James speaks as a realist. He recognizes the specific hindrances that block our faith, and he calls them out for us. Ego and anger, James knows, are two serious impediments to doing God’s will. Today’s verses move from God’s action to the action expected of us. The author addresses the importance of listening undergirded by moderate speech and slowness to anger.
James would probably advocate for anger management classes. But he would have a different purpose in mind than those we name in our day. We attend anger-management groups so others won’t be hurt by our out-of-control anger. But James takes this idea a step further by reminding us that our “anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” What a great insight!
New Testament experts typically interpret “anger” in the Bible as a sign of sin. But James explains anger even more profoundly. He insists that our behavior begin with God’s righteousness, rather than by trying to earn God’s righteousness. But how can we rely on God’s righteousness to eclipse our anger when we are so painfully human? James is a realist about that question as well. Go back to the beginning of the passage to find his answer. Do you see it in verse 17? Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above. When we choose forgiveness over anger and stop trying to use our anger as self-righteousness, we surrender to the gift of forgiveness that we first received in Christ Jesus.
God, who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, we know your love comes through your grace. Help us learn how to manage our anger and how to surrender it to the hope that only you provide. Amen.
The poetry of Song of Solomon is thick with romantic imagery, and most scholars agree that these lines mean what they say on the surface; they are written from the author to the beloved. Psalm 45 echoes the refrain of admiration and desire. Such desire is not wrong if it is awakened at the proper time, as the author of Song of Solomon says elsewhere. James argues that ethical living is done not in word but in deed. True religion is not putting on a show but displaying mercy and controlling the tongue. Jesus rebukes some of the religious leaders in Mark on this very account because they talk of obedience to God but do not live it out. What we say and what we do should match.
• Read Song of Solomon 2:8-13. The narrative poetry of Song of Solomon invites us into the Bible in a way that differs from other texts. How does God speak to you through this poetry?
• Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9. Intimate human love can reflect God’s love. How do your relationships honor the gift of love?
• James 1:17-27. How do you bring God’s love to those who need it?
• Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. Are you simply going through the motions of faith, or is your heart close to God?
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