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As I said in my previous blog, James is a book about how to walk faithfully through the Christian life. In James 1:19-20, we get what I think is the proverb, the thematic verses, which give the feeling of the whole book of James.
“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
“my beloved brethren”
Notice James uses the word brethren, which means he’s writing to Christian people. He doesn’t need to tell the Gospel because they already know the Gospel. Instead, he’s trying to tell them how to live out the Gospel, how to live out their baptismal vows, how to walk in the newness of life.
“Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”
This is not just a simple proverb that says, “Well don’t talk a lot and think through what you say.” It certainly does say that, but it has deeper implications. In the next chapters being “quick to hear” is addressed, “slow to speak” is addressed, and then “slow to anger” is addressed.
James 1:21 through the end of chapter 2 talks about being “quick to hear.” If you’re “quick to hear,” you truly, authentically hear. Now the question is, “Hear what?”
Real Hearers Hear the Word of Truth
The way the word “hearing” is used in this verse means you hear the Gospel. You authentically hear what James calls “the word,” which is a reference to the Gospel.
The Gospel has already been referred to in verse 18: “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth.” “The word of truth” is a phrase that’s used in any number of places in the New Testament, and it refers to the Gospel, the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Be quick to hear the word of truth. It’s referred to again in verse 21:
“Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
That’s a reference to the basic fundamental Christian message of the Gospel. If you haven’t received the Gospel – the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus – then you are not a Christian.
Christians can differ on a lot of things, but if you’ve heard and received the message of the Gospel and cling to that message, and you say, “Yes Lord, I believe that Jesus died for my sins, he has been raised from the dead, and I give myself to you through him,” then you are a Christian. You ought to be baptized, follow Jesus, and serve him.
Real Hearers Aren’t Auditors
The type of hearing is important to James. You must really hear – “be quick to hear.”
Don’t let your hearing be like an auditor in a college classroom. An auditor is someone who’s not taking a course for credit. I’ve known some exceptions, but usually auditors stop showing up. Why? Auditors have no accountability. They didn’t have to pay full tuition. Mom and Dad aren’t going to get mad if they quit. They don’t have to take notes. They don’t even have to listen or take the test. And they aren’t going to get a grade. Sometimes auditors are committed and finish out the whole course, but even then, auditors usually don’t learn as much because they aren’t being held accountable.
James uses the word for “auditor” here.
But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25)
“Forgetful hearer” is the word for auditor, someone who just hears. It’s one thing just to hear, but it’s something else to be quick to hear and “to receive the Word implanted.”
Verse 21 again: “in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
You must really receive the word. Don’t be like an auditor. Don’t be like the man who walks up to a mirror and sees his reflection, but as soon as he walks away, he forgets. An auditor is someone who says, “Well, here’s the Gospel. That’s interesting. That was nice,” but it doesn’t change his life.
James is saying that if you truly hear the Gospel, your life will be forever changed. The implanted word received in humility will transform your life.
Real Hearers Are Effective Doers
Don’t be a forgetful hearer. Be a receptive doer.
In verses 22-25, James is drawing upon the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus says the man who hears these words and does them is like a wise man who builds his house upon the rock (Matthew 7). Jesus emphasized both hearing and doing, and James draws upon that.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)
Be an effective doer of the word. To be quick to hear means you’re someone who really hears and allows the message of the Gospel to transform your life.
In my next blog, I’ll continue to discuss what it means to be a receptive doer, a true hearer of the word, by looking at James 2.
- Are you a real hearer of the word?
- What does it mean to walk in the newness of life?
- James 1: Christian Wisdom Starts with Christ
Blog edited by Joannah Buffington