Do What the Word Says
Do What the Word Says
James 1:19 – 27
Is your faith real?
How do you know, that your faith is real?
That’s a question I get asked every now and then by people who, maybe are interested in Christian things, but are not wanting to , put all their eggs in the wrong basket, to mangle a metaphor!
But also, it’s a question that Christian people ask if they, maybe struggle with doubts, and wonderings,
And so maybe it’s a question that you’ve asked, either as a Christian , or if you’re not a Christian but you wonder, if I did put my trust in Jesus for forgiveness and life with God, “how would I know that my faith is real?”
It’s different to the question, “Is it true?”
That’s pretty easy to answer objectively,
But “is my faith real?”, is a question that gets right to the heart of James’ letter.
Who are your dear brothers and sisters?
We noted last week that James, the half-brother of Jesus, was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and he loved the church so much, that his nickname Camel Knees, reflected the hours spent on his knees, praying for the church.
And so it so it shouldn’t surprise us that he refers to his recipients as my dear brothers and sisters.
It’s very warm and affectionate.
In Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus is baptised, God speaks from heaven, and says This is my Son, whom I love., It’s the same word that Matthew records.
This guy really loves God’s church.
And it’s not just here, this language is repeated through the letter. And as a heads up, for when you’re reading James on your own, or in your Bible Study Groups, “my dear brothers and sisters” usually comes at a point where James begins a new section of teaching.
It’s almost as if just the act of thinking about them and what he wants them to know, stirs up his love and affection for them.
This guy really loves God’s church.
And it makes me wonder if we love God’s church, the same kind of way that James does. And I don’t mean just this local church, TMB, but all of God’s church, in Australia and around the world.
Do we have the concerns of our brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries on our hearts?
Do we love those who suffer for their faith in Jesus?
Do we pray for those who live with the distraction and temptation of plenty?
As I said, God’s church is more than just this church, but it’s certainly not less than this church. And we’d find it hard to say that we love God’s church more broadly, if there’s no evidence of love for our brothers and sisters right here.
Are those people around you today, the people whose heads you are looking at and who are looking at yours, are they your dear brothers and sisters.
Do you want to live the life that God desires? (v 19 -21)
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Now, what are we supposed to be listening to?
Since the next couple of verses after these are about listening to the Word of God, maybe James is saying we should be quick to listen to the Word of God, that is, to go out of our way to find opportunities to hear God’s Word, and , like he says in chapter 3, we should be slow to presume to become a teacher of God’s Word to others.
That would all be good advice,
But I think James is probably thinking about listening more broadly.
We should listen to other people.
I remember someone saying to me once, “Clayton, you have 2 ears and only one mouth. You should use them in that proportion!”
But I always thought “Well, if I’ve got 2 ears and one mouth, I only ever need to listen half as much as I speak!”
But James says, no! Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry,
Notice, this is a command to everyone.
If you’ve been in church all your life, you haven’t earned the right to have your opinions heard without listening to others,
If you’re a leader in our church, A Bible study group leader, Leadership Team member, you haven’t earned the right to have your opinions heard without listening to others,
If you’re a wise, older Christian, you haven’t earned the right to have your opinions heard without listening to others.
If you’re a young hot shot executive, with a reputation for always being able to put your finger on the source of the problem, you haven’t earned the right to have your opinions heard without listening to others.
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry,
So often quick speech, and anger go together don’t they?
Someone spoke to me recently about harsh words they’d used “in the heat of the moment”, as if the fact that they were angry excused their words!
No, a Christian person will listen, and hold their tongue, will work hard not to get angry.
Of course though, James doesn’t say anger is forbidden.
There are times we should get angry.
There are things that we read in the news headlines that we should get angry about.
But we get angry,
Well, we get angry when we’ve been slighted,
When someone’s behaviour means inconvenience or extra work for us.
I get angry if somebody embarrass me in front of others.
And James says that kind of anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Interestingly the older NIV translation that some of you will have in front of you, says that human anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires
That’s a pretty helpful translation.
If you’re getting angry at personal offence,
Your pride being dented,
People being given reason to think less of you,
If those kinds of things make you angry, then that’s going to get in the way of you living the righteous life that God desires for you.
This is me!
Those are the kinds of things that make me angry!
My anger, is rarely directed at the things that anger God.
So I need to hear this!
And I reckon you probably do too.
And so , fortunately, for you and me, James tells us exactly what we need to do. Verse 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
Down a few lines in chapter 2 verse 2, James speaks of the filthy clothes of a poor person. That’s the same language as moral filth here in verse 21. And the image of clothing goes on step further, because get rid of is literally “put off”, it was how you’d describe taking off filthy clothes.
So one day recently I was digging out in the garden, and I got quite dirty. My jeans were filthy,
My t-shirt was filthy,
The dirt and mud had gone down inside my boots, so even my socks were filthy!
But then, when people came round for dinner that night, I didn’t come out to greet our guests wearing my filthy clothes, did I?
No, I get rid of them! I put them away.
And even though I’ve put them away, when our guests have gone home, I don’t get out my filthy clothes and put them on again, do I? “Oh, I just love the feel of them!
I love the way they make me look!”
No, that would be crazy! Anyone who wants to put their filthy clothes back on and luxuriate in them needs their head read!
And yet, so often isn’t that the way with us?
James uses pretty broad terms, doesn’t he? all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent. He’s not trying to nail things down too tightly for us, but he certainly gives us a strong sense of just how horrendous sin really is, and how multi-faceted, in how many different ways, we might fall into sin.
And of course the immediate context here throws up examples for us already.
Is there something that feeds your anger?
Is there an attitude, that makes you quick to speak rather than slow to speak?
Is there a desire to get even, to get back?
Whatever gets in the way of you living the righteous life that God desires, get rid of it!
But so often we want to take those filthy things up again, like me putting on my filthy work clothes just to sit around the house!
They make me feel comfortable,
I like doing it,
I get significance out of this.
get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent
And the contrast then, is to humbly accept God’s Word.
It’s the Word of God which can save you. And if we’re evangelicals, “good news” people, if we have a high view of God’s Word, the Bible, this is our conviction, isn’t it? God’s Word saves people.
People don’t become Christians,
They don’t trust in Jesus for forgiveness and reconciliation with God, without having God’s Word explained to them.
It’s why here at TMB, whenever someone says, “I want to find out about Christianity”, we don’t just sit them down and talk about Christianity,
We take them to God’s Word. We read the Bible with them.
But some Christians are tempted to think, “sure the Word of God saves you, but after that, you don’t really need the Word,
You don’t really need the Bible.
And in fact one of the leaders of a church right here in Mount Barker has said to me that their church has moved on, from the Word of God.
James is writing to Christian people, who have already been converted by the saving work of the Word and Spirit of God, and he urges them, humbly accept the word planted in you.
The work of the Word of God, does not stop with your conversion.
Your need for the Word of God doesn’t become less the moment you are saved.
And so, God in his kindness, knows what we need, and he’s planted the word in us. It’s interesting language, isn’t it?
Probably the very Jewish James has in mind has in mind God’s great promise in Jeremiah 31.
You’ll see just one verse from that chapter printed on your outline.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people.
In that part of Jeremiah’s message from God, God had diagnosed the inability of his people Israel, to keep his commands,
To obey him,
To live the righteous life that he wanted for them.
And so in Jeremiah 31 God promises to make a new covenant with his people, that is, to enter into a new kind of relationship with them.
And in this new relationship, God’s word wouldn’t just be external to people, but as we saw there, God promised to write it on their hearts.
If we are in this new covenant relationship with God, if we’ve believed in Jesus as he’s presented to us in the Bible, then this is our experience.
The Word of God isn’t some external thing, God has implanted his Word within us.
We’re actually changed, as a result of God writing his Word, his law, on our hearts.
To humbly accept the word then, must mean to continually submit ourselves to it.
And to do so , humbly, not putting ourselves above God’s word, saying “this doesn’t apply to me.
I mean, how often have we heard a sermon, or read a Christian book and thought “that’s so true! If only , so and so, could hear this, they really need to do something about this!”
That’s not humbly accepting the word. That’s thinking the Word of God applies to others and not to me.
No, James would have us continually listen to God’s word,
And continually put it into practice.
That means we need to think about what our diary looks like when it comes to hearing God’s Word,
And what our diary looks like, when it comes to putting it into practice.
But before we get to thinking about putting God’s Word into practice, notice that it’s God who implants his word within us, and so changes us,
It’s God who saves us, by his Word,
All this is God’s work.
And yet even though God is active in working for us, and within us, obviously James doesn’t think that gets us off the hook.
We’re still called to get rid of that moral filth, the sin that we so delight in sometimes,
And we need to be continually submitting ourselves to God’s Word.
See, these two are not mutually exclusive.
Just because God is at work in us, doesn’t mean that we are not also called to be at work, to put in effort.
I was talking to someone the other day about kayaking down the River Murray, not because I actually ever plan to! But the concept appeals to me!
And I said “Well, I’d be happy to paddle downstream, with the flow of the river. I’ll just sit there in my kayak eating snacks and taking in the scenery while the river carries me to my destination!”
But the person I was speaking to, knows lots more about kayaking than I do, and he said, “No, even if you’re going downstream, you still need to paddle.
The current will carry you, yes, but you still need to paddle. You still need to keep your nose pointed in the right direction.”
We who, who delight in God’s grace towards us,
Who marvel at God’s work in us, must never stop paddling.
We must never stop working,
Never stop accepting,
Never stop submitting,
get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you
Are you merely a hearer, or a doer? (v 22 - 25)
And so James would have us ask ourselves, are you merely a hearer, or a doer? Because you haven’t truly accepted God’s Word until you’ve put it into practice
Verse 22, 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says
This is one of the very first verses from the Bible that I memorised as a child, when I was a member of Boys Brigade in Darwin. And it’s quite a good verse for a bunch of young boys to learn, especially when many, like me, came from Christian families, where we heard God’s word, we were exposed to the Bible. That was great. What we needed to do though, was put it into practice.
Actually, I like the gruff simplicity of the Authorised Version here, be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only
They didn’t waste their words, back in 1611, did they?
be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only
Notice that, James is against hearing. He’s saying he doesn’t want us to , only hear God’s Word.
Again, James’ Jewish background means that this was nothing new. The command in the Old Testament was for God’s people not just to hear, but to do. Deuteronomy 28:13 as just one example, pay attention to the commands of the Lord , and carefully follow them.
You haven’t truly accepted God’s word until you’ve put it into practice.
You might know God’s Word,
You might be able to quote God’s Word,
You might even teach God’s Word to other people,
But unless you put into practice, what you know,
You haven’t truly accepted God’s word.
If you only hear God’s Word, you’ll deceive yourself into thinking that you’re living the righteous life that God desires.
The only other time this word deceive is used outside of James, is in Colossians 2 verse 4, where the Apostle Paul warns against fraudulent teachers who deceive people with a false gospel.
That’s how serious it is to deceive yourself by being a hearer only.
I was talking once with someone who was involved in Bible translation, and they said, “people who have Bibles but don’t read them, are no better off, than people who don’t even have Bibles.”
Which is absolutely true,
But James goes one step further and says, “the person who reads their Bible, but doesn’t do what it says, is no better off than the person who doesn’t even have a Bible.
And perhaps, if it were possible, they’re in an even worse situation, because they are deceiving themselves about their own relationship with God.
And to prove how utterly foolish it is to be a hearer only, there’s this funny picture of a man who looks at his face in a mirror, verse 24, and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
My kids, have never known a camera, that requires you to wait, before you can look at the photo. Remember once upon a time, you’d take the photo, and then you’d have to wait days, or weeks, even months perhaps, until you got the film developed, and you could look at the photos.
My kids, and other digital natives , say “Cheese”, and then “Can I look at it”, in the same breath!
So imagine I take a photo of one of my kids, and then I show it to them, and then they say, “Can I see it again?”, which is typically what they do say!
But then when they look at the photo, that was taken 5 seconds ago, and which they looked at 2 seconds ago, now they look at it, and ask, “Who’s that?
Tell me who that is, Daddy?
Why do you have a photo of them?”
We’d think someone like that is crazy. Actually, when I was at uni we studied a condition called hemi-neglect, where a person will look at themselves in a mirror,
And comb only half their hair,
A woman will put makeup on one half of her face,
A man will shave, only half his face.
They do not even recognise that that face they see in the mirror is theirs.
And it’s caused by a brain injury.
It’s not right, this should not be, James says.
It’s wrong to look at something, and forget it.
Friends, we mustn’t read God’s Word like that;, to look at it, but go away unchanged, forgetting what we’ve seen.
I generally read my Bible in the mornings, and as I read a chapter or so, I make a few notes in notebook;,
What I think might be the key verse,
What are the main themes,
And what some points of application could be for my life.
Now, I don’t automatically think about that for the rest of the day.
It’s easy for me to have looked at God’s Word,
To have understood God’s Word, but then, effectively forget it.
And so I need to deliberately, through the day, call to mind, those things that I saw, and made note of, if I’m to put them into practice in my life.
If I’m to be not just a hearer, but a doer, also.
And so James contrasts that person who acts like they’ve got a brain injury, with someone who does what they hear. Verse 25, But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it — not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it — they will be blessed in what they do
You don’t want to be brain injury person and forget what you’re looking at,
And , and, let me say, I’m not trying to make light of brain injury, I’m saying it’s terrible.
I’m saying it’s not how things are supposed to be!
But neither should those symptoms characterise our reading and hearing of God’s Word.
So we don’t want to be like that, and so James gives us the contrast.
Look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continue, in it
We’re still talking about the same thing, the Word of God, but notice now how James slips in this language of law. To James, law meant first and foremost the Old Testament Law that God gave to his people so they’d know how to live under is rule.
For him to speak then of the perfect law that gives freedom is probably a summing up of everything God has spoken, as fulfilled in Jesus, so he hasn’t diverged off into some different topic.
What he wants us to understand is the difference between where forgetting leads, and where continuing leads, that is , to freedom and blessing.
There is blessing in obedience, because what God longs for , for us, is best for us.
But James probably also has his eye on the horizon;
We receive the greatest blessing, of eternal life with Christ.
Being a doer means controlling your tongue (v 26)
And so James gives 3 examples of what it is to be a doer, and not just a hearer.
Firstly, being a doer means controlling your tongue. Verse 26, Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless
James is going to say a lot more about this in chapter 3. But again, here’s a way to deceive yourself about your whole standing before God.
Now he’s not saying, if you’ve ever said anything hurtful or wrong, then you’re not a real believer.
But if you refuse to control your tongue, then you’re not putting God’s word into practice in your life. Which means, as we saw, you haven’t truly accepted God’s Word.
And if you haven’t accepted God’s Word, then anything you do in worship to God, is equivalent to the offerings of someone who worships a false God; worthless
I’m sure, that this is an issue for some here. In a group this size, in our society, it’s going to be.
Language that tears down, rather than building up.
Hear God’s Word.
Demonstrate by your life, this aspect of your life, that God’s Word is having its effect on you.
Even the language we use around this, we say, “Watch your tongue” don’t we? As if that were enough! Just watch it! Just be aware of what I’m saying!
No, James goes one step further and says control your tongue.
I read this week an article entitled “Horsemanship” in the Ladies National Magazine of July 1844. This article, by the author of “The Book of Embroidery”! says, “If you hold the reins tight, and keep his head up, the horse cannot do much harm!”
Well it is the same with the tongue, which is why James uses this image. Keep a tight rein on your tongue
But again, let’s have the right perspective; Let the Word of God that is implanted in you, change you, as you hear it, and submit to it.
Being a doer means caring for the vulnerable (v 27a)
The second example shows us that being a doer means caring for the vulnerable.
Verse 27, Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress
God describes himself as a “Father to the fatherless” and perhaps today of all days, when many of us are thinking about what our fathers are like, if we are children of our heavenly father, then we ought to realise that his concerns should be our concerns.
Now, James isn’t trying to limit our concern to widows and orphans, as if no-one else has needs! But these are the two most vulnerable in his day, and so they stand in for anyone who has needs that we could meet.
It’s why I was so thrilled that numbers of our high schoolers, took part in the 40 Hour Famine in the last week or so, raising money for people who today, are at risk and vulnerable.
But why is it just our high schoolers?
Why does it look like that’s something you do when you’re a teenager, that, well, maybe you grow out of that when you become an adult?
Now, I’m not saying you have to do the 40 Hour Famine. I didn’t do it.
And there are plenty of other good things that I know different ones of us are involved in,
But here we see exactly what religion should look like, “religion” being the external visible life of someone who’s a follower of Jesus.
Now just to make sure we see something that could be useful here, you may have observed that it’s become quite popular in the last few years to speak of “religion” in pejorative terms, purely in negative terms.
So, we hear things like “religion says ‘you need to do this.’,
Christianity says, ‘God has done everything.’”
And lots of you I know will have come across that. I even hear it in a surprising number of sermons I listen to.
But notice that James is quite happy to call the outworking of the Christian faith religion.
There is religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless!
Those are hardly pejorative terms, are they?!
It’s lazy thinking to say Christianity is opposed to religion.
James here thinks that your Christian faith will work itself out , in religion.
We mustn’t say that Christians have nothing to do with religion, because we won’t hear what God says to us in these verses.
And if we don’t hear, we won’t be able to do.
Being a doer means guarding against worldliness (v 27b)
Finally, James says, being a doer means guarding against worldliness. See how he finishes verse 27?, Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
We saw when we were looking at Samson a couple of weeks ago, that God’s people constantly face the temptation to blend in with the world,
To take on the priorities and values of the world,
A Christian person ought to be like the red sock that goes into the washing machine, and makes everything else come out pink.
Except, as James warns here, what more frequently happens, is that the Christian goes into the wash, and loses their distinctiveness, coming out, looking like everyone else.
And perhaps our response to this might be to cut ourselves off from the world, and certainly some Christian people do that, refusing to mix with the world for fear of being polluted by it.
But what’s James just said? Get involved in the world! Look after orphans and widows! It’s hard to do that if you’re bunkered down in your Christian ghetto!
No the solution is not to withdraw from the world, but not to be drawn into the thinking, and behaviour, and the values of the world.
To look so intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, that we’re able to keep doing what it says, even if the prevailing worldview shouts something different.
So there’s 3 examples. Of course, James isn’t saying these are the only ways to be doers and not just hearers.
The 16th Century Church Reformer John Calvin said about these examples, “he does not define generally what religion is, but he reminds us that religion without the things he mentions, is notning.”
Being a doer is more than these, it’s certainly not less than these.
What does being a doer look like for us?
So let’s close by thinking about what this might look like for us.
See, we are pretty good, at hearing God’s Word. At Trinity we value hearing God’s Word read, taught and explained.
On Sundays, in BSGs, on our own.
We encourage each other to open our Bibles.
But every person, closes their Bible.
And James would have us think about what happens then.
When the covers shut on your Bible,
When you swipe out of the Bible app on your phone,
What happens then?
Do you forget, what you have heard?
Or do you do it?
Do we put it into practice?, and so demonstrate that we really have accepted God’s Word?
When was the last time something changed, as a result of you reading your Bible?
When was the last time you were changed, as a result of reading your Bible?
When were you last so confronted by God’s Word, that you had to repent?
How long has it been, since you read God’s word, and knew you needed to take action?,
Maybe to work towards restoration of a relationship,
Maybe to do something different with your money,
Maybe to write or speak some encouragement to another Christian,
Maybe to speak the good news of Jesus into someone’s life,
Maybe to set up helpful patterns for your personal prayers,
Maybe to change something of how I conduct myself at work,
Maybe to advocate for someone you know who’s at risk in our society
Maybe to ask someone to keep me accountable, for my speech, or what I look at online,
Maybe to get involved in ministry,
Or to change your habits so you can be at church with God’s people regularly.
My dear brothers and sisters, if the answer to those questions is “too long”, please, don’t deceive yourself.
Do not merely listen to the word, do what it says.