Sermon on James 1:19-27 – “Swift to Hear, Swift to Do”

Sermon on James 1:19-27 – “Swift to Hear, Swift to Do”

Sermon for Sunday, March 13th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Pro 10:18-32 ESV] 18 The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool. 19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. 20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. 21 The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense. 22 The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it. 23 Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding. 24 What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted. 25 When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever. 26 Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him. 27 The fear of the LORD prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short. 28 The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish. 29 The way of the LORD is a stronghold to the blameless, but destruction to evildoers. 30 The righteous will never be removed, but the wicked will not dwell in the land. 31 The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off. 32 The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.

New Testament reading:

[Jas 1:19-27 ESV] 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 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 who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Gospel reading:

[Luk 6:46-49 ESV] 46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”


James is a practical book. Last week we saw his encouragement to be joyful even while we meet with various trials. And we saw various reasons why we are to be joyful. This clearly had a practical application, as we are often, if not constantly, undergoing some trial or another.

Continuing now in the first chapter of James we find practical advice, or commands, continuing. First, we are to be quiet, slow to speak, so that we may hear others and especially hear the word of God. And then, second, having heard the word of God we are not to sit still or fade out of the picture, but to go forward DOING the word of God. And James gives some practical examples of how that should be done. Visit the orphans and widows, keep yourself unstained from the world. Bridle your tongue. These are indeed practical.

It is also theological; it is the word of God, though given to us through James, the brother of Jesus. We know it is the word of God because Paul tells us that “ALL scripture is breathed out by God.” He says “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

And those elements come strongly into play here. These are practical teachings that are profitable. They may reprove us, they may correct us, and they certainly train us in righteousness. And that must always be a great goal, to honor God and to give him Glory through our deeds, as we thank Him for our salvation in Jesus Christ.

First, James says we are to hear the word of God.

I. Hearing the word.

Soon he will contrast MERE hearing with “hearing and doing.” And that’s important for us to understand. It is not Hearing versus Doing, but “not really hearing at all” versus “hearing the Word of God and so being moved to live in a new way.”

To hear, whether the word of God or in listening to other people, James says

“let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

This is great advice for our communication.

Listen first. Speak later. Avoid anger.

We have various cultural saying to this effect:

1. Bite your tongue.

2. Button your mouth.

3. Zip your lips.

4. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

and similarly:

5. Think before you speak.

This is great advice indeed, and we’d all be better to heed it.

And just as we are to be joyful in trials, so we are to quick to listen. Not merely putting up with listening, but being quick to listen. Slow to speak.

And this is for great purpose. Not merely for our communication, but for the righteousness of God. We are to seek to be holy, and so to listen well and to speak well, both in their proper portions.

We get ourselves in much when we don’t abide by this advice. When we don’t listen. When we get angry. When we talk to much. When we say things we shouldn’t say. Let us strive to do away with such things.

On some additional practical matters, we should say:

First, be careful also in your digital communication. Be slow to speak on political matters, for example. Or on matters personal to a friend.

And second, on a practical matter, be careful how you speak to yourself. While one of the greatest problems of mankind is that many people like themselves TOO MUCH, there are some people who, sadly, hate themselves. But just as we should be slow to speak evil of others, so we should avoid speaking negatively about ourselves, for we all are made in the image of God. Do not despise yourself. Though are a sinner, you are loved by God. You are of great worth to Him. And you are of great worth in our fellowship of this church, and to others.

Let us be quick to hear, slow to speak.

Now, we should note as well that quiet people are not excluded from this command. Just because you are quiet don’t think you are escaping from the trouble here! Firstly, being quiet doesn’t mean necessarily that you are listening. So, be quick to hear. Then, if perhaps you are slow to speak, consider whether you are also slow to judge others. Are you merely biting your tongue but not stopping your mind from evil thoughts? So it is a command also to avoid rash judgment.

While the command is general to be “quick to listen” to others, it also has a specific application in our needed desire to be quick to hear the word of God. Surely, if we are to listen to people, we should even more listen to God. We must hear His written word and hear his word preached. And, this is how it was in ancient days – people HEARD the word in the church more than they READ the word. They didn’t always and everywhere have the privilege of personally owning a copy of the Scriptures. So they heard it read.

And if we are going to be quick to hear the word of God, we must be quick to attend to church services as well. Not coming with feeling of obligation and dread, but with joy to worship God and hear His word.

This “hearing” really means not only that physical sense of hearing with the ears, but the mental asset to truth. Vs. 21 “ receive with meekness the implanted word.”

James then moves from the command for silence and listening (and believing), to the command of doing.

And belief is a command. God doesn’t WISH people to believe, he commands them. (Such say the Canons of Dort, Article 5)

That is, we must not only be swift to HEAR the word of God, we must be swift to DO the word of God.

II. Doing the word.

We might say, this is not only hearing the talk, but walking the walk. Thus it is in opposition to hypocrisy. The hypocrite says one thing and does another. But the Christian is to say that they believe in God and then is to go out and do His will.

The Lord whom we have heard calls us into his service.

We are to be servants of the Lord, as James indeed calls himself “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

It would be a very poor servant who merely listens to his master, but doesn’t actually do any work!

We who have faith are called to live that faith. To live out that faith.

In the next chapter of James we get to that statement that the book is so famous for – “faith without works is dead.” And we’ll want to carefully work through that statement, recognizing that James refers to such faith as “that faith,” really not faith at all. And the context is being built here in the first chapter. Those who hear but do not do, these have no real faith at all but are hypocrites. They don’t even really hear, for if they heard they would also do.

We are called to do good works because have been called, we have been elected as children of God. And faith, which is a gift of God, should lead us through the Holy Spirit to do good works, not because they save us, but because we are already saved.

James warns against sluggishness. You’ve heard the word, NOW do the word.

This isn’t just James saying this. Jesus says it as well. In Luke 11:(27-28) a woman says to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed.” But Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” [REPEAT: Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”]

There is another saying of Jesus that James seems to have in mind. James says “receive with meekness the IMPLANTED word.” Jesus gave the parable of the sower, or parable of the soils, in which some seeds fell along a footpath and were trampled, some seeds devoured by the birds of the air, and some seeds feel upon a rock and withered away. But some seeds fell into good soil. They were implanted. And they grew and yielded a hundredfold. So it is that we are called to many great works because the word of God has been implanted in us.

And James gives specifics. He doesn’t just say “do good works,” leaving is entirely up to the reader to guess what he’s referring. But he gives some specific commands.

1. Bridle the Tongue

The bridle is the headgear used to control a horse. And the word of God is the gear we are to use to control our tongue.

Psalm 141:3 says “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”

But it doesn’t just stop there with the speaking, but the Psalmist moves on to the heart as well.

“Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deed in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!”

2. Visit the orphans and widows,

Then James says to visit the orphans and widows. Now, this is certainly at least “visiting.” But the Scriptures also talk about financial support of orphans and widows. So what we have going on here is not an empty visit, but a giving visit. The Christians would have visited the orphans and widows with perhaps bread or other foods or clothing or whatever need there was.

This is complicated today by the fact that the government, rather than the church, has taken over much of the work in caring for the needy. They’ve taxed the people and then give a portion (a small portion) to the needy. And this makes it difficult for people to help others because some of our money has been taken in taxes. But it doesn’t entirely take away our responsibility to care for others. Now I don’t believe it is a sin to use government services, and perhaps we should even direct the needs toward those services, yet we must give of our own selves as well. The church has a deacons fund and money can be donated there. But also individual Christians may help the needy directly, through financial gifts of course, but also in visitation and in provided for them in various ways.

Consider what you may be able to do. Maybe it is just calling a person in a nursing home if you are unable to visit them. Perhaps it is having a family member or another person in need stay with you at your house for a time. Perhaps it means going into a line of work like nursing where you’ll be able to give godly and passionate care for those in need.

These are all good works that James says we are to do. Then also, he says we are to “keep unstained from the world.”

3. Keep unstained from the world.

So not only are there things that we SHOULD do, there are things we SHOULDN’T do. And those are the worldly things. As Christians, who have heard the word of God, and have been called to “be ye separate” from the world, we should shun evil and keep unstained from the world.

Perhaps James had Isaiah in mind in all of this.

Isaiah 1:16-17 says “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil”


Which is more important? To hear or to do?

You might at first think that James is emphasizing the “doing” and you’d be right. But this emphasis is not to detract from the hearing.

Both hearing and doing are important. The hearing of the word of God leads to the doing of the word of God. The same Holy Spirit that works faith in the believers also leads him into good works.

Both are important.

This is not to say that we are saved by faith AND works. That position is just as bad as saying we are saved by works.

We must be clear. Salvation comes purely from the grace of God through faith. Man does not contribute to his salvation.

Remember John 6 when the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “What must we DO to be doing the works of God?” And he responded DO? “This is the work of God, that you BELIEVE in him whom he has sent.”

What then is James talking about? Why the emphasis on “doing?” Why the emphasis on “works.”

James is not fighting against Paul, but warning against hypocrisy and he is promoting righteousness.

He desires that our religion be “pure and undefiled before God the Father.”

Now that word “religion” has come on hard times. It has taken on negative connotations. To be religious these days often means to practice some sort of rituals. But what a mistake that is. Rituals, or we might say, sacraments — as we are having the Lord’s Supper today — only point to that greater reality which they symbolize. We do not come here for rituals but for Jesus Christ.

Religion, that civic religion, that hold out from ages past, sometimes devolves into ritual. Weddings, funerals, etc. And I suspect many people merely go through the motions. They do not realize that such things — rituals to use another word that has come out of favor — such things have meaning in the Christian context. We have communion, baptism, weddings, funerals, etc. as part of our religion for Scriptural, Biblical reasons. And these are opportunities for worshipping the Lord, our God.

James is not using the word “religion” in the negative way as is often used today. But, knowing that man is by nature “religious,” and that all men have some religion or another, he argues not that we SHOULD HAVE a religion, but that our religion be pure and undefiled.

Our religion, our beliefs and very way of life should be swift to hear and swift to do.

So we are encouraged to seek the Lord. Let us indeed seek the Lord who we believe in. In Jesus Name, Amen.