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.
I really like these verses, they are both familiar and practical; to me they are also profoundly important as a way of life. Verse 19 is quoted so often that I’m not even sure those who quote it know it’s from the Word and it is certainly great advice, but how often do we take the time to notice that it is only the introduction to a larger theme?
First the advice: Quick to listen. For many of us, that would be quite an accomplishment in itself. I don’t know about you, but there are still times when I find myself neglecting this one. Slow to speak is the next one, and I know plenty of people who struggle with this. As for me, I’m usually slow to speak, but once I start you can’t shut me up; OK, maybe we are all “works in progress.” Slow to become angry is the third in this series, and it is a real problem for some. I doubt I need to say much more on this…
Verse 20 has the point James is setting up in verse 19, yet it isn’t quoted so often as the previous verse for some reason. Human anger doesn’t produce “the righteousness that God desires.” Have you ever thought about that? What does our anger really produce? Out of every 10 times we become angry, how many times does our anger produce anything worthwhile? OK, I can see that there are rare cases when we become angry over an injustice and then we do something about it. Yet even in those times, if we are acting out of anger, how often can we avoid inflicting a second injustice because we don’t stop soon enough? An example: We become angry because we see someone shove another person out of their way; how do we respond? We might let them have it with angry words, and call them all sorts of ugly names. Do two wrongs cure an injustice? It is very difficult to respond in anger without going too far.
Verse 21 is the conclusion, something we can tell right away because of the word “therefore.” Therefore is always the conclusion when someone is making a persuasive case. What James was really getting at in the first two verses was this: “get rid” of all that “moral filth” and “evil” that is “prevalent” and “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
Let’s pause a moment and think about this “get rid” part. This is a metaphor that is used several times in the New Testament, for in the Greek it looks like the “taking off” and “putting on” that Paul likes to use. Here it would go something like this: “Take off those filthy rags that are covered with evil and clothe yourself with the righteousness of God.” Now, looking at verse 21 again, we can see that we are to take off (get rid of) the moral filth and evil, and put on (humbly accept) the Word that can save you. Here’s a question you might want to ask yourself: Is the “Word” a what or a who?
If you regularly read Scripture, you should know that I am going to say that this “Word” that can save you is none other than the Person of Jesus Christ. Yes, dear reader, going back to the beginning, if we are quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger, we would be putting our trust for Christ into action. Pretty cool, isn’t it?