Friday, April 29, 2016

James Chapter One, Part 5

1:19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; (20) for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

James proceeds to give us some practical advice regarding our relationship with others. In hearing a matter we are informed to listen intently; the concept of being swift to hear simply means being willing to genuinely listen to someone. This might mean hearing someone telling you about a trial of theirs, or of a fellow saint falling to temptation, or any matter that would invoke a saint's judgment. Now I do not use the term judgment in the modern sense, as in condemnation; but rather judgment in a deliberate and intelligent effort to discern good and evil, and to separate a proper course of action from a foolish or sinful one. Jesus gives two examples.

In Matthew 7 our Lord warns us to "Judge not, that you be not judged," verse 1. The term "judge" can be switched with condemn, and in that light it is clear what Jesus is getting at. The person in question stands as a judge, on his own authority, condemning others by his own internal values. Such people are hypocrites, since no man even measures up to his own standards, much less God's perfect standard: absolute sinlessness, Matthew 7:2-6. Such people are quick to condemn without searching matter out and learning the truth of it; such people see faults and flaws and sin in everyone else but themselves. This is especially intolerable in professing Christians.

The second usage, also given by our Lord, denotes what James is getting at in this passage. In John 7:24 we read "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." Jesus had just healed a man on the Sabbath day, which the Jews found highly offensive. The Jews had what we call a "pat answer"ready for Him. He must die for breaking the Sabbath. But had He broken it? Just prior to the verse in question Jesus addresses the issue and the Jews by saying "I did one work, and you all marvel. Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?" John 7:21-23. He was cautioning them not to jump to conclusions but understand what had really happened to the best of their understanding, and based on what they understood to come to a reasonable and thoughtful conclusion. Jesus appealed to Scripture as the foundational authority for His actions, and used Scripture to demonstrate that His actions were not done to violate the Sabbath but rather demonstrate its purpose. If the Jews of His day would have practiced James' advice, they would have been eager to listen and reserved judgment until they understood more fully what had happened, and why. We are in fact told to judge, to come to adamant conclusions, but not based on pat answers, tradition or whimsy. It is based on sound reasoning whose foundation is God's unalterable word.

It seems here that James reveals a fatal flaw in the type of thinking that makes men judge hastily: anger. Something excites us emotionally and it is with emotion that we respond. Thinking and emotion are, at times, diametrically opposed. Right thinking should be buttressed by emotional conviction; a man should not reach a state of adamant decision on sentiment or emotion and then defend his position with intelligent remarks; intelligent only in the sense that someone is unwilling to be removed from a sentimental or emotionally biased opinion and is now willing to defend their position with everything in their academic arsenal. There is such a thing as righteous anger, but Paul warns us that this is even a dangerous thing because of our sin nature. "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil," Ephesians 4:26-27. There would not be a warning about anger leading to sin, even righteous anger, if it were not a very present and real danger. Paul instructs us to not dwell on anger, or permit it to fester in us, or we give Satan an opening to come in and tempt us further. Anger is a strong emotion that can cloud human judgment quite easily. James cautions us that man's wrath (anger) does not equate into a righteousness God finds acceptable. Christians ought to be sober and self-controlled; peaceable and willing to yield. That does not mean we must yield when strong conviction from Scripture and reason support our judgment; but to yield to opposing arguments that reveal a deficiency in our thinking. We must practice haring that actually absorbs what is being said, rational faculties that determine truth based on Scripture, and a patient spirit that does not immediately answer from emotional stimuli or trained responses. Moreover, anger is not our ally. James and Paul warn us against it because in the end anger toward someone only urges us not to reason with them or deduce the truth; it urges us to win, to get victory or vengeance no matter the cost. It makes us stubborn and willful and useless.

I can honestly say that I have been angry more often than I should, especially about matters that do not necessitate such energy. The Holy Spirit transforms us, maturing us to receive the mind of Christ so we can put away such childish things and reason soberly with our fellow saints and an unbelieving world. God does not invite argument or emotion when He communicates with mankind. Rather, His tactic is in fact this: "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the Lord...if you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the fruit of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword" for the mouth of the Lord has spoken," Isaiah 1:18-20. A willingness to genuinely listen will yield much reward; it will stimulate empathy in you toward others, and that is what our Lord did on this earth. We are left in His stead and can do no differently. Refusal leads to rebellion, and refusal generally comes because of an emotional response and an unwillingness to hear arguments that might answer superficial objections. We use our vaunted learning and human wisdom to guard our biases, because we think if we can keep them intact from human inspection they must be sound. But the truth is we never really allow such biases to be genuinely and thoroughly inspected. To those receiving criticism regarding our faith from fellow saints, James' counsel also applies. Solomon writes "Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser, teach a just man, and he will increase in learning," Proverbs 9:9. Only the suppliant who humbles himself to ask of God in faith will truly attain wisdom, James 1:5-6. Only the saint led by the Holy Spirit will truly hearken to James' counsel when it comes to matters of judgment. We must beware the warning in Scripture about those who wantonly violate such matters: "you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil," Hebrews 5:12-14.

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"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," 2nd Timothy 3:16.

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All Scripture is taken from the King James Bible (KJV) or New King James Bible (NKJV). Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.