James urges Christians to tell themselves the truth about who God is: that He cares for them, especially when trials come upon us. God is the giver of every good thing in our lives. He is the unchanging source of any good we have ever had, have now, or will ever experience in the future. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the Word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” (James 1:17-18)
Now James completes that thought with an example of one of God’s greatest good gifts to us: God has given us the opportunity to have a new life in Christ by faith. That’s an essential truth, but also something easy to take for granted. It’s a necessary thought to hold on to in the middle of trials. Specifically, God brought us forth—or gave us birth—by His own will. He wanted to! God has cared about us from the beginning. What more evidence do we need that our God is good and loving and powerful and faithful to us? No matter how dark our circumstances in the moment, nothing can change the enormous good gift that God has given to us in Christ.
The opening passage of James instructed believers to maintain trust in God, even during hard times. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
Those who trust God continue to obey Him. James begins to describe what that obedience looks like: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20) Those who trust and obey God learn to adjust the speed of their listening and speaking. If God is truly in control, we can afford to take the time to understand.
Rather than shooting from the hip, we can respond in a way that is helpful. Doubting that God is in control speeds up our mouth and slows down our mind. As believers, we shouldn’t be obsessed with ensuring that we are heard and understood in order to get what we want; that is acting out in pride, not meditating on the Words of the Lord. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
His Word to “let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” isn’t a command to never feel anger. Anger is a human emotion that everyone experiences, and it can be justified. However, James’ instruction here makes it clear that we can learn to control—or at least slow down—our angry responses. In fact, to refuse to let anger control us is itself an act of faith. It is a choice to believe that the Father is in control, that He loves us, and that He is good.
So why as God’s children through faith in Christ, should we learn to control our anger, to slow it down, to keep it in check? James completes the sentence with the explanation: “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (v 20). Letting anger fly may be a great tool for getting our own way according to worldliness, and may even give us the feeling that we’re in control of our lives. But even from a non-spiritual perspective, this comes at a high price: We lose our integrity, the trust of others, and our self-control when we live by anger.
We were created for far more than simply getting the superficial things out of life. Part of our purpose as believers is to be used by God to help accomplish His purpose in the world. We have a glorious, eternal purpose, far greater than what we can achieve through anger or sin. The importance of that cannot be overstated. “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:21-22)
Those who trust God reject sin, which is what happens when we choose to serve ourselves first, and above all. When we do that, we are prideful thinking ourselves more important than we ought, and we are certainly not submitting our will to God’s will. Because God perfectly provides, we need to put sin away in order to pick up our cross and follow Christ. we should, in humility, accept the Word implanted in us. “This is the covenant I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws on their hearts and write them on their minds, He adds: I will never again remember their sins and their lawless acts.” (Heb 10:16-17)
James doesn’t tell us to stop sinning and just be better people. He tells us to stop sinning and accept—or keep accepting on a deeper level—the message of Christ, with humility. It is Christ’s goodness in us that counts, not our own efforts to be good. Christ in us is what will save our souls. And we know that we have taken in His implanted Word, when we act upon it: “But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (v 22) If we don’t stop to ponder the meaning of what His Word tells us to do, and actually DO it, then we are deceived into believing that we are saved from the fires of hell, when we may not be.
The other day I shared with you a deep hurt that produced an anger that seemed to be from the fire of hell. I repented because I sinned against the Lord. In that sin, I hurt others for which I apologized. But the truth is, apologies aren’t always acknowledged or accepted. And that’s okay. I made the apology as a doer of God’s Word, not to make people happy or accepting of me.
We all get to make choices every day. I praise the Lord for driving me to my knees in repentance, and I leave whatever happens from it to Him because He is in control and I am not. Faith in Christ is not just the map; it’s the actual journey. Merely nodding our heads at the Word is not enough—we need to do what the Word tells us to do. We need to figure out which way God wants us to go, and then actually go that way. If we don’t, we demonstrate that we don’t truly trust the Father, at least not in that moment.