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Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. - James 1:22 (NIV)
I had the blessing of being in a meeting with a very prominent and gifted pastor recently. I texted my mom afterward and said, “Been with a guy that’s been with Jesus.” Bad grammar, good experience. The book of James was written by a guy that’s been with Jesus. James was actually the brother of Jesus. If you want evidence for the resurrection think about how viable it is that your brother or sister rose from the dead and you believed it to such a degree you spent the remainder your life telling their story. Unless James was a total loon, his testimony is evidence that Jesus died and rose again and his commentary on that life, death, and resurrection is worth more than all the lottery tickets in the world combined.
The central theme of James’ book is the dual impact of listening and obeying. He wrote a letter addressed very broadly with content that cuts through 2,000 years of world history. If you are a believer in Jesus you can’t just hear His words, you MUST do them. Somewhere along the way you (and I) may have said “yes” to Jesus’ call to follow Him, but that yes isn’t the end of our story. It’s only the beginning of it.
Listening and doing go together like peas and carrots, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Batman and Robin, eggs and bacon, blue and white, and all the other favorite pairs we run across. When it comes to following Jesus, James makes it clear you can’t have one without the other. So, I’ve got two challenges for us this week:
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. - James 1:21 (NIV)
When I was growing up one of the most compelling movie concepts going was that of freeing prisoners of war. Deep in a jungle were a group of brave soldiers being abused by their captors, treated as less than human, and in need of rescue. There was nothing more heroic to envision than to drop in behind enemy lines, take on an entire army of hundreds, and, after defeating the enemy, freeing all those living in filth and squalor.
Imagine you get to do that. You are the actual savior of dozens of prisoners of war. After a time of celebration you are elated. You see the relief on their faces and you can’t help but think about what they will do with their new found freedom. But, after a time of celebration each of them thanks you and then returns to their cell. They re-enter their squalor and lock themselves right back up, captured only by their own false conditioning.
This is what it’s like for people who are freed from their sin by Jesus but miss the connection between their spiritual freedom and the blessing of faithful obedience that follows. James points out how foolish this is, but sadly many Christians refuse to leave their captive past. They return to the same patterns of behavior and the spiritual squalor they used to be bound by.
To help break free from our past, let’s commit James 1:21 to memory. (A great way to memorize verses is to repeat them 10 times by sight and then 10 times without looking. Emphasize each keyword, one at a time, as you go to help it stick.)Share Tweet
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. - James 1:23-24 (NIV)
So James creates an illustration for us. There were no selfies in his day so he references a mirror and how absurd it would be to forget what you look like immediately after seeing yourself. This sets up the next verse where he points out that looking intently into God’s law and then doing it leads to blessing. He points out that remembering what you see in the Word and doing it is beneficial. God didn’t just put His heart on the pages of scripture to humor Himself; He did it because He loves us!
Don’t be fooled though. He doesn’t promise a bigger bank account or healing from chronic pain. People who preach that are in it for their own personal gain and they make a mockery of the suffering Jesus endured. James wrote this letter to suffering and persecuted believers. Their blessing wasn’t in cars and boats and financial freedom--it was found in patient obedience under trial. He had observed his brother live a life of pain and challenge and yet find full purpose and meaning.
I’ll never forget meeting a fella with a sizable trust fund that had absolutely shipwrecked his life. He and his then wife began opening up their marriage to others. He had gone down a road of sexual destruction that all the money in his big bank account could not fix. Following God’s heart for sexuality and other appetites isn’t complicated. It’s truly simple to follow Jesus. But, as Scott Nickell often reminds us, “Simple isn’t easy.”
Today let’s resolve to remember what God’s word teaches us. Let’s resolve to obey Him in life matters big and small.
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. - James 1:26 (NIV)
My email system has a very handy feature called “undo.” After I send an email I have a few seconds to click that button and recall the email I just sent. It has been so helpful with misspells or missing details I instantly realize I forgot to include. In a quick click, I can clean up my mistakes and save myself more work or unintended trouble. What I wish is that I had that feature for the words that come out of my mouth. We’ve all been there. Our mouth opens up and mean, bad, hurtful, dumb, and destructive things come out!
This happened to me just this summer. I was watching my son play baseball and was frustrated by the way the game was going. Their team had been pretty successful and at the biggest tournament of their summer, it seemed like everything went the other way. The calls, the bounces, and the outcome of a big game the day before. In a moment of total immaturity, I ran my big yapper about a disagreement I had about it all with another dad and he overheard me. I was so embarrassed. I felt awful. I apologized immediately and then later on after the game. The immaturity in me came out of my mouth and it was ugly.
As a pastor there are a number of verses in the Bible I wish I didn’t have to teach on. James 1:26 is one of them. It hits me right in the kisser, literally! Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Both Jesus and James understand that our words are a reflection of what is in our heart. The Bible is painfully clear that if God doesn’t have our heart, it’s going to show up in our words.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. - James 1:27 (NIV)
Evil in its purest form seeks the extermination of that which is good. Throughout history and on our doorstep today are acts of violence and aggression against the most vulnerable among us. Jesus was born into a legislated act of infanticide. His followers were later hung from crosses littering the highways of the Roman Empire. Evil is real and apparent.
Sorry to jump in the deep end on Friday but fortunately James presents the contrast of evil with clearly stated practical next steps. If you are a champion of good, of “pure religion,” you will look after orphans and widows. He understands the truth Jesus taught that it is way better to give than to receive. Love is always better than callous selfishness. There are days when I’m really discouraged by what I see on the news. When there seems to be so much going wrong with the world, this actually makes it the perfect time to help others. What a time to stand out!
The state of Kentucky alone has thousands of kids without families and we have an incredible strategic ministry partner in Orphan Care Alliance with a wide range of support options. From adopting to sharing resources with people actively fostering kids, you can get involved.
Also, our population is aging and there are many underserved widows in every community. Many of us simply need to look around our neighborhoods or nearby senior centers to extend the hope we have in Jesus.
Our vision at Southland is to, “Unleash a revolution of love” and there is no more simple way to be part of that revolution than to love and care for orphans and widows.
To get involved in orphan care support in Central Kentucky, check out this strategic partner website.
To get involved in widow care and support check out this strategic partner website.Share Tweet