Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is 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. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
There is no doubt that there is a way in which you could be profited by the Word of God and there is a way in which, even though you listen, you are not profited. Not because of the preacher but because of the way you listen. It is possible to attend church and remain unchanged by the power of God’s Word. James is particularly concerned that we listen, accept and do the Word of God in view of the momentary afflictions that are upon us. Therefore, if you will be able to respond well to the tests, trials and temptations that come your way, then you have to absolutely depend on the Lord in His Word.
James has already told us that God birthed us by His Word – He brought us forth by the Word of truth… what this means is that we began our spiritual life as a result of the Lord sending His life-giving Word our way. Ipso facto, we must ask ourselves, ‘How do I milk more from the Word of God that I hear preached and taught?’ There is always more for you, depending on the way you receive it. Is there something wrong with the way I listen? Do I need to change the attitudes, the skills or the content of sermon I hear? Some of you have come to be part of this church because you felt that there was something very wrong with the content of the sermons you were hearing. Having come here then, did you change your attitude to the Word of God? Perhaps this is the reason why you would spend the whole of the Lord’s Day with us – showing your changed attitude. This is the reason that you have learnt to read the Bible more; you have learnt meditation and close, candid and personal application of the Word of God; and you have learnt to do the Word and you are not content to simply amass knowledge, for we so well know that knowledge puffs up.
But the question I ask everyone is, do you realize that your skills of listening are as important as the content and the attitude? For if you will be profited by the content of the Word you hear, then you have to not only have the right disposition but also the right skill of receiving it. James is concerned that your handle these situations in a manner that is distinctively Christian.
1. Be quick to hear
This is the first instruction to us – in hearing, the adjective to describe our hearing is quick. That is, fast and ready and eager to hear, without objections. One of the greatest calamities of our day is the lack of readiness in hearing. Have you been to those churches where the preacher is cheered by people who are constantly shouting, “tell them!”? People listening stand up and raise their hands. Or there is so much clapping and shouting the preacher is simply drowned by the hearers? They need the instructions here.
But here we are blessed in this church – the readiness to hear is seen not simply in church attendance, but also in the listening during the service as well as the voluntary listening of sermons from the internet within the week. Why shouldn’t we? After all, we have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God … this is the good news that was preached to us.
This exhortation given to us – be quick to hear. Open up your physical ears and may the Lord open up your heart to receive what you hear. Hearing is absolutely important, and each one of us need, as a matter of priority, to avail himself all opportunities of hearing the Word of God. But this passage concerns itself in how you hear. Imagine that from this pulpit, you listen to the two sermons and a Sunday school lesson on Sunday – that is 156 teachings in a year. Let us say that you listen to one more sermon within a week, that is 52 more and shall we agree that each sermon is an hour? Suppose you also attend one conference in which you listen to 10 sessions of one hour each. By the way, it is a good Christian practice to attend at least one conference a year. In a year you have listened to over 200hours of preaching. Let us cut this to 150 hours in a year. But the question is how do you hear? Does this translate to a changed life? Do you love the Lord more and kill sin more as a result? This gives you a solemn responsibility of living accordingly. This is our concern.
But I also want to address those who listen to the minimum – you come to church late half past eleven, that is, one time to hear the morning service sermon, and leave immediately after the service. You barely have anyone to challenge your Christian living within the week. You do not attend any prayer meeting or a Bible Study. Do you see the problem? The Word of God is the bread of life that you ought to feed on. Be available to hear it. And if you don’t stop claiming that you are a Christian.
This instruction is followed with another – be slow to speak. First listen before you speak. Make sure that you think first of what you add, make sense of it before speaking. This moratorium on speaking is very common in this book and in Proverbs. For we more often than not, speak too much. But, why is it that the Lord gave us one mouth and two ears – to speak less and ear more! Yet, for many of us, we have learnt a natural instinct of irrational objecting to everything and anything you hear. You place yourself in a pedestal of ‘I know more and better!’ I pray that by the grace of God all objections, all thoughts that exalt themselves above the knowledge of God will be brought down.
Why are we to be quick to hear and slow to speak? The reason for this is that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. In other words, we cannot please God by emotional outburst. We must not justify anger even when we think it is accomplishing God’s own ends of retribution. Not that all anger is sinful, but the fact is the anger of man cannot and does not please God. No unwise, rash or angry speech is going to get approval from God.
2. Receive the Word with meekness
The following exhortation urges us not only to hear but also to receive the Word of God we hear in a certain manner. It is both negative and positive. We have to negatively remove all impediments in order to provide a place for the Word of God to find a place in our lives.
Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
First, deal with remaining sin. The word translated filthiness means moral impurity or uncleanness. This is describing how heinous and odious sin is. This describes the quality of sin – it is pungently sinful, monstrously wicked, and outrageously ugly. The next phrase, translated ‘rampant wickedness, describes the quantity of this sin – it is rampant, abundant and so overwhelming. It is shockingly evil and exceedingly evil. This moral impurity is accompanied by abundance of wickedness, that is, it takes many forms, like a virus – constantly replicating into different strains. Yes, sin is a genius of mutation and multiplication. Sin is constantly attacking in different camouflage combat attire. This is why you must be very vigilant.
Sin is the greatest impediment to receiving the Word of God. Sin makes the hears dull, the heart impermeable, the will impervious and the whole person rebellious to the Word of God. However, we are called to be pure having been sanctified by Holy Spirit using His Word of God. No one will do this for us – it is for us to put it away. The point is that we have a responsibility in our sanctification. We are to get rid of all remaining sin, aided by the Spirit and His Word. Unless we put away all sin, the Word of God will not be profitable us, even if it has power to save our souls.
Secondly, receive with meekness the implanted Word. The Word used here of receiving means to welcome or accept in such a manner that appropriates its blessings. This is same word and manner is used to show how the Bereans received the Word of God. This was the response of the Thessalonians, when they heard God’s Word. This phrase has overtones of the new covenant promise, where God promised to put His law within the hearts of His people (thus equal to implanting the word of God). God Himself was to write the law in their hearts (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:24-32). For how can people who are not only infested with sin, but completely devastated by sin live a pure life? Except if God works in them. God Himself has to replace the old hearts with new spiritually active organs so that they would respond truly, and properly in obedience to the Word of God.
God’s Word is to be welcomed with meekness, that is with a gentle, teachable attitude that acknowledges it as the authoritative Word of God, submitting to it. Since this Word has already been implanted in us, then it shouldn’t be hard to submit to it, with God’s help.
We are to go on receiving the Word until it will be firmly established in us. Each day we are to grow, and keep on growing as we feed on the Word of God. We must never grow tired of hearing the Word, just as no rational person grows to a point where they say, ‘I am now fully grown, I will need no more food!” If anyone bears this attitude, he will starve to death. The Lord promises to look on the one who is humble and contrite in Spirit and trembles at His Word (Is. 66:2). In humility we are to continue to feeding on the Word of God.
Likewise, the Word of God is able to save our souls in the sense that having been saved by Christ, He sustains us by feeding us on His Word. If you give up on the Word of God, then you would die spiritually. When God implants the Word, He inseparably makes it part of the believer, permanently guiding and influencing every part of their lives.
3. Put the Word into Action
It is possible to prepare to come to church, to sit from morning to evening, and yet deceive yourself. If all you do is listen, then James writes something for you to consider, ‘But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves’.
There are many who constantly listen to sound doctrine, good and balanced preaching of the Word, and are only hearers and so experts in self-deception. If you attend to the Word of God with ears only, and no action, know for sure that you are on the danger zone. You must be blinded to think that your spiritual health is only measured by what you hear – it is measured by what you put into practice, how you live.
This is because the experience of regeneration has to be followed by a life of a new creation. You are professor of religion and nothing more if you do not practice what you hear. He compares such a person with a person who looks at his face in a mirror, leaves the mirror and then immediately forgets what he looks like (vv.23-24). In his illustration, the mirror is the Word of God, that is, the perfect law of God, also called the law of liberty. The Word of God is liberating sinners not only from ignorance, but also it is the primary tool for our sanctification.
It is expected that when after eating, you walk up the sink, as you wash your hands you also will see your face and deal with any food that is stuck on your face or big piece of Sukuma wiki or a piece of bean is stuck between your teeth and correct or pick it before leaving the sink. What if you walk away from the mirror and say, “I will deal with it as I go.” The next thing you meet with a person and, yes… greetings begin and before you know it, you forget your Sukuma wiki piece stuck on your teeth and then you become a laughing stock.Mirrors are there to reveal our outward appearance conditions so that we may deal with them immediately. Like mirrors, the Word of God correctly accurately and truly reveals to us our inward spiritual condition.
The idea of the Word being compared to a mirror is in 1 Corinthians 13:12 and it sheds more light on the fact that the mirror that Paul had was dim, or dark, imperfect or incomplete but the mirror we now have is perfect. Again the word translated perfect is used on both passages and it means, mature, complete or fully developed. Paul promised Christians who walk in love that even if at the time the revelation was not fully developed, for it was dim, or partial (v.10), a time was coming when they will see clearly from the perfect law of God. Thankfully this is what we have – we have the two Testaments fully revealed, and developed.
When you hear, and even as you hear the Word of God, you ought to be examining yourself and finding out what areas you ought to change. For a person who only hears the Word and then forgets remains unchanged and influenced by the Word of God, and he does not grow in the Christian life.
Even worse, James very categorically in verse 25 says that God will only bless the person who does the Word of God. God will bless the man who perseveres; a man who continues or practices and exercises what he hears. Undoubtedly, God will be pleased by his actions that are informed by His Word. God will not bless you automatically – He will bless you when you approach His Word in the right way, and do it. Do not simply tell people, “God bless you!” God blesses those who obey His Word.
See the following passages to prove this:
ü Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Psa 19:11.
ü Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, Psa 119:2.
ü But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" Luke 11:28.
ü If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. John 13:17.
ü "And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book." Rev 22:7.
Do you want to see if James was speaking the truth? Then try what he has said – be a doer of the Word.
v The responsibility upon the preacher and the hearer. You therefore notice both me who preach, and you who hear bear a heavy responsibility for the success of the Word we proclaim. You cannot expect me to work hard to prepare what to bring to you and not expect me to expect you to listen well. But this is not just a matter of what we expect from each other – rather it is what God requires of us. This is why it is not encouraging for pastors when after the Lord’s Supper, many members leave for one reason or another.
v There are those of you who are living with all manner of filthiness and rampant wickedness. You are told to put it away if you want God’s blessings. Listen – it does not make sense for Christians to sin. Even worse it is incredible that Christians should find any pleasure in sin. The Lord has said that everyone who thus hopes in Him (Christ) purifies himself as He is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1Jn 3:3-6).
v If you will receive the Word of God properly and be profited by it, then you will need to prepare in advance… sleep early on the eve of the Lord’s Day. Take notes. Re-read the notes afterwards. Pray as you think of these things you ought to change. Call God for help. Persevere in it – yes keep on and keep up with these disciplines.
v I finish with a poem I wrote this week thinking about how we are to relate with Christ:
Let us cleave to Christ more closely,
love Him more heartily,
listen to Him more keenly
receive the Word of God more meekly
live to Him more thoroughly,
copy Him more exactly,
confess Him more boldly,
follow Him more fully
serve Him more faithfully,
Glorify Him forever.