Modern Bible Commentary on James 1:19-27

19 So, then, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls (WEB).

The Bible clearly speaks to the human heart, from the beginning of time until now. The phrase here: “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger,” sounds like it was written in recent times. This is great advice and a testimony that wisdom stands the test of time.

When someone is quick to hear, it means they are willing to carefully listen and analyze what others are saying. To have biblical wisdom and keen insight, it’s paramount to learn from mature Christians so that you don’t make the same mistakes. This is why we should hear “quickly” so that we don’t fall into a trap that can suddenly destroy us.

Moreover, if one is quick to hear, they will be slow to speak. In other words, by having active ears and practicing patience, our ability to control the tongue will also flow naturally due to self-discipline. Slow to speak doesn’t mean to remain silent; it just means to listen more and talk less.

Think of Jesus. His disciples would ask him a question, and Jesus would respond back with a question. He made them “think”, talked less and listened more.

When we are quick to hear and slow to speak, we will consequently be slow to anger. Anger is an emotion that can be hard to control. However, with the help of the holy spirit, we can practice the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Allowing the holy spirit to navigate our desires will keep the tongue controlled and out of trouble.

As James clearly states, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” While it is possible to be angry at sin, fight for justice, and seek honor, this type of anger is self-controlled and channeled to the proper authorities.

On the other hand, James is talking about a type of anger that is uncontrollable and unwise, which tends to happen more often than righteous anger.

Consequently, God calls us to put away all filthiness and wickedness and receive the implanted word , which is able to save our souls. When the Lord intervenes in our lives, He will give us the ability to practice self-control in our speech by listening more and talking less.

Additionally, Adonai will protect us from the carnal desires of the flesh when we meditate on Scripture. This is the way to live your best life now!

22 But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he sees himself, and goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of freedom and continues, not being a hearer who forgets, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in what he does.

This passage needs to be memorized by the modern church. Sermons today focus on faith and love, which are obviously two good attributes to have that reflect the nature of God. However, faith is demonstrated by our actions.

That’s why James tells us not to “only” hear the word, deceiving yourselves, but actually obey God’s commandments. Therefore, while it is good to focus on God’s love and faith, those attributes must be understood within the proper context: obedience.

Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commands.” There is no clearer statement than this. If we say we have faith but do not obey, we are like a man who looks at his natural face in the mirror and then forgets what he looks like. You see, all of us know that faith is clearly taught in God’s word.

We also know that obedience is clearly taught in Scripture, but obedience requires effort. Effort is not always fun for the natural man, and I think that’s why we like to stress “faith” more than “obedience.”

The apostle James tells us that the one who looks into the perfect law of liberty and perseveres, he will be blessed in what he does. This is imperative to grasp. The Law is not to be a burden. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matt. 11:28).”

The Law is to set us free from our sinful nature. When one follows God’s Law and obeys it, they will be truly blessed. This means that if you say you have faith but not works, you are deceiving yourselves and your faith is not genuine. Furthermore, if you are not living for God’s perfect Law, you will not be blessed.

26 If anyone among you thinks himself to be religious while he doesn’t bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

What I love about the apostle James is he tells you the way it really is. He doesn’t get all philosophical and technical as some of the other beloved apostles. There really is no reason to debate what James is trying to express here.

Basically, if you say you love God but you don’t practice self-control, your religion is worthless. You are just deceiving your own heart and everyone around you will notice it. Even unbelievers can tell the difference between genuine Christians and those who are pretending to be followers of Jesus.

Consequently, if you want to evangelize and bring people to the knowledge of the truth of who God is, you need to practice self-control and bridle your tongue.

The last part here is also an amazing statement: Religion that is pure and undefiled is to visit orphans and widows in distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world. I believe Paul mentions these two classes of people because they are vulnerable, needy, and aren’t able to give anything else in return.

When one devotes their time and energy to the most vulnerable, they are showing sacrificial love. This type of unconditional love is exactly who God is.

Finally, believers are to keep themselves unspotted from the world. We are to be blameless and without blemish. God calls us to a life of obedience and devotion to His kingdom rather than the carnal kingdom of this world.

We are sojourners, a peculiar people, distinct from others, and our lives should demonstrate this in front of the world. We are to be in the world, but not of the world (Rom. 12:2; 1 John 2:15).

Commentary written by Chad A. Damitz (M.Div.)

Translation by World English Bible (WEB)—public domain.

I am so thankful for the World English Bible Translation. This is their mission statement: “The Holy Bible is God’s Word. It belongs to God. He gave it to us freely, and we who have worked on this translation freely give it to you by dedicating it to the Public Domain.”

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