19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.
The beginning of verse 19 intrigues me, as it can be in reference to what James just said, or what he says right after. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. I’d like to think it is a break in his thought process. In other words, he is just emphasizing that “what I am telling you in this letter, you already know.” Why do we already know this? We can recall that this letter is meant as a letter to believers as a note to what it looks like to live out the gospel. It is even appropriate that its order in the bible is after a lot of books discussing spirituality that now we are reading what that spirituality (on the inside) looks like on the outside.
I will never forget what I was taught once about the rest of verse 19. We have 2 ears and one mouth. If we listened twice as much as we spoke, we would be half as foolish, half as dishonoring to God, and twice as uplifting to others. It is interesting to me that when talking about hearing and speaking, James seems to throw in there an oddball: slow to anger. Why is that? Because it is closely related to how we hear and speak. If we focus on truly grasping what someone is saying to us, we will be much slower to grow impatient, frustrated, and angry. On the flip side, if we are just being quick to speak and want to put our two cents in, we will grow impatient and our burning desire to speak will grow and grow until it spews out as fire. I speak from too much experience. Why is it that we should do this? Because the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. In other words, in living righteous for God’s sake, our inappropriate anger does not reflect the love of God. Ok, so now that we know why, the next question is how?
Verse 21 opens with an “easier said than done” statement. We know that we are but sinners. The Apostle Paul talked constantly of not being able to do what is right, but having an evil side to him. How then, if someone like him cannot do it are we expected to? The same way he did: in humility receive the word implanted. You see, by accepting Christ’s forgiveness we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Being the Spirit of God, aka the Spirit of Christ – who is The Word, God’s word is implanted on our hearts. However, this does not mean we have arrived at our end state; rather we have received the “Helper” to guide us along our path. Notice, I did not say that the Spirit will force us to walk, rather guide us. We must decide to follow the guidance, but we still have the free will to ignore it. This is what Paul was talking about and he constantly battled between choosing his sinful nature and following the guidance of the Spirit. This is where humility is applied to realize that our sinful nature is boosted with our pride, that we must accept God’s path and instead of following what we want to follow (that is, our sinful nature), that we get to follow God’s will for our lives. What’s the point of that? To save your souls.
Following Christ isn’t a once and done decision, it is a life changing event that we must choose to live out every day. If we simply claim to be Christian but don’t live it out, then how do we know we truly changed? Do you live saved? What areas of your life do not reflect the Spirit within you? He has the power to help you and is waiting for you to ask for that help. Humility as God intended it.