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The Main Thing [1-29-23]

Updated: Mar 11, 2023


January 29, 2023

James 1:19-27

“The Main Thing”


Forget about how other people choose to live their lives. That’s none of your business. It’s definitely none of mine. Some people can’t control their anger. Some speak before they think. Some say stupid or thoughtless things. Some people are downright rude. Listen, you don’t have to accept every argument you’re invited to. Some people are outspoken negative Nicks or Nellies. The only thing we have control over is what we say, think, or do. Life is so much better when we remember that.


God’s way of keeping that straight is found in James 1:19-27:

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 of God. 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.


The main focus of these verses is on how we keep ourselves grounded in God’s Word. It is the only tool we have for helping us understand how to think, say, and do what is pleasing to God. You know how one of my favorite things to say is “It’s not about you?” Well, that holds true most of the times in most situations. That reflects the servant’s heart Jesus commends to us. But here, in James, we get a wonderful example of something that’s not quite like it but similar. While much is not about you {and me}, when it comes to whose life we have control over, it’s only and forever about us.


Do you remember Alice Kravitz from Bewitched? She lived across the street from Darren and Samantha Stevens. She was always noticing the odd goings-on at their house. She’d look out the front window and cry out, “Abner! Abner!” Some of you remember.


With that in mind, listen to this advice column letter from January 12, 2023:

Dear Annie: We live across the street from a married couple…who have a 16-month-old girl. Every time they get her out of the car, no matter what the weather is, they have nothing on her head. Even when the temperature was in the teens, and another time when it was pouring rain, there was nothing on her head. I’m 60. I raised three daughters and always covered their heads with some kind of toboggan hat, hood or rain gear when appropriate. The couple’s defense, I’m sure, would be that they’re just going from the car and up about 20 steps to the house, but still, I think it’s ridiculous. I’m not sure if I should say something to them or not. Should I? – Neighbor.


Yikes. How’d you like to live across the street from her? “Slow to speak” is the best advice that comes to mind. Or don’t even speak at all. When Eddie Murphy gave advice on how to have a long career in entertainment, he said, “Pay your taxes, and mind your own business.” Great advice. What we will get from James 1:19-27 is a Biblically sound way to manage our lives that will lead to better outcomes across the board.


Here is the Main Idea of today’s passage:

CHRISTIANS SHOULD RESPOND TO GOD’S WORD WITH OBEDIENT LISTENING, CAREFUL SPEECH, AND A HUMBLE DEMEANOR.

Here’s another way of putting the Main Idea that you might want to write down:

IT IS THE DESIRE OF A BELIEVER TO WALK IN THE WORD OF GOD…IT IS THE DESIRE OF AN UNBELIEVER TO AVOID THE WORD OF GOD.

So when the Psalmist says, in 119:30, “I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me,” he is speaking about the path chosen by believers. Even when we sometimes fail to obey, it is still the longing in our heart to do that. Which is why later, in verse 161, he says, “My heart stands in awe of your Word.”


Our actions and attitudes and beliefs are grounded in the Word of God.


Lest we misunderstand, let’s look at the context of verse 19. While it does have a secondary application in how we communicate with each other, it’s primary application is in how God communicates with us. When we get that right, and seek to understand what God says to us, it will positively impact other areas of our lives. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” That verse, verse nineteen, it’s primary purpose is our communication with God.

The operative phrase here is in verse 21:

And receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

We’re talking about what we do with the Bible. Are we receptive to what God teaches us in Scripture? Are we cultivating its truth? Are we actively engaged with its words? Is it growing a strong and vibrant and persevering faith in us?


Here’s what James knew from the teaching of Jesus:

And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

  • Luke 8:4-15


What is the word that leads to salvation? It is the gospel…that dying on the

cross, Jesus received God’s wrath for our sin upon himself, thus bringing us into a transformed relationship with God. That gospel shapes and forms our lives. It gives direction to everything we believe, say, and do. We believe and are saved.


James picks that up in verse nineteen. Quick to hear is a beautiful way to say, “Hurry up and listen.” Another way to put it is, take not lightly of this. Dig in to God’s Word. It’s not about speed reading. It is about quit messing around with secondary things and read your Bible. Are you with me on that? You just can’t sit back and expect it to happen by osmosis. Find the chase and cut to it. Engage with God’s Word.


The second point is made when James says, be “slow to speak.” Here James is conveying a sense of hesitation or delay. It can also literally mean “dull” or “stupid.” In other words, when reading the Bible, don’t let your thoughts race ahead. Don’t immediately think you know the meaning. There will be things you don’t understand, so take your time. What is it we like to say? “Think before you speak.” That’s perfect advice when reading

the Bible, and, secondarily, it’s great advice when speaking with others.


Back to reading the Bible. A good thing to remember…slow to speak…is to receive the Word of God with submission. Let it work in you to guide your thoughts and actions. What does the Book of Genesis say about creation? God created with His Word. What does the Gospel of John say about the Word? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So the Word of God creates and recreates. Let it do its work in you.


Finally, the last piece of verse nineteen says, be slow to anger. Don’t be contentious with the Word of God.


Make no mistake. In our relational lives, that’s always a good thing. There’s nothing more ruinous than a hothead. A quick temper leads to nothing but pain and disharmony. But that’s not the primary point of these four words. It’s important to be slow to anger in any context, but remember, here we’re talking primarily about standing under the authority of God’s word.

We’ve all known people who are easily angered. It’s never a good thing. Remember our context here. The Word of God is the theme. Remember Jesus’ parable of the seed sown. It represents what? The Word of God. So, when James says, “Be quick to hear,” he means listen carefully to the Word of God. It is God’s Word that instructs us in how we think, act, and speak. Therefore, we must be eager to let God’s Word take root in our hearts and minds and souls.


And then, as that Word takes root in our lives, we avoid interrupting that process. When we are slow to speak, what are we doing? We’re listening. We’re not jumping the gun on trying to make God’s Word say something it doesn’t say. We eagerly and patiently let God’s Word speak to us. This is the primary reason why, almost forty years ago, I moved from a pro-abortion liberal to a Right-to-Life evangelical conservative. Praise God I had a loving, patient, gracious, and faithful wife to get me there. God worked through her to work in me. I let God’s Word speak to me, rather than tell it what it meant. That’s a huge difference. Huge difference.

Be eager to listen. Be cautious before you speak. And third, don’t fight the Word of God. If something doesn’t make sense to me in the Bible; if I struggle against understanding, where does the problem rest? Right…with me, not with God’s Word. People who have an angry or hostile or frustrated disposition toward something in the Bible are never going to be hearers and doers of the Word.


Here's something else you might want to write down:

A HOSTILE MINDSET WILL NEVER GRASP THE TRUTH OF GOD’S WORD.

In other words, you cannot produce what is right before God with resentment and anger. Listen carefully to the Word of God. Carefully.


Let’s pray:

HEAVENLY FATHER, THANK YOU FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF HAVING AND HEARING AND LIVING YOUR WORD. IT IS SWEETER THAN HONEY. GIVE US A WILLINGNESS TO LISTEN…A SLOWNESS TO SPEAK…AND A SLOWNESS TO ANGER WHEN OUR SIN IS UNCOVERED BY THE TRUTH OF YOUR WORD. HELP US TO SUBMIT OUR LIVES TO YOUR WORD. WE THANK YOU FOR THIS PRIVILEGE. IN CHRIST’S NAME, AMEN.








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