“Codes of Conduct”

Codes of Conduct (Jam. 1:19-20)

Wade Webster

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). The first two words - “so then” link these verses to the thoughts preceding them. Since God willed us to be a kind of first fruits among his creatures (Jam. 1:18), we should be careful how we conduct ourselves. As we look at these verses, we see three things - the spirit of the commands, the scope of the commands, and the specifics of the commands.

First, we see the spirit of the commands. James addressed his readers with the words “my beloved brethren” (Jam. 1:19). Fifteen times he uses the term “brethren” (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19). Eleven times he uses the term “my” with it (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12:; 5:10, 12). Three times he uses the term “beloved” with it (1:16, 19; 2:5). “Brother” is used four times (1:9; 2:15; 4:11) and “sister” is used once (2:15). James counted his readers as his brothers and sisters. He loved them dearly. The commands that he was about to give them were given out of love. The language becomes stronger later in the book when he deals with specific sins (Jam. 4:4). However, even then, he tempered his words with grace (Jam. 4:6).

Second, we see the scope of the commands. The commands were given to “every man” (1:19). No one was excluded. Every man must be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. Likely, we all struggle to some degree in these areas. In writing to the Christians at Colosse, Paul used the expression “every man” three times in one verse. He wrote, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28). Every man must be warned and taught because every man will one day appear before Jesus in judgment.

Third, we see the specifics of the commands. Three specific commands were given - be swift to hear, be slow to speak, and be slow to wrath (Jam. 1:19). Let’s examine each of these more closely. First, we are to be swift to hear. Sadly, most of us are slow to hear. We are poor listeners. We are listening for a pause in the conversation so that we can talk again. Even while the other person is talking, we are not really listening. We are thinking of what we are going to say next. Listening is hard work. It takes a concentrated effort. However, I think that James has more in mind than being a better listener in human conversations. He has in mind being quick to hear God. The Pentacostians and the Bereans are good examples of being swift hearers (Acts 2:41; 17:11). Sadly, some are quick to hear gossip, but slow to hear gospel. The Pentacostians and the Bereans were not like that. Second, we are to be slow to speak. The wise man Solomon declared, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19; cf. 17:27; 21:23). There is a clear connection between being swift to hear and being slow to speak. Solomon wrote, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13). Being slow to speak is especially needed when we are talking to God. Solomon declared, “Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few” (Eccl. 5:2). Given the context of trial and temptation (Jam. 1:2, 13), it would have been easy for James’ brethren to have murmured against God. Third, we are to be slow to wrath. This time, James gives the reason - the wrath of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God (1:20). In Proverbs, Solomon declared, “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, And a man of wicked intentions is hated” (Prov. 14:17; cf. 14:29; 19:19). In Ecclesiastes, he added, “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, For anger rests in the bosom of fools” (Eccl. 7:9). There is a clear connection between being slow to speak and being slow to wrath. Jesus declared, “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Mat. 5:22). Naaman is a good example of one lacking in this area (2 Kings 5:9-12).

With love for their souls, James commanded every one of his readers to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. These codes of conduct would allow them to fulfill God’s will for them to be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.