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Home Sermons 2. Real faith seen by it's response to the Word of God (James 1:19-27) Text & Audio

2. Real faith seen by it's response to the Word of God (James 1:19-27) Text & Audio

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2. REAL FAITH SEEN BY ITS RESPONSE TO THE WORD OF GOD

James 1:19-27

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Chris Taylor

 

 

Audio Link 

Some may recall me mentioning some years ago about a book called The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by Michael Hart.

 

Mohammed topped the list.  Asked, “Why is Jesus not ranked first on a list of the world's most influential people?”, Hart replied:  “… he himself would have ranked Jesus first, if all the people who today identify themselves as Christians actually followed Jesus’ teachings more substantially.

 

He considers contemporary Muslims more influenced by Muhammad than contemporary Christians are by Jesus.

 

Hart is describing a church that is exceedingly nominal, for sure.  Yet it is still a damning report of the failure of believers to act like believers in an unbelieving world.   Hart is really saying that Christians are notable more for their hypocrisy, their inauthenticity than it is for having a real faith that seeks to live under the Lordship of Christ.  

 

Of course Hart is not the only one to see this. Author Brennan Manning, best known for his book, Ragamuffin Gospel, wrote the following words -  used in a song some years ago:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable”

 

As I said, I have mentioned this a number of times over the years. But it think it is worthwhile to do so again because it drives home the point that James is making – especially in our passage this morning from James 1:19-27 .  Many will be content to call Jesus Lord with their lips, but not with their lifestyle. They are prepared to hear him with their ears, but ignore him in their decisions. Perhaps we, too, are content to believe but not always behave. To listen, but not always “do”.

Jesus said this is the difference between being wise and foolish -  as in his parable of the two builders in Matt 7 .No doubt picking up on Jesus’ words, James essentially says the same thing: Real Faith responds to God’s Word. And more specifically, as we shall see in our passage, Real Faith responds by listening, accepting and doing.

James wants to encourage a culture of transformation in the Christian community he writes to; urging them to cultivate a desire for God’s Word so that it changes their behaviour. It is this culture of transformation that must begin to pervade our own hearts here at GECN so that we become a church that responds to God’s word.

Here’s a good question to consider first.  Who are you listening to?

As you go about your daily routines, your job, your studies, your interactions with people, your reading the news headlines, your web surfing, your TV viewing or movie watching – consider what is influencing you the most.

Who, or what, is forming your opinion; your Worldview, your beliefs about the world, about God, and right and wrong behaviors. Who we listen to is important. Because who we listen to will impact on how we respond to various decisions we make.

In verse 19, James writes “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”.

1. LISTENING TO THE WORD             James 1 :19

So before we speak too quickly, before we go from 0-100 and “get angry” we need to ensure that we have first listened. Our immediate problem we face in this text is this: Who are we meant to be listening to? Scholars debate this very question. Our small group debated this question on Wednesday night.

Two options are available. The first is that we should be “quick to listen” to other people. On the face of it this makes sense. Don’t be too quick to speak and offer advice before you have heard everything you need to hear. Take the time to wait and listen and understand. Only then shall we begin to speak. Or, in the same way it may also be listening to good, sound advice another person. Don’t presume to know it all. Listen. A good listener, then, will be slow to speak and not offer advice too quickly.  And likewise, a good listener, reflecting on what is being said, may be prevented from becoming angry. He buys his time. He considers the points of view without overreacting. That’s how I have always read this verse. That’s how many take this verse. And it has merit.

On Wednesday night I was sitting on the fence – but leaning towards the second option.

An option where James is encouraging his readers to be “quick to listen” to God’s Word. James has referred to the “word of truth” back in verse 18; this same “word” is planted in the believer (v 21);  it’s what we are to listen to in verse 22 and it’s the “perfect law” that we are to look into in v 25. There are nuance of course, but each of these reference are to the same  “word”.

It can be broad in its meaning – that is, the “word” may be the OT scriptures (given that what we call the NT had not been written at this point).  But more likely it is a more narrow idea – meaning Jesus’ words that have been orally passed down to the first Christians. With Jesus himself is the embodiment of the “word” – as per John 1 .

So James may well be saying listen to Jesus; listen to his Words. Listen to his life.  For it is he himself is the “word of truth” that gives birth to every believer.  Thus we may also speak of the gospel being this “word” – God’s own declaration of his actions in Christ Jesus.

The bottom line is this: We need to have been sufficiently influenced by God’s word expressed in Christ and his Gospel that we have something worth saying, spiritually speaking, and saying it in way that is honoring to God. This is God’s Way; God’s wisdom. James may have Proverbs 17:27 in mind in writing verse 19:

A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even tempered”.

Now biblically, knowledge and understanding are most often are connect to wisdom – living God’s Way. The quick-tempered person is the person who is most likely to speak without applying knowledge and understanding. They are likely to act unwisely – and thus contrary to God’s Word.

They will speak without being persuaded by God. It is the person who listens (really listens) to the word of God who is better placed to express actions and attitudes consistent with God himself.

It is the transformation by God’s word in Jesus that produces “the righteousness that God desires” – v 20. Listening to God’s word, being influenced and changed by the gospel will produce in the believer this right way to live – God’s way.  Wisdom. 

1. ACCEPTING THE WORD

The change is between the old way of living and the new way to live is found in verse 21:  “Get rid of all moral filth and evil” – and instead, by contrast,  “accept the Word”. Put another way, Reject the world’s way and accept God’s Way.

 

You can understand why James is considered the wisdom book of the NT. The concept of Wisdom is woven in and out of each passage. If wisdom is living God’s Way then clearly this will mean a change from living our way.  So, as James then says, in order to live the righteous life that God desires, get rid of all moral filth and the evil and is so prevalent – and instead, “humbly accept the word planted in you which can save.

 

In 1 Peter 1:23 ff we read similar idea:

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God…..

2 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation..”

Spiritual birth comes from God – through his word being planted in us. Again, strictly speaking this word is the gospel of Jesus.

Notice the same response: The word it is sown (ie planted) and then Peter says, much like James before him… “rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, etc.

The point is clear. Real Faith shuns the behaviour associated with the old life and begins to live by the standard of the gospel that has saved them. And so humbly accepting the word of the gospel means that we are prepared to submit to its life changing influence in us. James is urging his readers – and us today – to be a transformed people. Transformed by his word.

“God’s word not only gives life but transforms life” writes John Dickson. (Dickson:30).

This word gives birth (v 18); and having been planted in us (verse v 21) it bears fruit in righteous living. And this will mean not just listening – but accepting the word.  Humbly accept it.  We are not to sit over Gods word and judge it; to decide which parts are relevant to us in the 21st Century and which parts aren’t. Yes, read in it’s context and so on, but let’s be careful not to pick and choose which verses we are going to accept and which we will reject.

One of the disturbing things about Bible College is that you are forced to interact with scholars that seek to undermine God’s Word at this very point.  One of the earliest was a bloke call Marcion who lived around AD 150. He developed his own version of “Bible” that rejected the OT, most of the gospels and all but Pauls’ letters in the NT. He simply took out bits he didn’t like or didn’t agree with.

Now, we may not do that with such force and intention, but we can fall into the trap of picking and choosing, cant we?  We ignore those parts of the gospel that are difficult; Those parts of Gods word that don’t sit well with modern society; that don’t quite fit with my life choices. But follow the parts we like; The parts that are comforting rather confronting.

In his blog, James Emery Whites, speaks about a book called Intellectuals, by British historian Paul Johnson. It chronicles the life and thought of such great minds as Jean Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Bertrand Russell and Jean Paul Sartre. Johnson discovered that most of their arguments and philosophies were not based on noble convictions but on the choices they had made in their own lives.

For example, Rousseau, the eighteenth-century French philosopher had five children out of wedlock, and he abandoned them all. Then he maintained, supposedly out of his reasoning, intellect and common sense, that children do not need parents to give them discipline or guidance, and that the state should be responsible for raising them – an idea that is still shaping some educational and child-rearing theories to this day. His conclusions were not based on true reason but on his desire to justify the moral choices he had already made.

It is easy to do in our own life as we make moral choices if we do not first listen and then humble accept God’s way as the right way. We’ll create our own path. And then justify it in some way. Real and authentic Faith is expressed in a deep desire to be influenced by Jesus and the gospel. Yes, we will fail often in this desire. But at least begin by humbly accepting Gods truth in our life. A truth that transforms.. So Real Faith is a transforming faith that responds to God’s word by listening and accepting it.

You’ll notice James is on a trajectory of transformation. He has moved from Listening to Accepting. And as you well know, there’s more.

3. DOING THE WORD James 1:22

 

Listening and accepting must have an aim – an end result. So in verses 22 James says “don’t be deceived”. Don’t be led astray into thinking that simply listening to the Word is enough.

 

This is a great deception even today. Churches are filed each week across the country with congregations who listen to sermons week in week out and think that by doing so they will be right with God. They think by turning up and going through some religious activity will be enough to be called a “Christian”. Michael Hart is right. Too many so-called believers do no follow up stated their belief in changed lives.

 

The influence of Jesus appears to be minimal.  Muslims, he says, have it over Christians at this point.

 

But forget other religions. Forget even other congregations scattered across the country. Forget even the person sitting next to you. What about you?

 

Have you been led astray, have you been deceived thinking that by attending church each week and hearing a sermon, or reading your Bible, even praying will be enough identify as being a Christian? Now, it’s a good start – don’t misunderstand me. But is that all there is to what Real Faith is about?

 

‘No’,  says   James.

 

Now we all know this verse, don’t we? And so all I am doing is reminding you this morning. All I am doing is reminding of a very basic and fundamental part of the Christian faith – as James now states in v 22:  “Do not merely listen to the word…do what it says”.

 

Now, let’s be clear.  James is not relegating “listening” to the outer reaches of the Christians faith. He is not degrading the necessity of hearing the word of God – the gospel.  So, as familiar as it is, we shouldn’t rush too quickly to v 22. For if we do, we will miss James' important point to be quick to listen; to be listeners first. To be better doers, means we need to better listeners.

 

The illustration of the man looking in a mirror is an interesting one in v 23. And various commentators have gone to town on the meaning of the mirror, of what is being reflected and then try and find similarities and contrasts to the looking at the “perfect law” in verse 25.  On balance, I think it is simpler than some make it to be.

The point that James appears to be making is “remembering”; or more precisely, not forgetting. Some believe James is being a little humorous at this point. Looking in the mirror and immediately forgetting what one looks like is absurd. Ludicrous. We are meant to laugh at the forgetful mirror-gazer; but then quickly realise that hearing the word without doing what is says is equally absurd. It would also be laughable – if it were not so serious. The point is then, don’t be like the man who forgets. Instead, be like the one who looks into the perfect law and remembers. Specifically he remembers by doing what he has heard – by showing that he has not forgotten. He remembers the perfect law and is blessed in what he does.

 

But what is the “perfect law” that James speaks of? At a basic level, once again, it refers to the word of God. But specially, as we have seen,  it refers to Jesus’ own teaching and life that embodies the OT law. The gospels speak of Jesus being the new law and several verses in the NT speak of law of Christ.  And it is this “Perfect law” of Christ that gives freedom. It frees us from the judgement of the Law of Moses and enables us to please God with out fear. (Dickson:32). To quote Jesus himself in John 8:32-32 , this is the “truth” that will “set you free”. And this is because Jesus has fulfilled the OT law, perfectly satisfying its requirements.

 

And through faith in him we can enjoy the benefits of no longer living under condemnation and no longer being on a trajectory to punishment for our sin. That’s freedom. So we are free to live the way God wants us to live, free to respond without any sense of earning merit to “get saved” free from any sense of performing to stay saved. And the way to truly live freely in to be constantly reminded of the gospel that saves and keeps us saved.

 

And so notice that the man who looks into the perfect law does so intently and continues to do so. This “looking” is an ongoing and careful study into the “perfect law” that constantly reminds the Christian of the fact that Jesus himself has fulfilled the law and he or she is now free to live out their faith in response. James is saying to keep looking to Jesus as the embodiment of the perfect law. Keep looking at his work on the cross; Keep looking to his grace.

 

Real Faith responds to God’s word. It responds to the gospel truth that has been planted in us. It responds to Jesus in a way that allows each believer to live free from condemnation.

 

James has grown progressively more practical and specific in his call to respond appropriately to the Word of God. He began with “listening” to the word; then “accepting” the word – humble accepting it; then “doing” the word (v 22) . This “doing” is now given “legs” in James 1 : 26-27.

 

He gives three examples how his readers might consider what it mans to be doers of the word and not merely listeners. Or what it means to remember and not forget. James will pick up on these three examples later in his letter.

 

But what does James mean by “religion” and being “religious” in these verses – because if you are like me, they kind of grate a little don’t they? James speaks about  “religion” and being “religious” in the final two verse of ch 1.  And if you are like me these two words grate a little. Christianity is not about being religious, is it?  He is referring generally to public acts of devotion. The outward expression of one’s belief, such as sacrifices, ceremonies and other worship practices at a temple, or for Jews, the temple.

 

    a. With the tongue

So in verse 26, regarding the words we speak - James is  saying this:

 

All your outward worship, all your ceremonies and cultic practices are useless if, firstly, you have no control over your tongue. So watch what you say.

 

And bringing it home to us, we might say, in all our church going, all our church participation, all our good works are in vain if we gossip about, slander, slime, put down, rant at or verbally abuse others. Our words matter. Words do greater damage than our religious acts do good.

 

James gives great emphasis to the use of the tongue in his letter. It was clearly a big issue for his readers. Again, he maybe recalling Jesus’ very words: “…for out of the overflow on the heart the mouth speaks”. The tongue exposes the inner thoughts of the heart.  What we say, then, is an expression of what’s going on inside us. Words matter. Word express a real faith.

 

b. Look after those in need

 

Second, and positively,  Religion that God accepts as “pure and faultless” is firstly to look after orphans  and widows and in their distress.  In other words, the vulnerable, the helpless. Showing God’s love to those who are unable to help themselves. 

For us, this may mean refugees, the homeless and others who have little or no support in daily living. 

 

James is emphasizing what the OT emphasized in terms of what might be considered one of the basic building blocks of Jewish society. The Law of Moses specified that God’s people were to go out of their way for the widow and orphan. Isaiah picks up the same words “Defend the cause of the fatherless plead the cause of the widow” – this is the worship that God will recognizes, says the prophet. Isa 1:10- 17Significantly the in Psalm 68 : 5 David uses the same idea, but there to describe God himself as the “Father to the fatherless and defender of widows”.

 

If you are going to have any show of religious activity, make sure it reflects God himself and his desires. And surely this is an area we need to give greater thought to regarding the vulnerable in our community.

 

    c. Avoid pollution of the world

 

The third and final “example” is to “keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. That is, avoid being influenced by the sin stained world we live in. We cannot please God, we cannot reflect him if we are being entertained by the world.  If we are being influenced by it and not God and his word.

 

James will pick on this theme in chapter 4.

 

A church poll I read the other day concluded that the number one reason people return to churches after an initial visit is because they deem the church “authentic.”  Real. And I reckon that resonates with most of us here today – we all want to be part of an authentic Christian community. Not a perfect one where we will feel out of place, or worse, judged – but a place where we can experience, one to another, the level playing field of God’s grace. The book of James is about Real Faith. It’s a challenge, not necessarily to be perfect, but to be authentic. Always seeking the grace that come from Jesus when we sin and fall short of his standard. And we will. We won’t always be joyful when facing trials. We wont’ always trust in God; we wont always be singular-minded as we follow Jesus – as urged last week. And we won’t always respond to God’s word as we ought.

But, at the same time, the goal of Real Faith remains for us to pursue these things, always knowing that Jesus HAS already perfectly achieved them on our behalf. And this means we can still pursue these goals, but do so with the freedom of being right with God. Of being in a secure relationship with him - even when we fail. That’s the beauty of grace. Our desire to live out a Real faith comes then from our desire to worship God. Not from a legalist duty to perform; but from a deep heartfelt appreciation of all God has done for us in Christ.

I would love Michael Hart to put out a second edition of his book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History. And in  this second edition, he places Jesus at the top of the list because he finally sees Christians taking their faith seriously. He sees believers all over the world living according to the words of Jesus; having a real faith that doesn’t merely listen, but accepts and does the word. 

And today we can make a start.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 October 2015 06:27  

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