalm 34:13). Perhaps we could benefit from speaking less. Or at least, like my dad told me, “put your brain in gear before you engage your mouth.”
- Anger less. James is saying the same thing Paul says in Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” We just tend to angry too fast. Don’t we all reach for anger as our method of first resort? Someone cuts you off when you’re driving to work (or church!) and you get angry. Someone somehow manages to cut in front of you at the store, “How dare they!!” We reach for anger. Someone hurts us…we get angry. The issue here is not the emotion called “anger”. The issue is we are very prone to turn anger into a desire for revenge. Paul advises us to “leave room for God’s wrath” (Romans 12:19-21). Revenge is God’s responsibility. This is why we are able to observe Jesus getting angry at the money changers in the temple (and throw them out) and yet He did not sin (John 2:12-17): He was God—vengeance WAS His to take. We, on the other hand, are not God. We do not have the right to take revenge. Sorry. This is why verse 20 expands the note to “anger less”: for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Look at how Paul deals with these issues:
“But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:8-10)
James says the same thing in verse 21: 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. He writes to “get rid of all moral filth“. This is metaphor that’s like taking off a coat.1 James is telling us to take off the coat of moral filth and evil. We are not children of the world but children of God. As such, we do not have to live this way. Take off those dirty clothes, my brother and sister! You don’t have to wear them anymore. When we take off that old, nasty coat of evil and filth, the word of God planted in our hearts are exposed to the light and life of Spirit’s power. The word of God planted in your heart is able to save you from your physical circumstances and your spiritual ones.
So…what are you waiting for? Take off that old coat and let God clothe you in His righteousness. It’s time. it’s time to change coats.
1William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000) s.v. ἀποτίθημι, pg. 123.