In James 1:19, James commands his beloved brothers to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Quickness to hear before speaking too soon is a biblical principle (Prov 18:13) and a wise way to go about conversations. Soft answers turn away anger (Prov 15:1), and James tells us that man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness (James 1:20).
Therefore, what does James tell believers to do? If man’s anger—tied to a slowness to hear and quickness to speak—doesn’t produce the righteousness of God, then it must be put away. Notice the words that James uses in this command: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness” (James 1:21). Filthiness. Rampant wickedness. These are strong words God uses to describe one who is not quick to hear, but rather quick to speak and quick to anger.
Putting off is one side of the command. The other side is what we are to receive and how we are to receive it—“receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). This hearing of God’s Word with humility seems to be James’ big idea when he tells believers to be “quick to hear.”
If quickness to hear God’s Word is a mark of humility, then its opposite—quickness to speak and anger—reveals our pride (not to mention the filthiness and rampant wickedness of verse 21).
Beyond simply hearing the Word, an honest and humble believer will also do what he hears as a means of persevering in his faith.
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 (James 1:25).
In contrast to those who are blessed for obeying God’s Word, James describes people who consider themselves hearers of the Word and religious people. They deceive themselves because they, in fact, have a worthless religion. First, they think they are hearers, but they don’t act upon what they have heard and seen in the mirror of God’s Word. They simply look and walk away, either not caring enough or too proud to see a problem. They do not persevere and will not be blessed.
Second, they showcase their worthless religion through a failure to live basic, godly lives. The example James gives ties back to his original command in verse 19 for believers to be quick to hear and slow to speak/anger. One who is not a humble hearer but has an unbridled tongue has a worthless religion.
The contrast between these two should sober us. The one who is quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger is described in terms of meekness, salvation, perseverance, a doer, blessed, and pure/undefiled religion.
The one who is slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger is described in terms of unrighteousness, filthiness, rampant wickedness, forgetfulness, a deceiver of his own heart, and worthless religion.
We need to be humble hearers who do what we hear and see in God’s Word. We need to put off proud prattling, in which we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are religious people who don’t need to respond to God’s Word. May God help us to persevere.