Hearing and Doing

James 1:19-27

SS Lesson for 08/09/2020


Devotional Scripture: Luke 6:43-49

Lesson Background and Key Verse

Background from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary

The title of today's lesson gets at what is really a fundamental human problem: the disconnect in our hearts and minds between hearing and doing. The problem is not really a lack of information but rather what we do or don't do with it. Consider: we know so much about what we should or should not be eating, yet we find it difficult to adhere to healthy dietary guidelines. Some have pointed to the problem of an “attention economy.” Our attention is scarce, the argument goes, and is therefore valuable. Advertisers, tech companies, and social media platforms recognize this and capitalize on it. Advertising is everywhere. Even gas stations have pumps fitted with display screens in order to advertise while we fill our tanks. In the midst of all this noise, we learn quickly how to tune out calls to action. We become so practiced in this that it can be difficult to tune in to the calls that are truly important. Today's lesson has something valuable to teach us in that regard.


Amid all that the Creator provided Adam and Eve in the garden—amid all the evidence of God's goodness—the first humans heard the command not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden. But they failed to do what God commanded (Genesis 3) when they failed to tune out a contradictory voice. The disconnect between hearing and doing was and is at the heart of sin. This is also the story of Israel. Even after clear evidence of God's presence during the exodus, the Israelites failed to obey, instead creating an idol to worship (Exodus 32). During the time of the judges, the Israelites went through relentless cycles of oppression, deliverance, and relapse. They never seemed to make the connection between their actions and the results. This pattern was fundamentally a problem of the heart (see Proverbs 4:23). The power of speech is likewise a thread that can be traced through Scripture, beginning in Genesis 3. As we study, we remember the context of James's audience: economic oppression, some infighting, and persecution (see James 2:1-7; 3:13-4:12; 5:1-6).


Key Verse: James 1:22

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves


Commentary from the Bible Knowledge Commentary

Believers are in danger of falling before the attacks and pressures of trials. But they are also subject to falling before the attractions and pleasures of temptation. Just as a wrong reaction to testing will obstruct spiritual growth and maturity, so will a wrong response to temptation. James outlined the source of temptation, the steps in temptation, and the solution for temptation.

1:13. James offered a sharp rebuke to those who find an easy excuse for their sinning. To free themselves from responsibility they say, “I am tempted by God,” or “from God” (apo theou), denoting the origin, not merely the agency. James made it abundantly clear God cannot be tempted. There is nothing in God to which evil can make an appeal. He is literally “untemptable” (apeirastos; cf. Heb. 4:15). Furthermore, He tempts no one. God often tests, but He never tempts.

1:14. The source of temptation is from within a person; it is his own evil desire, lust, or inner craving. He is dragged away and enticed. This inner craving draws a person out (exelkomenos) like a fish drawn from its hiding place, and then entices him (deleazomenos, from the verb deleazō “to bait, to catch a fish with bait, or hunt with snares”). So a person both builds and baits his own trap.

1:15-16. The biological imagery is vivid. The lust or desire conceives and from this conception sin is born. The unmentioned father is most certainly Satan. The grotesque child, sin, then matures and produces its own offspring, death. The steps are all too clear: unchecked lust yields sin, and unconfessed sin brings death. How strange that sin gives birth to death. It may seem strange, but James warned his dear brothers and sisters who were to read this “genealogy” not to be deceived or led astray. Just as a right response to trials can result in growth to full spiritual maturity, so a wrong response to lust will result in decline to abject spiritual poverty and ultimately to death itself.

1:17-18. In stark contrast with the morbid scene of death that descends from unbridled lust is the bright scene of new life that emanates from the Word of truth (v. 18; cf. Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5). The father of darkness—Satan (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13)—generates the offspring of sin and death. The Father of the heavenly lights (i.e., God, who created the starry universe) gives salvation and life and is unchanging. Shadows from the sun shift, but not the One who made the sun! The words, every good and perfect gift is from above, have a poetic cadence in Greek. They are literally, “every good act of giving (dosis) and every perfect gift (dōrēma) is from above.” The solution for temptation is to be found in a close relationship with the Father and a constant response to His Word. One must rest in the unchangeable Lord of light and rely on His life-giving “Word of truth” (cf. Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:15). There is no reason why one of God’s chosen firstfruits, or regenerated believers, has to yield to temptation. He must learn to resist its deadly force, or he can never grow into the spiritual maturity God desires of His children of light (Eph. 5:8; 1 Thes. 5:5). Ultimately the key both to responding to trials and resisting temptation is to be found in one’s reaction to God’s Word. Receptivity to the Word, responsiveness to the Word, and resignation to the Word are essential to spiritual growth. One must accept God’s Word, act on it, and abide by it.

1:19-20. Again James identified with his audience, My dear brothers, and then made it clear that what was to follow was of great importance: take note of this, or “know this” (iste). A threefold injunction follows: let everyone... be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. In an argument, of course, the one who is listening rather than lambasting is the one who is slow to anger (cf. 3:1-12). Anger fails to yield the righteous life that God desires, the goal to which this epistle is committed.

1:21. Consequently it is essential to put away, or remove, all moral filth (ryparian, used only here in the NT; cf. rypara, “shabby,” in 2:2) and all the abundance of evil, and humbly (lit., “in meekness”) receive the implanted Word. “Planted” (emphyton, used only here in the NT) contrasts with grafted. The Word is to be ingrown or inborn, rooted in the fertile soil of the soul. It is that Word of God which can save.

1:22. It is not sufficient, however, to receive the Word; one must respond to it in active obedience. The command is clear, Do not merely listen to the Word.... Do what it says. One must “become,” or “keep on becoming” (ginesthe), a doer of the Word and not just a hearer. The growing numbers of sermon-sippers who flit from one doctrinal dessert to another like helpless hummingbirds are deceiving themselves. “Deceiving” is from a verb used in the New Testament only here and in Colossians 2:4. Paralogizomai means “to cheat or deceive by false reasoning.” The deception comes from thinking they have done all that is necessary when actually listening to the Word is only the beginning. A fitting illustration of the “sit, soak, and sour” crowd follows.

1:23-24. The one who listens and does nothing is like a man who glances at his face in a mirror and then forgets what he saw. It is interesting that James cited a man (andri) in this illustration. A woman would probably not give just a cursory glance, and if she saw a flaw she would probably do what she could to cover it or correct it. Not so this man who sees the “face of his birth” (prosōpon tēs geneseōs) and then forgets about it.

1:25. To look into the mirror of the Word of God involves an obligation. One must look intently into the perfect Law that gives freedom. The intent and sustained look with a ready response is the key to spiritual strength and continued maturity. The word for “looks intently into” (parakypsas) literally means “to stoop down” in order to have a good close look. The “Law that gives freedom” seems like a paradox. Law seems to imply restraint and therefore a lack of freedom. Not so with God’s Law. His perfect Law provides true freedom. “Hold to My teaching,” Christ said, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). One who does what God decrees will find full liberty and will be blessed in what he does. Receptivity to the Word and responsiveness to its revelation must be coupled with a new approach to life. One must be resigned to continued obedience and perpetual practice.

1:26. One who is truly religious will demonstrate it by controlled speech. The word “religious” (thrēskos) refers to external observances. The outward ritualistic practices which a person may think are commendable are considered to be worthless (mataios, “futile, fruitless, useless”) if there is no parallel control, or tight rein on the tongue, a theme elaborated more fully in 3:1-12. Such a person deceives himself (apatōn kardian heautou, lit., “misleads or seduces his own heart”; cf. a different word for deceive in 1:22).

1:27. A clean and undefiled religion is one in which one’s conduct and character are disciplined in accordance with God’s Word. The Greek word thrēskeia (religion) appears only four times in the New Testament and two of those occurrences are here (cf. Col. 2:18; Acts 26:5). It is apparent that God’s emphasis is not on religious ritual but on right living. James outlined what God the Father (cf. “Father” in James 1:17) stresses: look after orphans and widows—referring to one’s conduct, and keep oneself from being polluted—referring to one’s character. “From being polluted” translates one word aspilon, “spotless” (cf. 1 Tim. 6:14; 1 Peter 1:19; 2 Peter 3:14), in contrast with moral filth (James 1:21). A believer with God-pleasing “religion” helps others in need—and thus is faultless (lit., “pure, undefiled”), and keeps himself pure (lit., “clean”). This is not a definition of religion but rather a contrast to mere acts of worship and ritualistic observances that are commonly called “religion.” Again, the goal is a mature Christian walk and practical holiness. What does it take to achieve that goal? The first step is to stand with confidence. Trials or temptations will not topple one who is anchored in God’s truth and is applying that truth to his life.


Major Theme Analysis

(Scriptural Text from the New King James Version; cross-references from the NIV)

Hearing the Word (James 1:19-21)


19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;

20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

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


Results of hearing the Word (19)

Hearing the gospel (Rom 10:14)

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

Hearing about the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2)

2 and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."

Hearing the Word of God (1 Thess 2:13)

13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.

Hearing about the Holy Spirit (Rev 2:7)

7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

From death to life because of hearing God's word (John 5:24)

24 "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

Joy and praise because of hearing God's word (Acts 13:48)

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

No condemnation because of hearing God's word and believing it (John 5:24)

24 "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.


Righteousness of the Word (20)

God's word produces a harvest of righteousness (Luke 8:15)

15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

A righteousness that is declared to those who are obedient to God's word (Rom 2:13)

13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

Righteousness is the obedience of God's Word (Deut 6:25)

25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness."

Righteousness through God's commands (Ps 119:172)

172 May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous.

Righteousness because God's Word is trustworthy (Ps 119:138)

138 The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy.

Righteousness because God's Word is good (Rom 7:12)

12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.


The implanting of God's Word (21)

Implanted so that we do not have to sin (Ps 119:11)

11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

Implanted so that we accept God's instructions (Job 22:22)

22 Accept instruction from his mouth and lay up his words in your heart.

Implanted so our feet won't slip (Ps 37:31)

31 The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.

Implanted to lead us to obedience (Ps 40:8)

8 I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."

Implanted so we will accept God's word (Prov 2:1)

2 My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you,

Implanted for us to recognize what is right (Isa 51:7)

7 "Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have my law in your hearts: Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults.

Implanted to teach and admonish one another (Col 3:16)

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.


Doing the Word (James 1:22-27)


22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

23 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;

24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

25 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.

26 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.

27 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.


Doing Word is more than hearing only (22)

It is more than saying Lord, Lord  (Matt 7:21)

21 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.

It is doing God's Will (Matt 12:50)

50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother."

It is keeping the Word of God (Luke 11:28)

28 But He said, "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"

It is being a good steward of the Word (Luke 12:47-48)

47 And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.

It is being justified by doing God's Word (Rom 2:13)

 13 for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified;


Doing Word is continually observing it and living it (23-25)

By not forgetting God's Word (Ps 119:16)

16 I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.

By ensuring our hearts are in line with our words (Ezek 33:31)

31 So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain.

By abiding in Jesus through the Word (John 15:4-8)

4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.

By being steadfast in living God's Word (2 Tim 3:14-15)

14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.


Doing Word is more than religious words (26)

It is being sanctified, doing good, seeking justice and defending the helpless (Isa 1:15-17)

15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. 16 "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.

It is not being a hypocrite, but being near to God in heart and deed (Matt 15:6-9)

7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"

It is not letting our mouth cause us to sin (Eccl 5:6)

6 Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands?

It is giving God our hearts and observing His ways (Prov 23:26)

26 My son, give me your heart, And let your eyes observe my ways.

It is manifesting the fruit of God (Jer 12:2)

2 You have planted them, yes, they have taken root; They grow, yes, they bear fruit. You are near in their mouth  But far from their mind.


Doing Word is helping the helpless (27)

Helping by undoing bonds and burdens of the oppressed (Isa 58:6-7)

6 "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?

Helping by feeding, clothing, visiting and entertaining the needy (Matt 25:34-40)

34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' 37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40 And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'

Helping by at every opportunity doing good (Gal 6:10)

10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Helping by providing to those in need when we have it (1 John 3:17-18)

17 But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.


Doing Word is keeping oneself unpolluted by the world (27)

By not being conformed to this world (Rom 12:2)

2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

By being delivered from this evil age (Gal 1:4)

4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

By not being friends with the world (James 4:4)

4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

By not loving the world (1 John 2:15-17)

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.16 For all that is in the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- is not of the Father but is of the world.17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

By overcoming the world (1 John 5:4-5)

4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith.5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

By being born of God (1 John 5:18)

18 We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.


Conclusion and Other Thoughts

Commentary Thoughts from Bob Deffinbaugh

When Temptations Arise, Who Do You Blame? (James 1:13-18)

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. 15 Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death. 16 Do not be led astray, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change. 18 By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

It isn’t difficult to see a connection between adversity and temptation. In the midst of adversity, we may be tempted to think or act in a sinful manner. Many folks wrongly conclude that times of stress somehow justify ungodly responses. There is a sinister dimension to the words, “I am tempted by God.” It is one thing to say, “The devil made me do it;” it is quite another to lay the blame on God. You can see how one could twist reality to come to such a conclusion. Their distorted logic would go something like this:

God is sovereign; He is in control of everything.

God is the One who brings adversity into the lives of His people.

God has brought adversity into my life.

In such times of adversity, I am tempted to act in an ungodly manner.

If I yield to this temptation, I sin.

Therefore, God is the source of my temptation.

If I fail, it must be God’s fault, because He led me into temptation.

It seems to me that verses 13-18 take up the subject of the double-minded man, mentioned in verse 8. The double-minded person wavers between humble submission to God and prideful disobedience. It is that proud disobedience which seems to underlie the logic that blames God for our sin and names Him as the source of our temptation.

James speaks in very absolute terms in verses 13-18. He says that one should never blame God for the temptation we face. He also says that God cannot ever be tempted by evil, and that He never tempts anyone with evil. God tests us, but He never tempts us.11 Temptation, James tells us, comes from deep within us, and not from God. Jesus made this clear as well:

18 He said to them, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot make him unclean? 19 For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer.” (This means all foods are clean.) 20 He said, “What comes out of a person makes him unclean. 21 For from within, out of the human heart, comes evil ideas, immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. 23 All these evils come from within and make a person unclean” (Mark 7:18-23).

I like this quotation by John Owen, which I received by way of e-mail through “Christian Quotation of the Day”:

“Temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what was in him before.”
John Owen (1616-1683)

The God who cannot be tempted (because there is no sin within Him, which responds to temptation) does not tempt, either. Temptation comes from within the one tempted. It begins with desire, and when this desire is facilitated, the fruit it bears is that of sin. And sin results in death. Sin and death are the result of a sequence of events, all of which begin with a desire which is not proper, and which is not rejected and resisted.

When James says, “Do not be led astray, my brothers and sisters. . .,” he indicates that when we see God as the source of our sin, we have been terribly deceived. God is not the source of any temptation, but He is the source of any and every truly good gift. This God who does not tempt and who gives good gifts is immutable – He never changes. As James puts it, “there is no variation or the slightest hint of change” (verse 17). The God who is good and immutable is also sovereign (verse 18). It was through God’s initiative that we were brought to life, through the instrument of His Word (verse 18). If there is any basis for faith and stability, it is in knowing that God is good, that God is unchanging, and that He is sovereign. The good work which God began in us by saving us, He most surely can be expected to finish (see also Philippians 1:6). God is going to redeem all creation, which has suffered the curse as the result of the fall, and man’s salvation is a prototype, firstfruits of the subsequent salvation or restoration of “all things” (see Romans 8:18-25).

The Relation Between Word and Deed (James 1:19-27)

19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. 20 For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does. 26 If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

God sends adversity our way to perfect us, as James indicated in verses 2-4. Adversity reveals our deficiencies, and God graciously provides for our needs in times of trial, producing maturity and wholeness (without deficiency). While God uses adversity to perfect His saints, adversity often brings out the worst in men. Not only are we more prone to anger and harsh words, we may strike out in anger. No wonder James has already warned us about blaming God for tempting us (verses 13-18).

James has already assured us that when we lack wisdom and ask for it in faith, God will give it to us (verses 5-7). That wisdom will often come from the Word of God, but it may also come from those who can give godly counsel from the Word, often from those who have endured such affliction themselves (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-7). We should therefore be quick to hear and to heed godly counsel. Conversely, we should be slow to speak and slow to anger. How easy it is to “blow up” in times of adversity, saying and doing things that are foolish and hurtful.

Some people have learned that anger is a way of manipulating others. How many children today get their way by throwing a fit? Anger actually does work, in that it intimidates others, or makes them feel guilty, so that they give in to us in an unhealthy way. Human anger may produce sinful results, but James tells us that it will never achieve God’s righteousness. The flesh never produces righteousness, and human anger is a manifestation of the flesh:

16 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh; for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, carousings, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another (Galatians 5:16-26).

We have two choices as Christians. Either we may surrender to the passions of the flesh, which lead to death, or we may surrender to the implanted Word of God, which “is able to save our souls” (verse 21). James has just told us that it is the Word of God that was the instrument of our conversion; now he tells us that the Word of God is the instrument of our sanctification. As you can see, I understand the expression “able to save your souls” as a reference to the present aspect of our salvation. There is a past dimension (our initial conversion), a present dimension (our sanctification), and a future dimension -- our ultimate perfection (when we go to be with Him; see 1 John 3:2) – to our salvation.

Merely hearing God’s Word is not enough. Even studying and comprehending great portions of the Bible is inadequate. The Bible is a book to be read, and practiced, just as our Lord taught:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. . . 24 “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house; but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was a tremendous fall!” (Matthew 7:21, 24-27).

“If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17).

Jesus used very strong words when He rebuked the scribes and Pharisees. Perhaps the most common term He used to describe them was “hypocrites!” They said one thing and did another. They believed certain things to be true, but they did not act accordingly:

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples, 2 “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach” (Matthew 23:1-3).

James does not wish this to be true of the saints, and so he urges them to hear the Word of God and to heed it, by putting it into practice. He then articulates two primary areas of application, which I believe are very instructive. The first area of application is personal. He characterizes a saint as looking carefully into the Word, and when he or she does so, the Word reveals them for what they are, as we see also in Hebrews:

12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to his eyes to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:12-13).

The Word of God exposes all of our sins, all of our weaknesses, all of our needs. If we are to be doers of the Word and not just hearers, then we must do something about those sins that our study of the Word reveals. To study the Word of God without applying it is useless and foolish. When we study God’s Word and heed it, then we are blessed in what we do. If we do not apply the Word in our deeds, we miss much of God’s blessing. James leaves us with just one specific area of personal application at this point (though he will take up the subject of the tongue later on – see chapter 3): keeping reign on our tongue (verse 26). We appear to be going back to verse 19 and to James’ instruction to be “slow to speak.”

If there is one thing I like about James, it is that his writing is incredibly simple and straightforward. There are always those, like the lawyer in Luke 10, who want to quibble over details (10:29), but the Bible speaks so plainly that this is really hard to do. Why is it that so many seem to think that spirituality is measured by the quantity of our speech, while the Scriptures frequently instruct us to be quiet (see also 1 Corinthians 14:26-38; 1 Peter 2:18—3:7)?

If the first area of application is directed toward one’s self, the second area of application is directed toward ones’ neighbors, and in particular, those who are in need:

“Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).

How often we wish to use our Bible knowledge in other ways. We prefer to teach our neighbors, even when they don’t wish to be taught. We prefer to correct our fellow-believers, because their understanding of the Word is not identical with ours. We may prefer to point out the sins of others. There certainly is a proper time for teaching and preaching and even rebuking, but here James tells us that the proper application of the Word is to come to the aid of widows and orphans. (You will recall that when Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for being hypocrites in Matthew 23, He specifically mentioned that they pray long prayers, but steal widows’ houses (23:14)). The real test of religion is how one who is strong deals with those who are weak. The biblical model is that the strong use their strengths to minister to the needs of the weak.

James begins with the personal application of the Word – taking heed to its mirror message; he then moves to the public application of the Word – caring for the widows and the orphans in their affliction. But James then moves back, once again, to the personal application of God’s Word: we are to keep ourselves unstained from the world (verse 27).

As I read the Book of Hebrews, I see the author being greatly concerned about his readers, who are Jewish Christians. Their identification with Christ has brought them considerable persecution, and for some time they have endured. But as time has passed, there are some who appear to have begun toying with the idea of falling back by keeping step with the world. The writer urges them to persevere and to endure:

32 But remember the former days when you endured a harsh conflict of suffering after you were enlightened. 33 At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and afflictions, and at other times you came to share with others who were treated in that way. 34 For in fact you shared the sufferings of those in prison, and you accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew that you certainly had a better and lasting possession. 35 So do not throw away your confidence, because it has great reward. 36 For you need endurance in order to do God’s will and so receive what is promised. 37 For “just a little longer” and “he who is coming will arrive and not delay.” 38But my righteous one will live by faith, and if he shrinks back, I take no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not among those who shrink back and thus perish, but are among those who have faith and preserve their souls (Hebrews 10:32-39, underscoring mine).

James seems to be saying the same thing the writer to the Hebrews says. They are to endure adversity with a stability that is grounded in faith. They are not to waver between loving and serving God and loving this present world. They are to deal with the sins that the Word reveals, and they are to avoid the sins that the world urges us to enjoy.

                                   (Adapted from URL:https://bible.org/seriespage/1-accepting-adversity-james-11-27)


Concluding Thoughts from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary

From the time we can first utter individual words like “Mama” or “Daddy,” we like to talk. As we grow up, our speech helps to form our identity and to distinguish ourselves from others. Talking is, by and large, extremely beneficial. It helps us work through problems, ask for help, comfort others, unburden ourselves, and so forth.

On the other hand, sometimes we just like to hear ourselves talk. It appeals to our pride, makes us feel smart, and can make us feel superior to those around us. James understands this about human nature. He understands that often our words are not as beneficial—either to us or to those around us—as we may like to think. What is best, rather, is when our thoughtfully slow words result in or are accompanied by action. This is especially true when it comes to our posture toward our fellow believers who are most vulnerable and in need. Consider the thoughts of the apostle John on this subject: But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:17, 18). Openness to what God has to say is the starting point for faithful speech and for the action that accompanies or follows it. The principles of today's first-century text can be brought readily into the twenty-first century. Do we not deal with the same problems of words in relation to action? In one respect or another, God's Word reveals in all of us our stubborn tendency to run our lives on our terms—to value words and actions (or lack of either) in ways that God does not. If we do so after we have confessed that God's way is the only way, then it is time to allow God's Word to assess ourselves anew.


Concluding Thoughts from the Echoes Commentary

God's Word - The Scriptures paint a picture of the wise as those who put the Bible into shoe leather. They hear what the Scriptures say, then allow the Holy Spirit to live it out in their lives. Those who walk in wisdom see God's Word as a daily guide with practical, divine directions for their personal lives.


The Conversation - Wise people listen more than they talk because they value what other people say. They listen to other people, assuring them their thoughts and ideas are worthwhile. Even if they disagree, wise people patiently allow others to make their point instead of jumping to an angry conclusion or refusing to listen.


The Obedience - Wise people humbly open their minds and hearts to the Lord's teaching. They hear, receive, and commit to follow God's Word. They look in a mirror and remember what they see. They don't walk away and forget 10 minutes later what they look like. Those who claim to study God's Word which offers direction about living an abundant life, but shrug off or can't remember what it says, continue to wander and miss what God is telling them. The heavenly Father is working on transforming His children into the image of Christ. Church services and Bible studies should not involve merely collecting facts and figures, but be a place for a spiritual makeover (Rom. 12:1-2).


The Evidence - Growing Christians who are obedient to God's Word have the ability to control their tongues. They say things to others that build up, not tear down. They also care for and visit those who are downtrodden— for example, widows and orphans. In biblical days, widows and orphans stood out as desperately in need. Today, many are still in need along with others who society has forgotten or ignored. James challenged the believer to observe the world's methods and systems, in comparison to what God's Word says. It is always in one's best interest to go the biblical way.