Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 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. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 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.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:19-27).
There’s a huge difference between hearing the Word of God and doing it. In fact, just to hear God’s Word has no spiritual value at all. You have to do it—follow it, obey it—for there to be any good in it for you. You can listen to sermons, read the Bible, and do your devotional reading every day, but if you don’t obey God’s Word, you’re not really accomplishing much at all.
That’s James’s message in 1:19–27. There are some texts in the Bible that are difficult to understand, ones that you really have to analyze in order to grasp their meaning. There are others, though, that just punch you right between the eyes, and this is one of those. There’s no doubt about what James is saying. Simply hearing God’s Word is not enough. You have to do what it says.
Verses 19–20 can seem a bit random here. If James’s point is that we as Christians need to hear and obey God’s Word, what are these verses about hearing, speaking, and getting angry doing? The answer is that they are paving the road for James’s exhortation to receive and do the word. After all, much of our trouble in really hearing and then really doing God’s Word comes because we ourselves are too eager to speak our own opinions, too slow to hear God’s voice in his Word, or too full of anger, agitation, irritation, and distraction to give it the attention it deserves.
What today is keeping you from really hearing—and then doing—God’s Word? Are you distracted by work, family, your task list, phone calls to make, vacations to plan, appointments to keep, and, “Aaarrrgghh! It all just gets away from me!”? Are there things that you have come to value more than you value God’s Word? Are you discontented with where God has you in life right now? Any and all of that can contribute to our natural tendency to let our church attendance, our devotions, and our reading of Scripture become rote and lifeless.
Take some time today to determine what might be keeping you from doing God’s Word—from (as James says in verses 26–27) being careful about your words, caring for those in need, and not falling into friendship with an ungodly world. Don’t look in the mirror and then forget what you’ve seen (vv. 23–24); look deeply into the word of truth, obey it, and see how God will bless you—not just in the hearing but in the doing! (v. 25).
Greg Gilbert from the ESV Men's Devotional Bible