Summary: 3rd in a series on James.
Did you realize that Howard Stapleton invented "the mosquito" in 2005. Not the annoying, disease carrying pest but a 17.4kh noisemaker intended to keep kids from loitering around shops and stores. It works because most people over 25 can’t hear that high a sound. Consider this; the same group of people it was developed to annoy is now downloading the same pitch and using it a as a cell phone ringer. The reason is because many of their teachers can’t hear it.
At the end of this chapter he once again approaches the theme of humility. He’s told us that lacking wisdom requires we ask God, an act of humility, trusting totally God’s answers and not running around and being pulled ever which way by the world. He’s told us that those who appear to be the least are actually people of high standing in God’s kingdom. And that we can’t blame God for the temptations we face, they are our own doing.
He comes at this subject again in how we deal with our anger. The reason is quite clear in God’s scheme of things anger doesn’t help God’s kingdom. Anger also points to a bigger problem. Verse 21 says, "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." The fact is, as much as we’d like to think our anger is righteous and serving God it is 99.9999% the result of the "moral filth and evil" that isn’t hidden in the corners of our lives but "prevalent".
We are told to "get rid" of such things. We are to rid ourselves of them the way you would if you’d just been sprayed by a skunk. You don’t carefully unbutton everything and gently lay them aside for later. You rip them off and toss them away. The reason is because what God is talking about is a million times worse than skunk spray. Not only is what we have within us putrid, the second word indicates an abundance of such filth.
This superabundance of filth is a reflection of the "anger" that is in us lies over against the "implanted word" which saves. If God’s kingdom is about salvation and anger does not help or bring about salvation, what does? The answer is accepting God’s implanted word. What’s more, whereas the filth tends to explode out in wrath and anger, here the word is welcomed with humility or gentleness. The one who receives God’s Word and finds it implanted in their lives will find that they are the ones who no longer are ruled by the world’s filth and garbage.
"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." has sometimes taken center stage in any discussion about James. In fact, it this instruction is the outcome of ridding ourselves of the junk and accepting the word of God. This implanted word, is what we listen to and at which we stare intently. This isn’t a strange idea for Jews. A rabbi from about the same time wrote "Make your study of Torah a fixed habit; say little and do much; and receive every person with a cheerful countenance."
So what do we do when we hear God? This gets tougher because sometimes we don’t really want to hear God let alone obey him. Edwin McManus, pastor of Mosaic tells a story about his son, Aaron, who had wondered how you know when God is speaking to you. That summer there was some problems at a camp his son attended and he arrived finding his son packed and ready to leave. Apparently Aaron had started to assault another student.
McManus asked for a last talk with me before they went home. He asked, "Aaron," I asked, "is there any voice inside you telling you what you should do?"
"Yes," he nodded.
"What’s the voice telling you?"
"That I should stay and work it out."
"Can you identify that voice?"
"Yes," he said immediately, "It’s God." It was the moment I’d waited for. I will never forget Aaron’s dug-in response: "Well, I’m still not doing what God said."*
To refuse to obey God has the better than even possibility of starting a progression that hardens your heart and deafens your ears. Keep on that direction and you may well never again hear the voice of God. In fact, one runs the real risk of ending up like C.S. Lewis’ character, Susan in his Chronicles of Narnia. She ends up NOT being with Aslan at the end of the series.
James then goes on to reiterate a theme he’ll come back too, namely the type of actions expected of those who are doing God’s word. Here are two traditional places in Jewish culture where needs are many—orphans and widows. The reason for that is because they had no one else to help. There was no social system for such people. They were among the lowest rungs on the social ladder contributing little and needing much. They had no power, advocates or the like except God . We’ll see that this extends to the poor in later places in James’ letter.