James is writing to people who’ve been changed by Jesus, he’s saying to them, ‘If you’ve become a follower of Jesus, this how your life should be different. These are the ways your life should be changing’. In the today’s passage, he speaks to them about how it’s vital that they listen well.
God speaks to us through his word, He has communicated everything that’s necessary for us to know him and follow him. His word is able to bring you to salvation and also progress you in the Christian life. It makes your faith stronger, your hope deeper, your obedience greater.
In verse 18, James said, ‘(God) chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.’ The way we’re initiated into new life is through the word of truth. The Holy Spirit brings God’s Word to bear in our hearts, bringing this radical change in us.
Therefore, listening to God’s word is not an incidental activity. It absolutely matters how we listen to God and follow what he says. So, in this passage, James speaks to us about three things, hearing the word, doing the word and showing the word.
B. The teaching of James
1. Hearing the word ( verses 19-21)
Although we’re physically present at this Bible Conference all week listening to the Bible, we may notice that even our Bibles are opened doesn’t mean we’re taking things in, we can be easily distracted, hearing the word is not as straightforward as it seems.
In verse 19, ‘My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry’. There are a few things that stop us from hearing well. James gets into a core issue ― our attitude. Are we willing to listen to God?
‘What’s our attitude to the word of God, as we weight it up to our own words’, ‘Are the words we hear around us all the time?’, ‘Which words do I think are the most vital?’.
Then, James talks about another aspect of our attitude, he says ‘We should be slow to become angry’. James is saying about relationships between Christians, he refers to disagreements, divisions and fights in the church. You might be in a situation where someone has offended you, you’re hurt and angry, or maybe you’ve stopped listening to that person. There is now a barrier between you and others which has also made it hard for you to hear the word of God.
It’s also possible that anger comes from the disappointments and difficulties of life that the things haven’t gone your way and you’re angry at God. And you may not even realise it, but there’s a resentment there, ‘God, I’ve done this for you. Why haven’t you done this for me?’
Your anger means that you’ve stopped listening to God.
There are one more aspect of our attitude that hinder us from listening to God. James says in verse 21, ‘humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.’ When James tells to humbly accept the word, it means that we’re not sitting in a position of judgement over God’s word. Instead, we’re in a position of submission. You’re not the judge of God’s word; the word will judge you.
Sometimes, it is incredibly difficult because the Bible will often challenge us, reveal our faults, and point out things that we need to change in our lives. It will often challenge the way our society tells us to live. As we may consider that we are living in different times now, some regressive things about sex, marriage, relationships and lifestyle are not relevant anymore.
However, if God’s the Creator, who knows how the world functions best and how we function best. Then everything he says in the Bible would be perfect wisdom.
And if he’s God, of course he’s going to say some things that will challenge you, and that don’t make sense to you since we’re creatures with limited understanding and limited perspective.
God is God, he is sovereign over everything, and God’s word is authoritative, then it absolutely affects our posture towards it, we should humbly listen to it, and ask for God’s help as we work through our doubts and questions.
2. Doing the word (verses 22-25)
Maybe the most famous verse in James is verse 22, ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.’ It implies that it’s possible to go to church, to join a bible study, to read the scriptures, or to attend the Bible Conference to obtain understanding in bible knowledge, yet, be completely deluded into a thinking that things are going fine and satisfying. In reality, we are not, simply because we’re not applying God’s word to our life.
To get his point across, James uses this illustration from someone using a mirror but completely forget what he looks like. God’s word should have the same effect as a mirror, it shows us the reality of our situation; what we’re really like, as well as our problems that need to be fixed. It is completely foolish like someone listened to God’s word but not put it into action.
So, it’s not enough just to listen to God’s word and is not inspired by what it says. We’ve missed the point of reading God’s word if it doesn’t move us towards love for God and obedience to him. James talks about the importance of obeying the word, and he also reminds us about the motivation for obedience.
He says in verse 25, ‘whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.’ James says blessing comes from following God’s perfect law which gives freedom.
To understand what James is saying about the law that gives freedom, let’s refer to scenes in the Book of Exodus and The Giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai: God had just rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, they weren’t rescued through obeying these laws, they were redeemed by God through the blood of the lambs.
The Law wasn’t given as a means of salvation, it was given to show the people how they were supposed to live, it was given to people who were already freed from slavery, and it wasn’t given in order to put people back under slavery. In other words, the Law was given to show freed people how to live in that freedom and to show them how to live in relationship with God.
James is saying, blessing comes not just in hearing God’s word but in doing God’s word. Therefore, it’s worth asking yourself, ‘What parts of God’s word have I heard lately,
that I’ve either disbelieved, ignored, or put to the side as either too hard or inconvenient? ‘
Ask yourself, ‘What would my life look like if I actually did this? and ‘How can I seek to apply this truth to my life?
3. Showing the word (verses 26-27)
As a pragmatic person, James wants us to give evidence of obedience of God’s word. He uses three illustrations. These three illustrations are not a comprehensive description of the Christian life but are examples that how our life should be changed.
The first illustration has to do with ourselves, it’s about keeping a tight rein on our tongue.
James is saying that our words can show us what’s going on in our heart. They expose whether our religion is genuine or worthless. According to Jesus, all our words, whether good or bad are indicators of our heart. Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, ‘For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of’. Your tongue reveals what’s at the core of your being.
So, this first illustration provides a searching test. God is a God of the word; He put His word into our lives, ‘To what extent have your words been affected by God’s word?’ and
‘Would someone know that you follow Jesus by the way you speak?’.
The second illustration is about how we relate to members of the church in considerable need
In James’ day, the orphans and widows were the most destitute, vulnerable and desperate in need of help. James is saying, ‘If you’ve had an encounter with God, your heart should be conformed to God’s heart. It doesn’t mean Christians can meet every single need that we see in the world, but if you see a need and you know it’s in your ability to meet it, you should respond to it.
The third illustration is about how we relate to the world
James says keep yourself from being polluted by the world, he’s talking about inner purity. There is a pressing question for us: ‘To what extent will our behaviour, decisions and priorities be aligned to the world or to God’s word?’, it is pointless saying that we are people of the word but in reality, we’re living no different to the people in this world on how we use our money and our time, on how we make our decisions, on how we use power, and sexuality, and relationships. We are absolutely inconsistent.
So, James gives three pictures to illustrate what a word-saturated life looks like. He uses Verses 26 and 27 as a transition and then he reinforces the importance of word-saturated life in the later part of the book.
What would be a word-saturated life look like on you? for some believers, maybe it is to take up new disciplines, to set aside time and to make priorities to read God’s word; either to read alone or to study together with other people in church, as we need other people to help us, to hold us accountable to read; and to encourage one another to follow with God’s word and to apply God’s word in lives.
James knew what the word-saturated life looked like, because he saw it perfectly in Jesus.
When Jesus was tempted by Satan, he answered temptation with scriptures; when he carried the cross to Golgotha, he cited the prophet Hosea; when he was on the cross, he cried out ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)
He was quoting the first sentence of Psalm 22; and His last words were from Psalm 31, ‘Into your hands, I commit my spirit’.
Jesus was so saturated with the word of God that it came to his mind spontaneously. It enabled him to interpret every situation and face every challenge. Jesus is the only one ever who follows God’s word perfectly, so, Jesus says to His disciples, ‘I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it’.
Modern people try all kinds of different substitutes for God’s word, whether it’s mediation techniques, positive thinking, stress management, self-help gurus, or even obtain the best education in universities. However, there’s nothing to compare to God’s word; there’s nothing to match it. God’s Word sustained God’s Son, the word became incarnate, he lived and died. So should we, accept no substitute.
Thank you God that you have not left us in the dark, where we cannot understand you and salvation in Jesus. Lord, we confess that although you have given us your word, we do not always listen and obey to it, we prefer to listen to our desires or to the priorities of this world. We are living in inconsistent lives, but thank you that you have provided for us your son, He perfectly fulfil your word, He went on the cross for us, giving us freedom.
Lord, help us to live according to your word which give us freedom, we need your help, your Spirit to do this, because we are forgetful, distractable and we easily stop paying attention, so would you imprint your word on our hearts with Holy Spirit, so that we have incredibility desire to read it, to follow and to live it out our lives. All for your Glory of son Jesus, we pray these things in His name. Amen.