James 1:19-21 – Swift to Hear

In James 1:18, the apostle challenges us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. It’s interesting that we have been given, by our creator, two ears and only one mouth. Which suggests, we should spend twice as much time listening as we do speaking.

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James 1:19-21 – “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls.”

Context of the Scripture

“Wherefore” points to the previous verse dealing with our new birth through the Word of Truth. Since we have been born again by the Word of God, given a spiritual birth from above, adopted into the family of God, and have become the firstfruits of God’s own possession, there are certain things that are expected of us.

Who James is Addressing

“My beloved brethern” refers to his fellow believers as brothers, fellow members of the body of Christ and family of God. This is an expression of endearment and love. We must love one another as endeared family members (John 13:34-35; Romans 5:5; 1 John 4:11).

“Every man” is all inclusive. He’s addressing every born again believer, every one who has been born of God and adopted into His family. This refers to every family member, none is excluded. It refers to the rich and poor, the wise and simple, the influential and seemingly insignificant in the eyes of the world. God includes us all, regardless of our ethnic, social, or economic standing.

Romans 2:11 – “There is no respect of persons with God.”

We must have the same attitude toward all of our brothers and sisters in the Lord as that of the Lord Himself and as James does here.

James 2:1 – “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.”

Paul takes it a step further saying, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind (attitude) be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).

Applications of James 1:19

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”

  1. Have a teachable spirit. We must all have a teachable spirit, ready to learn from anyone. It shouldn’t matter who it’s coming from. We must be willing to learn from every man, even if it’s from someone less educated, younger in the Lord, and even when it’s in the form of a rebuke (Proverbs 9:8-9).
  2. Be ready and eager to learn. Everyone should have a thirst for spiritual knowledge and insight and be ready and eager to learn from all. I don’t understand believers who don’t have a hunger for the Word (Psalms 119:103; Jeremiah 15:16; Romans 10:14-17; 1 Peter 2:2).
  3. Learn from the circumstances and battles of life. The context deals with having a listening ear and learning in all situations of life. It deals with the trials of life (James 1:2-4; 1:12), gaining and seeking wisdom from above (James 1:5-8), the temptations of life (James 1:13-15 ), and when deception is coming at us on every front (James 1:16). We must ask the Lord to teach us and show us what He wants us to learn from these things. We must also be open to learn from our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, even those of “low degree” (James 1:9-10).
  4. Listen to the views of others. This can easily apply in a myriad of relationship scenarios, marriages, friendships, fellow believers and church members, pastors, leadership, and church members, offenses between brethren, etc. We’re typically eager to tell our side of an issue but unwilling to listen to the views of others. Extreme tensions can arise when we only want to speak and express our opinions and views and not listen with an open mind to the views and opinions of others (Proverbs 15:1; 18:13; Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15).

    “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey

  5. Listen before giving advice. I’m a solution person. It’s easy for me to want to dive right in and give someone a solution to their problem before I’ve adequately heard all they have to say. There’s wisdom in thoroughly listening to someone before speaking. We should only answer after having a full understanding of the problem and/or situation (Proverbs 18:13).
  6. Be trained before teaching or preaching. We must be thoroughly trained and taught before speaking. Often those with a call of God want to jump right into ministering the Word before being adequately trained. This can lead to teaching things we will later regret. This is why being taught theologically sound doctrine prior to beginning our ministry is of utmost importance (2 Timothy 2:15; Titus 2:1). It’s imperative we seek to be taught before teaching.

    Moses was trained for eighty years prior to God using him. The disciples spent three years being trained directly by Jesus before entering into their ministry. Paul spent three years in the Arabian desert receiving revelation directly from the Master. How much more should we be adequately prepared? This can also apply to seasoned ministers of the Word. Time in our study and prayer, seated at the Master’s feet is a must before ever sharing the Word. Commit yourself to studying commentaries and theological works on whatever topic or passage you’re planning to speak on.

    Seek the Lord, and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you, and give you what He wants you to share before stepping behind the pulpit (Luke 10:38-42; Acts 4:13; Matthew 10:19-20). Then and only then can we be confident we are speaking “Thus saith the Lord.”

Subduing Our Passions

We must subdue our passions, be slow to speak, and slow to anger. “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). Bringing our passions under subjection to the Spirit of God is imperative in all relations of life and particularly in the ministry (Proverbs 15:1; 29:11; Ephesians 4:26-27, 29-32; Colossians 3:8).

Anger must be subdued! I’ve noticed that the majority of times when I’ve gotten angry or allowed my anger to get out of control that I have done something stupid or messed something up. Seldom does anything good come from anger or rage. Moses lost it with the children of Israel and stuck the rock twice destroying God’s type and picture of Christ and was not allowed to enter the promise land (Numbers 20:11; 1 Corinthians 10:4). Nothing good comes from losing control of our passions.

That said, there is a time and place for anger. It’s possible to be angry and sin not (Ephesians 4:26). Moses got mad and broke the Ten Commandments which God wrote with His own hand (Exodus 32:19). Jesus turned over the money changer’s tables in the temple and the seats of those who sold doves (Matthew 21:12). There is a place for righteous and godly indignation!

James 1:21a – “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.”

“Laying apart” has to do throwing aside a filthy garment or article of clothing, casting it aside with disgust. Peter said, “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 2:1-3). Notice he ends with “evil speakings” which is how it applies in our passage.

“Superfluity of naughtiness” has to do with our anger and speech or “evil speakings.” Some translations translate this “overflow of wickedness” and should be applied to anger and wickedness of speech. “Superfluity” is superfluous or a surplus of anger and speech, more than what is needed.

Proverbs 29:11 (KJV) – “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.”

Proverbs 29:11 (NKJV) – “A fool vents all his feelings, But a wise man holds them back.”

Proverbs 29:11 (NASB) – “A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back.”

Salvation and Sanctification Through the Word

“Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21b). This has to do with sanctification. Our salvation comes in three stages:

  1. Instant or positional salvation (Hebrews 10:14).
  2. Progressive salvation or sanctification (James 1:19b; Romans 8:29; Philippians 2:12-13).
  3. Final or complete salvation (Romans 8:29-30; 1 John 3:2).

Our spirit is saved instantaneously when we are born again (Ephesians 2:1). Our soul, on the other hand, is not. Our soul, which encompasses our mind, will and emotions, needs a lot of work. Most of what James is talking of this passage has to do with our soul and passions, which needs to be crucified and brought under the control of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24).

There’s cleansing and sanctifying virtue in the Word of God. Jesus said, “You are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). He prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Paul wrote concerning Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself, “Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word” (Ephesians 5:25-26).

James 1:21 – “Receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls.”

Micah 6:8 – “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

With over 43 years of teaching and ministry experience, Dr. Linton’s passion is to equip, encourage, and strengthen pastors and ministry leaders. Check out his latest video messages and sermons.