James Chapter 1
James 1:1 James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.
ďJames is the Greek form of the Hebrew name JacobĒ (Friberg). As I pointed out in the introduction of this letter, the James that fits this book the best is the half-brother of Jesus. Though James didnít believe that Jesus was the Son of God before the cross, he certainly believed afterward. We see Jesusí brothers with His mother gathered together with the other apostles and disciples before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:13-14). James had the privilege to see Jesus after His resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.† 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.† 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.
He also had a prominent role at the church in Jerusalem. When Paul and Barnabas spoke about how many Gentiles were obeying the gospel, and they debated whether or not Gentiles had to be circumcised, James said:
Acts 15:13 And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, "Men and brethren, listen to me:† 14 "Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.† 15 "And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: 16 `After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up;† 17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.' 18 "Known to God from eternity are all His works.† 19 "Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God,† 20 "but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. 21 "For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath."
We continue to see James being part of the church at Jerusalem as he and the elders welcomed Paul after his third missionary journey (Acts 21:18). Paul even referred to James as an apostle (Gal. 1:18-19). Now, he wasnít an apostle like Paul, but he was one that was sent out. James never claimed to have apostolic authority. Though he could have identified himself as the brother of Jesus, he didnít. Instead, he identified himself as a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Itís as if he wanted to be known as a servant of the Lord instead of being known as His half-brother through birth.
I donít think people understand the significance of the word bondservant or slave. To help us understand this term better, letís look at some definitions.
BDAG: being under someoneís total control, slavish, servile, subject, one who is solely committed to another, slave, subject
Friberg: being in a servile condition enslaved, performing the service of a slave; figuratively, of unquestioning obedience, in either a good or bad sense subservient, enslaved, subject
Thayer: are those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause among men:† used of apostles, Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1; 2 Tim. 2:24; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; of other preachers and teachers of the gospel, Col. 4:12; 2 Tim. 2:24; Jude 1:1; of the true worshippers of Christ (who is κύριος πάντων, Acts 10:36(, Eph. 6:6.† The δοῦλοι τοῦ Θεοῦ, עַבְדֵי יְהוָׂה, are those whose agency God employs in executing his purposes:† used of apostles, Acts 4:29; 16:17; of Moses (Josh. 1:1), Rev. 15:3; of prophets (Jer. 7:25; 25:4), Rev. 1:1; 10:7; 11:18; of all who obey God's commands, his true worshippers, Luke 2:29; Rev. 2:20; 7:3; 19:2,5; 22:3,6; (Ps. 33:23 (Ps. 34:23); Ps. 68:37 (Ps. 69:37 ); Ps. 88:4,21 (Ps. 89:4,21)).† γ. δοῦλος τίνος, devoted to another to the disregard of one's own interests:† Matt. 20:27; Mark 10:44; strenuously laboring for another's salvation, 2 Cor. 4:5.
So, to be a bondservant of God means that you are fully committed to serving God. You take care of what He wants first, then you take care of your needs. Jesus illustrates this idea perfectly in:
Luke 17:7 "And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field,`Come at once and sit down to eat '?† 8 "But will he not rather say to him,`Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink '?† 9 "Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not.† 10 "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say,`We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'"
So, when James identifies himself as a bondservant of God, it takes on a much deeper meaning when we consider what this word means and how Jesus has taught us what a true servant of God is like. The question is, are you truly a bondservant of God? Are you committed to the cause of Christ and doing what you can further His kingdom?
You will also notice that James makes a distinction between God, the Father, and Jesus. While I could look and many other verses that show the triune nature of God, I just want to note that James drew a distinction between these two, which goes against the idea that some teach that Jesus is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Next, James tells us who this letter is written to ďTo the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.Ē There are different ideas on who this specifically refers to because we know that the twelve tribes of Israel were the Jewish people. However, we can quickly rule out that this letter was exclusively written to Jews because in verse two, he calls them brethren, which certainly can include Jew and Gentile Christians. Also, the overall message of the letter is to Christians in general, not to Jews.
With this in mind, some conclude that James was writing to Jewish Christians. After all, the Jews had certainly been scattered abroad after they had been taken into captivity and placed in different areas. It is also true that certain parts of the New Testament address certain things regarding the Jews.
However, if you consider the phrase ďtwelve tribesí figuratively and apply it to Godís people under the new covenant, then we have James writing to all Christians, whether Jew or Gentile. After all, under the new covenant, we are all spiritually part of Israel. Notice the following verses that bear this out.
Galatians 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.† 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.† 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.† 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Romans 2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;† 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
Romans 4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also,† 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.
Romans 9:6† But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,† 7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, "In Isaac your seed shall be called."† 8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.
Letís not forget that Christians were scattered abroad after the great persecution arose in Acts 8:1-4. So, I believe James is writing this letter to all Christians. Even if I am wrong, and his focus was Jewish Christians, it doesnít change the message from James because the wonderful things he wrote can apply to Jew and Gentile alike.
Finally, James writes, Greetings. This word expresses joy for those being addressed. This is a common Greek greeting and is only found here and in two other places in the New Testament (Acts 15:23; 23:26). The usual greeting given by Peter and Paul is Jewish. They usually say, ďGrace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus ChristĒ (Rom 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:2). Since the greeting is a Greek one, it also shows that James has more than just Jews in mind.
James 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,† 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.† 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Many of the other writers of the New Testament not only gave a longer greeting, they usually follow up their greeting by expressing their appreciation for their brethren through some form of thanksgiving, or they would talk about the blessing of God. Just as James offered a short greeting, he immediately challenges his brethren to endure trials. James uses the word brethren 15 times throughout this short letter, which means that he is addressing his fellow brethren in Christ.
Now, it might seem strange at first to see James saying that we should count it all joy when we fall into various trials. Notice, James didnít say find some joy, but all joy. Also, James knew that the people he was writing to would experience a variety of trials, or we could say temptations.
The trials that we go through are the testing ground of our faith. While trials are never fun, we could be encouraged by knowing that Jesus had many trials in His life which led to Him suffering on the cross, yet it brought Him joy knowing that He was doing the will of the Father.
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,† 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
What James is teaching in verse 2 is not new because Jesus taught this principle in:
Matthew 5:11 "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.† 12 "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This is why we read the following about the apostles who were arrested and tried before the Sanhedrin council after they had spoken with Gamaliel.
Acts 5:40 And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.† 41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.† 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
They rejoiced for having been beaten for the cause of Christ. Paul also taught a similar idea to James in:
Romans 5:1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,† 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.† 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;† 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Peter also taught that our faith is purified by the fire of our trials.
1 Peter 1:6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,† 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,† 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,† 9 receiving the end of your faith-- the salvation of your souls. ††
Peter uses this figure of speech of our trials being like metal that passes through fire just as some of the prophets of old did (Isa. 48:10; Jer. 6:29-30; Ezek. 22:18). Some metals are strong enough to endure the furnace, while others will melt in the heat. We want to be like that metal that passes through the heat and becomes stronger from the fire.
Again, some would find it strange to be told to rejoice and find joy in trials and persecution, but this idea is not even exclusive to the New Testament because Moses looked forward to the reward of following the way of God instead of embracing the pleasures of sin.
Hebrews 11:24 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter,† 25 choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,† 26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.
I am also reminded of Paul and Silas, who were stripped of their clothing and beaten with rods, and thrown into the inner part of the prison with their feet shackled. Notice what we read about them.
Acts 16:25† But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
Even though they went through this painful trial they didnít deserve, we find them praying and singing hymns to God. They found joy in their persecution and never lost sight of God. Their praying and singing caught the ears of the other prisoners, and no doubt gave them something to think about as these men praised their God.
Do you think that we are any different today regarding trials? While we might not face the kind of persecution that Jesus and His disciples faced, do you count your trials a joy and rejoice for suffering for the cause of Christ, or do you have a pity party and tell yourself you are never putting yourself in that position again?
It never ceases to amaze me how weak some Christiansí faith is because they will allow small trials to make their faith melt when put to the fire. However, we should never allow ourselves to have such a weak faith because we serve a mighty and powerful God who will be there with us as we endure the trials we face. If we do it right and approach our trials with the right attitude, then we will come out much stronger in our faith after the trial is complete.
James goes on to tells us why we should count it all joy to fall into various trials.
3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
James wants us to view our trials in life as a way to grow and produce patience. The word patience is being used in the sense of being patient with the burden that we are under. What happens we are not patient with the trials we go through? Well, many times, we will act irrationally or say and do things not befitting of a Christian. However, when we can learn to be patient with our trials, we can allow patience to have its perfect work. When we do this, James says that we can be perfect and complete lacking nothing. Why? Because when we are patient and learn from our trials to rely on God, then our God can use the difficult situation to make us stronger and wiser than we were before.
God wants His children to learn to endure through patience. Notice some verses that teach this.
Luke 8:15 "But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.
Luke 21:19 "By your patience possess your souls.
Romans 15:4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
I understand it can be challenging to find joy in our trials and be patient with them, but if we want God to be pleased with our faith through these trials, then we must approach each trial with this same attitude. Otherwise, we will not reap the complete benefits of our trials.
Next, James will emphasize the importance of prayer and how it is to be done.
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.† 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.† 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;† 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
While we could isolate these verses as another topic to itself, I can see its connection with the previous topic because one thing that will help us to have patience with our trials and reap the most from them is to pray to God for the wisdom to endure our trials. I think sometimes people get confused and think James is saying we can pray for knowledge, but that is not what he is saying. If you want to increase your knowledge, you go to Godís Word. The more you study, the more knowledge you will obtain.
James is talking about wisdom. Wisdom is knowing how to use the knowledge you have learned effectively. Or in this case, itís about praying to God to help you have the proper wisdom on how to use your acquired knowledge to effectively deal with the trial that you are going through. We could also add to this that we can effectively use the lesson our trial is teaching us in a wise way. Regarding this idea, Guy N. Woods wrote:
"Knowledge is obtained only through study; wisdom is a gift of God. One whose desire is to learn mathematical principles would not resort to prayer but to textbooks dealing therewith; one who desires the divine wisdom must get down on his knees.† Facts to be stored in the head are obtained only through mental effort; the wisdom which has its home in the depths of the soul only God can bestow.† Of the manner in which God bestows this wisdom the writer does not deal; it is the fact of it which is here affirmed."
When James says God will give to all liberally and without reproach, this means that God is generous in what He gives and that He doesnít expect something in return. Many times, if someone keeps coming to us and asking for the same thing, we might say or think, ďI have already given that to you,Ē or we might say, ďI will do this for you after you do this or that.Ē Again, God is not like that.
God hears our prayers and answers them.
James 5:16 Ö The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
Matthew 7:7† "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.† 8 "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.† 9 "Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?† 10 "Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?† 11 "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
1 Peter 3:12 For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil."
We also know that while God will hear our prayers and will give us what we need, He doesnít always answer our prayers with a yes because sometimes the things we are asking for are not helpful or the right thing even though we might feel that it is. Either way, James makes it clear that when we pray, we must ask with faith, knowing that God hears our prayers. If we doubt that God is listening and we are just praying and hoping that He might, then we are asking amiss.
James compares this to a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.
If you have watched waves moving around in the water, there is no consistency with them. Some are big, and some are small. Some go in one direction, and others go in different directions. This is the picture of one who double-minded, or we could double souled, which is talking about how the inner person is divided and has no focus.
If we doubt in God, and we doubt what we are praying for, why should God answer that prayer? If we are unsure, why are we even asking God about anything? It is like a person throwing a multitude of things at the wall to see if any of them will stick. As James said, those who are full of doubt and have this double mind are unstable in all their ways.
As Christians, we need to focus on God and completely trust in His ways. As Jesus said,
Matthew 22:37† "`You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'
We have no reason to doubt our God. Next, James says:
James 1:9 Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation,† 10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away.† 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.
James gives us a comparison between the lowly brother and the rich. There are different ideas on who is represented here, but the majority believe that James is talking about poor Christians in verse 9. Some modern scholars think that James is referring to the rich in verse 10 as unbelievers, while the majority of older scholars believe he is talking about rich Christians. I agree with the older scholars because of the context. James is teaching us about trials. While there were many more poor Christians, there were some rich ones too. Otherwise, we wouldnít have instructions for the rich. For example, Paul wrote:
1 Timothy 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.† 18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share,† 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
Whether James was referring to rich Christians or worldly people, the message would still be the same, which is riches will never last. We will explore this more, but first, letís take a closer look at out text. When James mentions the lower brother, he is talking about a brother of humble circumstance whether he be poor or a slave for example. He is to glory in his exaltation, which means his high position. How can one be in a humble circumstance and be told to glory in his high position? Well, there is no higher position than that of being in Christ no matter what our circumstance might be. That is why Paul could say:
Philippians 4:12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.† 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
There are plenty of trials that come from being poor. It can be challenging not to allow our circumstance to cause us to live a life of sin. It is easy to turn into a thief or to make yourself numb by doing drugs. It is easy to push God away and blame Him for your problems, but James is saying, donít do that because you are spiritually rich in Christ. As Paul said:
2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
I canít think of a better example to illustrate this than the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
Luke 16:19 "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.† 20 "But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate,† 21 "desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
Jesus tells us this story to show us the difference between a rich man who was worldly and a poor man who had nothing. However, Jesus implies that this poor man is a godly man. In my mind, he fits James description perfectly as one who had a humble circumstance and found glory in his high position as a servant of God. I realize this man was not a Christian, but he still fits the principle of James narrative. Jesus continues:
22 "So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.† 23 "And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.† 24 "Then he cried and said,`Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.'† 25 "But Abraham said,`Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.†
Here is where we see the difference between those who live like the world and those who focus on God and live for Him. This story also illustrates the problem with allowing your riches to be your guide because this rich man had everything, yet had nothing in his spiritual bank account. So, when he died, he found out just how poor he was, while Lazarus found out how rich he was and will continue to be for eternity. This is the reason every Christian can glory in his high position as a Christian no matter what his circumstance might be.
While the lowly brother is to find glory in his high position as a Christian, the rich are to find glory in their humiliation, which can mean their low state. In other words, he doesnít want the rich to think they are better than the poor or to rely on their riches. Instead, he wants them to remember that they are just human and when they are brought low, they can have glory because God is their focus and not their riches. As Jesus said:
Matthew 6:19 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;† 20 "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.† 21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The message for the poor and the rich is to always focus on God and not their poor condition or rich condition because God doesnít care about those things, and our social status has nothing to do with our standing with God. It is the humble that will be exalted. There are many temptations that come from being poor and rich, which is why Agur said:
Proverbs 30:7 Two things I request of You (Deprive me not before I die):† 8 Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches-- Feed me with the food allotted to me;† 9 Lest I be full and deny You, And say, "Who is the LORD?" Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God.
Those who have it easier are those who are comfortable and donít lack or have excess. James tells us why the rich should find glory in their humiliation: because as a flower of the field he will pass away.† 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.
James is speaking of the brevity of life. Jamesí immediate audience would have a better understanding of this illustration because in Palestine, they didnít get much rain and whatever grew did the best it could. However, when the sun rises, a hot scorching wind will blow across the land and kill things like a flower, and its beauty would be gone forever. Not only is life short, as Jesus mentioned earlier, riches and their beauty will not last either. While pursuing riches is what the world says is a great thing for you to do, James says it will end with you dying for things that will not last. †
Though not a word for word quote, James is quoting in part from:
Isaiah 40:6 The voice said, "Cry out!" And he said, "What shall I cry?" "All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.† 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass.† 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever."
Job also says something similar:
Job 14:1 "Man who is born of woman Is of few days and full of trouble.† 2 He comes forth like a flower and fades away;
Sometimes is seem hard for man to grasp this simple idea that this life we live on earth is but a vapor, and we cannot take any of our riches with us, so we need to make the best use of our time while we have it and live for God because our actions and pursuits will make a difference of where we spend eternity.
Consider what Mr. Woods wrote about our verses:
We conclude, therefore, that both the poor and the rich, under contemplation in our text, are children of God; and, that it was Jamesí design to show that however changing and changeable the outward circumstances of life may be, those who are faithful to the Lord by find occasion to rejoice and be happy. We thus learn that the rich and the poor both have their trials; and, while they are not the same trials the road to heaven is not smooth for either. Each may, however in spite of his peculiar temptations, find satisfaction in service to his savior and ultimately receive eternal bliss (Woods, p. 50).
Next, James continues with the theme of overcoming trials.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.† 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.† 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.† 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
Like Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, James starts out this verse with the word Ďblessedí, which means happy. So, the person who can endure temptation without giving into it should be happy that sin has not entered that personís life. When we endure, and we donít allow sin to overtake us till the day we die, then we are approved and will receive the crown of life that has been promised to us (Rev. 2:10).
James makes it clear that we must not blame God when we find ourselves tempted because God cannot be tempted by evil, and He would never use the temptation of evil to cause people to sin. However, people have always had a problem with blaming God for their sins. For example, Adam did it when trying to explain why He ate the forbidden fruit.
Genesis 3:12 Then the man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate."
Adam is explaining that it was because of the woman the God gave him that he sinned.
Now some may object about what James has taught us and point out how the Bible teaches in the Old Testament that God tempted man.
Genesis 22:1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." ††
Exodus 15:25† ÖThere He made a statute and an ordinance for them. And there He tested them,
Deuteronomy 8:2 "And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.
Verses like these probably inspired this poem from Robert Burns from Scotland:
Thou knowest thou has formed me
With passions wild and strong;
And listening to their witching voice
Has often led me wrong.
One might say, ďwell, God created me with my desires, therefore it is not entirely my fault when I give into those desires.Ē However, this how people try to justify and blame their sins on someone else.
In our verses above, when God tested these people, He was not in any way trying to get them to sin as He wants nothing to do with sin. Instead, the test was done to see if they were committed to God or not. While it is true that God created us and gave us the ability to desire something, He also gave His Word on how to properly fulfil those desires.
Starting in verse 14, James makes it clear that the person responsible for you sinning, is you because it begins with you being tempted by something you desire and then you are enticed.
The word Ďenticeí caries the idea of trapping fish with bait on a hook so you can snare them. That is what the devil does through worldly desires. He puts the bait out to lure you from your place of righteousness and away youíre your brothers and sisters in Christ so that you will be focused on the bait. Once you bite into it, you have sinned and if you stay hooked, it makes you die, which means to be separated from God.
Since we donít want this to happen, I will expound on this idea because every accountable person must learn to deal with sin and to overcome sin if they ever hope to make it to heaven because as I said, sin separates us from God.
Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.
Letís begin by defining sin. Simply put, sin is when we ďact contrary to the will and law of God - 'to sin, to engage in wrongdoing, sin (Louw-Nida Lexicon).Ē John defines it this way,
NIV 1 John 3:4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.
So, sin is what happens when you or I break Godís Law found within the New Testament, and we learn that every accountable person has sinned (Rom. 3:23). So, this means that every accountable person is lost and separated from God. But thankfully, God loved us enough that He gave us His only begotten Son who came to this earth and lived the perfect life without sin (Heb. 4:15). He did this for the sole purpose of being the perfect sacrifice that would take away our sins.
Since Jesus was willing to die for us, He has made it possible for every person to have the forgiveness of their sins by the power of His blood if they are willing to obey the Gospel plan of salvation.
The Bible says that we must believe that Jesus is the Son of God (Jn. 3:16), we must repent (Luke 13:3), we must confess Jesus as our Lord (Rom. 10:10), and we must be baptized into Christ for the remission our sins (Acts 2:38).
All these steps are necessary for a person to have the forgiveness of their sins, but baptism is the point our sins are washed away as Paul found out.
Acts 22:16 'And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'
Since baptism is the point that washes away our sins, it is the time that we come in contact with Jesusí cleansing blood.
Revelation 1:5† and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,
I donít know of any greater moment that exist then when you come out the watery grave of baptism knowing that all your past sins have been removed and you are now a child of God. However, this does not mean that our problem with sin is over because we are still going to sin from time to time.
1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Once we become a Christian, Satan is going to do his best to tempt us to sin.
1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
We need to realize that the devil is good at what he does, and he is good at finding ways of getting sin into our lives no matter how hard we try to keep it out. So, I want to show you how sin develops and how we can overcome sin as Christians.
If we are going to maintain our relationship with God, then we must overcome the problem of sin in 2 ways:
ē†††††††††† By sinning less and less
ē†††††††††† By knowing what to do when we do sin
John lets us know that the Word of God teaches us everything we need to know about overcoming sin.
1 John 2:1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
Since the Bible teaches how to do this, the first thing we need to learn to overcome sin is to understand how it develops. Again, this comes from our text in James.
James 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
James teaches us that the first stage in the development of sin is temptation, and verse 14 shows us that it includes 2 things:
ē†††††††††† Desire (some translations say ďlustĒ, suggesting a strong desire for something)
ē†††††††††† Enticement (an opportunity and encouragement to satisfy the desire)
So, this mean that Temptation = Desire + Opportunity
Let me give you an example of this. A small boy is tempted to steal some cookies when he wants or desires them and has an occasion or opportunity to take them. The temptation becomes stronger if he wants them really bad and has a good chance of getting them without being caught.
Now please note that at this stage in the development of sin, actual sin has not taken place, because it is not a sin to be tempted. We can learn this from Jesus because He was tempted as we are, but He had no sin.
Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
The second stage in the development of sin is ďsinĒ itself. In James 1:15, we learn that ďWhen desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.Ē So, temptation only becomes sin when we act or yield ourselves to it. This tells us that sin involves action on our part. To put this into a simple equation Sin = Desire + Opportunity + Action.
The third stage in the development of sin involves the consequences of unrepented and unforgiven sin, which = ďdeathĒ (15) ďand sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth deathĒ
The death being spoken about is referring to spiritual separation from God as we saw in
Isaiah 59:2 our iniquities have separated us from God; And our sins have hidden His face from us So that He will not hear.
If we die physically while in this state of unforgiven or un-repented sin, then we will experience the second death, which involves eternal punishment.
Revelation 21:8 "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
We can now put this into a final equation. Desire + Opportunity + Action + No Forgiveness = Spiritual Death.
Now that we know how sin develops and its consequences, I want to make some observations.
1. If sin overcomes us, and we die in that state, we will receive the final punishment of Revelation 21:8.
2. If we overcome sin, we can avoid the final punishment and experience eternal life with God.
So how can we make sure that we overcome sin so that we can experience eternal life with God? We do this by stopping its development at any one of the four points leading to the final punishment.
Now letís examine how this may be done. The first thing we need to do is change our desires. This is the best place to begin since this is where the development of sin begins. Paul teaches us that changing our desires is part of our Christian growth.
Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Galatians 5:24 And those who are Christís have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
But how do we change our desires?
It is through the Word of God. Our brains are kind of like a hard drive in a computer. A hard drive is a storage device just like your brain. If we fill up our hard drives with the Word of god, we will naturally begin to change our desires to what God wants us to desire. However, if we only fill our hard drives with just a little bit of Godís word and we leave plenty of room for worldly things, we are going to desire those things which cause sin. David has the right idea in:
Psalm 119:9 How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. 10 With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! 11 Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!
If we continue to put Godís word into our hearts, it will be difficult for sin to enter our lives. In fact, as we read Godís Word and consider the consequences of sin and the problems it causes, we will learn to hate sin.
Proverbs 8:13 The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.
So, the more we study Godís Word, the less likely we will have the desire to sin, but it takes time to change our desires. So, what else can we do to overcome sin? Well, we need to limit our opportunities. Remember, temptation only occurs when there is both desire and opportunity.†
While we work on changing our desires, we should limit the opportunities we have to create wrongful desires. We can do this by purposely avoiding situations that might cause us to have wrongful desires. We need to have the same attitude that David expressed in,
Psalms 101:3 I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not cling to me.4 A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will not know wickedness.
Also, we can do our best to avoid those who try to encourage us to sin.
1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: ďEvil company corrupts good habits.Ē
So, donít hang around the wrong crowd, hang around people that can encourage you in the way of righteousness. It makes a huge difference when you surround yourself with people who have the same goal of getting to heaven because they will help motivate you to do the right thing, and you can also encourage them.
However, I think we all know that we wonít be able to remove every desire and opportunity to sin from our lives. So, what else can we do?
I would suggest that we learn to exercise self-control. Remember temptation only becomes sin if we yield or act on it. If we can control ourselves from acting on our temptations, then we can overcome sin. But how does a Christian exercise self-control?
One thing we can do is pray for Godís providential help as Jesus taught in His example prayer.
Matt 6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Matt 26:41ďWatch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.Ē
This teaches us that we need to have an active prayer life. If we ask God for strength to overcome a temptation we are having, I think He will answer our prayers. Paul certainly believed this:
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.
The more we have God in our lives by praying, studying, and being a doer of His Word, the easier it will be for us to have self-control. When we feed our consciences with righteous things, every ounce of our being will tell us when we are doing something wrong. I am sure we have all experienced our consciences telling us not to do something.
Our consciences can be a powerful tool that can help us with our self-control if we feed it with righteous things, but if we feed it with evil things, then it will not help us at all. In fact, it will make it easier for us to commit a sin without any remorse because our consciences will become seared with hot iron (1 Tim. 4:2).
We also learn that God helps us with our self-control by giving us a way out of our temptations.
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
However, there may be times when we donít take advantage of the escape route that God provided, and we sin. What do we do then?
Well, we must obtain forgiveness for our sins. Letís never forget that sin is only victorious when it is un-forgiven. As Christians, we can obtain the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus and avoid eternal punishment in hell. Again, letís read part of:
1 John 2:1 And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins
Propitiation is a means whereby sin is covered and remitted. Yes, Christ is truly the propitiation for our sins. By his blood, we were forgiven of our past sins when we were buried with Him in baptism (Acts 2:38, 22:16, Rom. 6).
By His blood, we can be forgiven of our present sins when we repent, pray, and confess our sins to God.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
So, a Christian can overcome sin at any time by repenting and confessing them to God. Now letís put all of this together on what it takes to overcome sin.
∑ We need to change our desires to Godís desires by studying His Word.
∑ We need to limit our opportunities by avoiding things that tempt us.
∑ We need exercise self-control by praying for strength and feeding our consciences with righteous things.
∑ We need to obtain forgiveness for our sins by repenting, praying, and confessing them to God.
So far, I focused on sins of commission, that is sin we commit by actions on our part, but there are also sins of omission. Sins which come from failing to do what is right.
James 4:17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Overcoming these sins are done in a similar way.
∑ We change our desires, so we want to do what is right.
∑ We exercise self-control by taking action when we should.
∑ We obtain forgiveness for omission of sins the same way.
Now, one thing we should never do as Christians is to think we can just go ahead and sin without ever trying to prevent it and simply ask God to forgive that sin afterwards. There are several reasons we shouldnít do this.
1. At the point of baptism, we were freed from the power of sin, and we should present ourselves to God as servants of righteousness. As Paul wrote:
Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?† 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?†
2. Even though we can receive the forgiveness of our sins, we might still suffer the consequences of those sins.
Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.† 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
For example, if we do illegal drugs, you can be forgiven by God, but it will not take away the consequences that you have done to your body or the bad things you did while under the influence of those drugs. For example, God is not going to hand you a free get out of jail card just because you have been forgiven by Him.
3. If we allow sin to deceive us, we may get to the point of sinning willfully and loss our salvation.
Hebrews10:26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people." 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
So, donít take the grace of God lightly and try to abuse it. Instead, we should praise God for his grace and use it to overcome sin in our lives.
Letís read James 1:12 to help motivate us to do this.
James 1:12† Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
I hope we all realize that sin only brings about temporary pleasure, and we should always remind ourselves how wonderful heaven is going to be and how it will last for an eternity. So, I hope these thoughts that I have expounded on from our verses in James will help us to overcome sin in our lives.
Before we move on to the next section in Jamesí letter, I want you to think about the following questions regarding overcoming sin.
Are you studying your bible daily to help you develop the right kind of desires?
Do you watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation?
Do you avoid circumstances and companions that you know will tempt you to sin?
Do you ask God daily to forgive you of your sins and to help you overcome sin in your life?
Next, James writes:
James 1:16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.† 17 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.† 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
James gives a command to not be deceived. After all, he just gave us and them the formula for how sin happens and thus we can know how to keep sin out of our lives. What is sad is when we know what is sinful and we know the tricks of the devil, yet we allow ourselves to be deceived even when we know what is going on. Of course, that speaks to the weakness of our flesh and how we need to always be on guard. As the writer of Hebrews said:
Hebrews 2:1 Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.
So, it is essential that we pay attention to Godís Word and put in our hearts daily. Also, the writer of Hebrews offers this advice:
Hebrews 3:12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;† 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Taking heed to Godís Word and exhorting each daily is key to remaining faithful to God and to prevent us from being deceived.
Back in verse 16, we can see how much James cares for those he is writing to because he called them beloved brethren. We should have this same affectionate attitude when it comes to our brothers and sisters in Christ because we view them as being beloved, then we are going to do our best to help encourage them to stay right with God.
Several of the main translation give you no hint that there are two different Greek words being used in verse 17 that are both translated gift. However, some translations do a decent job of showing the difference between the use of the two words. For example:
CSB† James 1:17 Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above.
So, the first word, ďEvery good giftĒ carries the idea of the act of giving the gift. However, the second word, ďevery perfect giftĒ refers to the gift itself that comes from above, which is from God. The word perfect in this verse means that it is complete, which means the gifts from God are continual and there is nothing lacking in them. Everything that God gives is good because as verse 13 pointed out God it not the source of evil.
James continues: and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. This is the only place in the Bible that you will see this phrase Father of lights. So, this shows that the perfect gift comes from our Father because He is the source of good. Within in this context, the lights being referred to do are the heavenly lights, the sun, moon, starts, etc. Though they move around and are not constantly in one place, when it comes to God, there is no variation or shadow of turning. This is good news for us because it means that God is our rock. What He teaches us in His Word will not change. His promises will not change. God is the most stable source you will ever know.
Though our context would limit the lights as being the heavenly bodies, we can know that it goes beyond this because God is the creator and sustainer of all light because He is the Creator of everything, and He is light, and no darkness can be found in Him (1 John 1:5). †James then says:
18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
I donít know why,
but some commentators make this verse more complicated than it needs to be. Some
think James is referring to creation, but I am in agreement
with others who see this as a reference to our birth as Christians through the
Word of God.
Peter talks about this as well:
1 Peter 1:22† Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,† 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,
The first Christians back then were called the firstfruits in anticipation of many more Christians to come after them. For example, Paul wrote:
†ESV† 2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
Guy N. Woods sums up our verses this way:
ďWe learn, (1) it was Godís will that those whom James wrote should become his children; (2) these became his children by being born of the word of truth-the gospel; (3) those who thus did became the ďfirstfruitsĒ in pledge of a greater harvestĒ (72).
We are going to spend some time on our next two verses because there is much for us to learn from them.
James 1:19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;† 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
The message is simple. Once again, James refers to those he is writing to as beloved brethren, but he then teaches this powerful lesson, which is being quick to listen and be slow to speak. Why? Because you will be slow to wrath. The wrath of man doesnít produce anything good. If more people could follow this simple saying, the world would be a much better place. However, we know that many struggle with following this simple rule, which is why I want to spend some serious time on this topic.
I believe our short verse is the key to understanding how to keep your anger under control. There is nothing wrong with anger itself because itís all about what we do with our anger. Anything that we can do to prevent ourselves from lashing out from anger is worthy of our attention. We are going to begin with the first part of Jamesí advice, which is being swift to hear. James is telling us we must learn to be great listeners.
Did you know that some colleges teach a class on listening? You might be thinking, ďwell, that is kind of silly, who doesnít know how to listen.Ē Well, I can promise you that many would benefit from such a class because the ability for many to close their mouths and listen has become a dead art. Listening is a learned skill, it doesnít just happen.
Now, please understand that hearing and listening are two different things. Unless there is something wrong with our hearing, we can all hear, but listening requires processing what we hear. It is certainly possible to hear without listening. In fact, we have all done this. Someone is talking and our minds start thinking about something else. We hear the person talking, but we have no idea what he is talking about because we stopped listening.
We do the same thing sometimes when we are reading. We can start reading a book and start thinking about something else, and even though our eyes are scanning the words, and we read over a page worth of information, we have no idea what we just read. This tells us that we can hear and even see with our eyes, yet not comprehend because we phased out and were not taking in what we see or hear and processing it because we were not paying attention.
Since listening is an important skill for everyone to have, we are going to spend some time talking about the importance of listening. Not only will I be pointing out the importance of listening to the Word of God, but also how listening in general will benefit us in every aspect of our lives.
When Jesus was on this earth, He taught us many times about how important it is to listen. He concluded several of His teachings by saying:
Matthew 11:15 †"He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
When Jesus was speaking to the 7 churches of Asia, He addressed each of them with a statement similar to this one found in: ††††††
Revelation 2:7 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Jesus also said the following:
Mark 4:23 "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."† 24 Then He said to them, "Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.† 25 "For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him."
What these verses teach us is that when it comes to Godís Word, we better pay attention and listening intently to what it says. We cannot just read the words in our Bibles and not process them in our minds. Not only does Jesus want us to be good listeners, He also wants us to take heed to what we listen to because He knows what we take into our minds can corrupt us if we are listening to the wrong things.
As Paul said:
1 Corinthians 15:33 †Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits."
So, there is a balance. Our goal is to be good listeners, especially when it comes to Godís Word, but we must also be careful at what we listen to so that it does not influence us in a negative way that will cause to move away from God.
You would be surprised at how much listening is required in our everyday lives. Yet, listening is hardly ever taught in our schools. To help put things in perspective, I want you to consider the following numbers regarding everyday communication:
∑ Most of us receive at least 12 years of instruction on how to write well, yet this skill only makes up about 9% of a personís daily communication.
∑ We receive about 8 years of formal instruction on how to read, yet it only accounts for 16% of our daily communication.
∑ When it comes to speaking, most receive 1 or 2 years of training. Speaking makes up about 30% of our communication.
∑ If we are lucky, we might receive a half-year of formal training in listening, yet it makes up 45% of our daily communication.
All of these skills play a part in our daily communication, but based on these numbers, we can see that listening makes up the biggest percentage. Since so little time is spent on learning how to listen, it shouldnít surprise us why so many are poor communicators and why so many get confused about what people are saying because they donít listen. The good news is that with a little bit of effort, we can all become better listeners.
First, letís consider some different levels of listening that will help us understand where we are when it comes to listening in general.
The first level is simply hearing the words.
Every hearing person has the ability to do this, but we are fooling ourselves if we think that simply hearing the words someone says is the same as listening to what someone says. If this is the level you are at, you will be the type of person who misunderstands many things that people say. You will tend to jump to conclusions and miss important parts of what is being said. Though you may be aware that you are not listening that close, you will tend to blame the speaker for not understanding everything that was said not matter how good he explained the topic.
We might get away with this kind of listening sometimes, but it will catch up to us especially when it comes to our loved ones. While a preacher or a teacher might not ever know your listening level, a loved one will because they interact with you daily. They will know if you are making any effort to listen or not. If you are not listening it will make them feel that you donít care and are not interested in what they have to say. This listening level can be devastating to marriages and other relationship you may have.
The second level is listening in spurts.
Even when we know we should be listening, we tend to tune in in spurts, but we fail to listen closely, so we only get part of the story. Though we are getting more information now than at level 1, we will still have some of the same problems as I discussed in level 1.
One thing that can contribute to this listening level is known as conversational narcissism. Conversational narcissists always try and turn every conversation into being about them because they want the attention. We all know people like this and how annoying this can be. When they listen to someone speaking, they are not listening per se to understand what you are saying, they are listening to what they can say that will be similar to what you are saying, but it ends with them talking about themselves. Sometimes it is hard for us to recognize the fact that we all do this sometimes, and when we do this, we are being self-centered, and we show others that we want the conversation to be about us. †If this describes you, realize that you can change your ways, and I will tell you how, later.
The third level is empathetic listening.
This level should be our goal in all aspects of our lives. When you can achieve this level of listening, you are able to set aside internal and external distractions to listen without judgment or interruption. We are emotionally and mentally invested in the speaker, and the speaker will be able to tell that you are paying close attention and are interested in what he is saying. When you listen carefully it is going to be difficult for you to misunderstand what the speaker is saying, and it gives you the ability to know what to say or ask that will enhance the conversation.
When it comes to someone who is speaking publicly, like I am, there are certain basic rules of communication that I must follow to present my lesson in a way thatís easily understood, but at the same time, it is your responsibility to listen carefully so that you can get the most out of what I am saying. So, there is just as much responsibility for the hearer to listen as for the speaker to speak in a coherent manner.††
These three listening levels apply to us all, and we fall into one of these three levels. Hopefully, we fall into level 3 more often than not. Along these same lines, I also want to point out three different kinds of listeners found within the Bible when it comes to listening to Godís Word.
First, we have the dull of hearing. The writer of Hebrews described such people:
Hebrews 5:8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.† 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,† 10 called by God as High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek,"† 11 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.† 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.† 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.† 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
When a person will not actively listen to the truth found in Godís Word, he is going to find himself woefully ignorant and unprepared for the judgment day. When a person refuses to hear and learn, then they will get to the point where they need to be taught the basics all over again, but even that will be impossible because you cannot teach a person anything if he is dull of hearing. Jesus dealt with people like this during His day:
Matthew 13:13 "Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.† 14 "And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive;† 15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.'
There was nothing wrong with the message being taught. If they listened and asked questions, they could understand, but they were blinded by their dull ears and blind eyes. Many today have the same dull hearing and blindness when it comes to hearing and seeing what Godís Word says because they donít want to see or hear what it says if it means they have to change their ways. For those who donít close their ears or their eyes to the truth will be blessed as Jesus said:
Matthew 13:16"But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear;† 17 "for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
Second, we have those with itching ears.
Paul describes this kind of listener in:
2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;† 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
If you will remember earlier in this lesson, Jesus warned us about what we listen to. Well, this is the reason He warned us. There were people in the first century who chose to go beyond dull hearing in a bad way because they became active listeners to the false way. It is easy to listen to those things that we want to hear or that makes us feel good, but it is more difficult for us to listen when it comes to what we need to hear. Now, this was not a problem isolated to the first century because the people during the days of Isaiah had the same problem.
Isaiah 30:8 Now go, write it before them on a tablet, And note it on a scroll, That it may be for time to come, Forever and ever:† 9 That this is a rebellious people, Lying children, Children who will not hear the law of the LORD;† 10 Who say to the seers, "Do not see," And to the prophets, "Do not prophesy to us right things; Speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits.† 11 Get out of the way, Turn aside from the path, Cause the Holy One of Israel To cease from before us."
In fact, you can see this mentality throughout the Bible, and this same mentality plagues us today because there are many who are willing to close their ears to the truth, yet embrace the message of false teachers because it tickles their ears. This is a dangerous kind of listener to be because you feel good about your condition and even fool yourself into thinking you are saved when you are not.
Third, we have those who listen with a noble and good heart. This kind of person is described by Jesus as being the fourth kind of soil as he explains the meaning of His parable of the soils:
Luke 8:11 " Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.† 12 "Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.† 13 "But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.† 14 "Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.† 15 "But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.
This is the kind of listener that all Christians should be when it comes to allowing Godís Word to penetrate our hearts. It is the only way we can truly be transformed into a child of God and have the qualities that God wants us to have. A great example of this kind of listener comes from:
Acts 17:10 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.† 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.† 12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.
Our goal as Christians is to be among those who listen carefully with a noble and good heart. We should hang on every Word found in our Bibles and carefully weigh what it says against whatever is being spoken so we can confirm if what is being said is the truth or a lie. Only those who are like the fourth soil will be able to bear fruit that is pleasing to God, so I urge you if you are not a good listener to Godís Word, I hope you will start listening carefully to it because it contains the words of life. If you donít listen and obey what the Word of God says, then you will be lost as Jesus points out in:
Matthew 7:21 " 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.
When it comes to Godís Word, you have a choice of what kind of listener you will be. If you are dull of hearing or have itching ears to hear something other than the truth, then you will be lost. However, if you are a good hearer and a doer of what you hear from Godís Word, then you will be saved. Jesus illustrates this principle in:
Matthew 7:24 " 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:† 25 "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.† 26 "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:† 27 "and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."
I want you to consider some of the benefits of becoming a good listener. When we listen to others, it shows respect. As the golden rule says, one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. If you make an effort to listen to someone closely without interrupting or looking bored, then most likely, the other person will do the same. We certainly donít like it when people donít listen to what we have to say, especially if it is crucial to us, so keep that in mind when talking with others.
When people come to you and want to unload their problems, it doesnít mean that they want your advice. Sometimes, they just want someone to listen. Of course, if they ask for advice, give it to them, but sometimes the best thing you can do for that person is to listen. Fighting the urge to give your opinion or your advice can strengthen your bond with that person.†
If you practice listing every day, it is an effective way to continue to learn because you will pick up more details and recognize more opportunities that you may have missed before learning to listen carefully.
Learning to listen carefully will make you a valuable employee. Employers want good listeners because it makes the employees open to new ideas, shows they care, and good listeners make the best customer service representatives. Good listening reduces stress and allows for better management of difficult people. What more could a thriving business want from an employee? This is especially true when a promotion is in consideration. When the 15 wealthiest Americans were asked what advice they would give to an average American wanting to have wealth, one of the responses was to become a good listener.
When it comes to listening to Godís Word, the benefits are endless and eternal. Much more could be said about this, but I will let Paul sum it up with his message to Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,† 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Now, letís talk about becoming a better listener. I want to start with a few verses that talk about listening. We will start with our key verse:
James 1:19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;
Proverbs 18:13 He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him.
Proverbs 10:19 In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.
Many more verses could be used that teach the same idea, but these are enough to show that listening carefully and speaking less will always serve you well by keeping anger and other sins at bay.
Listening to understand takes effort, and many things can get in our way, but there are things we can do to overcome the obstacles before us and establish new listening habits. Sharpening our listening skills is easy to do once we learn what good listening is and is not. We must never forget that listening is not a passive process, so all of the techniques I will share with you are active, including the ones that are not visible to the speaker.
1. Listen with an open mind.
In other words, be ready to hear and consider all sides of an issue. This doesnít mean we have to agree with what is being said, but we must avoid going into what I call defense mode, which means you stop listening to the rest of the story, and you begin thinking about how you are going to respond to that one point you disagreed with. When we donít make ourselves listen to the whole story, we tend to jump to conclusions, and we miss out on something important.
I have heard some preachers start out preaching something false on purpose to get the attention of their hearers, and then they finally let the people in on what they are doing by saying something like, ďthis is what Satan would want me to teach, but now letís look at what the Bible teaches on this.Ē
How many times have you started reading a book, and the first chapter was boring, so you decided not to read the rest? Then later, you have a friend who read the same book and talked about how great it was once you got past the first chapter. So, the point of all of this is that we need to listen to the whole story so that we can have the complete picture. You may find yourself learning something from a new perspective, or if you disagree, you will have more information to go on in order to show what the person is saying is not right. In other words, be the like the Bereans in Acts 17.
2. Listen to the entire message without judging or refuting
Building upon point 1, we must learn to suppress the urge to let biases and prejudices prevent us from listening fully. We can only do one thing effectively at a time: listen, judge, or respond; this is great order to follow. You have to begin with listening to the entire message, and then you can weigh your thoughts against what has been said and then respond. When you are the listener, you cannot simultaneously be the judge because our minds do not work well that way. However, when we make an effort to suppress our desire to make premature judgments, we become better listeners.
A great way to prepare for this in advance is to be aware of your biases and to figure out why you feel this way. What buzz words or topics generate a strong emotional reaction, either positive or negative, in you? If you judge and then speak too soon, youíve opened the possibility of having missed a critical part of the message and thus embarrassing yourself by jumping to conclusions.
An extreme example of what not to do would be how the Jews already had their minds made up about Stephen in Acts 7. He tried to teach them the truth, but they would not listen, so they killed him.
3. Determine the concepts and central ideas of the message.
The best gauge to know whether you are listening or just hearing is whether you are actively looking for the central idea(s) of what is being said. If the message is well-constructed, our role as a listener will be easier, but we will not always have that luxury. A great technique, regardless of the speakerís ability to construct a message, is to listen in such a way that you can summarize what you believe are the central ideas.
If the situation allows it, share your summary with the speaker and confirm your understanding. Doing this builds your confidence as a listener, plus it proves to the speaker that you were listening. This technique can be helpful when resolving problems between the parent and child and husband and wife. Sometimes, we may think we understand what our family members are saying, but we may be wrong. Instead of assuming, which will almost always get you into trouble, restate to your family member what you think they are saying, then you will know for sure if you understood correctly.
4. Learn to adapt to the speakerís appearance, personality, and delivery.
The Lord said it best in:
1 Samuel 16:7 †But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
In context, Samuel was looking for the biggest and strongest man to be the next king because we tend to look at a person's outer appearance. Imagine being approached by a man like John the Baptist:
Matthew 3:4 And John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.†
You might think, ďWho is this crazy-looking guy?Ē Despite his looks, he was the forerunner for Christ, and his message was important. Sometimes race or certain accents can cause us to view people differently, but as Christians, we must learn to overcome stereotypes and not allow them to interfere with our listening skills. Abraham Lincoln was not a handsome man, but as our sixteenth president of the United States, his words changed the course of history.
Beyond appearance, we must understand that not everyone is like us, and they have different personalities, styles, and levels of education. While it can be challenging to follow a different style of speech, you need to focus on what they are trying to tell you and not allow their style or their personality to distract you from the meat of the message, whether it be a general conversation or listening to someone teach or preach. I am thankful that we are not all cut from the same cookie mold because that makes life more interesting.
5. We must learn to overcome distractions.
For some, it doesnít take much to break someoneís concentration, but we all started out as good listeners. Think about how much a baby learns within the first few years of his or her life. Yet babies donít attend classes, read textbooks, or go to seminars. They simply listen, and they do it so well that eventually, they start behaving like little adults. Over time, however, a series of bad habits begin to pop up.
A man by the name of† Dr. Paine shared the following statistics in his class:
When a teacher suddenly stopped in the middle of a lesson and asked students to explain the content of the lesson thus far, 90% of first-grade students could do so successfully. That number drops to 80% with second graders, then plummets to 44% with middle school students, and a gut-wrenching 28% in high school. In other words, despite how well we start, our bad habits develop rather quickly.
If we ever hope to become great listeners, we must recognize those things that easily distract us and work hard to actively ignore them. This takes practice, but it can be done. Here is a general list of some of the things that might distract us:
∑ External noises (beeping, humming, baby noises, etc.)
∑ Psychological activity (worry, self-consciousness, preoccupation, etc.)
∑ Physical conditions (temperature, odors, lighting, visual distractions, etc.)
∑ Physiological conditions (pain, hunger, fatigue, etc.)
∑ Semantic distractions (dialects, accents, unfamiliar vocabulary, etc.)
∑ Technological distractions (the urge to check your phone, surf the net, etc.)
Only you can make a list of those things you find distracting. Whatever they are, you need to be aware of them and work on overcoming them every day because it wonít be a battle you will win overnight. If you are in a situation where the distraction becomes too great, you might need to tell the person you are talking to that you cannot focus and need to move to a new location. I realize you canít do this in a Bible class or while listening to a sermon, but you can move to another seat if a person is distracting you. I also want you to understand that you are not alone because everyone struggles with distractions, and sometimes the distractions win. Peter struggled with staying focused on Jesus when he tried to walk on water:
Matthew 14:28 And Peter answered Him and said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water."† 29 So He said, "Come." And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.† 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!"† 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"† 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
If we take our attention off what we are supposed to be doing, which in our case is listening, then we can start to sink and lose our concentration. So, we must continue to practice being focused on the person speaking, which will help us a long way.
6. Attempt to find something that interests you in what the person is saying or something that you might want to share with someone else.
If we have a negative attitude about someone we are talking to, or we donít like the topic a person is teaching or preaching on, then it is going to be hard for us to get anything out of what the person says.† However, when we approach each speaker with the attitude that I will look for something that I can learn, we will be able to listen with a positive attitude instead of a negative one. When we can focus on the positive instead of the negative, it will naturally make us better listeners.
7. Listening doesnít mean that you agree.
Sometimes we think if we continue to listen to someone with whom we disagree, we are given the impression we agree with them, but this simply is not true. When we allow someone to say what they are thinking, we are merely showing respect. Dr. Paine makes the following two statements:
ďListening demands neither surrender nor agreement; instead, listening demands an open mindĒ and ďListening actually provides a powerful way to bring about change because listening is thinking, because listening is action.Ē
Jesus did this several times. For example:
John 8:3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst,† 4 they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.† 5 "Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?"† 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.† 7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first."† 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.† 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.† 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?"† 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."
Jesus knew what these men were up to because He could read the hearts of men. Notice, He listened to their plea without interrupting or agreeing. He was even silent for a while as He drew in the sand. Then He answered them, and they all walked away because they realized once again that they were not going to be able to catch Jesus at making a mistake.
Like Jesus, we can listen to what people say, whether we agree with it or not, but when we do, it will give us more information and allow us to respond more appropriately. The main point is that listening well does not mean that you agree.
8. Stop trying to jump in and talk
One of the challenges of having conversations, especially within a small group, is knowing when it is a good time to add your input. This can be hard when one person is a conversation hog and appears never to breathe. However, if we want to improve our listening skills, we must pay close attention to what is being said, so we can know when the best time to speak. What we want to be careful about is being the kind of person who thinks he has to make a comment on everything because we donít. If we focus our attention on simply waiting for the slightest pause to speak, then we are probably not paying attention to what is being said. When we interrupt people in the middle of their sentence or thought, we are being rude and disrespectful, whether that was our intention or not.
Of course, there are times when interrupting someone can be necessary, but overall, interrupting should not be done, and we should listen to what is being said and then give our opinion when it is our turn to talk.
9. Pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal messages
Paying attention to body language is just as important as paying attention to the words themselves. If you need proof of the importance of body language, just think about how much more difficult it is to detect something like sarcasm during a phone conversation or in a text message without the benefit of seeing the personís face and body. Without the ability to see another personís facial expression, hand gestures, and other movements, we lose an important part of being able to understand the intent of what the person is saying. This tells us that our eyes become an important part of us being a good listener as well.
10. Ask questions to clarify the message
This is a positive way to show someone that you are listening. No matter how hard someone tries to make their message completely clear, whether in general conversation or teaching or preaching, sometimes the message doesnít come across clearly to every person. If we want to improve our listening skills and get the most out of what is being said, then ask questions. Asking questions will help you have a greater understanding of what the speaker is saying.
Much of what I have said so far will help you out a great deal in striving to be a better listener. It will help you in all aspects of your life. I want to finish the point by giving you some good ways to listen better at sermons and in Bible class.
1. I know it is not always possible, but try and be rested up before you go to worship or Bible class because if you are tired, it will be difficult for you to pay attention and stay awake.
2. Try to prepare yourself before you set foot in the door to be a good listener and have your mind on God. Some listen to gospel music, others read their Bibles, and some pray. Whatever helps you get your mind in the right place, do it.
3. Remind yourself of how important it is to hear Godís Word proclaimed. There is always something new for us to learn or be reminded of.
4. When it comes to Bible class, come prepared to participate. If you have some good insight on the topic being spoken about, share it so that all can benefit from it.
5. Donít be afraid to ask questions in Bible class.
6. When it comes to listening to the sermon being presented, have a positive attitude that you will hear something that will help you or someone else. Donít focus on the mispronounced words or the small goof-ups, such as saying Matthew when Mark was the right name. Instead, focus on the overall message and what you can learn from it.
7. Follow along with the Scriptures by reading them on the screen. If they are not on the screen, open your Bibles to the verses being used because this will help you stay focused.
8. If taking notes helps you stay focused, by all means, take notes.
I donít think you will ever hear anyone complain about you being too good of a listener. So, I hope we will all strive to be better listeners, and I hope that you will use some of the techniques I pointed out to help you become a better listener. As I said, being a better listener will benefit you in all areas of your life, including your spiritual life. As Isaiah wrote:
Isaiah 55:2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.† 3 Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you -- The sure mercies of David.
So, listen well, especially when it comes to the Word of the Lord.
So far, we have focused on the first part of what James taught about being swift to hear, which is important because when we are good listeners, and we take everything in, we are going to understand what is being said to the best of our abilities. Now, we are going to begin examining being slow to speak. So, our focus will be on the tongue.
The tongue is a marvelous complex instrument with several functions. For starters, it is used as a sense organ and can warn us when things are too hot. It is also used to shape the food that we chew into a small ball to make it easier for us to swallow. On average, everyone has about 10,000 tastebuds, but older people only have about 5000 of them working. Our tastebuds are used to distinguish between different flavors such as bitter, salty, or sweet things.†
Webster's dictionary defines the tongue as being a flexible muscular organ in the mouth used in tasting, swallowing, and for speech.† This is the scientific explanation of what the tongue is, but for our lesson, we will be examining what the Bible says about the tongue and just how powerful it can be when used to express the intent of someoneís heart. I think we have all experienced what happens when we or someone else loses control of their tongue. As one person said,
ďMany things are opened by mistake, but none so frequently as the mouth.Ē
While we are looking at James chapter 1 in our study, we are going to jump ahead to chapter 3 because James gives us some great details about how powerful the tongue is and how difficult it is to control.
James 3:2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.
James is pointing out how we stumble in many areas of our lives because we are not perfect, and God knows this, but if it were possible that we could control our tongues, then James said we could be perfect, and we would be fully capable of controlling our entire body so that we would never stumble. James is teaching us that controlling our tongues is not an easy task, and all of us will find it challenging at times to tame our tongues. James continues in verse:
3 Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.
When you think about the illustrations that James gives, isnít it amazing that something so small like a bit or rudder can control such big objects like a horse or a boat? He uses this illustration to point out the power of the tongue even though it is a small member of the body as we read in,
5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. †7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.† 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.
So, the tongue can be used for good, and it can be good for evil. When we fail to exercise control of our tongues, the words that we speak can be as powerful as a spark in a dry forest because it can burn everything down in its path. James tells us that we cannot tame our tongues, but he doesnít say that God cannot. So, we as Christians can learn to control our tongues through the help of God and by keeping Godís Word in our hearts. I have seen firsthand on several occasions where a person who claims to be a Christian will praise God out one side of their mouth and then use foul language and harsh words out the other side of their mouth, but this should not be the case.
John gives us an example of this in,
1 John 4:20 If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
Itís one thing to simply praise God with your tongue, but it takes great discipline and trust in God to control your tongue everywhere else. Just as John told us, we cannot praise God and then turn around and bash our brothers or sisters with evil, hurtful words.
Another thing we need to realize about the tongue is that it will eventually express what is in a person's heart. In most cases, a doctor can look at your tongue and tell if you are sick or not. The same is true about our spiritual health. You can usually find out how serious a Christian is about following in the footstep of Jesus by how they use their tongues.
Jesus points this out when He responds to the Pharisees after they accuse Him of casting out demons by Beelzebub.
Mat 12:34 "Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.
The words that come out of our mouths are a reflection of what is in our hearts, and if our hearts are not pure, eventually it will be made known, which is why itís important that we learn to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,
Later, Jesus also rebukes the Pharisees and the scribes for trying to say that unwashed hands defile a person. He tells them,
Matthew 15:11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person."
For whatever reason, Peter doesnít understand what Jesus is telling these Jews, so he explains it to him.
Matthew 15:16 And he said, "Are you also still without understanding?† 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?† 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.† 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.† 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone."
So, the tongue will reflect what is in a personís heart. It is up to us whether we use our tongues for good or for evil. If we choose to use it for good, the writer of Proverbs says this:
Proverbs 16:24 Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.
Proverbs 25:11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver.
But if we choose to use them for evil again, the writer of Proverbs says this:
Proverbs 29:20 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Proverbs 15:26 The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD Ö
We have a free will, and we must choose how we will use our tongues, but we need to understand that we will be judged by how we use our tongues as Jesus said in:
Matthew 12:36 "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
We need to keep this in mind before we let loose our evil tongues on those around us. We also need to realize that the tongue has the power to bring about life or death, both spiritually and physically.†
Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.
An example of how it can bring about physical death can be found in 1Kings 13, where a man of God was sent to condemn King Jeroboam for building idols for the children of Israel to worship. God gave him specific instructions not to eat or drink or return the same way he had come. But an old prophet that lived in Bethel invites this man of God to his home to eat and drink. The man of God tells him that he canít do it because God told him not to. But notice what the prophet says in,
18 He said to him, "I too am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, 'Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.' " (He was lying to him.)
The man of God believes this old prophet despite his specific instructions from God. While the man of God is sitting at the dinner table, God speaks through this prophet to him and tells him he has disobeyed and that he is going to die. Then when the man of God leaves, a lion takes his life. Since this old prophet lied, this man of God was tempted to disobey Godís instruction, and it ultimately cost him his life.
Paul teaches us not to "lie to one another" (Col. 3:9).† John reminded us that "all liars" and "everyone that loves and practices a lie" will have "their part" in "the lake that burns with fire and brimstone" (Rev. 21:8; 22:15). So, when the tongue is used to tell lies, it can cause both physical death and spiritual death, so we need to think twice about using our tongues in this way.
Another thing we learn about the tongue is that it has the power to turn away wrath or to stir up anger as,
Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.
Do you remember when Jesus was brought before Pilate and how Pilate tried to reason with the Jews to let Jesus be released because he knew that Jesus hadnít done anything deserving death? Now, we know the chief priests had handed Him over because of their envy, and Pilateís plea was overridden by the tongue of these chief priests because they stirred up the crowds so that they would release Barabbas instead of Jesus, and they succeeded as we read in:
Mark 15:6 Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. †7 And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion. †8 Then the multitude, crying aloud1, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them. †9 But Pilate answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?" †10 For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. †11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. †12 Pilate answered and said to them again, "What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?" †13 So they cried out again, "Crucify Him!" †14 Then Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they cried out all the more, "Crucify Him!" †15 So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified.
This shows just how powerful words can be.
We have all probably been guilty at one time or another of stirring up someoneís anger. If you have a close friend or a spouse, you know exactly how to push their buttons. You can make them angry faster than anyone else because you know them so well. When you keep pushing them, they become like a pressure cooker because, at some point, they are going to blow their top. This is when anger becomes dangerous and sinful because all the evil thoughts and harsh words will come tumbling out of your mouth, and these kinds of words destroy friendships and marriages. So, we must be careful that we donít stir up anger in people because it will have harmful side effects for you and for that person.
So, letís strive not to stir up anger. Instead, letís learn to use a soft answer that will turn away wrath.
We also learn that the tongue can be used wisely or foolishly.
Proverbs 15:2 The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, But the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.
We should be careful of what advice we give. Several years ago, I was sitting in a restaurant minding my own business when these two ladies at the table next to me were talking about one of their husbands. She was telling the lady about something that her husband did that made her mad, and the other lady said, ďwell, I would leave him if he did that to me.Ē Many times, people give bad advice when they donít know the entire situation. Maybe you have had friends give you similar advice, but advice like this can destroy homes, and it goes against what the Bible teaches on marriage because marriage is a lifetime commitment, and it should not be done away because of conflicts. Instead, it should be worked out. So, letís try to be wise with what advice we give to others.
Another misuse of the tongue is when we decide to spread gossip.
Proverbs 20:19 He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; Ö
Sometimes it seems that people have nothing better to do with their time than to spread rumors or talk about the fault of others. Listen to what one person said about gossip.
"I am more deadly than the screaming shell from a howitzer; I ruin without killing.† I tear down homes; I break hearts and wreck lives.† I have no respect for truth or justice, no mercy for the defenseless.† You will find me in the pews of the pious and the haunts of the unholy.† I am wily, cunning, malicious, and I gather strength with age.† I make my way where greed, mistrust, and dishonor are unknown.† I feed on good and bad alike.† My victims are as numerous as the sands of the sea and often are innocent.† I never forgive and seldom forget.† My name is gossip.
Isnít this true? Gossiping does nothing but harm, and nothing good will come from it. When people put their trust in you and confide personal information that is supposed to stay between you and them, and then you turn around and blab everything to the first person you see, how long do you think that friendship will last? Well, if they find out that you were the one who told on them, then that friendship will not last long. We all know what happens to stories that go from one person to another. It changes because one person will add something, and another one will leave out part of the story, and the end result will be a story that is far different than the original one.
However, there are also those who spread lies about people because they are jealous of them or they want to get revenge for something they did, so they try to hurt them through gossip. As Christians, donít you think itís important that we donít find ourselves caught up in the gossip game? No matter how interesting or harmless a gossip story may be, you could be contributing to something that may really hurt someone down the line.
Even when you have a true story, you have to ask yourself the question, what benefit is going to come from sharing this story with someone else? Now there are certain instances where something like this could be beneficial to that person, or it could be bad. In instances like these, we must exercise good judgment. For example, if you want to brag about what the person did, that could be positive. If the person tells how he is going to harm someone or someone else, then you can understand why it would be important to tell someone about this. Sometimes, we may be wrong with our judgment, but we just need to do our best and then learn from our mistakes, so the next time we share something, we will make a wiser decision on whether that information will be helpful or harmful.
All of these things we looked at so far on controlling the tongue have to do with the condition of our hearts. So the key to using your tongue for righteousness is making your heart pure, which means your thoughts will be pure, and your words will be pure. Paul stresses the need for us to control our thoughts in,
2 Corinthians 10:4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,
This should be every Christianís goal, which is to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. This is not an easy task because evil thoughts may arise, which could cause us to sin. But, if we stay as close to God as possible and have an active prayer life, even these thoughts can be brought into the obedience of Christ. We must train our minds with the Word of God so that eventually, good thoughts, not evil ones, will dominate our hearts. This can only come about by much prayer and much training.† However, it should be the goal of every Christian. Someone once said, "You may not be what you think you are, but you are what you think."† One who thinks filthy thoughts is likely to live that kind of life. The book of Proverbs also teaches this.
Proverbs 23:7 For as he thinks in his heart, so is heÖ
Proverbs 4:23 Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life. †††
Jesus told us in the great Sermon on the mount that it is possible for us to commit adultery in our hearts:
Matthew 5:27 "You have heard that it was said to those of old,`You shall not commit adultery2.' †28 "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Bringing our thoughts into captivity is a never-ending battle.† However, it can be done and must be done.
I hope what we have covered so far has made you think more about how we use our tongues and why James told us to be slow to speak. I also hope you have learned how important it is for our hearts to be pure so that our thoughts can be pure, and finally, I hope you have learned that our tongues have the power to make the difference between life and death, both physically and spiritually.
One of the main points we covered so far was how a personís heart would eventually make its way to the tongue, which is why it so important to make sure our hearts are pure. When our hearts are pure, and we do our best to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we are going to be slow to speak, and even when we do speak, it will be well-chosen words. We also talked about several ways the tongue can be used for evil or for good. So, we are going to continue examining ways the tongue can be used and how we as Christians should be using our tongues.
Our first point has to do with critical words. This could include gripping and complaining or always having negative things to say about someone or some thing. I really believe that some Christians do not realize how critical they have become because they start out small until they have grown into the monster they are today. They have slowly conditioned themselves to have critical thinking and critical words so that being critical is part of their everyday lives, and they cannot see what they have turned into. A great story that illustrates what I am talking about comes from a murder mystery.
There was a man who wanted to kill his wife, but he wanted to do it in such a way that he wouldnít get caught. He decided to poison his wife. So, this is what he did. For months he gave himself small doses of the poison so his body would be able to handle the poison without it killing him. Then he put poison in their food that night, and his wife died while he suffered no ill effects because his body had built up a resistance to the poison. Now at first, they ruled him out as a suspect since he ate the same food, but by the end of the movie, they finally figured out what he did.
The whole point behind this story is that just as this man conditioned his body to get used to the poison, we can do the same thing as we use poisonous words more and more each day. We become numb to those things that we say or hear all the time. Many of us today are not shocked, nor do we even pay that close attention to curse words that are said on TV or movies because every day, even in some commercials, you will hear some sort of curse words, and so we become used to them, and we ignore them.
Thanks to all these reality shows we have, many have discovered just how critical and grouchy they are because they get to see themselves in action, and they donít like what they see. I have seen some of these people call themselves monsters, and they would begin to break down and cry because, for the first time, they get to see just how horrible they are and how horrible they treat others.
I think some of us might be horrified if we had our lives filmed all the time and then we were able to watch one of those situations when we allowed our emotions to get the best of us, and we allowed ourselves to fly off the handle for no real reason.
I donít know of anyone who likes to be around a person very long who is full of criticism because it is a type of torture. In fact, one person I read about said that continual criticism is like undergoing water torture where water is dropped on your forehead over and over again.
Critical words can destroy relationships and can wreak havoc on peopleís self-esteem, but the question becomes, how can we recognize if we are being critical in our lives?†
Well, I will tell you it is not an easy task, but it can be done. It will take help from God, from you, and from those around you. Notice what James says in,
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
Here is the best place to start. I believe that we should all pray for wisdom, especially in the area of how we deal with people. We should ask God to open up our eyes to the way that we treat others and that we use the right words instead of the wrong ones. We should be humble enough to ask God to help us recognize our weaknesses and to have the wisdom to make ourselves stronger in these areas.
Next, I would suggest that we must be willing to test ourselves and try and view our behavior from another perspective. On any given day, we need to make a conscious decision to evaluate what we are saying to others and then evaluate if what we are saying is negative or positive. To the best of our abilities, we need to try and figure out the impact of our words, or we might consider how we would take it if someone used our exact words against us. If we really pay attention and evaluate how we are using our tongues on any given day, I think some of us might be shocked at some of the things that we say and do. We must be willing to try and change our ways and stop being so critical. Life is too short to live a life full of negativity.
Another tool we can use is our children or grandchildren because they are like little recorders, and they will mimic you and say some of the same critical words to others. Listen to your childrenís words carefully, and if you see a negative attitude or nothing but griping and complaining, they probably learned it from you, which means you need to examine yourself closely. We need to remember what Paul wrote.
Ephesians 6:4 †And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. †
If we are constantly bashing our children with negative words and complaining, then it is going stir up anger in them, and itís going to be difficult for us to train them in the way of the Lord. A good question to ask yourself is, am I criticizing my children more than I am encouraging them? We need to be careful of how we treat our children because if we continue to criticize them all the time, they will start to look down on themselves and will most likely have low self-esteem. Itís up to us to break the cycle that we learned from our parents or for someone else so that these critical words will stop with us.
Another tool that can be used to help us see our critical behavior is the help of our loved ones letting us know how critical we are to others. A great example of this has to do with the children of Israel as they escaped from their Egyptian bondage. As soon as they crossed the Red Sea, they began to gripe and complain about everything, and even Moses got to the point where he prayed to God for Him to take his life so that he wouldnít have to listen to their complaining anymore. Well, God stepped in several times and punished the children of Israel for their criticism.
Now granted, this was God that intervened and showed these people that they were griping and complaining too much, but this same thing can be done for us today by our loved ones. When we see that our friends or our loved ones are being negative all the time, itís important that we talk to them and let them know how negative they are being, or else they may never know. I canít tell you how many times people who were critical never recognized they were that way until someone told them and helped them see the light. Now that person may get mad at first, but if that person is a Christian who really cares about the example he is being, then he should take your instruction to heart.
Proverbs 10:17 He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, But he who refuses correction goes astray. †
I also want to point out that there is good criticism and bad criticism. So far, we have been focusing on bad criticism and how it can tear people down. But now, letís talk about using the tongue for good constructive criticism.
Giving criticism is never easy because no matter how hard you try, sometimes it may hurt the other personís feelings. But we must understand that constructive criticism helps us grow and become better than we were before. We will talk more about how to receive criticism in a minute, but for now, letís talk about how we should give criticism. I found a couple of quotes that will help us.
ďCriticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a manís growth without destroying his rootsĒ (Frank A. Clark)
ďDo not remove a fly from your friendís forehead with a hatchetĒ (Chinese proverb).
The first thing I would suggest is that you learn not to criticize someone for everything they do wrong. Instead, learn to pick your battles and just focus on things that are really important. Sometimes people will criticize others without having all the facts, so we need to know everything we can about any given situation before we offer our criticism. If we only hear part of the story, we can end up criticizing something that doesnít need it because if we knew the rest of the story, we would understand why that person said or did that partial thing that we were jumping to conclusions about. This goes right back to James telling us to be quick to listen.
Another thing we can do is learn from our master teacher, Jesus.† When He was speaking to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation, if there was something good about that church, He started out with praise, and then He would tell them their faults and the changes they needed to make.† Paul did the same thing when he went to Athens. Instead of jumping on their case about all the idols they worshipped, he chose to point out they were religious people and then used one of their idols, which was dedicated to the unknown god, to teach them about the only true God. In fact, letís look at those verses,
Acts 17:22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious;† 23 "for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:
So, when you give criticism, make sure you also include those things that they are doing well. This way, they will know that you are not just trying to belittle them. One thing that comes to mind is a young child who is told to clean his room. Maybe he does a decent good job on most of his room, but he gets a little lazy and throws a bunch of stuff in one corner. Now, you could go in there and inspect his room and say, this room isnít clean look at that mess in the corner. However, this would just be pointing out the bad without acknowledging the good. If we follow the principle of Jesus and Paul, we might say this instead. Well, you have done a really good job in most of your room. However, that one corner over there needs some work. You need to put that stuff in the corner away, and then you will be done. It shouldnít take you that long because you are already got most of your room clean.
While you are not letting them get away with their sloppy mess in the corner, you also get to tell them something positive. I would encourage you to try this next time when you want to give someone constructive criticism. I think you find it will help your criticism be listened to more with less hurt feelings.††
Another thing we should avoid is absolutes when we give constructive criticism. In other words, donít say ďyou alwaysĒ or ďyou neverĒ do this or that. Statements like these are overstating the matter. Itís important that we learn better ways to give our criticism. We might do it in the form of a question like, what do you think about doing it this way? Or we might say something like, Now, I could be wrong, but from my experience, this way or that way is a better way to do this.
Now letís talk about taking criticism. Please notice the following quote:
ďThe trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticismĒ (Norman Vincent Peale).
Most of us would rather not hear criticism, but we need to realize that it will benefit us and make us stronger and better. Letís look at few ways that we should take criticism as Christian, even if it is bad criticism.
The first thing we need to do is listen. We will never be able to find out if a person is offering us good or bad criticism unless we hear them out. The mistake we make sometimes is jumping to conclusions because before the person can get the second sentence out of their mouths, we get defensive, and we interrupt them and argue with them about their first sentence.
So itís important that we take the time to consider what has been said as James has taught in our key verse:
James 1:19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; †
Even when someone says something that doesnít sound right to us, there still may be some truth to it. As I have said before, sometimes it will help if we will restate what they said in our own words to see if that is what they are really saying.
We must also learn not to retaliate. In fact, sometimes the best response to negative criticism is by saying, thank you for your opinion, I will think about that, or as Jesus did many times, silence is sometimes the best answer. Now, if you are getting good advice, you certainly should be thankful for it, even if it might sting a little. I can tell your right now, we are all works in progress, and we can all do things better than we do them right now. So donít view constructive criticism as a bad thing. View it as a chance to grow.†
I want to share several verses from Proverbs that show the benefit of choosing your words wisely.
Proverbs 10:19 In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.
Proverbs 13:3 He who guards his mouth preserves his life, But he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.
Proverbs 15:23 A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, And a word spoken in due season, how good it is!
Proverbs 17:27 He who has knowledge spares his words, And a man of understanding is of a calm spirit.† 28 Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.
Based on these passages, we learn that a few well-spoken words are much better than an overflowing mouth. A person that is just dying to talk all the time will usually end up saying things and sharing things they wish they never had said, so we must be careful that while our tongues are in drive that our brains are not in neutral.†
Now, when someone sins against us either by word or deed, Jesus explains to us how we are to handle that situation in,
Matthew 18:15 " Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.† 16 "But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.'† 17 "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
If your brother or sister sins against with their tongues, then Jesus says we are to first go to that person alone and try resolve the issue. However, this does not always happen because some will take those sinful words and will go tell everyone else about them without even trying to talk to the person who committed the sin. One wrong does not justify us to bypass Jesusí way. So letís always strive to go to that person first and, if they will not listen, then bring along a witness or two, and if you still canít resolve the issue, then bring it before the church. This is proper way we should deal with a situation like this.
Our next point comes from,
Colossians 4:6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.
For us to really appreciate what Paul is saying here, we need to understand just how important salt was during the 1st century. It was so highly valued that people would trade gold for it. The Roman soldiers of that day even received an allowance for salt money. According to one author, the first trade routes between Egypt and Greece were built for the purpose of transporting salt. As you can see, salt was highly valued, and it has the following Characteristics:
In the first century, they didnít have refrigerators so they used salt to preserve their meat and fish. In similar manner, we must learn to use our words wisely so that it might bring about salvation in someoneís life.
Salt flavors. Notice Jobís question in,
Job 6:6 Can flavorless food be eaten without salt?
This is one of the nice things about salt because if your food is bland, you can add some salt to it to make it taste better. Again, this same concept should be used with our words. Our words should be wholesome and easy to swallow instead of harsh or mean. Jesus warns about the danger of us losing our flavorful influence in,
Matthew 5:13 " You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
Salt also cleanses as in the days of Elisha where he threw salt into the Jericho spring to cleanse it in:
2 Kings 2:20 And he said, "Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it." So they brought it to him. †21 Then he went out to the source of the water, and cast in the salt there, and said, "Thus says the LORD:`I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or barrenness.'" †22 So the water remains healed to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke.
In a similar manner, we are to make sure that our words are clean and that we only speak those words which are befitting a child of God.
All of these thoughts shows us a much deeper meaning of what Paul meant when he tells us to season our words with salt. Peter also tells us something similar in,
1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;
Notice, our response to others is to be done with meekness and fear. If we can learn to season our words this way, then we will have a much better chance of reaching those around us. There are many more things we could look at regarding the use of the tongue, such as using encouraging words, teaching, or talking to the lost, but I hope you have found what I have said about the tongue helpful and that you will be encouraged to use your tongue wisely instead of foolishly. I want you to think about this funny quote:
ďThe reason a dog has so many friends is because it wags its tail more than it does its tongue.Ē
One last time, letís look at what James said:
James 1:19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Letís press on to our next section of Scripture.
James 1:21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.† 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.† 23 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;† 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.† 25 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.
Verse 21 says, ďtherefore.Ē There are different ideas on what this is referring to, but I can see it mainly pointing back to verse 18 because it says we were brought forth by the word of truth. Verses 19 and 20 tell us how we should behave and not be quick to wrath, and verse 21 continues to tell how to conduct ourselves as Christians who have received the Word of God, and it presses the issue of how we are to be doers of Godís Word.
We are told to ďlay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness.Ē Of course, lay aside means put it away or get away from it. As Christians, we are to get away from all filthiness. Filthiness can mean literal dirt, but the context tells us he is using this symbolically to refer to moral uncleanness. Some might argue that moral uncleanness is somewhat subjective, but there is no need to quibble over this matter because whatís important is that we make sure that the moral standard that we are living by is based on Scripture and not what the world says is moral.
As David wrote:
Psalm 101:3 I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not cling to me.† 4 A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will not know wickedness.
As Paul wrote:
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-- meditate on these things.
If we follow the advice of David and Paul, then we are not going to have a problem with setting aside what is morally wrong. James also says we are to get rid of the overflow of wickedness. In other words, we are not to have evil building up in us to the point that it overflows. Some suggest that filthiness refers to the sins of the flesh, and the overflow of wickedness refers to sins of the heart. However you choose to label it, it simply means that we are to put away sin from our lives, as can be seen in many other Scriptures. Let me mention just a few sections of Scripture from Paul that make this point clear.
Ephesians 4:17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind,† 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;† 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.† 20 But you have not so learned Christ,† 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:† 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,† 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,† 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.† 25 Therefore, putting away lying, "Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor," for we are members of one another.† 26 "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath,† 27 nor give place to the devil.† 28 Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.† 29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.† 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.† 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.† 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
Colossians 3:1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.† 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.† 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.† 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.† 5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.† 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience,† 7 in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.† 8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.† 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,† 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,† 11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.† 12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;† 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.† 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
Many more verses could be used, and we could certainly take a close look at what we just read, but the point is that as Christians, we must change and get sin out of our lives because we know that God hates sin and that sin will separate us from God. James tells us how to make this change.
and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.†
The word meekness can mean several things depending
on the context it is found in. I like how Thayer defines our word within this
to receive favorably, give ear to, embrace, make one's own, approve, not to reject:
In other words, we must be willing to accept the Word of God as it is without a doubt. We can see that the Word is implanted into us. One Lexicon defines implanted in the context this way:
to be permanently in a place, with the implication of development - 'placed in, permanently established in, implanted.' (Louw-Nida).
There are those who view the Word of God as more of a vague guideline than something we are to follow closely, but James is clearly showing that not only does the Word of God save us, in that teaches us what we need to know to be saved, it also continues to teach us what we need to do to remain saved. Godís Word is to be planted deep into our hearts permanently, and we are to continue to grow from it because it is the Word of eternal life.
We have Jesusí wonderful parable about the four soils to teach us the importance of allowing the seed, that is Word of God to be planted into our hearts deeply with the right kind of soil, which is a heart of meekness.
Luke 8:4 And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable:† 5 "A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it.† 6 "Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture.† 7 "And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it.† 8 "But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold." When He had said these things He cried, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"† 9 Then His disciples asked Him, saying, "What does this parable mean?"† 10 And He said, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that`Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.'† 11 "Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.† 12 "Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.† 13 "But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.† 14 "Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.† 15 "But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.
We are not going to spend much time on this parable. All I want to point out is that there are four kinds of soils mentioned. The first is wayside soil, which is hard as a rock, and the seed cannot begin to make its way into this kind of person.
The second is one that fell on a rock that has some soil, but it can never thrive because it cannot ever develop strong roots. Thus it would not last. This refers to a person who might believe and become a Christian, but as soon as temptation comes along, that person is gone.
Third, we have the thorny soil, which chokes out the growth of the seed, which represents the Christian whose heart accepted the seed, but the world and its temptation is too much for it and chokes him out.
However, that final soil, which is that rich soil, the heart of the meek, takes the seed in deep and continues to grow. The roots become strong and established. That is the kind of Christian we must be in order for the Word to save our souls. Notice what Paul says:
1 Corinthians 15:1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,† 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you-- unless you believed in vain.
Not only does James tell us to receive the implanted word with meekness, he also says:
James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.†
What James is telling us is that it is not good enough to just hear the Word of God because you must also be a doer of the Word. Otherwise, you are deceiving yourself. Letís revisit what Jesus says about this.
Matthew 7:24 " 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:† 25 "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.† 26 "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:† 27 "and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."
We have a contrast
between those who just hear and those who hear and do. There are plenty of
Christians that are willing to hear Godís Word throughout their lives. This may
be Christians that assembly with the saints every single time. This may be Christians
who read their Bibles daily. It might be Christians who also listen to other
sermons throughout the week. While it is certainly good to listen to all these
things, it means nothing if you are not practicing what you are listening to. It
certainly isnít doing you any good if you are not obeying the commands of God.
1 John 2:3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.† 4 He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.† 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.† 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
Not only do those who hear only and donít do deceive themselves, John tells us that they are liars and the truth is not in them, but for those of us who are doers of Godís Word, the love of God is perfected in us. I donít think John could make it any clearer in verse 6 because he tells us that if we are truly abiding in Jesus, then we must walk just as He walked. We know that His walk was to do the will of the Father. Now, He did it perfectly, which something no other man or woman has ever done, yet that is to be our goal, which is to be as perfect and committed as Jesus was. While none of us can ever be perfect like Jesus, we can certainly strive to be the best we can be.
I want you to consider
what Gobel Music wrote about the word doer in James
The word "doer" has always amazed me.† It is the word from which we get our English word "poem"Ö This is the word that is used in Eph. 2:10 when Paul wrote, "For we are his workmanship [@poiema], created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them."† Paul was actually saying, "We are God's poem."† We know that we are to be the "light" of the world (Matt. 5:14-16), the "salt" of the earth (Matt. 5:13), "epistles" to be read (2 Cor. 3:1-3), and also "leaven" (Matt. 13:33), but here we have a new figure.† We are to be God's "poem."† This makes James' statement so much more meaningful, as it shows we are to be very creative in our lives as Christians.† Nothing is more creative than poetry, and as a "poem" of Christ I must radiate that I am a creation (cf. Eph. 2:10) of the Master and exhibit a beauty that only the word of truth can produce (Denton, Lectureships on James).
Also, consider what Guy N. Woods said:
A faithful Christian poetizes; his life in a perpetual poem, exhibiting therein the beauty and symentery of a harmonious life, and demostarating always and everywhere the createive action of a productive life (Gospel Advocate commentary on James p. 85).
What this tells us is that we donít just do Godís Word as a robot would follow instructions, but that we are to do Godís Word in creative ways that show that our hearts are engaged and we are doing what we can to be the greatest light for this dark world that we can be.
23 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;† 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 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.
James is painting a visual picture of what it would looks like for a person who hears only, and it is not a doer. The kind of mirror that he is referring to is the ancient mirror in which you could not see yourself clearly as with the kind of mirror we have today. If you really wanted to take in what you looked like, you would have to linger at the mirror and study your reflection, but James says that those who simply hear the Word of God is like a man who looks at his reflection quickly in one of these ancient mirrors and then forgets what he saw.
James is putting the emphasis on that every Christian to hear the Word and to allow it to sink in and change their lives. If you just listen and let the Word go in one ear and out the other, then it is not doing you any good. You are not going to change your life by what you have heard.
However, those who look into the perfect law of liberty, or we could say the competed law of Christ or law of freedom that we enjoy under the new covenant, will be blessed. Now, some are forced to make the perfect law of liberty refer to the law of Moses because they are opposed to the idea that we are under any kind of law, but they would be mistaken because even Paul said:
Romans 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
He also said:
Galatians 6:2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law;
People tend to get confused when they see the word law because they donít understand that law sometimes refers to the law of Moses, which we have been freed from. Other times, it refers to the law of Christ and the covenant we are under right now. If there is no law under the new covenant, then there are no rules for us to obey, and thus we would be free to do whatever we want without any spiritual consequences.
The new covenant is a better covenant (Heb. 7:22), and it has given us great liberty.
Galatians 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
So, the new covenant is best described as the perfect law of liberty. It also fits with the idea that if you continue in it, you will be blessed because it wouldnít make much sense for James to tell his hearers to continue in the law of Moses as it was no longer binding, and the New Testament is filled with words of warning of going back to the Law of Moses. So, without doubt, if we will take in the implanted Word of God, hear it, and do it, then we will be blessed.
Next, James writes:
James 1:26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless.† 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
There are many people who think they are religious, but many of these people are not. They are only a Christian in name because they donít have anything to do with others and often have nothing to do with the church, which is the body of Christ. Some examples of this are as follows:
Malachi 1:6† "A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say,`In what way have we despised Your name?'† 7 "You offer defiled food on My altar. But say,`In what way have we defiled You?' By saying,`The table of the LORD is contemptible.'† 8 And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?" Says the LORD of hosts.
Here we see Godís people going through motions, but not only are their hearts not in it, they were also offering up unworthy sacrifices. Who can ever forget what Jesus said about the many of the scribes and Pharisees of His day that claimed to be religious but were not?
Matthew 23:1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples,† 2 saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.† 3 "Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.† 4 "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.† 5 "But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.† 6 "They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues,† 7 "greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men,`Rabbi, Rabbi.'
could be given, but this shows how people back then and today can think they
are religious. James gives us one example of how person can think he is
religious but is deceived because he does not bridle his tongue. James will
expand on this thought more in chapter 3, but we can see how this ties back to
verse 19 of being slow to speak. We have already taken an in-depth look at the
tongue, and what problems it can cause, so all I will say is that controlling
the tongue is important in order for you not to make
your religion useless. So, the opposite of this will be true as well because if
you learn to bridle your tongue, then this will help make sure your religion is
James adds two more things that he labels as pure and undefiled religion, which are visiting orphans and widows in their trouble and keeping yourself unspotted from the world. What comes to mind when you think of the world visiting? Well, most people today would think this would mean to go visit these orphans and widows to shoot the breeze. However, this means much more than just visiting them, it means providing for them in their need. James is not talking about all orphans and widows because he specifically says those that are in trouble. In other words, those that are struggling.
Helping orphans and widows was also done in the Old Testament.
Deuteronomy 27:19 'The one who denies justice to a foreigner, a fatherless child, or a widow is cursed.' And all the people will say, 'Amen!'
Psalm 146:9 The LORD watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down.
Jeremiah 7:6 "if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt,† 7 "then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.
Malachi 3:5 And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness Against sorcerers, Against adulterers, Against perjurers, Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, And against those who turn away an alien-- Because they do not fear Me," Says the LORD of hosts.
God has always wanted the helpless to be taken care of, and we know the widows in need were being taken care of in Acts 6. So, part of having a pure and undefiled religion is taking care of others such as orphans and widows in need. You will also notice that James didnít specify in this context that the orphans or widows had to be Christians.
Finally, James adds that we are to be unspotted from the world. In other words, we are to be morally pure. While we cannot remove ourselves from this world, we are not to love the world and its ways. Paul told Timothy:
1 Timothy 5:22† Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people's sins; keep yourself pure.
This is something that every Christian is supposed to do. We are to be pure and unspotted so that we can be light to the world. If we look like the world and act like the world, we are of the world. However, when we allow Godís Word to transform us and make us into vessels of light, then we can be of Christ, and our religion will be pure and undefiled, which why Paul wrote:
2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-- unless indeed you are disqualified.
Are you testing yourself? Are you being honest about how you are living your life and how close are far away you are from Godís Word? Sometimes the hardest person to judge fairly is ourselves, but we must learn to take a close look because none of us should want our religion to become useless.
Parts of this lesson were adapted from two articles on listening http://artofmanliness.com/2012/05/02/how-to-listen-effectively/ http://artofmanliness.com/2012/05/08/listen-up-part-ii-15-techniques-to-improve-our-listening/ Written by Tony Valdes
Parts of this lesson were adapted from one of Mark Copelandís sermons.
James, Truth For Today Commentary (2020)
Gospel Advocateís commentary on James.