The Expository Files


Listening & Living: A Vital Connection

James 1:19-27

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (Jas. 1:19-27)

When I read a paragraph in the Bible, once I’m convinced I have a united section or complete thought, it helps me to observe how it begins and how it ends. Once I find the beginning and end, I can go back to trace the movement from start to finish. That process pays rich dividends in learning.

With James 1:19-27 it is easy to do this. It begins with listening and ends with living. “Let every man be swift to hear,” or “quick to listen,” (NIV). As you move toward verse 27, listening moves toward living: “be doers of the word,” (22), and “what kind of man,” (24), etc.

In the attention we give to the Bible, if we don’t get this we miss the whole point! If we listen and learn, but never live what the Bible teaches, we fail. The whole point of having a Bible class – for example – is to listen with such a good heart, you leave the class prepared to live better. Listening that falls short of practical living is incomplete.

Typical human behavior is the perpetuation of a careless pattern of living: we don’t listen, we talk too much and we get mad too easy and we make little progress. And it may be, we read the Bible, attend Bible classes and listen to Bible preaching – but never get it all connected in daily life. James wants us to see the vital connection between listening and living. Consider what emerges from the text.

(1) In order to listen, you’ll have to be quiet. Our elementary school teachers admonished us, “You cannot talk and listen at the same time,” and they were right. Try it. It is very hard to listen efficiently while you are talking. Could this be one reason why the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians (in 1 Cor. 14:22-40), about only one speaker at a time? Have you ever observed in television interviews and debates, when several speak at the same time, no information gets through that mumbled barrier. In order to listen to what God is telling us in His Word (whether we are reading or listening to biblical instruction), we must be quiet. One of the ringing phrases from the Old Testament is, “Let all the earth be silent before Him…”

(2) Certain emotions can get in the way of good listening, “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” There is a mature objectivity we must bring to the task of listening. For example, if we are emotionally sensitive to certain subjects, we need to deliberately set those emotions out of the way when listening to God’s Word. If we are defensive, sensitive, or in a reactive mood, those feelings can stand in the way of good listening. Talking, getting mad, impulsive self-defense and a debating mode can all keep us from good listening and learning.

(3) Good listening and learning is enhanced by good intentions. One who intends to “lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness,” and become a “doer” is prepared to listen and learn. Every time we open the Bible, sit at the feet of a faithful teacher or listen to a gospel preacher, foremost in our mind there should be a basic desire to give up sin and actively embrace what is right. That expectation of mind (I want to learn and change and do better) is vital to wise living and eternal hope.

(4) There is a difference between learning and living. First, we must listen and learn what God wants us to know. But as we are listening and learning, we must be translating that knowledge into practice (living). James begins this passage with a call to listen. It ends with a call to live out daily, pure and undefiled religion.

Listening and living. Does that resonate with you?

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 17.2; February 2010