This is part 3 in a 7-part series on the book of James. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.
There is so much in this book! We are still in Chapter1 in part three of this series. This is an excellent book on practical Christian living. I will review for just a minute. This book is particularly relevant for us today because it talks about living what you believe. This weekend the emphasis in the news was on our heroes, V-day, WWII heroes, president Reagan, and I thought about what a rich heritage we have due to our American heroes, men and women who have done courageous and tremendous things. It’s because they have principles and believe in acting on them. That’s what makes a true hero. That is what we are talking about in this book. We are taking a trip with James, excursions and stops along the way. Our destination is to understand where true righteous living and true righteousness is found. It is found in the word of God when it is planted in our heart and working out of us affecting our everyday life and decisions.
Back in the 1970’s, I can’t remember the year, there was a very popular book that came out titled, How to be a Christian Without Being Religious. Basically it was a little paperback book that differentiated between the idea of thinking you were a Christian through rituals or a so-called Christian way of life as opposed to being really, really born again and knowing Christ as your savior. I thought it was one of the best titles I’d ever seen. How to be a Christian Without Being Religious- there’s so much truth in that title. Oftentimes people are religious but not necessarily Christian. What I want to do in one sense, as we read this passage in James1, is to redefine the definition of religious. That little book implied that you could be religious and have a form of godliness, so to speak, like go to church and all those things and yet not really be a Christian.
For our purposes today, when James uses the work religion, He is using it in the sense of someone who is truly following Christ. They have given their heart and life to Christ and are doing everything they can to follow Him in obedience. That would be true of evangelicals from just about every denomination that believes it is a personal relationship with Christ that makes you a follower of Him. It’s not just a religion or empty rituals. James is talking about being a doer of the word.
There is an interesting debate going on in this political season because of the concept of being a doer of the word. Your attitudes and actions should reflect the fact that the word of God lives in you. It goes back to the saying of St. Francis of Assisi who said,” Preach the gospel at every opportunity and use words if you have to”. Your life, attitudes, decisions and the things you’re involved in should preach a sermon despite the words because doing and acting go beyond the words. There are some candidates who are privately pro life but publicly pro choice and are professing Catholics. You may have read that there are some Catholic priests who are refusing to give them the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper. The debate is if you’re a Catholic, in this particular case, if you don’t agree with the church’s teaching then you are denied the sacrament. In other words you are going to have to be a doer of the word. If you say you believe in pro life privately you are going to have to support that publicly also. This is a very valid debate for all of us. After I had read the last article in World Magazine, I thought we all certainly have inconsistencies, don’t we? We say we believe one thing and do something else.
James is writing in the culture of his day. He was writing to Christians who were highly persecuted though out the Roman Empire and most had spread out. They left Jerusalem and spread northward particularly to Antioch and up into Asia Minor. He was also speaking to the religious hypocrisy in the culture of his day. Jesus talked so much about that, in particular to the Pharisees. There are a lot of themes from Jesus’ teachings in that way similar in James’ book.
We are starting in chapter 1 verse 19 about listening and being a doer of the word. We’ll talk about three particular points and practical applications that help show us what that means. “Dear friends, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Your anger can never make things right in God’s sight. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the message God has planted in your hearts, for it is strong enough to save your souls. And remember, it is a message to obey, not just listen to. If you don’t obey, you are only fooling yourself. For if you just listen and don’t obey, it is like looking at your face in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law-the law that sets you free- and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless (James 1:19-26).
I know you’re sorry you came today! I can already tell! Well, what if you had to teach it?
Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us (James 1:27).
Now this is a better verse!
There is a lot in that last phrase. The KJV says ”remain unstained by the world”. That is a bold statement. How are we going to do that?
There are three things we are going to talk about; our speech, controlling our tongue, obedience, ministry to the poor, and what it means to remain unstained from sin. These four components fo doing and being we find in this passage.
First of all, James 1:19 is a classic verse and if you don’t have it memorized you need to. Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.
Quite a few years ago our oldest daughter, Wendi, was in middle school. Do any of you have children that can just punch your button like that to make you angry? Oh yeah! She was always a very good girl but she could just make me crazy! I remember one morning she was leaving for school and being difficult. Not me of course! We had a semi-argument and it escalated. When it had ended I was speaking harshly and she left and slammed the door as her carpool ride had arrived. And me, like the biggest phony on the face of the earth, you know, like everything’s great, I leaned out the door and waved and said, “God bless you honey. Have a good day!” I closed the door and was really, really depressed. I was not getting anywhere with this child and by what I did and said I knew I had reacted wrongly. I was really down about that as I went to have my quiet time and I was reading through the book of James. I should’ve known I was in trouble! I opened up my bible as I sat on my couch with my huge cup of coffee with a headache already beginning. I said, “Lord, help me. I’ve got to get a handle on this. I am the adult. She is the child. It is my responsibility to get a handle on our disagreements and learn how to handle these situations because I seriously don’t believe that’s the last one”. The verse I began with was James 1:19. Dear friends, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Well, that’s the only verse I read because I realized I had violated all three of those principles. I was not quick to hear. What does, quick to hear mean? The word literally means as soon as a sound is made you pick it up. Learning to listen and really hear is a skill that you develop. There is a phrase we use, I hear you, what does that mean? It means I not only hear what you’re saying but I know what you mean. I not only hear the words but also the meaning of what you are telling me underneath. That’s what I’m talking about when I say be quick to hear. Have you ever been troubled by something yourself and you see a friend and they ask you how you’re doing? Of course you say what everyone says and you answer, “Fine’. And they believe you! What’s wrong with them? They should’ve known something was wrong by the way I said fine or maybe I should’ve just come out and told them the truth! Sometimes only the Holy Spirit can give you that discernment. Be quick to hear and really listen. I learned that with my daughter Wendi. I needed to learn not to just listen to the surface things but have a deeper conversation with her that night and find out what was really going on in her life. I did that. I’m not saying it solved our problem but it seriously improved our communication and our understanding of one another.
That reminds me of the story in Luke of Mary of Bethany who was sitting at the feet of Jesus. Now one of my pet peeves is people who try to read things into the scriptures that are not there. You don’t have to do that. There’s so much there we can’t even understand it all. Now having said that, that’s what I’m going to do right now! As I’ve read over this passage many times I have thought of the picture this paints of Mary at Martha’s house. Martha is busy and beside herself over all these men who have just dropped in for dinner or lunch. Martha says to Jesus, why don’t you get her to help me? Jesus kindly rebukes her in a sense as He says, but Mary has done the most important thing and that is sitting at My feet. You know it wasn’t long after that in the gospels that Mary anointed the feet of Jesus. Jesus said she was anointing Me for the day of my burial. This happened immediately before the Passover and He would face death on the cross. I have wondered reading that in context of the entire story if Mary was the only one really listening to Jesus. The disciples even up until the last supper were arguing about who was going to be the greatest. I wonder if Jesus was telling Mary about why He was going to die and she was really listening. I don’t know that as a fact but I know this, I need to show that kind of listening and sensitivity to others. I especially need to hear God like that. I need to be quick to hear what He is saying to me as we all do.
Years ago I clipped out one of those pithy sayings they have in Reader’s Digest. They always have wonderful sayings and this one I clipped out and put it in the back of my bible. It says this, “His thoughts were slow. His words were few and never formed to glisten. But he was a joy to all his friends and you should have heard him listen”.
There is an element of discipline in listening and not talking. Most of us want to tell people what they need to do. That’s what I wanted to do with Wendi. I did it and she wouldn’t listen. She was not quick to listen! You cannot truly listen to someone including God if you’re doing all the talking. In the book of Proverbs there are quite a few verses on listening. Proverbs 18:13; He who answers before listening, it is a folly and a shame. If you answer before you have heard what someone has to say, it’s a folly, it’s silly, it may not be applicable to them at all. Proverbs 1:5; Let the wise listen and add to their learning. If you want to be wise and add to your learning then listen. Proverbs 12:15; A wise man listens to advice. John 10:27; My sheep hear my voice; I hear, they listen to my voice. That is why it is very important to control the tongue. My sheep listen. They hear My voice. We cannot do that if we are doing all the talking.
The second part of the verse says slow to speak. What does that mean? That simply means don’t say the first thing that comes into your mind. I’ve done that on many occasions and trust me. It doesn’t work! We are all familiar with the passage in Proverbs 15:1 that says a gentle answer turns away wrath. Haven’t you seen that in people before? They can be angry and upset and you give them a calm and gentle answer and it diffuses their anger. While I was sitting there I could reconstruct the whole scenario with Wendi in my mind. I knew when I should’ve given a gentle answer. It would’ve alleviated the pressure, anger and everything else. This is my personal belief. It is the enlightened person’s responsibility to do that. You can’t say well, they should know better and they should give the gentle answer. No, that’s not an excuse. It is our job to be the one to give the soft answer. There’s an old fashioned method that works for holding your tongue and controlling your temper. I think it’s good and it’s as simple as counting to ten!
The next part of our verse says slow to anger. Proverbs 29:11; A fool gives full vent to his anger. Proverbs 22:24; Keep away from angry, short-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul. Proverbs 29:22; A hot- tempered person starts fights and gets into all kinds of sin. Hot tempers, anger and harsh words can stir up the pot and cause dissension. This last week I took a course at Southwestern Seminary on Feminist Theology. I feel like I’ve just been slimed! This kind of stuff is unbelievable! It’s just one of the best things I’ve ever taken. I thought about that verse because do you know how you create dissatisfaction in people? You start talking about how rotten life is, how bad people have been and in this example how men have sometimes treated women in the past. The feminist movement has used this method to try to raise women’s consciousness sometimes. I’m telling you, ten minutes of that stuff and I was ready to march! I was ready to go! It doesn’t take much for an angry person to be on the opposite side of where they really want to be. An angry person can stir up dissension. That’s why we’re warned against it.
James 1:20; The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. This is what I realized about Wendi. I could get angry at her all day. None of my anger would produce what I really want in her, the righteousness of God. Anger will not produce that. Anger directed against somebody else will not produce the righteousness of God. That verse is so helpful to me in any situation where I find anger or dissension. The other verse that sums it up is James 1:26; If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself and your religion is worthless.
Now James 1:21; So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the message God has planted in your hearts, for it is strong enough to save your souls. Now I love that. It tells us the word of God, when implanted in our spirit, in our soul, that it will change us. You may say I want to be a doer of the word but I don’t know how to. Here’s how you do it. You put God’s word in you and then you obey it. It’s really pretty simple. It’s implanted in your soul. When you come to Christ, His spirit comes to live in you along with the word of God as you continue to feed your spiritual life. It becomes implanted in your soul.
Starting in James 1:22; And remember, it is a message to obey not just to listen to. If you don’t obey, it’s like looking in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance. He’s saying if you come to the word of God and you read about life you need to do something with that. Let’s take for example the verse we read about being slow to speak. If you read that and think, hmm, that’s my verse for today and you just walk off and don’t think anything else about it or try to think how that would apply to you then it is like getting up in the morning looking in the mirror, thinking I’m fine and then just walk away. Do any of you think that in the morning? If you’re like me you’re thinking surely I couldn’t of aged that much in one night! It must be my mirror! When you see how you look in the mirror most people want to improve themselves. They want to do something about it. When we look into the mirror of God’s word it should make us want to improve ourselves in that way and go do something about it. The law of God shows us what we really are. It doesn’t show us what we think we are. That’s why we need to look to it.
There are so many verses that tell us how the word of God can change us. Isaiah 55:10; As the rain and snow come down from the heavens and do not return there without watering the earth and making the barren sprout and furnishing the seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so will My word be which goes forth from my mouth. It will not return to me empty without accomplishing what I desire and succeeding in the name of which I sent it. God’s word when it is sent out to a receptive heart, it will accomplish its purpose. My verse for this year has been in Colossians; Let the word of Christ dwell richly within you. I want the word of God to dwell richly and to overflow in my heart. That’s what James is talking about. You put God’s word into you and have it change you. Hebrews 4:12; For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Dr. David Allen was a professor at Criswell College and he did his dissertation on the book of Hebrews. He has written extensively on it. He says he believes Luke is the author of Hebrews. Luke was a physician. His picture here is that the word sword is better translated a small knife. The word picture is of a surgeon, not a sword slashing something in half, but a surgeon taking a tiny scalpel and piercing between the marrow and the bone and muscle. There are tiny cuts that pierce the two things apart. That’s how exact the word of God is. Even my example of that day with Wendi, it was like a little scalpel that God used to pierce my own heart and show me where I was wrong and what I needed to do. It’s an instrument of change when we let that happen. As stated in 2 Timothy 3:16; All Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Learning to be doers of the word.
I don’t have time to read it this morning but if you like to read web blogs and comments of the day Al Mohler has the most interesting perspective on our culture. He is president of the Southern Seminary. His message to graduates this year was his first. Being doers of the word. When you act on God’s word it becomes even more implanted in your soul. It can be in your spirit and you know what to do but until you act on it, it doesn’t ever really take root. There’s something about obedience and acting on God’s word that makes it become more real.
We as Christian women have an amazing heritage. Women have done phenomenal things because they believed in the word of God. Not just because they wanted to be socially active or had some agenda but they had a deep walk with Christ and worked out their own salvation. There are so many examples I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many. The early century mystics such as Teresa of Avila or Katherine of Sienna would go into these contemplative states. They loved the word of God. You’d think they just would’ve sat in caves all day but they carried on unbelievable ministries caring for the sick and poor. They’d work with people with horrid diseases, changing the bandages on their wounds, loving them, praying with them and staying up all night with them. Women had no political power in the 14th century but socially they had a tremendous impact. They were doers of the word. Jesus said to take care of the poor and they said hmm we’d better go. All throughout the history of the church there have been women who were grounded in the word of God and believed in Christ and the miraculous nature of the gospel. They believed Christ could change someone’s heart. Katherine Booth of the Salvation Army in London was one of these women. She would lead other women into the hellholes where people lived with rampant alcoholism, wife beating, child abuse and abject poverty. They would take the gospel and start bible studies and along with that they would clothe, feed and love them. God blessed this work greatly. Francis Willard was the leader in the temperance movement. All of the social movements that women led of the 19th and 20th centuries can be traced back to their faith in Christ. That’s why so many women became involved in the suffrage movement. They felt the only way laws concerning alcohol were ever going to change was if the women were allowed to vote. The whole Sunday school movement began with two women. They prayed and felt God wanted them to go into the worst slums of London and begin bible classes for these little children. It grew and grew. When two women from America came and saw it, they brought it back home with them. Today every denomination has Sunday school or some form of childhood education. They took to heart Jesus’ teaching about whatever you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done unto Me. They were doers of the word.