James 1:19-27 Wisdom to Act on God's Word

James wrote this to help believers to face our trials and temptations wisely, that we walk through them with Jesus, come out of them with a richer awe of God. Know God’s love far better than before the trial. And that we love Him far more after it.

James also wisely showed us that the same trials that test our faith, can also tempt our flesh to sin. Take over and get its way.

James 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. [So our flesh takes control rather than our born again spirit.] 15 Then [If this cycle isn’t broken] when [the lust of our flesh] has conceived [with whatever is tempting us], it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. [Guilt, shame, broken relationships, isolation, hopelessness.]

Yet God breaks the stranglehold of the flesh when we look to Jesus with faith. Trusting the Father’s unconditional love. Trusting the Holy Spirit in us to defeat the power of sin that wages war in our flesh. Saying yes to Him. Calling out to Him.

That choice to trust Jesus engages your born again spirit with Christ, with His life; and the Spirit of God in you breaks the stranglehold of your flesh.

This is wisdom. God tells us this because He loves us. So that we do this.

God wants to lead us. He wants us to experience freedom in our lives. He wants His Spirit to use us for to do good things because He loves us and He loves others. That is the book of James. Let’s continue with a super important passage today,

James 1:19 This you know, my beloved brothers. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

This appears to be solid relational advice. Be polite. Listen to the other before you speak. Curtail your anger. But the theme of James book is wisdom for facing trials.

And what we see is verse 19 is a key verse, and an outline for the rest of the letter.

A. When adversity hits hard and your flesh is tempted to react—be quick to hear God and to heed His Word. James will expound on this today through all of chapter 2.

B. Then he says, be slow to speak, unhurried, almost inactive—like cold honey.

When we face hardships or we’re treated unfair, we demand to be heard. Make our case. Present our side. Justify ourselves. Defend ourselves. Express how this makes us feel. Wisdom says don’t be in a hurry to be heard. James will develop this in Ch. 3.

C. Finally, be slow to anger.

When someone hurts us or we’re treated unfairly, the human heart can get pretty angry. But to give ourselves over to the anger of the flesh is anything but wise, “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” It usually reveals our sin nature, not the righteousness of God. James will further elaborate on this in Ch. 4-5.

Today, James talks to us about being “quick to hear” God’s Word,

James 1:19 This you know, my beloved brothers. But everyone must be quick to hear… 21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted [lit. “planted in.” So, humbly accept the word of God that has already been planted in you], which is able to save your souls [e.g., bring you through trials and temptations]. 22 But prove yourselves [ginesthe, lit., become] doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.

Be quick to hear from God. Be quick to hear what God tells you in His Word!

Yet His word is already at work in you.

Within a year of being a Christian, reading Scripture and hearing sermons, you’ve been taught rich truths about God, what Jesus has done, and the life He calls us to. You’re forgiven your sin and unconditionally loved by God. Filled with God’s Spirit. Inheritors of eternal life…

No longer doubt this. In humility, receive the implanted word. Receive what God has already revealed to you. Let God’s Word change you. This is a choice of the heart. Put aside your arguments. Let God lead you through this.

James says the Word of God is able to save our souls so some people think he’s telling us we need to do this or else we’ll go to hell. But no! Jesus delivered us from hell when we trusted Him for eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. But sin still brings death, shame, guilt, foolish choices, hurtful actions, damaged relationships, isolation. But the word of God is able to “save your souls” from the consequences of sin. It’s able to deliver you through trials, and to rescue you through temptations.

So be quick to hear God. In humility accept God’s word as life-giving eternal truth…

3) But James final point is that we become doers [performers] of the word. Because it feels good to believe it, yes I am a child of God! But it does good to act on it.

James is like, “Church, God grants us to know so many amazing, life changing truths. But God wants more for us than to know these. He wants us to live by these.”

God tells us we are completely forgiven and holy to Him. And that feels good. All the things you’ve done, all the things that embarrass you, all the guilt, all the fear of God is removed. And He tells us to forgive others. And to declare God’s forgiveness.

And He’s given us the Holy Spirit. Why? Because He wants this for us. Not only to believe this but to live this. He wants this for our church! And He wants to liberate those around us. To forgive their sins. To redeem them from their empty lives.

God tells us we’re unconditionally loved. He shows us every day. He encourages us to abide in His love, even to count on His love through our trials. He wants us to know His love and experience His love, and out of the fullness of His love, God tells us to love one another. Meet each other’s needs as a church. And declare His love to sinners. And He gave us His Holy Spirit. Why? So that we know do what He says.

When James says not to delude ourselves, he’s not saying you’re not born again if you don’t obey Him. Don’t delude yourselves, you’re not really saved. He affirms we are born again. Calls us brothers. Says the word is in us. But he warns that God’s word, no matter how true and powerful, is not going to make a difference or save you through a trial, if you hear God’s Word without ever really doing what God says.

And if you don’t do what God shares, James implies, you’re kind of a crazy person,

James 1:23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.

He forgets he’s a great athlete, a soldier, or that he’s wealthy.

He forgets who he belongs to. And he doesn’t live out of who he really is. And it’s crazy, foolish…

God tells us things about Himself, who He is. Then He tells us things about us, who we are, and all the wholesale changes that Jesus has made to us. But if we highlight these verses then forget about them without allowing them to heal us or to change us, we’re like this crazy guy who doesn’t know who he is and who we belong to and we just live in emptiness, making life work as if none of these things are true about us.

James 1:25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it [acts on it], not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

The Bible as the law of liberty tells us who we are. What we are. Declares our freedom in Christ, sets us free. Puts up guardrails of protection. Commands that protect our souls. We’re wise to live by it. And we’re blessed when we live by it.

In America, and in our church it is easy to slip into convenience mode.

We tend to God or church when it is convenient. And we are so blessed (cursed?) with so many conveniences and riches and avenues of entertainment and gaming and shopping and things that give us identity and community. And our flesh gets excited. And we can run with it. Forget about God—in our choices. Forget God’s calling. Forget we have new life and it’s meant to be lived.

The Good News offers LIFE. And that life is Jesus who gave His life for us on a cross. He bore every sin and every act of rebellion and every slanderous stone you ever threw at God. And your life is in Jesus and full of hope and liberty and good works.

God’s heart is for us to hear His Word, to humbly receive it, and to say yes to Him; to take that leap of faith with Christ and do what God says. Walk with Him. He wants to use you for great things. He wants to bless others. He wants to bless you.

Now he gives us an example. An application.

James 1:26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless.

Not this man’s faith but his religion is worthless. The outward expression of our faith is our religion. Like his religious activity. James says our religious expression includes how we speak.

Even if you pray devoutly and you fast and you attend every church gathering and you sing in harmony and you feel holy, mature, religious on account of these.

James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Evangelicals say, “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” It is indeed a relationship.

But the outworking of our faith, obeying God, resisting the sins du jour, and caring for poor and distressed believers is the type of religion which God fully affirms.

Manmade religion is worthless.

Organized religion based on man’s rules is totally worthless.

"Dress how we say. Don’t eat the wrong foods. Never have fun."

These are worthless because none of these expressGod’s heart. Or Christ’s life.

God wants our religion to express His heart. Christ’s life in us. James says pleasing and acceptable religion is Christ-centered and relational. Holy. Merciful. Helpful.

In this church there were orphans and widows going without food. Their homes were in disrepair. They were distressed. Everyone else was facing trials, but the problems were compounded for widows and orphans. James tells them, God’s heart is to meet their needs. Be in their lives. Help with their bills. Fix their cars.

Do this in your church. Be doers of the word. Love one another starting with those in your church with the greatest needs. As we go through out trials, it’s really powerful to help others through their trials.

Is he saying other religious things like going to church and reading your bibles is wrong. No.

We need spiritual input. This is how we know God, know how to live. So be in the word; look intently at the word. This is life-giving, life changing.

But take the next step as a church. Let it produce in you mercy and love.

And moral purity.  

James 1:26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

God values moral goodness more than we know. Again this expresses God’s heart and character. Helping those in need. Bridling our tongue. Keeping ourselves unspotted from the world’s lusts and greed and indifference to God and others.

Keep oneself unstained by the world. If you wear white you will stain it.

The world wants to make us look how it looks, approve what it approves. But X says we are holy. We remain unstained by the world by looking in the mirror of God’s Word and receiving what God says. And saying yes. And Spirit uses His Word to renew our minds that it transforms our behavior so that we may be blessed people.