Actions: the character of God

James 1:19-20

After James' opening discussion on the realities of trials and temptations, he moved into the realm of practical living, beginning with the issue anger. What is now an old "modern" proverb finds its roots in this letter of James and even further back. Even for James, it echoes something with greater and older foundations. It seems likely that James, given his Jewish heritage, was echoing one of the classic descriptions of God. Also, it brings to my mind an old proverb, "A patient man has great understanding." (Proverbs 14:29) In the words of James:

"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires."

The words of James from the beginning of his letter have a sense of urgency for the Christian life; here, I believe it is of no exception. In his discourse of trials and temptation; he continued to build upon another area of the Christian life–anger. James' line of argument interestingly uses the Old Testament description of God, as mentioned earlier, found numerous times through the Old Testament. (Neh. 9:17; Ps. 103:8, 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3 cf. Pr. 15:18, 16:32) As there are so many similar descriptions of God found in the Old Testament, it would be fair to believe that this was one of many common descriptions that was used in worship and teaching of God. Alongside "slow to anger" are many other descriptions, worth taking the time to examine.

Other descriptions of God that were synonymously found with "slow to anger" were: "merciful and gracious", "full of forgiveness" and "full of compassion/kindness". In the book of Proverbs, it gives two proverbs of the person who is slow to anger, firstly, appeases trouble rather than causing it by anger (Pr. 15:18); secondly, has great self-control better than the conqueror of lands (Pr. 16:32). There characteristics mark the life of a mature Christian. As Paul writes:

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Eph. 5:22-23)

Interestingly, the last on Paul's list was self-control. Obviously, there is something to be said about the one who has self-control. Self-control, common sense would tell us, go hand in hand in controlling one's anger. As mentioned earlier, James sees the Christian life reflecting the character of God. In Paul's words, "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Eph. 5:1-2) In short, the words of Paul and James call Christians to develop the character after the character of God.

Understanding this has huge implications for the Christian, that is, they are to reflect the image of God each day of their life, each hour of the day, each moment that passes, they are to be "imitators of God". As Jesus said on many occasions, it is His disciples that obey His commands and live the life He showed them, that will shine like lights to all the people around them showing themselves to be children of God. (i.e. Mt. 5:13-16; Jn. 15:8) It is nothing short of a daily sacrifice of our own personal desires and nature to the will of God, inviting His Holy Spirit to live through us, empowering us, guiding us, and revealing in us the areas of our life which are not like the character of God. God is a holy God, therefore, "Be holy, because I [God] am holy." (1 Pet. 1:16)