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Oct 09, 2016

Deceptive Listening or Dynamic Living?

Deceptive Listening or Dynamic Living?

Passage: James 1:19-25

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: James

Keywords: action, anger, god's word, listening to god, obedience, self-deception, speech, tongue


This message looks at how we are to be hearers and doers of the word of God and the potential self-deceptions that may happen to us as Christians involved in studying God's word.


Deceptive Listening or Dynamic Living

James 1:19-25

October 9, 2016


INTRO:  (The “Speaker-Listener” technique used in marriage counseling.  Demonstrate it with the help of Sandy!)

  • What do you notice is the job of the listener?
  • What is the job of the speaker?
  • Why is this a vital first-step for good communication?
  • Does good listening sometimes solve problems? How?

Contrast this kind of communication with what too many married couples do when they get into an argument.  Rather than really listening, each person is usually…

  • rebutting their partner’s argument in their mind
  • thinking of their come-back
  • talking over, under and through their partner’s words.

This is exactly the kind of situation James 1:19ff is addressing but in regards to how we listen…and speak…to God.

            We’re back in James 1 today. James is one of the more down-to-earth New Testament epistles as it deals with so many daily, practical, earthy sorts of things.  Certainly that is the case with the paragraph we’ll be studying today.

            If you have your Bible with you (which I encourage), turn to James 1:19ff as I read.

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.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  (And he goes on to discuss the difference between hearing and living the Word of God.) 

            While James’ call to have big ears, a small mouth and a really slow fuse (on your tongue) to your anger can apply to all of life, I think it is valuable to observe that he is clearly applying it to the context where “the word” of God is heard and taught.  Clearly that would be in the church.  But it can also be in our homes, whenever our families gather for fellowship, in any context where God’s word is being disseminated.

            James is calling all of us who are Christ-followers to approach God’s word in whatever context it comes to us with a sort of “speaker-listener” mindset:  God’s going to speak…and I’m going to try my hardest to listen in a way that understands His heart and His words…His message to me. 

Different worship traditions have a lot to teach us about being “quick to hear” and “slow to speak.”  One of those groups is the Quakers.  They have a tradition of not having prepared music or preaching but rather of coming together and waiting for God to speak to someone and nudge them to either lead out in song or share some truth of Scripture.  While there is a sort of implicit bias against prepared teaching/preaching, there is much in this format of worship that accords with what we read about the early church worship where many people had varied roles throughout a gathering of the church from teaching to prophecy to tongues to songs. 

            Here’s how one Quaker author describes how listening to God is done in their tradition. 

“The practice of sitting together in silence is often called "expectant waiting." It is a time when Friends become inwardly still and clear aside the activities of mind and body that usually fill our attention in order to create an opportunity to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is not a time for "thinking," for deliberate, intellectual exercise. It is a time for spiritual receptivity, so it is important not to clog one's mind with its own busy activities. Nonetheless, thoughts will occur in the silence. Some thoughts will be distractions and should be set aside. (Make that shopping list later.) But some thoughts or images or feelings may arise that seem to come from a deeper source and merit attention. If you are visited by a spiritual presence, if you seem to experience perceptions that are drawn from a deeper well or are illuminated with a brighter light, then let those impressions dwell in you and be receptive to the Inward Teacher. Each person finds his or her own ways of "centering down," or entering deep stillness during meeting.  [Found at http://www.quakerinfo.org/quakerism/worship on 10/7/2016.]

How different our worship might be week-by-week if we put this kind of effort into being “quick to hear” God and “slow to speak” our thoughts and minds.  It could be especially revolutionary for pastors, don’t you think? J

APP:  Do we come expecting God to speak on Sundays?  When we have family devotionsPrivate time with God reading His word?  Share Bible study or prayer times together?  Waiting quietly may be part of demonstrating expectancy in God.

APP 2: But then there is the next step in the process—really hearing, really listening for God’s word and voice. Expectancy must lead to actual hearing…to hearing what was actually spoken. Just like we may need to ask someone, “What do you mean by that?” so we may need to pause over the Word of God and chew on what a passage really means.  Not just “What does this mean to ME?” but “What does God intend this passage to mean to everyone who will ever read it?”  That is hearing God’s word, his voice, “quickly,” “correctly”, as He intended us to hear it.

Just like blessed friendships listen and understand the words of their friend…or blessed married couples listen and understand the words of their spouse… so we are blessed in communion with God when we are eager and “quick” to hear from God.  This is an important part of what we like to say we are all about at Mosaic:  experiencing the heart of God in the heart of our city. 

Now James throws into the mix here something that may at first seem a little out of place.  It’s this issue of anger.

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.” 

We’re honestly hard-pressed to find any passage of Scripture that paints human anger in a positive light.  While anger is a part of God’s nature (God does get angry against sin, what it does to people and the people who perpetrate evil), it’s not an emotion or reaction that is applauded very often by God in humans.  For the most part, God warns us against using anger. (See Col. 3:8; Eph. 4:26, 31; Eph. 6:4; I Tim. 2:8.)

This isn’t a sermon on anger. (I have too much to change in my own life before I preach that one!)  But James is indicating here that anger is something that does get in the way of hearing from God.  Whether it’s anger with another person or anger with God over something He’s done or not done in your life, anger tends to make us tone deaf to the voice of God.

Think of it this way:  How much does getting furious with someone help you understand that person or their words?  Yah, it doesn’t work very well for me either. J 

James tells us in vs. 20 that the reason anger doesn’t help us hear from God is because, “…the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  God-like anger must flow from God-like character.  And since most of our anger is “man’s anger,” it just can’t produce godliness and righteousness.  Human anger never leads to godly character. 

            Godliness…God-like-ness in character…can lead to righteous anger, however. Godliness will get upset with injustice done to others, with evil done to others, with things that separate people from God, with religious people whose words and actions lead people away from God.  It will be other-focused, not self-focused.  It will take action that protects people from evil, not provokes them to it.  And godly anger experienced by godly people won’t last long.  It won’t dominate a life.  It won’t eat you up inside and it won’t destroy your heart or love for people. 

            For those of us who struggle with anger, isn’t it amazing how “quick” an emotion or response anger is?  You never hear someone say…

  • “Man, I wish I got angry faster!
  • “If I could just explode sooner, my family would love me so much more.”
  • “If I could come to a royal rage more often at work, I’d get so much more done and be promoted so much faster!” J

Fact is, studies show that anger as a neurological response lasts about 2 seconds. [See http://www.realsimple.com/health/mind-mood/best-manage-your-anger.]  Beyond that, we’re nursing it.  We’re feeding it.  We’re working it up by unrighteous thoughts or words or behaviors.  This is why God calls us to SLOW our anger down.  HOW can we do that?

  • Try quoting a verse that calls you away from answer to something better…like James 1:19 & 20.
  • Try quoting a Proverb that calls you to a different response
    1. Proverbs 14:29--Whoever is slow toanger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
    2. Proverbs 16:32-- Whoever is slow toanger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
    3. Challenge the assumptions and ideas that underlie the anger.
    4. Determine what expectations have been disappointed and ask yourself, “Do I really have to get that expectation fulfilled to not be angry?”
    5. Go for a walk and think it through. (What Jesus did prior to unloading on the money changers in the Temple.  He took a whole night to think about it.  Think he talked it over with the Father and got direction?  You bet!) 
    6. Take constructive action to solve the injustice or wrong.

Human anger tends to do just what vs. 21 says not to do. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” 

It’s interesting how often vulgar speech accompanies anger.  That’s one use of this word “filthiness” in the original Greek.  It can also refer to a “filthiness” of something, like a dirty rag or "a wax build-up in the ear."  Now that sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?  It is used to refer to unholy living which impairs a believer's hearing of God's word.

After studying this passage, I’ve come to the conclusion that anger is one of those things that is really messing with a lot of us in the body of Christ.  I know it has and still is messing with me.  And James is calling us to get it out of our lives because it is going to severely impair our ability to “humbly accept the word” of God that “can save” us (vs. 21). 

For some, anger manifests in destructive outbursts of rage, in verbal tirades and hurtful words. For others it may be creating ulcers…or bitterness toward a spouse… or apathy in your heart for God.  Anger is no small disease.  God says it has the power to render His very word ineffective and muted in our lives. 

Vs. 21 calls us to replace anger with something else.  That “something” God prescribes is the word of God itself.  Why?  Because God’s word is unlike any other word.  It is true.  It is backed by God himself.  It is powerful.  In fact, James says that it is so powerful that it has the power to literally “save your soul” (vs. 21). 

When the Bible talks about “a soul”, it’s talking about the whole person.  You don’t “have” a soul; you are a soul. And when God uses His word to save our soul, He’s out to save every part of us—our minds, our mouths, our bodies, our emotions, our desires, what entertains us, what captures our hearts, our actions…every-thing.!  The word of God is in the whole-human saving business. 

This is also why James is going to call us to DO something with the word of God that is different from every other communication we hear in life. 

  • I can listen to the Presidential debates and…get angry! No, seriously, I can listen to them and forget about them and go on my merry way and not be damaged in any way by forgetting what Donald or Hillary says.
  • I can read a newspaper or magazine and burn it in the fireplace, forgetting everything I read, and it won’t be a big deal.
  • I can sit around and talk with friends or family or watch a football game on TV or veg out in front of Netflix for hours and not have it do me damage (well, not too much damage).

But God says I simply cannot treat the Word of God that way and be O.K.  Listen to this next paragraph, James 1:22-25:

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

            This morning there are two groups of people here today, James says.  Group 1 are doers of the word.  That is those of us who will handle God’s word today unlike all the other words we’ve heard this week.  We’ll come to this book with a predetermined commitment to DO something with it.  We’ll be asking God all morning, “Father, what do you want me to DO with what I hear today?”  We may write down something God shows us we can do.  We may put it in our smartphone to revisit this afternoon or later in the week.  We may ask a brother or sister or family member to help us do something with it.  We may ask them to ask us what we’ve done with it next time they see us.  That’s the “DOER GROUP” James is talking about. 

            Then there is Group 2.  They are the “DECEIVERS GROUP.  I chose that title rather than, say, the “Hearer Group” because it’s not such a kind and gentle title.  I don’t mind being a “hearer” of the word of God.  Doing that puts me ahead of most of my fellow Spokanites or Americans.  Besides, I know that I’ve first got to “hear” (or read or study) God’s word before I can hope to know what I’m supposed to do let alone actually do it.  So being a “hearer” sounds like a measure of obedience to me.  And maybe it is. 

            But the danger is precisely that…a “measure of obedience.”  It’s like the kid who says, “I cleaned my room.”  But when you go into his/her room, you find that it looks like a bomb went off.  You say, “Hey, I thought you told me you cleaned your room?” to which they reply, “Well, I did.  Didn’t you see my night stand?  It’s really clean.  And my desk has 4 square inches of “really clean.”  How was I to know you meant the floor, the bed, the closet, the dresser, the desk…the whole room?”  Partial obedience, when we know what real obedience looks like, is really disobedience, isn’t it? 

            That’s why there are only two groups of people here today:  the “Doer Group” and the “Deceiver Group.”  And chances are that most of us will be in the latter group after this morning.  Why? Because most of us will forget what we heard here this morning by this evening.  Forgetting what I say is no big deal.  But forgetting what we’re reading and studying in God’s word today IS a big deal according to our Father.  Because failing to DO what God is calling us to do in this passage today puts us in the “DECEIVERS CLUB.”

            Speaking of club, that is precisely the terminology James appeals to in vs. 22 when he talks about “merely hearers/listeners” to God’s word.  22 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  That two word phrase “hearers only” was used in ancient Greek of people who would attend lectures of some great teacher or philosopher but never join their school or class or group/club.  It’s not like you’re just auditing a class verses taking it for credit; you’ve never enrolled in the university!  You’re pretending to be a student but you’re really not by anyone’s accepted criteria. 

But let’s ask the question, “How are we deceiving ourselves when we listen to but don’t DO, don’t ACT UPON the word of God?”  What self-deceptions are we engaged in by not obeying God’s word that we just read or studied? What are we believing about God’s word and about us?

[Solicit responses.]

Possible self-deceptions:

  • I’m a good follower of Jesus by just listening to His word.
  • God’s word has magical powers. If I just hear it, it will change me…like some magic potion spoken over you.
  • Not obeying God’s word when I’m challenged to do something different doesn’t really hurt me.
  • I’m growing spiritually by going to church/Bible study/listening to radio preachers/etc.
  • God will bless me for just being here, just hearing or reading or studying (especially at Bible college!) God’s word.

Fact is, we all believe these deceptions to varying degrees and frequencies.  How else can you explain that the American church, one of the most educated and informed churches in the world, is crumbling while we speak and engaging in behaviors that God says are sinful at unprecedented proportions and levels?  Divide the Evangelical church between these two groups of DOERS and DECEIVED, and I’d bet dollars to donuts that the latter is the larger. 

            The tragedy of self-deception is that it is very difficult to admit.  By its nature, deception is something we don’t recognize… or it wouldn’t be deception.  Deception means we think someone or something is something it is not.  Self-deception is even worse because none of us like to admit we’re wrong about something, especially when it’s our fault. 

            Who comes out of church on Sunday and says, “I think so little of the Word of God that I’m going to spend all week not thinking about it or doing it”? 

            Who spends precious time in a small group only to start the week determined to be self-deceived? 

Nobody does that sort of thing.  We all have good intentions.  But we tend to follow the herd mentality by thinking that hearing is doing when, in reality, it’s just deceiving. 

Vss. 23-24 paint a rather graphic picture of what the self-deception of action-less listening to God’s word is like.  Mirrors are not a modern invention although the quality today is certainly a vast improvement over the polished metals of 2,000 years ago.  Mirrors serve pretty much one purpose: self-reflection.  Mirrors were basically ancient selfies

While we may use mirrors on our cars or corners of blind intersections to help us see other people or vehicles in today’s world, mirrors through the years and still today are mostly about self-reflection.  J

We install and use them wherever we want to check our appearance or engage in personal image-improvement.  You don’t need a mirror to change someone else’s face…or hair…or skin.  You need it for self-change. 

That’s what the word of God is to be for us.  When we encounter Scripture, its primary use is not to be able to go to someone else and say, “Hey, see that wart on your hand?  Well, you really need to work on that.  If you don’t do something about that, you might wake up with warts on your tongue tomorrow.” 

No, every encounter with the Word of God is to be something that speaks to our hearts about us and God.  The Word is primarily for personal growth development, not other-criticism. 

ILL:  Unfortunately, too many of us are like the elderly lady who was in the pastor’s church Bible study. When the pastor observed that there was a command in the passage they were studying, he asked, “So do you do with commands?”  This senior saint instantly piped up with, “Well, I underline in blue in my Bible.”  J

  So whenever we come to the word of God, it should be with the same attitude as when we look in the mirror in the morning:  what is this “mirror” pointing out to me that needs to change in my life? 

Vs. 25 now instructs us on the right way to use this “mirror of the soul.”  25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

            James is, of course, writing to the Jewish Christians scattered all over the Roman world.  So he’s talking to people who are used to the Law of Moses.  They are used to being dedicated to hundreds of Jewish laws and traditions.  But James clearly wants to remind them that this “perfect law,” the word of God, is actually something that sets people free rather than binds their lives up.  It’s a “law of liberty,” intended to free us from bondage to sin. 

            That’s something any of us who have oversight of others should keep in mind.  Whether we’re a parent, a teacher, an employer, a leader in any capacity, the best leadership is someone who knows how to keep rules to a minimum while holding to rules that really make people more free when they obey them. 

ILL: For example, earlier in this passage, God told us to be “slow to anger.”  That’s a “law of liberty.”  Because when I violate that law, I become a slave to my anger, my bitterness, my emotions.  My freedom to develop relationships with others shrinks.  My respect from others diminishes.  My joy in life shrivels.

            But when I learn how to be “slow to anger,” it opens up a host of opportunities, of healthier relationships, of happier life.  It sets me free.  And everyone around me is blessed because I chose to obey God’s “law of liberty” about anger. 

So, let’s do a little “looking into this perfect law of liberty” for a moment.  Let’s do a little “persevering” in that practice.  And let’s figure out before we leave today how to be “doers who act” rather than “hearers who forget.” 

  1. HOW & WHEN are you going to “look” into God’s word this week?
    1. Daily devotional time?
    2. Bible study group?
    3. Radio program/podcast?
    4. Other reading/listening?
  2. WHAT are you going to do to “persevere” in that look? What questions will you ask when you look in that “mirror” that will help lead you to actual growth and change? Persevering in anything takes a little extra effort. May I suggest a few good ones no matter what passage of Scripture you are in?
    1. WHAT is this passage talking about? [Ask that question of the text we’ve looked at this morning.  What might be your quick answers?  Really listening, talking less/less quickly, anger, using God’s word correctly, obedience, etc.]
    2. HOW does that relate to my life/experience/ world/family/etc.? Now we’re bringing WHAT the text is talking about into our own realm of experience. [Again, quick answers?]
    3. WHAT does God want me to do with that? We’re asking the Holy Spirit to bring the right and needed applications of this passage to our minds and hearts.
  3. What ACTION will I take this day/week with God’s help to obey God’s call on my life in this passage? Again, this takes waiting on the Holy Spirit, mulling Step 2 over, and writing down what we think God wants us to do and when.  [Take time now to let people do that.]

Now, what does God say will be the experience of the person who actually engages with Him and obeys His calls to us in His word?  “…He will be blessed in his doing.”  The favor of God rests on that person.  God’s grace will flow and flourish in that person’s life.  God’s hand of blessing will be upon that person. 

            This is what we should be sharing with each other throughout the week.  Whether it’s at a prayer meeting (Wed. p.m. and Thursday a.m.), in your small group, over coffee with a friend (Chr. or non-Chr.) or in a phone call to someone, plan to share sometime next week how God has blessed your active response to God’s living word. And be prepared to share that blessing with someone next Sunday.

            Some of you are familiar with what we call the Discovery Bible Study method here at Mosaic.  It’s not original with us.  It’s part of Disciple Making Movements (DMMs) all around the world.  One of the keys to that method of looking into God’s word is the obedience factor.  Before you leave the study, you have a plan of action for putting God’s word to work in your life that week.  And one of the first questions when you come back together the next week is to ask, “So, how did it go putting last week’s truths into practice?  What did we do?  How did God use that to bless us or others?” 

            It’s “obedience-oriented” looking at God’s word rather than “hearing-oriented.”  “Hearing-oriented” doesn’t ever follow up with how or what the obedience was.  Consequently, we inadvertently train people to be hearers of God’s word rather than doers.  Sunday after Sunday, the pastor downloads more information without ever really inspecting the result, without ever asking, “So how were you blessed this week by obeying what we studied last week?”

            Instead we go week after week without ever sharing the blessings of obedience OR the sorrows of disobedience. 

EX:  The rich man in Matthew 19 went away sad when he chose not to obey Jesus’ command to “…go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  Maybe that’s why so many Christians today lack joy:  we go away from encounters with Christ in His word choosing to just be hearers when the joy is in the obedient DOING. 

EX:  On the other hand, the 72 followers of Jesus who went ahead of him, preaching the good news of the kingdom in Israel, not taking money or extra clothing or anything beyond the basics, returned with joy.”  Why?  Because they had actually acted on Jesus’ call and done what He wanted. 


  • Call to obedient hearing of God’s word today.
  • Call to respond to Christ as Lord and Savior.