It seems to me that society has lost sight of the value and significance of words and truth. Even people in positions of power can say almost anything, even blatant lies, and get away with it. That steady erosion of values is something that has affected the Church too, because we also sometimes lose sight of the importance and meaning of words and truth. I think that is one of the many reasons why I personally find the book of James so challenging (https://ref.ly/Jm1.17-27). It reminds us that what we say is actually very very important. Our words are like a window on our heart, and our words can build up or destroy. Jesus said “it is what comes out of you that defiles you.” What do our words reveal about the state of our heart? It might be that we think we don’t ever say anything offensive yet the person who has been offended might beg to differ. We must be prepared to examine our motive, as well as our choice of words and how we present them. I repent when my words show the sinfulness of my heart, and I repent when my words destroy. I am sorry when my actions are not in keeping with my words, or when my words are not words of healing and truth and love and peace. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.
James tells us to be “quick to listen”. Those of us who are trained listeners realise how important but also how difficult it is to listen…to really listen properly and engage in the practice of active listening. We so often find ourselves tempted to jump in and add our “two pennorth worth”, as my grandma used to say! Adlai Stevenson who was an American politician and statesman, noted for his skill in debate and oratory once opened an address to students at Princeton with these words: “I understand I am here to speak and you are here to listen. Let’s hope we both finish at the same time.” He also once said “Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them”. But the truth is, a lot of church attenders get through listening long before the minister gets through preaching.
Part of it is due to the short attention span created by the media. Another part of it is that we are largely lazy and undisciplined. Yet another part of it is that we are constantly encouraged on every hand to talk. The thinking seems to be that if we talk enough, we will come to discover important truths. But the greatest part of it is that we do not prize the Word of God as we should. If we did, then surely we would have a hunger to hear and know more? How can we expect to be doers of the word if we don’t listen to the word?
I try to attend a weekly session of silent prayer led by a friend of mine online in which people have time and space to do something that is very precious…be still, be silent and listen to God. James goes on to say that we need to be slow to speak, and we need to be reminded that we have a tendency to speak to ourselves – that internal dialogue we all find we have. Unless we are slow to speak, how can we be in a position to listen. We need to give words a chance and especially God’s words. In other words, when the Word of God is being declared, we must be on guard against the tendency to be inwardly raising objections. Then James says that we should be slow to anger! When the Word of God is accurately preached, we may find that it challenges and makes us feel uncomfortable. It is a sword that pierces and cuts (Heb. 4:12)! How do we respond when this happens? Do we become resentful and combative? If we allow anger to come in, the Word of God will not come in!
We find that God’s word can illuminate the sinfulness of our lives. And that sinfulness is like a barrier or a filter. We speak through that filter, and we hear through that filter. And so, James exhorts us to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” We need to communicate with no filter in place. When James says humbly accept the word he literally means to give it ‘a welcoming or appropriating reception’. It’s the same word Luke used to describe the Bereans’ response to God’s Word: “… they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Paul also used the same word to describe the response of the Thessalonians who, when they heard God’s Word, “welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (1 Thes. 2:13). So what does receiving the Word of God mean?
The word ‘humbly’ tells us that we are to come to the Word with a soft, gentle, teachable disposition, recognizing the authority of God’s Word and submitting to it. And that Word is planted in us, in each and every Christian. We are to go on receiving the Word of God in such a way that it becomes more firmly and deeply planted in our lives than ever before. We are to go on opening our hearts to it and welcoming it so that its truth will be transfused and transmitted into our lives. I liken it to writing God’s word on the tablets of our hearts.
Unless we are willing to do this, we run the risk of becoming hypocrites. One of the biggest criticisms you hear about Christians is that we are hypocrites. That is what we become if we are hearers of God’s Word, but not doers. Jesus described hypocrites by quoting from Isaiah:
“ ‘These people honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
Perhaps our prayer should be: “Wash me clean of my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:2, 10) Lord, give us ears to hear, a heart to follow and the wisdom to be faithful to you. Amen