The Right Way to React to the Word of Righteousness (Jam. 1:21-25) – Part 2
In the first installment of this study, we saw the first two reactions that we are supposed to have to the word of righteousness. We are to remove wickedness with diligence and receive the word with meekness. In this second and final installment, we will see the third reaction that we are supposed to have.
Respond With Obedience
Once we have received the word with meekness, we are to respond to it with obedience. James wrote, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (Jam. 1:22). A doer is a performer. He is one who obeys or fulfills the law. James’ words remind us of words that his older brother Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. We read, “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven....Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall” (Mt. 7:24-27). Hearing is not enough. Calling Jesus Lord is not enough. We must obey. We must do the will of the Father. James’ words also remind us of the words that God spoke to Ezekiel: “As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’ So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them. And when this comes to pass—surely it will come—then they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezek. 33:30-33). Those of Ezekiel’s day were talking him up. They were inviting their neighbors to come and hear the eloquent prophet. They came as God’s people. They sat as God’s people. They listened as God’s people. They showed love like God’s people. However, they didn’t obey as God’s people. They were hearers only. Sadly, many today are satisfied being hearers only. They think that hearing is enough. However, James says that they are deceiving themselves. The word translated as deceiving means to cheat by false reckoning and reasoning. When we hear but don’t do, we cheat ourselves out of blessings. Blessings follow doing, not hearing. Within the context, James wrote, “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (Jam. 1:25). It is the diligent doer and not the haphazard hearer that is blessed. Doing what we hear makes it a part of our lives in a way that hearing alone never can. That is why James refers to those who hear only as “forgetful hearers.” He compares them to a man looking into a mirror. The man looks in the mirror and sees changes that need to be made but goes away without making them. Perhaps, he has intentions of making changes later, but he forgets.
James prescribed three reactions to the word of righteousness. First, we are to remove the wickedness with diligence. Second, we are to receive the word with meekness. Third, and finally, we are to respond to the word with obedience.
The Right Way to React to the Word of Righteousness (Jam. 1:21-25) – Part 1
People react to the word of God in many different ways. Some stop their ears to keep from hearing it (Mat. 13:15-16; Acts 7:54-57). Others receive it great eagerness (Acts 2:41; 17:11). Of course, the way that we react to the word of God has eternal implications. It will determine where we spend eternity. It is for this reason that James wrote to help his brethren to react correctly. We read, “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (Jam. 1:21-25). In these verses James instructed his brethren to remove sin with diligence, to receive Scripture with meekness, and to respond with obedience.
Remove With Diligence: James instructed his brethren to “lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness” (Jam. 1:21). The Greek word translated as lay aside means to put off or to put away. Repeatedly, the New Testament so instructs the Christian. For example, Paul instructed the saints at Colosse to put off anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language, and lying because they were characteristics of the old man (Col. 3:8-9; cf. Eph. 4:31; Rom. 13:12). These things remind us of the instructions that James just gave within the context (Jam. 1:19-20) for his brethren to be slow to speak (blasphemy, filthy language, lying) and to be slow to wrath (anger, wrath, malice). Please note that James instructed them to lay aside “all filthiness. “ A few verses later, he will tell to keep themselves “unspotted” from the world (Jam. 1:27). We live in a filthy world. It is easy to get dirty (Isa. 6:5; 2 Pet. 2:7). We must avoid all contamination. Paul’s words to the Corinthians bear a striking resemblance to James’ words. He wrote, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1; cf. Eph. 5:3-6).
In addition to laying aside all filthiness, James instructed his brethren to lay aside the “overflow of wickedness. “. Did this mean that they could keep wickedness as long as it stayed within certain bounds? Were they only to lay aside excessive wickedness? Absolutely, not! They were to get rid of all wickedness just like they were to get rid of all filthiness. The Greek word translated as overflow refers to “residue” or “remains.“ When a person becomes a Christian, their sins are washed away. However, it will likely take some time for them to rid themselves of all of the residue of their former life. They will have to struggle against thinking, speaking, dressing, and acting as they did before their conversion. Old habits must be replaced with new ones, and that takes time. By speaking of the overflow of wickedness James may also have simply been noting the excessive nature of wickedness (Lk. 15:13). Wickedness is excessive (Lk. 15:13; Eph. 5:18; 1 Pet. 4:3-4).
Receive With Meekness: Having instructed his brethren to remove the wickedness, James now instructed them to “receive with meekness the implanted word” (Jam. 1:21). The Greek word translated as receive means to take with the hand, to receive favorably, to give ear, to get, to learn (Prov. 4:5, 7; 16:16). I love what Cornelius said to Peter when he came to tell him words whereby he and his house could be saved. He declared: “Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (Acts 10:33). First, please note that he sent immediately for Peter. He did not wait for a convenient season (Acts 24:25). He made time. Second, he gathered his whole household together. He wanted them all to hear the message of salvation. Third, they were there to hear or to give ear. They were not there to argue. They were there to receive the word with readiness and gladness (Acts 2:41; 17:11). Fourth, they wanted to hear all things. They wanted the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). They weren’t interested in a partial plan. Fifth, they wanted to hear what was commanded of God (1 Thess. 2:13). They weren’t interested in Peter’s opinions.
James not only told his brethren to receive the word, he told them how to receive it - with meekness. The Greek word translated as meekness refers to a mildness of disposition and a gentleness of spirit (Psa. 25:9; Isa. 61:1). The Greek word translated as implanted carries within it the concept of planting. When you combine these ideas you have something beautiful. The word of God is a seed that is planted in the heart (Lk. 8:11). The meek heart is the soft heart. It is rich, bottom soil. It will receive the seed and bring forth fruit (Lk. 8:15).
James not only told his brethren how to receive it (with meekness), but also why to receive it (salvation). The implanted word is able to save our souls (Acts 13:36; Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-2; Eph. 1:13; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Heb.2:3). The Greek word translated as able refers to that which is powerful (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 1:16). It is able to save the most valuable part of us - the part of us that is going to live somewhere forever (Mat. 16:26). The Greek word translated as saved means to rescue from danger . Of course, the danger is eternal destruction (2 Thess. 1:7-9). In addition to saving us initially, the word has the power to keep us safe and sound (Jude 24; 2 Pet. 1:9-10). This is a part of the meaning of the Greek word translated as save.
Codes of Conduct (Jam. 1:19-20)
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). The first two words - “so then” link these verses to the thoughts preceding them. Since God willed us to be a kind of first fruits among his creatures (Jam. 1:18), we should be careful how we conduct ourselves. As we look at these verses, we see three things - the spirit of the commands, the scope of the commands, and the specifics of the commands.
First, we see the spirit of the commands. James addressed his readers with the words “my beloved brethren” (Jam. 1:19). Fifteen times he uses the term “brethren” (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19). Eleven times he uses the term “my” with it (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12:; 5:10, 12). Three times he uses the term “beloved” with it (1:16, 19; 2:5). “Brother” is used four times (1:9; 2:15; 4:11) and “sister” is used once (2:15). James counted his readers as his brothers and sisters. He loved them dearly. The commands that he was about to give them were given out of love. The language becomes stronger later in the book when he deals with specific sins (Jam. 4:4). However, even then, he tempered his words with grace (Jam. 4:6).
Second, we see the scope of the commands. The commands were given to “every man” (1:19). No one was excluded. Every man must be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. Likely, we all struggle to some degree in these areas. In writing to the Christians at Colosse, Paul used the expression “every man” three times in one verse. He wrote, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28). Every man must be warned and taught because every man will one day appear before Jesus in judgment.
Third, we see the specifics of the commands. Three specific commands were given - be swift to hear, be slow to speak, and be slow to wrath (Jam. 1:19). Let’s examine each of these more closely. First, we are to be swift to hear. Sadly, most of us are slow to hear. We are poor listeners. We are listening for a pause in the conversation so that we can talk again. Even while the other person is talking, we are not really listening. We are thinking of what we are going to say next. Listening is hard work. It takes a concentrated effort. However, I think that James has more in mind than being a better listener in human conversations. He has in mind being quick to hear God. The Pentacostians and the Bereans are good examples of being swift hearers (Acts 2:41; 17:11). Sadly, some are quick to hear gossip, but slow to hear gospel. The Pentacostians and the Bereans were not like that. Second, we are to be slow to speak. The wise man Solomon declared, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19; cf. 17:27; 21:23). There is a clear connection between being swift to hear and being slow to speak. Solomon wrote, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13). Being slow to speak is especially needed when we are talking to God. Solomon declared, “Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few” (Eccl. 5:2). Given the context of trial and temptation (Jam. 1:2, 13), it would have been easy for James’ brethren to have murmured against God. Third, we are to be slow to wrath. This time, James gives the reason - the wrath of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God (1:20). In Proverbs, Solomon declared, “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, And a man of wicked intentions is hated” (Prov. 14:17; cf. 14:29; 19:19). In Ecclesiastes, he added, “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, For anger rests in the bosom of fools” (Eccl. 7:9). There is a clear connection between being slow to speak and being slow to wrath. Jesus declared, “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Mat. 5:22). Naaman is a good example of one lacking in this area (2 Kings 5:9-12).
With love for their souls, James commanded every one of his readers to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. These codes of conduct would allow them to fulfill God’s will for them to be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.
A Synopsis of God (Jam. 1:17-18)
A synopsis is a brief summary of something. In the first chapter of the epistle that bears his name, James gives us a synopsis of God. He declared, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (Jam. 1:17-18). In these verses, we see the provision, the perfection, and the purpose of God.
First, James spoke of the Provision of God. We read, “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (Jam. 1:17). James uses the word gift. The Greek word translated as gift means “bounty.” It speaks of the abundance of things that God gives. God gives liberally (Jam.1:5). He gives richly (1 Tim. 6:17). He gives more than can be numbered. The psalmist declared, “Many, O LORD my God, are Your wonderful works Which You have done; And Your thoughts toward us Cannot be recounted to You in order; If I would declare and speak of them, They are more than can be numbered” (Psa. 40:5). Now that we have considered the number of God’s gifts, we should consider the nature of God’s gifts. They are described as good and perfect. Good refers to that which is useful, pleasant, excellent, upright, and honorable. Perfect refers to that which wants or lacks nothing. In the immediate context, James spoke of two good and perfect gifts that God has given - wisdom (Jam. 2:2-5; 3:17) and the word (Jam. 1:18; cf. 2 Pet. 1:3).
Second, James spoke of the Perfection of God. We read, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (Jam.1:17). It should come as no surprise that good and perfect gifts come from a good and perfect God. They come from the Father of lights. They come from the One who gave the lights - the sun, the moon, and the stars to bless our lives. As good as these lights are, God is better. The sun, moon, and stars vary and change. God does not (Heb. 13:8). He isn’t fickle like man (Num. 23:19; 2 Pet. 3:9). He is perfect in all His ways (2 Sam. 22:31; Mt. 5:48). Moses declared, “For I proclaim the name of the LORD: Ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:3-4).
Third, James spoke of the Purpose of God. We read, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (Jam.1:18). James spoke of the will of God. The Greek word translated as will means purpose. God purposed that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. The firstfruits in the Old Testaments were given to God to honor Him (Exod. 23:19; Prov. 3:9). In like manner, it is God’s will that we present ourselves to Him (Rom. 12:1-2).
In two verses James gives a three-fold synopsis of God. May we thank God for His provision, praise Him for His perfection, and fulfill His purpose by giving ourselves to Him.
The Worship of the Twenty-Four Elders
“The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created” (Rev. 4:10-11). As we look closely at this passage, we see that they fell down, bowed down, and cast down their crowns.
First, they fell down. We see this action repeatedly by the twenty-four elders in the book (Rev. 5:8-9, 14; 19:4). They are on their knees more than they are on their feet. We could certainly learn from them in this area. I heard a story once about a man climbing a mountain with a guide. As they neared the summit, the guide switched places with the man so that he could have the first view from the summit. As the man reached the summit, he stood up to get a better look. The guide immediately shouted, “On your knees! On your knees! You are only safe here on your knees.” The guide went on to explain to the man that there are strong gusts of wind that blow across the summit. The only safe position is on one’s knees. I think that this is a good reminder for us as we draw near to God in worship(Jam. 4:8, 10).
Second, they bowed down. In addition to falling down, the twenty-four elders worshipped (4:10). As you know, worship is kissing the hand toward God. It is bowing down before a superior. If you are following the progression of the text, then you see that they fell down and then they bowed down or worshipped. They prostrated themselves before God. Again, we would do well to imitate them. In the long ago, the psalmist declared, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker” (Psa. 95:6).
Third, they cast their crowns down. The casting down of the crowns is especially beautiful (4:10). The twenty-four elders were declaring by this action the Lamb’s worthiness to receive glory, honor, and power (4:11; 5:8-9). They cast their crowns of glory down to give glory to Him. Of all of their actions, this may be the hardest for us to follow. It is hard to surrender all. It is hard to cast down our crowns (education, wealth, talents, etc.). Yet, the Lamb is deserving of nothing less than this. We must be willing to give everything that we have to honor Him (Phil. 3:7-11; Mk. 12:41-44).
As we get ready to worship this week, let’s follow the example of the twenty-four elders. Let’s fall down, bow down, and cast down our crowns to honor the Lamb.