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Listening and Doing August 8, 2015

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on James 1:19-27.

Summary: James begins by exhorting his readers to:

  • have a teachable mind to wait on God’s Word
  • not rashly give their opinions about things concerning the faith
  • not be angry with those who differ from them.

This stems from the fact that the wrath of man does not attain the righteousness that God approves. Thus, they should:

  • put off sin and the abundance of evil in the human heart like an unclean garment
  • have teachable minds as they make room for God’s Word in their hearts, since His Word is accompanied with divine grace for their souls and bodies.

James then exhorts his readers to not only listen to God’s Word – as that would lead to a false discourse in their consciences; they must receive its work into their hearts and express the effect of it in their lives. Indeed, he who is content with superficial listening and knowledge about God’s Word is like a man who stares at his face – that nature gave him – in a mirror, and then forgets his facial blemishes. In contrast, those who meditate deeply on God’s Word – His counsel to His friends – and persevere in studying it and working hard to put it into practice – will prosper in whatever they do.

Now James warns his readers that if anyone seems religious to himself – yet does not abstain from the evils of the tongue – he flatters himself and his religion is a pretense. He concludes by stating that in God’s eyes, true religion entails performing all duties of love, including showing charity to orphans and widows who are being oppressed; in this way, they will remain holy – keeping themselves from the rule of worldly desires.

Thoughts: In verse 19, James exhorts his readers to wait on God’s Word – instead of rashly giving their opinion about it. Manton offers some insights on this point:

If we take these directions as being a specific reference to the matter in hand, the context is easy to understand. I agree that it is good to apply Scripture, and so this teaching extends to private conversations, when people are full of talk themselves and cannot bear to listen to others and seek private revenge in anger; these things are often found in Christian meetings and conventions. But the main aim of the apostle is to direct his readers to the solemn hearing of the Word.

Over the last few years, I have made a conscious effort to apply this passage during small group Bible studies – though perhaps Manton would disagree with my approach, as it seems that he focuses on sermons in that quote. In any event, it is difficult for me to remain silent during small group Bible studies, as I constantly battle the impulse to “display my knowledge” and share “deep theological insights.” I have discovered, though, that remaining silent allows my brain to process my thoughts, determine their relative utility, and suppress relatively useless thoughts. In this way, I can present any relatively useful thoughts after they have passed that filter. Indeed, I have found that my first thought after a difficult question has been posed to my small group is often relatively useless – or even incorrect; thus, waiting on God to reveal His truth more clearly to me can be very beneficial. I should also note that remaining silent allows me to benefit from hearing the insights of others, as God speaks to each believer in a unique way.

In verse 27, James exhorts his readers to display true religion by showing charity to widows and orphans. Manton offers some insights on this point:

A great fruit of piety is provision for the afflicted. In Matthew 25 you see acts of charity. Works of mercy become those who have received mercy from God. This is being like God. One of the chief glories in the Godhead is his tireless love and bounty. He looks after the orphans and widows; so should we…True generosity is when we give to those who are not able to reciprocate…

This passage is an important reminder that all believers should regularly show mercy to others. Along these lines, my previous church had a social concerns ministry that allowed members to serve food to the homeless, assist with neighborhood beautification projects, tutor at-risk inner-city students, etc. If a believer’s home church does not support this type of ministry, though, then regularly showing mercy to others can be more difficult. In that case, one must take the initiative to get involved with a parachurch organization that focuses on showing mercy to others – or even start their own effort to minister to those who are in need. I should also note that regularly showing mercy to others keeps believers from growing comfortable in this world. Indeed, when we regularly interact with those who are in need, we are reminded that this world is imperfect, and we long for the next life.