The Bible Impacts Every Believer
Real belief behaves, part 1–James 1:19-21
The Test of ‘Response to the Word’–James 1:19-27
Do you remember the old days when there were conferences that promoted themselves as offering the key to the Christian life? Did you read one of those books promising to transform you from being an average Christian to a committed Christian with one simple reading? Have you listened to a sermon series guaranteeing to transform your marriage, improve your parenting, and fix all your problems?
After getting saved at 18, I admit I went to a few conferences, read a few books, and listened to some sermon series hoping that by following their formula approach, I would be fixed, and instantly become a mature Christian. They promised to help me rise above the struggles of seeking to live for Christ. It took some time, but I began to realize the Christian life is a process–a long-term road which includes a lot of ups and downs, good days and testing days, joys and sorrows, some fruit and too much failure.
As I continued to grow, it became obvious that the day-to-day faithful pursuit of obedience to God’s Word in the power of the Spirit–dependent obedience was the only way to have peace, to mature, and to stabilize in my journey toward Heaven. Then came the shock–I realized that living day-by-day, saturated in God’s Word, dependent in prayer and relying upon the Spirit is not common, not normal, not the majority, even in Bible-teaching churches. My heart broke when I began to witness the lack of obeying the Word was crippling many churches and causing Christians, possibly even some of you, a great deal of pain.
There are some who grew up thinking it would be easy to follow Christ, since turning to Christ was free and paid for. They thought following Christ would be just as easy. There are others who live by their feelings–therefore when they feel bad, or they are overly tired, or full of trials, then they collapse under the weight of life. There are some who are lazy and didn’t fully count the cost of following Christ.
But the most common response is the church attender who honors Christ, will attend a little, give a little, serve a little–but their passion is not to live by the Word in every area of their life. This selective obedience eventually results in crushing trials, or a crisis of faith, or a discouragement of heart. And the real issue is not their trial, not the current strained relationship–but simply, they have not been a doer of the Word. Being a doer of the Word, living by the Word, applying God’s Word is absent today. So much so, it is a debilitating Christian disease. It cripples churches, ruins their witness and crushes Christians.
You today may have a mild case of hearing only, or you may have a full-on cancer of not doing the Word. You and I must face the fact there is a massive divide between confession and deed, theology and action, hearing and doing, theory and practice, believing and behaving, listening to and living the truth. Far too many Christians have failed to pursue living God’s Word on a daily basis. They are not in the Word, so the Word is not in them. Therefore, the Word does not live through them. The Bible maybe read occasionally, studied once in a while, even listened to on a Sunday–but it fails to make it from the head to the heart. And for many more, the Bible gets lodged between their heart and their hands. The Bible is rarely applied. Too many Christians enjoy the thrill of feeling right before God, but are not willing to endure the inconvenience, struggle and work of living right before God by doing the Word of God.
James is teaching his troubled, scattered, and abused brethren that real faith produces genuine works–that real belief behaves. Do not miss this–James has already taught believers that as they endure through trials, it proves their faith is genuine in verses 1 to 12. Then he taught taking responsibility for your sin in temptation also points to a born-again heart in verses 13 to 18.
Now today he reminds Christians that all of that, victory over trials and resisting temptation, is all dependent upon your appropriate response to God’s Word. Enduring trials and resisting temptation is not merely having the right passages memorized, and good Christians surrounding you to hold you up. To triumph over the troubles of trials and temptations, you must be one who is seeking to live the Word in every aspect of your life every single day. You need be a doer of the Word–not a dabbler.
Being a doer of the Word is someone who lives the Bible every day in every way. They talk, clean, drive, work, school, friend, marriage, parent, spend, teach, patrol, manage, sell, compute, chill, hang out, watch–all according to the Word. They want to follow the Word. Only then are they ready to face trials and deal with temptations. James finishes chapter one, challenging you to test your faith by your response to God’s Word in everyday life. He will tell us, Real Belief Behaves Differently.
Today we will exposit verses 19 through 21, so read those verses aloud with me. “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger 20for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
This passage is about your response to God’s Word in everyday life. Not at church, community group or ministry, but in all of life is the Word of God your necessary food? Is the Word what you think and do to survive? Is the Bible applied to every aspect of your life? When you hear or study the Word, are you pursuing practicing it daily?
Christian culture often wrongly treats biblical knowledge like a math teacher–get the facts down, understand the formulas, and know the numbers. Just learn it. But the biblical way of dealing with biblical knowledge is like the football coach–learn the plays, but then practice them again and again and again until they’re lived out as second nature. Practice living and applying the truth so it bleeds through you, until God’s Word becomes your lifestyle habit. Why should we? James says . . .
#1 You already know the POWER of the Word of God
Read James 1:19, “This you know, my beloved brethren.” This is a strong statement—literally, you’ve known this in the past and you continue to know this now and continually. But is James referring back to verse 18 or is he only looking ahead to verses 19 to 21? When James says in verse 19, “This you know, my beloved brethren”–the best view is to see him referring back to verse 18. Why? Notice there is a connection between verse 18 and the word of truth, with verse 21 and the implanted word.
James is now turning the focus on His discussion to the Word of God. So when James says in verse 19, “This you know”–what do the readers know? James says in verse 18, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.”
James says in verse 19, you know all this. What? James just taught his readers in verse 18, God is not the one who is to blame for temptation, but God is the one to blame for transforming you in salvation. And James tells us how God transformed you in verse 18. James says in verse 18, salvation came through the powerful Word of truth. So James continues in verse 19, you’ve known and still know of the power of the Word, so let’s build that knowledge of the Word and test your responses to this Word of truth.
In verse 18, the Word of truth is powerful enough to save you, and now in verses 19 and following, the Word is powerful enough to sanctify you. But that will only occur if you respond rightly to the Bible–which is verses 19 to 27. Look at it this way. In verse 19 James is saying, you already know of the incredible power of the Word of God. The Word can transform those who are in the dark of sin to the light of the salvation. The Word will convert someone running from the Lord to someone running to the Lord. The Word can regenerate those dead in their sins to awaken them to life in the Spirit. The Word will deliver those who are enslaved to sin to now be a beloved slave of Christ.
The Word will change your nature opposed to Christ, to a nature submissive to Christ. In verse 18, when James says it was God’s powerful Word which brought this about. He brought us forth by the Word of truth. It is the same truth Romans 10:17 affirms, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”
Now James literally says in verse 19, you have known in the past, and you still know now that it is the Word of truth of verse 18 that transforms you from enemy of God, into verse 19 beloved family of God. Which is why in verse 19, James calls these scattered and suffering Christians, “my beloved brethren”–they’re now family. It is God’s all-powerful Word of verse 18, which grabbed God’s enemies against their will, and made them, verse 19, “my beloved brethren,” my family.
And because the readers know, verse 19—”This you know,” it was the incredible power of the Word to bring about your salvation. Now you must also know the importance of the Word in your sanctification. James is affirming that his readers are aware–they know of the heavenly source of their new birth. They already know of the Word’s regenerating power.
But now as verse 19 continues, James affirms, you must not stop there. You readers must allow the Word of God to continue to function in your Christian life. You know this, my brothers in Christ, my friends in fellowship. James says “beloved brethren” to draw them to his heart as members of his same spiritual family. James says I’m not beating you up–but as family, as those I deeply love, I’m pleading with you to continue to allow the Word of God to do its powerful work in your lives. In brotherly concern, I am asking you to take . . .
#2 You will take the right POSTURE under the Word of God
All you brothers and sisters in Christ have confidence in the power of the Scripture to bring about your new birth. Verse 19A, “This you know, my beloved brethren.” So now, have confidence in the Word to direct and impact your new life in Christ. Verses 19b to 20, “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
James is not merely talking about general principles of life for the Christian. N0–interpret the Bible in its context. The readers knew in the 1st century and you know today, James is giving you the right reactions to God’s Word. James says, but along with knowing the Word is powerful enough to bring salvation, you must respond to the Word as the power enough for sanctification, for becoming like Christ–for living the Christian life. You must have the same confidence in the Word of God for your endurance in the race, as you did for your entrance into the race.
In verse 19b James says, “But everyone”–meaning every one of you. This duty is for all Christians, every age, every sex, young or old, mature or immature. It is incumbent for every believer to continue to take the right posture under the Word of God. Verse 19, “But everyone” is a clear command in Greek–let everyone. This command is for all time, to every one of you. This command never gets old–so get ready to obey, family.
James is telling you, the effective functioning of God’s Word in your daily life demands your active participation. You must go after the application of Scripture–dependent obedience, acting upon your will, relying upon the Spirit of God. It is simple to understand, but it can be agonizingly hard, involving strenuous effort.
What is point #2, the right posture under the Word of God for each Christian here? James gives you and me a triple duty–to listen, to speak and to not become angry. And added to those challenges are the adjective attitudes, be quick and slow. Read verses 19b to 20 again. “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.”
First QUICK TO LISTEN
When you are blessed, you turn to passages of thanksgiving. When you are troubled, you search for words of comfort. In times of confusion, you search for words of wisdom. When you are tempted, you desire truth in order to resist. The Scripture is the believer’s most welcome friend, because it not only delivers you from sin, trial and temptation, but it also is the doorway to intimacy with our heavenly Lord.
As you consider your attitude toward the Bible, as you ponder your use of the Scripture in your everyday life, as you reflect on how you respond to the Bible when it’s preached, taught or discussed–James asks, “Are you eager and attentive, ready to receive and assimilate accurate teaching when it’s heard, studied or read?”
Weren’t you amazed to witness how moms are tuned in, alert, ready to hear their baby’s tiniest cry? In the same way, believers are to be listening to hear God’s Word. Simon J Kistemaker, professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary said, “Listening is the art of closing one’s mouth and opening one’s ears and heart.” Your first duty with your reading, study and hearing the Bible is to increase your knowledge of God’s Word. But as you do, are you listening with the heart of doing–a desire to live the truth–a passion to apply? Quick to listen.
Those who received the letter of James in the first century didn’t have the written New Testament yet. They were dependent upon Holy Spirit-appointed apostles, prophets and teachers to instruct God’s Word from the Old Testament and reveal God’s revelation now under Christ. About the same time James was written, Acts 13:1 describes these first century teachers. “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.”
So with no New Testament Bible in their laps, these early believers had to listen extra hard, but with a heart committed to the Scripture working hard in their lives. Just as the Word transformed them in salvation, the Word is meant to transform them in sanctification. They had to listen well, “quick to hear”–meaning listen with a heart to apply. Do the Word.
Second SLOW TO SPEAK
Does not mean the southern believer–slowness in speaking. This is a call for restraint–do not be hasty in your reaction to what is taught. Listen quickly, but do not respond too quickly to what is heard. You have two ears and one mouth in order to listen more than you speak. Give thoughtful evaluation to the teaching of the Word that has been heard. With “slow to speak”, James is giving a safeguard against shallow and immature reactions. The continual talker cannot hear what anyone else says, and as a result will not hear what God says to him through His Word. There is a warning to Bible teachers in James 3:1.
But one of the main reasons for this first century exhortation was the free, unstructured and informal nature of the Early Church gatherings, which we know from 1 Corinthians 14 included a lot of personal interactions and individual questions in the worship services. Believers asked questions bluntly. Some shared openly and others reacted frankly. In those interactions, some would object too quickly. Some zealots would overstate and a few would make rash assertions as to their perceptions of truth, which would often confuse and even obscure the Word. So James exhorts believers to be slow to speak, remembering this–your freedom of expression is a serious responsibility, not a right.
Social media is devastating the commitment for believers to be slow to speak. Expressing opinions is a major element of our contemporary culture. Too many untrained wordsmiths, debaters, some with evil motives, a few with axes to grind, those in love with their own ideas, some arrogantly trying to prove their errant theology, those with little or poor training, many with no experience, some with pint-size maturity, many with unproven character use social media to speak far too quickly about Scripture, sermons, doctrines and more. You know it’s true and you’ve seen what it leads to–anger. Which is why James adds the third duty.
Third SLOW TO ANGER
Rebukes the danger that comes from a flash reaction to the Word. Anger is a powerful emotion designed to destroy something. Every emotion God gave us is proper in its place and that is true of anger. But here, anger is used to do damage. Rash and reckless speech is prone to wound. Quick comments are likely to provoke animosity. Churches are divided and Christians crushed under the wounds of angry words.
Maybe you’ve seen the poster–temper is such a valuable thing, it’s a shame to lose it. It’s the way God made me–I often see how commitments pastors make will play out in the future, so slow to anger is a great warning for me. Parents, you know this anger. You express anger in the form of frustration to your children when they repeat the same foolish choices that burned you when you were their age.
James is warning about un-Christian tempers flaring over disagreements on truth. That is different than being angry when someone is rude or insensitive. This slow to anger is a manifestation of carnal zeal over truth expressed under a cover of sincere concern. They are trying to correct, make things right, get someone back on course, but doing so wrongly with anger. All furious reactions to the views of others will malign the person of Christ and discredit the cause of Christ.
The Greek word for anger here is more than a passing surge of irritation or displeasure. The anger here denotes a strong and persistent feeling of indignation. Anger is not always wrong, like in Mark 3:5 when it says of Jesus, “After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.”
So when is anger justified and when is it not? Jay Adams says, “Acceptable anger centers around those things that offend God, rather than one’s self.” There is a godly anger against sin–and if we love the Lord, we will hate sin too. But anger is sin when it is aroused by the wrong things. Anger is wrong when the reason for anger is pride, jealousy, impatience or some self-focused matter. Cain’s anger over God’s acceptance of Abel’s offering rather than his own, was sinful anger.
When you’re angry because you were overlooked, not mentioned, or ignored–that’s sinful anger. When your anger burns because your job is hard, your finances are stretched, your relationships are strained, or you cause an accident–that’s sinful anger. Anytime anger is expressed by blowing up or clamming up, that’s illegitimate anger. Be slow to anger.
James adds in verse 20, “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Man’s anger (especially over God’s Word) does not bring about a righteous life. You may be wanting to live a righteous life, but anger will not get you there. James says human wrath is in stark contrast to God’s righteousness. The Greek does not use an article with anger or righteousness, telling us James means this–if anger characterizes your life, then it will not result in righteousness characterizing your life. The righteous life God desires from you cannot be brought about through anger.
The Greek verb for achieve, “does not achieve” in verse 20, means works or produces or brings about. Your anger never produces the righteousness God approves of. Unrighteous anger blocks the growth of righteousness in and through your life. Here’s the principle–stop being edgy in your discussions of truth. Anger stifles your growth. Yes, develop convictions. Yes, express anger against deception that misleads people into thinking they’re going to Heaven when they’re actually going to Hell. Yes, say hard things–but kindly. Yes, speak the truth–but in love. Yes, be full of truth–but also be full of grace.
You don’t need to beat anyone up with the truth, or over the truth. Anger stifles the growth of righteousness in your life. Anger stifles your growth. James says human anger is not an appropriate means for the production of righteousness in your life. James says, #2 take the right POSTURE under the Word of God and then number three . . .
#3 You will take the right PATH with the Word of God
Verse 21 says, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” James sees the human heart as a garden–if left to itself, if unmanaged, if ignored, if you coast in your Christian life, the soil of your heart will only produce weeds. So in verse 21, James urges believers to pull the weeds and prepare the soil for the seed of God’s Word.
The verse begins with “therefore”–which means for this reason. Look back to verse 20, James is charging his readers to respond differently to the Word than with anger, or the hurried, unthoughtful responses of verse 19. The anger of verses 19 to 20–this very anger you’re venting is actually not connected to the issues you’re arguing about. No, the anger of verses 19 to 20 is actually exposing and expressing the evils in your own heart.
So what are you to do? Dependent upon the Spirit of God, obeying the Word of God, you are to flee sin and pursue righteousness. Second Timothy 2:22, “Flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness.” You are to put off sinful responses and pick up righteous responses.
First You will PUT ASIDE
Verse 21 says, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness.” Putting aside means to get rid of–meaning before the Word can be effectively welcomed into your life, these hindering sins must be repented of. There is a great need for you to pull the weeds that are choking out the fruitful seed of God’s Word. Do not allow the garden of your heart to be overrun by many tiny sins.
Some of you have said to the Lord, “I am showing up to church, I have some Christian friends, I have a Christian mom–why am I so messed up, so discouraged, so fed up?” Because, friends–you have to deal with sin in your life for the Word to do its work. “What should I do?” Agree with God about your sins, through confession, asking your Father to forgive you for allowing any relational barriers between you and Him. Then repent of your sin, by turning from everything and anything externally that may foster that sin, and internally in your thinking. Then get accountable and ask the Lord to plow up your hard heart, loosening the soil in order to be able to pull those difficult weeds. And make certain you’re planting new biblical habits, new plants, new beginnings, which will prevent further sinful weeds from growing.
In verse 21, putting aside is to get rid of. This word contains the idea of stripping off garments of clothes. Like Romans 13:12, “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Colossians 3:8 adds, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”
In verse 21, James is most likely also calling Christians to strip off all abusive and vulgar speech. Notice the all in verse 21–this is comprehensive. The Lord is never satisfied with partial obedience, partial purity, partial righteousness and partially sound speech. “All filthiness” is James continuing with the metaphor of clothing. Take off the dirty clothes. Filthy is literally dirt, speaking of uncleanness or impurity which defiles your heart and destroys your witness. Rid yourself of any clothes which are not appropriate to Christ. Remove everything morally defiling, especially that which is spoken. If you are a doer of the Word, it will change your heart, which will transform your talk and walk.
The Greek term filthiness is closely related to a term used to describe wax in your ear, which of course impairs hearing. That is especially appropriate, since filthiness is being described as a serious barrier to hearing clearly and applying God’s Word. Then by grammar, the all also refers to “wickedness”. John Calvin viewed wickedness here as innate evil that is never wholly cleansed out of our flesh and will continue to sprout up in our life like weeds.
This wickedness also can specifically describe malice, ill will, and malignity, which is an attitude of mind that desires to injure another. Here in verse 21, because of the emphasis on spoken words, wickedness is probably describing malice, ill will and malignity. These issues of heart must be dependently attacked and willfully killed through Holy Spirit-dependent repentance. This kind of speech must not be allowed to continue. And one of the main ways you grow to be free of those sins of speech is . . .
Second You will PICK UP
Verse 21b, “in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” James says depend on the Word. Appropriate the Bible. Rely on the Scriptures. You must first put off those sins which hamper God working in and through you. But you must also put on, pick up, and humbly receive the Word of God–apply it in your life. Literally in dependent humility–describing your inner attitude toward God’s Word. Humility is a strength of character which kills self and desires to serve Christ.
When James says to humbly receive the Word, he’s conveying a sense of urgency. Get rid of the evil that likes to hide in the crevices of your flesh, and then the key–hunger after God’s Word. Welcome the Bible, want the Scriptures in your heart. The Greek word receive the Word is the same word Luke uses in Acts 17:11 to describe the Bereans. “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”
Like your necessary food, like your flashlight when it’s pitch black, like the water provided when you’re in the desert, like the lens you see through when you can’t see ahead–the Bible is essential to your very life and it leads every aspect of your life. The phrase, “the word implanted” in you is only here in the New Testament. Though the Word of God is not native to the human heart, the Word of God is suited to be planted in your heart.
The Word of God is a living seed—and as a living seed, its nature is to root itself deeply into the soil of the believing heart. Implanted at regeneration, the living Word actively roots itself in the heart of a believer as a vital part of your new nature. You now have divine access to understand and apply the Word of God. So get rid of the weeds which choke out its power and embrace the powerful Word implanted in you. Produce Christ-like fruit.
The power of God’s Word is again at the end of verse 21—“which is able to save your souls.” You are delivered from sin by the Word in genuine salvation. And when James says your souls, he is describing the whole person, the total you. In doing so, James is also describing your final salvation, eternal salvation, the finish of your salvation in the future when you are resurrected in a glorified body and your entire person, body and spirit making up the soul, is now saved in the presence of Christ forever. The Word is powerful, rightly respond to as a believer.
A Are you being impacted by the Word of God CURRENTLY?
The Word of God cannot work in your heart unless you receive it in the right way. Jesus not only said in Mark 4:24 take care what you listen to, but also in Luke 8:18, take heed how you listen. Too many believers are in a tragic condition Jesus warned about in Matthew 13:13, “While hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” They attend church, listen to the Word, but they never seem to grow. James says the fault most often lies with the listener because of decay or deadness in their spiritual life.
Hearing is not the same as obedience–there is no vicarious obedience. Do not assume because you hear accurate teaching from someone submitted to God’s Word, that you yourselves are also living in obedience to it. Hearing must lead to applying. So are you making the difficult effort to live God’s Word by applying what you hear? Only by doing the Word will you have joy in trials and victory over temptations, and begin to see sin decrease and intimacy with Christ increase in your life. Live the Word.
B What do you see, as your heart is EXPOSED by what you say?
Do you listen more than you speak? Your heart is seen by what you give, also how you react to trials and temptations. And now James introduces today that your heart is exposed by whether you apply God’s Word on an ongoing basis. A doer–does your heart reveal you need to repent today?
C Does your hunger for the Word give evidence you are a true CHRISTIAN?
One of the most reliable evidences of genuine salvation is a hunger for the Word. Real Christians are indwelt by the Spirit of Truth, meaning you will love the truth. Genuine believers have an appetite for God’s Word. You may not always appear hungry, but if you are born again, you will want God’s food.
MacArthur says, “Just as a newborn baby does not have to be taught to hunger for its mother’s milk, a newborn child of God does not have to be taught to hunger for God’s Word.” As a Christian, your spiritual dial is tuned to the frequency of Scripture. Are you truly a child of God or do you need to be born again? Real belief behaves differently. Let’s pray.