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James 1:19

19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. 21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. — KJV

19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 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. — NIV

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. — ESV

Greek Transliteration of James 1:19 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
eido [1492] to see, know, be aware, consider, perceive, understand adephos [0080] brother, sibling (connected by womb, literal or figurative) mou [3450] I, me, my agapetos [0027] beloved, dear esto [2077] let them be (imparitive) de [1161] and, but, now… (conjunction) pas [3956] all, any, every anthropos [0444] human, certain person tachus [5036] swift eis [1519] to, into… (prep. expressing motion) ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) akouo [0191] relating to hearing: give in the audience of, harken, be noised bradus [1021] figuratively slow, dull eis [1519] to, into… (prep. expressing motion) ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) [2980] bradus [1021] figuratively slow, dull eis [1519] to, into… (prep. expressing motion) orge [3709] violent passion: desire, ire, anger, wrath, vengeance, indignation

1.19.0 Introduction

As we have seen many times already and will continue to see in James’ style, concepts in this verse are presented with stark contrasts. In this case James refers to behaviors of hearing compared with speaking and anger. Hearing we are called to jump to while speaking and being angry are not to be done in haste. James forbids neither, but does counsel due mental process before acting. Verse 20 goes on to further explain the reasoning and verse 21 provides practical instructions how to accomplish the behavior outlined in verse 19.

1.19.1 Is James talking about every person or every believing person?

Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. James originally intended the letter to go to fellow believers. The wisdom of James 1:19 is certainly not limited just to believers, though. Many religions espouse similar ideals for personal behavior. I think has a lot to do with good old fashioned common sense.

1.19.2 Hear what?

Jn 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. The Holy Spirit is a constant indwelling companion, always ready to counsel, advise and direct.

Rev 2: 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Jesus was speaking to John in a prophesy here, but the idea expressed is valid in or out of context. Jesus is the Word (Jn 1:1, 14). He speaks to us through words he spoke and were recorded for us in scripture (Ps 119:105). He speaks via the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26, quoted above). Just as he spoke through prophets in the Old Testament, he still uses individuals to convey messages to other people (1 Cor 12:7-8, quoted below)

1 Cor 12:7-8 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit God speaks to us through others. Caution: Sometimes he uses unlikely vessels.

1 Thess 5:20-21 Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. In order to hear God, we have to listen to everything and be discerning. To be effective with personal evangelism, I believe you must be able to see and hear the person you are sharing the good news with. You must be able to relate to them at their level. Jn 3 and Jn 4 are two very different examples of Christ sharing the Good News. With Nicodemus he used a completely different technique than with the woman at the well, but in both cases he “listened” to their hearts and determined exactly what he needed to say and do. He knew Nicodemus understood the deeper meanings of the scriptures and was seeking to understand what seemed incomprehensible – his own sinful heart and the need for repentance, humbling, and spiritual regeneration. The woman at the well had sin issues and knew she was in no position to raise herself up. She didn’t need theology, she needed compassion and direction. We have to learn from Christ’s example even more than from his words.

1.19.3 What does James mean by “hear”?

akouo [0191] relating to hearing: give in the audience of, harken, be noised Based on the definition provided by the concordance for the word translated as “hear” in verse 19, the following verse seems to illustrate the concept nicely…

Pr 13:1 A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. James means to pay attention, not simply let it go in one ear and out the other.

1.19.4 How do we listen to people?

Pr 23:19 Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. Use your heart to listen to what the other person has to say. It is such an engrained part of man’s sinful nature to deceive that we often use words to camouflage what our heart seeks to express, so listen to more than the words of the person. Use all your senses, and when you’ve done all that use your heart.

Pr 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. Most of us think we’ve got it figured out, especially Christians (big or little “c”). The fact is, God created man as a social creature. By indwelling man with his Spirit, he provides a way for us to share social communion with God and men together. What we have now is a mere precursor to the social community of Christ in New Jerusalem (Rev 22:1-5). While we are here, though, we can and indeed must use one another (Pr 27:17).

Pr 24:6 for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory. Building on Pro 12:15 – a word of caution: listen to good advice.

1.19.5 How do we listen to the world and to nature?

Mt 6:26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? The Lord provides us with endless lessons if only we will open our senses and our hearts to learn them. In this verse Jesus uses creatures to teach a lesson. There are many more examples where nature is used to teach, such as rock and soil, plants, weather, the sun, stars, and moon. We must see the fingerprints of God on all of His creation and be open to hearing his messages written by His divine hand.

Ex 15:26 “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.” There are plenty of examples of what God can do, both blessing and curse, in nature as well as society. Open your eyes and you will be able to see truth.

1.19.6 How do we hear God?

Ps 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. God speaks to us through His written word, the bible.

Jn 14:16-17 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. The Holy Spirit is a gift. One of its attributes is its ability to give us help in the form of knowledge (information) from God.

Pr 22:17 Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge People, particularly spiritually mature people are mouthpieces of God.

Jonah 1:1-2 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” Sometimes God speaks clearly and directly without middlemen.

1.19.7 How can you tell the voice of God from that of an evil spirit?

1 Thess 5:21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. This instruction is a simple directive and one which should not be ignored. The following scripture references expound on how to go about determining if a voice is speaking good or evil.

1 Cor 12:3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. The first litmus test is always the use of the name, Jesus Christ. False religions don’t make Jesus Christ their master with absolute and singular authority.

2 Pe 2:1-4 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; This chapter from 2 Peter is full of useful advice, but these verse seemed the most appropriate to share here. First, look for the false teaching and false doctrine in your midst. It is often introduced secretly. It denies Jesus. It may be sensual (geared toward self-satisfaction). It says something in opposition to scripture. It exploits people. Avoid such teaching and the people who teach it because they will get what is coming to them.

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. To determine if what you hear is truly of God, test it against God’s word and listen to the Holy Spirit’s education and information from within. God never varies, so his message – by any source – cannot oppose itself.

Ac 28:28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen. Who is the target audience? If only members get to hear, there’s something wrong. The good news for those who need to hear it. This goes back to the warning about secrecy from 2 Peter (above).

Jn 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Jesus promised – and as of Pentecost delivered – the Holy Spirit to help us. If the Spirit dwells within you, it will urge you one way or the other when you hear words being spoken. It will always agree with scripture and all prophesy of God will come to pass and not be proven false.

Mt 17:5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Sometimes an obvious sign accompanies a message. The sign will prove the teaching true or false. Most often the sign is revealed over time rather than in the moment. When this happens, it is the proving of the message you ultimately care about.

1.19.8 Why should we be slow to speak?

Pr 12:14 From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man's hand comes back to him. When you speak, people listen. When you do something, it cannot be hidden. Jesus isn’t the only one watching you, nor is he the only one judging you. Take time when you speak to be sure you’re speaking as prompted by the Holy Spirit and not your own ego.

2 Pe 1:20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. Though ironically this verse is widely misinterpreted, suffice it to say you can’t make up your own interpretation of scripture to fit your premise. Your premise must be based on the totality of scripture. Context is critical. Individual verses taken out of context are easily distorted in their explanation. In this study I make every effort to be as diligent as possible to avoid missing context sensitive applications, but I am as flawed as any other man. Only the Word is truly and purely accurate and then only in its entirety. Granted, when witnessing – or even in more casual speech – we can’t just read whole passages without thinking about it. The point is, context matters, as does agreement with the whole of the Word.

1.19.9 Should we always be slow to speak?

Pr 18:2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. There are plenty of proverbs that warn us about fools and speaking. The point of this particular selection is to remember our opinions are always close to the surface. It isn’t our opinion that counts. It’s the Word of God. Prayerfully open your heart to the words of the Spirit, then speak what God would have you say rather than blurting out your own opinions.

Pr 23:9 Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words. Sometimes speaking is a waste of time anyway. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong to speak, but sometimes the proverbial soil is just too rocky.

1.19.10 How do we know what to say?

1 Jn 4:6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Pay attention to your audience. Knowing your audience is the first step in determining what to say.

Eph 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints You need to be in regular communication with the Lord. Ask for wisdom (James 1:7).

Mk 13:11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. This verse offers me great hope. It should not be taken as a blank check, however. The mind is prepared in advance by learning and learning comes from study of the Bible. Put it in your head. The Spirit will help you pull out what is needed. To use this passage as a crutch and an excuse for not studying amounts to tempting God.

1 Cor 12:8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, Wisdom and knowledge regarding communication with others is a gift given specifically to some. This doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t do it for in fact we must, but some receive special blessings in this area.

1 Pe 1:21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Ultimately, the litmus test for our utterances should be whether God is glorified.

1.19.11 What is anger?

The Greek word used by James for anger is “ogre.” According to the concordance this word orge [3709] means: violent passion — desire, ire, anger, wrath, vengeance, indignation

By looking at this word in the Greek we see James is talking about more than a casual annoyance or even getting peeved in the common sense. He’s talking about the kind of anger that involves primal arousal to action. It might be equally valid to say we should be slow to wrath and slow to vengeance. Basically its about taking an action based on a powerful negative emotion.

It may be worth noting KJV uses the word wrath. This is an occasion where I find myself preferring KJV’s word choice. To me, wrath implies response motivated by a negative passion. Anger seems to imply the negative passion itself.

1.19.12 Is it okay to become angry?

Dt 9:20 And the Lord was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him. And I prayed for Aaron also at the same time. In this example God [YHWH] was angry. Who are we to say it isn’t okay for God to be angry? It is also interesting to note what Moses was doing while God was fuming. Moses was praying, specifically interceding on his brother’s behalf.

Mt 21:12-13 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” This is the most well known case of Jesus displaying his temper. He wasn’t just mad at them for sinning, but angry for the Father’s sake because something of the Father’s had been defiled. In essence Jesus was defending someone else, namely the Father. I believe one of the lessons to learn from this event is that it is certainly okay to be angry when you see someone perpetrating a wrong against someone else. Since we know the kind of anger James speaks of involves wrathful or vengeful retribution, we can certainly see this example involving Christ’s temper is very fitting to this discussion. Elsewhere Jesus instructs us to turn the other cheek (Mt 5:39), but that’s with regard to our own defense, not the defense of the helpless.

Eph 4:26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger Anger is allowed, but the privilege comes with a warning. The need for the warning should be obvious. When we are angry we often act out of emotion, casting off reasoning and worse yet ignoring the Spirit’s direction. When Paul says not to let the sun go down on your anger what this seems to mean is not to let yourself brood. When sour emotion festers it eats away at our reasoning and only makes finding a resolution more difficult. Deal with the problem making you angry, then move on. It is hard to be productive when you’re riled up.

1.19.13 How can we gain control over anger?

Lk 11:9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. As with so many other “how can we” questions, one crucial method is always prayer.

Mt 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed [1] in heaven.” ([1]Or shall have been bound . . . shall have been loosed) The footnote is included here because other versions translate this passage differently. The point, however, remains the same. When we are walking in true faith, the Name of Jesus is such a powerful tool that with His permission we can use it to bind or loose things. This presumably could include one’s own emotional responses such as anger. When we submit ourselves to the will of the Lord, we must include submission of our emotions. This does not mean we cannot become angry or to say anger is wrong. It does mean, however, we have the authority to bind our emotions so that the indwelling Spirit has an opportunity to resolve the source of the anger.

Ps 4:4-5 Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. The psalmist gives excellent advice here. Sit down (or lay down) and think about the situation. Use your mind to reflect in silence. Offering a right sacrifice simply means to put yourself into the proper perspective relative to God. Remind yourself of your position: creation. God is God and you are not. Accept it, surrender your will, and accept it is up to God to have control. You have no control over the external except whatever authority God grants (Jn 19:11).

Jonah 4:1-2 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, [1] and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Jonah was downright ticked off at God. In spite of his anger he turned to God for guidance. He plead his case and took out his anger on God. Fortunately God has immense shoulders we can cry on or beat against. Either way He is willing to let us work through it and ultimate find the truth at the end, just as Jonah did. The lesson here is to lean on God rather than yourself and your own emotions for guidance.