Summary: We Christians need to learn anew how to live a life marked by being quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger, if we will honour God through a righteous life.
RULES FOR A RIGHTEOUS LIFE
“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we would listen twice as much as we speak. Unfortunately, we tend to speak much more than we listen. Consequently, we often fail to hear what others are saying. Though we hear the words, we don’t hear what is said. Worse yet, when we do hear the words, we too often permit ourselves to grow quickly angry, enticing impulsive reaction to what we thought we heard. Such reactions dishonour the Lord who saved us. Thus, James found it necessary to confront this persistent condition among the people of God by establishing rules for a righteous life. Join me in exploring this portion of the Word in order to equip ourselves to be righteous before the Lord our God.
THE PURPOSE FOR THE RULES — “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” To benefit fully from the instruction James provides, it will be necessary for us to review what we have previously studied.
James was writing to people who were being severely tested, even as he wrote. Reading the letter, it becomes evident that James longed for them to derive some benefit from their trials, which were seen as testing permitted by God. God was at work transforming into good what their enemies meant for evil. James did not want the testing they were passing through to be wasted. At the outset of the letter, he told them that the immediate goal of their testing was steadfastness. Then, when the steadfastness was polished to perfection, they would be mature—“complete and lacking in nothing.”
The purpose of the command is nothing less than righteousness—practical righteousness, the righteous life God expects. This is not theological righteousness that James holds before us, but practical righteousness. Those who were persecuting the believers persecuted them because of their lives—what they believed and the impact their belief had on their manner of life. We Christians are taught to “put off [the] old self, which belongs to our 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” [EPHESIANS 4:22-24].
Peter writes, “The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you” [1 PETER 4:3-5].
Inhabitants of the world are schizophrenic concerning the children of God, at the same time hating us because our refusal to agree that their actions are okay and admiring us because we hold convictions. The professed Christian that is like the world suffers no persecution because there is nothing in her manner of life that condemns. However, the life of the child of God who lives conscientiously in order to please the Master condemns the world about him, and those in the world resent the condemnation.
It is for this reason that Paul urges Christians, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God” [PHILIPPIANS 1:27, 28]. Steadfastness in persecution, living with convictions instead of seeking what is convenient, gives evidence to the world that the child of the God has been delivered from the judgement of God, though those who approve of such persecution face that awesome judgement [see 2 THESSALONIANS 1:4-7].
James called on the persecuted saints to whom he wrote to walk in the way of wisdom in VERSES 5–11. Beginning with VERSE 12 he called Christians to walk in the way of knowledge—knowledge about ourselves, knowledge about the work of God in us, knowledge of our old nature and knowledge of our new nature. The path of knowledge outlined is demanding. Those walking that path will find themselves under constant pressure. At one and the same time the old nature lures us to follow its desires and so to walk the path of sin and death, while at the same time God summons us to live out our true nature. This is the new nature given in the new birth, filled with new life, bound for new destinations of holiness. This is the battle of the wills—the will of the old nature, and the will of God expressed in the new nature. This clash of wills is the very heart of the life-giving conflict of which James has been teaching.