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James 1:19-27

January 24, 2021

Pastor David Daniels, in a sermon from the same passage that we are studying today, began with this observation:

That for most every product we purchase – whether it be a toy or food or hardware or whatever – there’s often a warning label or caution note written somewhere on the box or packaging. And sometimes these warning labels are helpful and appropriate, and sometimes they are absolutely ridiculous and unnecessary.

For example, on the side of a baby stroller, there is this warning: Remove child before folding.

On a cardboard sunshield that you put in your windshield to protect your car from the sun, it says: Don't drive with sunshield in place.

On a Bic lighter: Light this lighter away from face.

From the manual of a chainsaw: Do not attempt to stop the blade with your hand.

And finally, here’s my favorite. On a 500-piece puzzle: Some assembly required. (You don’t say, huh?)

Now I’m guessing maybe these warning labels are there to protect the company who created the product, but gosh, you also have to wonder, if at some point something went terribly wrong with a customer’s use of their product, which then led to the addition of warning label itself.

Either way, the point is this, and that is, just as many of our products today come with a warning label, so too does our scripture today, where here today James shares with us and his readers an all too important warning when it comes to how we respond to the Word of God, where he says,

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. Or to phrase it another way, James is warning his readers, that when it comes to God’s Word, that we don’t merely hear the word, and so deceive ourselves. We also should do what it says.

If you’ve been with us the past couple weeks, we recently started a sermon series on the New Testament Book of James, and as I’ve shared before it’s short and sweet, practical and punchy and one of its primary goals is in helping you and I as followers of Jesus apply what we believe to the everyday stuff of life. It’s a book that sometimes gently, and yet often forcefully and passionately, is here to persuade us to practice what we preach, to live out what we know, to actively apply what we say we believe.

And that overall theme is no clearer than in our passage today. Where here, near the end of chapter 1, we reach what is effectively James’s thesis statement, where our passage today not only sets up the themes and emphases that we’ll see throughout the rest of the book, but even more it gets to the heart of the book’s message itself, that is, don’t just hear the word, but do the word. Live out what you know and believe.

Now as for today, our passage somewhat neatly divides into two parts, where the first part, verses 19-21 has to do with hearing God’s Word and the second part verses 22-25, has to do with doing God’s Word.

And as for the third part, verses 26-27, we’re actually going to save all of that for next week, in fact there’s so much going on here in our entire passage today, that we’re going to come back to parts of this entire passage next Sunday.

But yet, as always, we’ll save next week for next week. For now, let’s get to our main focus for today: Hearing and Doing.

James begins verse 19, his section on hearing, by saying these famous words,

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;

Very likely these are words we have heard before, and if you’re like me, you’ve likely understood and applied these words in the context of our personal relationships and our everyday interactions.

That, in our speech and conduct, in our words and conversation, we should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. And that’s true, we should aspire to those things as we engage with one another, and Lord knows, our world and our nation right now, is in need of more people who are quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

But yet, in looking at the larger context, it seems as though James is also encouraging us to be quick to listen and slow to speak as it relates to hearing God’s word, since in verse 21 he’ll then say, welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

And here we have the first part of the equation, a fundamental, and absolutely essential aspect of the Christian life and a life of following Jesus, that you and I would regularly and intentionally and wholeheartedly welcome with meekness the implanted Word of God. That we would be quick to listen to the Word and slow to speak so that it can truly speak to us, this Word of God that has the power to save our souls. And even more, even the charge to be slow to anger aligns with this connection with hearing God’s Word as often times, when we experience anger, we often get defensive and close minded, which often makes it harder to hear and welcome God’s word with meekness.

James says, “welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.”

Friends, it is absolutely essential that you and I have regular times and rhythms to receive and hear God’s Word, both individually and communally.

As a community, the primary way in which we receive the Word of God is right here in Sunday Worship, what we’re doing here right now. In fact, so much of what we do is a reflection of and in response to hearing God’s Word. When we sing hymns, we hear each other’s voices and we sing the truths from God’s Word alongside another one. When we pray, we pray in line with the truths and promises of God’s Word as it pertains to the highs and lows and joys and sorrows of life. And when we hear a sermon, we’re (Lord willing) hearing and applying the truths of God’s unchanging word to a constantly changing world. Together we hear God’s Word, and welcome it with meekness, through a humble posture that is quick to listen and slow to speak.

And of course, we receive and hear God’s Word individually as well, through our own bible reading, quiet time and devotionals. And you all, if that is part of your regular rhythm and routines, awesome. I want to be your cheerleader and cheer you on. And if it’s not, or not as often as you like, the good news is, it’s never too late to start. My simple encouragement to you would be that just like an athlete starts small and builds up their strength and stamina in preparation for a big race or competition, start with small, measurable goals that are well within reach, maybe even a verse or two a day, or a chapter a week and build from there. And keep in mind, when it comes to hearing God’s Word, reading God’s Word is one way we can do that, but also, consider hearing God’s Word using an audio bible, where you can listen while you walk or drive or workout. My favorite resource for an audio bible is called Dwell and it is absolutely fantastic. For example, you can download the whole book of James and listen to the whole book in 20min or so, less time than the length of an episode from your favorite TV show. We’ll put a link in the comments section on our Facebook page and no, I was not paid a single penny for that free advertisement, that’s just how great it is.

James says, “welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.”

That’s the first part of the equation. We need to hear God’s Word. And yet, I’m sure you saw this coming. There’s a second part of the equation. And it too is an indispensable, a fundamental, an absolutely essential aspect of the Christian life and a life of following Jesus. And here once again, we find James’s warning label as it pertains to God’s Word, where he says,

“Do not merely hear the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

His point is unbelievably simple and straightforward - Hearing must be followed by doing. It’s a command that is no doubt easy to understand, but yet easier said than done.

And notice how James includes that phrase “don’t deceive yourselves.” That is, don’t deceive yourselves or buy into this notion that hearing alone is sufficient or that hearing alone is good enough, as if being a Christian or a life of following Jesus was simply a matter of information collection and retention. No, it’s about receiving and hearing God’s Word in a way that is transformational and life-changing in a way that impacts and saturates every area of life.

Christian author Bob Goff, in his book “Love Does” writes about his experience as a Christian and the disconnect that existed in his life when it came to hearing and doing, where he says, “I get paid as a lawyer to collect information and memorize facts, and I’ve gotten really good at it and what I realized about my faith is that I was doing just that, collecting information and memorizing things about God … and so in response he did something that will likely surprise us where decided to quit going to Bible Study, after all, there all they did was learn a bunch of facts and information about Jesus and nothing else, there was no doing, and so instead he said he started getting together with the same guys each week for not a “bible study” but what they call a “Bible doing.” Where they read what God has to say and then focus all of their attention on what they are going to do about it.

Now, it might be that Goff has swung too far to the other side, focused too much on doing, but you can see his point. In reality, hearing and doing don’t need to be pitted against each other as if they were enemies that we have to choose between. In fact, biblically speaking, they are in many ways one and the same, two sides of the same coin, two pedals on the same bike. Because interestingly enough, the Hebrew word that is used for listening or hearing also means to act or obey. That is, the bible’s understanding of hearing isn’t this technical or clinical idea of sound waves hitting your ear drum, going in one ear and out the other, rather, it’s about taking in the truths and commands of Scripture and responding to them accordingly in a way that changes how we live.

And here it’s important to clarify that when it comes to our standing before God, we are saved by faith alone, that is, we receive the free gift of eternal life, we are granted new and abundant life through our faith in Christ. But yet, here’s a helpful nuance, that has helped me make sense of all this and that is, We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Our faith, our hearing and believing in the Word of God, for it to be real and genuine, will naturally be accompanied by action, by doing.

Or as James says, 22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.

In addition, he uses an illustration to drive the connection home:

23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.

The idea seems to be this. The mirrors in our homes or above our bathroom sink reflect back to us what we look like and if and where we need to take action, whether it be “Oh, I guess it’s time to shave again, or wow, I’ve got dirt on my forehead, or as Callie told me a couple weeks ago, “Daniel, you need a haircut.” Mirrors show us who we are, and yes, that means our imperfections or areas that need attention and accordingly, the ways in which we need to respond. And here James is saying God’s Word functions in a similar way. That scripture is like a mirror, reflecting back to us who we are and what we need to do and how we are supposed to live. And for us to hear God’s Word and then to do nothing about it and not have it change the way we live in any way, is to miss its full and intended purpose.

Finally, James says, this, 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.”

James says, “Don’t be hearers who forget but doers who act.”

So friends, you can probably see where this is all heading this morning and here I feel like I’m championing an old Nike commercial, but whatever, as Nike says, just do it. Go do something. Go live what you know. Work out your faith. Act what you believe. Do what you hear.

Now, what that is, what that could look like, well there are no shortage of things can you do. Maybe it’s starting with your bible reading and highlighting or underlining the active verbs or commands within scripture and making an effort to practice one of those things later that day. After all, don’t underestimate the importance of hearing, because how in the world do we know what to do and how to live without hearing first? Maybe it’s in reading and living into the commands of verses 26-27, in which James describes what true religion, what true and active faith in Christ, where we speak carefully and bridle our tongue, maybe we practice being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry with our kids or spouse or co-workers or neighbor. Maybe we show mercy by caring for the orphan and widow, and maybe we take 15min this week to reach out to a widow and widower from our church family and ask them how they’re doing and how we can pray for them. Maybe we pursue purity by keeping ourselves unstained by the world and all the many ways that might look. Maybe it’s in living out one of those commands, and again, we’ll do a deep dive on verses 26 & 27 and give those verses our full attention during next Sunday’s sermon.

Maybe it’s in taking the general truths of scripture and finding ways to apply them in your every day life. For example, the story of scripture is a story of grace and how through Jesus, God gives us far more than we deserve. So how might you be able to show grace to someone this week? For example, maybe you’re at a restaurant and the server is having a rough day, messing up your order, slow to respond, spills something on your table, and yet when the check comes by rather than tipping them far less and giving them according to what they deserve, you tip them generously, giving them far more than they deserve, maybe even writing an encouraging note on the receipt that says, “Keep going, we hope to see you again here soon.” That’s showing grace in everyday life. That’s a way in which we really live into the intersection of what we believe, what we hear with how we live and what we do.

Above all, just do something. James says, “Don’t be hearers who forget but doers who act.”

And I’ll finish with this. A couple weeks ago I shared with you that one of my favorite summaries of James that I’ve read is that it’s a “beautifully crafted punch in the gut.” And yeah, it’s definitely that at times, where in its bluntness and directness you kind of wonder if James was a drill sargent or football coach in a previous life. But yet notice the glimpses of sweetness towards the end there.

James describes those who hear the word and do it as those who respond to the perfect law, which is the law of liberty, in other words the law of freedom - they will be blessed in their doing. That is, it is to our benefit and for our good to not simply hear the word, but to do it. That the way in which we flourish as people made in the image of God is not merely by hearing the Word of God but even more by doing what it says.

in fact James here is simply echoing Jesus from years before who said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

And so friends, not only do we reflect to the world around us what Jesus is like as we live out his word in our everyday life, but we also, when we live into the law of liberty, the word of God and commands and truths found within it, we submit ourselves into living in sync with the ways in which he created the world and designed us to experience a full and abundant life.

For as Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

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