J. Gordon Duncan

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Family Devotion and Sermon Notes from James 1:19-21

Big Idea:  The Word of God has real power for real change in your life.

James 1:19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

  • How do these characteristics show another person that you care for them?
  • Can you think of examples of when Jesus’ demonstrated these characteristics?
  • Are there certain people that when you are with them you find it difficult to obey these verses?
  • Are there people that you need to ask to forgive you because you have not obeyed these verses?

20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

  • Jesus was angry in the Bible.  How was it that Jesus could be angry and not sin?
  • If your anger produces sin, ask yourself, “When am I sinfully angry?
  • Are there people that I need to ask to forgive me because of these verses?

21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

  • What has God given us to help us repent of sin and grow in obedience?
  • Can you think of specific examples when you were trying to overcome sin and you sought out help from the Bible?

Some of you are incredibly disciplined, self-controlled folks.  You might say, “Gordon I’m not disciplined in anything.  I just sit around and watch TV or play on the computer all the time,” and I would say, “Yep there is your discipline.”  But, some of you have homes that are almost always clean.  Or you leave for work at the exact same time every day.  Maybe you read your bible every single day.  Some of you always have your kids’ home school lessons ready every week.  I love to go running 4-5 days a week.  We all have some measure of discipline and self-control.

But there is a temptation within discipline and self-control.  Even though self-control is a promised work of the Spirit in your life, there still remains a temptation.  No matter how great and Godly your discipline and self-control are, they are not the power of change in your life.  Just exerting will power in your life will not change you.  God can use your will power but your will power has no power in and of itself.

Let me give you an example.  Maybe you are faithful in your bible study.  You hit it every morning before you begin your day.  You have learned much and have grown much through that discipline of studying the word.  This is an awesome, beneficial, and Godly discipline.   But your discipline will not change you.

The word of God is what has great power to change you.  1 Thessalonians 2: 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus.  The word of God when accepted with a God-gifted faith found in you and me is at work for real change in your life.  Its work enables you to see real change and cause you to become imitator of Godliness that Jesus gifts His church.  Let’s see that played out in this week’s passage in James with this Big Idea.

Big Idea:  The Word of God has real power for real change.

James 1:19 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.

Now before we jump in, let me make an honest confession as your pastor.  In my preaching, I am always given to protect my heart and your heart from legalism.   Legalism is the sickness of the human condition.  Legalism is attempting to earn your way before God.  Ever since the day Adam chose to earn his way before God instead of leaving in the light of God’s love, every human being feels the need to earn and work and strive to prove themselves.  We are legalistic when thinking about ourselves, we are legalistic when it comes to our relationships with others, and we are legalistic when it comes to our relationship with God.  We feel like others have to earn their value, and we think we have to earn our value.

Now, earning your way is consistent with the nature of sin but it is contrary to the nature of grace.  Because of our sin, we can’t earn anything before God.  But grace is God loving us like we have never sinned.  As the lyrics of one great song said, “It falls down on me, it falls down on you: grace falls free, the proud feel the need to work the loom, yet grace falls free.” LSU  So because of that, I always want to present the commands of scripture as the very words of God to apply to our lies but always highlighted with, tinged with, colored in, and bathed with the Gospel that says, “Follow this command out of love and out of fidelity but don’t do it to earn anything.  The love that God has for you, His affection for you is not dependent upon how good you are.  Praise Jesus.”

So the confession on my part is that sometimes it is hard for me teach the straightforward commands of God.  Sometimes the Bible just says, “Do or don’t do,” and I have a hard time figuring out how to preach it in light of the Gospel.  But then I must remind my heart and yours that obedience to the commands of God are intended to be warm acts of affection from you to God.  So, this is one of those weeks.  These commands are straightforward and simple and Godly.

So here is how I want us to approach this scripture today.  I want us to desperately approach the scriptures looking for the very words of life, and I’ll tell you why that is not legalism.  (John Piper)  When you approach the scriptures looking for the very words of life…You are pleading as a helpless child for the desire you long to have. Legalists don’t cry like that. They strut.  When you approach the scriptures looking for the very words of life…You are reading out of desperation for the effects of this heavenly medicine. Bible-reading is not a cure for a bad conscience; it’s chemo for your cancer. Legalists feel better because the box is checked. Saints feel better when their blindness lifts, and they see Jesus in the word. Let’s get real. We are desperately sick with worldliness, and only the Holy Spirit, by the word of God, can cure this terminal disease.  And finally when you approach the scriptures looking for the very words of life…It is not legalism because only justified people can see the preciousness and power of the Word of God. Legalists trudge with their Bibles on the path toward justification. Saints sit down in the shade of the cross and plead for the blood-bought pleasures.  John Piper.

So having said that, let’s jump into this week’s passage.  Any time a verse begins with the words “Know this,” we can imply two things.  Something has come before to help build this thought.  And something directly applicable is going to follow.

Last week, we saw James emphasize to us that every good and perfect gift that we have comes down from the Father of lights.  Part of the intention in that passage was to either establish or re-establish in our hearts and minds that whatever we are presently enduring is intended to be used by God for good in our lives.  Top of the world or struggling to survive, if you have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins then every single thing that God is ordaining for you to go through is for your good because the purpose of those things is to equip and to make you more like Christ.  James then reminded us that God’s character as the Father of Lights is unchanging and as we learn to trust that unchanging nature, we are not consumed my our circumstances.  Ultimately, out of that, we are God’s firstfruits where He calls us His own and we are the first of a great harvest where God promises to use us to bring many people to come know Him.

So with that, we move into the most practical, almost proverb-like, teaching in the book of James.  He tells us 3 things:  He tells us as beloved brothers that we should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.  These are 3 separate commands but they are connected in a way that should never be separated.  Essentially, this is the 3 legged stool that we sit on in our relationships.  James wants us to know how to listen to others, how to speak to others, and how to control our temper.  Again, all three of these go together, but for our sake and to understand them completely, we need to look at them one at a time.  So, having said that, what does it mean to be quick to hear or as some translations have it, quick to listen.  Well, our best understanding of obedience is always found in Jesus.

If we want to understand how to listen, let’s see how Jesus demonstrated and valued listening.  We see his example when He listened to the woman at the well in John 4.  She was so shocked that Jesus would even speak to her much less listen to her.  He listened to the Rich Young Ruler and his arrogance in Mark 10.  He listened to the Pharisee when the Pharisee rebuked Jesus in John 10.  Despite being omniscient and all-knowing, Jesus took time to listen to people when He interacted with them.

But Jesus also valued listening by command.  He said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” when teaching about John the Baptist – Mt 11:15.  He said the same thing around the parable of the sower – Mt 13:9  And around the explanation of the parable of the tares – Mt 13:43  The commands around the churches in Revelation from Jesus in chapter 2 all say, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear.”

Having taken in Jesus’ example and command, what does it mean to be quick to listen?   Essentially, it means that we first seek people out in order to understand what they think and feel.  A lot of times in the Christian world, we don’t even seek out people with whom we disagree because we don’t care to know what they think.  We think we know it already, so why listen to them again.  We do this with issues of religion, politics, sexuality, basically any other area in which we feel smug.  We are guilt of just not listening to folks.  Secondly, it means patiently listening to folks while they speak.  Not dying for a break in the action so that you can tell them why they are wrong.  Not ignoring what they have to say because your opinion has been formed prior to or apart from their conversation.  No, patiently listening to what folks have to say.  Not quick to speak but quick to listen.

This is the basis of so many fights in marriages and other relationships.  One party is talking and the other party is off doing something completely other in their head.   You know this moment; it’s when one person says to the other, “You can’t tell me what I just said, can you?”  And the other says, “Yeah, I can,” and then they fumble through some mishmash of words that they barely heard, or after hearing a list you can only recall the first thing your spouse said.  And then the fight breaks out.

But the bottom line is that listening is caring.  Listening is loving.  Even if you know what the person is going to say word for word, listening to them is caring for them.  Jesus knew what people were going to say before they said it, yet He listened.  He even knew what people were thinking before they said it:  Matthew 9:4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? Jesus knew what people were really thinking in their hearts.  You don’t.

Quite simply, SK, stop playing God and listen to people.  Ask them what they think and ask them what they care about.  Ask them to clarify when you don’t understand.  Tell people, “Hey I want to make sure I heard you,” and then tell them back what they said.  Let’s reflect that we have been heard by God and be a people that hears and listens.

Be quick to listen.  And if you are quick to listen then you are going to be slow to speak.  These two things go together.  Proverbs 17:27 Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.  28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;    when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

Honestly, being slow to speak is not a valued characteristic:  not in the world and not in the church.  But according to the scriptures, the restraint of words is the evidence of knowledge.  This doesn’t mean that you get to be purposefully quiet to keep people in the dark.  It means listening well in order to respond well.  Heck, Proverbs even says that restraining the words gives you a cool spirit.  If I could learn to restrain my words it would be the first time I would have been cool in my entire life.

But verse 28 is the kicker.  Even fools appear wise and intelligent when they are silent.  Gang, I have rarely been in these circles.  When I was a teacher, it was how smart you were or how well you could influence people.  When I was in sales, it was definitely about being deft with words.  As a manager, I never could figure out how to manage quietly, but that was the first time I learned to listen to people.  Seminary is the place where they teach you to speak and only encourage you to listen.  As a pastor, I used to jump into every theological battle out there leaving friends and family as wreckage along the way.

Now, when I read these verses, and I’m told to be quick to listen and slow to speak.  I so desperately want to see that grow in me and grow in this church.  What a great testimony SK would have if in our neighborhoods and community we weren’t known as the church that constantly picks a fight, but the one that listens and is wise in response.  Now, before we move on to being slow in anger, let me offer this one caveat.   You might say that you rarely get into fights over Christianity and that you are slow to speak, so what’s the big deal?  Great, let me ask one question:  Do you even care enough to be involved in the lives of others?

Because you and I need to know that indifference towards others is not being quick to listen and slow to speech.  Judging others silently is not being quick to listen and slow to speech.  Not caring whether someone in this church is hurting or not isn’t those things.  Not caring whether someone is growing in Christ in this church is not those things.  Not caring whether someone knows Jesus Christ is not those things.

And you know why we just don’t care sometimes?   Some one or some thing has disappointed us, and we are angry and that anger has become indifference.  That’s why James says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”  If you are caringly listening to people, being wise in how you respond with your words, then you will be less likely to get angry.  But, if you are angry, you will be tempted to just not interact with folks whether in the church or out.  Ever written someone off?  If so, that is not wisdom.  It’s anger.  The recipe for depth and communicating love in a relationship is being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

Gang, the reason the commands to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger aren’t merely legalistic commands is because when we obey these verses we are being compassionate and imitating Christ.  We are imitating Christ.  We are imitating His incarnation.  Let me explain that.  Incarnating or the incarnation was Jesus taking on human flesh sympathetically to endure what we grow through so He secure righteousness and salvation for us.  When you are quick to listen, you are incarnating; you are trying to understand the other person.  When you are slow to speak, you are incarnating; you are making sure that you give the other person time to express themselves.  When you are slow to anger, you are incarnating; you are making sure that the other person feels safe around you to be honest without being attacked.

Now, you might say, Gordon, I just don’t know if I can do that.  The people who make me angry, I just avoid them.  Isn’t that better?  It might be better for you, but it doesn’t demonstrate the Gospel, it doesn’t reflect Christ, and it is not obedient.  In effect you are saying, “I don’t want to be like Jesus.  I don’t mind being like Jesus to that person, but I don’t want to be like Jesus in response to that person.”  This verse doesn’t prohibit you from talking or even being angry.  It tells you to be quick and first and slow the second.  Here is why.  Verse 20 tells us for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.  If your anger doesn’t produce righteousness then what it produces is sin.  Now when you hear that, don’t you want to justify your anger just a bit?

Don’t you want to tell me that Jesus got angry that one time and flipped over all the tables of the merchants who were hawking their goods at the temple?  And I say, “Yes, Jesus did get angry.  But His anger was a Godly, righteous anger.  His anger was described a zeal for the house of God.  Jesus didn’t sin in His anger.

That is not our anger.  The anger described as sin here is the anger of man, and the anger of man does not produce righteousness.  Folks, let me bottom line it for you.  Our sinful nature wants us to be slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to anger.  We do this because our sinful tells us that we are right, others are wrong, and no one can convince us otherwise.  We need an infusion of what is true from God and we need the Holy Spirit to mend those truths into our heart so that we can begin to think, act, interact, and even worship rightly.

I remember getting all of this completely wrong when I was in seminary.  I was arguing theology with a good friend over instant messenger, so you can already see how this was a bad idea.  My friend was working on his doctorate and I was working on my theology, and we were at two completely opposite sides on an issue.  I arrogantly made a joke over instant messenger and it hurt our friendship.  I couldn’t understand how my friend came to the conclusion that he had so I quoted Seinfeld and said, “Daniel, my friend, you are an enigma wrapped in a twinkie.”

I wasn’t being quick to listen, slow to speak, or slow to anger.  It two years to repair that friendship.  My interaction with my friend was arrogant, prideful, and wicked.  When we don’t listen carefully and are given to anger, we are walking in arrogance, pride, and wickedness.  Instead, we need to walk and talk meekly.  We need to listen, speak slowly and control our anger.  Fortunately, verse 21 tells us how we can do that.

21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  Failure to be quick to listen, failure to be slow to speak, failure to be slow to anger is described in verse 21 as filthiness and rampant wickedness.  We will be filthy and angry and sinful unless we walk before the scriptures in humility and meekness.  I read a great quote this week from a pastor buddy of mine.  He say, “The patience of God means He has power over His own wrath; He is able to righteously restrain His anger.”  So the God ordained means by which you can gain such control and power over your listening, speaking, and your anger is to bathe your heart and mind in the scriptures and when we do that God promises interact with you by the power of His Holy Spirit.  The hope we have is for the word of God to be implanted in your heart so that you will be meek and your soul be saved.

Let’s take those things one at a time.  First, receiving the implanted word with meekness.  You want to know why most Christians struggle with reading their bible regularly?  Because most of us think we don’t need it.  We think the Holy Spirit is like a Genie in the Bottle and is going to just tell us whatever we need to know.  And no doubt, the Spirit can do whatever the Spirit wants, but that’s just it.  The Holy does as the Spirit will.  And the command and promise of God is that the Holy Spirit is going to work in conjunction with the Bible to help you put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness.  Romans 8 explains the interaction between you, the word of God and the Holy Spirit.

Romans 8:10 If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The Holy Spirit is in you as you have faith in Jesus.  The Spirit gives you a life that enables you to obey.  The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will give you this new life of obedience.  I Corinthians 2 explains how that works.

1 Corinthians 2: 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual

The Spirit of God enables you to understand the scriptures.  And the scriptures are the word of God and they enable you to live out that which God has commanded.  Gang, do not neglect this incredibly great gift.  It is life for your bones and energy for your heart.  Second, how does the word of God save your soul?

Romans 10: 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

If you have faith in Jesus Christ, if you have called out to him for forgiveness and salvation, it is because you know and believe the Jesus that is presented in the scriptures.  You couldn’t have called out unless you believe, you couldn’t have believed unless you heard the truths of scriptures, and you couldn’t have heard those scriptures unless someone proclaimed them to you, and someone sent that person to tell you the truths of scriptures.  Your faith in Jesus came from hearing the word of God and the word of God came from Jesus Christ.

Gang, the church here is not just a civic organization or something that you go to once a week or a couple of times a month.  This worship service, the existence of SK is part of God’s designed plan to bring people to know Jesus and then see those people grow and change in real Godliness.  You know that pattern that we just read:  faith in Jesus, believing the scriptures, hearing the Bible, preaching the scriptures sending the preacher?  Let’s take that in reverse and make it SK’s story and the make it your story.

Redeemer Church and Eastern Caroline Presbytery sent me to Garner to Plant Sovereign King.  So Amy and I move here in 2005.  By God’s grace, we gather some folks in and I start preaching.  Folks, hear the preach word and are changed.  Some come to faith for the first time while others grows in their knowledge of the scriptures and the bible.  That faith grow into belief and that belief grows into obedience.

That is what is going on here and each of you play a part.  You don’t have to be an ordained preacher to play a part in this.  You hear these words, grow in belief and faith, God changes you, and then God intends for you to share the truths of scriptures with others.  SK sends you out.  This is your commissioning.  Go, play a part in what God has designed.  Proclaim Jesus and the truths of scripture to those who need to heart it, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, and then trust the Spirit’s work in their lives just as you trust it in yours.

And when you do that, God will enable you to obey these verses.  You can proclaim Jesus to me and the rest world and do it while being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  Real change folks, real promises of God, real glory to Jesus, God really using you and SK Church


February 6, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,


  1. […] on this during your week – James 1:19-21 | Aaron Aiken1Family Devotion and Sermon Notes from James 1:19-21 « J. Gordon Duncan […]

    Pingback by Resources for James 1:19 - 21 | February 18, 2012 | Reply

  2. Thank you.

    Comment by Barbara | February 19, 2012 | Reply

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