Much patience is needed among the church members so that we may continue to flourish as a loving, united and God-honouring church family. Without patience towards one another, we will not be able to handle weaknesses, shortcomings and even hurts that might occur within our church family. A happy and effective church is a household of believers who bear with one another with longsuffering.
The Apostle James advises Christians, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19, 20). This prudent counsel of James is of particular help to us, that we may be a people who give opportunity for everyone to grow unto maturity. Let us now carefully consider these words of James.
This passage begins with the connective particle “wherefore”, which refers us to James’ discussion in the preceding verse that God begat Christians according to His will by the truth of His Word. All genuine Christians are the children of His family. In this regard, James addressed fellow believers as “my beloved brethren”. Then he exhorted them as to how they should conduct themselves as children of God’s family.
The first conduct of a child of God that James teaches, is that he ought to “be swift to hear”. The primary emphasis of this advice is that every Christian ought to be eager and ready to hear God’s Word. Listening attentively to the instructions of the divine truth, by which every Christian is begotten, is crucial in the life of God’s child. His foremost calling is to be a student, rather than a teacher, of God’s Word. He must be teachable and have a great appetite to feed on God’s truth. A holy curiosity and a receptive spirit are paramount if he is to grow in the knowledge of God.
The second conduct of a child of God that James teaches, is that he ought to be “slow to speak”. This is certainly not an advice to promote some kind of unsociable reserve. There is no virtue in being uncommunicative. We are not forbidden from speaking altogether. We are not taught to abstain from speaking entirely, but to be slow to speak. The admonition is against talkativeness and hastiness to be a teacher. Such restraint in speech has been taught in the wisdom books of the Bible. Proverbs 10:19 reminds us, “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” Proverbs 17:27 says, “He that hath knowledge spareth his words.” In Ecclesiastes 5:2, we are warned: “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God.”
The third conduct of a child of God that James teaches, is that he ought to be “slow to wrath”. Quicktemperedness and fiery outbursts will lead to many great and heinous offences and sins. So we are to control our temper. Moreover, to be a good learner of God’s Word, one needs to be patient in spirit. Let us not be angry, especially when we are rebuked and corrected by His Word. Proverbs 14:29 reminds us, “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding.” He who is slow to anger shall attain wisdom and honour, but the wrathful man, only foolishness and shame.
In verse 20, we are given the reason for James’ earlier admonition that every Christian ought to be slow to wrath. “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”
A great number of Christians are in need of this reminder, for many seem to be ignorant of this truth or have conveniently forgotten about it. Christians so often foolishly burst into wrath without having full understanding of a matter, or worse, after having misunderstood or misjudged a matter. One’s impatience and ungoverned temper often numb his mind from exercising proper reasoning and righteous judgment. A volatile temperament will also certainly hinder one from exercising Christian graces such as patience, mercy and forgiveness.
Every Christian ought to take seriously the caution that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God”. Scripture does teach us abundantly how the wrath of man works against the righteousness of God. Proverbs 27:4 warns us that “wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous”. When anger is unchecked, it produces merciless and hurtful conduct. The anger kept within the heart will soon become uncontrollable, suddenly ventilating itself by yelling at others, shouting insults and vulgarities, hurting and injuring others, throwing things around and destroying them, etc.
Proverbs 15:18 states, “A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.” A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension and easily picks up a fight. In this proverb, he is set against the peacemaker, which demonstrates how quarrelsome an angry person could be. Anger and hatred will cause strife in the family or at the workplace or in the church (cf. Proverbs 10:12; 29:22).
Proverbs 29:22b points out that “a furious man aboundeth in transgression”. There is no stopping the offences by an angry person. Mischief will flow from an angry, passionate, furious disposition. Furthermore, “He that is soon angry”, warns Proverbs 14:17, “dealeth foolishly”. Verse 29 of Proverbs 14 affirms this fact by pointedly declaring that “he that is hasty of spirit (i.e. to anger) exalteth folly”. So let us restrain our wrath at once, and refrain from sin.