Study 8 Spirituality Evidenced by Conduct
19. Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,
20. for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.
21. Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth 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 any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror;
24. for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
25. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.
As you can see we have quite a number of verses to work through and a number of them will give us pause.
Verses 19 & 20 Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.
The verses we are going to study today are all connected to verse 18 “the word of truth.” James is going to make the argument in these verses that obedience is the result of all believers who have accepted Christ. What makes James interesting, at least for me, is how righteousness by faith and obedience work together in James mind. We need to be clear from the beginning that nowhere in the book of James is he saying that we are not saved by grace alone. He understands obedience as the result of believing in Christ and accepting Jesus as his personal Savior. We shouldn’t get wrapped up in thinking James is teaching that obedience or works are in some way involved in your salvation, as if they could add merit to the cross.
When James uses terms like, “know this,” he is introducing a new subject or thought. Note Proverbs 17: 27, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even tempered.” James is probably drawing on well-known Wisdom Literature for the authority of his statement. The opposite of course would be a quick-tempered person who would speak without thinking and regret what they said later. Our prisons are full of people who allowed their emotions to run wild and didn’t put any restraint upon them.
James is calling for each of us to listen carefully to what is being said and then only speak when we can contribute positive aspects to the conversation. We must not allow anger to control our emotions or we will end up saying things or doing things that we will regret. Once we have spewed out negativity towards someone regardless of our later apologies the damage is done. It is better we remain silent than say things that only bring hurt and pain. The ultimate reason we should be slow to anger is because our anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires for us. James is probably thinking that anger does not produce behavior that is pleasing to God, because it leads to all kinds of sin. We should note, however, that James is not saying there is never a time for anger, but anger that leads us to sin against the righteousness of God is what he has in mind here.
Obedience to the Word is the Mark of a Christian V.21-27
Verse 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls
The theme of this paragraph is obvious that those who have accepted God’s Word must live in accordance to it. It would seem that James is simply telling the believers they need to shun the old ways of living and conform to the gospel and its teachings.
The term put away comes from verb “apotithemai” that means to take off, like the removal of clothing. The imagery is applied metaphorically to the removal of old lifestyles from new believers. (See Rom. 13:12; Ephesians 4:22,25) What James wants the believers to remove is “all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness.” The idea of filthiness equates to the image of removing stained, filthy and dirty clothing. It is not as easy as it sounds for a Christian to turn his back on all filthiness of the previous life because evil has its way of attacking us from all quarters and just when we think we have made progress in one area of our life we are attacked by, “the rank growth of wickedness.” The NIV hits it on the head, “the evil that is prevalent.”
Instead of living in the snares of pre-Christian sin James calls on us to “receive with meekness the implanted word.” The implanted word probably refers to the in working of the Holy Spirit within the life of a Christian. Remember on the day of Pentecost when the people heard the Gospel they were cut to the heart and called out, “what must we do?” Peter told them they needed to repent, be baptized and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. I believe this is what is going on in this text. The word of God penetrates the heart and we surrender our lives to Jesus. There is no room any longer for the garbage of our former life to dwell within us, because our bodies have become the home of the Holy Spirit. James is telling the people as long as you live in your sinful past you deny the work of God, which is where your salvation comes from. True born again believers will humbly or meekly follow God. See vs. 19,20 again. It is hard to walk humbly with God when we are never listening, but instead always rambling on and arguing with each other.
Verse 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves
James makes it clear that merely hearing the word of God is not enough. A person needs to act upon the word. Whatever it is that God asks of us we should be willing to follow. How do we know what it is God would have us do? It is by having the Word of God implanted within our heart. We listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He directs us through our studies and prayers. When the Word is preached we listen and in Bible Study groups we grow as the word is discussed and applied to our lives. (See Romans 2:13 for Paul’s perspective) Jesus says in Luke 11:28, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
We sometimes think James is out of sync with the other N.T. writers when it comes to obedience, but he is not saying anything Jesus and Paul didn’t teach. You cannot be a Christian and continue in the lifestyle that was anti-Christian before your conversion. James is not claiming merit for the Christian walk, he is simply saying that a born again Christian will not do whatever he likes and still claim he trusts and believes in Jesus. Those people who think once they have accepted Jesus they can continue on as usual are on dangerous ground. James says you are, “deceiving yourselves.” Once again let me be clear, we are not to read into these verses that obedience is equal to the cross event. Obedience is the result of our saved relationship with God. He redeems us and we accept that wondrous gift by faith. Christ had to die and the Father accept the sacrifice before we could be offered the gift of Salvation. Our obedience to God is for our own good and protection in order to keep us from destroying our potential in the snares of sin. James is implying that a person who doesn’t do what God asks of him/her has not really received Jesus at all.
Verses 23&24 For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror (24) for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like
The hearer of the word simply looks into the mirror then goes his/her way forgetting the image. In other words, when a person understands what God demands of them and doesn’t pay attention they intentionally don’t bring their life into harmony with God’s will. Instead we are to take a long hard look in the mirror so we don’t forget what we look like, and that is the theme of the next verse except instead of studying a face we are to look into the law.
Verse 25 But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.
The idea of looking has a deeper connotation than the RSV of the Bible makes it out to be. It has the idea of looking intently, or closely. While in the previous two verses a person gives only a quick glance into the mirror and then forgets their image, here is a call for deep observation.
To the Jews the law was equated with the laws of Moses given at Sinai. The law meant the Torah, the rules and regulations that God had given to his special people to govern them and their religion. Their day-to-day conduct was regulated by these rules and regulations. The people considered the law perfect, but is that the meaning of law in these verses.
First, in Chapter 2 his view of the law seems to have more to do with the fulfillment of the law in the teachings of Jesus. Second, James quotes the O.T. very rarely and bases his own commands to his readers on the teachings of Jesus. Third, nowhere does he command his readers to obey the Mosaic laws pertaining to ritual and sacrifice. It seems that law in James doesn’t refer to the Law of Moses alone, but the Law of Moses as “interpreted and supplemented by Christ.” Moo p.94
When people hear the law they make the message part of their life and allow their lives to come into harmony with its demands. The person who is blessed is the person who follows the directions of the law as interpreted through Jesus and puts their dictates into practice.
James is talking about practical applications of the law in the life of a believer, not particular teachings and standards of individual denominations. Some evangelical churches for instance believe dancing is wrong. How you think about that is the not the point, but what is important to remember is James is not talking about those kind of teachings. He is looking at the law as a law of liberty that gives freedom for those who follow Jesus, because we turn our backs on the old life of sin that once controlled us. (v. 21,22) A born again Christian doesn’t have to spend his/her trying to keep them from stealing from their friends, because they love their friends and wouldn’t do anything to hurt them. Galatians reminds us that a Christian who is a follower of Jesus manifests love. The next chapters of James have to be taken in context of these verses and the idea that a person who is serious about following Jesus is also serious about living the Christian life.