James continued in 1:19 - "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." It is easy to see that James commanded three things in this verse, but most people abuse the context when they study this passage. This verse is not about social graces! James isn't telling us that in general we need to be better listeners and that we should be patient with each other and not get upset with each other quickly. It is true that those are good things for us to consider, but that is not his point here!
What is the context? It's all about the word of God! James 1:18 declares that Christians are brought forth by the word of truth. Look ahead to verse 21 - "Receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls." James hasn't just suddenly changed subjects for the two verses in between; no, he's still talking about the word of God. Because of the fact that the word of God can bring us forth into spiritual life, we need to receive it with meekness--that is, we need to be swift to hear the word of God, we need to be slow to speak against God's word, and we need to be slow to get angry at the teaching of His word. That is what James is talking about here!
James wanted people to be eager to really listen to and hear God's word. Are you eager to hear the word of God proclaimed? If you attend a worship service or Bible study without a readiness of mind, then I maintain that you aren't eager. To be swift to hear is to be like the Bereans - "...they received the word with all readiness and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). Is that your attitude toward the Bible? Are you a diligent searcher for the truth, or do you blindly swallow anything that is preached or taught to you?
Are you attentive during Bible classes and preaching, or do you have trouble staying awake? Those who claim to be God's children should be ashamed to let their attention drift during the preaching of His word; it is extremely disrespectful, not so much to the preacher, but to God Himself (cf. I Sam. 8:7)! When we aren't eager and attentive to His word, in most cases we're telling Him: "God, Your message isn't that important to me; I have better things to think about." Or, if you can't keep your eyes open during a class where His word is being taught, then perhaps you're telling Him: "God, I had a lot to do last night and getting a full-night's rest just so I can be totally focused during worship isn't all that important to me." What message are you sending to the Lord?
Are you quick to hear God's word? Or, are you a lazy hearer? There are some Christians who are anything but eager to hear God's word--if they were truly eager to hear it, they'd be more diligent in personal Bible study and more faithful in attendance for the worship assemblies and Bible studies of the church!
As much as is physically possible, I believe Christians should attend the worship services and Bible studies of the local church. This is certainly one measure of a person's eagerness or swiftness to hear God's word. Now, of course, attendance, per se, is not an infallible measure of spiritual receptivity. Sadly, I know some Christians who are present for every service but sometimes sleep more than they listen! Such is shameful and communicates anything but a swiftness to hear God's word! James commands us to be eager to hear divine truth!