Be Receiver's of God's Word
Topic: Faithful Passage: James 1:16–1:21
Be Receivers of God’s Word
Turn with me to James 1 and let’s read vv. 16-18. These verses act as a kind of hinge connecting the first part of this chapter to the second part. James opens by telling us how we should handle trials and closes by telling us how to handle truth. When God allows trials into our lives, it’s not because God is being cruel or doesn’t care about us; it’s because He uses trials as a bridge to good things He wants to accomplish in our lives. We can trust God completely because, James says, God is good through and through. There isn’t the smallest molecule in all of God that is darkened by sin. There isn’t even the passing shadow of an evil motive in God. Every good gift comes to us from the hand of our heavenly Father.
The ultimate demonstration of God’s goodness is found in verse 18: 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 weren’t saved because we willed it, but because God willed it. We weren’t saved because we made changes in our lives, we were saved by the truth of the gospel – trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. And salvation by the word of truth is just the beginning – we’re just the firstfruits of all the indescribable good God has in store for us. Remember that when you’re in the middle of a trial!
But having spoken of the word of truth, James now turns his attention to how the Christian is to relate to that truth. The Bible is God’s truth. From Genesis to Revelation it reveals God’s plan of redemption through His Son Jesus Christ. It is the word of truth and it has the power to save us. But hearing the word of truth isn’t enough to save us. Knowing the word of truth isn’t enough to save us. Even believing the word of truth is true isn’t enough to save us. That may surprise you, but the Pharisees heard, knew, and believed the Bible, and they hated Jesus and crucified him. James says there are two specific ways that we as Christians must relate to the Bible, the word of truth:
We need to be receivers of God’s word (vv. 19-21)
We need to be doers of God’s word (vv. 22-27)
There’s a lot in these few verses so we’re going to hit the first point, being receivers, this morning and being doers next Sunday. Let’s read vv. 19-21 together.
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
Notice verse 21: receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls. The word is implanted, it’s in you, but receive it. James is probably remembering Jesus’ parable of the four soils where the seed is implanted in four soils but only the last soil, the good soil, humbly receives the seed and produces fruit. The seed contains everything needed to save our souls, but it has to be received, implanted, in our souls (the implanted word). The seed can be sowed into our lives but we can be hard ground. Or shallow ground. Or thorny ground. In those cases the seed is sown, but not implanted. We need to be that good soil that receives the seed of God’s word. James isn’t writing this to unbelievers, he’s writing this to believers, so they’ve already received the word of truth and have received salvation, but James says, keep being good ground. Keep receiving the word. Don’t let your heart become hard ground or shallow ground or thorny ground. How? James give us some really practical advice on how to keep our hearts soft.
- Be quick to hear and slow to speak (vs. 19)
Several years ago I came down with a bad case of laryngitis and couldn’t talk. But that weekend Corning Community College had an awards banquet and my son Jared was to receive an award, so there was no way I was going to miss that banquet. So Janice and I are sitting at a table with 4 other couples that we don’t know and I’m not able to say a word. I have to be silent. It felt very strange – unnatural – to me. I called it “the day I became a quiet person.” I think Janice called it “blessed relief”. But as we sat there eating and everyone’s making the kind of small talk that people do at banquets when they’re sitting with people they don’t know, all I could do was smile and make a few gestures. And listen. I couldn’t contribute to the conversation so I listened. I actually enjoyed it.
Listen, James isn’t talking about personality here. Some people are naturally more talkative, others are naturally more quiet. Some are more extroverted, others more introverted. It’s not good or bad – there are strengths and weaknesses to both types, and ultimately it has to do with how God made us. This isn’t about our personality, this is about our heart. If we’re the type of person that is slow to hear and quick to speak, our hearts aren’t postured to receive, they’re postured to give. It describes the person who constantly exports perspectives, thoughts, opinions, convictions, judgments, but rarely imports anything. The flow is always going out, never coming in. It reveals a heart hardened by pride.
By the way, quieter people may have a natural advantage in being quick to hear and slow to speak, but it is possible for a quiet person to be slow to hear and quick to speak too. Even if they don’t say the words verbally, inside a quiet person can close their ears to what others say and rehash in their own minds their own perspectives and opinions over and over again. And more talkative people can be great listeners and careful to think before they talk. So it’s not so much about the quantity of words, but the posture of the heart.
This “quick to speak, slow to hear” posture is a big contributor to marital conflicts. When either or both spouses think their perspective is the right one and don’t take the time to hear and understand the perspective of the other spouse, there are going to be problems. If, in conflict, you assume that you understand what they’re saying, but don’t listen closely enough to really hear and understand, you will believe that the reason there is conflict is that your spouse doesn’t get it. And so you will talk more to help them get it. And maybe talk louder. And more passionately. But it doesn’t seem to help. The problem is often we are quick to speak and slow to listen and that’s a recipe for conflict and breakdown in relationships. The same is true with conflicts between parents and their children, between co-workers, between believers in the church. Being quick to speak and slow to listen is a result of a heart hardened by pride and pride always breaks down relationships.
We live in a day when civil discourse is becoming increasingly rare. People aren’t talking to each other (especially about politics), they’re talking at each other. That comes from a heart posture that says, “I’m right, you’re wrong. I don’t need to hear what you have to say, you need to hear what I have to say.” That’s pride.
Another way this comes out is the person who dominates conversations. Have you ever come to a railroad crossing and a train is passing and it just goes on forever and ever? I mean, 5 minutes later, 10 minutes later, there’s still no caboose in sight and you’re wondering, is this train ever going to end so I can get on with my day?
There are people who talk endlessly and never give an opening for anyone else to talk. You’re listening for 5, 10, 15 minutes and thinking, “is there ever going to be a caboose to their train of thought?” They’ve mastered the art of talking without taking a breath. And if there is a pause and you’re able to say six words, they seem to feel that authorizes them to share for another 30 minutes without a break. Somehow they feel that the right proportion is 1000:1. They get a thousand words for every one word you get. The fact that they don’t notice that they’re dominating the conversation as if they’re the only one with something worth saying is evidence of pride.
Being quick to speak and slow to hear, reveals a heart that’s not receptive. We’re exporting thoughts so non-stop we never import anything. We never take in cause we’re always giving out. We never learn cause we’re always teaching. We never understand because we’re always explaining. If we do that in our interpersonal relationships we’re also doing that with God’s word. We may read it, but our hearts aren’t soft ground ready to think about it, meditate on it, learn from it, and receive it. Instead, our hearts are hard with assumptions that we know it all already, that it’s not saying anything we haven’t heard, that we can teach it but don’t need to learn from it.
James says, “know this, my beloved brothers…” This quick to hear, slow to speak posture isn’t optional to our faith – if we are to have the kind of hearts that receives God’s truth rather than it bouncing off us we need to grow bigger ears and smaller mouths. Basically James is saying, “I love you guys, but shut up and listen!”
- Be slow to anger (vs 19)
James doesn’t say “don’t ever get angry.” He says be slow to anger. There is a time and place to get angry. When we see injustice or abuse or exploitation we should get angry. That’s why God gave us the emotion of anger, so that when we see something that’s really wrong anger moves us to action to try to correct it.
Be slow to anger means have a long fuse, don’t go off quickly. Be slow to anger means we are in control of our anger – it doesn’t govern us, we govern it. Sinful anger isn’t controlled, it’s controlling. Sinful anger doesn’t build bridges, it burns them. Anger burns inside us and we let loose with hurtful words or destructive actions. Sinful anger makes us temporarily stupid and we do and say dumb things but they seem so wise and so right, until the anger is gone. Then we see how dumb and damaging what we said and did was, leading to regret. But regret can’t undo the damage. Slow to anger pairs well with slow to speak because quick anger usually means quick words.
An angry heart isn’t a receptive heart. Kent Hughes points out an angry spirit is never a listening, teachable spirit. You might say, “I’m not angry at God, I’m angry at so and so” but if you allow your heart to be filled with anger regardless who that anger is point at, it’s going to harden your heart towards God’s word.
Anger takes many forms. Passive aggressives avoid confrontation but lash out in anger indirectly by withdrawing or pouting or sarcasm. Rage is anger out of control and violent, if not physically at least verbally. Bitterness is anger that has aged over time. It might seem like a more mature version of anger, but it’s still anger, and it still eats away at us, and it still hardens our hearts. The anger of man (sinful anger) doesn’t produce God’s will, it produces the devil’s will in our lives.
So what should you do if you struggle with a bad temper? If you know you’re not slow to anger, you’re quick to anger? What would James say to you? Change yourself to be worthy of salvation? No, but go to God’s word and let it sink in, let it be implanted. Read verses about patience and forbearance and self-control and being slow to anger and ask God to implant His word in your heart. If you do that, the implanted word of truth will begin to bear fruit in your life and help free you from that anger. What you don’t want to do is justify your anger or ignore it. That’s being hard soil that isn’t receiving God’s word.
- Put away filthiness and evil and put on humility
21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
The word, “put away” often refers in the Bible to the taking off of clothes, and the word “filthy” is used in the Bible in several instances to describe filthy clothing. The imagery is of taking off the filthy clothes of sinful words and anger and putting on the new clothes of a humble heart, ready to receive God’s implanted word. When James says the implanted word is able to save your souls, he isn’t talking about conversion, after all, he is talking to Christians here. He’s talking about a spiritual birth whereby we want to live by God’s word. We submit ourselves to the authority and truth of the Bible and seek to obey it. Peter describes the same connection between the new birth and a new way of living:
22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God… (1 Peter 1:22-23)
We have been born again by God’s power, now live it out. James will go on to exhort us to be doers of the word, but we won’t be doers of the word if we aren’t first receivers of the word.
Is your heart receptive to God’s word? Not just believe it’s true, but seeking to let this word guide your life? When you read the Bible is your heart soft and receptive to be corrected and changed by what you read?
Are you quick to hear and slow to speak? Are you slow to anger? Or do you have this reversed: slow to hear, quick to speak, quick to anger? If you say, “yeah, that’s me, but I’m not going to change. I see no need for me to change” then the word of God is not implanted in your heart. It might be implanted on your coffee table or on your smart phone, but it’s not implanted in your heart. Don’t leave here in that place. Humble your heart, ask God to forgive you for a proud, hard, heart and make changes. You can’t do it without God’s help, but God won’t do it if you aren’t willing to soften and humble your heart. God says you can do it if He and His word are living in your heart.
And if you’re not a Christian, receiving God’s word begins with believing in His Son, Jesus Christ. God sent His Son to die for our sins because the Bible says there is no other way for us to be saved. Will you soften your heart and believe that Jesus died on the cross for you? Will you ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior today? We don’t know how much time we have – we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Where we spend eternity depends on what we do with Jesus. I urge you to receive him and believe in him today.