“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 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.”
(James 1:19-21 NIV)
James begins today’s text by referring to verse 18 as a fact that his readers know and understand: we were saved and regenerated, reborn if you will, by God, through His word of truth.
Notice the tone James uses to address his audience. He calls them “dear brothers and sisters”. James uses this same caring concern, this term of endearment, throughout his letter:
- Chapter 1, verses 2, 16, 19
- Chapter 2, verses 1, 5, 14
- Chapter 3, verses 1, 10
- Chapter 4, verse 11
- Chapter 5, verses 12, 19
While the content of James’ message may be forthright, bold, and to the point, his delivery, the package he uses to deliver his message, is one of care and love for his readers. James exemplified Paul’s command to the Ephesian church to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
So let’s stop briefly here: how do we address those around us? All truth and no love? All love and no truth? Or do we seek the balance that James demonstrates, and Paul commends – to speak the truth in love?
So what are the truths that James brings forth?
- Quick to hear
- Slow to speak
- Slow to anger
Hmmm… OK, James, stick a fork in me, I’m done. Maybe there’s a reason the good Lord created us with two ears, and only one mouth?
Looking at these three phrases again, notice the escalation if we follow James’ command: quick, slow, slow. But what typically is the pattern? slow, quick quick, and the situation immediately boils out of control.
And why does James give this admonition? “because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” In fact, just the opposite occurs – self-righteous anger gets in the way of God’s righteousness. It hinders God’s work in us, and in the persons that our human, self-righteous anger is directed toward.
So what do we do? Two things:
- Take off: get rid of, put aside
- Put on: accept, receive
The NIV uses the phrase “get rid of”, but the reference is that of dirty clothes. The clothes have value, but they need cleaned before they can be worn again. They don’t need to be burned, buried, or thrown in the trash, they just need set aside so they can be washed and be re-used.
So why is this important? James is not speaking of rampant and egregious evil like murder, rape, or armed robbery. He is talking about something so much more common, so prevalent: our attitudes. James is saying our attitude needs to go through God’s washing machine. We are to drop the “bad boy” and “bad girl” attitude, the sassyness and backtalk, the constant whining, grumbling, and complaining.
Does that mean we have no voice? Not at all, in fact, quite the opposite. We just need to learn how to express ourselves in a God-honoring way.
So what are we to do instead? Accept, receive the word planted in us.
Accept? Receive? Hmmm… sounds like a gift, doesn’t it? And a gift is not a burden, it’s a blessing.
And what is this blessing? refer back to verse 18: the word of truth, God’s word.
And how are we to receive it? Humbly, with gratitude.
And what is implied about this “word”? If it’s planted, it must be alive. And if it is alive, with care and proper nourishment, it will grow.
Jesus used a similar illustration when He spoke about the farmer sowing seed in his field (Matthew 13:1-9). The emphasis in Jesus’ parable was not on the seed; it was assumed to be good. The emphasis was on the soil, and its readiness to accept the seed and help it grow.
As we examine the “soil” of our lives, what does it look like? Is it ready to receive God’s Word? Or do we need to clear out some “rocks” and other debris like bad attitudes so the soil is ready to grow?
Time for some yard and garden cleanup at my house…