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. (James 1:19–20 ESV)
When I was a little fellow, Oakey Carver taught me a song called “Put Your Hand in the Hand.” I didn’t know it then, but I know now that a group called Ocean made the song popular. As far as I knew then, Oakey Carver made it popular. Part of the lyrics go like this:
Every time I look into the Holy Book I want to tremble
Or when I read about the part where the carpenter cleared the temple
For the buyers and the sellers were no different fellas than what I profess to be
And it causes me shame to know we’re not the people we should be
Though not raised in the Church, or a church, or the faith, many sacred songs made a tremendous impact on me. That song was one of those that made impression on me. It was the humility that I sensed in the song that touched my spirit. The writer was saying they knew they were no better than anyone else, that they even identified with those who misused the religious system, had shame about who they were and what they did, and needed to put themselves in proximity to the Savior and trust themselves to His care in a fresh way. It was a song about knowing one is wrong, and also knowing one needs and can get help from God.
Typically speaking, we are never so angry as when someone speaks truthfully to our personal sin. We sinners hate to be corrected.
Maybe second to our sin being confronted, we get angry when we get uncomfortable. Trials are uncomfortable. James has already told us to count all our trials as joy (see 1:2). Now, Brother James is warning us not to get angry at God over our trials.
The exhortation here is not difficult to discern, but discerning it in a way that impacts our spirit is a work of the Spirit, for sure.
James is telling us not to blame God when we are under the heat and pressure of our trials. Instead, we are to open our ears to what God is saying through those trials, and open our hearts to receive it. Our passions can get in the way of our hearing from God, and receiving from God, so we are exhorted to not be carried away in the passion of anger and miss what God is doing.
We disciples of Jesus – blood purchased, Spirit filled, made new creatures – are to take off the filthy garments of our old lives and be clothed in Christ’s robes of righteousness. The Holy Spirit gave us a strong word through the Apostle Paul in this regard. Ephesians 4:20–24 says, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (ESV)
We are not only to not be angry when trials come, or when we are confronted about our sins, we are to be thankful, humble, and teachable.
Further, and let’s be totally honest here, it’s hard to pursue right thinking and right acting – in other words, it’s hard to pursue righteousness – when we are consumed in our passions. It makes total sense, then, that James would tell us to be slow to anger and slow to speaking, and quick to listen.
It’s no wonder we might counsel a child to count to ten in order to calm down. Perhaps we adults might count to 10,000, fast for a few days, search the Scriptures, and then maybe open our mouths for comment. Without a doubt, we do not want our passions to stop us from delighting in the Lord, or doing His will, and we especially do not want to block His purposes with our anger.
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