As we get further into James’ letter, word of caution: many approach James as though it were better placed in category of wisdom literature than pastoral teaching. If wisdom lit, then a series of disjointed sayings and self-contained sections with no overarching theme to draw all together. If a pastoral letter, then this portion is connected with and must be understood in context of surrounding instruction.
v.18 He brought us forth by the word
v.21 receive with meekness the implanted word
v.22 be doers of the word
v.23 a hearer of the word
v.25 the perfect law of liberty
So when James says “be swift to hear” we should supply as a follow-on “the Word”. While it’s true have two ears, only one mouth, ought to tell us something! Not the point James is explicitly making here. Instruction centers on believer’s response to the Word of God as applied by the Spirit of God to make us more pleasing children of God. When we are challenged by the Word, do we respond rather than react to it, receiving it as from God? That is what James exhorts us to do.
A. challenged by the Word v.19a
our initial source of life (see v.18a) For life to begin, Word must be heard – taken in through senses and as applied by Holy Spirit generating new life (Rom. 10:14-17). Each “injection” of the Word has generally limited effect; not a one-shot deal with no need for boosters.
our ongoing source of life (see v.18b) Branch must be connected to vine in order to live, receive nourishment, grow, produce fruit (John 15:4-5, 7). Jesus makes it explicit: his words must abide in us if we are to have ongoing spiritual life. That comes only by means of the Word.
God intends it to have specific effect on/in us – those who are “dear brothers and sisters”
ground has already been broken up by plow of testing; now rest of process leading to fruitful harvest. If we are to be set free by truth (John 8:32), made holy by the truth (John 17:17, 19), word must have penetrating effect and influence that results in change. Change can be either change in direction or increase in propulsion; each requires some form of change and resulting effect.
B. responding to the Word v.19b
whether in formal setting or small-group or one-to-one, “first instinct” should be to hear Word intending to receive and conform to it. Force shields should be de-energized; ears, mind and heart engaged to attentively process what God is communicating. Especially true when we don’t want to hear what God is saying, e.g., trials being good things.
“in hearing a discourse on Bible truth, let us brace ourselves up to definite purpose-like listening, with a real wish to grow in knowledge and in grace.” Robert Johnstone See Cornelius’ example, Acts 10:33 – “ Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”
should not make snap judgments about what we’ve heard, how it applies, whether it’s believable, and of course we’ve already arrived and next subject please. Growth in godliness requires effort – Peter says “grow in grace and knowledge” (2 Pet. 3:18). Even those most intellectually limited can grow, can think at some level about what they’ve heard from the Bible. If efforts are focused on meditating and pondering truth of the Word, will be less apt to make snap judgments, dismiss or diminish opportunity God sent our way. Besides, talking usually gets in way of good listening.
first response shouldn’t be resistance, defensiveness to the message. Such actions usually mean there is need to change. Important to remember trials and the Word are God’s means to make us holy; to resist either one is to resist the work of God in our lives. If all that comes our way comes from God, to get angry at what comes is to get angry at God.
“the word is salt, do not quarrel if it make your sores smart, being it will keep them from festering” Matthew Poole
C. reacting to the Word v.20
Anger often early sign of problem – wrong attitude toward what’s happening. Indication of resentment against God’s work, will if unchecked lead to more wrong attitudes. James not talking here about anger in general; limited to context of reaction to message of God’s Word.
Goal of God’s work through both trials and application of the Word is to produce increasing holiness in the believer, more thoroughly permeating righteousness displayed in all areas of life. Task of believer is to cooperate with work of God, complementing what God accomplishes rather than working against it. To give in to anger means to work against God, to be headed in wrong direction – away from God’s goal.
Two examples: David, when confronted by Nathan expressed anger against injustice done, humble submission to sanctifying work of God’s word through his prophet (2 Sam. 12:1-14). Jeroboam, OTOH, reacted angrily against prophet’s criticism of his idolatry; reached out to seize him, hand shriveled (1 Kings 13:1-4).
D. receiving the Word v.21
both preparation and result – should prepare and be prepared to receive the Word. Bottom line: constant habit of life to be putting off any kind of sinful behavior and attitudes that would hinder work of God through Word. That will prepare us to receive it properly whenever God sends it our way. Mortifying indwelling sin positions us to have attitude of meekness – readiness to receive, nurture, cooperate with the Word when we hear it.
Result is that the implanted word – the word heard and memorized and meditated on – moves us along road of increasing godliness / holiness and eventual perfection. As it moves us along, enables/equips us to better put off sinful behavior and attitudes, positioning us to more profitably receive Word which moves us along….. Is it the Word applied by the Spirit that enables us? Or is it our preparation that enables us? Yes. Both. In a complementary way: 100% God plus 100% us = 100% holiness. It’s 100% gift of God’s grace plus 100% our responsibility that achieves God’s 100% goal for us.
“a yielding sweetness to receive instruction, a pliable softness, “a readiness to learn, to accept correction, and to submit one’s life to the total control of God” (Mitton, 65), before the hunger for righteousness will evidence itself.” Krabbendam
James and Paul concur on profitability of Word: will “make you wise for salvation” AND “is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness”(2 Tim. 3:15-16). All are marks of the one who is being changed / sanctified by implanted word in process of working out their salvation. Implanted word here will have its God-ordained effect as Holy Spirit accompanies his Word to make it profitable.
Imoprtant reminder: James is not Self-Help Sanctification. Not collection of do’s & dont’s designed to make you better Christian. Nor list of desirable behaviors for unbeliever to copy so he can go to heaven. It’s intended as instruction for believers to recognize God’s means and know their proper response to God’s gracious activity in their lives – thankful and teachable, to summarize.
May God grant to us a spirit of meekness toward his Word, that is: “marked by a learning mode, [that] conquers any internal obstacle to the proper comprehension, the heartfelt acceptance, and the appropriate response to truth, however suitably confrontational it may prove to be, and however much it may at first be experienced as “hurtful.”” Krabbendam