James 1:26 “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
Once again James has returned to the theme of speaking little while listening and doing more. Jesus had often said that what comes out of a man’s mouth will display what is in his heart, and James is reminding his readers that their lives must encompass all that they read and study in the Word; otherwise, their attempts at religiosity are meaningless. The act of attending church isn’t enough. We must apply what we learn there, and controlling what we say is one of the necessary ways in which we do this. So much can be nullified by our words, and so much can be verified. Let the verification be that we are the Father’s children who seek to do the Father’s will. In that our hearts will not be deceived and our religion will not be worthless.
Study/Meditation: What is the difference between being simply “religious” and being “Christian”? How should they be one in the same?
*Father, forgive me for the things I say that do not display Your love and mercy and justice. Help me to speak wisely and to say only those things that build up Your Kingdom. Amen.
James 1:25 “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
One of the truest ways to prove that we really believe something is to act on it. If the meteorologist warns of a coming hurricane and we do nothing to heed his warnings, then we can’t really say we believe what he has said about its potentially devastating effects. We listen and we see the report; it may even make us tremble a bit. But as soon as we turn the television off, we reason away the warnings and go on about our daily lives as if the hurricane will certainly not do what this scientist has said it would do. In truth, we didn’t believe, even though we listened. James is warning us of the same truths regarding God’s Word. If we look at it, read it, study it, and go away without abiding by it, we can’t say we believe it. The proof of our belief is in our application of it. Be not a seer only, forgetting its freeing and life-changing contents once you’ve looked away. Apply what the Lord has told you through His Word. In this you demonstrate your sincere belief that what He has said there is true.
Study/Meditation: What does it mean that this Law which shows our imperfections is “the law of liberty”? How can you reconcile this phrase with what Jesus said in Matthew 5:48, “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”?
*Father, forgive me for the many times I go away from Your Word without applying what You’ve told me there. Help me to be wise in my life, heeding what is written there and living it out every day. Amen.
James 1:23-24 “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”
James is using a very familiar analogy in these verses. Ancient mirrors were usually made of polished brass or bronze. The reflections seen in them were generally fuzzy and hard to make out unless the person was willing to move the mirror around, studying it in order to find the best angle. James says that when a person listens to God’s Word intently, going to church and looking the part, but doesn’t then do what God’s Word says, that person is just like one who turns those ancient mirrors to and fro trying to find the perfect angle for reflection and then goes away forgetting what he just saw. The Word is a perfect reflection of our imperfections, showing us what we should do while simultaneously revealing how utterly inadequate we are on our own to do those things. When we really listen and then apply what it says, only then can we find the answers to these imperfections, which is our Lord, Jesus Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and we find Him in God’s Word. We must do what it says in order to say that we are His. (1 John 3:10)
Study/Meditation: What is an example of looking intently into God’s Word and then not doing what it says in your everyday life? What can you do today to alleviate that issue?
*Father, thank You for Your Word which shows me my imperfections while also showing me the way to You through Jesus. Forgive me of my daily faults and inadequacies in obeying Your laws and help me persevere in them. Amen.
James 1:22 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
In any given church on any given Sunday one will find many in attendance. From the outside they are attentive, well-behaved, and in many cases even smiling. They listen to the sermon, nodding at the appropriate moments and giving a hearty “Amen” when prompted. To all outward appearances, they are dedicated followers of Christ. But what do their lives look like? Jesus said that you would know good trees when they bear good fruit. (Matthew 12:33) This good fruit is shown in a life that exemplifies what it hears of the Word. Don’t deceive yourself, James warns. Just because you go to church and listen to the Word as it is taught does not make you a Christian. We must listen and then do what we hear. We must live as those who know this life saving truth, showing a dying world how precious is our Jesus. By all means, we should attend church and hear the teaching of the Word, but then we must apply what we hear when we leave that building. This is a good warning for us all.
Study/Meditation: How does Jesus’ teaching about good trees bearing only good fruit coincide with James’ teaching on being not only hearers of the Word but also doers? How can you personally improve in this area?
*Father, help me to apply Your Word in my everyday life. Give me wisdom in this life to remember Your truths and live a life worthy of this calling. Amen
James 1:21 “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
James is reminiscent here of what Paul tells us when he says we are to put off the old self and put on the new. (Ephesians 4:24) In this case, James is specific in reminding us that we are to put away “filthiness and rampant wickedness” that comes primarily from our speech. Again, if we will listen, particularly to God’s Word, then we will be sanctified to Him. As James has already alluded to, this takes humility, or “meekness.” Listening requires putting self aside and engaging our minds on things that are not from us. As believers, our responsibility is to listen to God’s Word, which then becomes a part of us when we listen to it. And again, we often fail at this in the midst of trials and troubles. During those times, let us depend on the Word of God as our guide, listening to it and speaking less. This humble obedience will not only save our souls, but it will save us plenty of heartache.
Study/Meditation: Why do you think James refers to God’s Word in this verse as the “implanted word”? How can we be sure that it is implanted?
*Father, help me to be a more active listener to Your Word. Forgive me for my pride when I speak instead of listen to You. Thank You for loving me and for Your patient mercy toward me. Amen.
James 1:19-20 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.”
Yesterday we looked at the first part of this verse where James tells us we need to listen more than we speak. One of the biggest reasons this is the case is so that we will be slow to anger. Remember that just before James speaks of these things, he wrote about how we must behave in the midst of trials and tribulations, behaving correctly because we know that God has made us the firstfruits of His creation. James is still reminding us of how to behave while on this earth in terms of the troubles here, now by describing how we need to respond with our speech. This will greatly determine our propensity toward anger. It is truly amazing how much anger we can avoid if we will but stay silent instead of speaking quickly. This anger which is born of man-centered indignation does not result in the righteousness required by God, and as the firstfruits of His creation, we must seek to attain to that sanctified righteousness.
Study/Meditation: Why do you think being slow to speak equals being slow to anger? What is the difference between the “anger of man” and God’s “righteous indignation”?
*Father, forgive me for the times that I allow my sin nature to dictate my emotions. Help me to be patient with my fellow man and to project only Your love and Your ways. Amen.