Grant Osborne on the Sermon Series Churches Need Most

This excerpt is adapted from James: Verse by Verse by Grant R. Osborne.

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James [1:19–26] begins with three characteristics of what we may call “people of the word,” those who truly center their lives on God’s principles for a proper walk with Christ. This provides not just the thesis of this section but another major emphasis of the book as a whole. It introduces everything that follows. . . .

Life’s difficulties will always provoke response, but we must be extremely careful to make it the proper response as defined in the three commands of verse 19. These stem from wisdom proverbs regarding anger and the misuse of the tongue, seen in ancient Jewish writings like Sirach 5:11 (“Be quick to listen and deliberate in giving an answer”; see also 6:33–35) or Pirqe Avot 5:12 (“There are four temperaments among students: Quick to understand and quick to forget … slow to understand and slow to forget”). The command to pay close attention is similar to Jesus’ “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matt 11:15; 13:9, 43; also Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 13:9). They must carefully heed the injunctions that follow.

This is the heart of ministry, a love for others and a compassionate presence that tells others you are there for them and care deeply, that they can bare their souls and be both accepted and aided in their needs.

Quick to listen

The three admonitions develop a wordplay on “quick-slow,” connoting a constant readiness and openness to listen carefully before speaking, first to God and then to those around you. 

This is the heart of ministry, a love for others and a compassionate presence that tells others you are there for them and care deeply, that they can bare their souls and be both accepted and aided in their needs. 

Listening is an act of love that is desperately needed today. 

“Quick to listen” is a very Jewish idea, including not only listening but also its result, acting on what is heard. When we listen to God, we will be constantly ready to heed God’s commands; when we listen to others, we will be ready to help.

Slow to speak

In contrast, our quickness to listen must involve being “slow to speak,” meaning a hesitation to speak out until we are certain we have heard all God (or the other person) is saying. This exhortation anticipates chapter 3, on the problem of the tongue. Proverbs 29:20 says, “Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them.” Proverbs 10:19 adds, “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut” (nlt; see also Prov 11:12–13; 13:3; 17:28; 18:21; 21:23). 

Most of us do exactly the opposite—shoot off our mouths before we understand and get it all wrong. 

In ministry we should never preach until we have studied the biblical text thoroughly, and in relationships we must understand a person thoroughly before giving our opinion.

Slow to anger

The third is equally critical. James states that our speech must proceed from careful listening, not from unreasoned, quick, and angry outbursts, which lead to hurt feelings and destroyed relationships. 

Uncontrolled anger leads to uncontrolled speech, and the type of deep-seated rage described here tends to destroy relationships. We see this in marriage, in parent-child interaction, and in friend-to-friend relationships. 

To be “slow to wrath” means that we carefully check our frustrations at the door. Of course, there is such a thing as indignation, righteous anger, but that is the subject of Ephesians 4:26 rather than of James here. The quick temper is very dangerous in every relationship.

This is one of the most needed sermon series in every church. 

The problem is that pastors have as much trouble with this as anyone else. 

We are seeing an epidemic of rage in our society, not just in school shootings and serial murders but in everyday interactions as well. 

There is a desperate need to deal with anger at every level of church and society. Disagreement and divisiveness have split churches in every age, and we must learn to share our frustrations and help each other to handle the hurts and wrongs we go through virtually every day. This type of anger is always the by-product of a self-centered life; we must learn from God to live for others more than for ourselves.

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This post is adapted from James: Verse by Verse by Grant R. Osborne, available now through Lexham Press. 

The headings and title of this post are the additions of the editor. The author’s views do not necessarily represent those of Faithlife.