Holding the Faith, part 3

One of the most fantastic lies Satan has convinced religious people of is the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. The belief is summed in this phrase: “Our justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone” (found here). No doubt justification is by faith (Galatians 3.24); just as Abraham was justified by faith so too are we. But justification is by works also (James 2.24); even as Abraham was justified by works so too are we (cf. James 2.21). “Justification…through faith alone” is simply not Biblical. In fact, the only time the phrase “faith alone” is found in Scripture is in James who says that “a person is justified…not by faith alone” (2.24).

Chapter two is dealing with “faith” and holding or having (the) faith (v.1, 14). In fact, while not entirely evident in English, in the original language, James will use the same verb (Gk echo, to have, hold) when presenting the imperative command (v.1) and now in touching on what the obligations of faith are he uses it again (v.14). James’ teaching concerning faith is straightforward: it must be coupled with works. “Faith by itself, it if does not have works, is dead” (v.17). Shocking! No doubt the first century readers would be scandalized by this announcement. Indeed, some (many?) today are likewise incredulous over this. Nevertheless, James is explicit – faith must work or be active.

James 2.14-26 (ESV)
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,
16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;
23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

The central theme of this section is that holding the faith includes works. To use the language of James, he argues that faith cannot be separated from works. Faith without works is dead faith which is really no faith at all. Once more the shepherd heart of James is on display as he writes to exhort his “brothers.” James begins this section with rhetorical questions: What good is it or is there any advantage to claiming to have or hold the faith but not have works? Can this kind of faith save a person? In other words, can profession without practice save someone? The answer anticipated by James is “no, it cannot.”

James writes to correct his brethren who have swung from one extreme in Judaism to another extreme in Christ. Adam Clarke puts it this way: “As the Jews in general were very strenuous in maintaining the necessity of good works or righteousness in order to justification, wholly neglecting the doctrine of faith, it is not to be wondered at that those who were converted, and saw the absolute necessity of faith in order to their justification, should have gone into the contrary extreme” (emphasis original). As he has been doing so now James does once more to exhort his brethren to not only be hearers of the word but to put that word into practice (cf. James 1.22, 25) and thereby “hold the faith” (2.1). Now James will illustrate this principle several ways for his brethren.

Practical Illustration (v.15-17)

Perhaps indicting his brethren of behavior known to happen when they meet in the synagogue (see v.2), James begins with an illustration from life and practice. The “hypothetical” is of a brother or sister (that is, a fellow Christian) who is clothed scantily (lit. naked) and is on a regular day-to-day basis lacking in nourishment. The example may not be as extreme as it may seem. The early church was composed of many poor people, especially the church in Jerusalem (see Romans 15.26). James is probably pulling from everyday experience for these Christians. It is fitting that in this context of “mercy triumphs over judgment” James would insert this example of showing mercy to the brothers.

Here is a destitute Christian brother or sister. What seems to have been the typical response of those to whom James writes? Merely a word from one brother to another: “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” (v.16). Three imperatives are given which meet none of the needs. “Go in peace” is a common Jewish farewell which Jesus used after healing (Mark 5.34) and forgiving (Luke 7.50). No doubt James readers would make the connection. However, this farewell without meeting the needs of a brother or sister is meaningless. Rather, the imperatives to “warm yourselves and fill yourselves” are given. No food, no clothing; nothing needful for the body. James asks, “What good is that?” It is once again rhetorical – it is no good!

From this example James reasons to the same principle he began this section with: faith without works is dead. A faith that talks but is void of action is of no value or benefit to 1) God, 2) those in need, and 3) the one possessing it.

Theological Argument (v.18-19)

Apparently James anticipates objections to his previous illustration. “Someone” among the recipients might challenge James on this point. This could be a false teacher among the readers. Some scholars say that early antinomian (anti-law) roots might be in place in the church when James is writing. There are some who say James is merely presenting two parties – one who has faith (without works) and another who has works (from faith). Still others say that James is pitting himself against the one who assures “faith only” proponents they are just fine.

It seems best to understand this passage as a strong objection to James’ conclusion (v.17) that faith without works is dead (“But” in the Greek is alla which is stronger than just de). He seems to be lined up with the fellow of verse 16 who has words but no deeds for the destitute brother. This person is “one of you” or from among the church to which James is writing. It is this person (“You”) who is claiming to have faith in light of James’ (“I”) works. We might rework this verse to read: “But some (among you) will say (that) you have faith and I have works.”

James’ reply is swift and cutting (as many of the statements in James are). “Show me your faith without works and I will show you from my works of the faith.” It is interesting that there almost seems to be a contrast between the faith this person claims to possess and “the faith” which James has and charges his brethren to hold to as well. “The faith” will be accompanied by action; the faith of the opponents will be workless.

This kind of faith which talks but does not act may even confess belief in God. Every good Jew would be familiar with the Shema (Deut 6.4) – YHWH is one. James seems to be alluding to this passage with which his Jewish brethren would have been familiar. This person may believe in Jesus, the virgin birth, the inspiration of the Bible, heaven, hell, the final coming of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the church of Christ. All of these doctrines are important and one does well to believe them. That’s what is so dangerous about this faith void of action: it is almost true faith. But in the end, no matter how many doctrines one may affirm and assent to, faith without works is demonic faith. “Even the demons believe – and shudder!” They’re extremely afraid. So terrified that their hair stands on end! Assent to truth is not enough; faith must be coupled with action.

Scriptural Argument (v.20-25)

James now turns his reader’s attention to two Scriptural examples to further and finally deliver his point concerning holding the faith. There almost seems to be a sense in which James is carrying on his conversation with his opponent begun in verse 16. He refers to the empty-headed man (“O foolish person,” ESV; “O ignoramus,” NAB). This man is empty because his argument is empty. James asks yet another rhetorical question of him: And do you wish to know that the faith without works is useless (esp. in regards to salvation)? The answer should be “yes”; a “no” would condemn them. James once more puts on display his heart in beseeching his brethren to put aside their unwilling hearts and put on works from faith.

First Example (21-24): James begins with Abraham, the “father” of the faithful. Once more, as is now common in James’ style, he asks a rhetorical question: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?” (ESV) The reply would of necessity be “yes, Abraham was justified by works in this action.” This account from Genesis 22 shows how faith “works together with” works in order to add what is yet lacking in order to render a thing complete (v.22). What is fascinating is that James views Genesis 15.6, which he quotes in verse 23, as somewhat prophetic for he says “the Scripture was fulfilled.” Only when Abraham lays his son on the altar and considers him as good as dead (cf. Heb 11.19) is faith “completed” or “made perfect” (ASV) by his works. So James answers his brethren who had totally internalized faith with no outward manifestation of that faith by essentially asking, “Where’s your sacrifice?”

The language used by James about justification should be noted. Abraham was “justified” by works and righteousness was “counted” to him. Both of these are passive voice verbs. That is, Abraham is being acted upon from without, i.e. by God. While Abraham did works in obedience to God, it is God who does the justifying and the counting. Even the completion of faith is a passive voice verb – while Abraham has faith and puts that faith into action, God does the completing or perfecting of that faith. This seems to be expressed in God’s words to Abraham: “now I know that you fear God” (Gen 22.12). Through the test of Abraham, God made his faith complete.

From this first and brilliant example James concludes, “You see that a man is being justified from works and not from faith only” (v.24). Abraham had been declared righteous in Genesis 15, before he had a son. As a righteous man, he maintained his justified standing by obedience to God in offering up Isaac in Genesis 22. By his obedience to God, Abraham was styled a friend of God, a moniker which remained with him throughout Scripture (2 Chron 20.7; Psa 25.14; Isa 41.8). So James, speaking to his Christian brethren, explains that while they may have been declared righteous at the baptistery, saved people manifest their faith and continue to be justified by God by maintained obedience. If Christians would be friends and remain friends of God (like Abraham), then faith must manifest itself in actions, namely obedience to the word of God.

Second Example (25): As if Abraham’s example was not enough, James turns his readers’ attention to a more unseemly example – Rahab the prostitute. Like Abraham, she was justified by God when she sent the messengers from Israel by another way. Literally, she hurled them out by a different way they came, i.e. they came in the door but had to leave through the window. It is interesting to note that she never lost the title of “prostitute,” even though she was justified. Also, according to Jewish Midrash, Rahab married Joshua and became an ancestor to Jeremiah and Ezekiel. That may be just tradition, but we do know she finds her way into the lineage of Christ (Matt 1.5).

Why Rahab? James has been and will continue to deal with the rich and poor, the elites and the emarginated. This seems to be yet another example of this. If they missed the point in Abraham, they would get it with Rahab. Indeed, the contrast is striking. “Abraham was a Jew, and the father of the chosen nation; Rahab was a heathen woman. Abraham had for many years received a special training in the school of faith; Rahab had enjoyed no training at all. Abraham was a good and pure man; Rahab had lived a loose and sensual life. Yet this degraded Canaanite obtained ‘like precious faith’ with the illustrious patriarch” (Pulpit Commentary 39). She’s part of the faithful. So too those who align themselves with God whoever they may be and whatever their background can likewise find justification from God.


The conclusion of the whole matter is found in the final verse of chapter 2: “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (NASB). This is the point James has been making throughout this epistle thus far. He has exhorted his brethren to be doers of the word (1.22). He has spoken about pure Christian religion (1.27). He has exhorted them concerning holding the faith (2.1), especially in terms of how we treat one another (2.2-7). To love one’s neighbor is a call to put faith into practice (2.8). And now showing mercy to brethren (2.15-16) is used to further drive this point home. To allow faith to expire by not doing the works of God is just like a dead body. There is no life in that faith. But a living faith will be active in actions which promote the will of God.

This is a problem which apparently has plagued the church since the beginning. Toward the end of the first century, the church in Sardis was guilty of failing to couple faith with works. Jesus told them, “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God” (Rev 3.2, ESV). Church growth experts and statisticians bemoan the fact that the church today is dying. The prescription for the dying church of today is found in the words of James and Jesus. Wake up! And do the justifying works of the kingdom of God!

It’s a Religion! Part 3

I hear it quite often. In fact, just the other day Dr. Fredrick K. C. Price in his weekly television program harped on it. “Religion is an abomination.” Thus, God hates religion. I wonder if these “theologians” (and I use that term loosely for televangelists) have ever read their Bible! Christianity is very much a religion. To be a Christian is to put one’s religion on display. “The cult of Christianity is the religion of the life, and the ceremonial cleanness is cleanness of conduct and heart” (Pulpit Commentary 27).

Admittedly, religion can be bad. Scripture talks about “worship of angels” (Col 2.18) where the same word for “religion” (Gk. threskeia) is used. Also, there is “self-made religion” (Col 2.23). However, just because religion can be perverted does not mean that religion should be completely abandoned. To the contrary, Scripture speaks of “pure and defiled religion” which one performs “before God” and which He apparently accepts. So instead of abandoning religion, should not Christians today be working to recapture the essence of true, pure, undefiled religion before God?

James has been moving his readers along in this section to this point. The focus has been on the “word of truth” (v.18), “the implanted word” (v.21), “the perfect law, even the law of liberty” (v.25). The call has been for the Jewish Christians to not only be hearers of the word but to do what it says and put it into practice. What does this obedience look like? In verses 26-27, James gets intensely practical by pointing out that the Christian’s religion is tied up in several actions he/she does before God.

James 1.26-27

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

The words used here for “religious” and “religion” are threskos and threskeia respectively. The first word appears nowhere else, either in the New Testament or in extra-biblical material. James appears to have coined a new and unique term. The latter word is used elsewhere in the New Testament and in various Greek works. It means piety, God-fearing, and also touches on the outward acts of worship in which one engages. James presents a staggering conclusion: the true test of religion is to be found in obedience to the heard word. Flowing from the discussion about doers who act or work, James presents both the good and bad side of religion.

Worthless Religion (v.26)

Worthless religion is work-less Christianity. The Christian is God’s workmanship “created in Christ Jesus for good works” in which he/she is to walk (Eph 2.10). The Christian is saved by grace through faith (Eph 2.8); this is a faith which works the works of Christ. Without these works, our religion is “worthless.” This word worthless is no doubt chosen on purpose. This word is used constantly in the Septuagint (LXX) to speak of the gods of the nations; these gods are “worthless” or “vain.” They stand juxtaposed to the one true and living God. So too religion that is lived not in accordance with the revealed word of God is likewise “worthless” or “vain.” Truly, it is a form of idolatry, indeed, the worst kind of idolatry – self-deification. God and His standard have been abandoned and man and his standard have replaced Him. One may think wrongly that he is a religious, pious, God-fearing person. But if his actions run contrary to the word of God, in reality his religion is empty, void of the power of God’s word. It has become nothing more than worthless idolatry.

Specifically in this context, James addresses one aspect of the Christian’s religion that if absent makes it worthless: control over speech. This has already come up with James (v.19, “slow to speak”) and will come up again (3.2-12; 4.11-12). This is a key component to living like Christ. It is an ingredient to obedience to the word of God. If one does not “bridle his tongue,” a metaphor picturing a horse being lead by a bridle, then his religion is “worthless.” There seems to be an allusion to Psalm 39.1 here which speaks of muzzling the mouth. In addition, this person is self-deceived. He is lying to himself! The importance of taming the tongue is seen here. Here is a very vital component to living life in accordance with the word of God.

Too many Christians today wreck their religion by failing to bridle the tongue. In fact, far too often our speech mimics the world’s rather than Christ’s. How many among the brethren show up Sunday morning and sing praise to God only to revert to “sailorspeak” Tuesday afternoon? Thus, they have an appearance of godliness but deny its power (2 Tim 3.5). “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works (Titus 1.16). “My brothers, these things ought not be so” (James 3.10b). Christian, clean up your mouth lest your religion be found to be worthless.

Worthy Religion (v.27)

James points his brethren to worthy religion. This religion is worthy because it is able to be “before God.” The reason it can be before our God and Father is because 1) it is in accordance with His and therefore 2) is pure and undefiled. These words have to do with precious stones or gems. “Pure” is to be from anything which would soil the appearance (i.e. with a stone, dirt). “Undefiled” is to be free from deformity or defect (i.e. in a gem, blemish). Hence, this religion is presented both positively and negatively. But it is also religion “before God.” The Greek word for “before” (para) can also mean “beside.” In this instance, it seems to indicate that this is religion “with” God and from His perspective. He is right there beside us, with us as we seek pure and proper piety patterned after the Prince of peace. Two areas of concentration are presented for the Christian to pursue. Note that our duty to our fellow man is placed before our duty to self.

Pure religion consists in the exercise of active benevolence in a world of suffering. “To visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (ESV). Here is imitation of the Father. Indeed, even in Jesus ministry He spoke to disciples, urging them to “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6.36). God has always been concerned for the orphans and widows. In the Law, the Israelites were instructed not to reap the edges of their fields, go back for a sheaf left in the field, or beat the olives from their trees for these were for “the poor,” “the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” (Lev 19.9-10; Deut 24.19-21). When the Israelites neglected to care for the fatherless and widows, God pronounced judgment and called for repentance (See Isa 1.16-17; Micah 6.8). Thus, God has always been concerned about the orphans and the widows (Psa 68.5). Under the Christian dispensation, this has not gone away and James reminds his brothers of this important fact. In fact, to exercise this religious function is to imitate Christ who “went about doing good” during His earthly ministry (Acts 10.38).

Truly, then, obedience to the word and to be a “doer that works” (v.25) is to take care of the widows (those bereft of husband) and orphans (those bereft of father or mother or both). But what does that mean? Digging even deeper, the word which James uses here for “to visit” is also used in his speech in Acts 15 (verse 14). “God visited the Gentiles” and Simeon (Peter) related how God did that: by sending Peter to preach that they might hear and believe the gospel, ultimately resulting in their reception of the Holy Spirit. Hence, God visited the Gentiles by sending part of Himself, the Holy Spirit, to be with them. In the same way, James points Christians to service beyond proxy (i.e. sending money and gifts, etc.); physically go and be with the orphans and widows. Examine their plight. See it with your own eyes. Be there with them and for them “in their affliction,” that is, suffering. Suffer with them (see Rom 12.15). As a shepherd of the church, no doubt James had suffered with many widows and cared for many suffering orphans. Out of that experience, he calls for his brethren to unite around the suffering ones of their number. Note that orphans come before widows. Adam Clarke says, “This is the religion of Christ. The religion that does not prove itself by works of charity and mercy is not of God. Reader, what religion hast thou? Has thine ever led thee to cellars, garrets, cottages, and houses, to find out the distressed? Hast thou ever fed, clothed, and visited a destitute representative of Christ?”

Pure religion consists of the maintenance of personal purity in a world of sin. “To keep oneself unstained from the world” (ESV). “To keep” is a military term for when a prisoner was kept under guard by soldiers. James calls his Christian brothers to fortify themselves and be ever watchful for pollutants from the world (cf. 1.14-15). This present tense infinitive carries the weight of something like “keep on keeping on being free from spot.” The Christian’s habitual practice is to be free from stain from the world. This is more than dirt of course; James is speaking metaphorically about moral purity. This fallen world is full of dirt and dust, grime and grease, slime and sludge which bespatters the best of men. But a life which seeks to imitate Christ’s moral uprightness and be free from the vices of mankind practices a worthy religion with God.

So James calls Christians to live in the world an unworldly life (see John 17.11, 14). This kind of religion is pure in the eyes of God. It seems clear from these verses that James was writing to a people who believed in Jesus but did not practice their devotion in their lives. They were deceived, even self-deceived about the true nature of Christian religion. They believed they were saved without the practice of true Christian religion. How many today believe the same thing! James will reach the pinnacle of this thought in chapter two when he writes “faith without works is dead” (2.26). Or to borrow the language this context: religion without action is worthless.

It’s a Religion! Part 2

As previously mentioned in part one, James is taking his readers toward pure and undefiled religion (1.27) in this section. To get there, he first deals with the word of God – Christians are to receive the word in their life. What does that look like? James’ concern for the body is once more manifested in his use of imperatives (“be doers”), the attachment of a blessing (v.25), and the exposition of what it means to receive “with meekness” the word of God.

Christians are to be hearers of the word, but our duty does not stop with hearing only – “be doers of the word.” This is tied directly to what Jesus taught during His ministry (cf. Matt 7.24-27; Luke 6.46-49). He taught his disciples to hear his word (Luke 8.8, 10-15, 18, 21) and also put it into practice (Luke 11.28). So here is James, half-brother of Jesus, continuing the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ as he exhorts his fellow countrymen and brothers in the faith toward not only hearing the word of God but also putting it into practice.

James 1.22-25
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
23 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.
24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
25 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.

The Injunction (v.22)

James saw it in his day. The Jewish Christians to whom he writes apparently had become lax in doing the word. Or worse yet, they had heard the word, believed it, but had put it to no practical use. They showed up at the synagogue to hear preachers reason with the Jews concerning Jesus as the Christ. They met Sundays with their brothers and sisters and heard bishops and evangelists proclaim the word. Their profession, though, had become an empty form. They were merely hearers only, adopting a downright antinomian worldview. By the end of the second chapter, James will have set this monstrous distortion aright.

So James puts pen to parchment and calls upon his brethren to remind them that the sum of Christian duty is more than hearing only. James is not against hearing; indeed, it is vital to a Christian. However, to be a hearer only is self-deceptive. These Christians have been convinced by false reasoning that hearing only is enough. They have reasoned falsely and been deceived. James sets this straight by explaining that action is necessary – “be doers.” This is an imperative command. Stop being self-deceived and believe the truth: hearing is good but it must be coupled with action. “Do what it says!” (NIV)

This is nearly identical to what Paul says in Romans 2.13: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (ESV). While Paul speaks to a different context concerning the Law of Moses, James makes a similar argument for the greater “law of liberty.” If this were true concerning the Law, much more is it true for those in Christ Jesus!

“Very many hearers of the gospel are not sufficiently upon their guard against the dreadful danger of being ‘hearers only’” (Pulpit Commentary 17). They sit in pews every Sunday. They hear sermons every week. Their talk may even be full of “church talk.” But ultimately their life is void of transformation from having put into practice the word. Thus, they dwell in a state of false, carnal security.

An Illustration (v.23-24)

James next uses a very simple yet profound metaphor to further make his point and wake up these slumbering saints. To illustrate someone who is a hearer only, he uses the image of a person looking into a mirror. While this person looks intently into the mirror at his face and sees its features. Perhaps there are some blemishes, flaws which need to be corrected. Perhaps there is dirt which needs to be cleaned off. Whatever the case may be, it is the careful investigation which is highlighted. Time was spent looking into the mirror to see what he looks like. But as soon as he goes away having looked at himself, he immediately forgets what he saw. Hence, any blemish goes uncorrected, any mar is not cleaned. In addition, the man forgets his entire appearance! What he is like is not remembered. The very face he was born with is forgotten. How absurd!

That’s what it is like when you hear the word only and do not do it. You look into the perfect law and see what you are to be like – you are to be like Christ. Any flaws or character defects are found out. Any moral filth is identified. Your overall character is derived from what you see when you look into the perfect law. But as soon as the hearing is over and the doing should begin, you turn away from the mirror and forget what you are to look like! You forget Christ! A Christian who forgets to look like Christ? How absurd!

The Incentive (v.25)

Here in verse 25 we find the beatitude of the persevering. We have been born of the perfect law of liberty (see v.18), the word of truth. This perfect law is a perfect gift from our perfect God. The one who looks into this law and continues in a state of activity (perseveres) with it; the one who is not a hearer characterized by forgetfulness, but rather is a doer characterized by putting this gospel into action; the one hearing the word and doing it will be blessed. Just as the one who is steadfast under temptations is congratulated, so too the one who is steadfast is doing and keeping the law of liberty is congratulated. In other words, God looks with favor upon those who are doers of the word. In the very doing of the word God there is blessing! Alford says, “The life of obedience is the element wherein the blessedness is found and consists.”

On persevering Matthew Henry puts it this way: “when we are not forgetful of it [God’s word], but practice it as our work and business, set it always before our eyes, and make it the constant rule of our conversation and behaviour (sic), and model the temper of our minds by it.” It should be noted that scholars are careful to distinguish between being blessed for the doing and being blessed in doing the word. As the Psalmist says, in keeping the Law of the Lord “there is great reward” (19.11). Adam Clarke on this passage cites the sayings of the Jewish Fathers: “There are four kinds of men who visit the synagogues, 1. He who enters but does not work; 2. He who works but does not enter. 3. He who enters and works. 4. He who neither enters nor works. The first two are indifferent characters; the third is the righteous man; the fourth is wholly evil.” Perhaps James has this Jewish saying in mind when he writes this passage calling his Christian brethren to the high calling of Christ.

It’s a Religion! Part 1

Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker or tee-shirts: “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” In this section (1.19-27), James seems to be driving to a destination: It’s a religion! He will end up talking about religion that is “worthless” (v.26) and religion that is “pure and undefiled” (v.27). Religion is tied up in our speech. Religion addresses our actions. Religion is related to our view and reception of Scripture. So it is a religion! Perhaps the bumper sticker would better read: “It’s a religion…and a relationship!”

There is a Rabbinic saying: Talk little and work much. Also, “The righteous speak little, and do much; the wicked talk much, and do nothing.” And “If speech is silver, then silence is golden.” Perhaps James has these in mind and assumes his primarily Jewish audience will make the connection when he pens this section of the epistle.

“We have two ears and one mouth so we may listen more and talk less.” – Epictetus (55-135 AD), Greek philosopher. Unfortunately, some people have this backwards – having two mouths and one ear (and usually end up with both feet in their mouths!). In America, where the first amendment guarantees us the freedom of speech, we believe it is our God-given right to express any and every opinion no matter what the consequences. We are slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to become angry. We have it all backwards. James writes to Christians to exhort them to a lifestyle where God’s word and not man’s word is of primary importance.

James 1.19-25

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

The Requirement

James gives several imperatives in this section. The first begins verse 19: “Know.” This is from oida, that knowledge which is certain and refers back to what James has just covered. His “beloved brethren” know about the begetting power of the word of truth. This is a truth that have come to know and continue to know (perfect tense) concerning the word of God. “But let every man be…” begins the list of three imperatives.

A Swift Ear: Bookended by statements which have to do with the “word of truth” (v. 18, 21), it seems best to understand this swiftness in hearing in regards to the word of God. It is the word of God which is “truth” and saves souls. Certainly every person, Christian or not, should be quick to hear the word of the Lord. Tragically, most people have turned a deaf ear to God’s word. Even Christians, whose love has grown cold, are no longer swift to hear. It seems that some of those to whom James is writing fall into this category (cf. v.21).

A Slow Tongue: James is not advocating John Wayne talk, but is calling for a lifestyle which thinks before it speaks. How does this relate to the Word? First, I think of a Christian’s prayer life where we communicate or talk with God. Someone has said that if we are going to talk with God, it’s a good idea to let Him talk first! So we quick to hear God’s word and then speak to Him. Keep God in the proper perspective and remember He is God in heaven and you and human on earth. “Let you words be few” (Ecc 5.2). Second, in this context of temptations, do not be hasty in ascribing blame to God. In fact, as already seen, do not do that at all. So be slow when accusing God responsibility concerning temptation.

Truly, this is a difficult task. A modern proverb derived from Scripture, even from James, says “To control speech is to control self.” Later in James he says, “if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body” (3.2). Speech control, then, is the supreme example of self-control.

A Serene Temper: Slowness to anger is more than just great advice in self-improvement. To be slow to anger is divine for God Himself possesses this characteristic (see Ex 34.6; Num 14.18; Neh 9.17; Psa 86.15; 103.8; 145.8; Joel 2.13; Jonah 4.2; Nahum 1.3). James does not prohibit anger entirely, but he does warn that anger must be kept under control. One should not have a quick temper; one should be of such a mind that he thinks carefully before becoming angry. Is this worth getting exciting about? If not, why get angry? If it is, manifest the character of Christ in the situation, i.e. sin not.

The Reason

Christians are to be models of these three qualities to people in the world. Of all the people on earth, Christians should be leading the charge in demonstrating swiftness to hear, slowness to speech, and slowness in becoming angry. We manifest the light of the world in our lives when we are and do these things. Or, as James explains, we put on display for all to see the “righteousness which God requires” (ESV). It is not that when we get angry God is more or less righteous; it is that when we get angry, the product is usually not toward an upright life which God calls us to. Barnes says, “The particular meaning of this passage is, that wrath in the mind of man will not have any tendency to make him righteous.” With sobriety of mind and thought, with a temper that is slow to boil over, one can then look toward the word of God with the proper perspective.

The Replacement

Since verses 19-20 are true and anger can hinder us from working righteousness, James wraps this teaching up by exhorting Christians to “put away” (ESV) several characteristics. Here is yet another imperative for Christians. The word used for “put away” carries the idea of taking off clothing. Therefore, the Christian is to strip him/herself of “filthiness and rampant wickedness” (ESV). First, “filthiness” or “moral filth” (NIV) which is disgusting or offensive evil conduct is to be taken off. This is the only time this word is used in the New Testament. Second, “rampant wickedness” or “superfluity of naughtiness” (KJV) which means evil which overflows or abounds is to be removed. “Thus the two words rhuparia and kakia comprise two classes of sins – the sensual and the malignant” (Pulpit Commentary 5). In essence, James is exhorting his brethren to rid themselves of “all” evil in their lives.

They replace anger and all moral impurities with the word of God. Rather than say “put on” and continue the imagery, he exhorts Christians with yet another imperative to “receive with meekness the implanted word” (ESV). With open mind and open heart one takes unto himself the word which is planted in the soil of the heart. There is a sense in which this harkens back to the parable of Jesus about the soils (see Matt 13.3ff). The gospel teaching, when accepted and welcomed into the life, is able and has the power to save or deliver the soul (cf. Rom 1.16). The plant imagery is plain: the word has been planted in the hearts of these Christians. A primarily Jewish audience would have been raised with the “sacred writings” and thereby the word of God would have been planted in them. By receiving the word, the gospel continues to germinate and grow in us, producing good fruit and leading us further toward final deliverance. In other words, a Christian must never think that he/she is done with the word once they have obeyed the gospel.

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

Since we are 2000 yrs. removed from the time, we have difficulty (I believe) understanding the concept of temple worship and the strong connection between Judaism and the temple. I mean, in our society we have do have the Mormons with their temples which they build nationwide; in that sense we might gain some appreciation of temple worship…if of course we are Mormon. If not, the notion is still somewhat vague and perhaps mysterious.

But to Jesus it is clear that he has very strong feelings about the temple of God – and as well he should! This was the place of worship of Jehovah God, the Almighty Sovereign of the universe. It was a place of consecration, dedication, sanctification. It was holy ground. So when Jesus comes on the scene and sees this place of consecration turned into a place of desecration, it should not surpirse to see he goes berserk.

The Purification by Jesus

We last left Jesus near Jerusalem. In v.45 he enters the temple, thereby putting him Jerusalem since the temple is in Jerusalem. The first thing he does is starts whipping tail and taking names. Here is righteous indignation Jesus, furious at the way man is treating the sanctuary of God. Its become a common thing, not a holy thing. Its just business as usual…until Jesus shows up. Now’s the time of reckoning. He starts driving out “those who sold” – that is those who exchanged currency (for the temple had its own currrency, sort of like amusement parks or arcades only take certain coinage/money) and those selling sacrificial animals (those which are brought from outside were usually found with blemish). Jesus explains his actions in v.46: “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” (ESV). He quotes Scriputre as to why he is doing what he is doing. The people have not learned anything and are repeating the same grave error that their forefathers committed (Jer 7.11). This was the dwelling place of God and they have defiled it. Hence, it is needful for Jesus to purify it and correct these errors.

Indeed, we are in need of a cleansing of the temple ourselves. Though we do not have a temple building, we are the temple of God (1 Cor 3.16-17). And that temple is to be holy. It should be a “house of prayer.” Yet how often do we rob it of its dignity, integrity, and glory by engaging in secret and public sin. If you are a Christian, Jesus has entered the temple (your body, see Eph 3.17). What has he found in you?

The Plot against Jesus

Here is the dillema for the religious leaders: they are furious against Jesus and want to “destroy him” (that is, rub out his life) but even though he is “daily in the temple” teaching the people, they are powerless to do anything for the people love him. But these men are active in their search to kill Jesus and they will continue to work to find an opportune time to catch him (more on this in the coming chs.). In the meantime, Jesus is enjoying a time of popularity as the people “were hanging on his words” (lit. hanging on his lips). Despite the depth of his doctrine, the height of his purpose, the strength and straightforwardness of his charge, the people love him and are themselves daily in the temple.

We see the earnestness of these people as they clamor for the Word of God. What a striking contrast we make when we compare our own appetite for the Word. Many of us are starving to death spiritually because we do not hang on the lips of Jesus. We do not hunger and thirst after righteousness and therefore we are never filled, though ever starving!

The Finger of God

Imagine coming upon the scene found in Luke 11.14ff: a once mute demoniac has been healed and now the man is in his right mind and speaking. Perhaps you would respond with the crowd in amazement. But there is not a lot said about the miracle in Luke’s account (just one verse, v.14); instead the focus is on this dialogue which takes place between Jesus and sme of the crowd there. That is where we pick up the story.

The Crowd’s Challenge

After just performing this miracle of casting out a demon, the crowds demand another sign (v.16). But it is not for the purpose of belief or to increase faith or for noble purposes; this is to “test” him. Another translation may read “to tempt” Jesus. This is not a solicitation for evil; rather, it is a test of Jesus’ character. They are lumped in with the people of v.15 who do not attribute the exorcism of the demon as a sign from heaven. The people say this is done by the power of Beelzebul, who is the ruler or prince of demons. Jesus obviously connects this demonic prince to be Satan (cf. v.18). And so, the crowd demands a “true” sign from heaven, not a work of the kingdom of darkness. Therefore, Jesus must set the record straight.

The Christ’s Counter

Luke tells us he knew their thoughts, quite possibly pointing us back to a prophecy made about the babe in 2.35. They need not speak for their thoughts deceive them. So Jesus says to them that their logic is flawed: they have Satan shooting his own soldiers, which is ridiculous. A kingdom like that, where the ruler is killing his army, will fall. Further, if Jesus casts out demons by the power of the devil, then what power are the people’s exocists tapping into? Would it not be the same power, i.e. demonic forces, further confounding the situation. In a word, Jesus says their argument is “stupid.” It is utter foolishness.

So in v.20, Jesus clears up the matter. It is by “the finger of God” that he does these things. Now we could sit and debate about what the finger of God is all day, but fortunately, Scripture is self-interpreting. In the parallel account in Matthew (Matt 12.28), Jesus tells us what the finger of God is – the Spirit of God. That is, the Holy Spirit which has come upon Christ with mighty power (see 4.18-19 which is the fulfillment of Isa 61.1). So the man, Jesus, is using the Holy Spirit to perform these miracles. I think this points to the perfect balance between his humanity and his divinity. He was both 100% man and 100% God at the same time and never did one infringe upon the other.

Not only this, but also Jesus says the kingdom has come upon these people. That is, the rule and reign of God is present in the first century. Hence, when one speaks of the kingdom of God, it is not a thing yet in the future. Rather, it was present in Jesus’ day and indeed, men still enter into it today.

Then there is this quasi-parable in v.21-22. Some would say that the strong man is Satan, guarding his “pssessions,” which are those under his control and that the strong man can be beaten by someone stronger, i.e. the Spirit. Others say that Christ is the stronger man in this parable and he overpowers and binds Satan. Either one would make sense. Though Satan is strong and has some power, he is not omnipotent like God. Jesus concludes the parable with a saying: those not with Jesus are against him and those who scatter are not with Jesus either.

Follow this is another illustrative teaching from the Lord. It would seem that Jesus tells this story to show that he is not about temporary change in a persons life. Again, he points us toward deeper discipleship. It should not be that once the demon is driven out he can return with seven more spirits more evil than himself. As one commentator put it: “This parable shows that spirituality takes not just the absence of evil but the presence of God.” Jesus is warning these people that they are in danger of having even more demons come into their house and that their later state will be worse than it was before. Hence, they should not linger in unbelief and slander, but should turn to God and acknowledge his finger at work in their midst.

Indeed, we can take this to heart as well. We were at one time enslaved to the forces of evil, by the strong man. But Christ worked a work in us and we were “brought into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1.13). But it is not enough to get rid of evil, we are to pile in more and more of God within us. Otherwise we risk falling into an even worse situation than we were in. Paul pictures this perfectly in Colossians 3 where he says we kill some things, put off some things, but also put on some things.

The Chick’s Cry

As Jesus is speaking this teaching about his power and authority, a woman speaks up and blesses Jesus’ mother. It would seem that she was so enthralled with Jesus’ teaching that it must be such a blessing to have a son like him. Jesus, in the word “rather,” does not negate the truth of her statement, but shows the greater value of what he says. True blessedness is found in (again) hearing the word of God and obeying it. There is not higher calling in life than to read, study, and comprehend God’s word and do what it says. You are truly blessed for you are a person in the kingdom, that is, under the rule and reign of God in your life.

The Worst Case of Identity Theft

The men are tired. They have rowed and rowed the vessel across the sea. They had weathered a treacherous storm that had threatened their lives. Now, weary from the whole ordeal, they drag the boat ashore when suddenly they hear the piercing sound of an inhuman cry. In fact, it is down right demonic in sound. The twelve exhausted men look up to the hills to see…a human? It can’t be human. No human could let out a cry like that. And he’s covered in chains. He’s naked. He’s bleeding. He is in a dead sprint from the grave yard…and headed straight for them.

Once again, the rugged, tough band of men cower behind their Master…but can you blame them when you have a crazed demonic coming straight for you. It would difficult for me to stand my ground in that situation. However, even though the disciples shrink back from this man, Jesus does not. He is the one standing his ground, ready for confrontation with the demoniac.

What the Man has Lost

When we talk about the Gadarenean demoniac, we are really talking about a man who has lost everything because of the powers of darkness. Hypothetically, he has lost his job (who would hire a crazed demon possessed man), his friends, his family; if he had a wife, she has probably gone to her mother’s, and any children he may have had. Scripturally, though, we do know he has lost his house (v.27), he has lost his mind (v.29, 35), control over his body (v.29), his clothes (v.27), his voice (v.28, these are the demons speaking for him), his purpose (his will is now overruled by the demons). But over all of these things, this man has lost his identity (v.30). When Jesus asked him his name, he does not say “Joseph” or “Benjamin;” his name is “Legion.” This is one of the earliest cases of identity theft.

What the Man Gains When he Meets Jesus

The bleak situation gets better though. Because when this man finally gets in contact with Jesus, everything he has lost, he is able to get back. The hypotheticals that he may have lost (job, family, friends) he can get those back. He can go back to his “own house” (v.39). He is “in his right mind” (v.35). He is in control (no longer the demons) because he is doing what he wants, and that is sit at the feet of Jesus. It is with his voice that he asks to be with Jesus (v.38). And Jesus gives him a purpose in life when he tells him to “tell what great things God has done for you” (v.39).

There is one last thing, though, and if you have been reading carefully, you have noticed it. We never know the man’s name. Before, when demons dwelt within him, his name was lost to the demons. But now, what about his name? It is not there. Or is it? I think the Lord restores this man’s identity to him because this man is now identified with the Lord. He is a part of the kingdom of the Son, no longer a slave in the kingdom of darkness. And surely it is with great enthusiasm that he “proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus (God) had done for him.” That is his new identity.

Jesus is asking us this question today. “What is you name?” If we are enslaved to the things of this world, in love with our idols, refusing to give them up, then we answer, not with our voice, but with the voice of a demoniac “Legion” for our idols are many. But if we are slaves of righteousness, seeking everyday to put away dumb idols and “be with Him,” then we can answer the same question “Child” for we that is what we are – children of the King.

A Note on Hearing

We can must be careful not to separate this story from the context. Remember what has been discussed throughout Luke 8 thus far: hearing the Word and doing it. Notice who it is who is hearing the word in this story: Demons. Many demons hear the voice of the Lord and do what he says – they leave the man. Even the demonic forces recognize who the Lord is and do what he says. Likewise, we must recognize the Lordship of Jesus and listen to his word, putting it into practice every single day. Even the demons believe and shutter; how much more should the Christian (indeed, all mankind) believe, hear, and obey.

Can you hear me now?

Hot on the heels of of all this talk about hearing and listening to the word of God, Jesus once again drops a bomb shell on those following him. This thread of hearing and obeying is throughout this eighth chapter of Luke. He has laid this teaching down with parables, by quoting from the Old Testament, and now he gives the biggest lesson of all. His mom shows up.

Usually when mom shows up, two things happen: either you are busted and it is time to go home, or your glad to see her. It would seem, based on the parallel passage in Mark (Mark 3.21, 31-32) that his family shows for the former purpose. They think him mad, crazy, out of his mind. Hence, they are there to shut Jesus’ mission and ministry down. Here is an important lesson: anyone who seeks to do a good work for the kingdom, but is hindered by the disapproval of their family must make a crucial decision – am I going to go back home with the family, or am I going to continue to follow God in this path? Said another way, will I choose to break the heart of God by giving up this ministry or will I continue to listen to his voice and obey his commands? This is a big decision for Jesus, to be sure.

Word gets to Jesus (Luke 8.20) that his mother and brothers are outside. Someone may ask, “Where’s Joseph?” The answer is simply we don’t know. He could be home busy in the carpenter shop trying to make a living for his family. He could be dead by the time this episode in the life of Jesus rolls around. Scholars tend to lean toward the latter. Nevertheless, word to gets to Jesus that his family is outside, their purposes are not stated directly. The words of Jesus no doubt would have been cutting to his mother’s heart: “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” The NIV says, “…puts it into practice.” Jesus’ half-brother James, perhaps one of the brothers present when Jesus uttered these words, got the message later, converted to Christianity and penned these words in his epistle: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1.22).

The message is loud and clear. If you want to be in the household of faith, if you want Jesus as your brother and God as you Father, then the word that is heard must be accepted and obeyed. I am not sure how many times it can be said, but Jesus says it repeatedly: listen and obey. The only way to obey is to listen and the only way to listen is to get our head in the word. Daily read the word, daily practice what it says. Further, Jesus says to hear the “word of God,” that is TON LOGON TOU THEOU. THEOU is God in Greek, from which we get our word theology. LOGON is the Greek word for “word.” Perhaps you are familiar with John 1.1: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Same word for “word” is used there as it is here in Luke 8.21. Now think about this: those who hear the “Word of God” and do what it says are brothers and sisters to Jesus. John goes on to say that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1.14).

I submit to you, o faithful reader, that perhaps a deeper meaning here is that in order to be a member of the family of faith, we must be willing to hear and heed the message of Jesus inasmuch as he is the incarnate Word. Hear the Word of God and do what he says. There is no other message we should be listening to, no other gospel which we should be obeying. The message Jesus brought with him of salvation from sin through His blood which was preached by the apostles and the first century church is the only message we should be hearing and putting into practice. Anything added by us or other men jeopardizes the precious salvation we have. Anything removed from the gospel, and it becomes a message which cannot save. No, we need to people of the book demanding the faithful proclamation of the full gospel of Jesus Christ. And once we have it, we need to be people do what it says.

Are you listening to me?

In our modern world, we may lose something in the tranlation concerning the significance of light. Unlike our world where we flip a switch and we have light, the people to whom Jesus understood that light was a very precious commodity. Especially if it were dark outside. There was oil involved, finding a flame, keeping the light going, etc. So when Jesus speaks about light or a lamp, the impact on the audience would have been great when he hammered his point home. However, the point is very relevant to us as well: we use things in appropriate ways. A lamp is used to light a place, just as a hammer would be used to drive or pry a nail. Fire is used for heat; air conditioning is used to keep us cool, etc.

However, how foolish to use these things in a wayother than their intended purpose. Why put a lamp under a bed? Why use a hammer to eat with? Why use fire to burn down a house? This just does not make sense. In the same way, how foolish for a person to use the ability to hear and heed not the warning. How dare us stop up our ears and so shut ourselves out from the blessings of God. But those who hear and listen will be given more. But those who refuse to listen (thereby having nothing), even what he seems to have will be taken from him. This is total loss.

The warning is very serious. For a Christian can hear but still not have what the Father offers. The Christian can lead his life thinking he has a servants position in the kingdom, or that he has a place at the king’s table, or that he is a son. But if the Christian has not really listened to the voice of God, even that which he seems to have (a servant position, a son’s position, a place at the table) will be taken from him. Hear the words of Jesus and take heed how you listen to the Word of God.

God is saying, “I know you hear me; but are you really listening to me?” Are you doing what he asks? Are you freeing yourself up so that God can have his time? Has God been emarginated, forced to take a back seat to everything else in your life? Jesus’ words should be sobering to us. If we truly want great blessing from God, we need to be listening to to his word, eagerly expecting to hear his message for us. Otherwise, we are in danger of losing everything we think we have.

The Parable of the Sower

It is with great humility that I approach this parable. Unfortunately, for most interpreters of Scripture, parables take on an allegorical interpretation. This is wrong. A parable is not an allegory. Thus, when we venture into a parable seeking an interpretation, the best thing is to check if Jesus or whoever told the parable gave the explanation. This was true when the prophet Nathan spoke to David and proclaimed, following a short parable, “Thou art the man.” Nathan gave the interpretation of his parable. It is just fair to let the speaker explain himself. And indeed in Luke 8, we have Jesus doing just that.

The Seed

The seed in the parable, whether it falls on rocky, throny, or good soil, is the word of God (v.11). That’s what Jesus says. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus takes something that is very familiar to his audience (a sower sowing seed) and uses it to make an excellent point concerning the word of God in the hearts of men. I suppose if he were to use our modern-day language, he would use the same kind of teaching: take something familiar to the audience and use it to teach a profound, heavenly message.

The Seed on the Wayside

In the parable, the sower’s seed lands on the wayside and is trampled underfoot and eaten by the birds. What a graphic picture he paints, setting up his audience (indeed, us) for the truth concerning this part of the parable. The word of God trampled underfoot! By whom? Certainly men have done this in the past. But Jesus says this is the devil’s work. He hates the word of God for it is the saving power of God for all mankind. Hence, he snatches from the hearts of men who have heard it.

The Seed on the Rocks

The next patch of ground upon which the seed falls is the rocky places. It springs to life quickly. However, without adequate moisture and soil, the plant withers and dies. Jesus says these are the people who receive the word gladly and quickly. However, they are not equipped for the trials and tribulation ahead and their faith withers and dies. They are not really the disciple of Jesus, for although they heard and obeyed, their devotion to Jesus and his cause is only superficial.

The Seed among the Thorns

The seed next falls among thorns. It takes root, springs up, but the thorns spring up with it. After a time, the thorns choke out the life of the plant. Jesus says these are those people who have a devotion to Jesus but it is soon divided with other cares. Worry, riches, pleasure, whatever; it takes the place of the Word and hence, no fruit is ever seen within the individual. The “thorns” of life have choked out the once vibrant spiritual life.

The Seed in Good Soil

There is a type of soil in which the seed can thrive and grow and bear much fruit. It is in good soil. Certainly everyone in the audience would have agreed with that. Good soil is the best place for seed if you want a crop. In the parable, it brings forth a harvest of one hundred fold. Jesus says this type of person in which the word of God is received is the person who has the right heart, that is a “noble and good heart” (NKJV). With patience, this kind of person brings forth a great harvest of fruit.

What does Jesus teach us in this parable? Several things. First, a Christian must never be discouraged when the word of God is not received by a person. Jesus clearly teaches that there will be people who do not hear. In fact, that is what this who passage hinges on: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (v.8b) God gave them ears but they refuse to use and so be saved. And when explaining this parable, he begins with a general statement of purpose for parables. These people have the equipment to hear and see, but they refuse to use them for their intended purposes, choosing to remain blind and deaf to the word and will of God.

Second, it seems Jesus is teaching us about the importance of being a sower. We carry with us the precious word of God and every person, whether they want it or not, need it for in it is salvation Therefore, get it out, scatter it abroad and near.

Third, Jesus teaches us that those who were good soil have an obligation to the Lord. We must bear fruit. We must produce a harvest. It is not enough to receive the word and have no fruit to show for it. We must, with patience, bear fruit for the Master. We take the seed firmly planted within us and we sow it in the heart of another individual. We plant what we can, water what we can, God will give the increase.

One more brief word: this is not the formula for the world and the word. Jesus is not saying that 25% of the population is wayside and 25% rocky, etc. Jesus is using this parable to teach a valuable lesson about those who simply refuse to listen to the word. And before we can determine the listening capabilities of the world around us, we must answer this question first: are we listening to the Word of God?