Listening is an important skill that is rarely developed or consciously improved upon. In James 1:19-22 James gave rather clear instructions on how to receive the word of God, and what obstacles lay in our way.
Read James 1:19-22 – 19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
I. Be Ready to Listen (“quick to hear”) The NIV translation of verse 19 says we need to be “ready to listen” – (What if your rich uncle died, and you heard you might be mentioned in the will. How would you react to the reading? Pay close attention for your name – hang on every word, or casually tune in & out?) James tells us that God purposed through the “word of truth” to bring us to life again. As Christians we need to be ready to hang on every word that God speaks. (Jesus told Satan that man lives not on bread alone but on “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”.)
A. This implies a desire to continually hear God’s word – a steady diet. James’s appeal is for believers to seize every opportunity to increase their exposure to Scripture, to take advantage of every privileged occasion to read God’s Word or to hear it faithfully preached or taught.
1. The Christian recognizes the relevance of scripture.
- When he is specially blessed, he turns to the Word to find passages of thanksgiving and praise.
- When he is troubled, he searches for words of comfort, encouragement, and strength.
- In times of confusion, he searches for words of wisdom and guidance.
- When he is tempted, he searches out God’s standards of purity and righteousness for power to resist. The Word is the source of deliverance from temptations and trials.
- The words of God are what we most need to hear. John 6:68 – 68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
B. James zeroes in on three obstacles to listening effectively to God’s word.
1. Talking: (“slow to speak”).. Talking, by very definition limits our ability to listen effectively. (those who are not listening to you because they are thinking of what they were going to say next)
a. In this context, however, it seems that slow to speak includes the idea of being careful not to be thinking about one’s own thoughts and ideas while someone else is trying to express God’s. We cannot really hear God’s Word when our minds are on our own thoughts. We need to keep silent inside as well as outside.
b. Included in this admonition is that, when the appropriate time to speak does come, we should say what is true (what God has spoken). Listening carefully has value as we are called to speak.
2. Anger: (“slow to wrath”).. Anger creates a barrier to communication among ourselves, and it does with God as well. A classic example may be Moses in his anger with the people failed to listen closely to God. This principle applies equally well to all of our emotions. We must be able to control our passions and emotions, and not let them get in the way of an objective search for the truth.
a. The word for anger here denotes resentment, long held anger. It seems to point to anger towards the words of God.
3. Sin: In verse 21 James admonishes us to get rid of all moral filth and evil. The heart must be prepared to accept the truth through repentance. In order to prepare the Jews for the Kingdom messages of the apostles, Jesus & John the Baptist came preaching repentance. Notice Jesus reasoning in John 8:38-45 ..vs. 43-44 “Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” They did not hear what he said because they didn’t have a mind to quit sinning.
- Notice Peter’s admonition in the context of receiving the word. 1 Pet 2:1-3 “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all guile, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (NKJ)
II. Be Submissively Receptive: (“receive with meekness the implanted word”) The words of God are designed to be received by us.
A. Humbly (with meekness) W. E. Vine describes this word as “an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly toward God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting”
- It is a quality of self-deprecation that is able to receive discipline: Matthew Henry says: “we must therefore yield ourselves to the word of God, with most submissive, humble, and tractable tempers: this is to receive it with meekness. Being willing to hear of our faults, and taking it not only patiently, but thankfully, desiring also to be molded and formed by the doctrines and precepts of the gospel.” (from Matthew Henry’s Commentary)
- The scriptures are not a collection of proof texts designed to congratulate us and condemn the denominations. To humbly receive the word is to see it as applicable to me.. to save me. (vs. 21b)
B. The word we are to pay attention to is the “implanted word” which able to save our souls.
1. God’s word is considered as a seed that is planted (embedded) in our hearts through teaching, and has the power to bring forth fruit (Luke 8).
2. The importance of the word is seen in its ability to ultimately save. Heb 4:12– “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart”). The Word of God is the gospel in its fullness and “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).
III. Be Obedient: (James 1:22 – be doers of the word) The whole process of listening is consummated in doing. James focuses attention on obedience as the single criteria that separates a living from a dead faith.
- James 2:24 – 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
A. God promises to bless us when we do something in response to His word. He says that a man will be blessed in what he does (vs. 25), not what he hears or even knows.
1. Are we like the people in Ezekiel’s day? They loved to hear him, but for the wrong reason Ezekiel 33:30-32 “As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’ 31 “So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. 32 Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.
Conclusion: The writer of Hebrews described some of audience in Hebrews 5:11 “of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. The term “dull” does not mean boring, but slow or indolent. They were unwilling (hesitant) to listen carefully to God’s words.
- Note that when a person has this problem, it is hard for others to explain things to them! The fault is not with the “subject” material, nor the “presenter”, but with the “listener”!
- Isaiah wrote of such people, and Jesus applied it to many in His day – Matthew 13:13-15 “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’
- God wants us to pay attention. But His desire is for our benefit. He wants to heal us. Do you listen to your doctor?
- Mark Twain once said “Its not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me, its the parts that I do understand that bother me.” Knowing what God expects of us can be scary, when compared to how much we do. What do you know that God expects of you that you are not, or have not, done. Are you listening?
- “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved”. Jesus said that.