The epistle of James was written by James, the brother of Jesus. James had not been a believer in his brother before the cross, but saw his brother risen from the dead, and was thereafter a faithful Christian (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:7). James served as an elder in the Jerusalem church until finally, during the Jewish revolt against Rome, we are told that he was killed by certain Jewish scribes and Pharisees, who threw him from the temple and then stoned and clubbed him until he was dead.
There are many valuable lessons in James, who wrote with a very practical, direct style. It is very hard to misunderstand what James was trying to teach. And, as with all the Bible, when the lessons therein are applied to life, the results are quite beneficial.
Consider, if you would, the lesson of James 1:19-20. James writes, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (ESV)
Anger can be quite a problem in life, and while there are just causes for getting angry, the Bible cautions us against the wrong sorts of anger. For instance, we are advised quite strongly: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27; ESV) When men are unjustly angry, or when men act wickedly because of that anger, the only one who wins is the devil.
Unfortunately, some men make a habit of being hard of hearing, being quick to jump to conclusions, and are eager to make their anger known to all and sundry. Such behavior rarely makes the world a more pleasant place to live.
Homes in which everyone is constantly accusing everyone else and constantly yelling and cursing are not good environments. Our politics is not made better by participants who are habitually accusing the other side of all manner of ill-intent, and evil actions. Our communities do not benefit from people who are quick to riot and loot and curse and attack others because of their rage and anger.
While it is easy to shake our heads at other people when they lash out, we each individually should be working to make sure we are not a part of the problem. And James counsel is worthy of due consideration when we find ourselves in the midst of conflict.
“The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” It is hard to be loving your brother like you should be when you are constantly angry at him. It is hard to teach him the truth when you are constantly yelling at him. And it is hard to be praising God effectively when you are cursing and swearing at those around you. As James also says elsewhere, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (James 3:9-12; ESV)
“Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Or, to put it another way, stop jumping to conclusions about what other people are saying or doing. Learn to listen to them and try to see things from their perspective. That does not mean that you are going to then automatically agree with them, but very often our assumptions, made in haste, turn out to be wrong.
How often do we lash out at people in anger only to afterward find that we misunderstood their words, or did not know the full story?
Rather than rushing to judgment, or rushing to anger, we need to be rushing to make sure we are listening to other people. If we were each better at doing this, while it would not eliminate anger, and it wouldn’t solve all of this world’s problems or disagreements, but it would go a long way towards helping.
God has taught us how to live with one another in peace, but we don’t always listen like we should. The church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us, as we try to put God’s word into practice in our lives. Won’t you join us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.