“Hear and Do the Word”
Lesson Text: James 1: 19-27
Background Scripture: James 1:19-27
Devotional Reading: 1 John 3:14-20
James 1:19-27 (KJV)
19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
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:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
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.
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.
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.
To explore the implications of heeding God’s Word.
To understand some of the graces that need to be evident in a child of God.
Identify the personal behavior most in need of change and make a plan to do so.
The Camera Does Not Lie
The typical person has an idealized self-image in mind, one that he or she tries to refine. Looking at a mirror, one's natural tendency seems to be to adjust hair and posture, pull in the stomach, tilt the head, and smile. The further tendency is to combine the image seen with a memory of his or her appearance at some point in the past.
Then one day I see a photograph of myself. My reactions: "Where did those wrinkles come from? When did I start looking like my father (or mother)? Oh, I look old!" While tricks with photographs are as old as cameras themselves, we also understand why people say, "The camera does not lie." An unretouched photograph acts as a check against my imperfect memory and imagination about how I look.
Getting clear pictures of ourselves involves much more than merely knowing our appearance. Really knowing our true selves means assessing how our thoughts and actions match up with what we claim to believe. There is nothing like our behavior to show what is real and true about us. We can think of conduct as the camera that reveals the real person on the inside.
So—what does the never-lying camera of behavior show us to be in reality? Today's text is about just this issue.
This unit's lessons are taken from the letter of James. Though the author does not draw attention to the fact, he was the James who was a brother of Jesus (compare Matthew 13:55). Jesus' brothers were skeptical of him during his ministry (John 7:5). But after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to James (1 Corinthians 15:7), and the reality of the resurrection brought him and his brothers to faith.
James became one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; Galatians 2:9). James was highly respected in Jerusalem. Even so, he was murdered in A.D. 62 by opponents of Christianity. There are other men by the name of James in the New Testament, and we take care to distinguish between them (Matthew 4:21; 10:3; etc.).
The letter of James is written in a fluent, literate style that reveals a mind that is at home in the Greek culture that dominated the eastern Mediterranean region of the first century A.D. Even so, the letter offers us the Jewish outlook of Old Testament wisdom literature, such as the book of Proverbs. The letter's perspective is distinctly Christian as it reflects the emphases of Jesus' teaching, especially that of the Sermon on the Mount.
We see the Jewishness of the letter in its address to "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations" (James 1:1). These are not simply Jews, but believers in Jesus, the people of God in Christ. They are scattered partly because of persecution (Acts 8:1) and partly because missionaries planted the seed of the gospel outside Palestine, efforts that led still more people to faith in Christ. But after coming to faith, what's next? Today's lesson addresses just this question.
Self-control Needed (James 1:19-21)
Restraining Angry Words (James 1:19)
1. Why is it important as children of God to be “swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath” (James 1:19)?
James emphasizes that self-control begins with our speech. The instructions here are familiar, reflecting the wisdom of the Old Testament (Proverbs 13:3; 15:1; 29:20).
Self-control in speech begins with being quick to hear (or listen). Practically, that means listening to others with consideration and empathy. But more specifically, James is telling readers that their first step is to listen to God's Word. Only then can they speak well. The result of quick listening and slow speaking is that our words can be redirected by the wisdom of God.
A proper self-assessment will restrain our speech and make us better listeners. That in turn leads to a different response with our anger (compare Ecclesiastes 7:9). True faith in God redirects our anger because we first realize that God, not we humans, will do the judging and punishing that needs to be done. With the perspective of true faith, we realize that we too are wrongdoers, worthy of judgment and punishment. This is why Jesus famously says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matthew 7:1).
2. How does anger contradict what God desires for our lives? (James 1:20)
James exhorted his readers to be slow to get angry. Human anger is a volatile emotion that can easily get of control, especially in tense situations. When inappropriate forms of anger erupt, whether toward evildoers or unwanted circumstances, it does not accomplish God’s righteousness (James 1:20). This means the aftermath of human anger falls short of God’s holy moral standard, does not reflect the upright standing He gives believers in Christ, does not result in any of the good things God wants done, and is contrary to the equity and justice He will establish in His future eternal kingdom. In short, human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires, regardless of its form.
For many Christians, the concept of righteousness might seem too abstract to understand. This difficulty is decreased as they grow in their appreciation of what it means to live in a holy, or morally pure, manner. People are considered righteous when their personal behaviors are in harmony with God’s will as it is disclose in Scripture. The righteous person voluntarily serves the Lord (Malachi 3:18), takes delight in Him (Psalm 33: 1), and gives thanks to Him for His mercy and love (140:13). The righteous are blessed by God (5:12) and upheld by Him (37:17). The righteous may experience hardships and trials in life, but God promises to help them through the difficulty (34:19).
What Do You Think?
What was an occasion when you saw the very negative impact of a few angry words? What did this experience teach you?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Angry words spoken to you | Angry words spoken by you | Angry words between other people
3. What is meant by “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness” (James 1:21)?
Out of control anger is just one example of immoral behavior, and the reality of a sinful life is not pretty. James uses two vivid expressions to describe it. One is filthiness, referring not to literal dirt, but to a soiled heart and conscience. Life apart from God is sadly characterized by thoughts and actions that ruin the purpose for which God created humans (compare Revelation 22:11). Superfluity of naughtiness simply means an abundance of evil, which characterizes life apart from God.
Of course, most people do not see themselves as soiled or abounding in evil. We imagine ourselves to be relatively pure and good. Not perfect, perhaps, but at least as good as most people, maybe better than most. The change in perspective comes through God's Word. It alone has the power to show us who we really are. But more than that, it has the power to save us from what we are. We must acknowledge our need of God's Word with humility, an attitude that says, "I do not have rights or powers that I can assert in this situation." From that perspective, we give up our pretensions of self-sufficiency.
Only a humble heart that acknowledges its own sinfulness and God’s holiness is ready to accept and fully appropriate the message of His saving truth. It is like a seed that the Lord has planted deep in the soil of our hearts. If we allow God's Word to take root and grow, we will thrive spiritually and experience the fullness of our redemption in the Lord Jesus.
What Do You Think?
When you hear God's Word, what helps most for it to become "planted" within you?
Talking Points for Discussion
When listening to a sermon | While participating in a group Bible study | During personal Bible Study
Hearing and Doing Required (James 1:22-25)
4. What are some indicators that show we are responsive to the Word? (James 1:22)
It not enough to hear the Word, we must do it. Merely having God's Word is not enough. It must be put into practice. Reciting the ingredients of a healthy diet is worthless unless we actually follow that healthy diet. When actions do not match words, we doubt whether the person genuinely means what he or she says. So it is especially with God's Word.
Those who listen but do not do are in a state of self-deception. Yes, there are true believers who are fooling themselves concerning their Christian walk. They claim to obey God, but their actions say otherwise. The engrafted Word of God will yield fruit in changed behavior (Matthew 7:15-20). If the behavior has not changed, then the Word has been uprooted or never planted in the first place. Our actions are the best indicators of the reality of our hearts. When Jesus healed and saved those who believed in Him, He told them to go and sin no more! (see John 5:8; 8:11.)
5. Why must Christians become not only hearers, but doers of God’s Word? (James1:23-24)
James told his readers that passively listening to God’s Word was not enough to promote spiritual growth. It was just as important for them to obediently act upon what it says. The one who listen and does nothing is like a man who glanced at his face in a mirror and forgets what he saw (James 1:23). James now describes the self-deception of the person who does not act on the Word of God. In the world of the New Testament, people are just as concerned about their appearance as we are today. So mirrors are rather common, though being made of polished metal they are not entirely like ours. Even so, these ancient mirrors allow people to check their appearance.
Of course, the purpose of looking in a mirror is to be able to do just that. That is the situation James is describing: one who is examining his face is doing so to get a close, deliberate look. The person takes note of the image in order to make adjustments to improve his or her appearance.
Looking in the mirror involves being honest about how we look and remembering it as a reference point for the next time we look in that mirror. How foolish to go away from the mirror and remember something false! "Yes, I have a full head of hair!" "No wrinkles—great!" "Why, I look the same as I did when I was a teenager!"
6. What did James mean by the perfect “law” (James 1:25)?
James 1:25 specifically uses the word “law” to denote the moral, and ethical teachings of the Old Testament. However, that word is not limited to the books of law in the Old Testament. God's Word in all its parts is the sure and only guide to right understanding and right living. Although James's readers do not have the full New Testament, they recognize that Jesus came in fulfillment of God's Word. He is the climax of God's all-important instruction of His people.
We tend to think of law as restrictive, but James affirms that God's law gives liberty. This is a key theme of Scripture. The God who gave freedom to the Israelite slaves (Exodus 20:2) is the God who gives the commandments that instruct His people in the way of true freedom. Paul reminds us that the true slavery is slavery to sin (Romans 6:15-23).
To enjoy this freedom, we have to do with God's Word what the wise person does with a mirror: pay attention to what it reveals and live accordingly. It is a matter of hearing and doing, not forgetting. What God's Word reveals about us may not be pleasant, but it is true. What is more, God's Word gives the answer to what it reveals about us, the solution to our essential problem.
So James says that the person who acknowledges what God's Word reveals and acts on the Word is the one who shall be blessed. This is the way to receive God's favor, to experience life as God designed it to be experienced.
What Do You Think?
Which "listen-and-do" combinations do you struggle most with? How do you plan to improve in these areas?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Handling of finances | Family relationships | Ministry participation
Striving for Purity and Compassion (James 1:26, 27)
7. How should the Word of God impact our public life? (James 1:26)
James continued the theme of active Christianity with a look at the meaning of true religion. The Greek adjective translated “religious” (James 1:26) denotes the practice of external rituals and observances of a spiritual tradition, such as attendance at worship, prayer, fasting, and giving to the poor. Merely doing these things does not in itself constitute true religion. Those who are genuinely pious demonstrate their faith by controlling what they say. On the other hand, failure to bridle the tongue betrays the self-deception in those who regard themselves as religious and exposes a form of spirituality that has no eternal value.
Verse 27 shifts the focus from outward observances to service for others, particularly “orphans and widows.” In Scripture, widows, orphans, and aliens are usually depicted as the most helpless among people. Often, they had none but God as their patron and protector (see Exod. 22:22-23; Deut. 10:18; Isa. 1:17). Moreover, in Bible times, there was no social safety net to catch the dispossessed and homeless when their source of support was suddenly gone. Like Lazarus, whom we considered in last week’s lesson, widows, orphans, and foreigners were frequently reduced to begging, especially if there was no friend, relative, or benefactor to care for them (see Gen. 38:11; Ruth 1:8).
James 1:27 reflects this biblical perspective by focusing attention on orphans and widows who live in a state of distress. The writer maintained that clean and undefiled religion is demonstrated, not just in rituals and observances, but in upright conduct and righteous character. Examples of this type of behavior include caring for those in anguish and keeping oneself clean in a morally polluted world. The writer’s intention in this passage was not to give a formal definition of religion. Rather, his aim was to draw a contrast between religion as mere ritualistic observance and faith in action that pleases God. Religion that demonstrates genuine spirituality and Christian maturity is an active faith motivated by love.
POINTS TO PONDER
1.It is better to listen (from God’s point of view) before we talk, because human anger is unable to accomplish God’s righteousness (See James 1:19, 20).
2.Spiritual reality results from the proper relationship to God through His Word. God's Word is truth (John 17:17), and if we are rightly related to God's truth, we cannot be dishonest or hypocritical. (See James 1:21).
3.It is a mark of maturity when a person faces himself honestly, knows himself, and admits his need to heed God’s Word. (See James 1:22-25).
4.Heeding God’s Word requires that we are to be mindful of how we talk to one another, as well actively concerning ourselves with helping those who are less fortunate than us. (See James 1:26, 27).
The Real You
Christians in the earliest years of the faith struggled to bring their actions into conformity with the faith that they confessed. In that respect, they were not much different from us today. What do you see about yourself in the true picture of you that emerges from God's Word? Perhaps it reveals the real weakness that lies behind the picture of strength that you try to project. Perhaps it reveals the parts of your life that still reflect the world's outlook instead of the character of the true God. Perhaps it reveals a "motor mouth" with a sensitive accelerator, always speaking before listening. Perhaps it reveals a sense of entitlement that strangles generosity.
In one respect or another, God's Word reveals in all of us our stubborn tendency to run our lives on our terms. If we have confessed that God's way is the only way, our only hope, then it is once again time to assess ourselves in light of God's Word. We do so in order that we may put what we believe into action with the consistency that truly honors the God who has saved us.
Heavenly Father, make us vessels like no other. Use us specifically for Your Glory. Keep our mouths and our minds focused on You. Let us not offend anyone in word or deed. Have Mercy on us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Talk God's talk, and walk God's walk.