“Why do I smell fish?” That was the cry of horror coming from outside the break room, where I sat delightfully enjoying a cod filet seasoned with garlic and herbs. I could hear footsteps pacing between the desks as my anti-fish nemesis approached the break room door. The peaceful oasis of the break room was about to come to an abrupt demise. The door wildly flung open, and there was my co-worker in all her majestic glory, ready for battle. In as loud a voice as she could muster, she screamed, “Chris!” She then slammed the door and stormed away. She didn’t like fish.
In the New Testament letter of James, the text states, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (1:19).” Hearing these words brings to mind a sage sitting on top of a mountain, giving advice about living in a world in which he or she does not live. Do these words ring true when the anti-fish Gestapo storm the room because of your chosen dish? In the moment, the heart may desire to react in anger or retreat in fear. When another person’s rage focuses on you, the reaction is not typically to calmly listen to their point of view.
James tells us that an angry person does not produce God’s righteousness, and he gives us an action plan, get rid of all moral filth, and live out the word of God. The picture of moral filth typically involves images of sexual decadence and living for pleasure, but could it be something more fundamental. Perhaps, the root of moral filth is not living according to the right moral compass, the word of God. When we set aside the need to be right or look good, seeing the person behind the conflict becomes possible. Anger takes control as long as our pride is evident, but when the word of God lives within us, love reigns in our hearts.
“Hypocrites!” That is the word many outside the church choose to describe those inside the church. The sad reality is that there is truth to the sentiment. We are the redeemed! The organizing factor of our lives is the love of God, but pride gets in the way. We have to be right, or we may fear a particular outcome. When we do not have the determination of Jesus, we cannot show his love. He was consistent in the pursuit of the Father’s will. We react in a manner contrary to God because our hearts seek selfish desires instead of God’s will. James tells us that our devotion is worthless. Those outside the church call us hypocrites because that is what they see.
Never again was I to enjoy a garlic and herb codfish filet on my lunch break at work. I was diplomatic and chose another option for lunch from that day forward. My reaction, however, did not rise to the requirement of God’s love. I remembered the record of wrong, and I treated her differently. God keeps no records of wrongs, and we are to have this same love through Jesus. When we quiet the voices that say we deserve better, the voice of God becomes evident, and then we can truly live the life of love to which God has called.