Be doers of the Word. 1:19-27


In our passage for study James gathers together a group of instructions which relate to the business of hearing and doing. In the first verse we have a three-part instruction with each of its parts developed throughout the passage. The main instruction is that we be "ready listeners" and this exhortation is developed in v22-25. The other two, "be slow to speak and slow to anger", are touched on in v20 and v26-27 respectively, but we have to wait till chapter three before they are developed fully.

The passage

v19. James begins this new section in his letter by encouraging his readers to take careful note of what he is about to teach them. A child of God, with one foot in heaven and one foot on earth, living as we do in "interesting times", should be a ready listener. As we are reminded in Proverbs, "Even fools seem clever when they are quiet", Prov.17:28. We also do well to be slow to speak and slow to anger. A chattering mouth and a bad temper does not lead to a quiet life. Again, as we are reminded in Proverbs, "It makes a lot of sense to be a person of few words and to stay calm", Prov17:27.

v20. So, put away ranker. A bad temper does not match God's measure of righteousness.

v21. James' third instruction is nicely translated by James Moffatt; "so, clear away all foul rank growth of malice and make a soil of humble modesty for the Word which roots itself inwardly with power to save your souls."

v22. James' key exhortation, with regard the Word of God, is that we be doers of the Word, not just listeners. James deals with this subject in this and the next three verses.

v23-24. We are not to be like someone "who looks in a mirror and who sees the smuts which disfigure their face, the dishevelment of their hair, and who goes away and forgets what they look like, and so omits to do anything about it", William Barclay. We are not to study the Word of God, but then fail to apply it to our lives.

v25. Rather, we are to be a people who meditate on the Word, understand the law of God, understand God's manuel for life, and apply it in our lives. The law brings "freedom"; it is not so much a restraint, but is rather a guide to right living for a happy life.

v26-27. If we consider ourselves "religious", a person living in a relationship with God, then we shouldn't get into nasty arguments. Such behavior demonstrates a piety that is worthless. True piety is expressed like this: "reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world", Eugene Peterson.

Submitting to the Word of God

Our passage for study encourages us to be "doers of the Word of God, and not hearers only" AV.

We face the same temptations today as were faced by the early church. We love to get into discussions over the Bible, but find it a lot more difficult to do what it says. Of course, our problem is even more complex than that. Theological knowledge can easily become a good work in itself. We can easily make theology our religion. It is easy to conclude that the purity of our theological knowledge somehow determines the worthiness of our faith. The consequence is rancorous arguments over matters of theology and a critical assessment of others based on the degree to which they agree with us. It is very human to assume that purity of truth rests in our own person. We Protestants, in particular, take the claim "every man and his Bible" to absurd extremes. Everyone becomes their own "prophet" and "teacher", and so truth becomes the preserve of the individual rather than the body of Christ. In the end, our own sectarian doctrine becomes the substance of our faith.

We would do well to remember the words of the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes, "Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." 12:12-14.

So then, in this passage from James we are faced with two basic exhortations:

"Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger."

James' words are to the point and we do well to apply them to ourselves. If we are constantly verbalizing our piety, we need to take note: "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless."

"Do not merely listen to the word."

For James, the perfect law (the law of love which gives freedom) is something, not so much to be studied, but done. It is something to be lived out in our lives. Living the truth is what is important.


1. When does discussion become rancorous debate?

2. When a Bible study gets heated what should we do?

3. How do we move from being a hearer to a doer?

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