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James 1:19-21: Put Your Mind in Gear Before You Put Your Mouth in Motion!

Once a young man came to Socrates to be instructed in oratory. The moment he arrived and was introduced he began to talk an incessant stream. This went on for some time. When the great philosopher could finally get a word in, he said, “Young man, I will have to charge you a double fee.” “A double fee, why is that?” Socrates replied, “First, I will have to teach you how to hold your tongue, then how to use it!”

In the context James has just reminded us That we have life through the word of God. Now he is telling us that the word of God is vitally related to success in life. In this passage there are tremendous lessons for us, the main one perhaps is: Put your mind in motion before you put your mouth in gear, and then drive carefully!

Verse 19a: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear…”

Television’s Judge Judy tells people in her courtroom who will not listen, “God gave you two ears and one mouth.”

Proverbs 1:5, “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.”

Proverbs 1:8, “My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.”

Proverbs 1:33, “But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil.”

Proverbs 2:2, “So that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding.”

James is telling us how important it is to listen to God’s word: “Be swift to hear…”(Verse 19); “Receive the word” (Verse 21); “Look” into the word (Verse 25); “Continue” in the word (Verse 25). Also see: Matthew 13:9, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

“Swift” in Greek is tachus, an adverb which literally means quick, speedy as opposed to slow. The emphasis is on a very brief period of time so that an activity or event occurs with speed or swiftness. There are times when we need to do something quickly, urgently or promptly and James like a flash gives two pithy, but powerful charges—we should be quick to listen, quick to hear.

So first James says to “be quick to hear the Word of God, quick to listen to what God is saying directly to you in the Bible.” Our attitude is always to be quick to listen, which demands an eager, attentive ear, ready to receive and process the word heard.

“Listening is the art of closing one's mouth and opening one's ears and heart.” –Kistemaker

The Lord derides the faithless house of Jacob for failure to even hear much less heed declaring…” Listen, you foolish and senseless people, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear” (Jeremiah 5:21 NLT).

Verse 19b: “…slow to speak…”

I was totally embarrassed, but I think I learned a life lesson, when my boss was trying to give work assignments for the day, I was talking. He said, “will someone shut him up so I can get on with this.” Tough life lesson for an 18 year old dumb kid!!

Proverbs 10:19 NLT, “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.”

Proverbs 13:3, “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.”

Proverbs 17:28, “Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.” That verse spawned the old adage, “Better to keep your mouth shut and let everyone think you’re a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Proverbs 21:23 NLT, “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.”

Proverbs 29:20 NLT, “There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.”

Verse 19c: “…slow to wrath…”

There is a clear connection between speech and anger. Anger inflames one to say things he shouldn’t say, then the words just add fuel to the flames. The talk intensifies the anger, and the anger intensifies the talk. The more one talks the angrier he gets. If he stops talking the anger dies down for lack of fuel. And never forget, anger, carried to its logical conclusion is murder. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I (Jesus) say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:21-22). So uncontrolled anger is murder in the making!

Proverbs 14:29, “People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness.”

When I was teenager, as I was walking by the rear of my car, I caught my new pants on a piece of metal, tearing them, I got so angry, I knocked out the back window with my fists, so I not only had to get a new pair of pants, but I also had to buy a new back window for my car. Anger can be expensive!

Proverbs 15:18 NLT, “A hot-tempered person starts fights; a cool-tempered person stops them.”

Proverbs 16:32, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”

“I once saw a poster that read, ‘Temper is such a valuable thing, it is a shame to lose it!’ It is temper that helps to give steel its strength. The person who cannot get angry at sin does not have much strength to fight it. James warns us against getting angry at God’s Word because it reveals our sins to us. Like the man who broke the mirror because he disliked the image in it, people rebel against God’s Word because it tells the truth about them and their sinfulness.” –Warren Wiersbe

There are 3 words used for anger in the New Testament:

Thumos, meaning “boiling fury, blowing up, going up in smoke.” Like the man who says, “I just blow up, then it’s over.” That’s like saying “I just shot my gun I your direction, now it's over.” We must look at the results of anger! What happens to those around us when we blow up?

Paragosmos, meaning “fuming inside, seething resentment, exasperation, irritation, indignation.” People who fume inside, seethe or hold on to resentment show it in other ways, such as being overly critical and cynical or feeling depressed and victimized. Being angry uses a lot of emotional and physical energy. Consequently, internalizing anger can have harmful effects, debilitating both physical and mental health and compromising personal and professional relationships. This is also described as “hidden hostility,” or a “root of bitterness.” “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many” (Hebrews 12:15 NLT).

Orge’ is the word that James uses here. Orge’ is a settled conviction kind of anger. This can be good or bad depending on the motive. We have certain priorities, convictions or preferences, when someone violates one of these, our response is anger. For example, when someone attacks your child or your family, our responsibility is to guard them. And not just from physical attacks, but also from those who would corrupt them.

Then there is “righteous indignation.” If someone hurts your child, attacks your church or offends God, we become “righteously indignant.” And that’s okay if it is under control, but it can become dangerous if carried to the extreme. Remember, Jesus never retaliated when He was attacked personally, only when God was dishonored.

Let me vent a bit here! Does it trouble you when someone a says, “I’ll let my children decide what to believe when they grow up.” That’s a copout! The world, the flesh and the devil will be working hard to corrupt their minds, their school teachers, and their peers will have greater influence on them, while you, who has the most influence on them says, “I’ll wait to let them make up their own minds.” I could get a little orge’ with this subject

“Ephesians 4:26,27, “Be angry, and do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.”

There are 3 things in this passage about anger:

1. Verse 26a, “Be angry, and do not sin.” Anger is acceptable when your anger is free of injured pride, spite, animosity, and a spirit of revenge. Only the indwelling Holy Spirit can produce in us anger without sin. To be angry and not sin means that our anger must be done while “walking by the Spirit...not gratifying the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

Sinful anger is anger that is always centered on self. Sinful anger is part of the old life, it is to be put off. If you are angry because your feelings have been hurt, or your pride has been injured, or you have been mistreated in some way, perhaps you have not been given the position, the place or the favor that you think you ought to have, this is sinful anger and is to be put off. It arises out of the old life, it is part of the life of Adam. Proverbs 29:11 (NLT), “Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.”

2. Verse 26b, “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” One person said “This means stay up and fight all night.” Wrong! Someone has said, “Let the day of your anger be the day of your reconciliation.” As believers we are to keep short accounts! This not only teaches us not to go to bed angry, which is a good idea, but do not nurse your anger! Do not allow smoldering embers to burst into flame. Settle it quickly! True believers do not hold grudges!

Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. “But,” you say, “I’m only human.” True, we are human, but God’s Holy Spirit lives in us! Do not feed your carnal nature which gives the devil an opening into your life.

Galatians 5:16-21 (NLT), “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

3. Verse 27, “Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life” “Unrighteous anger opens the door of your life so that the enemy can come in and wreak havoc!” (John Calvin). Satan is a hideous enemy! “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). If there were a lion loose in your neighborhood, I’m sure you’d lock all your doors at night!. Sinful anger leaves your door ajar against the lion prowling for souls! If you don’t want a lion loose inside your house, you’ve got to deal with your anger biblically! (Edited and adapted from Pastor Steven J. Cole, Flagstaff Christian Fellowship).

Anger becomes sinful when we use it to take revenge. When you can be angry and be free of injured pride, spite, and animosity, then it is not sinful, but when we try to take matters into our own hands in order to retaliate or to get even, it becomes sin, “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17-19 NLT).

To be angry and not sin is to be: angry at the right occasion, with the right people, at the right moment, and for the right length of time.

Verse 20: “…for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

“There is a tendency to grow angry with those who do not see the truth; but is it not a foolish thing to be angry with blind men because they do not see? What if you see yourself? Who opened your eyes? Give God the promise for what you see, and never think that your anger, your indignation, your hot temper, can ever work the righteousness of God. It is contrary thereto, and cannot work towards it.” –Spurgeon

Verse 21a: “Therefore lay aside…”

“Therefore” an uncontrolled tongue and temper drive a man deep into sin and far from God. Therefore, a spiritual housecleaning is needed so that God’s Word, whether in written or spoken form, can enter man’s life.

This “Laying aside” is a constant battle! It involves all of the characteristics of the old nature…The grave clothes! When Lazarus was raised from the dead he came out of the grave still wearing his grave clothes, the wrappings of death. “And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go’” (John 11:44).

We must constantly work at removing those grave clothes. Conquering the old self and cultivating the new! “Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NLT).

Verse 21b: “…lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness…”

The Greek word for “filth” is rhuparia, it literally means dirt or filth (used to describe dirty garments), but is clearly used metaphorically by James to denote moral uncleanness, impurity, sordid avarice or state of moral corruption (vulgarity).

This is a vivid word picture. James is saying take off your filthy attitudes and actions (moral defilement) just as you would a soiled, smelly garments! The picture is like a snake that sloughs off its dead skin! Not only restrain it, and keep it off; but throw it away as a filthy rag.

“We all bring baggage from our old way of life over into the Christian life. Usually, we’re blind to much of it. We don’t realize that we’re displeasing God by our thoughts, words, or actions. As we begin to read God’s word, it convicts us of areas that we didn’t even know were sin. When this happens, the receptive heart cleans out the crud of sin and puts on the clean clothes of new life in Christ. If you don’t do this, the crud will prevent you from growing as a Christian.” –Steven Cole

Barclay notes that “Rhuparia can be used for the filth which soils clothes or soils the body. But it has one very interesting connection. It is a derivative of rhupos and, when rhupos is used in a medical sense, it means wax in the ear. It is just possible that it still retains that meaning here; and that James is telling his readers to get rid of everything which would stop their ears to the true word of God. When wax gathers in the ear, it can make a man deaf; and a man’s sins can make him deaf to God.” –William Barclay

“Wickedness” in Greek is kakia meaning, “depravity, vice or baseness, and is the root of all the previous vices. It also conveys the idea of a mean-spirited or vicious attitude or disposition as indicated by words such as malice, ill-will, hatefulness, and dislike. Malice describes a vicious intention and expresses the desire to hurt another and rejoices in it!” Edited and adapted from John Eadie

Note that Peter presents the same spiritual principle of the need to cast off sin and then you will long for the pure milk of the Word. In short, James is saying in essence Let personal sin be cleansed so you can hear.

1 Peter 2:1,2, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,”

Jesus said: “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person" (Mark 7:21-23).

Verse 21c: “…and receive with meekness…”

“Receive” dechomai, means to accept with a deliberate and ready reception of what is offered, to receive kindly and so to take to oneself what is presented or brought by another. It means to welcome a teacher, a friend, or a guest into one's house. Dechomai describes accepting the Word with open arms, minds, and hearts. This word pictures one assenting to God's Word of Truth and indicates that the reception is to be a voluntary and willing act on the part of the hearer.

“Meekness” in Greek is prautes, and it describes the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance. Prautes is a quality of gentle friendliness - gentleness, humility (as strength that accommodates to another's weakness), consideration, restrained patience, patient trust in the midst of difficult circumstances. The essence of prautes is the humble and gentle attitude which expresses itself in a patient submissiveness to offense, free from malice and desire for revenge.

“Meekness: is power under control. Not the killing of the lion in us, but the taming of the lion.

“Prautes occurs in non-biblical literature to describe a horse that someone had broken and had trained to submit to a bridle. It pictures strength under control, specifically the Holy Spirit’s control. The evidence of this attitude is a deliberate placing of oneself under divine authority.” –Thomas Constable

“The soil of the heart must be prepared to receive the Word. If we have unconfessed sin in our hearts, and bitterness against God because of our trials, then we cannot receive the Word and be blessed by it.” –Warren Wiersbe

Verse 21d: “…the implanted word…”

The literal picture was that of planting a seed in the ground and figuratively as used by James of the seed of the Word of Truth planted in the good soil of the heart where it took root. In His parable of the seed and the soils, Jesus explained that the seed in the good soil, are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:15; Matthew 13:8,23).

Poole writes we are to ‘receive the Word’ “…not only into your heads by knowledge, but into your hearts by faith.”

Verse 21e: “…which is able to save your souls.”

“With the Holy Spirit to interpret and empower, it (the Word of Truth) becomes a vital element in the new spiritual life of the child of God, for ‘the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God is the gospel in its fullness and ‘is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.’ (Romans 1:16).” –John MacArthur

“She dressed in rags, lived in a tenement house amid mounds of garbage, and spent much of her time rummaging through trash cans. The local newspaper picked up her story after the woman who was known in her neighborhood as “Garbage Mary” had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Astonishingly, in her filthy apartment police found stock certificates and bankbooks indicating she was worth at least a million dollars.

This woman’s condition was heartbreaking. But from God’s point of view there are even more tragic examples of “wealthy” people who subsist on “garbage.” If Christians are controlled by lust, hate, envy, pride, impatience, or bitterness, they’re actually choosing to live off the refuse of the world. This might be understandable if they had no resources to draw from. You’d expect that kind of behavior from people without faith in Christ. But that’s not the case for believers. We have the Word of truth and the help of the Holy Spirit. We have no excuse for groveling in the dirt of sin when the power of God is at our disposal.

Father, forgive us for eating “garbage” when You’ve prepared a banquet for us. Help us to “lay aside all filthiness” (James 1:21) and to feast on Your goodness. By Mart De Haan, Our Daily Bread

Choose not the lowly paths of sin, when lofty heights before you rise;

God freely gives the power to win the victor’s crown, the heavenly prize.

–D. De Haan–

One taste of God’s grace can make us lose our hunger for the world.”

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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