James 1:17–27 NRSV – Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 1:18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. 1:19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 1:20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 1:21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 1:23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 1:24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 1:25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. 1:26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Summary – Though there are different views, I think James (the brother of John) wrote this Epistle very early prior to his martyrdom (Acts 12:2) in the context of the church in Jerusalem prior to the expansion into the Gentile world. This is a time when Jewish persecution is rising against the followers of Jesus. [For more information on the background see my paper here.] In this passage we see that James exhorts his followers that since they were given new spiritual birth by the word of truth, they should receive this word and walk according to it. One of the temptations when there is adversity is to be quick to anger, but James urges, “for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”
Insight – In getting angry, some of us are like coal which takes a whole other fire to even get our ire up at all. And some of us are like gasoline. The slightest spark creates an explosion robbing the atmosphere of oxygen temporarily. Some of us suppress our anger impulses and have a nice 500 degree, grey charcoal fire which is good for grilling for several hours. Others of us have a five minute solar flare which ends in domestic abuse charges. What are you like? To this challenge James gives us very practical advice. If we listened righteously and spoke effectively, that would eliminate most wrath before it caught on fire.
Catechism – What does our anger not produce? Our anger does not produce God’s righteousness.
Discussion – What gets you the most angry? What happens when you get angry?
Prayer – Father in heaven, your are gracious and kind, your wrath is always just but our wrath is always unjust. Grant to us the grace to be slow to anger and to be quick to hear. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.