You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow
to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.
Therefore, rid yourself of all sordidness and
rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the
implanted word that has power to save your souls (James 1:19-21)
The book of James, from which this piece of wisdom comes, shows great familiarity with the actual words and thoughts conveyed in the earthly ministry of Jesus, more than perhaps any other letter in the NT. When we think, for example, of the Sermon on the Mount, that great collection of Jesus’ wisdom, and attend to what Jesus said there about turning from anger, avoiding Pharisaical blindness, being quick to forgive and to listen to others, being determined to avoid judging others, and for the righteousness that is manifest through meekness, etc., we might suppose that James absorbed Jesus’ words with great care as the basis for his own ministry. And so should we! What Jesus and James are concerned about—as a vital complement to their concern for confessing the truth (belief) and doing the truth (obedience)—is the quality of disciples’ spiritual life, the godly attitudes that shape actions and reactions to others and that are supposed to “adorn the doctrines of God” (Titus 2:10). Much is at stake in James’ mind, as in Jesus’ mind, for the kind of spirit that is to accompany Christian faithfulness. One can give mental assent to all the creeds, sing with gusto the great hymns of the faith, greet everyone with enthusiasm in the Passing of the Peace, give generously to the building fund, and participate in Sunday School and mission trips—even serve on the Board of Elders!—and manifest the wrong spirit. In the midst of all this religiosity, such a spirit is quick to criticize, majors on holding grudges, nurtures a prideful self-righteousness ready to stomp on others’ failures, fails to recognize the weakness in themselves as they run roughshod over the weakness of another. We are all so prone to take inventory of the many sawdust motes resident in other’s eyes without attending to cedar planks built up around their own eyes.
Truly amazing is our capacity to participate in a worship service celebrating the glory of God, filled with insight, encouragement, beauty, instruction and inspiration to live in the Spirit of Christ, and then, upon leaving, almost immediately to stomp on the first person to offend us. And perhaps all of us have also suffered the deflating experience of being stomped on by a [perhaps] well-meaning saint almost immediately after leaving a worship service! James calls this tragedy “self-forgetfulness” in the next paragraph of his letter, using an image of a person seeing herself in a mirror.
For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those
who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on
going away, immediately forget what they were like (James 1:23-24).