Doing and Not Just Hearing (James 1:19-27)
James: Practical Christianity • Sermon • Submitted
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Good evening everyone, thanks for joining me as we continue in this study of the book of James. We’re two lessons in, well actually this is our third lesson and we’ve already seen James’ heart in the perspective that it is clear that James is trying to give practical advice to Christians that are possibly under persecution. We’ve seen as we’ve worked through the first chapter that James has a very clear message to those that are struggling with trials—to count it all joy when you face trials, because the testing of your faith produces endurance and endurance eventually makes you perfect and complete. In Vs. 12-18, we looked at the other side of things, and we looked at James’ statement about temptations that lead to sin, with the idea that we cannot blame God for our temptation, because God’s good character prevents him from being tempted or tempting us with evil, but rather sin comes from within. We closed out Sunday’s message reflecting on the goodness of God, that all good gifts come from him including his word and his Gospel through Jesus Christ.
This evening, we’re looking at the last section of chapter one. And this is actually a new topic, a new paragraph (though arguably, I could point out that this is still a letter, so I could argue that it all works together anyways) and James jumps straight into anger, the word of God, and pure religion.
But before we jump into Scripture, Let’s Pray.
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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. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Now, we’re going to study this passage in three sections. James 1:19-21, will focus on anger and in turn sin, Vs. 22-25, focuses on doing the word and not just hearing the word, and Vs. 26-27, will focus on what James calls, pure and undefiled religion. All of this will point us to honestly, taking the word of God seriously and taking the word of God seriously enough that we apply what we read and what we hear from God’s word.
But, first let’s re-read James 1:19-21 to keep it fresh in our minds:
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.
Anger and Sin - James 1:19-21
Anger and Sin - James 1:19-21
James first of all reminds them of the relationship that he has with them, which is a very telling way of how we ought to confront issues in regular life—we ought to develop the relationship first and keep the relationship in mind when we talk with people.
He reminds them that they are his beloved brothers, and then he makes this statement, “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.”
And I think, if you’re honest with me, this is convicting to you because we all struggle with doing the exact opposite of what this verse says.
James says that we should be quick to hear—which means that we ought to go out of our way to hear.
Now, at a basic level, we could say that this is talking about hearing other people speak. And it is true that we ought to be willing to hear other people speak, at a basic human level, it is common courtesy and it is respectful to allow other people to speak.
Arguably, letting other people voice their opinions (particularly when we don’t agree with their opinions), is one of the most difficult things we struggle with and if you doubt this, when is the last time you were able to have a serious, but loving and respectful conversation with someone who you completely disagree with in politics? What about religious beliefs?
And yet, we are to be quick to hear, which means that we should be willing to hear other people’s perspective, even if we completely and utterly disagree. At the very least, being quick to hear their perspective, might mean that they will be willing to hear your perspective.
And since we’ve all been given the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, if you’re too quick not to hear them out, they will be quick not to hear you out.
Now, if we think about this phrase in the context, Vs. 22, makes the statement “but be doers of the word, and not hearers only,” which shows me that James might be referring to hearing the word of God.
In which case, I would point out that we all struggle with this as well. Because the concept of hearing isn’t just letting it go in one ear and out the other. ακουο, which is translated as “to hear” in English gives the idea of actually actively listening to.
And if that refers to listening to people, then it makes it clear that we are to actively be involved with hearing someone out—not just listening to response
But if that refers to the word of God, there are serious implications in how we study the word of God
For instance, if we are the hear the word of God and actively listen to is, then we cannot read the word of God passively—we can’t read the word of God just to read the word of God, which we are all guilty of doing—it is the mindset that, I know I should read the Bible, so I do, but because I’m doing it simply out of duty, I’m not trying to understand the passage, I’m simply reading it to read it.
No, to read the word of God and actively listening to it requires me to read the word actively seeking to understand and seeking to apply, and James continues that thought in Vs. 22.
We are to be quick to hear both people and God.
Not only are we to be quick to hear James says that we should be slow to speak—and if we’re honest, a lot of times, if we were simply slow to speak, life would be so much easier.
The Bible says a lot about our tongue and how we speak, James 3 has a whole paragraph about how damaging the tongue can be. Proverbs 17:28, makes the statement that even a silent fool is considered wise, which gives the implication that those that speak up too quickly looks foolish. Matthew 12:36, says that every idle word that we speak, we will be held accountable for. Every idle word, means even the words that we speak when we think we’re being funny, or when we say it under our breath, or when we don’t actually mean what we’re saying.
And if we’re being held accountable for every idle word that we speak, it puts urgency to what James is saying here, that we need to be slow to speak—which by the way, being slow to speak is easier to do when we’re actively listening.
I mentioned that life would be easier for a lot of us if we were slow to speak, so let’s explore that statement for a minute
One of the reasons misunderstandings in conversations happen, is because one or both persons involved in the conversation is speaking before they think about what they say.
So for instance, an argument can escalate based on perceived opinions and if we aren’t careful and we’re quick to speak, it ends up being us attacking the other person verbally and causing further issues than if we were to just slow down, stop talking, and hear the other person out.
Being slow to speak does three things for us, (1) it makes it easier for us to be quick to hear, (2) it slows us down and forces us to think about what we’re about to say, and (3) it forces us to slow down enough that it becomes more difficult for the conversation to escalate in anger.
James says that we should be slow to anger and the Bible actually gives us a reason for being slow to anger, its in Vs. 20, “because the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
This isn’t all that the Bible says about anger, and I think it would be worthwhile to explore what else the Bible says about anger before moving on.
We sometimes get the idea that anger is sinful, but anger actually isn’t sinful—Paul, when he writes to the church in Ephesus says this, “be angry and do not sin.” Paul’s statement isn’t don’t be angry because anger is sin; his statement is to be angry, but do not sin.
Which means that there is such a thing as anger that isn’t sin and we know that for sure, the prime example of sinless anger, is Jesus’ reaction to the moneychangers in the temple, in John 2:13-17, The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”
That alone gives us a fair assessment that Jesus was angry with these people for utilizing the temple to take advantage of the people
But the Bible doesn’t stop there, in John 2:17, “His disciples remembered that it was written, Zeal for your house will consume me.” Zeal itself is not anger, but when you consider that Jesus made a whip of cords and drove all the animals out, he dumped out all the money, and flipped the tables over—I can’t imagine that Jesus would do all of that and not have any emotion behind it whatsoever.
And just in case you’re thinking, well fine, Jesus was Zealous, but that’s not actually anger, let me point out one time when the Bible specifically says that Jesus was angry, in Mark 3, Jesus goes into the synagogue and there’s a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees are all standing around to see if Jesus would heal the man so that they could accuse him of working on the Sabbath. Mark 3:3, “And he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come here.’ And he said to them, ‘ Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. Vs. 5, And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.”
So there is such a thing as sinless anger, but before you get all Zealous and determine to be angry all the time from here on out, let’s do some thing, why is Jesus’ anger not sinful?
Anytime Jesus was angry, the anger was for right reasons—the blasphemy in the temple, the anger against the hardness of heart, anger at sin
Anytime Jesus was angry, the anger was focused on sinful behavior and injustice—he wasn’t angry at God, he wasn’t angry at people
His anger never led to hatred of the people—he was angry because people were wronged and people were in sin
In all of his anger, Jesus was completely in control. He controlled himself
In his anger, Jesus didn’t become bitter
Take a moment to compare Jesus’ anger with our own: the last time that you were angry
What was the anger for? Was it because someone took advantage of other people? Was it anger at sin?
What was the anger focused at? Were you angry at sinful behavior and injustice? Or were you angry at God or angry at people?
Did your anger lead you to hatred? Did your anger lead you to bitterness?
Was your anger controlled? Or did your emotional state control your behavior?
Why should we be slow to anger? Because the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God
Which means this, that if we are to be angry, it has to be for the right reasons, directed towards sinful behavior or injustice and we cannot allow anger to control us or make us bitter.
Any type of anger apart from this, is the anger of man that does not produce the righteousness of God.
The issue is and what James is getting at is this, that while there is such a thing as righteous anger or some people use the term righteous indignation; it is very difficult for a sinful, finite man to express anger without it becoming sinful.
And being slow to speak and quick to hear, will help to prevent sinful anger.
Vs. 21, “Therefore, put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
The therefore connects this sentence with the previous passage, but it continues the line of thinking, “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness”
James pulls a contrast between filthiness and wickedness with the implanted word in this verse—he states that we should put away, or lay aside, take off, all filthiness and wickedness and the image that James is giving, is the idea of taking off soiled clothing, which is something we all do every day. James tells us to take off all filthiness and wickedness, which are common words concerning sinful behavior and we are to do this every single day.
And then we are to “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
We take of the filth, and then we put on with meekness or humility/humbleness the implanted word.
The idea of the implanted word goes beyond just the concept of saving grace, though James mentions that this word is able to save your souls. The point of the implanted word is the internalization of the word of God even after being saved.
Douglas Moo makes the statement, “What James is suggesting by describing the word in this way is that the Christian must not think he is done with the word of God after it has saved him. That word becomes a permanent, inseparable part of the Christian, a commanding and guiding presence within him. The command to receive the implanted word, then, is not a command to be converted . . ., but to accept its precepts as binding and to seek to live by them.” (TNTC, 85)
In other words, Christians who have truly come to know Jesus Christ through salvation, demonstrate the fact that they believe by living lives that have been transformed by the word of God.
We are to put off evil behavior and sin, put on the implanted word of God, which requires us to do the next four verses, Vs. 22-25.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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.
Doers and not just Hearers - James 1:22-25
Doers and not just Hearers - James 1:22-25
James is starting to connect the dots a bit when it comes to this passage, remember he started this passage by exhorting us to be quick to hear and I applied that to how we act towards each other, but James continues the idea of hearing, to the word of God.
James says to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves”
In other words, we are still to hear the word of God—James does not negate the need to hear the word of God.
And we hear the word of God in a number of ways, in the time of James, more than likely, they only heard the word of God when they gathered to worship God. Someone would have the Scriptures and they would read the Scripture and then someone would expound on the word of God
We still do this today, at least we’re supposed to—we are still supposed to read Scripture publically and then whoever is preaching is supposed to expound on the word of God
We’re blessed, in the US, in that the majority of us are literate, we can read, and the majority of us have multiple copies of Scripture (between Natalie and I, we have about a dozen), and we have such a technologically advanced society, that we can utilize a cell phone to access Biblegateway for free or we can access free apps with Scripture one them and when we read the Bible for ourselves or if we utilize an audiobook version, we listen to someone read the Bible for us, we continue to hear the Word of God.
James isn’t saying that we shouldn’t do that, we still need to hear the word of God; but we aren’t just supposed to hear the word of God and if we’re just hearing the word of God we’re lying to ourselves, because we aren’t just supposed to hear it, we’re supposed to do the word of God.
How exactly do we do the word of God?
First off, we again, have to hear the word of God first—we need to hear preaching and teaching, and we need to be studying Scripture for ourselves.
And we have to study Scripture with the intent of listening to the Word—James gives this illustration of what someone looks like if they hear the word, but don’t do it.
James says in Vs. 23-24, that the one who hears the word, but does not do it, “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.” The Bible is making the point that someone who reads and hears the Bible, but doesn’t actually change anything about himself, looks just as foolish as the person who looks in a mirror and doesn’t bother to fix their hair or make adjustments to their outwardly appearance.
Which means, that as we read and hear the word of God, we actively listen for how it applies to our lives
And I want to be clear on what this means, because we’ve all heard people ask, “what does the verse mean to you?” Can I be abundantly and lovingly clear? What the verse means to you in a post-modern sense, means absolutely nothing in reality.
And reading Scripture, with the mindset that we can read the same verse and that verse can mean different things to different people is a terrifyingly dangerous way to read and to hear Scripture. Searching for what a passage means to me is absurd.
The point of reading and hearing and studying Scripture isn’t to determine what a particular verse means to us, it is to determine what the original author intended to mean to the original audience and then we determine how that can apply to us today.
And understanding this difference, is the difference between utilizing Scripture to prove our own points and utilizing Scripture for our own benefit from understanding what Scripture actually says and building our points on Scripture, which is the whole point of having the Bible.
If we read the Bible with the question of “what does the verse mean to me?” we might get the right interpretation of the passage, but more than likely, we’re going to convince ourselves that the passage means whatever we want it to mean.
We need to read and study Scripture with the question, “What did the author intend to say?” And how do I apply what he actually said to my life?
The difference is that we won’t just have knowledge of what Scripture says, we’ll have the wisdom that Scripture entails us to have because we’re actually following what Scripture says.
Vs. 25, then says, in contrast to the man who looks in the mirror and walks away without fixing anything, “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.”
In contrast to the man who looks in the mirror and forgets what he looks like, is the man who looks into the perfect law of liberty, which is the Word of God and he perseveres—he continues or stays on
He reads and hears the word of God, and in his application of the word of God, he continues in the faith
And you can tell who these people are, be there aren’t just hearers who forget, but they’re doers who act.
What does it mean to be doers?
It means that we actively hear and read the word of God and we apply what the word of God says to our lives.
Kurt Richardson has a great statement about this verse, “Only by remembering to do what Scripture says, as one continues hearing/reading it, can one apply it to life. “Apply yourself to the Word so you may be able to apply the Word to your life” is the proper motto here. Every believer walks back into life and away from moments of hearing the Word of God in preaching or reading, but not in the same way. Through humble, attentive, and continual exposure to the Word of God the believer will find a quickness to apply it both in the midst of trials of faith and in the temptation to give in to wealth and privilege (2:2).” (NAC, 97)
We’re told to put off sinful and evil behavior, we’re told to not only hear the word of God, but do the word of God; and then James ends this paragraph with this statement against what he calls “worthless religion.” And it’s really a statement against being busy, but not actually believing.
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Pure and Undefiled Religion - James 1:26-27
Pure and Undefiled Religion - James 1:26-27
Much like the person who only hears the word and doesn’t do it—the man that walks away from the mirror, is this person who thinks he is religious
In the case of James 1:26-27, this “religious person” is actually self-deceived.
Which means this, this person is in church whenever the doors are open, they volunteer whenever possible, they do all the right things—if their neighbor calls at 3am because their furnace died, they would be there
And yet, if this person does not “bridle his tongue” his religion is worthless.
I think this deserves some extra attention, because if you’re like me, you’re wondering what a person’s tongue has to do with whether or not a person’s religion is worthwhile or not. So, let me remind you again of some of the verses that talk about a person’s tongue
Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:36-37, that we will be held accountable for every idle word that we say
Ephesians 4:29, warns us against corrupting talk coming out of our mouths; and it tells us that we should only speak what is good to build up and gives grace
There are a ton of other passages that mention the use of the tongue and being careful with what we say, but I think the most telling verse is in Luke 6:45, in which Jesus, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, makes this statement, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the heart his mouth speaks.”
Or in other words, what we say betrays what is in our hearts.
Another reason, bridling our tongues is important, is probably seen later in James. James 3, talks about how an uncontrolled tongue can set a forest fire type of blaze and James in chapter 3 also mentions people that bless and curse out of the same mouth and he states that these things ought not be.
James is essentially stating that a person who claims to be religious and does all the right things, but can’t control his tongue, which gives the impression that his heart is treasuring evil has a worthless religion.
And Jame’s finishes this paragraph with Vs 27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
Now obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list of what Christianity looks like. John Calvin says that, James “does not define generally what religion is, but reminds us that religion without the things he mentions is [worthless]”
This is not a statement against having church and having religious rituals for worship, if they’re done with a reverent and worshipful spirit—James has made it fairly clear that we cannot do what the Bible says without first hearing what the Bible says.
He is concerned about an over-emphasis of hearing without doing.
In other words, true religion that means something extends beyond going to church
True religion that means something requires action
In the case of James, its the care for orphans and widows and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Why orphans and widows? Because in the first and second century, true orphans and widows were typically neglected and not taken care of—the government didn’t have systems to help the elderly and they didn’t have systems to help the children. If a child was orphaned or a person was widowed, they typically wouldn’t be able to provide for themselves and they would end up on the streets.
Now James isn’t condemning all religious activities that aren’t visiting orphans and widows, but he’s utilizing them as examples of people that we can help and not gain any reward from—we don’t get prestige, we don’t get money for it—we’re simply serving them to serve Jesus and that’s how James can say that that sort of religion is pure and undefiled.
James makes one last statement, to keep oneself unstained from the world.
And this is the same statement that is constantly repeated throughout Scripture: 1 Peter 1:13, “13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.””
Pure Religion is to serve Jesus and other people with no ulterior motive and to be holy as Christ is holy.
The Tyndale New Testament Commentary makes this statement: “It is important and instructive that James includes this last area, for it penetrates beyond action to the attitudes and beliefs from which action springs. The ‘pure religion’ of the ‘perfect Christian’ combines purity of heart with purity of action.”
Now, I realize that there is a ton of information here, so let me try and tie it all together and give you some application:
James starts this paragraph by speaking about anger (19-21)
He tells us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (which in and of itself, is excellent application)
We should endeavor to hear what people have to say
We should be slow to speak our mind
And we should be slow to be angry
Because anger for reasons that aren’t godly, is sinful
Righteous indignation at child abuse and sex trafficking is good
Anger at sinful behavior is good
Anger and hatred directed at a person is misplaced
But that actually isn’t the point of the passage. James says to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger because the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God.
Which gives us a connection into this idea of putting off filthiness and wickedness and receiving the implanted word
We are to actively reject sin—much like Paul says in Ephesians 4, we are to put off our old self and our old manner of living and put on our new self
And we know what is sin, from what Scripture tells us and also from the Holy Spirit working within us—the issue is that most of us know right from wrong and we still do what is wrong.
In which case, we need to let the Holy Spirit do his work within us to convict us of our sin, repent from sin, and receive the implanted word
Internalize the word
We need to take every opportunity that we have to hear and read the word of God
Listen to good, biblical preaching—John MacArthur, John Piper, Tim Keller
Listen to an audio Bible—this is great for when you’re on a walk or you’re driving to work.
Read and study the Bible—learn to actually figure out what the author intended to say and then apply that to your lives
And if you need help studying Scripture and trying to figure out what the author intended to say, ask for help
Any good pastor would be more than willing to help you study Scripture
At the very least, I can recommend a ton of books that will help you
In addition to listening, reading, and studying—it is extremely helpful, if you’re trying to internalize Scripture, to memorize Scripture.
Put off sin, internalize the word, and do what the Bible actually says
Allow it to transform the way that you think
Pray for God to utilize the Scripture in your life to convict you of sin, give you encouragement, and mature you as a bleiver
And don’t allow yourself to think and act like Christianity is an intellectual exercise or emotional exercise—true belief in Jesus Christ motivates obedience through serving him and serving the people around you.
Yes, it is vital to know Scripture and you should take plenty of time to learn and love Scripture; but our faith goes beyond what we intellectually know about God.
Our faith in Jesus Christ and what he has done for us must motivate us to love and good works
And if our faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t—we must ask ourselves whether or not we actually believe in Jesus Christ.
Our application tonight, is to learn the word of God through hearing, reading, and studying; internalize the word of God; and do the word of God through serving Jesus and serving others.