I’ve spouted off without thinking more times than I can count. I’m ashamed of how quickly I have jumped to conclusions or ideologies before thinking them through. I so often regret not carefully weighing my actions and reactions.
Yet, I have never regretted taking time to think through and gather information before giving an answer or making a statement. I have never regretted praying and seeking wisdom in situations with others. I have never regretted pausing to assure that my conduct is a reflection of Christ not myself.
In this next passage of James, the theme of wisdom is eluded to in speech and action. James writes on how we can faithfully live out our faith through measured words. The theme of impartiality is briefly highlighted in the last verse of chapter 1 which will make way for chapter 2 and a new section to study. We can be wise in the ways of the Lord if we guard our mouths and act lovingly.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let everyone person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteous of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
I think many of us fall into sin when we don’t listen properly and jump to conclusions. We then spout off something wrong or hurtful as we let our hearts grow angry. James is warning against this cycle of behavior. We should be quick to listen and fully understand the context of what someone is saying or a situation. We need to weigh the motives of our hearts and our thoughts properly before we speak. This isn’t an instruction to never speak. Just as much as we can sin with our words, we can sin by withholding them. We must speak the truth. But we must also take time to measure our words against the truth and also assure they are spoken in love. While there is righteous anger, if we’re honest with ourselves, most of our anger isn’t righteous. Our personal wrath leads to wickedness, not righteousness. Our haste to listen and thought-through speech as well as guarding our hearts against selfish anger will keep us from sin.
In stripping ourselves of our sin, we open ourselves up to God sacantifying us. Think of taking off dirty clothes. Just as we take off muddy, filthy clothes to be clean, so we need to strip off our spiritual and moral dirt to be holy. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as throwing some dirty pants in the wash. But we don’t have to do it alone. Truthfully, we can’t do it alone. Galatians 5:16 says, “…walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” With the help of God Himself, we are able to rid ourselves of our moral dirt. And though the process isn’t easy, it is sacantifying. The implanted word is the truth of God that He grows in those who follow Him. It is revealed in the Bible and the Holy Spirit helps believers understand it. This truth is the gospel which saves us.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
It is not enough to simply hear the gospel. We must act on it for it to be any good. We aren’t scantified by going to church every week but not acting on the word spoken to us. We aren’t any holier for listening to Christian music in the car but still having road rage. God can’t do a work in us if we read to be “slow to speak” but spout off gossip to our girlfriends next time we see them. We can read the Bible all day long, but if we refuse to let the Holy Spirit penetrate us and convict us and change us, we are no better than we were before. We are deceiving ourselves. We think we’re close to God, but we’re not. We think we’re holy, but we’re just like everyone else. We may even go so far to think we’re saved, but we may need to reevaluate the actuality of our salvation. This is a central theme throughout this book. No, we are not saved by our works. But a truly regenerate person will have faith that is lived out. If our saved lives closely resemble the unsaved world, we need to soberly evaluate and pray about our salvation. We cannot be nominal Christians only.
A person who has been regenerated by God will be continually striving to be more christlike. The Bible will not be a boring rulebook to them, but the living, breathing word of God that liberates them. God will bless them, not in a “prosperity gospel” kind of way but in a holy, sacantifying way. True faith is faith lived out.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion us worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
James closes out chapter 1 tying together how speech fits in with true Christianity. Part of living out our faith is taming our tongue. While gossip and slander is unfortunately prevalent in many modern day churches, this is not how it is supposed to be. Rather, as Christians we ought to “bridle,” or intentionally direct, our speech. Is it edifying? Is it true? Does it align with the heart of God? We need to be careful in what we say even to the point of silence when that may be the more constructive route. Ancient wisdom considered silence often better and safer than talking. This is wisdom we need to put into practice today. Part of a genuine faith is speech that is measured not by this world’s standards but by biblical commands.
So how then should we live as true, regenerate Christians? We are to care for the least of these and be holy. Without a doubt, the Bible advocates for social justice because God embodies justice and we are created as social people. To be mini Christs, we should seek biblical justice and intentionally care for those who are overlooked like widows and orphans were in the time this book was written.
Don’t mistake this as advocating for this world’s ever changing standards for social justice that resembles Marxism and can be motivated by hate. That is not biblical at all. Rather, we care for people as Jesus does. We love unconditionally yet do not sacrifice truth. The second half of the command is “to keep oneself unstained from the world.” We cannot do that by adopting the world’s arbitrary standards. We must be holy as God is holy. We must be different than the world. Yes, to live out our faith we must embrace biblical justice. But don’t be fooled by the people who say social justice is the gospel. We are saved by faith. The evidence of that pure faith is love for others and separation from the world.
Our faith should be evident by our words: in our claiming of the gospel, our edifying speech, and our silence when we’re angry. The salvation prayer is a great start to speaking our faith, but our Christianity is fleshed out when we guard our mouth. Let us not be deceived into thinking we are more holy than we actually are because we attend church, listen to hymns, and read our Bible. We are scantified and made holy when we let God have control over our actions and what comes out of our mouth.