I will never forget the conversation. I was 29 years old and getting ready to move to Oklahoma City with my family to begin working here at Britton Christian Church. I had spent 5½ years working with Dr. Darnell at First Christian Church in Plano, TX. and David was passing on to me the things he had learned through years of serving the Lord. David didn’t hesitate in telling me that I must always keep teaching the Word of God as my first priority once I became a pastor. David’s advice to me was this: Don’t allow the demands of ministry to crowd out the time you spend with the Lord in His Word each day. To be able to teach the Word of God you must spend time with the Lord in His Word. Teaching and preaching are really nothing more than sharing with the people what God is teaching you. And then he said, “When you come to the Word of God humble yourself before the text and ask the Lord to teach you. Don’t come to the Word and read into it what you want it to say, but humble yourself before the text and allow the Lord to teach you.”

It’s been more than 27 years since David shared those important words with me and I’ve never forgotten them. As a matter of fact, I’ve shared those important words with many of you through the years since I’ve been here at Britton Christian Church. Humble yourself before the text and don’t read into God’s Word what you want it to say. Humble yourself before the Word of God and allow Him to teach you. I’ve thought about that important advice as I’ve been studying James 1:19-27 this week. Let’s read our Scripture and see what we can learn.

19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it– he will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:19-27 NIVO)

Now, we’re not going to make it through this entire section of Scripture, but it is important for us to understand the context or we will easily misunderstand a key verse, and that is verse 19. James writes,

19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, (James 1:19 NIVO)

I did an experiment this past week with a friend of mine, a friend who knows the Bible really well. I asked him what this verse means? He immediately began to talk about our relationships with one another. He said some anger, righteous anger like that expressed by Jesus at the temple when the people had turned the temple into a marketplace and when Jesus saw others mistreated, is good, but that other kinds of anger can be very destructive. My friend was right, but only partly right.

When we study this verse in context we can see that there’s a deeper and more fundamental truth about this verse. Let’s go back and read James 1:18, the verse that precedes this verse about being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Read it with me.

18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:18 NIVO)

In this opening chapter of James’ letter to his scattered, persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, he has been teaching them about the trials, troubles, and temptations they were experiencing. Have you noticed that he points them beyond their trials and temptations? He gave them a prescription for the trials by telling them to ask God for wisdom because godly wisdom is what will enable them to trust God in their trial. He reminds them not to blame God for the temptations that come along with the trials, but to remember that “every good and perfect gift comes down” from the Supreme Giver who will supply them with what they need to avoid giving into temptation. God’s wisdom and God’s gifts of grace, mercy, and strength are indispensable for His people as we go through this life filled with one trial after another. Then, in verse 18, James reminds them that He has given them new birth, He has saved them, brought them from the realm of darkness into His glorious light, and He has done this through the “word of truth.”  Verse 19 follows.

19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, (James 1:19 NIVO)

“My dear brothers…” Over and over again James uses this phrase, three times already in James 1. James is not a distant, detached authority handing down instruction, he is their “dear brother.” James wants them to know about the great love he has for them. It is because of his great love for them that he says, “take note of this…” George Stulac writes,

The tone at the beginning of this passage is ‘Because you are very dear to me, I am urging all of you: be sure to do these things…’ (Stulac, George. James. pg. 63)

These instructions are vitally important both for their relationships with one another and for their relationship with God. Remember, those who first heard James’ letter were people who were under stress, they had been driven from their homes into Judea and Samaria, they were being persecuted because of their faith, and their lives were stressful. I don’t know about all of you, but when I am under stress I can become slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry. I’m quick to fly off the handle and say things that I later regret. We’ve all heard the story of the man who has a bad day at the office so he goes home, kicks the dog, and yells at his wife and kids. I don’t think I need to spend too much time trying to convince you that our anger only damages our relationships with other people. This is why James writes in verse 20,

20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:20 NIVO)

The word “righteous” or “righteousness” is best understood as “right relationship.” Our anger does not lead to a right relationship with God or those around us. Our anger does not deepen our relationship with God or those He has placed in our lives. The Proverbs are full of wise counsel about anger. In Proverbs 16:32 we read,

32 Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32 NIVO)

A patient person, a person who controls their temper is better than, more powerful than a warrior, a person who can overpower a city. In Proverbs 17:27-28 we read,

27 A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. 28 Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue. (Proverbs 17:27-28 NIVO)

I never cease to be amazed at how we who have been forgiven so much, who have been shown so much grace and mercy, can in turn vent so much anger and animosity, hold onto such bitterness and resentment, and refuse to offer forgiveness and grace towards those whom He has made our brothers and sisters. So many present day churches have been started not because the Holy Spirit is at work drawing new believers, but because the dissension and division has grown so great that one group chooses to leave their brothers and sisters behind and start a new church. Disagreements are fueled by selfishness and an unwillingness to listen. Words fly, listening and a desire to understand ceases, and what was once a lighthouse of hope becomes a towering inferno. This grieves the heart of God and destroys our witness to an unbelieving world around us.

I have to say something at this point. I am so proud of you, you who call Britton Christian Church your home. For those of you who are new around here you need to know that we are a very diverse body of believers. You might be sitting next to someone who voted for President Trump or you might be sitting next to someone who voted for President Obama. As different as our politics might be they pale in comparison to the love we share for one another because of what Jesus has done in each of our lives.

You may be sitting next to someone of a different ethnicity this morning. Surely you are aware of the growing hostility between the different ethnicities in our country today? Those in our society don’t listen to one another. They wage war on Twitter and Facebook, make outlandish claims about anyone who disagrees with them even though they don’t know them, and how’s that working out for us as a nation? It’s only deepening the divide isn’t it? Let me ask you, “What’s your take on Black Lives Matter? How do you feel about President Trump rescinding the ‘DACA’ act, the Latino ‘Dreamers’ who are living in our country?” If you asked ten different people who are here this morning you would find not everyone is of the same opinion, but we are one Body of believers united by His love which compels us to love one another, really love one another, whether we agree on issues or not.  

You might be sitting next to an OU fan or you might be sitting next to an OSU fan this morning. As deep as our love may run for our favorite football team, our love for one another, because of what Jesus has done in our lives runs deeper still.  All of the things that have the potential to divide us, have failed to do so. They’ve failed to divide us, not because we are an exceptional people, but because He has bound us together with an everlasting love and it is imperative that we show His love to one another. They have failed to divide us up until now, but make no mistake my friend, we must continue to seek Him above all else or they most certainly will.

What is the key to our being willing to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” with one another? Oh, you ask such good questions! The key is to first be willing to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” in our relationship with God.

We’ve been studying Job on Wednesday nights. Job was going through such an intense trial in his life. His friends came to be with him, to comfort him, and then they opened their mouths and things went south in a hurry. From Job 4-37, there’s a back and forth that takes place as Job and his friends argue about why he is going through what he is experiencing. Job thinks God is trying to destroy him. Job’s friends think all of his troubles are the result of his own sin. Neither Job nor his friends were right, but nobody was listening, everybody was talking, and everybody was angry. Then God showed up in Job 38 and began to ask Job more than 70 questions that were beyond Job’s ability to answer. In Job 40:1-5 we read,

1 The LORD said to Job: 2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” 3 Then Job answered the LORD: 4 “I am unworthy– how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. 5 I spoke once, but I have no answer– twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:1-5 NIVO)

“I will put my hand over my mouth.” “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Because Job lacked understanding about what he was going through he was so angry at God and many of us have been in that same place. I have a friend who was doing some work at my house a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about his business when I said, “If you report to God as your Boss, as you run your business, and treat those who work for you as He wants you to treat them, then He will provide the work you need.” He said, “You know I was angry at God for the longest time because He took my dad.” I was able to share some things with my friend about God taking my mom five years ago and the things God has taught me. He said, “I’ve never thought about it that way.” We must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry or we will draw conclusions that will be so wrong. Being angry at God because of the hardships and trials of life that cause us such grief and heartache will never lead to a right relationship with God.

We need this teaching. We desperately need to understand that getting angry at God for the trials we go through in life will never lead to a right relationship with God. I have to think there are some here this morning who are angry at God because of your present circumstance. Oh my dear brothers and sisters, would you be willing to listen just for a moment? Would you be willing to lay aside your anger just for a moment and listen? What I am about to share with you might not set well with you at first, but would you be willing to listen just for a moment? James writes,

21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (James 1:21 NIVO)

There are two key words in this verse for us to pay close attention to my friends. First of all, we are to “get rid” of all moral filth and the evil, or as the English Standard Version says, “rampant wickedness,” that is so prevalent all around us. For those who are in Christ we are called to “take off” or “to put away” all that stands in opposition to godliness, all that would hinder our relationship with God. This is a theme that runs throughout God’s Word. Turn with me to Colossians 3:7-10 and let’s read Paul’s counsel to the folks in Colossae. He reminded them of how they use to live before they became followers of Jesus. He writes,

7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Colossians 3:7-10 NIVO)

James told his readers to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.” Paul told his readers in Colossae, “rid yourselves” of the practices that are contrary to your new life in Christ. Let me share just one more. Turn with me to 1 Peter 2:1-3 and let’s read together.

1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3 NIVO)

Put it away! Get rid of those things so that you can be receptive to the “pure spiritual milk.” That’s the same thing James is saying. Get rid of the moral filth and the evil that is all around you so that you can humbly receive the Word of God implanted in you.

This past week as I’ve been studying and meditating on this Scripture I thought about the parable of the Sower. There are four kinds of soil, which in actuality are four kinds of hearts in which the seed was sown. The Sower scattered His seed on the path, packed down by people who walked on it day after day. The Sower scattered His seed on the rocky places, not much soil, but lots of rocks which are not conducive for the seed to grow. The Sower scattered His seed among the thorns which grew up and choked out the good seed. Last of all, the Sower scattered seed on good soil, free of rocks and thorns, and the seed produced a bountiful crop–thirty, sixty, or even one hundred times what was sown. We are to put away the rocks, clear out the thorns, get rid of all of the moral filth within us and all of the rampant wickedness that is around us so that we will be prepared to receive God’s Word. Let’s read James 1:21 once again and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (James 1:21 NIVO)

Secondly, we are to “humbly,” or with “meekness,” accept the Word planted in us. James says this Word can save us! The word translated, “humbly,” in the NIV is the Greek word, “prautes” and it means, “mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, or meekness.” It is such an important word in the New Testament. Jesus described Himself as “meek” in Matthew 11:29. It is listed as one of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23. In Ephesians 4:1 Paul urged the brothers and sisters to live a life worthy of God’s calling. Then he says, “Be completely humble and gentle” (Ephesians 4:2). Paul tells the young pastor Timothy to flee from the love of money and to pursue instead “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness,” or meekness (1 Timothy 6:11). Meekness or humility is a Christlike quality which R.C. Trench says is “that temper of spirit in which we accept his dealings with us as good,…without disputing.” (Trench R.C., New Testament Synonyms. pg. 152). It is meekness that enabled Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, to pray, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

If you belong to Jesus, if you have been given birth by the Word of Truth, as James said in verse 18, then you have His Word implanted in you. A person who is dead in their trespasses and sins has no desire to respond to God’s Word, but if you have received Jesus as Lord and Master of your life then He has implanted His Word in your heart and it is through His Word and His Spirit that He is working to transform your life.

I remember when I first became a follower of Jesus. I knew absolutely nothing about the Bible. I told the people in Alpha that I went to a Bible study and the leader said, “Turn to Luke?” So I looked around the room to try and find him. I knew nothing about the Bible, but there was something that had taken place in me that kept drawing me back to this book that was so foreign to me. What was it? It was the implanted Word of God being used by the Spirit of God to grow me.

You need to know that simply reading God’s Word like a novel or the morning newspaper will not bring about the growth and understanding God desires for you and me. We must approach God’s Word with humility, eager to be taught by God, or as Dr. Darnell would say, “Humble yourself before the text and allow God to teach you.” Dr. Motyer speaks to this when he writes,

We might wonder why the ever-practical James does not proceed to outline schemes of daily Bible reading or the like, for surely these are the ways in which we offer a willing ear to the voice of God. But he does not help us in this way. Rather, he goes deeper, for there is little point in schemes and times if we have not got an attentive spirit. It is possible to be unfailingly regular in Bible reading, but to achieve no more than to have moved the bookmark forward: this is reading unrelated to an attentive spirit. The word is read but not heard. On the other hand, if we can develop an attentive spirit, this will spur us to create those conditions – a proper method in Bible reading, a discipline of time, and so on – by which the spirit will find itself satisfied in hearing the Word of God.  (J. A. Motyer.)

Oh, my dear brothers and sisters, it is so important for you and me to humbly receive God’s Word. Let me ask you a question. If you had a life-threatening illness and you went to the doctor to learn about what the future held for you, would you not hang on his every word? I remember when Connie had cancer. Following her surgery I was waiting to hear from the doctor. Dr. Walker came into the room and sat down at a table to speak with me. Nobody had ever held my attention like Dr. Joan Walker. I listened, with intensity and laser focus, I listened to everything she had to say. I asked her, “What do we need to do now?” and I heard and heeded her every word.  

I listened to Dr. Walker with absolute devotion and focus because I wanted to do everything possible to save Connie’s life. James says we are to humbly receive the Word implanted in us because it can save us. James says it is this Word that can save you. Salvation in the Bible is an interesting word. It has a past, present, and future sense about it. We have been saved through what Jesus has done for us on the Cross, we are being saved at the present time through God’s provision for us, and we will be saved in the future through the culmination of God’s plan. It is this Word that can save you. It is through the ministry of the Word and the Spirit that our eyes were opened to our need for Jesus. In the present, we face all kinds of trials, troubles, and temptations, but it is in humbling ourselves before God’s Word, humbling receiving God’s Word, His counsel, that we will be saved and avoid having our lives destroyed by these many trials. And in the future we know we will be saved! With all of these trials and temptations behind us we will look into His face and hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Now enter into your rest!” What a glorious day that will be! Won’t you humble yourself before the Lord this morning and ask Jesus to come into your heart?

Mike Hays

Britton Christian Church

922 NW 91st

OKC, OK. 73114

November 5, 2017


Listen and Learn
James 1:19-21
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