James 1:19-21 CSB – 19 My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
I am smiling as I write this. When I write, I try to imagine my “audience,” i.e. what would I say if I were sitting on the sofa next to a friend, shoes off, legs curled up, mug of coffee or tea in hand (maybe even a purring kitty or soft dog nose nearby, if you are so inclined) . . .
and then, this particular passage
and this title . . .
so, stop the eye roll; silence the “judgment” voices in your head; and listen (which is really the point of the passage anyway)
Even before I knew how to frame the vocabulary, motive has been an integral part of me. My mother tells me that “why?” was not only nearly my first word (I think “no!” was in that early category as well) but a frequent discussion. Not so much the “how does this work?” why (that’s my husband, to a tee), but the “what’s the point?” “why is this important?” “what’s in it for me?” “who’s gonna make me?” — yes, you can also know that I had a strong will even before Dobson coined the term . . .
I came to Christ with a lot of sin. A lot of independence. A lot of self-will. There was a lot of re-learning that needed to happen; but at the core, my motivations needed to be redeemed. I needed to align my “why?” and “who’s gonna make me?” to submission to a sovereign God who loved me, created me, and knew what was best for me.
It was not an easily-learned lesson. It is still an on-going process. It is getting easier . . .
And, I have also learned over the years, that, at least for me, there is little hope of a change in behavior unless and until there is a change in motivation.
I want to live a life that is pleasing to God:
Psalm 119:10-11 CSB – 10 I have sought you with all my heart; don’t let me wander from your commands. 11 I have treasured your word in my heart so that I may not sin against you.
I want God to show me how to live:
Psalm 25:4-5 CSB – 4 Make your ways known to me, LORD; teach me your paths. 5 Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; I wait for you all day long.
So, what does all this self-disclosure have to do with the James passage at the top of this post?
Motivation . . .
I can’t grit my teeth and force myself to obey a list of arbitrary rules so that God will like me better. Tried that for more years than I care to admit. It does not work. Makes you tired, defeated, hopeless . . .(that is another post, for another time).
I can’t sustain the self-discipline to outwardly conform to a list of rules in order to prove to others that I am worthy, that I am a “true disciple.” It does not work. Makes you tired, self-righteous, judgmental, unloving . . .
Here comes some exciting news — God cares about motivation! In his mercy, he does not just shout out arbitrary commands and say, “don’t ask me why, just do it or else.” And, ironically, God is the One who has the absolute right to say, “obey because I said so” because God is the Creator, the Sovereign of all creation, and God makes the rules. But, because of his steadfast love and mercy, God gives us a “why” . . .
So, why should I be quick (tachys prompt, not procrastinating) to listen (akouo to hear with the intent of understanding), slow to speak (laleo to use words in order to declare one’s mind and disclose one’s thoughts), and slow to anger (orge indignation, wrath)?
God tells me the “why” —
human anger does not accomplish (ergazomai produce, bring about) God’s righteousness (dikaiosyne the standard that God’s holiness demands).
I want to live a life that is pleasing to God. Not so that God will like me better (see above). Not so I can be better than ____ (see above). Jesus died and rose again to pay the penalty for all my sin, so that I could be reconciled to God (be in right relationship) and be justified (rendered righteous). God made me. My Creator knows best how I should live, how I should best flourish. God has a purpose for me (see Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 2:12,13; Psalm 57:1-2), and I want to accomplish that purpose.
And, because God is so merciful and good, he not only answers my “why” but also gives a “how” —
rid yourself (apotithemi cast off, put aside, give it up) of all moral filth (rhyparia defilement, dishonor) and the evil (kakia malice, ill-will, desire to injure) that is so prevalent ( or the abundance of evil, perisseia speaks to the wickedness remaining over in the Christian from his state prior to conversion),
humbly (praytes essentially recognizing and believing and acting on the truth that I am not God, and that God knows better what is for my good) receive (dechomai to receive favorably, give ear to, embrace, make one’s own, approve, not to reject) the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.)
The “how” is being in God’s Word. Not just a 5-minute or less letting the letters pass over your eyes. Read with the intent to understand. Read with the intent to obey. Read with the desire to know the God that is the subject of the Word. Read with the understanding that it is God who gives the wisdom to understand (see Proverbs 2:6) and that God is my teacher (Psalm 119:102).
O God, my perfect Father, you know what is best for me. You have a purpose for me, and I so want to follow you. You have saved me, and I love you. Help me to listen to others with the intent to understand, not just the words, but also the heart motivations. Help me to really listen, not just formulate my thoughts and wait for the first opportunity to jump in and disclose them. Help me not to jump to conclusions, to assume evil intent. Help me to trust you to care for me.
I want people to know what you have said, who you are. I don’t want my opinions, my feelings to get in the way. Teach me your Word, Lord. Give me understanding. Show me where I am believing lies and teach me the truth. Help me renounce everything that is contrary to what you have said, and accept your Word, and obey you. You are my God, my Savior.