The book of James offers the NT Christian wisdom on many topics. In fact, it has often been compared to the book of Proverbs because of the author’s frequent jumps from one topic to another. His aim is to form fullness of maturity in the Church. He’s after depth of faith, Christians that live with a compelling testimony that Jesus truly is working in their lives. In these few short verses James lays out five simple yet profound postures that Christians must learn to align themselves with if they want to consistently grow and mature. He says:
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. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.James 1:19-21 (ESV)
#1 Listen More
James instructs us to be, “Quick to hear.” Most people I meet are very bad listeners. And if I’m honest, I too am often a very bad listener. We listen poorly when we fail to meaningfully probe into another person’s dialogue. in Matthew 13:13 Jesus says, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” There is a way to hear and yet not really hear. James instructs us to actively listen to other people as if you honestly desired to learn from them. We must learn to ask better questions in order not only to understand their logic, but their heart and desires as well. The old rabbis used to say that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we would listen twice as much as we speak. They were wise.
#2 Slow to Speak
Be “slow to speak.” Are you Kelley from the Office who can’t stop talking? Do you constantly need to fill the conversation with your opinions? Whenever someone tells a story, do you have a better and bigger story to tell? Do you have an opinion on all matters that must be heard before any conversation is over? If you’re not sure if this is you, then it may be you. The Bible continuously encourages faithful Christians to make your words count. God does indeed intend to speak through you into other’s lives, but to do so you need to learn to talk less and allow others to speak into your life. Listen to the following passages from the book of Proverbs:
Proverbs 17:28, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
Proverbs 12:15, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
Proverbs 18:2, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”
#3 Slow to Anger
James says to be, “slow to anger.” Let’s be honest, some folks just seem to be irritated about pretty much everything. It is possible for any person, even the most calm and collected, to hit their tipping point. But James command us, “Be slow to anger.” There are times and places where anger is appropriate. Jesus showed righteous indignation when he went to the temple and saw it being treated like a stadium complete with vendors looking to make a quick buck. He proceeded to flip tables and drive the vendors away. There is something powerful about that moment in the life of Jesus. Have you ever seen a man who is truly a ‘slow to anger man’, a man of peace, of wisdom and calm, get truly angry over the right thing. There is something very convicting about anger used appropriately in this way. Some of the most life-changing moments in my life were witnessing Godly humble men, get angry over the right things. Notice what the says about this anger, that it “doesn’t produce the righteousness of God.” A consistently irritable and angry spirit seems to run contrary to the the Spiritual formation of joy in a person’s life and is a sign that something is deeply off in that person’s spiritual development.
#4 Don’t Settle
The text says to, “put away all filthiness and wickedness.” This is an internal commitment that you are not going to settle spiritually. This is a commitment that wherever God reveals sin and indecency in your life, as He will continue to do, that you are going to work by the power of the Holy Spirit to see that removed, to grow past it. Unfortunately many today have substituted the word “all” in that phrase for the word “some.” You’ve watched the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit overcome sin in your life, but there is other sin that you seem to just be content to leave as is. James says you’re not going to get very far up the mountain that way. There must be inside of you an internal motivation that is set on seeing holiness formed and matured consistently in your life. This is the desire to become more like Christ no matter the cost.
#5 Strive for Meekness
“Receive with meekness the implanted word.” Meekness overlaps tremendously with humility. Meekness is rooted in a teachable spirit, but also in a spirit that does not need to prove oneself any longer. A meek man may be as a mighty as Sampson and as a ferocious as a grizzly bear, yet chooses restraint over domination and humility over boasting. Never lose the posture that you are always a rookie. Assume that God can use anyone to instruct you and shape you. From the newest baby Christian to the wisest sage, sit under them, process what God has taught them. God’s not done teaching you yet.