James 1 C
As we come to this next section of James, the KJV connects the preceding verses with ‘wherefore’; the NKJV reads: ‘So then’ and the NIV has an interesting phrase: “Dear Brothers: Take note of this: …” James is getting ready to tell us how to count trials a joy; deal with temptation and remember from whom the only good and perfect gifts come from. James will then give us a true picture of what ‘pure religion’ looks like.
The truth James tells us in James 1: 18 is the key to spiritual growth: “He (God) chose to give us birth through the Word of Truth that we might be a kind of first fruits of all He created.” James introduces the Word of God by which we are born and which we must learn to implement if we are to live out our faith.
Be sure of this the Word of God is not just a key to spiritual growth- but the master key-which opens everything!
James has told us to count it all joy when we face trials and tests. The test or trial cannot be counted a joy- but the outcome from proper response to the test can be counted a joy. The Lord Jesus gives us our supreme example: “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame.”(Hebrews 12) We concluded tests come from the outside in various forms of adversity. They are allowed by God to do a work inside us. The test of adversity will purify our faith, strengthen it, and enlarge it. Paul tells us these tests will provide experience and experience – hope that does not disappoint. Temptation can come alongside the test as whenever we want to do good- evil is always present. Temptation is an enticement to do evil. God does not tempt us. It comes from within and it impacts our behavior. In other words it comes from within us and results in our behavior on the outside. James makes it clear: every person is tempted. (*Temptation is not a sin. It begins with a thought which must be displaced by the Word of God. We must learn to think on things that are true.) James says we are tempted when we are lured away by our own evil desires. James says we should ask God for wisdom in these situations. If his Word is hidden in our hearts we can displace the temptation with God’s truth and overcome the temptation. He warns us we must ask in faith and doubt not. James tells us not to be deceived- every good and perfect gift comes from our Heavenly Father.
Now James is going to tell us how we are to deal with tests and temptations, and not be deceived. So in the NIV versions James is saying – you might want to write this down, ‘take note’. For this is how you are going to deal with the challenges you face as a believer.
James admonishes us: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” James explains in the next verse why this is important. “For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” The worst thing we can bring to a religious controversy is anger. But we must also guard against anger at God when His Word demands our obedience in an area where we are disobedient. There is righteous anger, there is the anger of God- but we are warned- ‘be angry and sin not.’
Clearly James is speaking to believers, as he addressed this section ‘my dear brothers’. He had just finished telling us where the new birth comes from- God, who chose to give us new birth through the Word of Truth. We are born again by the incorruptible seed, the Word of God. It is life giving, life changing and life sustaining. Certainly being a good listener is important in our relationships with others and we should be good listeners. We also know anger causes our voices to raise and will soon turn into a shouting match, like we witness every night on television talk shows. But here the obvious ‘listening’- James is talking about is be swift, quick to listen to the Word of God and slow to speak. The two go together- you cannot be quick to listen if you are speaking. If we want to hear what God has to say- we need to listen. When we pray- is your prayer primarily a monologue with no time to be still and listen to God? Be slow to speak and quick to hear from God. The Bible has much to say about listening, hearing the Word of God. Jesus would often say: “He who has ears, let him hear.’ Proverbs says ‘turn your ear to wisdom and apply understanding to your heart.’ (Proverbs 2) And of course Romans 10: 17 says’ faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of God.’ When we read the Scriptures- God is speaking to us. The question we must ask ourselves, are we listening? Listening with the intention of obedience?
When James says ‘be slow to anger’- James is speaking of an anger that is a resistance to the revealed purpose of God. The ‘therefore (wherefore in KJV) makes a clear segue to connect all the verses together as James will give us specific instructions on how to deal with these problems. “Therefore, get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted (engrafted) in you which can save you.” KJV reads- “… receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your soul.”
What can prevent one from hearing the Word of God? James is saying all that is wrong in your life is clogging up your hearing like wax build up in your ear canal would hinder you from hearing. I used to say to people, I can hear – but I cannot understand the words your are saying. Word recognition was difficult with my hearing loss and with background noise- hearing was next to impossible. James is saying we need to make sure our lives are cleansed and rid of all moral filth- for they are hindering us from hearing God’s instructions. Our unconfessed sins are like wax build up that hinder us from hearing and understanding the Word of God. Unconfessed sin also creates the background noise. The world system is a noisy one. Peace and quiet are foreign to most of us who have become accustomed to the background noise of our society. For the carnal believer trying to listen to God amidst all this static of unconfessed sin makes it difficult to hear God clearly. The world system wants to conform us to its standards. It wants to drown out the Word of God.
The word ‘humbly’ in the NIV and ‘meekness’ in the KJV speaks of one who has their strengths and mind controlled by the Spirit of God. Notice where the Word is engrafted: in our souls. When God created us- He placed within us a soul whose main purpose was the ability to have the Word of God engrafted within it. The seed which is the Word of God is planted in our heart the soul of man. It is to be nurtured and cherished and obeyed. The result will be the fruit of the Spirit. (The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Gal 5:22)
Next James warns us of a common, but deadly problem- self deception. “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 to do is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror, and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” KJV says: “But be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
The final test of salvation is fruit. Religious works may be manufactured, done in the flesh. The test of real fruit is: does it contain seed within it to reproduce? Real spiritual fruit always has seed within in it for more fruit. This is how the harvest continues to grow and produce more fruit. We share the fruit of the Spirit with others; we cast the seed and it reproduces fruit in others and the process goes on from one person to another- from one generation to the next generation. Real fruit contains the seed of truth that keeps on reproducing after its own kind. And remember the law of sowing and reaping: we reap what we sow. “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6)
If the Word of God is to bear fruit, we must obey these instructions James is giving us here. Let us look at these instructions and conditions that must be met which are clearly laid out for us here:
- Be swift to hear. The believer is listening to His Master for instructions and directions. Listening carefully with one purpose to do what their Master says to do. The Master has the key that opens all the doors. The Master Key is the Word of God.
- Be slow to speak. Simple reason here- you cannot hear if you are speaking. Ever watch people with opposing views on the talk shows. They never listen to one another- talk over each other and increase the volume until they cannot be heard nor can anyone else hear them. Read God’s Word, listen to it; study it; memorize it, meditate upon it, and make sure you engraft it when you obey it. Just do it! Be a doer- not a hearer only. Study without implementation is a major problem, which is also made more dangerous by the fact it is deceptive.
- Be slow to anger. (Swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.) We have to admit we live in a society that is quick to anger, quick to speak and slow to hear. This is certainly a problem. But the greater problem is when we get angry with God and God’s Word because it convicts of unrighteousness. It would be like getting angry at the mirror, because you did not like the way you looked.
- The fourth thing we need is a prepared heart. Jesus gave us an excellent parable about the sower and the seed and the four types of soil. He interpreted the parable so there would be no misunderstanding. This is what James is talking about when he instructs us to get rid of all moral filth and evil in your life. You do not want to plant a seed in soil that is not prepared. And you do not try to receive God’s Word in an unprepared heart. The hard heart must be broken up; the stone must be removed; the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches which choke out the seed of the Word must be cleared away. Sin must be confessed and repented of in the believers’ life. Only then can the prepared heart receive with meekness the engrafted Word of God.
Now the examination of our faith takes place in the mirror of God’s Word. A mirror’s main purpose is to be able to see yourself. It is how we address our appearance. One who merely glancing at himself or herself in the mirror as they pass by can overlook something that is amiss. Are you only glancing at the Word? Reading a chapter or a devotional for the day cannot profit you personally. It is the deep look into our hearts that is needed. What if you had your favorite photograph of yourself- one taken by a professional, all blemishes removed, smile perfect, maybe even taken a few years before and you looked your best. What if each morning instead of looking in the mirror at how you actually appear- instead you looked at a wonderful photograph of yourself and thought- I look great. Never looked better. That is what glancing at the word, a short devotional reading without obedience is like. This is what a hearer only does. If you do not listen to God for instructions to obey you are deceiving yourself. I am not saying you are an unbeliever. But James is talking about a problem that keeps us from growing up spiritually. WE substitute reading for doing-do not confuse reading with doing. We see only the things we want to see- the best image of ourselves, instead of letting the mirror of God inspect us and reveal our real self. A search of our life by the Holy Spirit using the Word of God can be painful. We had rather He not look in certain areas of our life, until we have had a chance to clean them up. But we miss the point- He wants to help us clean them up.
Here is what is needed: “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- will be blessed in what he does.” (NIV) KJV: “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed.”
Each day we have a choice. We have been given a free will. This is liberty, a gift we possess. Our forefather talked about- ‘ life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ We can make choices with our own free will in the pursuit of life and happiness. We can enter the broad way and wide gate or the narrow way and the narrow gate. But we must understand liberty is the power to choose either right or wrong- freedom is the result or consequence of making the right decision. You can choose to drink or smoke or pursue the pleasures of our society which break no law of the land. However, you realize after a while they enslaved you rather than provided you with freedom. It is for freedom that Christ set us free. The narrow way is the way of discipline. You are free to charge on a credit card and obtain things you desire. However, paying off the debt is not as easy. We can quickly become enslaved to debt. The discipline of budgeting is what provides one with financial freedom. Jesus said: “If you continue (abide) in my Word, you are my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:31, 32) Abide means to live in His Word to depend on it for directing your life. It is life giving, life changing and life sustaining.
The truth of God’s Word is not something to just put in your minds; it is a life to be lived. If what we hear on Sunday, does not equip us to live and make right decisions on Monday- we have missed the point of worship and fallen into a very dangerous, deception- hearing without doing.
You may be blessed by the singing, the preaching, the teaching and the hearing of the Word. You might be stirred in your emotions, but never do anything. People drive for miles to hear a famous preacher, or singer for they want to be blessed. God wants people who want to be a blessing not just blessed. In fact the blessing comes in doing, not hearing only. Hearers only are those who heard but were like the shallow soil with the rock underneath. They heard the word with joy, but because it was not combined with obedience (which comes from faith that works) – they last only a short time. When tests come because of the word- they quickly fall away. The person who is a hearer is a person who describes themselves as ‘spiritual.’ In fact the latest surveys of religious beliefs- show the fastest growing segment of those surveyed to fall in the category of ‘spiritual – but not religious.’ Religion has a bad name in the 21st century.
Hebrews 4 describes this condition: “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” (Hebrews 4: 2)
Now we understand the verse in Romans 10:17 better: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God.” Hearing combined with faith results in doing- obeying. It makes one not just a hearer only- but a doer.
So we see examination is the first step and ministry of the Word of God which acts as a mirror to show us where there are wrong things in our life. But there is more the Word of God does.
The Word of God can also restore us. Do you remember what Moses asks for when he was building the tabernacle? Moses asks the women in the camp to bring their bronze mirrors or looking glasses and according to Gods’ instructions made a bronze basin or laver. The laver stood between the brazen altar of the sacrifice and the holy place. This basin was filled with water for the cleansing of the priests’ hands and feet before they entered the holy place.
Water for washing is a picture of the Word of God and its power to cleanse us. Jesus told his disciples and us- we are cleansed through His Word which He has spoken to us. (John 15) When we get saved- all our sins are forgiven. The shed blood of Christ at Calvary washes away all our sins. This is the only solution and why we sing- ‘what can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!’ His blood paid the ransom. It paid my sin debt and your sin debt in full. In fact Jesus is the atoning sacrifice not only for our sins, but for the sins of the world.
All of my sins were forgiven at Calvary- past, present and future. However when I sin in the present and the future, I have become defiled- another way of saying dirty. When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples the night of his arrest, Peter at first refused for the Lord to perform such a lowly task on him. The Lord told Peter unless I wash you, I can have no fellowship with you. To which Peter replied- then wash me all over – not just my feet. Jesus replied: “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’(This meant Judas) So when we got saved, His blood washed away all our sins. But when we walk through this dirty world, our feet get dirty. We sin and become defiled. Our fellowship with the Lord is broken. Yet it is His Word that promises us- if we confess our sin and turn from it- He is just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)
So the Word is a mirror that examines us and reveals our sins. Then the Word is the water that cleanses us from our defilement when we sin in the present.
But this is not all there is to the Word of God. (In fact I feel like one of those advertisers on late night television who is telling you all the things you get when you buy their product. The will say repeatedly- ‘but wait that is not all, call today and you will receive a free set of ….’ )
There is more- much more. The Word of God is not only a mirror that reveals our sins, but also the water that cleanses us from our defilement.
And here is another benefit you do not want to miss. The Word of God transforms us. James is clear in his instructions the Word cannot transform the person who looks in the Word of God then goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. He tells us the person who looks intently into the Word of God- will be a doer of the Word not a hearer only and he/she will be blessed. Are you looking intently?
2 Corinthians 3 tells us how this works. After we have been born again- given new life by the Word of God, God wants us to grow up. We see not only does it serve as a mirror to examine our innermost being it also serves the purpose of restoring us when we confess our sins and repent from them. But God wants to changes us on the inside. He wants to transform us as we grow in grace and not commit those sins again. Spiritual maturity is the goal God has for each of us as His children. These are the plans He has for us- to give us a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29) This is the abundant life Jesus speaks of in John 10:10; and the vine life he teaches us in John 15.
2 Corinthians 3 provides us with a contrast between the old covenant of law and the new covenant of grace. “For the law was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17
The Law given to Moses in Exodus was written on stone tablets. In fact if you recall the laws were broken immediately and literally as soon as Moses had come down from the mountain with them. The Laws given to Moses were written on stone tablets- we call them the old covenant. The new covenant was written on the heart. The old covenant condemned and killed; the new covenant brings forgiveness and life. As John wrote it brought grace and truth. Jesus told us he did not come to do away with the Law, but fulfill it. He kept the law, never sinned. The only one to ever accomplish this feat. This is why Jesus, the Son of God, is the One and Only who can pay for our sins. His blood was perfect, without flaw, priceless and paid for sins in full. Hebrews 10 tells us: He takes away the first covenant (by fulfilling it completely) that He might establish the second covenant.
So by its nature, the old covenant was temporary. The new covenant of grace is eternal. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul gives us an illustration of this truth. When Moses came down from the mount where he met with God, his face was shining. (Exodus 34) However the glow was in the process of fading, so he placed a veil upon his face to hide this fact. Remember what happened in the temple when Jesus died? The veil that separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple was torn from the top to the bottom. The veil that separated man from God was removed.
Paul then speaking of Israel says until this day when they look into the law their minds are blinded for the veil has not been taken away. The veil is taken away when we believe in Jesus Christ. Therefore we have unveiled faces- our minds are not blinded by unbelief. As believers we can ‘behold as in a glass (a mirror) the glory of the Lord, and are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit. (2Cor. 3:18, KJV) The NIV version says: “ And as we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord , who is the Spirit.” The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to transform into the image of Christ.
This is the epitome of spiritual growth. This is how our faith will be enlarged, strengthened and purified. Transformed- as we meditate and obey the Word of God thus renewing our minds. It starts with the Word – the incorruptible seed that is able to save our souls. We do not become spiritual overnight. I have been studying the Word of God day and night for the last 26 years. I was a Christian for almost 12 years before I began to teach the Word.
Notice we enter this personal relationship with no veil to hide anything. (Can’t hide from the Lord anyway.)
Last but not least, James says we begin to tame our tongue. Our speech changes, not just removal of words that are offensive, but words that are critical, hurting and unkind. James will later show us faith without works, deeds, is dead. Here are the practical outworking of real faith- we look after orphans and widows. This includes spiritual orphans who do not have a Heavenly Father.
If we desire to grow, the Word of God gives growth. If we desire to live life to the fullest, the Word of God makes us fully alive. If we desire to be changed, the Word of God can do it as we focus on His Word and look into intently with the goal to obey what He tells us to do.
- Believe the Word.
- Study the Word
- Honor the Word.
- Love the Word.
- And most of all- obey the Word.
This is the Master’s Key that unlocks the divine vault that contains the blessing of heaven where every good and perfect gift awaits us.