“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God…But be doers of the word, and not hearers only deceiving yourselves.” James 1:19–25

It takes great care to avoid missing the lessons of life. It takes ongoing discipline and a good measure of humility to actively seek observable truth and apply those lessons learned to daily life. Without actively continuing your personal education you will be doomed to living the same year over and over again, making no progress.

The older we get the more likely we are to believe we have learned all possible life lessons, and we tend to put life on “cruise control.” We think life goes on, but in reality, God’s plan for our lives does not hit the same blank wall we do. He intends to continue educating us and equipping us. We may have head-knowledge of His communicable attributes like holiness, love, righteousness, and faithfulness. We call the way these attributes enter our lives “His lovingkindness.” His covenant loyalty toward His own is known by searching the Word but it is felt by opening our eyes in everyday life to His marvelous works toward us.

The surest way to not live the rest of your life by living the same year every year, is to follow the dictates of our passage. The lessons it teaches may be summed up by three words: reflect, replace, and respond. It is imperative that we approach every blessing, inconvenience, test, threat, and every new stage in life with these three words in mind. This is what obedience looks like for the maturing Christian.

The first duty is to reflect. This step of obedience takes humility and discipline. Without it the following two steps will be gravely marred and rendered ineffectual for God’s fullest purposes. Our text tells us to be “swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath.” This instruction arises from the teaching found in the earlier verses of James 1. James has taught us that evil comes from within us and any goodness found in us is directly from God. Since this is true you must be willing to swiftly listen, hold your tongue, and retard your wrath. Few of us are swift to listen the first time, fewer of us are slow to “speak authoritatively,” and even fewer of us retard our inner incendiary nature (“slow in becoming heated by debate”). If you doubt your own susceptibility, just remember how three-year-olds play together and know that you are not that far removed from your inner-three-year old, especially in spiritual maturity. In fact, most of us husbands know the struggle when our gracious wives point out an instance of our own misjudgment, unthoughtfulness, or flawed character! Strive to be teachable.

Only a heart that is trained for reflection will practice the righteousness of God. Verse 20 posits a very simple, but profound, principle: the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. The practice of biblical reflection will enable every encounter you have with the Word of God to bear fruit in your life. It will also grow you into a man or woman of God that God can use in the lives of others.

The second duty is to replace. Verse 21 reads, “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Believers are called to lay aside like a garment, once for all, all filthiness. Filthiness is akin to something greasy, like earwax. Greasy things are not easy to remove. Filthiness is likely to stick to you.

Wickedness is a special kind of vice; it is malice and a malevolent disposition, and left to its own purposes within you, it will abound. Only a reflective heart will discern the roots and haunts of this latent evil and will be equipped to put it off.

But evil must be replaced by something. James tells us that we are to receive with meekness the implanted word. The seed of the Word of God has to be planted within your heart. This is not something that can be gained by diligent study and deliberate attention. You are totally dependent upon God to do the implanting replacement; He must sow in your heart. What I see here is God’s plan at mutual cooperation. The reflective saint is the one who will purposely lay aside so that God may instill His Word into an obedient and hungry heart. Cultivate a servant’s heart.

The third duty is to respond. All that is left is to act upon what you have learned. Spiritual humility will lead to spiritual hunger, which will lead to happy obedience. Verse 25 reads, “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” If indeed the Bible is the “law of liberty,” then it is designed to release us from tyranny—tyranny of the flesh, of willfulness, of waste, and of ignorance. Set yourself to be a persistent and ready learner for the rest of your days, that you may not fail in grasping all the lessons of God’s lovingkindness in serving Him! Trust and obey.