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A Study of James - Lesson 5 - James 1:19-25

God's Good Word vs. Our Evil Words (1:19-21)
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.

A hot temper can cause us to respond wrongly to trials. Indeed, those who have an explosive temper often find themselves failing a trial that would not even be a trial to those of a calmer disposition. This demonstrates one way that trials help us to grow in the grace of God—as we learn how to deal with a particular kind of trial, it becomes less formidable to us and perhaps eventually ceases to seem like a trial at all. This cannot be said of all trials—our perfect Lord suffered horribly on the cross—but it is true of many of the trials we experience.

Everyone should be quick to listenAnger often results when, in our conversations with others, we do not pay careful attention to what they are saying. We must be listeners—not simply arguers. We must be learners—not simply teachers. We must avoid stereotyping others—forming judgments about what they believe before we have all the facts before us. Others will be more apt to listen to what we have to say if we take a genuine interest in what they have to say.

slow to speakWe must avoid responding too quickly, lest we respond in anger before having all the facts before us. Responding quickly—even if not in anger—can lead to miscommunication and frustration. In any type of Christian ministry—whether giving the gospel, offering counsel, or teaching the Word—clear communication is crucial and miscommunication can often undermine the good we seek to do.

slow to become angryThere is a time for anger—especially when God's honor has been insulted or a person has been treated unjustly—but even then we must not be consumed by anger. Instead, we must respond thoughtfully, with humility and compassion, being careful to avoid sinning in our anger.

Ephesians 4:26 –BE ANGRY, AND YET DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
Far too often, however, our anger is not justified. We must be people who are "slow to become angry"—meaning that (1) we withhold judgment until we have all the facts, and (2) we mercifully exercise patience with those who are abusive. We should never forget how patient and merciful the Lord has been toward us.

man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires Matthew Henry writes:

"Whereas men often pretend zeal for God and his glory, in their heat and passion, let them know that God needs not the passions of any man; his cause is better served by mildness and meekness than by wrath and fury."
Matthew Henry's Commentary at James 1:20
How often do Christians respond to the world with righteous indignation? Yet, such anger is often misunderstood by the world as a sort of self-righteous, "holier than thou" attitude. Even worse, it often engenders a contentious, bitter spirit, a prideful desire to control the situation, or an unmerciful, impatient, judgmental attitude…
Luke 9:54-56 – When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." …
All of these attitudes are inconsistent with the fruit that the Holy Spirit seeks to bring forth and nurture in our lives…
Galatians 5:22-24 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
We must "[crucify] the flesh with its passions and desires" resisting the impulse to let our passions flash forth in anger. We must seek to be transformed from people governed by fleshly passions into sons of God who respond to every trial and provocation by manifesting the spiritual fruit that evidences God's handiwork in our hearts. Everyone who belongs to Christ will seek to crucify the flesh.

the righteous life that God desires We must never forget that genuine Christianity is far more than mere "fire insurance". God justifies us, forgiving us all our sins, that He might sanctify us, transforming us into Christ's image, that He might thereby reveal His power in our lives as He prepares us for the glory that He has prepared for us.

1 Thessalonians 4:3 – For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalentThis verse is much like Galatians 5:24 examined above. To "get rid of all moral filth" is to "crucify the flesh with its passions and desires", and this is necessary to achieving "the righteous life that God desires".
    1. get rid of (Grk: apotithemi) means "to lay aside", "to cast off".
    2. filth (Grk: rhuparia) refers to any sort of filthiness, dishonor or defilement.
    3. evil (Grk: kakia) speaks of malice, ill-will, wickedness or lawlessness.
    4. prevalent (Grk: perisseia) denotes abundance, overflow or residue.
We must make a determined effort to rid ourselves of both moral impurity and malice. The term "prevalent" may have in mind the "residue" of wickedness that still remains in the believer, or it may signify the powerful and pervasive tendencies of wickedness that we must be ever vigilant to resist. In any case, victory over impurity and evil does not come without diligent effort.

humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you Responding to God's word with humility and submission is a mark of the genuine believer, and is needed to bring about the profound transformation expressed in the words of Romans 8:29 — "… conformed to the image of His Son …".

humbly (Grk: prautes) signifies "with meekness or gentleness of disposition". Never allow your knowledge of scripture to be a source of pride or belligerent strife.

accept (Grk: dechomai) means "to take hold of", "to take by the hand", "to receive", "to sustain, bear, endure" or "to learn".

This seems to be more than merely a passive acceptance of God's word. Rather, it is a concerted effort to actively understand and apply the word in our lives. The true child of God hears and follows the voice of his Shepherd…

John 10:4-5, 27 – "When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers." … "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;"
planted (Grk: emphutos) – inborn, implanted by nature, implanted by the instruction of others. The word of God is like seed planted in the soil of your heart. If the soil is good soil, the seed will grow and produce fruit (see Matthew 13:3-23). Note that there is nothing wrong with the seed—if it fails to grow and thrive, it is because of the quality of the soil. However, it must be planted to be fruitful.

which can save you – God's word "can save you" if it is accompanied by the Spirit's work of turning your heart into good, receptive soil. If you don't respond properly to the implanted word, this is evidence that you were never regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Or, if you respond for awhile, but then lose interest, or else fall away when the trials become severe, then this too may be evidence that the work of regeneration never occurred in your heart.

Or, perhaps he simply means that God's word "can save you" from explosive passions and the destructive sins which they beget.

God's people hunger and thirst for righteousness, and they find this hunger satisfied as they feed on His word and seek to apply it in their lives.

Matthew 5:6 – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

1 Peter 2:2 – like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,

If you find that your hunger for God's word and for genuine holiness is not what it should be, then flee to God in prayer, asking Him to give you that desire, and to satisfy it daily through the study and application of His word.

The Mark of Genuine Faith: Doing, not merely Hearing (1:22-25)
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

Hearing God's Word—knowing and understanding what it says—is of no benefit if we do not submit to it. We must be doers of the Word, not merely hearers. To know the truth only increases our accountability if we don't obey it.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. It is good to listen to God's Word, but listening is not enough.  If the Word we hear does not permeate into our hearts and affect our minds, then it is like the rain that falls on a duck--I just rolls off and doesn't soak in.  We are self-deceived if we think that we are saved simply because we hear or approve of the Word of God.  Genuine conversion results in a changed heart that manifests itself in obedience to God's Word.

and so deceive yourselves We are easily deceived by Satan and by our own sinful hearts. One of the most subtle deceptions is the idea that we need only listen to the scriptures and that obeying them is optional. This is similar to the subtlety of thinking that we can "play" with temptation without getting burned by it (vs. 16).

like a man who looks at his face in a mirror James uses another instructive illustration: God's Word is like a mirror in that it helps us to judge our own spiritual condition and progress. We look in a mirror to see if our hair is neat, our tie is straight and our face is clean. The scriptures reveal to us God's perfect standard for human attitudes and conduct. As we look into the scriptures, our own shortcomings become apparent—just like looking in a mirror. If we are "doers of the word", we will seek to address those shortcomings. To fail to do so is like looking in a mirror, seeing that your hair is in disarray, your tie is crooked and your face is covered with chocolate, and doing nothing about it. The true believer wants to be made holy, and, once he sees sin in his heart and life, will take corrective measures.

These "corrective measures" involve confession of sin and prayer to God for the grace to overcome the sin in our lives, as well as concerted effort to flee from the sin—"getting rid of it", and "crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires"—as we look in humble faith to our Lord Jesus who joyfully went to the cross to purchase us for Himself.

the man who looks intently This does not describe merely people who, when they happen to look at the scriptures, take corrective action. Rather, we must be people who diligently search the scriptures with a view to becoming more holy. This suggests an unrelenting, life-long study of the scriptures, a serious effort to plumb the depths of the scriptures to get at the true meaning, and earnest self-examination to determine where we fall short—all motivated by a desire to become more fully conformed to Christ's image.

the perfect law that gives freedom There are many ironies in the Christian faith (e.g. the cross, normally a symbol of the weakness and defeat of the victim, displays the strength and victory of Christ). This is one such irony: We normally think of law as limiting freedom, but James affirms that the law gives freedom.

freedom (Grk: eleutheria) – used in both a moral and amoral sense: 1) freedom generally, 2) license, 3) freedom to do what we ought instead of what we please.

Paul speaks in a similar way, using the figure of slavery

Romans 6:17-22 – But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.
(Note: the bold, underlined words above are variants of the word "freedom" in James 1:25.)

One of the radical concepts of the gospel is that the sinful "freedom" we revel in as unbelievers is actually a form of slavery—bondage to our sinful corruptions that leads ultimately to condemnation and eternal death at God's judgment. Christ has liberated us from this slavery by creating within us a new heart that loves righteousness. To our old sinful heart that still dwells within us, our new life of righteousness seems like slavery. But this "slavery" is actually the "freedom" that leads to Christlikeness and eternal happiness.

continues … not forgetting what he has heard, but doing itIt is not a one-time "fling" with obedience that counts, but a life-long pattern of seeking to understand and obey God's Word.

he will be blessed in what he doesThe "blessing" mentioned here is primarily spiritual and eternal. While there are sometimes practical, temporal benefits to a life of honesty and compassion, godliness can also bring trouble upon us in this life (it is a common source of trials!). God's promise of blessing is seldom material blessing in this life, but the spiritual blessings that result from a godly character—contentment, peace, joy and holiness—and future blessings beyond our wildest dreams!

1. Be a careful listener who does not make rash judgments. Do not answer too quickly. 
2. Beware of a short temper. Learn to control your anger with patience and humility.
3. Remember the character that God seeks to produce in you. Place a high value on humility, compassion and meekness.
4. Get rid of all filthiness and malice—cast it far away from you! Crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.
5. Receive God's Word with humility. Study it diligently and seek to know it well—motivated by a strong desire to grow in Christlike character. Knowledge of scripture should be a source of holiness and joy rather than pride and strife.
6. Be a doer of God's Word—not just a hearer. Think of scripture as a mirror by which to appraise your spiritual condition and identify areas of deficiency. Then address those needs with confession, supplication and repentance.
7. Be persistent in seeking to learn and apply God's Word and rejoice in the spiritual fruit God brings forth as you do this.

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