James says that God “brought us forth by the word of truth” (v. 18). We were dead in our sin, but God caused us to be born again. He enabled us to see ourselves as we really are and to see Christ as he truly is. When we responded in faith, it was like taking a breath for the first time. How did God bring about this new birth? It was “by the word of truth.” This means that the Bible was the instrument of our regeneration. Now, this is equally important: Not only is the Bible the means of our birth (regeneration, v. 18), but it’s the means of our growth (salvation, v. 21). That being the case, how should we respond? James gives six commands in verses 19–22.
1. Be Quick to Hear (v. 19)
The Bible is God’s voice — that which “goes out” from God’s “mouth” (Isa 55:11). It bridges the expanse between heaven and earth, infinite and finite, Creator and creature. It’s the difference between life and death, heaven and hell. For this reason, we ought to listen to the Bible as if we heard God speaking to us from heaven. We ought to listen humbly, intently, eagerly, expectantly, and reverently.
2. Be Slow to Speak (v. 19)
By nature, we’re proud. By nature, we’re opinionated. By nature, we like to hear ourselves talk. All of these things hinder our capacity to hear. When it comes to “the word of truth,” we must be slow to speak. This implies at least two things. (1) We must weigh what we hear. (2) We must weight what we say. Both require serious deliberation.
3. Be Slow to Anger (vv. 19–20)
When it comes to hearing “the word of truth,” anger is an impediment for three reasons. (1) Angry people are full of mistakes. It’s a passion that clouds the judgment thereby hindering rational thought. (2) Angry people can’t listen. They simply rearrange their prejudices. Have you ever attempted to engage in a reasonable discussion with someone who is enraged? (3) Angry people displease God. “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires” (v. 20).
4. Put Away Filthiness and Wickedness (v. 21)
In the Bible, covetousness (1 Pet 5:2), lust (1 Thess 4:7), and anger (Jas 1:20) are described as “filthy.” These things render us spiritually obtuse. We must, therefore, lay aside all filthiness because it disrupts our capacity to hear God’s Word. The weeds must be rooted out before the soil is fit to receive the seed. Likewise, we must root out whatever dulls our appetite for God’s Word.
5. Receive the Word (v. 21)
We’ve only received God’s Word when it’s “implanted” in us. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer 15:16). How do we receive the “implanted” word? We do so with “meekness.” To be meek is to possess a teachable mind and a submissive heart. We must rid ourselves of a stubborn and contentious spirit. Are we willing to be rebuked, corrected, admonished, and reproved? Are we willing to confess our sins and change our ways?
When we receive the “implanted” word, it saves our souls (v. 21). This means that we’re saved from the power of sin as God’s Word cleanses and transforms us. The story is told of an old man who visited his pastor to express his frustration over how often he forgot the pastor’s sermons and how often he forgot verses he had memorized. He said, “Pastor, I try to remember what you teach in your sermons, and I try to remember Bible verses, but I listen and forget, I memorize and forget. I feel like a cup — filled with holes — that’s constantly dipped into a bucket of water. By the time the cup reaches my lips, the water has spilled out of the holes.” The pastor replied, “Fair enough, but just think about how clean that cup is.”
6. Be a Doer of the Word (v. 22)
Some people listen to God’s Word so that they can argue about what they hear. Some people listen to God’s Word so that they can boast about what they hear. Some people listen to God’s Word, hoping to be entertained. Some people listen to God’s Word, hoping to satisfy their curiosity. Some people listen God’s Word, hoping to appease their conscience. But the only acceptable motive for listening to God’s Word is a desire to obey.
Do we appreciate the difference between what it means to be a “hearer” and a “doer” of God’s Word? Far too often, there’s a significant gap between our confessional and functional theology. We can articulate the sovereignty of God, yet still worry. We can expound on the glory of God, yet still pursue selfish ambition. We can unravel the doctrine of sanctification, yet still indulge in lust. We can explain the nature of justification, yet still act as though God is keeping score. We can proclaim God’s forgiveness, yet still harbor bitterness and resentment. We can talk about future glory, yet still live for our personal ease and comfort. We can defend the gospel, yet still fail to live it out before others. We must be doers of the Word.
Would you like to increase in wisdom? Would you like to mortify your sin? Would you like to abound in joy, peace, and comfort? Would you like to persevere through hardship? Would you like to increase in the knowledge of God? In a word, would you like to grow?
“Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation” (1 Pet 2:1–2).
Dr. Yuille is Teaching Pastor/Elder of Grace CommunityChurch in Glen Rose, Texas. He has served the Lord as a missionary, preaching elder, and as a seminary professor at Toronto Baptist Seminary in Toronto. He is the author of several books including The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ and others.
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