This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on September 16, 2012. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – James 1F.
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness 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 someone 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 whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their 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)
God Speaks Patiently, Truthfully and Graciously.
Slowly, Patiently, Continually: God has spoken consistently to mankind over the history of the world. His interactions, the Scriptures suggest, are not limited to just what we have in the Scriptures (the appearance of Melchizedek in Gen.14, the prophet Baalam in Numbers, the Magi in Luke). In fact, Psalm 19 tells us that God speaks continually to mankind through the natural creation.
God’s slow careful speech over time and in many situations has given weight to the word of God. The whole of Scripture represents a gracious and patient working out of revelation that has unfolded as God spoke into the lives of generations of people. God did not speak out his revelation in one year or one lifetime and demand that we understand everything. Nor has God ceased to speak and to reveal himself to people in every kind of situation of life.
Truthfully: God has spoken to reveal to stubborn, difficult, willful and ignorant people, who we are – who we were made to be – who He is – and what our lives are supposed to be. God has revealed this truth to us in many ways and in many situations, through many different types of literature (poetry, historical narrative, myth, prophecy, Gospel, pastoral letters, even apocalyptic). God has used these diverse methods of communication to reveal to us who he is and what he is like. God has used these different forms of literature to show us how human beings have reacted to his great works of deliverance in history – to show us how human beings react to blessing and adversity and peace time and war and success and failure – to show us how human beings react when God is right there in a pillar of fire, or when he doesn’t seem to be there. God has spoken to us the truth about what we are like as human beings – and about our need and foolishness and blindness to what is truly important.
Graciously: And shockingly, God has spoken favor to us. This is completely unaccountable. God had every right to be done with rebellious human beings. We had and have no rights before our creator – nor right to expect or demand mercy or anything.
Yet Scripture tells us that Jesus is “the Word”, and God’s complete Word on the subject of our relationship with Him. God has spoken favor through his Son, Jesus, at great cost to himself – leaving those who receive his favor through Christ, absolutely indebted to Him.
Therefore We Should Speak in the Same Way.
Be Slow to Speak: As these believers begin to move into new communities, they are coming face to face with things like paganism, emperor worship, injustices, dishonest business practices, false teaching. James doesn’t tell them to avoid all of these bad people and to go form their own community where they will be safe (as the church has sometimes done). Instead, as we have seen, James tells his readers to be “… quick to listen [and] slow to speak”. In other words, his pastoral advice to them is not to avoid these communities, but to enter into them and listen and not to react to what they see or hear.
Why does James give them this advice? Has James gone soft on sin? Is James telling them to go under cover and not let anyone know they are believers? No. Rather, James is cautioning them against rash and evil responses to the evil that they see. James’ counsel is about how to approach people with wisdom. In fact, James’ goal here is to show his readers how to be lights to their new communities.
Reaction to sin is not what God does. Reacting to sin means responding thoughtlessly, immediately, violently. This is not to say that God is ok with evil and harm and false worship – or that God never takes a strong stand against sin. But God’s response to sin is always measured, thoughtful – full of truth and necessary confrontation – but also full of the call to repent and the offer of grace. And in the same way, James wants these believers to show themselves to be children of God by not reacting, and by being willing to live patiently with and in their new communities – (speaking the truth – confronting sin – calling to repentance – offering grace – but doing these things slowly and patiently). In a sense, we are to think like wise counselors, trying to understand what a person is telling us about themselves and considering what they need to hear – and then speaking with wisdom and in a way that is helpful.
Because God Has Not Spoken Quickly or Reacted to Us: God has spoken to us continually and patiently over time. God has been very patient with us. God has allowed our understanding of truth and of the Gospel to unfold in our lives – without demanding that we change instantly. The Gospel does not demand that we stop being sinners instantly. God does not treat us as our sins deserve – but allows us to move through the slow, slow process of becoming holy people. God allows the Gospel to unfold in our lives like a flower that grows and opens and blooms – because this is what redemption is like – what we need.
And We Should Measure Our Words
Ask What Your Heart is Overflowing With? “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues, deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.”
James is applying, here, something that Jesus says in the Gospels, “ The good man out of the good storehouse of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil storehouse brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Lk.6:45). In other words, those who think that they are spiritual, and yet who speak in evil reactive ways, their spirituality is worthless.
These statements say something that we already know, though at times we try to deny. We are known through our words and our conversation. The man who is always running himself down is insecure and looking for praise. The woman who always talks about herself is selfish. Even the things we don’t say reveal us. The child who is sullen and won’t talk to anyone, is obviously angry and rebellious.
We are extremely adept at picking up on what is going on with people through their words and body language and conversational topics and interests. Why? Because we know that these things tend to reveal the inner thoughts and desires and motives of the heart. But we seldom pay attention to the overflow of our own hearts. What do our reactions to people reveal about what is in our hearts? What do we fear? What makes us angry? Why are we trying to please people?
James is calling his readers – and us – to listen to what comes out of their mouths – whether their speech is like God’s speech (patient, truthful, gracious) – or reactive (angry, fearful, always agreeing, slanderous, etc.). We need to come to God and ask him to show us the content of our conversation – what our heart is overflowing with.
The Overflow of God’s Heart to Us Is Christ: God has also spoken out of the overflow of his heart. “1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb.12:1-3).
The truth is that our words have often been very unlike God’s speech. We have been rash and impatient and slow to listen and quick to speak. But God has patiently unfolded the Gospel to us and to the world. Jesus is God’s final word. The redemption and grace and favor of God through Jesus are not God’s afterthought, but the overflowing of his desire and love for us.
This morning, we need to come to God and ask Him to show us what our speech has been, and to teach us to speak slowly, patiently, graciously and truthfully.