At times, I must admit this letter James wrote seems a bit disjointed. He just seems to jump from topic to topic. But the more I’ve been reading this letter as a whole, the more united it has become.
In this passage, at first glance, seemingly out of nowhere, James brings up something very similar to what we see in Proverbs. He says,
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (19-20)
There is, of course, much truth to this in our relationships. If we would be quicker to listen to people, slower to speak, and slower to get angry, our relationships would be much better.
But I’m not so sure that James is talking here about our relationships with others. I think he’s talking about our relationship with God. Earlier he talked about how God uses our trials to make us mature and complete. That during these times, he teaches us to trust him and to do things his way.
The problem is that during times in of trials, too many times, we’re not willing to listen. Instead we rage at God, saying, “Why are you letting this happen to me!”
But James told us in verse 18 that through his word of truth, he gave birth to us. Through the word of the gospel we heard and accepted, he saved us from our sin and made us his children. And it is that same word that transforms us day by day into Christ’s likeness, making us whole and complete.
So James is saying here, “Be quick to listen to that word. In your times of trial be quick to listen to what God is trying to tell you. Be slow to speak. Be slow to complain. Be slow to rage against God because of your trials. For that kind of anger will not bring about the righteous life that God desires to develop in you.”
He then says,
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. (21)
In short, God is trying to purify you through these trials and his word. So when he speaks, open your heart to what he’s trying to teach you. His word can save you not only from your trials, but save you from the multiple problems that come when you sin.
So don’t just mentally assent to what God is saying to you. Do it.
James puts it this way,
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does. (22-25)
A lot of people think of God’s law as taking away our freedom. They think his law takes away from the enjoyment of life. But God’s law actually brings us freedom. It frees us from bitterness and resentment. It frees us from the chains that destroy our marriages, our relationships, and our lives. It frees us to have the full life that God intended for us from the very beginning. And as a result, we find blessing.
How about you? As you go through struggles in your life, are you getting resentful and bitter toward God? Or do you open your heart to him? God wants to use your trials to make you whole.
When he whispers, do you listen?