Hearing and Doing the Word
- We are saved by the Word and changed by the beauty of it
Last week in verse 18 we saw that God “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” We are saved by the word of truth, by the gospel. And this is very important to have in mind as we move on to today’ passage with more application, call to change and transformation. It is vital to remember that by the gospel we are saved and by the gospel we are transformed. We are not merely changed by the rules. If you want your child to become a musician you don’t just begin by telling him the rules of music, you take him to hear the instruments and be captivated by it. And when the hardships and challenges of training come you remind them of the end goal, the music they heard. We are firstfruits of the salvation that God begun through life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ and will complete at his second coming. This is the end picture:
Revelation 21:1-4 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
As a church when we face and hard pressed by different kind of trials, persecution from outside. Temptations, anger, jealousy, selfishness and discrimination from inside. We need to hear not just to hear the rules, but be reminded of the gospel. And this is what James is doing here as he for the next 3 chapters goes very practically addressing the issues that were coming up among those who call themselves Christians. As it still happens in our church and in our lives.
- Receive with meekness the implanted Word
19 Know this, my beloved brothers This is a pastoral letter. Though some of the things will sound harsh, and rightly so because they are against God and displease him. But James writes these words with love. He wants to see his brothers and sisters living a life that is pleasing to God, free from the bondage of sin heading to their Father’s presence rather than deceiving themselves and heading for destruction. “Know this”, this is what he wants us to pay attention to.
let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; Not being able to listen, quick to speak, getting angry. These are the things that James will be addressing throughout this letter. The anger that James is talking about can be evident in the outbursts of anger, but he also talks about subtle deep anger the root of which is selfishness and entitlement. All of us are guilty of it and probably much more than we are ready to admit, because very often we just excuse or undermine it.
20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. The one born by the word of truth belongs to his Father’s household. As God ordains our salvation he also ordains how we ought to live. Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-10)
The world says: “Blessed are the entitled, for they get their way. Blessed are the carefree, for they are comfortable. Blessed are the pushy, for they win. Blessed are the self-righteous, for they need nothing. Blessed are the vengeful, for they will be feared. Blessed are those who don’t get caught, for they look good. Blessed are the argumentative, for they get in the last word. Blessed are the winners, for they get their way.” (Ray Ortlund)
Which one describes our church more accurately? Which one describes your life? We are God’s household and we are to live in a new way, gospel-culture. But with all the temptations coming from out and within us how can we do it?
21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. This is an invitation to repentance. This is where the change begins. Take off, like a dirty clothes all filthiness and uncontrolled wickedness. And turn to the word of God by which you were saved and which is implanted into you and which is able to save you. Save you from the bondage and slavery of sin.
There is a difference between just knowing God’s word and having it implanted into you. The Pharisees knew the word better than anyone else, but it wasn’t implanted in them. “You seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you” (John 8:37) When it is implanted it produces fruit that yields into eternal life (Matthew 13:23)
Though the word is implanted we need to receive it. It’s like oxygen that we need to live. No one says I have oxygen in my lungs and I don’t need it anymore. We need to breathe to live physically. We need to hear and receive the word to live spiritually. You can’t hold your breath for long. Your soul’s survival depends on it. Receiving the word includes hearing, reading, memorising, talking about it and discussing it, praying over it, feasting on the word. Here is the description of the one who receives the word:
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
And when trials and temptations come, he won’t dry out, but will flourish.
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away. (Psalm 1:3–4)
Receive it with meekness, with patience and submissiveness as to the word of the Lord our God (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
- Be doers, not just hearers
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
Here James raises an important issue. He warns us not to be just hearers of the word, but be doers. And this is something each one of us is guilty of. When we hear the word and before we leave the church or even sooner right and the communion, we forget what we heard. Forgets here also means discards. So, not that we have a short memory. But we discard as something irrelevant to our lives, something that we already outgrew or something that needs to be heard by my brother, but not me.
James writes to those who profess themselves to be Christians, but don’t live like they are. It applies to many of us today. The cost of such a life is enormous. Deceiving yourself to be God’s children one will end up in eternal destruction. So, this is written to call us to self-examine ourselves in the light of the word. Do I practice what I profess? Or I just listen and live how I want. This calls us to open our lives to others to observe and allow them to speak the word of God to us. Calls us to submit to a church body and to leadership of that church.
It’s like with a bonfire. Alone even the hottest log will die out. When the weakest burning one will get set ablaze ones it is close with others. So, let us together be reminded of the gospel, hear it daily, submit to it and put it to practice as we burn for the Lord in spite of suffering, persecution or temptation. Fir the whole to see and bring him much glory at his return.