Do you want to be more useful to the cause of Christ? Every believer that I know does. I know believers who spend time in prayer and in study, but have difficulty in ministering to others, both lost and saved. (It must be remembered, of course, that we may plant, or we may water, but it is God and God alone who gives the increase.) But whether our preaching is to the lost or to the saved (to the former we preach the ministry of reconciliation; to the latter, the full knowledge of the Son of God*) there are several universal precepts taught in the Epistle of James that, if heeded, would free us to be so much more useful in ministering to others, and would also eliminate much of the grief that we experience and administer on a day to day basis.
Grace of God
What the natural man needs to hear is the gospel of the grace of God: That Christ Jesus died on the cross of Calvary for him; every sin was died for, every transgression completely blotted out. This is the only message in Scripture that we are called to preach to the unsaved. What the regenerated man needs to understand is what Paul in Ephesians variously calls: the full knowledge of the Son of God; the manifold wisdom of God; the unsearchable riches of Christ. Understanding these deep things of God glorifies God and should be of utmost importance to all believers.
“Therefore, 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. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of 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 observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.”(James 1:19-24)
The problem as outlined in these verses is that too many believers are…
Slow to hear:
There seems to be very little honest Bible study today and as a result we have a very worldly and immature Body of Christ. Actually this has been going on since the inception of the Body of Christ. For example, the Apostle Paul calls Corinthians carnal (1Corinthians 3:1-3); he marvels that the Galatians turned so quickly from the truth; he calls the Hebrews dull of hearing (5:11-14); to the Romans he repeatedly poses the questions: “Are you ignorant, brethren?” and “Do you not know?” But though the problem is not new, neither is the solution:
The Bible says:
“Man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.” Deuteronomy 8:3
“Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.” Proverbs 8:33
“the just shall live by faith.” Habbakuk 2:4
“Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days.” Proverbs 19:20
“faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
“For the LORD gives wisdom: out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6
“But as for you, continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:14-17
Please note that Bible study, in order to honor God, must be as God intended. Let me briefly explain:
All Scripture is certainly profitable as stated above, but we should remember that this passage of 2 Timothy was written after 2 Timothy 2:15, which states: “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth.” If we do not rightly divide the word, we will have disastrous consequences, and our study will be terribly unprofitable and will dishonor God. “and account that the long suffering of our Lord is salvation–as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction,as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked” (2 Peter 3:15-17)
The Bible must be studied systematically. It must be examined carefully in order to know exactly what is being taught. The Bible is not a mere collection of historical facts, or interesting suggestions for living, it is the word of God, and must be receive d as truth. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
In order to have a profitable study, we must have a clear understanding of where we are in God’s program: Our Lord’s earthly ministry was to Israel nationally. He, as the Redeemer, fulfilled prophecy by coming to establish God’s Kingdom upon the earth. (Isaiah 9:6-7) His messengers were the twelve Apostles, of whom Peter was chief. This prophetic program, called the Kingdom of Heaven, was temporarily put on hold because of Israel’s national rejection of Messiah. Then God, in loving kindness, began a new, unprophesied program called the dispensation of grace. (Ephesians 3:1-13) The message of this program is, basically, that there is no longer any difference between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:11-22); God is saving all without distinction based upon Christ’s triumphant death upon the cross of Calvary. This message is called the Gospel of the grace of God, and God’s messenger is the Apostle Paul. This is where we find ourselves today. So, while all of the Bible is written for us, only Paul’s epistles are written to us and about us. This does not mean that none of the rest of God’s word is applicable to us, only that the same distinctions which the Holy Spirit made in His writing of Scripture, must be made in our study of it. This is what is meant by rightly dividing the word of truth.
Another aspect of being slow to listen is in our every day dealings with humanity. Often, we simply do not pay attention when others are speaking. Maybe we are thinking about what we are going to say next in a conversation, or perhaps the person to whom we are listening is boring. Whatever the case, it is rude and can result in a lost hearing. Listen when other people are speaking. Listen without interrupting. If you want others to listen to you, you must give them the same courtesy.
Swift to speak:
The difference in Scripture between a fool and a wise man is not merely what they say, but also when they say it. The Bible says the wise man holds his tongue. There is no law that says a person must have an opinion about everything, much less a law that says that a person must voice every opinion he or she has. Before we speak we might ask ourselves a few sobering questions such as: Is what I’m about to say going to honor God or dishonor Him? Is what I’m about to say going to build up the person to whom or about whom I’m speaking, or will it tear down? If what I’m about to say is necessarily critical, can I find a diplomatic way and an opportune time to say it? Is what I’m about to say necessary? Is it kind? etc. Think a matter through and consider all the facts before speaking. Ask God for His help in being patient. Ask God for His help in reasoning things out. Once the words are out of our mouths it is impossible to take them back.
The Bible says:
“The heart of the righteous studies to answer: but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” Proverbs 15:28
“He that has knowledge spares his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit. Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise: and he that shuts his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.” Proverbs 17:27-28
“He that answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame unto him.” Proverbs 18:13
“A talebearer reveals secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit conceals the matter.” Proverbs 11:13
“Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles.”
“He that covers a transgression seeks love; but he that repeats a matter separates very friends.” Proverbs 17:9
“A man has joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” Proverbs 15:23
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” 1 Peter 3:15
“Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how you ought to answer every man.” Colossians 4:6
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (What an excellent Scriptural example of how we should speak when ministering to others.)
Swift to wrath:
When someone wrongs us in some way a common reaction is to become angry. Anger then tends to have a snowballing effect. It seems that many times, once we are angered, we very rapidly lose control of the anger and become less and less tolerant of everybody and everything.
Though Scripture recognizes there are times when anger is justifiable and though we even have instances of our Lord in His earthly ministry becoming angry, it must be noted that our Lord was only angry when His ministry to man was impeded, or when man’s worship of God was impeded. (See John 2:15; Mark 10:14; 3:5)
The Bible says:
“He that is soon angry deals foolishly: and a man of wicked devices is hated.” Proverbs 14:17
“He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalts folly.” Proverbs 14:29
“The discretion of a man defers his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.” Proverbs 19:11
“Be not hasty in your spirit to be angry: for anger rests in the bosom of fools.” Ecclesiastes 7:9
“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty…” Proverbs 16:32
“A wrathful man stirs up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeases strife.” Proverbs 15:18
“But now you must also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.” Colossians 3:8
“Let all bitterness, wrath, janger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” Ephesians 4:31
Hearers of the word only:
This is a real tragedy because it makes for a really carnal believer. We hear the word of God and yet willfully continue to dishonor God by gratifying our own desires. The Corinthians had the benefit of being taught by the Apostle Paul himself, yet: sexual immorality was widespread; denominationalism was boasted of; there was drunkenness at the Lord’s supper; the believers there were ridiculously stingy, and so on.
Paul discusses another aspect of this problem in 1 Corinthians when he says: “We know that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” There are saved people who gather a lot of Scriptural knowledge but do not allow the Holy Spirit to use that knowledge to God’s glory. They then use this knowledge as either a toy or as aweapon. This kind of carnality is extremely obnoxious.
But whatever our sin preference, none of us is a doer of the word as we ought, and the only Scriptural motivation for serving Christ is the overflowing grace of God.
Let us put this in proper perspective: Before we trusted Christ we were hopeless, Godless, wretched, ruined sinners (notwithstanding our morality and all perceived goodness), headed directly for, and deserving no less than an eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:4-10)
Notice that Paul here (as well as his other epistles) first emphasizes what God has done for us in pure grace (i.e. the crosswork of Christ); then, and only then, he beseeches us to serve God on that basis. So if we can see the awful spiritual and physical agony that Christ went through on the cross to accomplish our salvation and not be moved to serve God, then there is something horribly, horribly wrong with us.
“For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:1
“For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1 Corinthians 6:20