(James 1:19) Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
Let’s think deeply about what this verse can mean to those of us who believe in Jesus, for James wrote his letter to Christians. James knew and we know from experience that Christians, just as all others, can be slow to listen (or not fully listen) and quick to speak (which usually does not help anyone) and to quick flares of anger. Let’s go back to the beginning and remember that no one becomes a Christian or helps another Christian by being slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to flare up in anger.
Having first learned how to listen to God and follow God’s directions from the Bible, Christians usually help unbelievers come to faith and trust in Jesus by being “quick to listen” or swift to hear them express themselves. They listen carefully to what the other person is saying. By being quick to listen, they express their concern for the other person, and they begin to discover the truths the other person needs to learn about God and Jesus and the changes they may need to make in their lives. After they have been “quick to listen,” Christians need to be careful thinkers and prayers and “slow to speak.” They can pray before they speak, and they can speak slowly to say what they hope and pray God would have them say to help the other person. The “other person” may also be a believer who needs help, and so the Christian can be “slow to speak” to give them the right words to help them. As believers grow in the grace and knowledge of God, they will be slow or become slower “to anger” in response to what they hear a believer or unbeliever say that might lead them to express angry and hurtful words.
Christians want to practice listening to others and speaking with love and understanding. Out of love for others, we must be quick to listen and quick to listen completely. We must pray for God to help us restrain from speaking too quickly, out of respect for others, and only speak what we believe with be helpful to all concerned. If we talk too quickly, we may not learn what a person’s true needs are and have the time to pray and seek God’s way to help them. If we speak out in anger, we may lose all opportunity for further conversation, problem solving, or help giving. In all situations where believers may be provoked to speak quickly in anger, they can pray for wisdom and God’s grace (God’s merciful power) to help them and the other person say and do what is right and loving.
(James 1:20) For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
The Bible tells us to listen carefully to understand others, perhaps their intentions were good, but they were misunderstood and need time to explain fully themselves and what they were experiencing. If we wait to speak until we have understood as fully as possible, we should be able to speak love, truth, and God’s righteousness into a situation or relationship—which can require additional prayer for guidance and wisdom. Angry words spoken in haste and without understanding do not lead to right thinking and can also lead to hurtful and wrong responses that can last and ruin a relationship for a lifetime and sometimes beyond a lifetime.
(James 1:21) Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
God gives spiritual life, the new birth, and the new beginning, by “the word of truth,” and God gives spiritual growth and development by implanting “the word of truth” into the souls, hearts, and minds of true believers. We implant “the word of truth” as we prayerfully read and study the Bible, the Word of Truth written. Believers apply “the word of truth” in the way they behave, converse with, and relate to God and others. The believer needs to think about and obey the implanted “word of truth” to quit thinking about and quit doing anything sordid, evil, wicked, or that allows wickedness to grow within them. The believer can pray and ask the Holy Spirit to make “the word of truth” work effectively within them and help them repent of their sins, overcome their sinful practices, and obey “the word of truth” to walk in holiness of life and speech.
(James 1:22) But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
Some people go to Bible study groups and church one or more times a week and hear the word of truth, but they deceive themselves when they fail to practice the word of truth that they hear explained week by week. They need to pray about what they hear and open themselves to the changes God wants them to make according to the word of truth, the Bible. God and His word will help them stop practicing sin, to which they have become accustomed and enslaved, and they deceive themselves if they think they can save their souls and please God by simply listening to His word instead of also doing His word, instead of obeying the commandments of Jesus by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. Jesus Christ has freed His followers from slavery to sin so they can do His word. Having been freed from slavery to sin, believers love Jesus and want to serve Jesus according to His will.
(James 1:23) For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
Hearers of the word learn what they need to do to live right with God and others, and they need to be doers of the word of truth and make all the changes they need to make in their behavior, thinking, and practices. The word of truth and the light of God can make people uncomfortable when seeing themselves as God sees them, but rather than turn away with an uncomfortable feeling, hearers of the word need to pray for God’s grace and the Holy Spirit to help them make the changes God expects them to make in accordance with the Bible, which reveals the shortcomings in their lives to them and gives them hope that change is possible as they obey God.
(James 1:24) For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
People need to read and hear the Scriptures and see themselves in the light of our holy and loving God, who sees them. They need to note carefully what they learn. They need to pray and resolve (with the Lord Jesus Christ being their Helper) to trust in Him and His word to change them, rather than leave church or their Bible study group without deciding to conform their lives to the image of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
(James 1:25) But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
The perfect law commands people to love God with their whole being and others as themselves. Love inspires Christians to obey the law of liberty, turn their eyes upon Jesus Christ and by His grace follow Him rather than do what is evil when they were formerly enslaved to sin. As long as they live in this world, Christians can be tempted to sin, but Jesus has freed them from the power of sin and has empowered them by the Holy Spirit to do God’s will according to the Bible; thus, they can receive God’s blessing and the assurance of God’s happiness with them as His obedient children.
(James 1:26) If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.
James returns to talking about our tongues and how harmful what we say can be in the lives of others and ourselves. It is possible for those who think they are religious (because they perform many of the rituals their religion requires) to fail at practicing ways of Jesus. They continue to say harmful, hurtful, or angry words. They speak without thinking or understanding, and they do not speak the truth in love. If they do not seek to speak words of truth in love and understanding, they deceive themselves and their ritualistic practices have no value.
(James 1:27) Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
True Christians do more than practice rituals or listen to speeches or praise the words of truth without doing them. True Christianity will lead believers to care for the most needy people; those who cannot care for themselves as completely as necessary; those who suffer various troubles; those who can give nothing but thanks in return; those most vulnerable to abuse and neglect, especially widows and orphans. True Christians will refuse to practice the ways this world approves and promotes; they will seek the Lord’s help to live according to His will and word.
1. In our relations with others, what ways of speaking does James want us to do or avoid doing?
2 How can praying and resolving to be quick to listen and slow to speak help prevent us from speaking quickly in anger?
3. From what are we to rid ourselves?
4. How can we best nurture the growth of God’s implanted word in our hearts and minds?
5. What does James say is pure and undefiled religion? How might someone misunderstand his teaching on this?
In James’ letter to Christians, he reminded them to repent of their sins whenever they disobeyed God. By repentance, James included the fact that Christians needed to turn away from all sordidness or decadence and any kind of wickedness or evil that still might be growing within them. But Christian faith and living involves more than moral reformation and following various religious laws or practices that many religions also encourage. Christian faith includes “welcoming with meekness the implanted word” (James 1:21). As true Christians, not only does Jesus Christ live within our hearts as the Word of God, but Christians meekly or humbly welcome the teachings of the Bible into their minds and implant them so they will grow in understanding and remember them to rightly apply them day-by-day. Christians learn the teachings of the Bible so they will look to the will of God when making decisions and apply the truth of God to the way they live in practical ways; such as, “in caring for orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). The Good News of Jesus demands we repent of our sins and implant the word of God in our minds and hearts as “the power to save our souls” (James 1:21). James wanted Christians to know and understand that if we implant the word of God into our hearts and minds; then, we will do the will of God. One who hears the word of God, perhaps in Sunday School, Bible Study class, or in worship, but does not do the word of God deceives themselves into thinking they are Christians, but Christians remember and implant the word of God within them so they can do the will and work of God. — LG Parkhurst Jr.
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