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 that God requires.1 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
In the name of + Jesus.
By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, James encourages Jewish Christians scattered throughout the Mediterranean world to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” You’ve probably heard someone say this light-hearted, but pointed, statement: “That’s why the LORD gave us two ears, and only one mouth.”
Others have communicated the same thought with this well-known piece of advice: “It is better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” The book of Proverbs puts it this way: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
I want to consider the passage from James in light of the many current events going on around us, some of which threaten to produce in Christians “the anger of man,” which “does not produce the righteousness that God requires.”
Consider current events such as the murder trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, or the public announcement and praise given to NBA basketball player, Jason Collins, upon the announcement that he is gay, or the organized attack on the divine institution of Holy Matrimony, or any number of other events which, for the Christian, are rightly seen as the results of sin. And in the most extreme of cases, it’s “sin gone wild!”
Any one of the events, on its own, could be enough to produce anger in our hearts. And if you add them all up together, look out. Christians are tempted to explode in a reaction of anger, rather than a thoughtful presentation of the Word, made in love. But which response does James tell us, actually has the ability to produce positive results? Will we win over our confused, and mislead friends, family members, or colleagues by always being quick to speak, and by ranting and raving about “all those ________!”? Or will our zeal for the truth be snuffed out by our lack of love and compassion for our broken brothers and sisters?
Remember, James wrote the words above to Jewish Christians who had been scattered throughout the Mediterranean world—not exactly a culture known for upholding pious, Christian virtues. And yet, James encourages these Christians to be quick to listen, and to be as slow to speak as they are slow to anger. Even more, James reminds them that only the implanted Word of God is able to bring about the repentance, and faith, and righteousness of Christ which Christians of every generation seek to see in their lost and broken neighbors.
Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and the like, tempt us to forget that, words written in anger, or in a spirit hate, are no less damaging to the Christian witness than careless angry words spoken in rage. Emails tempt us to slander our neighbor’s reputation without ever making an attempt to approach the person in question with a loving desire to find out what might be going on. And if your main form of communication is still the telephone, or one-on-one conversation over coffee, then the easiest course of action is simply to avoid the subject altogether. But none of these reactions actually help the situation.
It seems to me, that in our desire to see those who are confused, mislead, and caught in sin be brought to repentance and faith in Christ, we must consider the words of James above, and learn to do the following:
- We must take our initial, gut, reaction, which is often anger, fear, or even hatred, and we must place it in a box and bury it in the ground with all of our other sinful desires. We will not deny that this is our reaction, but Christians refuse to be ruled be it, and so we will confess it, and crucify it.
- Then, we remember, that whatever opportunity we have to engage our neighbor, we will do so with meekness, and as 1 Peter would also remind us, with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when we are slandered, those who are doing the slandering will be the ones put to shame (3:15-16). The goal is to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:25). So whether you are commenting on a post on Facebook, Tweeting your thoughts about a current event, or getting ready to sit down with a friend for coffee, when speak, your words will be spoken with love and compassion for those in need.
- And whatever we do, we do it not with a righteousness of our own, as if our understanding of God’s Word somehow makes us no longer sinners ourselves. On the contrary, we do it boasting only in the Cross of Christ, by whom, all sinners have the forgiveness of sins, and learn to live as a new creation.
It is true, the LORD did give us two years and one mouth. Maybe that is helpful to remember. But don’t forget, that even your mouth isn’t free to speak whatever it wants, but has been given to you, as a gift, to speak the Word of Christ, with love and compassion for those who we desire to be brought to repentance and faith, and to learn to delight in the Word of Christ.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Almighty and everlasting God, You desire not the death of a sinner but that all would repent and live. Hear our prayers for those outside the Church. Take away their iniquity, and turn them from their false gods to You, the living and true God. Gather them into Your holy Church to the glory of Your name; through Jesus Christ, our Lord (LSB, p. 305, #106).