One of the problems we confront with the commands of God is that invariably they run counter to our human desires and the nature of our flesh. We don’t need to be commanded to do what we enjoy doing or what we want to do. Hence the necessity of commands, which are intended to impel us to behave in a way that is contrary to our natural inclinations. Certainly, the command before us today exemplifies that necessity: “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (Jam. 1:19).
“This you know, my beloved brethren.” It is a blessed work of inspiration that James prefaces this command with the foregoing statement. At least two things are remarkable about it. First, it demonstrates the fact that God’s commands do not come out of left field, so to speak. His commands are given within the context of doctrinal instruction and spiritual promises. Among other things, James has heretofore assured us that God is the magnanimous sole giver of “every good thing given and every perfect gift” (v. 17) and that we have been redeemed in order to reap the blessed benefits of being “a kind of first fruits among His creatures” (v. 18), or those specially set apart for God’s use. Second, James reminds us that commands are not to be viewed as annoyances or exasperating interruptions of our lives but special tokens of God’s love (“beloved brethren”) for those He has redeemed.
“Be quick to hear.” We are immediately arrested by this brief imperative because “quickness” is not something we naturally associate with hearing. But it is a graphic and effective way to describe a spirit of readiness to receive instruction from God, who is commanding us to cultivate an eager willingness to receive what the Word of God has to say to us. Whether in our private study, in messages from the pulpit, or in conversations with our brethren, we are required to give heed to God’s voice. The command suggests more than just a willingness to allow our ears to be filled with the words of the Bible; it surely indicates that we are to give heed to those words, to obey from the heart. Are we eager to have our lives transformed according to God’s Word?
“[Be] slow to speak.” Ouch! How quick we are to offer our opinions, express our feelings, excuse our weaknesses, and defend our sins. Someone has rightly observed that I don’t learn anything when I am speaking (and quite possibly neither does anyone else). Yet most of us want to be heard. But when we obey this command at least two positive things happen: we don’t put our own ignorance or carnality on display, and we may learn some valuable truths. And what could be more valuable than hearing from God? But the command may suggest another idea as well. We should carefully and prayerfully weigh our words before giving counsel to others. Our first thought (even our second) may not represent the counsel that comes from God’s Word. Instead, it might express our ignorance, prejudice, or carnal desire. Waiting to speak will afford us a better opportunity to give wise counsel. There is no advantage to anyone if we simply want to be the first one to be heard.
“[Be] slow to anger. At first blush, it may appear that James has abruptly changed gears with this command. What has this to do with being swift to hear and slow to speak? Perhaps the answer may be found in the thought that this command speaks of our response to what we hear. When the Spirit of God pokes our conscience with the pointed finger of the Word, we are commanded to resist becoming angry, resentful, and bitter. The anger mentioned here does not refer to a sudden outburst of temper (though that too is to be avoided) but that resentment that simmers and simmers beneath the surface; it may never boil over, but it eats like an acid everything it touches. We must be watchful that we do not refuse or reject the commands of God and allow our rebellion to fester and infect our entire being. We should quickly yield our wills to that of the Lord. In so doing, we will reap the rich rewards of ones upon whom “the Father of lights” delights to bestow “every good thing” and “every perfect gift.”
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