James 1:19-27 Doers of the Word.
Last week we talked about our Personal Faith Challenge? What was it? (Review) and what was our reminder? Don’t be Dipsychos!
We should all memorize v. 19. My 3-year-old son has it memorized, it’s so cute. If we just had this one thing down pat, wouldn’t be see such a huge change in the world? We’ve all heard we have 2 ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we speak. Lehman Strauss said, “A wise man will listen to others and answer only if he is certain he has something worthwhile to say.” Now we will be dealing at length in chapter 3 about the use of our tongues, but here is addressing not so much even what we are saying, but just that we are saying too much! And why? Because as Proverbs 10:19 says, 19 When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” James knows that the bottom line is we’ll never be able to control what we say until we’ve learned to control whether we say anything in the first place. Proverbs 17:27-28 says, “27 A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”
A man of knowledge uses words with restraint. That means that it’s not only about whether you are naturally a talker or a non-talker. We are to actually exercise restraint with our words. The same way that we might see a big piece of chocolate cake but exercise restraint, we might see an opportunity to blab or speak our mind or make a sharp remark or fill the silence, but we are to exercise restraint unless our words are absolutely necessary.
The purpose of talking less is that we can listen more. We as a people are terrible listeners. Have you noticed this? Do you have friends (hopefully I am not one of them), who just do not listen? I find it interesting that our shelves are full of books that help us learn how to more effectively communicate, how to use words to our advantage, how to preach and teach and write and influence with words. And I can’t remember the last book that was written on how to be a better listener. How to sit quietly and listen. How to really learn from people. And yet God’s Word says we are called to be listeners.
Interestingly, speaking and listening are connected with anger. Look back at the Proverbs 17:27-28 passage. Right in the middle of the subject of restraining words is the subject of being even-tempered. When we restrain our words we restrain our anger as well.
The connection is fairly obvious in that more times than not our anger is unleashed through words. Proverbs 15:1 says “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” If we cannot control our tongues, we cannot control our anger. And anger is a fruit of the flesh, it is sin. To just level with you, I never struggled with anger until I had children. I know that’s sad, but true. I never really get angry with Jeff, but I find myself often having to hold my tongue with my preschooler. And probably the single biggest mistake we can make as parents is disciplining or responding to our children in anger. Anger breeds anger. There’s an excellent parenting book called Heart of Anger, which takes a look at the way that our behavior can actually breed anger in our children. Sobering reality. We must be SO careful how we speak to our children. We must take anger seriously. Galatians 3:20 lists “fits of anger” as one of the works of the flesh, along with sexual immorality and sorcery! But the fruit of the spirit is self-control, both in our words and in our anger.
Some of us are more fiery by nature, so this exhortation is especially important to us. Why? Verse. 20 tells us “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” Unrighteous anger never helps the cause of Christ. There is, of course righteous anger, such as Christ exhibited when he overturned the money-changing tables and cleared out those who were buying and selling sacrifices in the temple. Unfortunately, we don’t get angry about the things we should and we do get angry about what we shouldn’t. As Lehman Strauss said, “If I am angry at nothing but sin, I can be angry so as not to sin.” You know what we should get angry about? Our own sin.
When was the last time you met up with a friend and the conversation went like this: She says, “Man I’m just ticked off. I’m mad. I just cannot believe she has the audacity to do something like that. I mean, who does she think she is? Walking around like she owns the place, insisting on her own way all the time. I’ve just HAD IT. I can’t take it anymore. I’ve got to do something about it.” And you’re running along and you say, “Sorry girl but who are you talking about?” And she responds, “Myself! I’m so sick of my sin I can’t take it anymore. I gotta get serious about making some changes. I was rude to my husband and my kids and didn’t speak kindly to them this morning. Something’s gotta change!”
We need to get angry about our own sin, about social justice, about taking up the cause of the poor, the exploited, the trafficked, the weak. Get fiery about that! (I’m getting all fired up!) And it’s of paramount importance that if we’re worked up about the sin we see in others, we first and foremost deal with the plank of sin we have in our own life first.
Therefore, because of all this, v. 21, “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
Put away filthiness. Now remember James is speaking to believers. Nowhere in scripture does God call unbelievers to clean up their act before they come to Him. He’s speaking to us. Now here’s the deal with filthiness. If we see a little bit of dirt on the outside, that usually reveals an alarming amount of filth on the inside. (Coffee mug example. Show) If we find that impure speech comes out of our mouths, or just slightly filthy talk, chances are there is serious filth on the inside. Because out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks and so we need God to change us from the inside. How do we have God change us from the inside “receive with meekness the word”.
It is surprising to me how often we do not receive God’s Word with meekness, or humility. Humility is the only proper response to God’s Word. But often we sit in church and instead of accepting, we analyze. Instead of conviction there’s critique. Some of us believe that we go to church to evaluate the message. “Is it a good one?!” I find that sort of talk creeping in to the way I speak. I’ll say, Ooh that was a good message today. So am I saying that sometimes they are not good messages? All messages from God’s Word are good. So what I really mean is, Ooh that message really challenged me in a specific way today. Our words reveal our hearts, so if we set ourselves up as the judges, we will judge God’s Word instead of letting God’s word judge us.
*just a note of clarification, when it says the word that saves your souls. This good Word of God has saved our souls from eternal punishment, and continues to save our souls from damage, by sanctification. We are not continually being saved in the eternal sense, but we are being continually saved in the sense that we are being more and more made into the image of Christ.
Now, if we are receiving God’s Word with meekness and humility, what is the natural outcome? That we would obey. That we would be doers of the Word. Read vv. 22-25. James has a great illustration here. I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but a friend was telling of a fun day when she let her 3—year-old daughter play beauty parlor on her face. Of course the lipstick went all over and eyeshadow up over her eyebrows and I think she drew freckles with some eyeliner—you get the idea. And she looked and laughed and then the phone rang and she answered and got engrossed in a conversation and then it was snacktime and then naptime and finally she got her daughter down for her nap and the doorbell rang and she had to sign for the package and the UPS man just had this huge smile on his face the whole time, and she just thought hm, what a happy guy. Of course, she’d forgotten what she looked like. It wasn’t until later when she used the restroom that she realized she still had her daughter’s special makeup on.
So reading through this illustration, and perhaps listening to that story, it might be easy to think, “How could you forget what you look like?! I mean, if you noticed something that funny, how could you forget?” Similarly, if you look at the mirror of God’s Word, and He points out something that needs changing in your life, how could you turn around and forget about it? In the story what happened? She got a phone call. All it takes is a tiny bit of distraction. I cannot tell you how many times God will show me something significant in His word, in during the sermon at church, and I’ll be cut to the heart and writing down all that God’s showing me, and then we’re dismissed and I see so-and-so or I run up and grab my kids and find out that Dutch his Bode or that Heidi fell and hit her head or whatever, and then I’m on to the next thing and outside and buckling in kids and getting snacks and reading books and doing naps, and next thing you know I’ve completely forgotten about what God so clearly spoke to me in that quiet moment at church. Ladies, it’s so easy to forget, because it’s so easy to get distracted. We live in a world that is FULL of distraction. And when we hear God’s Word and receive that conviction, but then go off and get distracted by other things without putting it into practice then we are not doers of the Word, we are hearers only. Then we are the one who looks into the law of liberty (the truth sets us free!), and perseveres, not being a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, then a promise: Then we will be blessed in our doing.
God call us to DO his Word. Jesus told us in John 13, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you DO THEM.” (v.17). The blessing comes through obedience. Through doing. He said the same thing in Luke 11:28, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” James will take us even further in this idea in chapter 4 when he tells us, “Whoever knows the right things to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” V. 17. That is the sin of omission. Sin isn’t just when we do bad stuff, it’s when we don’t do the right thing we know to do. It’s when we look at the truth of God’s Word, and He shines light on the area that needs to change, then we run off and forget all about it.
Paul says the same thing 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.” Again, in two weeks Joy will address more of faith and works, and no we are not justified by works, but our true faith is proven when it demonstrates itself through works. Just hearing God’s Word is not enough to save us, we believe by faith, and that faith is a faith that works. That is why James is warning us in v. 22 not to be deceiving ourselves. There are likely many professing Christians who have heard the gospel message but have not responded in obedience. Douglas Moo says, “If the true gospel, by nature, contains both saving power and summons to obedience, those who relate to only one have not truly embraced the gospel. That is why James is saying those who only hear the word are deceiving themselves. They think they have a relationship with God because they regularly attend church, go to Bible Studies, or read the Bible. But if their listening is not accompanied by obedience, their true situation before God is far different.”
That is the sad state of many who are “religious”. And speaking of religious… James speaks to that right now. vv.26-27
Here James uses the word religion/religious twice actually, which is very unusual. That word never occurs in the OT and only occurs three other times in the NT (twice in Acts and once in 1 timothy). It generally speaks of an outward religious service. Here James is saying, to those of you who have outward religion, but you do not bridle your tongue, you are deceived. This is the third time in the last 10 verses, (v.16, 22, 26). He’s exhorting over and over, Do not be deceived! And if he sees the need to reiterate this three times, there’s obviously a danger that we WILL be deceived! How?
We are deceived if we think we are religious yet do not do the things God’s asks of us. And here he outlines some of what that is. This is not an all-inclusive list of what God asks of us. This is not prescriptive but rather descriptive. James is simply describing to us what it looks like when one has faith that works—a trust in God that is demonstrated through the way He lives. And he highlights three areas:
- Again, the tongue. Godly speech is a description of one whose religion is true. We will not get into this now because Joy will cover it at length in chapter 3. But ladies, if we call ourselves Christians yet we engage in gossip, slander, filthy talk, let us not be deceived. “I warn you, as I warned you before, that whose who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). We must take this seriously. Jesus said by our words we will be justified and by our words we will be condemned. (Matthew 12:37). The context of that is simply Jesus saying that a tree is known by its fruit. We are not justified by our fruit, but our fruit simply proves what we really are inside. If we are a new creation, we will reflect that new nature by the fruit of the Spirit. If we are not a new creation, we will reflect the fruit of the flesh.
- Secondly, Social Concern is a description of one whose religion is true. Throughout the entirety of Scripture, cover to cover, you will see a heavy theme which is God’s concern for the orphan and the widow. The poor. Psalm 68:5 tells us that God is the Father to the fatherless and Protector of the widows. In Isaiah 1:17 God speaks through the prophet Isaiah and says, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” If we EVER divorce true faith, belief, and right doctrine from pursuing social justice, from comforting the poor, the sick, the broken, the lonely. If we cease pursuing this part of the gospel, we are deceived. This is the hole in our gospel. The nation of Israel was guilty of the same thing. They did all their religious deeds, and this is what God says of their fasting: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen; to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7) True Christianity always has social implications. (Matthew 25)
- And the third description of one who’s religion is real is interesting in light of the last one. There are many secular humanitarian organizations who do great things for social justice. However, God calls us to social justice and moral purity. There is a world system out there that is absolutely opposed to God. Christians should be the most humble, godly, pure, and socially active people on the planet. That’s what happens when the truth of God’s Word gets hold of our hearts. When we look in the mirror of God’s Word don’t turn away and get distracted, but instead do what He says. That’s when our faith really works.