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James 1:19-27: The Role of the Word Print E-mail
Sunday, 22 March 2009

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I would guess that everyone in here this morning took a look at themselves in a mirror before they came to Church this morning. From the looks of it, some of us stood there longer than others, which is not necessarily bad, and some of us just took a passing glance, which is not necessarily good, but I would venture to guess that most if not all spent some time before a mirror. We do this to make sure that we are ready for others to see us. We want to know what they will see before they do so that we can make any adjustments as needed. If you did look in a mirror this morning, then you probably checked to see if there was anything that needed changing before you left the house. Maybe you needed to shave, so you got out the razor and trimmed up the beard. Maybe you needed to fix your hair, so you got out the comb (and all those other contraptions that women tend to use) and styled and shaped the best you could. Then, just to be sure that everybody else saw it like you were seeing it in the mirror, you sprayed a half a can of hair spray on it to keep it in place (I know because I have done it). Some of us probably took one final quick look right before we rushed out the door.

Yet, how many of you looked in the mirror this morning, saw something that desperately needed attending to, and walked away without doing anything? You thought to yourself: ĎWho cares that my hair looks like I havenít combed it since 2008 (some of you may actually going for that look)? My white shirt has a huge stain on the front, oh well? I only shaved half of my face, good enough for me.í No, we look in the mirror to identify what needs changing and to change it, not to leave it like we found it.

James is going to draw out an important point from this idea in our text this morning. There is another mirror in our lives that we need to be looking into. And as we do, it calls us and equips us to change, to take action. James tells us that this mirror is the Word of God. He has been teaching us how to persevere in our trials and he now calls us to understand the role of the Word in our lives as believers. I want to identify the two responses that we should have to the Word that I see in this text and then look at the more practical example that James gives us at the end.

First, we need to receive the Word humbly (v. 19-21).

In both responses we see something to avoid and something to do. In this first response, we are called to avoid anger. Look at verses 19-20. James gives us a statement here that is akin to a proverb. He tells us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. James knows that very few of us are naturally good listeners. In any given conversation, we have our points to make and only listen to the other person long enough to figure out what we are going to say next. I know this because I do it all of the time. I get so consumed with winning an argument of giving good advice (which are not necessarily bad things) that I fail to listen first. Such poor communication is unloving and unwise. At times, due to its obvious connection with our pride, it is either born of anger or leads to anger. Yet, James tells us that we are not to be angered easily. Why is it important that we are slow to anger? Because such anger leads us away from acting in the way that we should, or as James says it, anger does not produce the righteousness that God requires. God expects us to live righteous lives. He expects us to be considerate of others and not easily offended. Yet, we struggle with this. We are quick to voice our opinions, slow to listen to others, and often angered by the slightest offense. James calls us to avoid all of this.

How do we avoid such action? James tells us at least where to start. Look at verse 21. We are to avoid these wicked actions and instead receive with meekness the implanted word. The Word, the good seed that God has given us as believers, is to be humbly received so that we can fight against these actions. How does this work? When we are humble and teachable and focused on the truth of Godís word, then we are less likely to be full of pride and arrogance and anger. Humility makes us better listeners. It makes us harder to offend. It makes us slow to voice our opinions for all to hear. Thus, we need to humbly receive the Word. We need to approach the Word and our conversations as learners, humble and listening, and not as lawyers, simply looking to prove ourselves right.

What will be the result of all of this? James says that the implanted Word is able to save your souls. Wait a minute, if the Word is implanted doesnít that mean that our souls are already saved? Well, yes and no. Yes, if the Word has been truly implanted then we can speak of our salvation in the past tense: we have been saved. Yet, the New Testaments writers also speak of the salvation that is to come for those who persevere (see 1:12). Thus, we persevere in the faith, we endure in the face of trials, we avoid insincerity and anger, through the implanted Word. The Word of God gives us strength to endure. It is vital that you see the command to humbly receive the Word as something which leads to your good. We need to read and study and memorize the Word because it is what we need to live the Christian life faithfully. It speaks to us of Christ, the One who paid for our sins at the cross, and it teaches how to repent and continually follow hard after Him as our Savior and Lord. Thus, receive the Word humbly for your own good.

Second, we need to obey the Word consistently (v. 22-25).

So all we have to do is receive the Word, right? Just spend a few minutes each morning in quiet time and endure a couple of sermons on Sunday and we are good, right? No, James goes on to correct such thinking in verses 22-25. Look at those with me. What does James tell us to avoid here? Simple: he tells us to avoid hearing the Word without doing it. Many may hear Godís Word, be it through preaching or teaching or reading or whatever, but they will not do it, they will not obey it. Such Ďhearingí is worthless to James. He compares it to looking in a mirror and so quickly forgetting what we see that we do not make any changes. We noted earlier that none of us look in a mirror and seeing something wrong refuse to change it (if we can). No, the whole point is to see ourselves and make the necessary changes. To not do this is foolish and James tells us to avoid it.

Rather, we need to look at ourselves in the mirror of Godís Word and consistently believe and obey it. We need to be doers of the Word. We need to let the Word, the perfect law, have its effect. It should change us. To read the Word and not be changed is to not really read the Word at all. Every time we read the Word or hear the Word, we need to be paying attention to what it is saying about us. I was thinking this week, when I read Paulís lists of vices, I often skim through them thinking that I donít struggle with those terrible sins. Yet, I should begin by reminding myself that I am a sinner. And better to assume that I am struggling with certain sins (even when I am not), than to simply skip through the text like I never really struggle with sin. Also, when the text calls me to radical obedience, I am often coming up with excuses for how to get around the obvious implications of the text. Brothers and sisters, we need to be doers of the Word. As we already said, we need to receive it humbly and then we need to obey it consistently. We need to stand before it every day and let it reveal to us our need for a Savior and the great call to follow Him. We need to obey the Word consistently.

What is the promise that James gives us for those who are doers of the Word? He tells us that the man who obeys the Word will be blessed in his doing. Once again, we can obey with confidence, knowing that God is committed to His own and to His Word.

Practical example: true and false religion (v. 26-27).

Following on the heels of Jamesís call for us to obey the Word, he contrasts for us the difference between true and false religion. Look at verses 26-27. Again, it is not enough to merely claim that you are religious. It is not enough to simply profess faith in Christ. A person must live out that faith. James will continue to make this point throughout his letter. Here, he stresses the importance of controlling the tongue. If a person claims to be a follower of Jesus and is not slow to speak, James says that they are deceiving themselves. If you think that the words that you speak are of no consequence, then you are gravely mistaken. James has already spoken of this in verse 19 and he will say more in chapter 3, but suffice it to say for now that we must pay close attention to how we speak. What we say can say a whole lot about us. James calls not controlling the tongue false religion and we must heed his words.

True religion, however, is found in those who actually put their faith into practice. Here, it is those who care for the widows and orphans and keep themselves free from the stain of the world. Earlier this year, I preached on the importance of looking after widows and orphans by considering adoption. We should not conclude that this is all that there is to say about true religion, but at the same time, we ignore the gravity of this verse at our own expense. True followers of Christ will care for the needy. James is calling us to actively care for the widows and orphans. Likewise, he is telling us to avoid the stain of the world. We are to not be lured away by what the world has to offer. We are to see sin for what it is and avoid it. Thus, taken together, true religion will hold the tongue, care for the needy, and avoid the stain of the world. True religion will act. It does not claim one thing and do another. It believes and obeys.

So then, are you a doer of the Word this morning? If you are not a believer, then I encourage you to be a doer of the Word by first repenting of your sin and believing in Christ. Jesus came and died for our sins at Calvary and the Word calls us to turn from our rebellion and trust in His work. So be a doer of the Word by humbling yourself and following after Christ. If you are a believer, then let me encourage you to be a doer of the Word as well. What is your plan for humbly receiving and consistently obeying the Word this week? Let me put it to you this way: every day you plan on looking in the mirror this week, plan on looking into the Word as well. Take time to listen to it. Let it show that you are righteous in Christ and that He has called you and equipped you to live a righteous life. Let the Word change you this week. Let it make you more like your Savior. By Godís grace, be a doer of the Word this week. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 29 March 2009 )

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