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Hearing God
James 1:19-27 


"This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; [20] for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God."

At first reading, these verses appear to me to be good home spun advice-you know, the kind of thing your grandmother would tell you-just good old fashion wisdom. And I suppose it is. Being quick to listen is good advice, as is being slow to speak and slow to anger. 

But after looking at these verses more closely, I think James has a specific application in mind. The key is a phrase he uses in verse 22, "doers of the word." Now we'll talk more about that in just a minute, but for now, I want to point out that James is referring to listening to the word, not listening in general.

Today, we would immediately apply that advice to what you are doing right now, listening to a sermon. But I'm not so sure that is what James is saying here. Remember that in his day, everyone didn't have their own copy of the scripture, instead, they gathered together and listened to a reader who read from the sacred scrolls.

Perhaps, James is saying that listening to God's word is more important than speaking your own. Definitely he is saying you will not be able to hear God's word if you are speaking. One application I take away from this text is that I should not be quick to say I understand a familiar text or to simply repeat what I've been taught about what the Bible says, but that I should listen to God as He speaks through His word.

Think of this advice in context with your Sunday School or Encounter class. If you speak, others will hear what you think, but you'll learn nothing. But if you'll listen, you have a unique opportunity to learn from others. Does that mean you should never speak? Of course not, but it does mean you should listen.

Yes listen to others, but also listen to God's word itself. You know, the Bible will shed a lot of light on your opinions if you'll read it.

Not only does speaking keep you from hearing, so does angry outbursts. Anger and religion often go together. Probably because we care so deeply about the things we believe, and because we think God is the author of our beliefs. We passionately defend our views because we think they came from God.

In Exodus 2:12, Moses became angry at the way the Egyptians were treating the Hebrews and in his anger, he killed a man. Certainly, Moses' outrage was justified, but when he acted out of his anger, he committed a great sin. Later, God would use Moses to free the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery, but he would use a meek Moses, one under control, not an out-of-control hothead. 

Another way to express the teachings of James 1-19-20 is to say that if we are to truly hear God when we read his word, we must lay aside our preconceived ideas about the text and our agendas. We don't read it to confirm our ideas or prove our point, we read it to hear the voice of God.

James continues with the theme in verse 21, he says that to truly hear, we've got to clean the filth out of our ears. [21] Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.

One of the uses for the Greek word for "filthiness" was "disgusting earwax"-the kind that can keep a person from hearing clearly. I think James is using that word intentionally to tell his readers to clean out their ears so they can hear better. Just like an opinion and an agenda can keep a person from hearing God when they read the scripture, so can unconfessed sin.

I don't know how many times someone has said to me after a sermon, "I just wish so and so was here so they could have heard what you said." I know the person means it as a compliment when they say that to me, but deep down inside, I don't take it that way, because it tells me that they didn't really hear God speak to them during the sermon, instead, they were thinking of someone else the sermon was for.

It takes humility to admit that the teaching of the scripture is for me. I need to apply it and I need to do what it says.

That is precisely the next point that James makes. We are not just to "hear" the word, we are to "do" the word.

[22] But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. [23] For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; [24] for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. [25] But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does.

Hearing should lead to action. In 2 Sam. 23:14-17 King David was in hiding from the Philistines who had taken over the city of Bethlehem-his home town. As he thought about Bethlehem, he said, "Oh, that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate" (2 Sam. 23:15).

Three of the King's valiant warriors heard the King and immediately went to the well to get him some water-risking their lives in the process. They were not responding to an order from the King, they just heard him speak, but when they heard, it put them into action.

When you hear God speak from His word, do you need someone to tell you what you should do, or do you immediately respond and spring into action?

In the conclusion to His "Sermon on the Mount," Jesus said,

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. [25] The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. [26] But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. [27] The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV)

Hearing though important, isn't enough. The hearer must apply God's word. To do otherwise is to build a house on the sand, and when the rain comes, it will fall.

Then what does "doing God's word" look like? James tells us in the closing verses of this chapter. [26] If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. 

James mentioned controlling the tongue again, and will do so later in the book. It was a big deal to him. He said your religion is "worthless" if you don't control your tongue. Do you have a problem with outbursts of anger, cursing, gossip or slander? If so, your religion is worthless to you and to others who observe you.

Then what does real religion look like? James draws a vivid picture in verse 27. "This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

"Doing" God's word involves helping the helpless, and staying pure. Living an impure lifestyle discounts a person's faith. But so does a lack of compassion for those who can't help themselves.

In March of 1999, a lady who attended the church I was pastoring in Albuquerque told me that one of our widow's roof was leaking and that she couldn't afford to fix it. I called one of our deacons who had some construction experience to ask him to go over and inspect the roof and see what needed to be done. He told me the roof was a mess, the whole thing needed to be replaced.

The price, even if we did the work ourselves, would exceed the cash we had on hand for benevolence work. The next Sunday, I told the people about the need, and asked for volunteers to work on the project and donations to pay for the materials. Not wanting to embarrass the widow, I never mentioned her name. That morning, the special offering exceeded the need and we got plenty of volunteers to repair the roof that week. With the extra money we collected, the men also built a patio cover to go over a cement slab that adjoined her house in her back yard. A touch of class, in my opinion. 

That, was pure religion. These were people that were "doers of the word, and not hearers only."

The call on our lives is to hear the word, to study the word and to know the word, but not to stop there, then we are to "do" the word. And when we do, we will instinctively work together to help change the world.

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