One of the things common to all human beings is the propensity for self-deception. We are born masters in the art of convincing ourselves of things that are not necessarily true. We do it in all areas of our lives, but for those of us in the church, one area in which we are particularly prone to self-deception is our own spiritual health.
James 1:22 reads, But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. We self-deceive by telling ourselves we are doing well spiritually because we are in the Word, listening to the Word, or learning the Word, when the real question is whether or not we are doing the Word. It is a valuable practice to periodically evaluate our lives to see if this particular brand of self-deception is working its way into our lives. To that end, for the next few weeks we’ll be taking a walk through James 1:19-27. May the Lord use this short series to wake us up to this danger.
This passage teaches us first of all that we need to be hearers of the Word. V19 reads: Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Based on the context, we know that this is not mere hearing, not mere speaking, and not mere anger, as if the object of the hearing, speaking, and anger is indefinite. The context revolves around the receiving of the Word. The previous verse, v18, teaches that the Word of truth is the catalyst that brought us the new birth. Then v21 speaks of the “implanted word that is able to save your souls.” So both the previous and following verses speak of the communication of the Word, and the rest of the passage deals with being a doer of the Word. That points to the Word being the object of the verbs in v19.
So the command is to be quick to hear the Word of God. “Hear” refers to more than auditory perception. The word means “to listen”. It is an active thing. Pay attention. Listen to understand. This speaks of an openness to what the Word has to say to us, which is clear, considering that James has juxtaposed “hearing” against the other two verbs in the verse.
It says be “quick to hear,” as opposed to being quick to speak. What is a common characteristic of someone who is a bad listener? While the other person is talking they are thinking about what they are going to say. How would that apply to the idea of being quick to hear the Word? When we think of the Word as making claims on us, convicting us, calling us to obedience in areas of our lives where we have been resistant, we are quick to speak, that is, we are quick to rebut the Word. In other words, we argue with the Word. Have you ever heard someone teach the Word in such a way that called you to a form of obedience or belief that you didn’t like, so you immediately started thinking about why that text couldn’t mean what it looks like it means? That represents a heart closed to the Word, a heart that is not quick to hear. We argue it away rather than considering the truthfulness of it.
And then even worse, sometimes we react in anger to the Word - He says be “slow to anger.” This Greek word for anger speaks of a deep, internal resentment and rejection, in this context, of God’s Word. So to be quick to anger is to be quick to reject what God’s Word calls us to. Or for those of us who have a high regard for the Word, we may transfer our anger to the preacher or teacher, discounting what is said by assuming a wrong motive.
So what James is calling us to first of all is to be quick to hear, to be open to what the Word of God has to say to us, to not argue against it or reject it but to really consider what it requires of us.
And then the text tells us why. Why should we be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger? V20, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Remember that God’s objective is to sanctify us for His glory. v20 tells us that those ungodly responses to the Word – arguing against it and flat-out rejecting it in anger – are not going to produce godliness in us, which we know to be God’s objective for us. So he calls us back to that God-centered objective, and away from our man-centered objective of making ourselves comfortable.
So a good question to ask ourselves as we come together to hear the Word is what is our disposition toward it? Are we open to it or are we defensive? What has been your disposition toward the Word recently? The first step to being doers of the Word is to have hearts that truly hear the Word.