“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” – James 1.19-27 ESV
James has up to this point been speaking of trials and temptations, but the need to persevere in spite of all of that. He now begins to turn his focus on the need to be doers and the dangers of the tongue. In a way this portion help to start ideas which he will further later, that is as stated the idea that Faith isn’t merely listening but doing, and that one needn’t speak all the time, but listen for most of it.
In the Old Testament there once lived man whose name was Benaiah. He did many great deeds which are recorded for us in 2 Samuel 23.20-23: “And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two ariels of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen. And he struck down an Egyptian, a handsome man. The Egyptian had a spear in his hand, but Benaiah went down to him with a staff and snatched the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear. These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and won a name beside the three mighty men. He was renowned among the thirty, but he did not attain to the three. And David set him over his bodyguard.”
Benaiah is one of the more unknown characters of the Bible, but he did many great (sometime miraculous deeds). He wasn’t a man who merely heard what David asked of him and ignored it, nor was he a man who listened, but did his deeds half heartily. Instead as we see Benaiah come onto the scene he’s doing deeds that are of great renowned. In a way he is the perfect model for what James is speaking of in this portion of his epistle. Being a doer.
While Benaiah had tasks which were befitting an ancient warrior we too have our own task and our own difficulties. Yet we will see James was sure in saying that we need to be doers and not hears only, and that circumstances don’t matter as much as we might like.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” – James 1.19-21
We come here to one of James’ most well known phrases, be quick to hear, slow to speak. An old Jewish idiom puts it this way: “Speech for a shekel, silence for two; it is like a precious stone.” James here is once again echoing widespread Jewish Wisdom; the Proverbs also speak of this idea of slow speaking “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” – Proverbs 17.28. We see the idea that for one to be truly wise they must learn to listen, and learn to speak little. James almost seems to be quoting Sirach 5.11: “Be quick to hear, but deliberate in answering.” – NRSV.
Sirach goes on to say in the next two verses: “If you have understanding, answer your neighbor; but if not put your hand over your mouth. Good repute and dishonor come from speaking and a person’s tongue is his downfall.” If only we would take that bit of advice, before so placing our foot in our mouths so often. If only we would place a hand before our mouths before doing any number of things with our words. (Later James will begin to comment about the tongue as Sirach has here). Our mouths can get us into to such much trouble. As does not listening. By neglecting both we mess up badly. Which is why James adds to it, also be slow to anger.
While James will later go on to develop more reasons why we ought not speak so much, he turns to slow to anger here, that is its connections to the requirement of God. So often we are quick to jump to anger, we get mad before we fully know what’s going on, the truth of the matter is we rarely have true justifiable anger. (Moreover I would agree with Moo in saying that James isn’t exluding all forms of anger, but using good wisdom lingo here). Jesus himself isn’t silent on this issue of anger after in Matthew 5.21-22 he says: “”You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Moreover James’ mentions the righteousness of God which Jesus speaks of in Matthew 6.33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” We are too seek righteousness, not anger. In that seeking we need to be careful in what we hear and say. For by listening to a little we miss a lot and get angry over things which we ought to avoid. By speaking a lot we also say things which may make others stumble and that is something which we ought to avoid. So often we also say things in the heat of the moment, words which we’ll later say “I wish I could take that back.” These three things are so intricately related so instead by doing these three simple things, which James suggest we aim better at what Jesus requested of us. To seek Right-ness instead of Stife.
Concluding this remark James remarks: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” And with this sentence he moves also into his next step of his dialogue. James tells us to “take off,” usually when this phrase is used it is connected with taking off of clothes. There is a scene which is familiar to James words here found in the third chapter of Zechariah.
In it we see Satan accusing the high priest with the angel of Yahweh defending him. We read: “Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.
And the angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.” – Zechariah 3.3-7
James here instead is telling us as we embark upon this life under Christ we are to take off the filth and replace with the Word of God. This letter as mentioned before is one that is directed toward believers and thus this phrase seems to be telling believers (of all walks) to put away things of their old self and moving on to the things of their new things. We see the word here “implanted,” which gives us the idea that Christ has given us a new nature, and our old sinful nature is not to be a part of it. We are to seek Righteousness now.
Peter would also say much the same in his first epistle: “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” – 1 Peter 1.23-2.1. Simply put we needn’t be sinners, this is helped by listening, holding our tongues and keeping check negative emotions. The question however begins to develop if we are told to receive this implanted word, what all does that mean?
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” – James 1.22-25
James responses with a “be doers of this word.” To accept this word, we need to be “doers” of it that it is a whole part of this relationship between them. James warns us that we do not want to misunderstand what our relationship with Christ entails, what (as is discuss shortly) is a part of Pure religion so to speak. That being doers, not hearers only of the word. Paul says something remarkably similar in his Roman letter “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” – Romans 2.13. We cannot merely hear something and think that we’re okay, a part of our relationship with God involves our working with him.
Yes we need to hear and listen to the word, (James told us to be quick to hear) but we cannot stop at the hearing. James is instead insisting that as a part of this hearing we also be doers of the word. That is by being listeners of the word, it would naturally lead us into action. We have a danger though easily, of thinking that merely hearing is enough. It is not all right per say for one to go to church all their lives and merely sit in to hear the sermon. There is more to our faith then that, and there are so many different ways in which one can actually do something. Working with Vacation Bible School, Camp Counseling, James will shortly refer to the care of the orphan and widows. One needs to avoid merely sitting and there are so many things one could do.
James moves into two examples and he speaks of a man looking into a mirror. When one looks in the mirror, when they actually look at their face, they see what’s wrong with it. Every wart so to speak, and upon seeing it all they have the option of changing it. However James notes to us that the onlooker forgets, perhaps choosing so on purpose and changes nothing. We have our own mirror in God and in his words. We look at all our sins, and we can look at our in actions and choose to do nothing. Thus we remain the same, and we remain as mere hearers. Or we can choose to change all of that, we can look at our faults and work toward changing them, and we can work for God instead of doing nothing. In a way we become our biggest hindrance.
On the other hand we have the one who does. James speaks of the Perfect Law of Liberty, and while it is indeed tempting to simply say James is speaking of the Torah, this is the first mention of it, in long list of the Words, and it would seem better understood as the Torah as understood through Christ. Instead of merely listening and not letting the word of God affect us, we need to allow for the opposite and it let it. Continuing to do, despite everything that happens around us, James does say after all “preserve.”
Moreover it one looks at what James has already spoken off in his epistle we see that circumstances do not change the level of commitment we need for God. That being that One needs to be a doer, not listener. James began speaking of persevering under trial and all that goes along with that, as he continues speaking about he doesn’t forget that his audience is undergoing a trial. Still we need to continue in being doers.
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” – James 1.26-27
Religion, the Greek word threskeia (θρησκεία), Vine’s NT defines it as signifying ““religion” in its external aspect…, “religious worship,” especially the ceremonial service of “religion”;” In speaking of this pure religion James isn’t attempting to define it, but merely saying the important part of it, what it is that makes it worthwild. Yes the term religion is a broad one and therefore it seems all the more idealize that James uses it to say “that if you think you’ve had your so called religious experience then did it involve something similar too this…?” The “this” being kind to the down and out.
This theme of James isn’t something new either. In Deuteronomy 27 the Israelites are taking an oath which basically if they don’t do this then they should be cursed in verse 19 we read: “”‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” Or one could refer to any of the prophets and you’ll see that the perceived religious people were most often the bad guys. The ones who were doing what Yahweh had commanded of them, burnt offerings and all that stuff. Because they had missed the point, as evidenced by their treatment of the outcast. Yahweh has always been keen on the idea that one should take care of the poor and the afflicted, as evidenced here by James.
James once again also relates to the intertestmental wisdom literature as well as Sirach 4.10 says “Be like a father to orphans, and in the place of a husband to their mother; you will then be like a son of the Most High, and he will love you more than does your mother.”
More over at the core of this is the idea that love is a part of what we ought to seek as doers of the word. Firstly True Love for God and Secondly true love for people. Leviticus 19.18b in the midst of all the law does say “but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Yahweh.” Leviticus that wonderful book of law which is so concern with Holiness expresses that that part of Holiness, is love. James too would say that part of Seeking the Righteousness of God is learning to love your neighbor. Being a doer of the Word means being a doer of the things of God, not the things of man.
Turning back then to Benaiah we saw that he was a great doer of deeds and perhaps think we could never do anything great for God. The truth of the matter however is, that we can, Jesus did speak of faith that could move a mountain. Benaiah is also one of the Bible unknowns, most people probably skip right over the section of his deeds as its mixed in with perceived boring stuff, but that doesn’t make his deeds any less renown. Nor does it make your doings any less profound to the person who it matters to God.
We are called to hear, but in that hearing to also do. When they aren’t combined we wouldn’t ever do great things like Benaiah. Separated they don’t work, one can’t just hear, and one can’t just do. As James says be quick hear, and he also says be doer of the word. In our walk we need to remember that key idea that we can’t simply sit around, but instead we must be doers of the word to the best of our abilities.
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