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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lenschow

Anger Doesn't Help

James 1:19-21

1. Recognize the Context:

Previous Context: James 1:1-16-18 Verses 13-15 correct the belief that temptation originates from God. Instead, the source of temptation comes from the evil desires within a person. Verses 17-18 present what can be expected from God.

Verse 16 begins with the imperative, “don’t be deceived.” This is a serious warning about deception (see 5:19-20). God does not tempt his children to sin (verses 13-15). Rather, he is a giver of “good and perfect gifts” (wisdom 1:5 and salvation 1:18). Failure to understand these two aspects of God’s character leads to deception, a spiritually dangerous place.

James continues to clarify the “gift giver” as the Father of the heavenly lights. God is the one who created the luminaries in the sky (Gen. 1:16-19, Ps. 136:7-9), which in turn give much to the human existence on earth.

God is further described as one “who does not change like shifting shadows.” Again, in this clause, James has more to say about the character of God. The shadows from the sun shift and change. The moon and stars are not always visibly present, making them "unreliable." However, God is reliable and does not change.

In verse 18, James changes the creation imagery back to human growth and development. God chooses to give “birth through the word of truth.” This is to say, he gives new life through the message of the gospel. Contrast this with verse 15, where desire “gives birth” to sin, which leads to death.

Finally, James uses harvest imagery from the Old Testament (Ex. 34:22, Lev. 23:9-10). The firstfruits were the first portion set aside to be offered to God as a sacrifice. These early believers were a type of firstfruits for the redemption of all of creation (Rom. 8:18-25).

2. Read the Scripture: James 1:19-21

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 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.

3. Reflect on the Scripture:

Verse 19 contains the same direct address found in verse 16, “my dear brothers and sisters.” This wise saying includes both positive and negative imperatives. positive-everyone should be quick to listen negative-slow to speak negative-slow to become angry While these instructions seem restrictive in today’s society valuing "free speech," it is consistent with both Jewish and Greco-Roman wisdom. In the Old Testament, several verses address the need for ethics in speech (Ps 39:1, 141:3, Prov 10:19, 13:3, 15:1, 17:27, 28, 21:23, Eccl 3:7, 5:2). Additionally, verses on anger can be found (Ps 37:8, Prov 15:1, 16:32, 29:11, Eccl 7:9).

Verse 20 provides the reason anger is to be avoided. Anger prohibits people from living in right relationship with God and others. This is supported throughout the New Testament (Matt. 5:22, Eph. 4:26-31, Col. 3:8, 1 Tim. 2:8).

Verse 21 includes two contrasting imperatives, one negative and one positive. The first is to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.” The verb “get rid of” was literally used for “taking off dirty clothes.” In the New Testament, it is used figuratively of “taking off” or eliminating behaviors contrary to the gospel, in order to “put on” or add other behaviors (Eph 4:22, Col. 3:8-14, 1 Pet 2:1). Initially, James refers to anger (verses 19-20), and here speaks more generally of any wrong behavior that can hinder the reception of God’s word. The second imperative is to “accept the word planted in you.” James uses farming imagery consistent with Jesus teaching in the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20). The message of the gospel is active, and it brings about salvation. This reception of God’s word is to be done in humility or meekness (Gal. 5:23), which indicates a proper submission to God.

4. Relate to life:

Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.

To pray:

Today, prayerfully consider your listening and speech habits.

Today, prayerfully consider if there is anger in your heart towards anyone.

Are there other sinful areas that you might need to confess to God today? Today, prayerfully consider how pride might be hindering your reception of God’s word.

To do:

Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)

Read and study the passages listed above.

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