The recipients of James’ letter were facing difficult situations because of opposition to their faith in Jesus. Perhaps they had been tempted to become angry with God at their circumstances or maybe they were expressing words of anger to one another, engaging in a form of blame for the problems that they now faced. The obvious deduction that we can make from James’ response is the seriousness of wrong kinds of anger.
What are the signs of wrong anger? James mentions two: the first is slowness to listen and the second is quick to comment. It is probably the case that what James is saying here is that we should be quick to listen to the word of God. This verse may be the commencement of a passage that speaks about the connection between the word of God and his people. If that is the case, then James is saying that wrong anger is a barrier to hearing the word of God, or of having the word become a means of blessing to us.
Instead of producing the righteousness of God, James says that a sin like anger has two dramatic effects on the lives of believers (v. 21). First, it makes them filthy and, second, it leads to lots of other sins. James likens angry expressions to a filthy garment that is no longer fit to be worn and instead must be put off.
The remedy for James is connected to the implanted word. The illustration of implanting implies three important features of God’s word in the lives of believers. First, it is there permanently, which is good for us, and we know that it will perform a variety of roles such as comforting and correcting. Second, it is alive, which means that it is always relevant and focused on the present. The Bible will speak to where we are today. If I was angry sinfully with a person yesterday, the word of God today will tell me to go and confess my sin to him and ask for forgiveness. And it will keep on speaking to me about it. Third, the word of God, since it is permanent and alive, will produce spiritual growth.
But how are we to receive the word of God? James tells us that there is only one way and that is meekly, recognising that the Bible contains the commandments of the sovereign God.