James 1:19-25 reads, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”
With James 1:19-25 we come to the fourth paragraph of this epistle. Again we remember that the Holy Spirit inspired purpose for this epistle is to provide pastoral counsel for a spiritually mature walk in the believer’s life. Even so, this fourth paragraph gives counsel concerning a right relating toward others out of a heart-character that is being spiritually transformed through a meek reception of and a faithful obedience to God’s Word of truth. Thus we find in this para-graph instruction to relate aright toward others and to relate aright toward God’s Word.
The word “wherefore” with which James 1:19 begins indicates that the instructions of this verse are connected to and flow out from some truth in the previous paragraph (verses 12-18). Because of the instructions that follow in verses 21-25 concerning our reception of and obedience to God’s Word, many see this connection as being with the truth in verse 18 that God our heavenly Father has begotten us “with the word of truth.” Thus they conclude that the instructions of verse 19 are intended to reveal the response that we ought to have toward the truth of God’s Word. Yet when this conclusion is applied to all three of the instructions in verse 19, it lacks Biblical validity. Certainly it is Biblically valid to say that we should be “swift to hear” the message of God’s Word. However, is it also Biblically valid to say that we should be “slow to speak” forth the message of God’s Word, or from a different perspective that we should be “slow to speak” against the message of God’s Word? No, it is not Biblically valid to say that we should be “slow to speak” forth the message of God’s Word. Rather, we should be ever ready to speak forth God’s Word of truth in love to evangelize lost sinners and to edify the fellow believers. It is also not Biblically valid to say that we should be “slow to speak” against the message of God’s Word. Rather, we should never speak against the message of God’s Word. Furthermore, is it Biblically valid to say that we should be “slow to wrath” toward the message of God’s Word? No, it is not Biblically valid; for we should never respond in wrath toward the message of God’s Word.
What then is the connection between the instructions of verse 19 and the truths of verses 12-18? The primary truths of verses 12-18 are that those who endure temptation faithfully shall be blessed with the crown of life, that we should never falsely accuse the Lord our God of being the cause of sinful temptation, that the true cause of sinful temptation is the selfish desires of our own corrupt hearts, and that the Lord our God is the Source of every good and perfect gift, the great example being our spiritual new birth. Verse 19 then indicates that we should behave in a manner of self-control and self-denial, being “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” What primary truth of verses 12-18 would lead to such instruction? It is the truth that the true cause of sinful temptation is the selfish desires of our own corrupt hearts. Because even as the children of God, we retain the selfish influences of our sinful flesh upon our hearts (See Romans 7:17-21; Galatians 5:17), the desires of our hearts are often motivated and corrupted by selfishness. Therefore, as we relate to others, we must deny our selfish inclinations to listen unto others’ opinions little, to speak forth our opinions much, and to be provoked unto selfish wrath quickly. Even so, James 1:19-25 provides a four-fold counsel concerning the manner by which we are to deal with the selfish, sinful corruption within our hearts.
We must relate toward others with self-denial.
James 1:19 gives the exhortation, saying, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” As we have noted, this three-fold exhortation may be summarized in the requirement that we must relate toward others with self-denial. Through the selfish influence of our sinful flesh, the character of the thoughts and intents of our hearts is corrupted by selfishness. Thus in relating to others, our natural inclination is toward selfishness. In such selfishness we are slow to hear others’ thoughts, opinions, feelings, and interests. In such selfishness we are swift to speak forth our own thoughts, opinions, feelings, and interests. In such selfishness we are swift to wrath when our thoughts, opinions, feelings, and interests are not honored and when we do not get our own way. Therefore, in order to combat such selfishness from corrupting our relations toward others, we are exhorted to deny ourselves and our selfishness. Indeed we must deny our natural selfishness by being swift to hear others’ communication. Indeed we must deny our natural selfishness by being slow to speak our own mind. Indeed we must deny our natural selfishness by being slow to be provoked unto wrath. Selfishness must not be allowed to reign in our relations with others, whether it be with God or with others. Selfishness must be denied. Yea, selfishness must be put to death.
In verse 20 the explanation for the three-fold exhortation of verse 19 is revealed, “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” When in selfishness we are slow to hear others’ communication, we often develop misunderstandings and are often provoked thereby unto selfish wrath. In addition, when in selfishness we are swift to speak our own mind, yet are not heard and honored and do not get our own way, we are easily provoked unto selfish wrath. Yea, when in selfishness we are swift to wrath, we are often swift to speak forth our wrath and are even less inclined to hear others’ communication. Yet our selfish wrath does not produce God’s righteousness, either in our behavior toward others or in our influence upon a given situation. When we do not deny our selfishness in relating to others, we are easily provoked unto selfish wrath; and through selfish wrath we bring forth unrighteousness in great offense against the Lord our God and in the overthrow of our spiritual influence upon others. Where selfish wrath abounds, unrighteousness abounds. Certainly this is not the will of our Lord. On the other hand, James 3:17-18 declares, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”
We must put away from ourselves all sinful behavior.
In order to deal with the selfish, sinful corruption within our hearts, the opening portion of James 1:21 gives the second exhortation, saying, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.” Herein the word “filthiness” refers to any type of spiritual defilement and impurity, whereby we are made spiritually filthy and offensive in God’s sight, like as a disgustingly filthy garment. Even so, this filthiness flows directly out of the selfish corruption of our hearts. Furthermore, the word “superfluity” refers to that which over flows in abundance. Finally, the word “naughtiness” refers to a malicious spirit that motivates us to behave against others. In fact, the Greek word that is here translated as “naughtiness” is most often translated as “malice” or “maliciousness” throughout the rest of the New Testament. In this light, this naughtiness overflows directly from the selfish wrath that so often floods our hearts. Now, the word “wherefore” with which this exhortation begins indicates that this exhortation is necessary because our selfish wrath does not produce God’s righteousness. Selfishness is our natural inclination. Selfish wrath is a common product of that selfishness. Thus the sinful filthiness that flows from our selfishness and the abundant naughtiness (maliciousness) that overflows from our selfish wrath have already taken hold within every one of our hearts and lives. If we would deal with this spiritual corruption, we must “lay apart” that which has already taken hold. We must cast it aside. We must put it away. In broken-hearted repentance, we must confess all such filthiness and naughtiness unto the Lord our God. This we must do that He, through the almighty power of His abundant grace, might cleanse away the filthiness and cut away the naughtiness. Then by this very means, we prepare ourselves for the transforming work of God’s Word upon the character of our hearts.
We must receive with meekness all Scriptural truth.
In order to deal with the selfish, sinful corruption within our hearts, the closing portion of James 1:21 gives the third exhortation, saying, “And receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” Now, the word “wherefore” with which verse 21 begins also encompasses this exhortation, indicating that this exhortation is also necessary because our selfish wrath does not produce God’s righteousness and because we need deliverance from the selfish corruption of our hearts that produces such selfish wrath. Even so, it is through the power of God’s holy Word that the character of our souls may be delivered from the selfish, sinful corruption that exists therein. “Wherewithal shall a young man [or, any individual] cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psalm 119:9). God’s holy Word, the Law of the Lord, the perfect and powerful “law of liberty,” is that which is able to liberate our hearts and souls from selfish corruption and to convert our hearts and souls unto God’s righteousness (Psalm 19:7). Indeed, our spiritual character needs to be transformed step-by-step, “from glory to glory,” unto the righteous image of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). This spiritual transforming is accomplished by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), and it is the truth of God’s holy Word, as employed by God’s Holy Spirit, that is able to renew the spirit of our mind in order that we may be spiritually transformed thereby. Therefore, we are exhorted to receive the truth of God’s Word with meekness. First, this means that we must receive the truth of God’s Word with all conviction of heart, whole-heartedly believing that every word thereof “is in truth, the word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16). Second, this means that we must receive the truth of God’s Word with all diligence of effort, daily studying its teaching that we may know our Lord and His ways (Proverbs 8:34-35; 2 Timothy 2:15; Acts 17:11). Third, this means that we must receive the truth of God’s Word with all readiness of mind, attentively ready to learn its wisdom that we may grow spiritually thereby (Proverbs 2:1-9; 1 Peter 2:2; Acts 17:11). Fourth, this means that we must receive the truth of God’s Word with all meekness of soul, humbly submitting ourselves unto its authority without contradiction or complaint (James 1:21; Psalm 25:8-10, 12, 14; 32:8-9). Yet only receiving the truth of God’s Word is not enough to deliver our souls from selfish corruption and to transform our souls unto God’s righteousness.
We must be doers of God’s Word with settled obedience.
Thus in order to deal with the selfish, sinful corruption within our hearts, James 1:22 gives the fourth and final exhortation, saying, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” Being “hearers only” of God’s Word is not enough to deliver and transform the character of our hearts. We must be doers also of God’s Word. In fact, being “hearers only” will not lead down the path of spiritual transformation, but down the path of self-deception. We are deceiving ourselves when we are hearers only, without faithful obedience, and yet convince ourselves that we are being transformed in heart-character, growing in spiritual maturity, and walking in our Lord’s fellowship. We are like a man who beholds “his natural face” in a mirror, observing the defects that need to be fixed, and then goes on his daily business without fixing anything, completely forgetting how offensive his appearance is to those around him. Indeed, when we are “hearers only,” and not doers also, we may be convicted of the sinful faults in our character; and yet we go on our way without correcting these sinful faults, completely forgetting how spiritually offensive we appear in the sight of the Lord our God. This is self-deception, and this will produce spiritual destruction. On the other hand, when we are both hearers and doers of the Word, we will look into the truth of God’s holy Word each day with attentiveness and will continue in the truth of God’s holy Word throughout the day with obedience. Then being not forgetful hearers, but doers of our Lord’s work, we shall be blessed in our work of righteousness. When we delight and meditate day and night in the truth of God’s Word, so that we may “observe to do according to all that is written therein,” then we shall make our way prosperous and have good, spiritual success (Joshua 1:8). Then we shall be transformed unto spiritual maturity and be “throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:17).
Posted in Weekly Sermon, James, Spiritual Growth, Self Denial, Godly Communication, Repentance of Sin, Word of God, Obedience to the Lord
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