A Check up from the Neck up

A Check up from the Neck up

“A Check up from the Neck up”
(James 1:19-21)
Series: Living the Faith (James)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

•I invite you to take your Bibles and join me this morning in the first chapter of the Book of James, James chapter 1 (page 812; YouVersion).

We’re preaching our way consecutively through this letter, verse-by-verse. That’s what we do here, expository verse-by-verse preaching. All true preaching is teaching and so we are together studying this short letter of James.

What we have learned thus far is that God permits trials in our lives and does so in order to strengthen us and to make us more like Christ. Trials are inevitable and trials are beneficial. James says in verses 2 and following, “Consider it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of you faith produces endurance, but let entrance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (or mature) and complete, lacking nothing.”

So while trials and hardships are inevitable in this world, they are beneficial. God works through our trials to make us like Christ. So we must respond to them in the right manner, avoiding the temptation to respond in a way that may be harmful or sinful; this the lesson from last time, “Let no one say he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone (verse 13).”

So when Christians go through trials and difficulties they respond to them in a different way than non-Christians—or at least they should respond to them in a different way. Rather than the worldly kind of response to trials and hardships that is like, “Why is God doing this to me” or, “Why is this happening?” Christians understand that trials and hardships are the very means God uses to help us endure and to grow into maturity.

Ligon Duncan provides a helpful illustration here:

If you had been with the men who were going ashore at Normandy [France; storming the beaches of Normandy], on D-Day, all those years ago, I don’t think you would have found many of them turning to their chaplains, as the gates swung down into the water and onto the beach and saying, “Why is this happening to me?” It was what they had been training for. That was their moment, that’s the preparation, that was what they were out there to do, it was the job that they had been prepared for. Well, so also in the Christian life when we face trials our response is, “This is what the means of grace have been preparing me for…This is what the memorization of Scripture was for. This is what all those Sundays under the word of God was for, to prepare me to be faithful in this time, that I might be proven in this trial.” And so the Christian response to trials is very different from the response of the world around us.

So we left off at verses 17 and 18 with the encouraging reminder that all that God does is good for us. “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” The key to enduring trials and avoiding temptation is to delight in God’s goodness and delight in the Gospel. In verse 18, James says, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth (the Gospel), that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”

Now James turns to practical truth that flows from the Gospel, from a changed life that occurs by the power of the Gospel. And he says, then, in verse 19, “So then,” which is better translated, “So know this,” or “Take note of this.” Listen up. And then he goes on to talk about practical Christian living in light of the Gospel.

Remember that this letter is written to Christians. It’s not writing about becoming a Christian; he’s writing about behaving as a Christian.

So verses 19 and following describe the kind of lifestyle and behavior that should be evident in Christians because of the change God has brought through the saving power of the Gospel.

•Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.

19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;
20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.



Our message is entitled, “A Check up from the Neck up.” And the reason is because these verses teach about the way Christians are to speak, and how to listen, and how they are to think and deal with the emotion of anger. So these verses are something of a mental screening, a mental health examination.

Now we won’t need a licensed clinician for this morning’s examination. God will conduct the mental screening Himself through His Word. A “Check up from the Neck up.” Here we go, number one:

I. Watch your Mouth [19]

19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;

You note the first two imperatives there. “Let every man or woman, every Christian person, let every person be swift to hear and slow to speak.” In the words many of our mothers used: Watch your mouth. Close it tightly when you listen and open it slowly when you speak.

A) Close tightly when you Listen (19a)
B) Open slowly when you Speak (19b)

Now before we look at those two actions regarding our mouths, note the tender way in which James writes to Christians here. He begins verse 19, “So then,”—and again that is best translated as, “Note this,”—and then he calls them, “my beloved brethren.” It’s a reminder do us that Christians are a family. We are related to one another through Christ. We are brothers and sisters together and therefore we have a love for one another. I love you because you are a special family member in Christ. You are my sister in Christ, my brother in Christ, my mother in Christ, my father in Christ, my son in Christ, my daughter in Christ. My beloved brothers and sisters.

Then these two actions follow. Let every person be swift to hear and slow to speak. Close your mouth that you may listen and open it slowly when it’s time to speak.

So be a good listener. Don’t become the person you yourself recognize as a bad listener. We all know the type. You’re talking to this person and all the while you get the sense that this person isn’t really listening, but rather is thinking of what they’re going to say next. And you feel like you need to hurry through the rest of your words in order to make a point because they’re getting ready to interrupt you to say what they’re going to say. Don’t do that. Be swift to hear, slow to speak. Be a good listener.

Someone said God has given us two ears and one mouth so we would listen twice as much as we would speak. I like that. Be a good listener. Know the danger of being a chatterbox.

Proverbs 10:19, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

Proverbs 17:28, “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”

Be a good listener. What do you do with your cell phone when someone is talking to you? Let me suggest you put it away. Put it in your pocket or in your purse. Silence it. Honor the person who is talking to you by giving them your full attention. When you turn to your phone to look at a text or a tweet or whatever, you are at that moment ignoring the person who is talking to you and turning to someone else who is actually interrupting but doesn’t know it. Don’t do that. Be swift to hear. Be a good listener.

So watch your mouth. Second main action:

II. Keep your Head [19c-20]

Keep your head. Watch your anger. It’s like Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, “If—” That poem begins with a call to: “keep your head when [everyone else] is losing theirs and blaming it on you.”

Keep your head. In other words, don’t let your anger lead you to sin. James says to be “slow to wrath.” That’s the last part of verse 19, “slow to wrath” and then James goes on to say in verse 20, “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” So keep your head by being calm and being Christlike. Those are the two sub-points:

A) Be Calm (19c)
B) Be Christlike (20)

To be calm is to be “slow to wrath.”

In the context of listening and speaking, we all know that if we respond rashly to a criticism or concern we may sin by wrongfully hurting another person.

Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Watch your mouth. Keep your head. They go together. “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”

A lady once came to the evangelist Billy Sunday one day and tried to rationalize her anger. She said, “There’s nothing wrong with losing my temper.” She said, I just quickly blow up, and then it’s all over.” Billy Sunday replied, “So does a shotgun. It quickly blows up—and look at the damage it leaves behind.”

It’s far better to be in the position of wishing you had said something than to regret having said what you said…to your son, to your daughter, to your mother, to your spouse. Recall again:

Proverbs 10:19, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

Far better to be silent than to say something you will regret. So keep your head; be calm and:

B) Be Christlike (20)

That’s verse 20. James goes on to say why being an angry and bitter person is so unbecoming of a Christian. He says in verse 20, “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

The word “righteousness” here is different from the way the Apostle Paul often uses the word. James is not talking about saving righteousness, our being declared righteous by God though faith in Christ, the doctrine of justification. James is not talking about that kind of righteousness. Remember, James is not talking about becoming a Christian, he’s talking about behaving as a Christian. So he’s talking about righteousness as it is often used in the Old Testament in the sense of conducting one’s life or living according to God’s standards.

It’s righteousness in the sense in which Jesus uses the term such as in Matthew 6:1-2, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them…So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others.” That sense of righteousness.

So James warns in verse 20, “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

A paraphrase of verse 20 is, “When you lash out at someone and you let your anger get away from you, you don’t look like Christ.” Your behavior is inconsistent with a lifestyle that pleases our Lord.

So watch your mouth and keep your head; be calm, be Christlike. And, continuing now in verse 21:

21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

So James has already talked about being a good listener, about using our ears wisely, and now he comes back to this by teaching the importance of hearing from God. So this is the third main action this morning: Watch your mouth, keep your head, thirdly:

III. Hear from God [21]

21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

Hear from God first by rejecting all wicked activity. James puts it like this in verse 21, the first part: “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness.” That just sounds bad, doesn’t it? “Filthiness and overflow of wickedness.” So the first sub-point is:

A) Reject all Wicked activity (21a)

The “laying aside” of all wickedness pictures the idea of like taking off dirty clothes and putting on clean clothes. The dirty clothes are the way you used to live before you became a Christian. Now you are different. Now you are clean, so look that way. Don’t put on the old clothes, the old behavior of your life before Christ.
It’s the same idea conveyed by the Apostle Paul in places like Colossians 3 or in Romans 13:12, “Let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.”

You have made a break with the old world and the old ways, the way you used to live before you were saved. Put that stuff away. Lay aside all that filthy and wicked behavior, evil desires including moral impurity like pornography, and lust and lying and ungodly living in general. Lay aside all filthiness.

John MacArthur says that the word “filthiness” there was sometimes used in the secular Greek world to describer earwax. That’s kind of gross, isn’t it?! But it makes sense in that when we sin we allow stuff to gather up and impede our spiritual hearing. Right? And James is segueing here into a section of material where he is talking about hearing the Word that we may do what the Word says.

So get rid of sin which hinders your ability to hear from God.

Given the immediate context, think how anger and wrath can impede your ability to hear the Word. If you have anger and bitterness in your spirit, it’s really hard to listen to preaching or teaching of the Word. I know that from my own experience. Reject all wicked activity and, number two: receive the Word in humility.

B) Receive the Word in humility (21b)

21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

In verse 21, the “implanted word” is God’s Word, namely what God says as recorded in Scripture. This is the Word “which is able to save your souls,” and James uses the word “save” here in a general sense like, “saving you from a lot of trouble,” the general sense of saving a Christian from further sin and trouble—because remember: he is writing to Christians, to folks who are already saved—though obviously, at the same time, the Word of God is that Word which is able to save our souls because the Word of God contains the saving message of the Gospel.

But James’ main concern here is on how to receive the Word of God. We’re to receive the teaching of the Word with an attitude of humility. He says at the end of verse 21, “Receive with meekness” the implanted Word. Receive the Word in humility. That is, be teachable. Have a teachable spirit.

Do you have a teachable spirit? Do you hear the Word of God with anticipation? You hunger for it and thirst for it because you want to learn? Or do you feel like you’ve pretty well got it all figured out.

Someone challenges you to read the Bible through and your response is, “Ah, I don’t know. The Bible is good for some to read that way, but I don’t think it’s really necessary.”

James says, “Receive with meekness (with humility) the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls.” Have a teachable spirit. Demonstrate a willingness to hear, to listen, to learn.

And James refers to the Word as that which is “implanted” in the Christian. Some of you have gone to the dentist and received a dental implant, an artificial tooth root that is literally placed into your jaw in order to hold a replacement tooth or a bridge. It has been implanted in you.

James says that God has planted His Word inside the Christian. So the NIV, “Humbly accept the word planted in you,” or the NLT, “Humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts.”

The Word is a gift given to Christians in the new birth experience of regeneration. God has implanted the Word within the Christian. He doesn’t say, “You may have it, you may not.” It is there. What James is talking about is how you are to receive the Word planted in you. Receive it in meekness, in humility. If we receive it in humility then we are receiving it as one whose heart is that of the good soil about which Jesus spoke in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9).

But note this: Here is one evidence of the new birth, a natural thirst and a natural hunger for the Word of God. It is part of the Christian’s internal hardwiring to have a hunger and thirst for the Word because the Word is planted within the Christian.

Think of a seed that is planted and begins to grow, that seed grows because of the planting within it of all the things necessary for becoming a mature plant or tree. And when a person is born again, God plants within that person a natural thirst and hunger for the Word of God.

So before we are saved, the Word is not that important to us. We may find it interesting at times. A person doesn’t need to be a Christian to find the Bible interesting. A lost person, a non-Christian, may find sections of the Bible rather interesting.

One of the ways a person knows he or she is born again is that the Bible is more than merely interesting to them. One of the ways a person knows he or she is a Christian is that her or she has a hunger and thirst for the Word of God. It is beyond merely interesting. It is food for the soul.

Imagine if you haven’t eaten for a day and half and someone seats you at a table and there’s a roast and potatoes and bread, you’re not going to be like, “Well, that’s interesting.” You’re hungry for the meat! And you’re going to take it in with great delight.

So we’re back to where we were last week with the idea of delighting in God’s goodness. In order to grow, we delight in the goodness of God’s Word. We listen to the word.

There are so many other noises in our culture, so much noise clamoring for our attention: ungodly music, ungodly conversation, ungodly books, magazines, websites, movies—Are we really having a discussion about whether Christians should see the new movie, “50 Shades of Gray?” There’s worldly noise all about us.

And it’s not enough to merely plug our ears to keep out the noise, we must also take in that which is good. “Reject all filthiness and wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save…your marriage from infidelity, receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to keep you from being tempted to take something that doesn’t belong to you, to save you from saying something you wish you hadn’t, thinking something you shouldn’t be thinking, doing something you shouldn’t be doing.

Have you read Homer’s Odyssey?

According to Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus was trying to get home to his family and was having a hard time doing it. Along the way he encountered the enchanting and dangerous Circe who, it was said, turned men into pigs. When Odysseus successfully avoided her attractions, she confided in him that sterner tests lay ahead—the Sirens, lusty, luscious maidens whose island lay along the straits and whose songs lured travelers away from hearth and home. Circe advised Odysseus to have his men plug their ears with wax and tie himself to the mast. Odysseus, however, had another, better idea. He did have his men plug their ears and he did tie himself to a mast, but he also had his friend, Orpheus, who was also an accomplished musician, sit on the deck and make a melody so sweet it would turn his heart away from the Sirens. In that way he “stood the test.” He stayed his narrow course and made it home to his beloved Penelope.—from David Roper, Growing Slowly Wise (pp. 56-7).

You see, we must “say no” to the worldly noise all about us, rejecting all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, saying not like putting wax in our ears—but, at the same time, we must also “say yes” to the Word of God, hearing the beautiful music of the Word of God, receiving it with meekness the Word that is able to save our souls.

•Stand for prayer.

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: The text contained in this sermon is solely owned by its author. The reproduction, or distribution of this message, or any portion of it, should include the author’s name. The author intends to provide free resources in order to inspire believers and to assist preachers and teachers in Kingdom work.