Read James 1:19-27
19My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21Therefore, 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.
22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does.
26If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (NIV)
James moves to a the topic of the tongue and the Word. He interweaves these two ideas. No watching what you say has been a topic that many people down through history have written about. Our words have power to both lift up and to destroy. And what James points out is that once words are spoken, they cannot be taken back.
I once read this story that illustrates this point. A person went to a wise man in his village to say he had spoken some words his wished he didn’t and wanted to know if there was a way to take them back. The man said there was one way. He told the man to take a feather an put it at the door of the home of each person who heard him speak and then return to him. He did this. The wise man then said, now go and pick up the feathers you have placed at each door and bring the feathers back to him. When the man went out to collect the feathers, they were gone having been blown by the wind. The man returned to the wiseman and said the feather had been blown away. The wiseman then said, and so have your words traveled beyond those who heard it initially.
James reminds us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. He then reminds us that if we live a righteous life, then we are also more apt not to speak harsh words to people.
He transitions from just listening to listening to God’s word. He says we need to not just listen, but to put what we hear into practice. James essentially coined the phrase before Nike did. The translation is literally, “Just do it,” when he do what it says.
He uses an illustration of a person looking in a mirror and then forgetting what he saw when he walks away from the mirror. The implication is that a person looks in a mirror, sees their hair is a mess, they have food in their teeth and their face needs to be washed, and then turns away forgetting all these things and goes out into public.
We should not read the Bible that way. Too often we read it and say, that was a great idea and then forget it right after we read it. We need to put into practice what we read in Scripture. It is by doing things that habits are developed and righteous living does not always come naturally, but must be developed through daily habits and spiritual disciplines.
James says points to the aspect of our religion that God approves is to care for the least which is often described in the Bible as the widow, the orphan and the stranger. He also points to this balance of keeping ourselves from being pulled into all kinds of worldly things giving of ourselves to help others. This kind of balance can only come from a daily centering before God.
How do you see yourself living in the way that James is speaking to here? Do you struggle with reading Scripture and then acting on what you read? I know in my life, I am doing better today than I did 20 years ago and that was better than 40 years ago. For me, it is a process of growing in faith of learning to put my faith into practice and seeing that that gives me the best life possible.
Blessings and Peace