Thursday, December 28, 2023

2023.12.28 Hopewell @Home ▫ James 1:19–27

Read James 1:19–27

Questions from the Scripture text: What does James 1:19 call the reader? For which men does it give a command? What does it say about hearing? Speaking? Becoming angry? Whose wrath cannot do what (James 1:20)? What two things are believers to lay aside (James 1:21)? How much of each? What are they to receive? How is this Word conveyed to them? In what manner are they to receive it? What is it able to do? What two ways must they engage the Word (James 1:22)? What are they doing to themselves if they leave off the doing part? 

How do believers reflect the character of their Father of lights? James 1:19–27 prepares us for the second serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these nine verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that God works in believers by His implanted Word to make them humble, gentle, steady, pure, and fruitful.

The Father of lights and the beloved brethren that He brought forth. “Beloved brethren” ties James 1:19 back to James 1:16-18. The constancy and character of the Father of lights should shape the constancy and character of his children who are lights upon the Earth. So James 1:19-20 describes not only a heavenly-Father-like gentleness (as brought out in being “slow to become angry”) but a heavenly-Father-like steadiness (as brought out in being “quick to hear and slow to speak”). 

If our flesh gets heated, this will fail to produce “the righteousness of God”—neither in the sense of making us to be more like our Father of lights, nor in the sense of bringing about true justice in relationships or spheres upon the earth.

Where Father-like steadiness comes from. If this steadiness is going to be outward (in our interactions with men, James 1:19), then it first must exist inwardly (in the singlemindedness and purity of our own souls, and in our interactions with God, James 1:21). Filthiness, or impurity, introduces variation to the purpose and pleasures and principles of our life. It all must be laid aside as we pursue an inward consistency that comes from God. 

If we want the “overflow” (surplus) of our heart to become godly, it will come by God’s work in implanting the Word into us. As Jesus taught in the parable of the soils (cf. Matthew 13:1–23), this requires us to receive the Word meekly (humbly, soft-heartedly, as here), which includes/involves receiving the Word deeply and undistractedly.

How we know that we are meekly receiving the implanted Word. And since God has appointed His word as the means by which He produces consistency in the heart, it comes from a consistent meekness before His word. The second half of James 1:21 corresponds to what our Lord prayed for us in John 17:17

But while inward consistency and meekness before God's Word is primary and prerequisite, it must not be isolated from the outward conduct. If it is not being worked out from the heart in the life, then we can be sure that it our idea that the Word is being worked into our heart is a self-deception (James 1:22)!

Notice that in James 1:23-25, we are not to think that we will be blessed “by” what we do, but rather “in” what we do. The blessing comes by God and His word. The one who is merely a doer is not the blessed one. The blessed one is the one whose “doing” is a “continuing” in the law of liberty—proceeding to live according to that word that he has received from his Savior, his Liberator, Who uses the Word to work in him. 

We must receive the law as a personal interaction with the God Who has saved us, and is saving us, rather than as a sort of contract, by which we could somehow obligate God (!) through our works. When we receive the law as personally received law from the God who has saved us, and is saving us, then the law becomes, for us, not a law of bondage but a law of liberty, as James 1:25 calls it.

Real, useful religion. James 1:26-27 proceed to tell us about “pure and undefiled religion”—religion that is freed of the "all filthiness" from James 1:21.  True religion, in which the Father uses His Word to work us into His likeness, into Christ’s likeness. This includes not just keeping oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27c), and noticing with special care, those whom God himself notices and visits with special care, namely orphans and widows (verse 27b), but especially godly use of the tongue (James 1:26). 

So James 1:19 began the section addressing the tongue, James 1:26 identifies tongue sin as a litmus test for the heart deception of the mere hearer from James 1:22, and the bulk of chapter 3 will be spent upon the tongue and its sinfulness as an indicator of the heart-fountain out of which the speech is overflowing. So also, here, an unbridled tongue is evidence that whatever religion we think we have is actually a useless delusion (James 1:26).

In what situations do you most need to work on slowness to speak and slowness to anger? What kind of encounter with the Word does God use to produce that? How are you going to approach listening to sermons, in light of this passage? What has been your strategy for turning what you hear in the preaching into a plan of action? How have you been going about evaluating whether you are keeping those vows to the Lord?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank You for being a Father of constant light to us. Forgive us for how impure, mixed, and unsteady is our walk with You. Forgive us for how this unsteadiness presents itself in being easily angered and quick to speak. Forgive us for how often we have sat under Your Word not with humility and receptivity but with dullness and even resistance. Forgive us when we do not receive it as from You and for our liberty. Forgive us for when we have heard it, but then we act as if You and Your Word make no difference in our lives. Forgive us for forgetting orphans and widows. Forgive us for allowing ourselves to be defiled by the world. Truly, Lord, Your Word exposes our remaining sin. Forgive us and cleanse us, we ask, through Christ, AMEN!

 Suggested songs: ARP15 “Within Your Tent Who Will Reside?” or TPH461 “Blessed Are the Sons of God” 

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