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What is the wrath of man in James 1:20?

wrath of man

In James 1:20, the apostle writes, “For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (NKJV). The word for connects verse 19 and verse 20. In verse 19, James advises believers to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (ESV). There are three practical truths to be gleaned from verse 19:

1. Believers should listen to the “word of truth,” which is the gospel of Christ (James 1:18).

2. Believers should avoid hasty speech (cf. Proverbs 10:19). In other words, we should think before we speak, ensuring that our words are “always full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6).

3. Believers should avoid selfish and ill-tempered anger, which “does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20, NKJV; cf. Ephesians 4:26).

In James 1:20, the expression wrath of man refers to unrighteous anger. There is a distinction between the wrath of man and the wrath of God. The wrath of man, even when directed toward a perceived injustice, fails to understand that anger cannot change another person’s heart. Thus, the wrath of man demonstrates a prideful and impulsive spirit, which is antithetical to the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22–23).

To the contrary, the wrath of God is always holy and righteous (Romans 2:6). Since God is holy, believers should also be holy (1 Peter 1:16). This means that we ought to conduct ourselves according to the perfect will of God (Romans 12:1–2).

Instead of allowing uncontrolled anger to pollute our hearts, we should “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness” (James 1:21, ESV). The point is that we should have nothing to do with moral filth or evil (cf. Romans 13:12 and Ephesians 4:22). Rather, we must “receive with meekness the implanted word” (James 1:21, ESV). When the Word of God takes root in our hearts, we will notice a difference in our thoughts, speech, and actions (cf. Deuteronomy 30:14 and Jeremiah 31:33).

The proper response to the Word of God is to be hearers and doers of the Word (James 1:22). If we hear the Word but do not obey it, then we are “like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (verses 23–24, ESV). The “mirror” of God’s righteousness demands that we do something about our moral and spiritual imperfections. In short, we must not be a “hearer who forgets but a doer who acts” (verse 25, ESV).

James chapter 1 concludes with three characteristics of pure and undefiled religion: First, believers will “bridle” their tongues (verse 26, ESV). Again, James emphasizes the need to be mindful of what comes out of our mouths (cf. Matthew 15:11).

Second, believers will show mercy to the oppressed, particularly orphans and widows (James 1:27; cf. 1 Timothy 5:3–16).

Third, believers will remain “unstained from the world” (James 1:27, ESV). James uses sacrificial language to describe the purely religious person (cf. Romans 12:1).

The central theme of James 1:19–27 is hearing and doing the Word of God. To “hear” the Word means that we are eager to receive it. To “do” the Word means that we apply it to our lives.

As we continue to “do” the Word, may we be slow to anger, remembering that anger—the wrath of man—does not produce the righteousness of God.

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Questions about James

What is the wrath of man in James 1:20?
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This page last updated: August 24, 2023