You are currently viewing James 1:19-26 Be Doers as well as Hearers of the Word

James 1:19-26 Be Doers as well as Hearers of the Word

Are you a doer as well as a hearer of the word of God? “Instead of blaming God under our trials, let us open our ears and hearts to learn what He teaches by them.”[i] James/Jacob was writing to the twelve tribes scattered abroad who had the Tanakh (Old Testament), whilst the Brit Hadasha (New Testament) was being written. James quotes the Proverbs so frequently that his book is sometimes thought of as a New Testament form of Proverbs, imploring us to live wisely.

He also frequently uses the term ‘my beloved brethren/brethren’. James is writing to the assembly (cf. James 2:2-congregation/synagogue) and this term ‘my brethren’ frequently initiates a new line of thought and in doing so, identifies himself with them.[ii] Note that although Yacov was Yeshua’s (Jesus’) brother, he wrote with great humility as a bondservant of the Lord and to his hearers as ‘brothers’.

Are your words and actions godly?

Believers are to be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath (James 1:19). Swiftness to hear is characterised by a readiness to listen, first and foremost to the word of God. In the Parable of the Sower, Yeshua emphasised in Matthew 13:9, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Also, to the seven congregations in Revelation He frequently stated, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

James exemplified what he preached at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. He listened silently without interrupting, weighed what was spoken and gave a balanced judgement.[iii]We would do well to do the same. When there is a dispute, do you listen attentively and think through the matter first? Or do you go on the offensive and find yourself backtracking since you were too quick to speak? Do you evaluate a matter before giving your opinion? Are you willing to hear your faults? Can you do so in a gracious way knowing that faithful are the wounds of a friend? How many arguments have arisen putting the cart before the horse, or not thinking before we speak? How often we fail to regulate what we are thinking before we open our mouths!

David Stern writes with considerable insight. “The history of Jewish-Christian relations is riddled with the sad consequences of believer’s failure to heed this verse. If Jews have tenaciously refused to trust in Yeshua, it is partly because frustrated Christians have attempted to accomplish God’s righteousness throughout their own anger. It cannot be done. Jews receive God’s righteousness through Gentile believers’ mercy not their anger (Romans 11:31), through their humility not their arrogance (Romans 11:16-22).[iv]

Surely you have heard of the adage of being given one mouth and two ears and to use them in that proportion! James alluded to Solomon’s words in Proverbs frequently about being slow to speak. We must be slow to anger because that does not produce the righteousness of God. “In the garden, Peter was slow to hear, swift to speak, and swift to anger-and he almost killed a man with the sword. Many church fights are the result of short tempers and hasty words.”[v] Being slow to anger is evidence of self-control and a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The righteousness of the Lord should be our goal, not settling the score, winning and argument, or having the last word.

We must lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness. Many commentators relate this to the removing and distancing from soiled garments. In Greek thought, the mind, body and spirit are dichotomised, sometimes excusing ungodly behaviour, but in Hebrew thought they are connected, so we need to remove all sin from our lives. Filthiness is the opposite of holiness, vice the opposite of virtue and holy living is the goal in view.

Receiving the implanted word relates to horticulture hence the term ‘implanted’ or ‘engrafted’. James uses many natural illustrations throughout his letter so that we might comprehend spiritual truths. Hence, we need to remove filthiness and wickedness as if they were weeds in our garden. Once you have removed the weeds, would you replant them? Or would you remove them to prepare the soil to produce good fruit?

The weeds need to be uprooted and the word of God implanted. Let us think again about the Parable of the Sower. Some seed falls on the wayside and is quickly snatched away. Other seed falls on the stony ground yet it has no root and quickly stumbles. Still other seed falls on thorns and thistles and the cares and worries of the world choke it. It is unfruitful. But the one who hears and understands the word of God falls on good soil and bears fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Receiving the word of God is the primary means of keeping us from sinning. How do you receive the word? Either sin will keep you from reading the Bible, or the Bible will keep you from sin.

Are you a doer as well as a hearer of the word?

We are to be doers as well as hearers of the word of God, not deceiving ourselves. Unlike other literature, the Bible gives us commands and provides blessings and warnings. Some books inform us, others broaden our horizons, or develop our imagination. The Bible requires us to be doers although a forgetful hearer is like a barren fruit tree. How many times have our Jewish friends enquired, “That is what you believe, but what do you do?” Once someone has received the implanted word, we can be useful by bearing fruit for the Lord.

How do you respond to the word of God? Listening to sermons and reading the word is vital. But do you listen to sermons to be informed, or transformed? Do you read the Bible to be informed, or conformed to Him? We need to be informed and knowledge is of great importance and at one point in Israel’s history we read, “My People are destroyed through lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). You may not know the entire scope of the law of this land, but you must know God’s Law if you want to live for Him. We also need wisdom, the skilful application of knowledge evidenced thoroughly daily living that is godly. If you lack wisdom then ask the Lord for wisdom who gives to all liberally (James 1:5).

How can we be doers of the word and not simply hearers, deceiving ourselves? If we read the Bible merely out of curiosity then it will have no benefit for eternity. If we listen to sermons out of novelty, we run the risk of becoming forgetful hearers. When you read Scripture, ask, how can I apply this in what I do? When you listen to a sermon making notes will often prove helpful and aid concentration. But then we can consider how to use that to love God and our neighbour and strive for holiness.

Remember the Parable of the Two Sons. Can you relate to one, or possibly even, both? A man instructed his first son to go and work in the vineyard. He refused but later regretted that and he went. The man said to his second son to go and work in the vineyard. He responded politely that he would go, but he did not go. One was paying lip service, yet the other felt regret and he did the real service.

James sets out an example of someone who is a hearer but not a doer. A man observes his natural face in a mirror and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. When we look into a mirror, we can clearly see adjustments that are needed to correct our faults. The Bible is like a mirror which not only informs us but demands that we change. If we fail to act on what God reveals through His word, it is like being offered a prescription from a doctor and failing to correct that prescription from the pharmacy and not using it.

Our mirrors provide more clarity than in the Ancient World. Our mirrors are made of glass though ancient mirrors were from bronze, silver or gold that was polished. We have the whole of Scripture revealed to us and we have no excuse. We must look at God’s word intently and act on it. We can examine ourselves and the word of God helps us to study ourselves in the light of God’s revealed truth. If we fail to act on this, our sanctification will ground to a halt and we will bear limited fruit.

This contrasts with the one who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it. There is also a promise that this one will be blessed in whatever he does. Yeshua stated, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Obeying God by responding to His word sets us free since if we love Him, we will obey His commandments (John 14:15). Furthermore, God’s word is truth and He sanctifies us by His truth (John 17:17).

From the outset this epistle provides comfort in the context of enduring trials. The man who has endured temptation, when he has been approved will receive the crown of life (James 1:12). Also relating to the book of Revelation, Revelation 1:3 exhorts us that the one who reads the book will be blessed by hearing and keeping the things written in it. The Congregation in Smyrna would face testing and tribulation (Revelation 2:10) and the blessing was that if they were faithful, they would receive the crown of life.

It is imperative to focus on what God has called you to do and consider how you can serve the Lord. If you are quick to list the faults of others, train yourself to think carefully, before you open your mouth. Your mouth will eventually speak what is in your heart, so be slow to speak and to anger. We may make it to every meeting but unless we control our tongues, we deceive ourselves. As David Stern so helpfully summarises, anyone who thinks he is frum, but does not control his tongue is deceiving himself.[vi]

Is your religion, pure and undefiled before God?

Godly speech and godly action are vital. James writes about pure and undefiled religion as visiting orphans and widows and keeping oneself unspotted from the world. Caring for the poor and personal holiness are themes running throughout the Scriptures. James is writing to a Jewish audience but the message is for everyone.

What do Charles Spurgeon, George Muller and William Wilberforce have in common? They all had a noticeable love for the Jewish people and were intensely practical. Spurgeon encouraged his hearers to bless Jewish people with the gospel and he loved them. He reminds us that our Saviour is Jewish and the Seed of Abraham, His friend. Spurgeon was involved in numerous practical missions to help those in need.

George Muller considered working in Jewish Missions and was supportive of the same. Without asking for money, God provided him with the resources to care for 10, 024 orphans, throughout his lifetime. Wilberforce was greatly involved in Jewish mission in the UK. He also helped to make slave trade illegal. These men were hearers as well as doers of the word. A practical note on holiness is that they were so busy serving the Lord that they had little time to be polluted by the world.

Let me tell you about a friend of mine. He is a regular guy and a doer/hearer of the word. He loves Jewish people and was desperate to reach Jewish people with the gospel. One of his daughters told me that when he says grace at mealtimes, he prays for the peace of Jerusalem. He saw me once and until his health permitted, helped me reach Jewish people with the gospel. He was so keen that he stated, “I will clean toilets or do whatever is needed to reach Jewish people and serve them.”

This man lost one eye in his early twenties and he adopted six children from Zimbabwe. His wife passed away and one of his daughters was murdered yet he still faithfully serves the Lord. He has served the Lord under intense trials. How does he keep himself unspotted from the world? He reads his Bible and applies it. He controls his tongue and is a good witness.

What else do Charles Spurgeon, George Muller and William Wilberforce have and my friend have in common? They have all repented and trusted in the Lord. They recognised that He is holy and they are not. They needed to turn to Him and the Bible is like a mirror, showing them how they have sinned. But they knew that when they die/died, they will be spared the judgement and go to be with the Lord. They were doers as well as hearers of the word of God. So, have you turned to the Lord and are you a doer as well as a hearer of the word of God?

[i] Matthew Henry Matthew Henry Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Moody Press, Chicago), p970

[ii] Arnold G. Fructenbaum Ariel’s Bible Commentary The Messianic Jewish Epistles Hebrews-James I&II Peter-Jude Exposition from a Messianic Jewish Perspective (Ariel, 2005; San Antonio), p231

[iii] G. Waugh What the Bible Teaches James (John Ritchie Ltd, 1992; Kilmarnock), p292

[iv] David H. Stern Jewish New Testament Commentary (Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc, 1992; Clarksville), p726

[v] Warren W. Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary The Complete NT in one volume (David C. Cook, 2007; Colorado Springs), p858

[vi] Stern, p728