Bible Passage: James 1:19-27
Throughout his book, James’ big concern is what it looks like to put our faith into practice. In this passage, he focusses on how we engage with the word of God. It is not enough to just hear the word, but we must do what it says (notice the similarity here with what Jesus taught in Matthew 7:24-27). The analogy that James uses is a mirror. When you get up in a morning and need to get ready for the day ahead, looking in a mirror is a great thing to do.
But if you immediately forget what the mirror has shown you and don’t act, then it is pointless. For James, the Bible works the same way. The value is in reading the Bible daily is in thinking about what it says and applying it to the our lives.
This idea is not only the key to this passage, but to the whole book of James. Faith is taken as a starting point, but is declared useless if it does not lead to transformed lives. Other parts of the Bible explore exactly how this transformation occurs. James simply shows what it looks like. In this passage, he draws our attention to three specific areas of Bible application.
Listening Before Speaking (v19-20): When we face challenging circumstances it can be easy to jump to conclusions and be quick in pronouncing our opinions on events or people. James urges us against this kind of reaction in these verses. Though anger is not necessarily wrong, hasty anger is. We react out of wounded pride or rejection and our anger is very different from God’s controlled, patient, righteous hatred of evil. Likewise, speaking is not necessarily bad, though we can do much harm when we are quick to speak. When we offer opinions before we have all the facts, we will often be wrong and sometimes say things that are unfair or hurtful to others. Instead of anger or speech being our starting point, we should instead listen and seek to truly understand. We are to adopt a posture of humility that gathers information, respects the thoughts of others and seeks to reach well-thought through conclusions before offering our thoughts.
Care For the Needy (v26-27): James sees the heart of religion as caring for the poor and he is not alone in this. Not only is it emblazoned across the Old Testament, but Jesus himself declared his purpose to be ‘to preach good news to the poor’, and the apostles reminded Paul as he travelled planting churches to ‘remember the poor’. In verse 27, James states religion is simply visiting orphans and widows in their distress. He has picked out two examples of marginalised and needy groups and called on us as followers of Jesus to care for them. If our Christianity does not serve the poor, then we have missed the point.
Avoid Worldliness (v21,27): There are many positive things in the world that Christians can engage with, but there are also negative things in the world to avoid. James in concerned that we call ourselves followers of Jesus but have our hearts ensnared by the same things that entice everybody else. In verse 27, we are taught to keep ourselves unstained from the world and in 21 to put away filthiness and rampant wickedness and to instead receive with meekness God’s word. There are many forms worldliness can take and they vary from culture to culture, but can include individualism, materialism, pluralism and sexual immorality. We must take care to discern and avoid those things of the world that would be damaging to our souls.
As we move from simply reading the Bible to applying it, in these areas and others we will see our lives increasingly live out the faith that we profess.
- James has highlighted three practical areas here. Challenge people to identify which of them they find most striking and make a change in life to put it into practice.
- Perhaps you have projects or ministries as a church that work with the needy that you could encourage people to get involved in.
- It is important both to read and apply the Bible. If people are struggling to make Bible reading a habit perhaps you can share resources (like Bible reading plans) to help them build a routine.