When I worked at a Christian summer camp, I learned a lot about dressing up to impress. Although we were camp counsellors at a summer camp, where children come to run in the mud, play in the woods, get soaked in the water, have few showers, and eat messy meals, our attire was held to high expectations on the two days parents were around. On those days, we wore our newly ironed, stainless camp shirts with black pants (yes, black pants in the middle of summer heat). Our hair was to be neat, our smiles large, and our eyes attentive.
Though all week we may have wore jeans ripped from the crawling through bushes, threw our hair back in a bun to hide the grease, and our eyes burned from the lack of sleep we had gotten the night before due to children screaming, our best appearance was still expected when parents showed up on the property. Why such a high standard? Because we wanted to show the parents respect and that we were responsible.
In the same way us camp counsellors had to check our appearance before the parents arrived to pick up their children, we need to check our hearts and attitudes before approaching God’s Word. We learned last week that Scripture is from the very mouth of God, holds His authority, is completely perfect, and sufficient for all our needs as a Christian. Such a Word requires a godly attitude from us.
Consider James 1:19-25 with me:
“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.” (ESV)
How does James tell us to approach God’s Word? He tells us to be quick to hear it, slow to speak it, and slow to be angry with it. Then he says to put away our sins and receive it meekly. Finally, he says to be doers and not hearers only. Let’s examine each.
Be Quick To Hear
We are to be eager to hear God’s Word and read it. This is beyond the impatient eagerness that builds in your stomach before your first date, or the growing excitement as you finally near the end of the fast food line. This is about having an honest delight and desire to be in God’s Word. This is a repeated theme within Psalm 119 (NASB):
I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word.” (v. 16)
“I shall delight in Your commandments, which I love.” (v. 47)
“O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (v. 97)
Is this your attitude when you come to God’s Word? Are you eager and glad to be studying it? Or has it become more of a bother to you? Is it a chore that you slash off your to-do list everyday?
Personally, I have experienced (and still do) times when my attitude is more like the latter. I’m tired, worn out, didn’t sleep well, and have a long list of other chores that need to be done. On those days, studying God’s Word is a responsibility I wish I could skip over. There are other duties and items on my checklist that are demanding my attention, and sometimes that are more desirable.
If you can relate, then its time we had an attitude adjustment. God’s Word deserves (and demands) a far better attitude than that. As believers, we should love to be in God’s Word and cherish every moment with it. “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Peter 2:2 NASB, emphasis mine).
How we can cultivate a better love for the Word? Stop viewing your personal devotional time as a duty or chore or checklist item. Consider it time spent with your Loving Father, getting to know Him better. Remember your goal is not “to do the Christian thing” or please others but rather to grow in your knowledge of God and to be obedient to Him.
Don’t forget to pray in those times of weariness. When you are tired and being in God’s Word feels more like a burden to you, ask God to help you and restore your love and joy for His Word.
Slow To Speak
Have you ever tried listening with your mouth? This might sound like a silly question, but I think we do this more often than we would ever admit.
I remember my elementary school teachers reminding us of this often. They would tell us it was time to listen and to save our conversations for recess, but we would keep whispering. At this point, the teacher would raise her voice ever so slightly and say with a new sharpness to it, “Children, we listen with our ears, not our mouths.”
Perhaps a more convicting question may be this: How many times have you tried to teach the Bible with bear minimum knowledge and effort? Once again, I bet we all do this far too often than we like to admit.
In telling us to be “slow to speak” James is referring to teaching the Word of God. He explains later on in chapter 3: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well” (vv. 1-2, NASB).
This should be a sobering verse for us. It should also be a solemn reminder to be careful and take our time when preparing to teach. Our Bible lessons should not be something we whip together last minute; rather, we must tediously study God’s Word and be sure that we are speaking truth. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NASB).
Slow To Anger
In passing, this one may seem easy and tempting to skip over. I’m never angry with God’s Word! What a silly thing to say! However, I ask you to carefully consider yourself to see if you’ve ever had this kind of attitude before.
John MacArthur explains that the word for anger here describes “a deep, internal resentment and rejection, in this context, of God’s Word.”¹ Are there commands you resent or are irritated by? Are there commands you silently grumble about and wish weren’t actually there? Do you blame God’s Word for problems in your life? Do you feel like your life is a lot more boring because of the standard God’s Word sets for you? Or perhaps you feel resentful that God’s Word isn’t “fulfilling you” like you hoped it would. Do you feel frustrated that God’s Word doesn’t promise you a perfect life?
I went through a time of anger with God’s Word. I was angry that it was not giving me the experience I craved. I expected some heart-wrenching, eye-opening, ecstatic experience every time I sat down to study the Word. This was a poor expectation on my part, and my frustration was misplaced. I had to repent of this and develop a better expectation of God’s Word, recognizing that it was enough on its own without an “experience.”
Any kind of anger, frustration, irritation, or annoyance at God’s Word is wrong. God’s Word should only lead us to delight and joy (unless you are convicted by sin in your life). Furthermore, any anger you feel towards God’s Word is only a poor reflection of you; the Bible is perfect, but you are sinful, so any anger you feel is due to your sin and misplaced desires.
If you have any resentment towards God’s Word, confess it and repent of it. Do some heart checking to see where you have gone wrong.
A Total Heart Change
The Bible calls for a total heart change when we approach God’s Word. It may seem overwhelming as we peer into our sinful hearts and realize we are full of selfishness, contempt, and pride when it comes to God’s Word.
But don’t lose heart, friend. We have a Saviour who has cleansed our hearts and made us new again. He has given us the Wonderful Counsellor to convict and conform our hearts to Christ’s likeness as we submit to His leading.
We won’t be perfect. Our hearts will at times lead us back to our old patterns. But when we call on God, He is mighty to save.
Next time we will finish off with the last three changes: Put away our sins, receive the Word meekly, and being doers of the Word.
QUESTIONS FOR HEART CHANGE
In what ways have I not been quick to hear God’s Word? What has made my desire for God’s Word diminish? Why do I view studying God’s Word as a chore rather than a gift?
In what ways have I not been slow to speak God’s Word? When do I rush to speak God’s Word, and what could be the dangerous result of such actions? How should I slow down before speaking God’s Word?
In what ways have I become angry or resentful towards God’s Word? What is the root of my anger? How can I change my anger to joy?
Is this a verse I could memorize to help me adjust my attitude towards Scripture?
Am I struggling with believing that I am capable of such radical heart change? If so, what do I need to remember about God’s Word?
1. John MacArthur, Dr., The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 1884.