James 1: 19-25 How Faith Works in Receiving the Word

Since the Scripture is so important to living out the Faith, we must know how to receive it properly and beneficially. James gives 3 staccato commands. 1) be quick to hear; 2) be slow to speak; 3) be slow to anger. Someone once observed that we have two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we speak. Our ears are always open while the mouth has two rows of teeth and two lips to keep it shut. It is the fool in Proverbs who does not listen but only vents his own opinions (17:27; 18:2; 29:11, 20).

1. Without anger (v.19-20)

We’ve got to listen to the Word and learn before speaking. The idea is to be teachable and receptive to the Word of truth that gave us life. But there are some things in the Word that are offensive, that we do not like. We must be slow to anger. Both quick-temperedness and talking when you should be listening are signs of immaturity and lacking wisdom (v.4-5). God uses trials to give us these, but we must be receiving the Word for those trials to be of benefit. It is not suffering itself that grows us, but suffering guided by the Word. Sometimes it’s the suffering that causes the anger. In either case, we must not be hot-heads (Proverbs 14:29; 15:18). The goal is righteousness, godliness, spiritual maturity. Man’s anger does not produce righteousness. It is not going to help us. To receive the Word so it is profitable to righteousness, we must be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.

2. With purity (v.21)

James speaks about the implanted Word using an agricultural metaphor. We could extend that to v.19-20 in terms of preparing the soil and to v.21a in terms of pulling the weeds. Like Jesus’ parable of the sower and the soils (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23), the condition of the soil (heart) determines the fruitfulness (righteousness, maturity) resulting from the seed (Word). The weeds that need to be pulled are filthiness and rampant wickedness. Sin clutters our hearts and makes us unreceptive to God’s Word. It is God’s Word that purifies us, but we have to clear the ground to be receptive to the Word. It is an interdependent cycle. Filthiness is from a Greek word that referred to wax in the ears – you can’t hear properly. Rampant wickedness speaks of the overflow of something. If a glass is over flowing with water, nothing else can get in. If our hearts are overflowing with sin, the Word can’t get in. D L Moody once said, “This Book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this Book.” Purity of heart to receive the Word is needed. It is begun in the new birth (v.18) and increases the more we grow.

3. With meekness (v.21)

The opposite of anger is meekness – a quality that marries humility with self-control. We must receive the Word with a spirit of meekness – an attitude of reception and submission without resisting or resenting. This is how the Word gets implanted in us to produce fruitfulness in the Faith. This is the Word that is able to save. Jeremiah spoke of the New Covenant God would bring about as a time when His Law/Word was no longer written on stone, but written in the heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This is the implanted Word – the Gospel, the Word of truth, God’s Law – not forced upon me externally, but fixed in my heart’s desires internally. That which saved us also sanctifies us and we must feed upon it constantly. But we must receive it with meekness if it will bear fruit.

4. With action (v.22-25)

God’s Word is not fully received until we put it into practice. We must hear (read, listen to, meditate upon, memorize) the Word of God. But then we must obey it, do it, practice it. Otherwise we are just deceiving ourselves. Lots of Bible knowledge without godly living is a sham and delusion of true faith and devotion. To hear and not do is to have the house of your life built on sand that will not stand in the judgment (Matthew 7:24-27). Learning the Bible is for the purpose of obeying God and serving Him. Knowledge without works is dead. Those who attend conferences, seminars and Bible studies – who love to read and study, must be very careful that they do not allow an increase of knowledge to substitute for an increase of godliness (Ezekiel 33:30-33). They are not the same thing. Learning the Word without doing the Word is as silly as someone who looks in the mirror and doesn’t make any adjustments to his appearance. You read the Word or hear a sermon and walk away not putting it into practice. Real changes must constantly be made in our lives as a result of receiving the Word. Like a mirror it reveals our sin, wrong thinking, attitude problems and need for improvement in all areas of life. To ignore that and not make the changes the Word calls for is to deceive ourselves about ourselves.

5. With attention (v.25)

Instead, we must act on the Word. Paying attention to it so we don’t forget what we learned, but apply it throughout life. The blessing of the Word (fruitfulness, maturity, righteousness) comes to us in the doing of the Word. God does not bless us with growth magically as the result of learning the Bible. He blesses us as we act upon the Word.

James refers to the Word here in terms of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31. It is the Law. That designation emphasises its authority and our need to respond in obedience. Law is not opposed to grace. Grace enables us to keep the Law (Romans 8:4). The particular laws we keep in the New Covenant may look different from the whole Old Testament system, but if we love Christ, we will keep His commands (John 14:15). God’s Law is the perfect Law because it lacks nothing; it is complete for all that God requires of us (Psalm 19:7). It is also the Law of liberty. When God brought Israel out of bondage in Egypt and then gave them His Law, He did not bring them out of one bondage to put them under another bondage. He set them free. He redeemed them from their slavery, idolatry and paganism. God tells us how to live this new life He’s given us. That is freedom. Like a train staying on its tracks can run freely so when we live life under God’s perfect Law of liberty, we are truly free.