James 1:19-27

Sermon: September 23, 2018

How to Grow Spiritually

So far in this series we’ve considered what James has to say about how to endure trials and how to face temptation.  Now we consider another “how to” topic: how to grow spiritually.  This is, or should be anyway, one of the chief desires of all believers.  We are eager to grow in our walk with God — to put off those things that hinder us and to be shaped more and more into the image of Jesus.  We desire a fresh encounter with God.  We want to experience more of his amazing grace.  The question, though, is how?  How do we do this?

What James makes clear in this passage is that spiritual growth comes from the Word.  We are are told in verse 21 to receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  The Word of God has power when we listen to it in faith (i.e. “receive” it) and especially when we practice it.  In other words, spiritual transformation comes from hearing the Word and doing the Word.  Let’s consider what James has to say about both.

#1 Hear the Word

James begins by saying know this (v.19), in other words: Listen closely to me now!  What I am about to say is important!  Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (v.19).  We get this exactly backwards don’t we?  Or least I do!  We are quick to be angry, quick to speak up, and slow to listen. But we are told that we must practice silence in our lives so that we might listen to God as he speaks to us in his Word.  Spiritual growth comes from listening to God’s Word.

In order to really hear God’s Word, James tells us there are things we need to stop doing and things we need to start doing.  This stopping and starting is how spiritual growth happens.  Another name for spiritual growth is sanctification.  And whatever you call it, it always has two parts.  First, there is the sin we need to put to death.  James says we need to stop being quick to speak and and stop being quick to become angry (v.19).  He says we need to put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness (v.21). This is an important first step but sadly, many don’t realize there is another part. They become consumed with the sin they are to stop doing and they ignore what they are supposed to start doing.  James continues and receive with meekness the implanted word (v.21). This is the second half of sanctification.  We put off sin and and we put on Christ.  We put on his word.  James here uses an agricultural analogy saying the word must be implanted into our lives.   We must have good soil so that word can grow roots deep into our hearts.

How are you doing with hearing his Word?  Are you really listening?  What practices have you cultivated to be able to listen to him?  Is there space in your day where this happens?  Is there space in your home where this happens?  You will be shaped in one direction or another.  Either we are being discipled by the Word or we are being discipled by the world.  Are you really listening to his Word?

Let me share a few resources with you that I have found helpful in listening to this word.

  1. ESV Study Bible.  Someone once told me that the Bible they would recommend to someone is whatever Bible they would read!  I agree.  But if you want to know what my “go to” Bible is, it’s this one.  It is not overly academic.  There are notes at the bottom of each page of the Bible that are very helpful.  Most people would be greatly blessed by any study Bible and I recommend this one in particular.
  2. Bible.is.  This is a free audio Bible that can be listened to online or downloaded as an app on your device.  There are many great audio Bibles available.  My kids in particular really enjoy this one because it is dramatized, complete with different voices and sound effects.
  3. The Jesus Storybook Bible.  This is not a translation of the Bible but does an excellent job of retelling the stories of the Bible and explaining for kids how Jesus is at the center of every page of Scripture.  We used this with our children when they were younger and were really blessed by it.
  4. Biblehub.com. There are many great Bible resources online that are completely free.  Find one you like.  I stumbled on this one many years ago and use it daily.  I particularly appreciate how they have made the Greek and Hebrew translations of the Bible mostly accessible.

#2 Doing the Word

James exposes a hidden danger to those who hear God’s Word.   He says there is danger for those who are hearers only and not doers of the word (v.22).  We end up deceiving ourselves when listen to Scripture but don’t do what it says. This is surprising!  James is saying we can stick with our Bible reading plan throughout the whole year and we can go to church each Sunday and take notes, and we can be diligent in memorizing Scripture, but in the end we are deceiving ourselves if we don’t do what Scripture says to do.

He likens this deception to a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror but in the end goes away and at once forgets what he was like (v.24).  What does a mirror do?  It shows us ourselves. I will glance in mirror as I am running out the door to make sure everything is still in order.  Sometimes the mirror reveals that my collar is flipped in the wrong direction or I realize I forgot to shave!  I often have a colorful display of everything I’ve eaten that day on my shirt.   James says being a hearer but not doer of Scripture is like someone who looks into a mirror and sees the correction they are supposed to make, but doesn’t do it.  Can you imagine someone looking into a mirror and discovering they have a hunk of food in their teeth and doing nothing about it?

James calls us to action exhorting us to become someone who looks into the perfect law and rather than forgetting what he sees, he perseveres (v.25). And there is a promise here.  The person who is a doer of the Word will be blessed in his doing (v. 25).  Blessing from God comes in obeying his word.  The blessing comes not afterwards but as we seek to obey what God says.

James continues with this topic of being a doer of the word by calling specific attention to three areas: speech, service, and separation.   Concerning our speech he has if anyone does not bridle his tongue, he deceives his heart and his religion is worthless (v.26). Concerning our service to others  he calls us to visit orphans and widows in their affliction (v.27).  And finally concerning our separation from the world he instructs us to be unstained from the world (v.27).  We will explore each of these topics in greater detail later in our study of James as we will see that James comes back to each of these topics.  Our speech will be addressed in 3:1-13; our service to others will be addressed in 2:1-26; and our separation from the world occupies much of what James says from 3:13 to the end of the letter.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does James have to say in verses 19-20 about the relationship between hearing, speaking, and anger?
  2. In what situations do you find it difficult to be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger?
  3. What do you think James means when he says “the implanted word” (v.21)?
  4. What steps can you take to allow the word to sow roots into your life?  How can we encourage this to happen in our homes and with others?
  5. Do you ever confuse knowledge of God’s word with obedience to God’s Word?
  6. Explain the mirror analogy in verses 23 and 24.  How is God’s Word a mirror?
  7. Can you think of a time you were blessed in your obedience to God’s Word (v.25)?
  8. According to verses 26 and 27 what is pure religion?  What is false religion?
  9. Which one of the categories in verses 26 an 27 stand out for you?  How can you put it into practice?
  10. What is one thing you want to be sure to remember about this passage?


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