Quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger


James, Part 8

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created. Understand this, dear brothers and sisters: Everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore, put away all the filth and evil in your lives and humbly accept the word planted in you, for it has the power to save your souls. 
James 1:18-21

Ten or twelve years had passed since Jesus had ascended to heaven. The church was growing, but persecution had scattered Christ followers all over the empire. Many were without spiritual guidance.  James, half-brother of Jesus and the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem, wrote a letter to encourage those who followed the way of Jesus. In verse 18, he speaks of the new birth that comes through God’s Word. Those who are born again are described as the “first fruits” of God’s grace.

In verses 19–27, James describes what life as a “first-fruit” looks like in action. Essentially, it is a life dedicated to “the word of truth.” In verse 19, James offers a specific example. He says apprentices of Jesus are to be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry. Why does James use hasty speech and anger as examples? Because the people he is writing to were prone to anger and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Like many of us.

James links anger with a loose tongue for reasons all of us can relate to. Think back to the last disagreement you had with a loved one. Did words spoken in the passion of the moment cause tempers to flare? Were you quick (eager) to listen to their side of the story, or were you just waiting for them to shut up so you could have your say?

In verse 20, James explains why apprentices of Jesus are to be slow to anger: “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Human anger usually creates an environment that moves us away from the Lord rather than toward him. When we get angry, we often say and do things that hurt others and dishonor God. Broken relationships and regret follows. Which is why verse 21 says, “put away all filth and evil in your lives and humbly accept the word planted in you…”

  • The word translated “filth” is rhuparian. Because the word stems from a medical term for waxy buildup in the ear, some translate “put away all filth” as “get the wax out of your ears.”
  • The word translated “evil” is kakias. When this word is used in the Bible in reference to behavior, it describes a malicious attitude that enjoys hurting others.

James exhorts believers to live a virtuous life and uses a metaphor about clothing that is often found in the Bible–we are to “take off” our filthy sin-soiled garments and “put on” the virtues of Christ:

  • In Zechariah 3, an angel instructs a priest to take off his soiled clothing and says, “I will put rich garments on you.”
  • In Ephesians 4, the church is told to “put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
  • Paul told the Christians in Colossae to “put aside all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:8–12).
  • James tells followers of Jesus to “put away all the filth and evil in your lives and humbly accept the word planted in you…”

The lifestyle described in these passages is proactive. We have an important role in “taking off” the old garment and “putting on” the new.

There’s no “let go and let God” here. 

We are told to set our hearts on things above and engage in our world, to be salt and light, dispensing love and being an ambassador for Jesus. And all good ambassadors have three things in common:

  • they are attentive listeners and value understanding more than winning
  • they are careful with their words
  • they are not easily angered

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are his ambassador. Take some time this week to read 2 Corinthians 5:17–21. Below is a copy of the NIV translation with blanks substituted for the pronouns. Fill in your name and read it a few times out loud.


If _____________ is in Christ, _____________ is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled _____________ to himself through Christ and gave _____________ the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to _____________ the message of reconciliation. _____________ is therefore Christ’s ambassador, as though God were making his appeal through _____________. _____________ implores you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for _____________, so that in him _____________ might become the righteousness of God.


An ambassador. God’s representative. A spokesperson for Jesus. This is who God says you are. And while I’m not sure who the Lord has arranged for you to talk with on his behalf this week, I pray you will be an amazing ambassador for your King!

Next: James is addressing people who have put their faith in Jesus and have been regenerated (born-again), but in verse 20 he speaks of a salvation that is still to come. We’ll look at what James has to say about salvation–past, present, and future.

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