Generally, when I talk and write about being quick to hear, I am providing techniques to improve our communication and relationships. The whole idea of being quick to hear, however, is much more than just communication. Being quick to hear helps us live the Christian life.
When James penned the words “be quick to hear,” he was not focused on communication. He was sharing his inspired advice to early Christians who were experiencing suffering in their lives. After expressing his greeting to his readers, he writes,
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (1:2-4).
The immediate context of his exhortation to be quick to hear is his direction to his readers is actually to be doers of the word and not merely hearers. Being quick to hear is important to living the Christian life, but so much more is involved. Let’s take a look at what’s involved, basing our exploration on the Quick to Hear approach.
The Straight Way
The gospel writer Mark opens his gospel with two prophecies. One of these is from the prophet Isaiah, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (1:3). References to this prophecy actually appear in all four gospels. One commentator points out that this prophecy suggests a second exodus through the desert to the final deliverance prepared for God’s people.” As Christians, this is the path we are on.
Jesus tells us that this path, or way, is hard and its entry is through a narrow gate, which is Jesus himself (Matt. 7:14). Of course, Jesus is not only the gate, He is the way. He told His disciples shortly before his death, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6). Jesus here also tells us where this way leads: to the Father. We might therefore simply depict the path this way.
Interestingly, the Christian faith was initially referred to as “the Way.” Six times in the Book of Acts, the disciples of Jesus were spoken of as members of “the Way.” For example, we read in chapter 9 that the unconverted Paul (aka Saul) had obtained letters from the high priest to the synagogues at Damascus, “so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (v. 2). Later, Paul would make his defense before the Roman governor Felix, saying “I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (24:14-15).
Straying from the Straight Way
As all of us know, we stray from straight path all too frequently. A wonderful illustration of this idea can be found in John Bunyan’s classic, “A Pilgrim’s Progress.” In this allegory of the Christian life, we follow the main character, Christian, as he makes his way along the path to the Celestial City. Yet, throughout the book, he strays from the path and often faces the consequences of doing so. I highly recommend this book. You can get a free ebook version of it from Desiring God, here.
David and the Straight Way
How do we allow ourselves to be diverted from the straight path? I will offer two simplified categories: (1) what we say and do; and (2) what we think and feel. We can see these two categories throughout the Bible, but let share just a few thoughts from David, a man after God’s own heart. David understood the straight path. He saw his Lord as the Good Shepherd who would lead his sheep in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Ps. 23:3b). He also knew about straying from the paths of righteousness. Psalm 51 is David’s confession of one such time.
Straying from the Straight Way and Psalm 19
At the end of Psalm 19, David refers to the two ways of straying from the straight way in the closing verse. After extolling God and His Word for several verses, David’s attention turns to sin (straying from the straight way). He writes:
Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression (vv. 12-13).
He then asks God for help in keeping him from errors, faults, sins, and transgression; all synonyms for straying from the way. David writes, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (v. 14).
In this final verse, we see David’s reference to the two general ways we stray from the straight way: (1) words of my mouth; and (2) meditations of my heart. The first category includes all aspects of the outer life, i.e. what we say and do. The meditations of the heart include all aspects of the inner life; our thoughts, our emotions, and our will.
Let’s note one additional aspect of what David writes in the conclusion of Psalm 19. He expresses his desire that these aspects of his life be acceptable in the Lord’s sight. This can give us some specificity about the goals. If we were to add this information to our diagram, it might look something like this.
At this point, we have begun developing an understanding of Christian life from the perspective of being quick to hear. Now you might ask, where does being quick to hear come into the process? We’ve talked about the straight way and how we stray from the straight way, but we haven’t yet brought the idea of being quick to hear into the whole process. Let’s look at that next time.
For the time being, I would ask that you meditate upon what we have set up so far. Think about how the Christian life can be like proceeding through a narrow gate and along a straight path. Think about how you have strayed from the path in the past and how you often struggle to stay on the path today. Think about which of those struggles have been the words of your mount (and deeds) and which have been the meditations of your heart.
We will look more closely at the two categories and how they interact with each other in future articles.
For now, just let me remind you to be quick to hear, slow to speak.