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 that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
James wants followers of Jesus to live righteous lives. This doesn’t mean that we will be perfect, after all we still live in the flesh, but it does mean that the direction of our lives will be towards righteousness rather than sin. The way we live should provide evidence of whether or not we are pursuing righteousness.
If we are going to pursue righteousness then we have to be quick to hear. We will not discover the pathway of righteousness on our own, we need to be shown the way. In order to pursue righteousness we have to submit our lives to the teachings of God’s Word. If we are not listening to teachers and preachers then we will never live the righteous lives God desires us to live.
Not only do we have to be quick to hear but we also have to be slow to speak. Too often we want to get our two cents in and share our opinion, and as a result we miss the truth that is being taught. If we are going to listen it requires us to intentionally focus on what is being said, rather than formulating in our mind our response.
Righteousness also requires that we are to be slow to anger. This one seems out of place, until you think about a couple of ways we avoid dealing with the sin in our lives. The first way is to show anger at the world for the way they are living. I have been in enough Sunday School classes and Small Groups to know that one way people avoid dealing with the truth is to talk about how evil people are and the way our country is falling apart, and some even get pretty worked up about it, but they don’t deal with how God’s truth applies to their lives.
Sometimes we move in the opposite direction and get so angry with ourselves for not having the strength to resist temptation and sin. The result is that you soon believe that trying to overcome sin is a worthless cause and you give up. This is what I have done, and it led me to almost walking away from Jesus, and it is what I have to constantly guard myself against today. Angry doesn’t produce righteousness, so there is no point in getting angry with yourself.
If we are going to live righteous lives we need to put away filthiness and wickedness. This requires two actions. First, it requires that we get rid of those things and people that lead us into sin. Two years ago I reduced the size of DVD collection (which is very tame compared to collections other Christians have), and the criteria that I used was what my first thought was when I picked up the movie. If it was an implied sex scene (I didn’t have anything that was more than implied) or a woman in a scantily clad outfit I threw it out. We have to be strong enough to admit that there are some things we just can’t handle, and we need to put up defenses to protect our minds and hearts from those things.
We also have to identity areas of sin in our lives and start taking steps to get rid of that sin. Simple things we can do in this process is to pray (something that has helped me in this regard is to lay down “my right” to sin at that feet of Jesus), find accountability partners, establish goals, and find professional help. God is not going to take away our ability to sin, and therefore it is something that we must choose to do. It is an act of faith to take steps to eliminate sin from our lives.
Finally, we need to receive with meekness God’s word. We can’t rely on our own understanding and cleverness in the battle with sin. We need to rely on God’s word, and the requires us to apply it to our lives. Instead of just believing the Bible, we have to apply it to our lives. This takes work. Change doesn’t happen just because we hear something and accept the truth of it. Change happens because we apply that truth to our lives. The key here, according to James, is that we are to be humble. If we are proud or think we can figure things out on our own then we will miss out on the wisdom found in the Bible. The meek person understands that he/she doesn’t have what it takes to be righteous and that they need help and guidance.
We are called to live righteous lives. The problem is that we can’t live righteous lives on our own we need help. That help comes from God. He makes it possible for us to righteous through Christ Jesus. Righteous living is the result of following Jesus. He is our guide on the pathway of righteousness.