Tuesday, April 7, 2009

James 1:19–21, "Speed Limits"

James 1:19–21 says, (NIV) "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, 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."

When my wife and I were students at Dallas Theological Seminary, I was dropping her off for a class and returning home one morning. This was the time of day when schools were about to start their regular, daily session. I drove a different way back home, taking a side street. I turned into the middle of a school zone speed limit area. I had turned in after I should have seen the first sign that warned me to slow down to 20 mph. A second sign should have warned me, but that sign was partially hidden in the bushes, so I didn't see it. The third sign got my attention. It was a police officer standing in the middle of the road. I thought to myself, "There must have been an accident. Something is wrong. Hopefully there's nothing wrong with the students at the school. I switched lanes to move around the police officer, and the police officer also switched lanes to stand in front of me. He wanted me to stop, holding out his hand. I had no idea what could have gone wrong, but figured it was terrible if it was bad enough to stop traffic between 7 and 8am on a weekday morning in the metropolis of Dallas, Texas. Then I saw the sign on my right that said "End School Zone." I thought, "Great. A speeding ticket." My first reaction was to explain to the officer what happened, that I didn't see the sign. He didn't care, just nodded his head and kept writing. The speed limit was there for the kids' protection. Reflecting later on this, I thought that since I was driving by a school I should have gathered that I should have driven slower.

Like this, there are speed limits posted in life. Whether or not we acknowledge them makes no difference. The consequences for breaking God's speed limits happens no matter what we think about them.

God gives us speed limits for our benefit in James 1:19–21. This is one of those passages where we could read it quickly and get an idea for what it says, but we have to remember it and do it. The problem with God's speed limits for human beings is on our end. We get too emotional sometimes and before our brain has a chance to filter us, something comes out of our mouth that we wish we would not have said.

James pleaded with "my brothers," his fellow believers, not to let that loss of control happen. Later he writes about the tongue in the same way. This follows James' warning in verse 13 not to give into the trial of temptation. Closing ears and opening mouths too quickly is a serious temptation that can damage the Church of Jesus Christ.

James urges us, first of all, that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak (v. 19)

God’s people are quick to listen and slow to speak (v. 19)
“Quick” is used to mean great urgency and haste, as in:
Luke 15:22, “But the Father said to His slaves, ‘quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him,’” prodigal son story Jesus told.
Matt 28:8, Mary and Mary after the angels announced Jesus’ resurrection and they saw the empty tomb, “And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to report it [the resurrection] to His disciples.”
A good way to rephrase this would be, “be in a hurry to listen. Especially compared to how much you speak.”
The emphasis is on not opening our mouth too fast. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.
“Slow” is used in:
Luke 24:25, “O Foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!”
2 Pet 3:9, adjective of it, to mean slowness, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.”
James says, paraphrase, “be slow/hesitant to speak and slow/hesitant to anger.”

James’ admonishment was for the audience, spread all over, to do more listening and less talking.
Why? Later on see how speaking mixed with anger would not accomplish God’s righteousness.
Have you ever been in the presence of a good listener? Someone who listens well? There are times in life when the best thing we can say is nothing. There are times in ministry where a ministry of silent presence is all that is needed; all that is allowed.

Here at First Baptist Church, we too have to be careful of this. You (whether here or another church) can fall into the trap of thinking you are the Oracle of Delphi and you gift others whenever you smell a problem by dumping words on them.

In marriage, husbands listen to their wives and then try to solve the problem. That's why wives get frustrated and say, "You're not listening!"

Listening more and talking less is difficult, because our western world of corporate influence believes that talking more and listening less is the way to get ahead. The person who is loudest, more verbally dominant, controlling, harsh, and quickest to open their mouths will get ahead. That's the way the world is setup, and therefore when we live that way we also gain worldly rewards (see last entry. Seek God's gifts, not the world's).

If you obey God here and don't give into the temptation to be the first with the right answer all the time, or the pushy person who uses rage to get his way, but are quicker to listen and take your time when speaking, you will not get ahead according to the world. Count the cost.

Christians should pause and ask, "Am I living for Friday, or for 20years down the road?" You won't get ahead by Friday if you live according to the "ready, fire, aim" motto of the world. But if you are more concerned about 20 years in the future, you should consider what God says about how to get ahead. Start with listening more, and speaking less. Speak in quality not quantity. It's easier on the ears too. People will start to listen to you every time, because they will learn that when you speak you have wisdom, and you don't speak unless you have something valuable to contribute. It takes time to "train" others to identify this, and in the process we get stepped on, but it outlasts the "shoot from the hip" "fast money" because God's way can be done whether 20 or 90 years old. No one can dominate everywhere, all the time, for their entire life.

I urge the reader to think about this because what you start with, you must maintain. "Don't start what you can't finish," (to use an old mantra).

There are a lot of times when someone is speaking and you know what to say before they finish. But if you wait until they finish, sometimes you realize you almost made a terrible mistake, and they didn't say what you thought they were going to say.

Dr. Rascher, a professor of mine at Moody Bible Institute, used to minister among Native Americans in the U.S. and Canada. He shared with us that in one tribe where he ministered, when you were with an elder, especially as a newcomer, you would never speak first. You let the elder speak. He said that as a newcomer he sat next to the elder to talk, and waited for him to speak first. He waited for a long time. For hours and hours he sat, before being spoken to, and if he had talked he would never have gained access into the community in order to share Christ with them.
People have misconception: More words means more is accomplished.
If you have a problem keeping the mouth closed, this verse was written for you! Proverbs 10:19, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” Let he who has an ear hear!
Lee Iacocca was a busy man running the Chrysler Corporation. Even so, he knew the value of taking time off: “I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who can’t seem to control their own schedules. Over the years, I’ve had many executives come to me and say with pride: ‘Boy, last year I worked so hard that I didn’t take any vacation. ‘ It’s nothing to be proud of. I always feel like responding: ‘You dummy. You mean to tell me that you can take responsibility for an $80 million project and you can’t plan two weeks our of the year to go off with your family and have some fun?”[1]
Is reading the Bible a necessary part of your day or does it have a low priority in your life? George Mueller, after having read the Bible through one hundred times with increasing delight, made this statement: "I look upon it as a lost day when I have not had a good time over the Word of God. Friends often say, "I have so much to do, so many people to see, I cannot find time for Scripture study.? Perhaps there are not many who have more to do than I. For more than half a century I have never known one day when I had not more business than I could get through. For 4 years I have had annually about 30,000 letters, and most of these have passed through my own hands. "Then, as pastor of a church with 1,200 believers, great has been by care. Besides, I have had charge of five immense orphanages; also, at my publishing depot, the printing and circulating of millions of tracts, books, and Bibles; but I have always made it a rule never to begin work until I have had a good season with God and His Word. The blessing I have received has been wonderful.”[2]
Application: Slow down! No one says at the end of their life, “I’ve spent too much time with family. If only I could have had more time to do my work!” Many say, “I should have spent more time with my family and friends!” Slow down!
A hurried, stressful life leads to hurried, stressful responses, which leads to hurting, stressful relationships.
Listen: first to others in conversation, but there is another audience that requires ever believer’s attention. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

Secondly, we should be slow to anger, because it accomplishes nothing for God (v. 19b–20)
A person’s anger does not work out God’s righteousness. It hinders it.
James told them to be slow to anger, because man’s anger does not accomplish the righteous life God desires (v. 19b–20). Same word for “slow” meaning “be slow/hesitant to anger”
James commanded God’s people not to be quick to get angry.
Sometimes people are quick-tempered. Hot headed. Get angry fast. React fast. Can’t change their mind once they march off with a head full of steam!
James says, “That should not happen except once in a lifetime, and not even then if you can help it.” Why? For “man’s anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God.”
People in the Bible who lashed out in anger and did not accomplish God’s righteousness:
1. Adam and Eve quick to speak and anger in blaming
2. Abraham quick to have an offspring through Hagar instead of waiting
3. Jonah leaving for Tarshish instead of Ninevah b/c quick to anger!
4. Peter taking a sword and cutting off Malchus’ ear b/c he was quick to anger!
All of us are in one of two schools of anger management:

or Twain. Thomas Jefferson said, “When angry, count to ten. If very angry, count to 100.”
Mark Twain said, “When angry count to four. If very angry swear.”[3]
James dealt with people in his audience who from time to time had lost control of their temper. James says that our anger does not accomplish God's desires. Our desires don't always accomplish God's.
We get an idea in our minds sometimes and then it suddenly blurts out. Sometimes people don't say everything they're thinking, but they let it build up until finally it explodes. Being slow to anger doesn't mean being slow to lose one's temper, but it means being slow to have a temper at all.
I think that there is a dangerous idea in Southwest Wisconsin. We have different problems than I came into contact with in Dallas, but we have our own problems to deal with. We sometimes get to the point where we think we have grown up already, whether through confirmation or through a process in our church, and think we have learned everything there is to know.
The Christian life is a process of constantly seeking new ways to be more like Christ.
When we are upset, we need to think about two things: 1) What we say, and 2) the Way we say it.
If we say something to a person in anger it is different than if we say it calmly. Sometimes people can't hear us because of all the emotion that is coming out.
Anger can become such a monster that it overrides the content of our words and destroys relationships, as we seek to massage our feelings and hurt and give someone a piece of our mind (which we cannot afford to lose).
James says, "Don't do that. You will not accomplish God's mission on earth."
Once again, what feels good is not always healthy, and not always godly.
Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
If you master these, you will be pleasing both to God, and everyone you know.

What does James say next? After saying to be quick to listen and slow to speak, and slow to anger, and telling us what NOT to do, James tells us what TO DO.

Third, James told them (therefore) to receive with humility the word planted in them, which can save them, getting rid of all moral filth and evil that is so prevalent, (v. 21)
Therefore, “therefore/for this reason,” (ask “what is it there for?”)—referring to quick listening and slow speaking and slow anger.
James tells them another path to take: receive God’s word, getting rid of moral filth and evil.
"With Humility!" Not proudly, or with arrogance, but serving the person who angered us and serving God by humbly receiving the word planted in us.
Being slow to anger involves having humility, as well as being quick to listen and slow to speak.
v. 21 says "Accept the word planted in you," or in some translations "receive."
What is James saying? We are supposed to be quick to listen to others in conflict, but most of all who are we supposed to listen to?
Listen to the Word of God which is inside you, follower of Jesus. Listen to the "Word" that "became flesh and dwelt among us." Receive by reading Scripture, following Jesus.
Once again, James uses conception terminology, like above where James had said (verses 13 and following) to be careful that evil desire doesn't conceive and create sin, which gives birth to death. Instead, here James says to be impregnated by the Word of God.
Try this: When we're upset, instead of giving into anger, seek other possible outcomes by reading God's Word, the Bible. Do you have verses about anger? Here's a great passage for those who have problems with anger management.
Ephesians 4:25–32, (NIV) "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 'In your anger do not sin.' Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according tot heir needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
However, getting rid of moral filth and evil are a secondary step.
The command here in v. 21 is “receive” the word planted in you, and the "dependent clause" is getting rid of moral filth and evil.
So then, the main verb in verse 21 is our accepting of God's word. It's like if I were going to the store to pick up groceries and my wife calls and says, "While you're going to the store, can you pick up eggs and milk?"
Here is an important point: Part of my receiving God's word is my getting rid of all evil and moral filth! Look quickly at "lay aside."
“Put off” is “lay aside,” used in Heb 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
1 Pet 2:1, “Therefore, put aside . . .” names specific sin. This phrasing in James was common language for getting rid of sin. He tells the hearers this phrase in a summary of all kinds of various evils: uncleanliness or vulgarity and abundance of evil. Implied above in the “therefore” is that these all came from slowness to listen and quickness to become angry and speak.
So here is another important point: Instead of my anger leading to the righteousness of God, what can I do that leads to God's righteousness? Listening to the Word of God.
My anger won't get rid of moral filth and sin; it will only add to it. James says that there is excessive evil within his audience. It needed to be rooted out! My talking when in sin will not help in this.
If you're reading this, why not follow what James teaches?
Someone is asking, “But wait! What about the people who make me mad? How can I listen while they’re angry, and I’m not supposed to get angry?
Someone else is saying, "I don't get mad. I get even!"

God doesn’t want us to get even; He wants us to get better. We can only get better through getting into His Bible.
A friend of mine, Sherry, worked with me years ago in a ministry for youth in the Chicagoland area. She told us once that she, as a nurse, was bandaging a man who had been in a fight. She looked his shirt and it was a promotional shirt for the ministry we were a part of. She had our attention. Before finishing working on him she told the man, "Don't you dare wear that shirt again until you change your ways."
We need to put aside all the sin in our lives or else we look like the man who got into a fight with his Christian T-Shirt on.
I urge the reader to accept God's Word, be quick to listen, and quick to obey it. Sometimes when we are with others we also need to listen. If you're the wisest person, then forget this part. But for the rest of us, we need to read God's Word.
Bernard of Clairvaux has good to say about humility, which applies to having the ability to listen. The proud or arrogant won't listen. Let's be listeners.
Humility will save you from consequences of rash, unrighteous anger. Bernard of Clairvaux, monk in 12th Century AD wrote about humility: “So long, then, as I am not united to God, I am divided within myself and at perpetual strife within myself. Now this union with God can only be secured by love. And the subjection to him can only be grounded in humility. And the humility can only be the result of knowing and believing the truth, that is to say, having the right notions of God and of myself."[4]
Humility will save you from rash, unrighteous anger.

i. We should be quick to listen and slow to speak (v. 19)
ii. We should be slow to anger, because it accomplishes nothing for God (v. 19b–20)
iii. Receive with Humility the word of truth which is inside you
Look finally at the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, especially verses 16–23. It's about listening. He who has an ear, listen to the Word of God.
Not only should we listen to and receive God's Word, but Jesus is the Logos, or Word made flesh. First, before listening to anything else, you must hear Jesus and believe He is Who He says He is. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, that He died in our place and came to life again, confessing sin to Him and repenting of it, and the Bible says we are saved from our sin.
[1] Taken from http://bible.org/illus.php?topic_id=192. Originally from Lee Iacocca, An Autobiography by Lee Iacocca & William Novak, Bantam, 1988, quoted in Lifeline, Summer, 1997. My late beloved Dr. Harold Hoehner would not approve of this footnote for citing second level sources. So I leave it partially to show the loss of losing him a few weeks ago to a heart attack. I would not be where I am if it were not for him and his investment as the second reader for my Master's Thesis.
[2] Taken from http://bible.org/illus.php?topic_id=192. Originally from Counter Attack, Jay Carty, Multnomah Press, 1988, pp. 155ff

[3] Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), 33.
[4] Swindoll, s.v. humility.

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