James 1.19-21: Quick and Slow

October 18, 2009 Series: James | Retro-Faith

Topic: New Testament Passage: James 1:19–1:21

James 1.19-21 Quick and Slow

October 18, 2009

Sam Ford


James 1.19-21 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.


Every trial a temptation

We are nearing the end of the first chapter of James where he spends most of his time speaking about trials.  And he does this because, as we read further, we learn that his audience is experiencing trials of physical oppression, slander, lawsuits, sickness, and corrupt employers—and much of this from in the church.  We all find ourselves in different colored trials, situations we don’t like or understand.  And the situation becomes a trial precisely because we don’t know what to do.  James emphasizes the fact that people have two choices, faith in God’s power, wisdom, and love OR idolatry.  Every trial, big or small, is a temptation, and every temptation is a trial.  God is constantly working to build our faith through testing in the form of good and bad people and circumstances to mature us; while the Satan is constantly tempting us in those same trials to destroy us.


Sin is our primary problem

What we learned last week was that, like some sort of 1950s horror film, “It comes from within!” The sin in our hearts is our primary problem.  TODAY, if you were asked what your problems are, you may include your bride, husband, health, finances, reputation, car, global-warming, but we would not immediately identify sin.  We know we “sin”, it is a struggle that comes up occasionally, but we do not view it as THE core problem of my being.  Our sinful behavior results from the fact that our hearts do not consistently worship the one true God. We have, as author Ed Welch describes, a WORSHIP DISORDER.  Despite God’s pure awesomeness, we give into our pitiful pathetic desires, build (conceive) all kinds of little “harmless” idols, worship them, and eventually become mastered by themSounds like an addict.  I have heard it said that we are all addicts with different idols.  Idolatry is always a question of Lordship.  Who is your master, God OR your desires?


When sin is not our primary problem than the gospel is not our primary solution.  We work on managing our weakness, ignoring the spiritual battle raging in our hearts, and Jesus out to be some sort of therapist.  James tells us that we don’t need behavior modification; we need heart transformation that comes by HEARING the Word of God.  The Holy Spirit, by the Word of God, gives us new life.  He comes into our hearts, opens our eyes and COMPELS us to examine and repent.  And Jesus becomes what he is meant to be, Lord, Conqueror, and King—someone we fear and love all at the same time. 


I was I asked this week why I have broken down the Scripture into such small chunks.  Quite simply, I don’t want to miss anything.  I want to know my God, like I want to know my bride.  And I find that, the more I mine God’s Word, the more he mines me.  


Angry with God

James 1.19-21 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.


At first reading, these verses read like something out of the book of Proverbs.  James writes in a similar style as if he is bouncing around without one unifying thought for all of it.   James wants us to know this, to take note.  And we do.  This is an often quoted verse from anyone who has ever had an argument, received heated email or phone call.  Most of the commentators I have read or heard address these verses, 19 & 20, from an earthly relational perspective.  They explain that James is now beginning to address how our relationship with God manifests itself out in our relationships with others.  It makes some sense because James, unlike any other write in the Bible, spends an inordinate amount of time discussing our love for our neighbor ESPECIALLY in relation to the tongue.  


We are not naturally good listeners, especially men.  WE TALK TOO MUCH and LISTEN TOO LITTLE.  Even when we’re silent, when it looks like we’re listening, we’re only hearing words.  Hearing the words of another’s mouth, doesn’t mean we’re listening to the words of the heart that are there.  We’re self-centered, self-absored, and self-serving.  Even when I’m “listening”, have the time I am usually spending most of my mental energy thinking about what I am going to say when the other person takes a breath.  AND when we finally open our mouths, we are not careful about what we speak even though Jesus himself warned us, “36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12.36-37).  Such careless words are most often spoken, when we’re angry—because we’ve been hurt or we are trying to hurt.


Angry with God

I don’t want to dismiss the earthly perspective and truth of these verses.  But in the context of the letter, especially after what we studied last week, I don’t think James is speaking primarily to our relationship with people as much as he is speaking to our RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.  In verse 13, we read James’ warning to those who fail tests and say, “I AM BEING TEMPTED BY GOD”, translated, God is to blame for my problem—he gave it to me OR he didn’t take it save me from it.   We deny the truth we already have heard, we accuse a person, God, or the church, and we get angry.  I have seen friends and family experience trials where they “give up” on God or the church because he didn’t….meet their desires.  Ultimately, they end up devoting themselves to a man-made “religion” where they feel justified in their anger. 


Be Quick to Hear – God’s Word



What does it mean to be quick to hear God?  The opposite of quick to hear, is slow in the sense of unresponsive-not trying to hear you.  The first implication is that there is something to HEAR: GOD HAS SAID SOMETHING.  In verse 18, James wrote that our new birth comes through the Word of God.  Life is in His Word. He has given us His Word that by its power we might SEE reality in the midst of darkness, that we might understand what is happening—it’s GOD’S WISDOM.   The point is not that God has spoken to your unique and particular circumstance in a chapter or verse BUT we certainly use that as a convenient excuse to NOT trust God. The Bible is not about how to live a perfect life but how to worship a perfect God.   In the midst of our trial, are we quick to listen to God or to the lies of our hearts?


HEARING God’s Word is much more than reading your Bible or listening to sermons. You can read your Bible, you can listen to sermons, you can even pray WITHOUT LISTENING to GOD.  Some of us have ‘heard’ God’s Word for years and yet, still don’t know what it says, and others know what it says but refuse to listen.   The fact is, we tell God actively, “I don’t want to hear it” when His Word doesn’t agree with our desires.  We will sit in church and sing “the Lord reigns” then live as if I reign.  Tim Keller wrote, “if you are not willing to listen and humbly accept ALL of God’s Word, you are not really listening to him.” 


Be Slow to SPEAK – Judge the situation

Not listening doesn’t stop us from not talking.  James also warns us to be SLOW to SPEAK to GOD.  Remember, it is tempting to take this verse and apply solely to the relationships with we have with others.  It is good biblical advice.  Proverbs 17.27-28   27 Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. 28  Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.   But in relationship with God, what is James commanding us?  SLOW to SPEAK what to God?  Slow to pray to him?  What do we say when we speak?  Typically, we speak judgment.  When we encounter something against what we FEEL, especially when someone disagrees, rejects, or hurts us, we are so quick give our opinion about a person, situation, or experience. WITHOUT LISTENING, we make HASTY judgments with our mouths—both about people, the church, or God himself. 


James is warning us not to be quick to judge the situation we are in.  DO NOT be QUICK to JUDGE OTHERS, do NOT be QUICK TO JUDGE God himself.  Remember, back at verse 13, James warned people not to say, “I am being tempted by God.”  He warned them, although God sends the trial, he does so for our maturity.  We are not to blame God for our problems. But that is exactly what we do.  We sit in judgment on God for the situation he could have stopped, for the desires he hasn’t taken away, for his apparent silence, for our suffering.  Consider JOB. Job 7.11 I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.


James 23.1-4   Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.  Oh that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat!  I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments.


James 30.16ff  And now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me.  The night racks my bones and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest.  With great force my garment is disfigured; it binds me about like the collar of my tunic.  God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes.  I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand , and you only look at me.  You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me.


**THEN GOD SHOWS UP  Job 42.1-5  1Then Job answered the Lord and said:

     2    “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

     3    ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

4    ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’

5    I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;


Be Slow to Anger – Anger with situation…angry with God

When things don’t go the way we desire, we don’t listen, we judge, and we get ANGRY.  God gets angry, but his anger is always rooted in righteousness while men’s anger is typically rooted in sin..  Anger is always is a secondary emotion, meaning, it is rooted in something else.  We feel embarrassed, ashamed, fearful, insecure, or any number of emotions resulting from things not going the way we desire.  But I think most of all we get angry when we cannot control things.  We are quick to get angry when we cannot control people or situations.  We don’t get angry because things don’t go the way they are supposed to, rather, we angry because they don’t go the way WE THINK THEY SHOULD.   For some, they process anger externally.  Anger in this person can look like rage, irritability, or even sarcasm.  For others, they process their anger internally, they emotionally withdrawal, go into a depression, or hold bitter resentment. 


Trials are the very definition of “out of control.”  And instead of listening to God, instead of declaring the truth of who God says he is and what he is doing, we get angry with Him.  We deny that he could possibly be in control of this situation.  Without a pause or prayer, we get angry at the person, people, situation, that is causing chaos—never considering if we have the right to get angry—and never considering that God is using that “irritation” to shape you.     


And James says that men’s anger does not produce the righteousness of God.  The angry man lacks HUMILITY.  In his heart, he believes he can do a better job than God.  We want to be in control of God himselfWe want to be God—the same sin that tempted Eve into eating the fruit.  The angry man fights against the very trial God is using to make us perfect.  He gets angry at people and circumstances—all things he can’t control when it may very well be that person or that situation that God is using to make us whole.  SO WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION?


Put Away Filthiness, rampant wickedness

21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.


PUT AWAY all filthiness and rampant wickedness

James instructs his readers to “put away” all sin.  One theological said that the Greek terms hear are best described as a “Superfluity of Naughtiness”—an abundance of wickedness.  What is it that we are getting rid of, at the core, idolatry.  It is no different than the failure of Adam of Eve. The core of sin is denial of God’s Word—that what he said is true and trustworthy.   The word “put way” is a picture of one taking off a dirty garment and putting on a clean garment (Zech. 3.3-4).  Romans 13.14 says, that garment is Jesus.  14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. We cannot fix our own anger problem because they are rooted in the beauty of ME BEING IN CONTROL.  Our sinful desires are beautiful to us.  God stops us from sinning, not by closing our eyes, but by showing us something more beautiful—HIS WORD.


Philippians 4.4-8 

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.


RECEIVE with meekness implanted word

A lot of people are hearing me today, but not everyone is listening.  You are doing the very same thing that James talks about—ignoring the things that should speak to you because you are judging everything that doesn’t.  Jesus warned his disciples often, “Take care HOW YOU HEAR” (Luke 8.18).   In other words, many people receive the Word wrongly.  We approach the Word of God like we’d approach a self-help book.  Whatever is in line with our desires we take, whatever is not, we deny.  We’re prideful.  James says, for it to be rooted in your heart, we must receive it with meekness—HUMILITY.  In other words, we are to accept that you are NOT in control.  You cannot control people, you cannot control situations, you cannot control your own heart, and you certainly cannot control God.   We are to accept that our hearts lie to us but God’s Word is true.  We are to accept that we need to judge less and listen more.   We are to accept that we are weak and He is strong.   We are to accept that despite what thing feel like…Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.  There is a freedom and a joy in that.

More in James | Retro-Faith

January 17, 2010

James 5.19-20: Wandering and Finding

January 10, 2010

James 5.13-18 Praying and Healing

January 3, 2010

James 5.12 Oaths and Vows