For those of you who are joining this blog series for the first time, I am sharing insights from the Holy Spirit as I was led to read the Book of James during a season of pruning last year. Just scroll in this blog and you will find the first two parts.
Today, I will be sharing from James 1 verse 19 to the end of the chapter. I have divided these verses into two topics – Wrath, the Testimony Destroyer and Going Beyond Knowledge.
Wrath, the Testimony Destroyer (James 1:19-21)
The first thing I need us to be clear about is that there is nothing wrong with being angry in and of itself. There are times when anger is required, particularly when it is directed at something that has been done that we deem to be unjust. When I typed in the word “angry” in my YouVersion Bible verse search, a multitude of scriptures came up showing that even God gets angry. Jesus was angry when He overturned the tables of the money changers and those who were doing trade in the temple (Mt. 21:12; Mk. 11:15). Ephesians 4:26 and Psalms 4:4 imply that we can be angry without sinning but there is a line that can be crossed when anger becomes sin. We are also told in Ecclesiastes 7:9 “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry. For anger rests in the bosom of fools.” This verse, together with the verses we are focusing on in James, point us to the fact that if we are easily angered then we must begin to look into ourselves because the propensity to be angry is not the disposition of someone who has the wisdom of God operating in his or her life.
The second thing I want to highlight is the difference between anger and wrath. In the KJV and NKJV, the word used by James is “wrath” while in some other versions such as the NIV the word “anger” is used. Wrath has at its root the desire for vengeance. The AMP version speaks to wrath as being resentful, deep-seated anger. It is obvious from James 1:20 that this type of anger does not produce the standard of behaviour that God requires and if we link it to verse 21 it is acknowledged that anger in the form of wrath is considered “filthiness” and an “overflow of wickedness”. It is an outworking of the wickedness that is within the heart of man.
Of course, we know when someone has tipped the scale from righteous anger to wrath by the words that are spoken. This is why we are warned to be slow to speak when we are experiencing anger. This allows us the time to assess the motivation behind the anger we are feeling and the emotions we are feeling towards the person(s) who has provoked anger in us. Is it righteous indignation? A desire to let the person see the wrong they have committed so we can bring about change? Or is this anger directed at attacking the person because we feel wronged and want them to hurt and somehow malign their character because of some wrong we feel they have done to us? A sign of a mature Christian is the ability to manage emotions. Temperance (self-control) is listed as one of the components of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. When our words spew with vitriol against another we are not representing God before men. We are, in fact, destroying our own testimony. Rather than destroying the character of the other person against whom your anger is directed you are bringing your own character into disrepute. This can happen in a flash. All of the good you have done in your life and the good reputation you have built up to be able to spread the gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ and His gift of salvation with credibility can be destroyed in an instant by an uncontrolled tongue speaking under the influence of wrath. Remember, wrath is deep seated anger. Deep seated where? In our souls. Therefore, we are told in James 1:21 that the way to overcome this propensity for vengeful anger is to humbly acknowledge that we have it, that it is wickedness and in this spirit of humility seek to displace wrath by implanting the Word of God in our hearts (souls) thereby saving our souls. This brings us to the second topic for today.
Going Beyond Knowledge (James 1:22-27)
Father God wants us to move beyond knowledge to understanding and wisdom (Prov. 2:3, 4:5-7). Understanding speaks to interpreting properly the meaning of the words gained from hearing or reading the Word while wisdom is the ability to apply the Word in accordance with what is intended by Father God to bring about transformation through the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). We are told in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that knowledge is common place, we all have it, but knowledge by itself “puffs up”. In other words, knowledge alone without the proper spirit in operation can lead to pride and arrogance. We can go to church every Sunday, Bible study every week, and all the conferences that are on offer and, in the end, if we do not allow what we have heard to bring about a change in our mindset so we begin thinking and acting as God requires then the knowledge is useless. Even more than that, the knowledge can become harmful.
God expects us to apply His Word to our lives. Not just to read it and then go away as though it meant nothing. As you read God’s Word, you must allow the Word of God to read you. In other words, allow time for thoughtful reflection on the Word to see its relevance for your own life and obey what the Word says. When the Word begins to have an impact on you, you will not just say any and anything that comes to your mind without first thinking to see if it lines up with God’s truth. Ultimately, if God’s Word is not having an impact on your thoughts, words and actions then you are simply pursuing a religious ritual when you read or listen to the Word.
Others know if we are who we say we are by our actions (Mt. 7:16, 20). God wants us to move beyond merely hearing His Word and gaining knowledge to putting His Word into action through righteous living and acts of service. What means most to God is the reflection of the image of His Son Jesus Christ through the lives of believers. Jesus Christ went about doing good (Acts 10:38) not just spending time in the Word but showing the Word in action by touching the lives of those in need and living a holy life. So, we who are called by His Name ought to do likewise. Therein is God glorified.