James Series | Writings

James 1:19-20 Three Rules for Christians on Social Media…and Everywhere Else

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.

A Quick Disclaimer…

Before we jump into the application of today’s text (and it’s a doozy), I have to make a confession. I’m not quite sure how this verse fits in with the rest of the text.

Here’s what I mean:

The translation above, as well as the one I use in Portuguese, seem to indicate that this is a continuation of the previous thought. “So then” carries the idea that the present concept is a direct result of the previous concept. That being the case, a paraphrase might look something like this: In the midst of trials and temptations, we must remember that we are the first-fruits of God’s creation. And because of that, we should act a certain way.

The only problem with that is that, in the original, I can find no indication of this kind of sequential language. The first word of the verse simply means “Hear this”, which would seem to me an abrupt switch…kind of as if James were saying “New subject!”

The literary side of me wants it to be the first option. The Greek nerd side of me wants it to be the second.

Which brings us to the actual exhortation, where we realize that, whatever the textual positioning may be, first-century James has put his finger on a major problem for twenty-first century Christians – namely, the way we act on social media.

“But Andrew,” one might protest, “James never saw Christian Twitter.”

I’m aware. If he had, he might have put these two verses in much stronger terms.

James exhorts us to three attitudes here: swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. Let’s tackle these one-by-one:

Swift to hear. How many times have you and I failed to do due diligence over some piece of information we read on Facebook? How quick are we to accept something as fact simply because it fits the narrative we have constructed in our head? I know that I have been embarrassed more times than I care to remember upon learning that something I presented as fact was, in fact, fiction.

And I guess a related question would be, how do we deal with being shown to have been wrong? Do we have the humility and grace to admit it, or do we double down, or hope nobody notices? Being swift to hear means listening and getting all the facts.

Slow to speak. This second observation is intrinsically related to the first. When we do not take the time to hear properly, we are apt to go off with our own opinion, thus exponentially increasing our chances of making a fool of ourselves. Once again, I have been guilty of this on numerous occasions.

Slow to wrath. So what about when we have checked our facts, spoken the truth, and that person on the other side of the monitor just will not accept the rightness of our position? That can be frustrating. Annoying. Irritating, even. Surely this is the moment to take up the sword of truth and smite a blow for the Lord!

I’ll not deny that there are those times, but I believe they come around much less frequently than we would like to believe. Many of our “battles for Truth” are actually just our inability to accept that someone on the internet might be wrong.

James underscores this truth with his statement in verse 20. In modern parlance, we might read it thus: Your hissy-fit on Facebook is not doing God any favors.

I’m grateful for the opportunities presented to us by social media. I am able to share what is going on here in Brazil with a far wider audience than my missionary forebears would have ever thought possible. But there are many pitfalls – among them an increased ability to demonstrate a carnal attitude in my interactions with others.

May God give us all the grace to be gracious online.

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