I have a quick temper. Just ask my family. In an attempt to be repentant and Christlike, I typically have to take a few moments to gather myself when my wife frustrates me or my kids disobey. Sometimes I’m silent. Sometimes I have to leave the room and come back. If I’m not careful, I can be like a tea kettle with steam billowing out of my ears, my only way to cool off being an ice-water bath from the Holy Spirit.
I know I should be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19), but I don’t always do it. That’s because, ultimately, my mind doesn’t always connect to my heart. As James tells us in this passage, we can’t merely hear God’s Word—we have to act on it.
Belief is an interesting thing. Everyone believes in something, right? Not just normal beliefs, like “the grass is green” or “the sky is blue.” Everyone believes in deeper truths, like goodness and beauty and love and purpose. I believe it’s right to control my temper, yet often I act out anyway.
As Christians, our beliefs go even further. We confess and believe certain things about God and about how the universe does (or doesn’t) work. In other words, we don’t believe in a generic, watered-down God. The commands of Scripture and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are unique signposts for Christian living. They are how we move from a general morality to Christlikeness. They are how we are kept “unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
We do what we believe. According to Paul in Romans 10:9, what we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts is a matter of salvation, of eternity. James says elsewhere that even the demons believe (2:19)! And yet the demons are anything but godly. They are the embodiment of evil.
This command—“be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger”—is a perfect example of the difference between a hearer and a doer of the Word. We can believe one thing with our minds, but “the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (Matthew 12:34). Our ability to heed these words in James 1:19 reveals much about the state of our hearts.
Trust me, I should know.
Written by Brandon D. Smith