Receive with meekness the implanted word…
Today’s verses are connected to each other, and to the previous verse, by three references to “the word” (vv. 21, 22, 23; cf. v.19). In this context, the directive to “be quick to hear” relates primarily to hearing God’s word.
James is presumably envisaging the context of the house church, where the Scriptures were read and expounded – and (in true Jewish fashion) debated! In such a context careful listening and reflection before speaking is the right response if the implanted word is going to grow in the mind and heart of the believer.
Flaring up in anger, on the other hand, results only in the closing of the ears and mind and the unbridling of the tongue. The idea that God can speak to a quickly enflamed person, conforming him to his word, or that a person can effectively impart God’s word to others in a flash of rage, is delusional. What is required is meekness, which Calvin defined as “the mind disposed to learn”, and Trench as “the temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good… without disputing.”
Meekness in receiving God’s word is, therefore, a key element of “the good soil” in Jesus’ parable of the sower. Meekness is not just an attitude though, it presupposes the tearing down and putting away of all that has been raised up against God in one’s life.
As with the trials in v.2, we do not know what specifically James had in mind, but his language is strong. The adjective qualifying “wickedness” has the sense of ‘exceeding’, giving rise to the KJV’s quaint “superfluity of naughtiness”.
One would have thought that any naughtiness was superfluous, but James’ readers were evidently excelling in wickedness. Where there is a lack of meekness there is sure also to be self-deception. This was true of the scribes and Pharisees (see Matt 23) and is an ever-present danger for us all. Hearing and studying God’s word is meaningless unless it leads to a transformed life.
Outward conformity on its own is superficial religiosity, not allowing the implanted word to do its saving work in the soul (meaning one’s whole being). Those in whom God’s word takes no root are like the man in the mirror who merely looks goes away and forgets; rather than looking into, persevering and then acting.
How does one know if the implanted word has taken root in one’s life? James says take this simple test: Does what you say witness to your righteousness (cf. Luke 6.45)? Does your care for the most needy attest to it? Are you conformed to the Gospel or to the world?
This is neither an exhaustive checklist nor a complete definition of pure, undefiled Christianity; it wasn’t intended to be and didn’t need to be. It is sufficient though for James to signal his awareness of the reputation of some of his addressees and their churches, and to introduce topics which he will return to in more detail.
Take the ‘James test’ (vv.26f.) and ask for God’s assessment, not to condemn but to correct.
Gracious Father, I thank you for implanting the seed of your word in my heart. I pray that you would give me a meek heart to receive it, look into it, persevere and act upon it, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
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