1:19-21 – James open this section of thoughts by expressing commonplace wisdom from the Old Testament proverbs—be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. The first two commands need no explanation; most everybody understands the advantages to this kind of practice: if we truly are quick to listen and slow to speak, we will have greater understanding of others, less miscommunications and hurt feelings, and the things that come out of our mouths might actually be worth listening to. But although everyone understands the truth of that premise, most people find a great deal of difficulty in putting it into practice. As we’ll see, James notes that this isn’t the only area in which we may listen and agree, and then go out and fail to practice what we’ve heard. The third injunction—“slow to become angry”—is a repeated theme in the Old Testament, and it’s almost always said about God: he is slow to anger and rich in love. In the same way that God extends his grace and patience toward us, with our manifold faults, we too must learn how to extend grace and patience toward one another. In v. 20, James notes that “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” We must always note that, when we see the word “righteousness” in our Bibles, it could just as easily have been translated “justice” (the two ideas are encompassed by the exact same term in Greek). So here James may have in mind our internal righteousness—i.e., having a quick temper will not help us along the path of personal virtue that we ought to be walking—but he might as well have in mind the external justice of the situations we face. God is the one good Judge of all things, and we need his wise judgments to bring justice over against all the evil and suffering of this world. We humans, in our anger, do not further the ends of God’s great plan to bring this justice which sets all wrong things right. If anything, it gets in the way. So James’ advice is clear and incisive: get rid of all the evil and sin in your life, and accept the word planted in you. That word is, first and foremost, the message of Christ himself, the true Word, whose life and power grows within us just like a spiritual seed that breaks forth and blossoms. But James also has in view the “word of God” in the sense that the Old Testament prophets used that phrase: the things God has told us, which we ought to be doing. This word—Christ in us, and the binding counsels of God for living a life of holiness—is both the heart and the practice of our salvation: the word which can save you.
Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.