James 1:20 – “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
In every interaction with our fellow man, especially about religious subjects or God’s word, there is the matter of the discussion (ie. the topic), and there is the manner of how it is brought forth. The manner is just as important as the matter, because if the manner is improper, the matter, and thus the purpose of the discussion, is lost, and even Christ’s character of humility, that we are to emulate (Matt 11:29), is marred.
Puritan Thomas Manton in his most excellent work “A Practical Commentary, or an Exposition with Notes, on the Epistle of James” cautions us to be careful how we bring forth truths, where an improper manner defeats the purpose, and causes more conflict.
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Thomas Manton – James Commentary
From Thomas Manton:
Here he renders a reason of the last clause [vs. 19: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:], why they should take heed of this indignation and rising of their hearts against the word, because the wrath of man would hinder them from attaining that righteousness, and accomplishing that duty, which God requireth in his word.
Obs 1. From the context, the worst thing that we can bring to a religious controversy is anger. The context speaks of anger occasioned by differences about the word. Usually no affections are so outrageous as those which are engaged in the quarrel of religion; for then that which should bridle the passion is made the fuel of it, and that which should restrain undue heats and excesses engages them. However, this should not be.
Christianity, of all religions, is the meekest and most humble. It is founded upon the blood of Christ, who is a lamb slain. It is consigned and sealed by the Spirit of Christ, who descended like a dove. Both are emblems of a meek and modest humility; and should a meek religion be defended by our violences, and the God of peace served with wrathful affections, and the madness of an evil nature bewray itself in the best cause? Christ’s warfare needs not such carnal weapons; as Achish said, “Have I need of madmen” (1 Sam. xxi. 15), so hath Jesus Christ need of our passions and furies? Does the God of heaven need a “tongue set on fire of hell?” (James iii. 6.) Michael the archangel was engaged in the best cause against the worst adversary, with Satan about the body of Moses; and yet the purity of his nature would not permit him to profane his engagement with any excess and indecency of passion: “He durst not bring against him a railing accusation” (Jude 9).
And as the wrath of man is unsuitable to the matters of God, so it is also prejudicial. When tongue is sharpened against tongue, and pen against pen, what follows? Nothing but mutual animosities and hatreds, whereby, if we gain aught [anything] of truth, we lose much of love and goodness. Satan would fain [be glad to] be even with God. The devil’s kingdom is mostly ruined by the rage of his own instruments, and you cannot gratify Satan more than when you wrong the truth by an unseemly defence of it; for then he [Satan] seems to be quits [even] with Christ, overturning his [Christ’s] kingdom by those which are engaged in the defence of it.
Briefly then, if you would do good, use a fit means. The barking dog loses the prey: violence and furious prosecution seldom gain. Those engage most successfully that use the hardest arguments and the softest words; whereas railings and reviling, as they are without love, so they are without profit. Be watchful: our religious affections may often overset us.
May God grant we be meek and lowly, as Christ tells us to learn from Him, even in our approaches with others when we have the truth on our side, and may He grant we always represent Him well wherever we are or with whomever we are engaged in interactions.