“But 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 1:25
The Word of God cannot work in our lives unless we receive it in the right way. James 1:19-21 says, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
This text suggests four ways in which we should receive the Word:
Be swift to hear (v19a). Someone once said, “It’s impossible for a worthwhile thought to enter your mind through an open mouth.” The scriptures confirm the truth of this comment. Jesus, for example, had much to say about hearing and listening. In Matthew 13:9 He said, “He who has ears, let him hear.” In Mark 4:24 He said, “Consider carefully what you hear.” And in Luke 8:18 He said, “Consider carefully how you listen.” Which indicates how the first step in receiving the Word is to pay attention to what God says. This is vital. For “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” Romans 10:17. No wonder God gave us two ears and one mouth. It’s probably because He wants us to spend twice as much time listening as talking. So be swift to hear God’s Word. For, as it said on a sign on Lyndon B. Johnson’s office wall when he was a Texas Senator, “You ain’t learnin’ nothin’ when you’re talkin’.”
Be slow to speak (v19b). The story is told of a young man who asked a famous Roman orator to teach him the art of public speaking. From the moment they met, the young man babbled ceaselessly. Finally, when the famous orator managed to interject, he said, “Young man, to instruct you in oratory, I will have to charge you a double fee because I will have to teach you two skills: the first, how to hold your tongue, and the second, how to use it.” The orator was right on target. For the second step in receiving God’s Word is to know when it’s appropriate to speak and when it’s appropriate not to speak. Proverbs 10:19 and 17:27 says, “He who holds his tongue is wise” and “a man of knowledge uses words with restraint.” Yes, we should be cautious, patient, and careful when we speak for the Lord. We should have the gravest concern that what we say both edifies those who hear, and honours the Lord on whose behalf we speak.
Be slow to anger (v19c-20). Some time ago I counselled some folk who claimed to be Christians and yet refused to act on God’s Word. I pleaded with them to follow a clear, pertinent, and unambiguous biblical principle but they said, “No.” They even went on to say that they didn’t care what God’s Word said, they would simply do what they felt like doing. These are the people James is speaking to when he indicates that the third step in receiving God’s Word is being “slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” In saying this, James is speaking particularly about the kind of anger that comes about when the Word of God has confronted a person with their sin, upset their comfort zone, challenged their opinions or beliefs, or come into conflict with a particular standard of behaviour. Thus, the text is referring to any hostile disposition against scriptural truth. It’s addressing those who hear God’s Word and resent how it exposes their ungodly lifestyle or false ideas. And it identifies how God’s righteousness can never grow from anger rooted in our likes and dislikes.
Be submissive in spirit (v21). Eugene Peterson in The Message, renders James 1:21 as follows; “In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.” That’s beautifully put. It indicates how the fourth step in receiving God’s Word is a selfless, willing, teachable, and submissive spirit. J. A. Motyer commenting on the importance of a submissive spirit, says, “We might wonder why the ever-practical James does not proceed to outline schemes of daily Bible reading or the like, for surely these are the ways in which we offer a willing ear to the voice of God. But he does not help us in this way. Rather, he goes deeper, for there is little point in schemes and times if we have not got an attentive spirit. It is possible to be unfailingly regular in Bible reading, but to achieve no more than to have moved the bookmark forward: this is reading unrelated to an attentive spirit. The word is read but not heard. On the other hand, if we can develop an attentive spirit, this will spur us to create those conditions – a proper method in Bible reading, a discipline of time, and so on – by which the spirit will find itself satisfied in hearing the Word of God.”
Now receive the Word as God intended. Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, and be submissive in spirit. For when you do this, you will be blessed (cf. James 1:25).