Knowing the passions that often arise in human hearts, James gives a template for reaction: “Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). This instruction is given to “every man,” so no one is exempt from its importance. It places an emphasis on understanding, patience, and receiving rather than defending, being understood, or passionate expression. What is the underlying reason why believers should do this? “The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (v. 20). Even when fueled with the most intense feelings and desires to set things right, natural human anger does not lead to the tenor of reaction that is glorifying to God. Humans make bad judgment calls, get caught up in biases, and even take things too far. It is better to focus on listening, understanding, and patience, and then slowly react.
But true hearing isn’t wholly passive. God’s children are called to receive His Word into their lives and then to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (v. 22). The idea of deception comes up again, first about sin (in the previous week’s lesson), and now about deviating from the outworking of the Word in one’s life. Being a hearer of the Word and not a doer runs parallel to receiving all manner of life-changing paradigms, truth, and beauty and yet forgetting them, not letting them change one’s life. What good is that?
Blessing doesn’t come in knowing; blessing comes by living according to that knowing. As life is made up of days in and days out, blessings come from living according to the word in a consistent, ever-expanding way.
In addition to reactions to our own emotions and reactions to truth, believers are also called to a godly reaction to the world. Instead of side-shuffling or cowering in the sight of the suffering of others, humanity is called to visit such sufferers in their trouble. Instead of giving them a wide berth, believers should join them in community. Suffering does not sideline anyone from the gospel; it’s where the gospel is most appreciated. Finally, the last reaction that James touches on is to the wickedness of the world itself. The response of the individual members and collective church should be to remain unspotted from it.
Thus, in everything from one’s emotions to the throes of surrounding suffering, there is a godly reaction possible through “receiv[ing] with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (v. 21).