James: Be Quick to Hear, Slow to Speak

In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.  This you know, my beloved brethren.  But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

James 1:18-20

Last week’s article on James ended with some comments on verse 18, with the promise of more thoughts on that verse to come in this week’s study.  James says that God “brought us forth.”  The concept behind the Greek term (apokyeo) carries with it the idea of producing through breeding, giving birth.  The New Testament repeatedly promotes the concept of Christians being “born again” (John 3:3-5; cf. Tit. 3:4-5).  How does God “bring us forth” or cause us to be “born again”?  James says it is “by the word of truth.”  Peter would agree, telling us that we “have been born again…through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23).  If not for heeding the guidance of the Bible, brethren, we would not be Christians in the first place.  We would not have been saved from sin, “brought forth” by God, “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:4-5) which is baptism (1 Pet. 3:21; Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38).  For these reasons alone the Word of God ranks highly among “every good thing given and every perfect gift…from the Father of lights” (1:17).

We need to heed the guidance of God’s Word in order to be the “kind of first fruits among His creatures” which He wants us to be (1:18).  The “first fruits” of the crops of Old Testament Israel were the best of their crops, chosen to offer to God in grateful sacrifice, understood as belonging to God.  We as Christians are to be the “first fruits” from all of his creation, the spiritual offerings who “present (our) bodies a living and holy sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). i.e., ourselves, every aspect of our lives in service to God.  If that is to happen as it should, we must “receive the word implanted (1:21, emphasis added).  We must “prove (ourselves) doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (1:22).  So the Word of God must be “implanted” within us, stored up “in (our) hearts that (we) may not sin” against God (Ps. 119:11). 

This is why James first tells us to “be quick to hear” (1:19a).  How can we be “doers of the word” if we aren’t even hearing it first?  God’s Word must not be noise in the background, Christians.  It does us no good to come to these worship assemblies and sit through Bible sermons if we are not listening to them, and even more so listening with the mindset of putting what we hear from Scripture into action.  No, we as faithful Christians must be anxious to listen closely to God’s Word, “receiv(ing) the word with great eagerness” (Acts 17:11), “like newborn babies long(ing) for the pure milk of the word” (1 Pet. 2:2). 

Furthermore, this godly trait of being “quick to hear” must also apply in our dealings with our fellow man.  Thus, James also tells us to be “slow to speak and slow to anger” (1:19b).  In God’s view, the one who cares more about speaking his own thoughts and opinions than he does listening and considering the views of others is a fool (Prov. 18:2).  He considers the one who “restrains his lips” to be “prudent,” as opposed to the one whose “words are many”; “transgression” will not be “lacking” to that person (Prov. 10:19).  How often are we quick to speak and slow to hear, instead of the other way around?  This is one reason why it is hard to be “slow to anger.”  Heated arguments often come from misunderstandings which would have been avoided if both parties had been “quick to hear and slow to speak.”  A sign of true spirituality is the trait of patient forbearance, being laid back, being very slow to anger.

This is because “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (1:19c).  Next week’s article will examine why this is so.                                                                 

— Jon

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