How Do You Hear?

Following an explanation of temptation and discussing the fact that God does not tempt us (James 1:13-15), James reminds us that all good things come down from God (James 1:16-17). He then writes, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18a). Christians are “born again” by the teachings of the Bible. Jesus taught us that the word of God is like a seed planted in human hearts (Luke 8:11). Peter declares, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God...And this word is the good news that was preached to you (1 Peter 1:22-23, 25). New life (or a “newness of life") is granted to the children of God in Christ (see Romans 6:1-ff). The purpose of this new birth is “that we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures” (James 1:18b). God's people are very special to Him (first-fruits = first and best) and are to carry out His work in the world (Ephesians 2:8-10).

James continues his letter by exhorting, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19). It has often been pointed out that God created us with two ears, but with only one mouth. Now this principle is quite useful in interpersonal situations, but is that the point James is making? What exactly does he want us to be eager to hear in this context? Keep reading. “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

James wants us to put aside our anger (v. 19-20) and worldliness so that we then may humbly pull in Divine truth. If we properly implant the word in our hearts, it will bring about our salvation (compare 2 Timothy 3:14-4:6). As we begin to put this all together, we should ask ourselves certain application questions... How quick are we to spout our opinion? How easily do we get annoyed or even angry in life? Do we ever get mad at what the Bible teaches? Do we meekly, eagerly, and faithfully listen to the teachings of God?

But James is not finished with us just yet, for he says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). As important as it is to believe and receive the words of God, it is essential that we actually practice what it says. Our saintly profession must include holy practice; our loving words must be followed up with loving deeds. Notice the contrast between salvation in verse 21 and deception in verse 21. Sobering fact: We deny our own salvation and lie to ourselves when we hear (maybe even gladly), but neglect to obey His truth. James goes on to compare a hearer only to someone looking at their face in a mirror, then walking away and immediately forgetting what they look like (James 1:23-24). Mirrors in the ancient world were made by polishing metals like tin and copper. The most accurate reflections were achieved with Corinthian bronze, but even their best paled in comparison to the accuracy of our modern glass mirrors. Most ancient people rarely saw their own faces, and James describes someone who quickly forgets their reflection. James warns us to not use the Bible like a rare mirror, but we must look deeply and intently into the word, retain a knowledge of it, and then follow it each day. “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25).

Let the record show that proper faith is always connected to actions of faithfulness. Our faith is tested by the trials of life (James 1:2-4, 12; 5:7-11). We are to pray in faith (James 1:5-8; 4:2-3; 5:16-17). Our faith should cause us to be careful of our speech (James 1:26; 3:1-12; 4:11-12; 5:12), to take care of others (James 1:27; 5:1-6), and to live above worldliness (James 1:27; 4:4). True faith in Jesus does not show partiality (James 2:1-13). Faith is dead without works of obedience (James 2:14-26). Genuine wisdom (or faith) is always displayed by a wise lifestyle (James 3:13-18).

For His infinite worth,

Gantt Carter