Passage: James 1:19-21
Please turn in your Bibles to James 1:19-21
(ESV p. 1011 in the pew bibles)
James 1:19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
The passage we have before us this evening is a call to action. God, speaks through James, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to call each one of us here this evening to stop, to be silent, to listen and to receive his Word with meekness.
- Quick to Hear (v. 19)
To begin, I must mention that having served as a missionary in South America, I have a plethora of stories and examples that apply to many biblical lessons, and they simply have to be told.
When I was about 15 years old I remember visiting a church in Huanta, Peru. It was a church in the mountains attended by those who labored in the fields and farmed the mountain sides. The members did hard manual labor, and were not used to sitting without falling asleep.
One of my favorite memories was attending that church, especially because some of the women in that particular congregation would walk up and down the church aisle with thin rods made of wood. You see, these women had given themselves the self-appointed responsibility of finding sleeping congregants…and…you guessed it… firmly swatting them on the backs with these sticks to wake them up so that they would listen. The suspense the rest of us felt, waiting for someone to be swatted was very distracting. I remember it started getting out of hand when others were spending the service pointing out people they suspected were nodding or falling asleep. Nothing makes you stay awake like knowing you might be swatted in front of all of your friends.
Though we might not agree with their method (though I suspect some of you might), these women walked those aisles with sticks because a problem existed. People were not listening. They were falling asleep. They weren’t hearing God’s word.
Brothers and sisters, in this passage, God is calling us to be quick to hear, and the implication is that we struggle to listen well. We are falling asleep spiritually to God’s Word.
Now, it is might seem ironic to hear me say this from the pulpit while you are sitting there listening to me say it, but what James is talking about here is much more than audibly hearing me. He is talking about listening and its connection to obeying.
We might be going to church, we might be present during the sermons, we might even read the words of the Bible out loud, but are we listening? Are we really hearing and practicing God’s Word?
God is calling us to truly listen. To be teachable, to be meek and humble. To be receptive to his Word and to change. To have hearts sensitive to his Word. To “receive with meekness the implanted Word (v.21).”
Now, to truly listen, we must be exposed to God’s Word. James 1:19 says, “be quick to hear.”
And Paul, in Romans 10:14, reminds us that believing requires hearing and hearing comes through the preaching of the Word.
As God’s servants, we as your ministers are given the sacred duty of bringing you God’s Word. We are called to reprove, rebuke and exhort God’s people. ( 2 Tim 4:2). Through the preaching of God’s Word we put you face to face with God’s will and call you to obedience to it. By the power of the Holy Spirit we know God’s Word does not go out void.
But we must hear it. How will we hear God’s Word if we do not attend to the preaching of God’s Word? For that reason, and also the fellowship and mutual stirring up one another toward love and good works, and one man sharpening another as iron sharpens iron, the author of Hebrews tells us “not to neglect meeting together as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We must gather together, and not give up meeting together. Hearing the Word is essential to our growth in holiness, and meeting together is not simply a selection among many that God gives us. We are called to worship together and listen to God’s Word together.
While we praise the Lord for live streaming of our services, we encourage everyone to remember that the communion of saints and gathering together as a church body is part of this sharpening in the Word. It is on the Lord’s Day and at prayer meeting, Bible studies and discipleship groups that we grow deeper roots into God’s Word.
If you are able to attend services, we pray and encourage you to use the live stream as a helpful tool for you when you are unable to make it and encourage you to remember that God has so created and established his church for the gathering together, and worshipping together in prayer, confession, eating of the Lord’s Supper and hearing preaching of his Word together.
And for those of us here that know it is impossible or very difficult for some of our number to attend church with us because of physical conditions, ailments or other reasons that make joining us impossible, may we remember that as a congregation we have the opportunity to visit and encourage those who can’t come to us. Let’s take our fellowship to them. This is such an important aspect of who we were made to be that it is a tremendous blessing and encouragement for those who are unable to make it to our services.
I won’t say much on this now, but along with the hearing of God’s Word being preached, we simply cannot neglect the reading and meditating of God’s Word personally and as families.
George Miliziano, my Grandfather-in-law, had a personal rule that he shared with me once. It was short and sweet: “No Bible, No breakfast.” Being the good Italian man that he was, he knew his passion for food could overtake his discipline of reading the Scriptures and hearing God’s Word. So he made a simple rule of priorities. Until he was fed spiritually, he simply would not feed himself physically. George Miliziano loved the Savior, and I believe that was because he was a man who disciplined himself to hear God’s Word every morning before he did anything else.
Exposure vs. Immersion
Now hearing God’s Word by being exposed to it is an essential part of listening, but is it enough?
If I asked for a show of hands, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the great majority of people in this congregation took Spanish or some other language during high-school or college years. And yet, if I asked who of you would be willing to stand up here and speak in front of native speakers of that language for a few minutes, every one of those hands would drop.
Unfortunately, attending a class and studying a language, doesn’t mean that you are proficient in that language! In order to learn a language you usually need to be immersed in a culture that only speaks that language. You need to remove all barriers to your learning, and not live with or talk to people who speak your first language. Otherwise your learning would be severely impeded. You would sabotage yourself.
In the same way, hearing and learning God’s Word requires more than exposure to the Word of God a few times a week. We must not only be exposed to it, but we must be immersed in it and remove all the barriers that would prevent us from actually listening to it and obeying it. You would need to disconnect yourself from your “old nature” and humbly admit your need for God and only God (being quick to listen and slow to speak). That is the only way to truly learn.
John Calvin says that we should look at these verses in James as a call to “render yourselves teachable”. He says we must draw near to God’s Word in silence, and be careful that in our haste to speak we be unwise and interrupt him as he addresses us. We must be disposed to learn, teachable and meek as we approach God’s Word.
As Isaiah 57:15 says, “Oh whom does my soul rest, except on the humble and the meek?”
We will hear God’s Word as we humbly incline our hearts toward him as the only source of our salvation and cast off all that competes with our attention to his Word.
The meekness highlighted in v. 21 points to the humility we must have if we are to have receptive hearts to God’s Word. “Listening is the art of closing one’s mouth and opening one’s ears and heart.”
And this is a question we must ask of ourselves. Are our hearts and minds open to God’s Word? Or are they oversaturated with our work, businesses, the latest TV series or movie coming out. Does a Seahawks or Sounder’s or Mariner’s game take up real estate in your heart and mind that should be God’s?
Our passions far-too-easily overcrowd our hearts and push God’s Word out. We are obsessed with Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, sports, politics, music, relationships and even good health.
How can we hear God’s Word if we are not listening?
Henry Krabbendam warns us to be weary of closing off the source of our holiness…. He says that God’s Word is just as essential to our pursuit of holiness as it is in our regeneration and justification. Therefore we must not “ignore, oppose or repel the only ‘pipeline’ that produces this holiness by giving it the silent treatment, by drowning it out, or by eliminating it.”…Rather, he says, “Get rid of any and all types of reluctance to embrace and absorb the truth.” 
Hearing God’s Word requires pursuing it, absorbing it, and it also requires that we treasure it above the wisdom of this world.
- Treasuring God’s Word, above the world’s wisdom
Now, the very fact that you are at church and even at an evening service, communicates that you treasure God’s Word. And yet, as Calvin says, “Since some remnants of the old man ever abide in us, we must necessarily be renewed, until the flesh be abolished; for either our perverseness or arrogance or sloth is a great impediment to God in perfecting us in his work.” (Calvin, 293.)
The reality is that the Devil has not given up on his battle for your soul. Our souls are not yet purified as they one day will be, and we face temptation regularly. It is simply a matter of fact that as James says in v.21, we must strive to put away all the filthiness and rampant wickedness that strives for our attention and passions.
This leads us to conclude that we are more swayed by the lures of this world than we realize or want to acknowledge. We are stubborn in this sense. No one wants to see how evil we can truly be, so we avoid the topic. And as we avoid it, we also allow it to continue to grow in us and impede the growth of God’s Word and its effect in our lives.
Calvin doesn’t hold back in rebuking Christians in the church when he says, in what I imagine to be a disappointed tone,
“Hence it is, that so few profit in the school of God, because hardly one in a hundred renounces the stubbornness of his own spirit, and gently submits to God but almost all are conceited and refractory. But if we desire to be the living plantation of God, we must subdue our proud hearts and be humble, and labour to become like lambs so as to suffer ourselves to be ruled and guided by our shepherd.” (Calvin, 295.)
But as in all problems we face, if we do not understand the deep-seated nature of our problems, we won’t be able to face them “head on”. And I believe the reason James tells us to be quick to hear and slow to speak, is because the speaking that we often do is laden with the wisdom of this world rather than the true wisdom of God..
In fact, one of the Devil’s methods of causing us to stumble is not by extreme and obvious sins, but rather those gradual and insignificant daily decisions and daily ways of thinking about life that we allow to enter into our hearts and minds.
I read a few articles this week by people who have studied how Americans view their work and careers. I found it very interesting to read their findings and realize that it is not just an accurate picture of how many Americans view their careers, but also how many Christians view their careers. I think there is quite a bit that we could take away about who we have become as American Christians.
For example, we have all heard the expression:
“Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life!”
The general thinking behind this saying is that if we encourage young people to pursue or study something they love, they will be happy. But these secular researchers who study the trends of Americans in the workplace have found that this mentality has actually been highly problematic in our society.
One author writes, “We’ve created this idea that the meaning of life should be found in work,” “We tell young people that their work should be their passion. ‘Don’t give up until you find a job that you love!’ we say. ‘You should be changing the world!’ we tell them. That is the message in commencement addresses, in pop culture, and frankly, in media….”
And, in so doing, we have given people the idea that if they work a job they do not love, then they have failed in life.
Another secular writer explains that we have made finding the “right career” the answer to true happiness in life, but that people are finding that their careers cannot meet their expectations for joy and fulfillment. He explains his conclusions in this way saying,
“…Our desks were never meant to be our altars. The modern labor force evolved to serve the needs of consumers and capitalists, not to satisfy tens of millions of people seeking transcendence at the office…..This mismatch between expectations and reality is a recipe for severe disappointment, if not outright misery, and it might explain why rates of depression and anxiety in the U.S. are “substantially higher” than they were in the 1980s, according to a 2014 study.”
If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that as we have reared our children and even thought of our own careers, many of us have been influenced by this worldly way of thinking. We have adopted the secular idea that happiness in life is connected to pursuing your ideal job. Little did we realize that in saying “Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life!” that we had adopted a philosophy of hedonism that has made many think that their personal happiness can be tied to a job, or an identity outside of Christ.
It is no wonder why so many celebrities and America’s wealthiest people take their lives or turn to drugs and alcohol. They have reached all their career goals and their lives are still empty.
These articles made me realize that our worldview, our perspective on life, is affected by the world around us in more ways than we realize. We are more impressionable than we think. We are malleable, and are constantly absorbing secular “truths” as our own.
One journalist writes that this is a common problem with people everywhere and explains why it is so easy for us to adopt incorrect thinking. He writes,
“We’re more likely to believe statements that are themselves easy to process. And one of the easiest ways to increase the fluency of a statement is to repeat it. …trials have shown that people are more likely to believe things to which they’ve been exposed repeatedly. What’s more, the simple act of recalling a “fact” increases its fluency and therefore makes it more believable….
In other words, what counts as common knowledge is a mix of things that are true and other things that are false, all of which are believed because they’re widely held, frequently repeated, and routinely recalled. It’s this fluency-as-a-surrogate-for-truth shortcut that makes innovation tricky: We trust in assumptions about the way the world operates that seem so obviously true that we fail to test them. And in failing to check these basic assumptions, we slam the door shut on finding new and better ways to do things.”
This study’s results on the one hand are distressing because we probably aren’t even aware of the many different ways in which we have adopted so many worldly perspectives and worldly “wisdom” without knowing it. We have become so easily influenced by widely held false beliefs that are circulating everywhere that we don’t even question where our belief systems are coming from.
We don’t even realize that we are living life more like the world than like the Word.
But as often is the case, we too have let down our guard and been affected by the misguided perspectives of the world. We see others around us living successful lives, being promoted and enjoying life, and we begin to slip into living for our own pleasure. We go along with the pursuit of our mini-kingdoms and unknowingly fall prey to the pursuit of hedonism.
And in the midst of our trials and struggles, we have all the answers, but the problem is, they are worldly answers that are empty and provide no lasting satisfaction.
No doubt similar struggles were present in the historical context of James’ letter. Persecution had caused the Christian believers to flee and hide. They were living among people who didn’t hold their faith and over time they were gradually being influenced by the people around them.
If they were like most normal fallen human beings, they were probably pursuing worldly things and being tempted by the success of those around them. They would have lowered their guard and begun to accept as truth the “truths” of the world. How easy it would be to gradually alienate themselves from God’s Word without realizing it and hardening their hearts to the source of all Truth.
And that is why James calls us to be silent. If we stop and think about it for a minute, we don’t have much to say in the midst of trials and struggles. Our advice is tainted with sin and is usually accompanied by anger.
There is no doubt in my mind that a verse like v. 19 is written in response to particular inclinations or struggles. In the midst of persecution, I would not doubt that many Christians were being quick to utter protests, frustrations and anger. Who wouldn’t?! This is how the world calls us to respond.
I know that because, that would be all too natural for me. You see, in our home, we have a beautiful round coffee table with metal legs that my toes are extremely attracted to. And I have found that it only takes .02 seconds for my bare toe to hit that metal leg and for exasperated and hostile words to be communicated to that table.
And I know what you are all thinking, that is some pretty phenomenal reaction time. But I’m sure it could be matched by many in this congregation. And if that is a common reaction for us with something as insignificant as minor toe pain, or stepping on the edge of a Lego, it is not difficult for us to picture how the persecuted church would feel when their lands, possessions, friends and family had been taken from them.
You see, when we face trials in work, at home, in life and in death, we react. Our old nature pops its ugly head out and we express words of anger, frustration and blame.
James is writing the church while they are in pain and he knows they must be unhappy. He knows they must be in pain. He reminds them that it is crucial that they should be slow to speak. They are in pain, it is easy to jump to conclusion and speak foolishly.
Our sinful nature and the worldly influences that creep in can distort and corrupt our understanding of who God is.
We have seen examples of corrupt advice and foolish worldly wisdom in our lives and we see it throughout Scripture.
In the midst of their searing pain and loss, Job’s wife uttered the words, “Curse God and die”. Her rage was enflamed. Her words were careless and full of rampant wickedness. Her eyes must have been red with fury as she looked for someone to blame.
But Job followed James’ wisdom. How differently Job responded to that same crisis his wife did. Silently he mourned. He listened and was slow to become angry. He remembered that God was the creator who gave life, and that he could take it away just as easily.
Now, Job’s crisis was extreme, but what about our trials?
We have suffering all around us. Just a few days ago a friend wrote on Facebook that her husband Larry had been given the all clear from a very scary cancer. He was told that he could resume his normal activities. The next day, they went boogie boarding, he got into some sort of accident, and died from his injuries hours later. After receiving the “all clear.”
How do we respond to something so tragic? We want to control. We want to be angry. We want to question God’s love and compassion. How could he allow something like that to happen? We want to speak and draw conclusions. We want to be quick to speak and quick to grow angry.
But God’s word calls us to slow down and listen. To hear His voice in his Word. To gain a heavenly perspective.
Larry was not ours. He did not belong to us, or to this world. He was God’s son. He had fulfilled his purposes in this world, and God wanted him to come home. To receive him into his eternal paradise. To crown him and to rejoice with him in eternal life and eternal joy.
Larry isn’t at all disappointed with his death. He is rejoicing in the presence of his Father.
Friends, we grieve for our loved ones. No one here will live life without hardships and death. We will all mourn. We will all go through trials of various kinds.
Our life in this world will always include suffering. Don’t let this world tell you otherwise.
But in God’s Word there is wisdom to be found, and when we are willing to listen to it, it brings us hope in the midst of the anguish and grief.
For that reason, James calls us to stop, to be silent, to listen and to receive His Word with meekness. For there is no greater benefit to our lives and souls than to listen to God’s holy and inspired Word.
Nothing else will bring you the comfort and peace you need when nothing in this world can.
This sermon series draws on material from:
Adamson, James B. The Epistles of James. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976.
Bauer, Walter; Danker, Frederick W; F Arndt, William. BDAG: A Greek – English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.
Homcy, Stephen L. 1995. “‘To Him Who Overcomes’: A Fresh Look at What ‘Victory’ Means for the Believer According to the Book of Revelation.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38 (2): 193–201.
Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Editors, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1989.
Kistemaker, Simon J. James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. NTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007.
Krabbendam, Henry. The Epistle of James: Tender Love in Tough Pursuit of Total Holiness. Germany: Martin Bucer Seminar, 2006.
Moo, Douglas J. The Letter of James. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000.
Morris, Leon. Tyndale New Testament Commentary: Revelation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987.
 Simon Kistemaker, 57.
 Krabbendam, 395.
 Oren Cass, the author of the book The Once and Future Worker.
 Derek Thompson, The Atlantic:“Workism Is Making Americans Miserable.”
 Bob Nease, Fast Company: “How Your Brain Keeps You Believing Crap That Isn’t True.”