James 1:19 Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
It is easy to become angry when people around you are talking nonsense, or saying something false. But instead of becoming angry, and getting into a shouting match, James wanted his readers to listen more and talk less. This is easier said than done.
A university offered several courses on public speaking that were constantly full. They also offered course on careful listening, but it had to be canceled due to lack of interest. Most people are more inclined to speak than to listen. We want to be understood more than to understand. This is why communication often breaks down.
When two people want to communicate, but are having trouble, they should try the following exercise. The first person should hold an item (such as a pen) that gives them permission to speak, without interruption, until the second person can repeat their concerns accurately.
Then the second person should hold the item (which gives them permission to speak without interruption) until the first person can repeat their concerns accurately. When each person can repeat the other’s concerns accurately, they have communicated. This is a practical way of being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
James 1:21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.
We live in a world of moral filth that wants to invade our lives; but here we are told to take out the trash. This verse suits me well because I hate clutter. I like to go through the house and get rid of stuff that we do not need. I also enjoy throwing out whatever is not helpful to my relationship with God. Some TV shows have to go. Some habits have to go. And some pastimes have to go. If we want to make room for God, we must declutter our lives.
James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
Nothing is more common than listening to sermons, week after week, without making any improvement. James may have been tired of preaching so often, and seeing so little change. He compared it to someone who looks in a mirror, but does not clean himself up (James 1:23-24).
If you looked in a mirror, and saw dirt on your face, you would wipe it off at once. Likewise, when the Bible reveals your sin, you should confess and repent. We use a mirror to make ourselves presentable physically, and we should use God’s word to make ourselves presentable spiritually. It is not enough to listen to God’s word, or to merely read it—we must do what it says.
James 1:26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
One of the best indicators of what we believe is what comes out our mouths. It does not matter how often we go to church, how much we give, or how much we pray. If we do not keep a tight rein on our tongues, our religion is worthless, wrote James.
James probably got this idea from his brother Jesus. [E]veryone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37), he said.
Few things are more incriminating in a court of law, than a recording of the accused person talking about their crime. But on Judgment Day, God will call for a transcript of every word we have ever spoken, as an indication of who we really were. A good rule to follow is this: if you would not write it and sign it, don’t say it.
James 1:27 [Keep yourself] from being polluted by the world.
The autopsy of a large turtle showed that one-quarter of its weight was garbage. Inside was a golf tee, plastic beads, a rope, part of a plastic bottle, and more. Through indiscriminate feeding, the turtle became a trash can. We must do our work in the world without being polluted by the world. This is a difficult task, but with God’s help, it can be done.
James 2:1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.
James described a rich man who came to church and was well received. A poor man also attended, but he was treated badly (James 2:2-4). This is not uncommon, since the rich can give to the church, while the poor have little to offer—or so it seems.
[W]hatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40), said Jesus. This is one of the best opportunities any church could hope for. If Jesus came to church in disguise, he would likely appear poor. Treating the poor with honor and dignity is how we honor Christ. [B]elievers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.
James 2:9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.
Since favoritism does not seem like a terrible sin, James underscored the seriousness of all sin as a violation of God’s law. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10), he wrote. The one who shares a little gossip is just as guilty as the one who rapes or murders. Both have broken the law of God, and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.
This is not to say that all sin is equally bad. Murder is generally worse than stealing, and stealing is generally worse than coveting. Jesus said to Pilate, the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin (John 19:11). There are greater sins and lesser sins, but every sin brings guilt. Ninety-nine percent right is one precent wrong—and that is an F with God.
If you are arrested for stealing, and tell the judge you have never murdered, it will not help you. If you are arrested for speeding, and tell the judge you have never cheated on your taxes, it will not help you. Christians should not excuse their sins, but turn away from them, and trust in Christ’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9). There is no one righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10), wrote Paul.
Reflection and Review
How can we be better listeners?
Why is our speech important?
How do you view the poor?