Summary: 4th message in James Series. How to receive, react, and respond to the Word of God in obedience.
“The Bible: Highly Revered but Seldom Read” was the headline for a Christianity Today article reporting the results of a Gallup Poll. Americans expressed their attitudes toward God, the church, the Bible and their personal faith. Interestingly, 42 percent recognized in principle that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word. But, the article continued:
There was a time when the American people were more biblically literate [than they are today]. They took pains to learn the Bible because they acknowledged its authority not only in principle, but also in their daily lives. Having committed its teaching to their hearts, they made it a lamp unto their feet; they hid it away in their hearts as a hedge against sin. But those days have passed.
If we are ever to recover the authority of Scripture for our lives, we need to fill our minds with its content. We need to search it, meditate upon it, memorize it, and make it a part of ourselves. Pastors need to emphasize its significance from the pulpit and parents need to read it with their children. We need a nationwide recommitment to letting the Bible matter in our lives. [“The Bible: Highly Revered, But Seldom Read,” Christianity Today (March 21, 1980), 369].
James could not have agreed more. Knowing that belief must impact behavior, he insists that the Word that is learned must link with the Word that is lived. His requirement is simple: “Do what it says” (v. 22).
James spoke of the Word of God in v. 18. Now he tells us how to react to and receive the Word (vv. 19-21), and then respond obediently to its demands (vv.22-27).
I. HOW TO REACT TO THE WORD OF GOD - vv. 19-21
James addresses Christians. That is clear from the reference “My dear brothers.” But the word, “Everyone...” (v.19) includes all Christians, not just a group of super-saints. He calls for three reactions that will prepare us to properly receive the Word. The Bible will make little impact on our lives until we are alert, calm, and clean.
A. Be Alert - “Be quick to listen” (v. 19)
There is such a need for good listening. Three friends went into town on a noisy train. The first said, “Isn’t it windy?” The second said, “No, I think it’s Thursday”; to which the third friend replied, “So am I, let’s get something to drink.”
“Quick to listen” means to be eager and attentive, ready to receive and assimilate the message heard. Listen well to increase your knowledge of the Word of truth.
James’ letter is sprinkled with references to Old Testament people like Abraham, Rahab, Job and Elijah, so it is obvious that it is the Scriptures we are to hear. Be quick to hear what God has to say.
James is a very practical writer, but with all his practicality he offers no plan for daily Bible reading. He was aware that study methods are meaningless unless we are alert and ready to hear God. If we haven’t learned to listen in daily life, we will probably not listen in our devotional life. Alec Motyer says it well,
There is little point in schemes and times if we have not got an attentive spirit. It is possible to be unfailingly regular in Bible reading, but to achieve no more than to have moved the bookmark forward. If we can develop an attentive spirit, this will spur us to create those conditions—a proper method in Bible-reading, a discipline of time, and so on—by which [our] spirit will find itself satisfied in hearing the Word of God. [Alec Motyer, The Message of James ‘[The Bible Speaks Today], edited by John R. W. Stott, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 64f].
Good listening makes a tremendous difference in the effect God’s Word has on our life. Leonard Mosley’s biography of John Foster Dulles, tells of one experience the late Secretary of State had at the beginning of his diplomatic career that may have had an immense effect on history:
In 1917 Dulles was serving on the staff of the American Embassy in Berne, Switzerland. Late one afternoon in April, Dulles’s phone rang. A heavily accented man introducing himself as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin urgently asked to speak to someone at the embassy later in the day. But most of the senior staff had already left and Dulles had an important date with a young woman in an hour. He told Lenin to come to the embassy when it opened at ten the next morning. Lenin protested but Dulles remained firm and hung up the phone. Lenin did not come to the embassy the next morning or ever. He journeyed back to Russia by train and took total control of the fledgling Communist revolution. Dulles often reflected later in his career the possible difference it might have made to millions of people had he taken the time to listen to a Russian exile that April afternoon of 1917. [Leonard Mosley, Dulles (New York: The Dial Press, 1978), 47f].