Receiving And Doing The Word - Part One
Scripture: James 1:19–27
Receiving And Doing The Word-Part OneJames 1:19-27
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith
One of the most memorable parts of our recent vacation was hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. In order to beat the heat we began the seven-mile journey downward around 4:00 PM. By the time we reached the Colorado River the sun had set and it was pitch-black. We had almost another mile to make it to our campground. At this point we were on our own in a rugged wilderness with a limited water supply. The only thing that separated us from safety and potential danger were the small wooden signs among a network of trails that guided us to our final destination. Keep that in mind!
Three weeks ago we concluded our series on trials from verses 2-18. We learned that trials come upon all believers to refine and perfect our faith. In the crucible of suffering, God molds us to the image of Jesus Christ. When we remain under the weight of the trial, we can expect blessed results and are therefore able, as James says in verse 2, "[To] consider it all joy…when [we] encounter various trials."
In theory I trust we know this. The problem comes when we are actually experiencing a painful trial of our own. We want out. We feel abandoned by God. We turn to worldly solutions to deaden the pain. But at this time we are reminded by James that God is with us in the process. As a matter of fact, he says in verse 18 that God only gives good gifts to His children, and trials, regardless of how we perceive them, are another example of God's goodness. He permitted the trial in His love and insight. In the midst of the trial He is willing to provide for us faith and wisdom (Jas. 1:3-5). And He has already supplied us with all the direction we need in the Scriptures to help navigate our lives in the midst of the confusion. That is where we are going this morning!
When we were at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, we could have taken matters into our own hands and followed the trails that seemed most attractive and logical. Or we could have trusted the Ranger's directions on the wooden signs to arrive safely at the best destination.
For the next few weeks we will conclude James 1 and learn how God's Word is to be our guide given to us by a loving heavenly Father to lead us on the right trail and bring us to the places that will be for our greatest good. Will we trust God that His Word is true and powerful? And if so, what priority should the Word take in our lives?
1. LISTENING TO THE WORD
I'm calling the first point, "Listening to the Word."
James begins verse 19 by saying, "This you know, my beloved brethren." In using affectionate language, James reminds his readers that this information about the Scriptures should come to them as no surprise. All Christians should inherently know the priority of the Word. He already informed them in verse 18 that God saved them "by the Word," and now he will remind them in the remaining verses that God will also sanctify them by that same Word. Knowledge of the new birth brought forth from the Word must lead to a new life now directed by the Word. As we know that going without food is impossible, Christians naturally know that living without the Scriptures is likewise indispensable.
Right? Wrong! According to a recent Gallop Poll "eighty-two percent of Americans believe that the Bible is either literal or the "inspired" Word of God, yet half couldn't name even one of the four gospels and fewer than half knew who delivered the Sermon on the Mount" (David Jeremiah, Turning Toward Integrity). Barna in his research determined that less than 2 in 10 of professing born-again believers read their Bibles every day. Another study revealed that 23% professing Christians admit to never reading the Word of God at all.
Contrast that with what James says in verse 19, "But everyone must be quick to hear."
I believe quite often we have heard this verse quoted out of context. We tie this verse into all those Proverbs that warn us to be good listeners and people of few words. Proverbs like 10:19, "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise." You may have heard the sayings: "A wise old owl lived in an oak. The more he saw the less he spoke. The less he spoke the more he heard. Why can't we all be like that wise old bird?" Or "God has given you two ears and one mouth because you should listen twice as much as speak!" All of this is great advice and a tremendous distinction of godliness, but I believe James in this context is seeking to be more specific. I believe James is limiting his instruction to the Scriptures.
When James says we must be "quick to hear," he is calling us to have our minds in tune with and absorbed by the Word of God. James was writing to the church in a time before the invention of CD's and iPads. Most, if not all in the church, probably did not even own a copy of the Scriptures (the New Testament was yet to even be composed and compiled). All they had was the church to read and preach the Scriptures to them, and James is saying, "Listen!"
The same is said to us, "Listen to the Scriptures!" We have so many more mediums to receive the Word of God, but what are most American Christians listening to today? According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day. That is 9 years glued to the tube once you reach age 65! Contrast that with 3.5 minutes each day that children and parents have meaningful conversations. By the time a child finishes elementary school, he or she will have viewed 8,000 murders. In an average year they will have viewed 20,000 commercials (TV-Free America). Add to that all the movies, unprofitable conversations and useless reading, and it is no surprise what will guide our minds and affections. Five minutes in the Word will never stem the tide. Garbage in, garbage out! Don't be so surprised why we fail so often in our spiritual lives! In order to be victorious, we must bleed Bible. Personal reading, memorization, meditation, Bible studies, listening to sermons, etc.
In addition to listening to the Word, James goes on to say we must also be "slow to speak." Again, in general, a great Christian principle. Proverbs 17:28, "Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise." Mature believers display self-control with their words. And when they speak they provide wise insight and avoid jumping to rash conclusions and regretful remarks. They know how to listen without interrupting. All great spiritual counsel, but again, in context I believe James is limiting his discussion to the Scriptures.
So what is James saying when he tells us we should be "slow to speak [the Scriptures]?" Perhaps some examples we have all encountered will answer the question. The person who tries to offer biblical advice, but provides ungodly counsel. "Well, God helps those who help themselves." We all remember Job's buddies! The person who complains about a Bible lesson to another person, but the comments are in opposition to the Holy Spirit's work. The person who tries to change the direction of the church with the "I think God would want" remarks that are contrary to the Word of God. The person who instructs people with mandates that are not found in the Bible. The person who is quick to judge without examination of his own life. The person who wants to teach, but is inadequate in character, giftedness or biblical knowledge (cf. Jas. 3:1). In other words, when you are seeking to direct God's people you had better know what you are talking about! When seeking to be a mouthpiece for God, you need to restrain your words. Everybody wants to be a prophet. James says, "[Be] slow to speak!"
The last of the triple duties calls us to be "slow to anger." Again, a great and obvious principle for the Christian life (Pr. 16:32; 29:11; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Tit. 1:7). But how does this fit in the context of God's Word?
About two months ago I received an e-mail from a man interested in attending our church. All he said in the letter was that he was impressed with all the activities we had to offer. That Sunday he arrived and sat next to Betty Dinne. As the sermon began she noticed that he began to get a little restless in his seat. Notable discomfort was displayed on his face. It turned to anger. He got up and walked out halfway through the message. Betty reported the news and I wrote to him. Still waiting on his response.
C.H. Spurgeon, "He that reads his Bible to find fault with it will soon discover that the Bible finds fault with him." J.C. Ryle, "Be very sure of this - people never reject the Bible because they cannot understand it. They understand it too well; they understand that it condemns their own behavior; they understand that it witnesses against their own sins, and summons them to judgment. They try to believe it is false and useless, because they don't like to believe it is true" (Thoughts for Young Men). An unknown author, "Men do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself but because it contradicts them."
Let's go over this again: The Bible is a holy book. We are sinful people. When the two encounter each other, there will be a reaction. We will either allow the Word to reveal our sin and change us - that is the humble and proper response - or we will be offended and take our anger out against God's Word and/or the individual presenting it.
This is nothing new; consider how God's prophets were treated. Isaiah 30:10, "Who say…to the prophets, 'You must not prophesy to us what is right, speak to us pleasant words, Prophesy illusions.'" 1 Kings 22:8, "The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, 'There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.'" In the New Testament Paul warned Timothy, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires" (2 Tim. 4:3). Yet what does God want? As we have been learning, He wants His people to hear the Word (2 Tim. 4:2) accurately, boldly, clearly and without hypocrisy and compromise.
If the Word of God is rightly proclaimed, your problem is not with the speaker, but with God. And it is here that James is warning us to be slow to anger. Nobody likes to be corrected, but we need to see the conviction that occurs as a good thing. It is the Holy Spirit using the Word that He inspired to make a person more holy. As Spurgeon would say, "A sermon often does a man most good when it makes him most angry. Those people who walk down the aisles and say, 'I will never hear that man again,' very often have an arrow rankling in their breast." The contrast is between having a teachable spirit verses an angry spirit. One tremendously honors God and the other, according to verse 20, "Does not achieve the righteousness of God." In other words, unrighteous anger contradicts the righteousness that defines God and the righteousness He expects among His people.
2. RECEIVING THE WORD
James is still concerned with people's desire for the Scriptures so he goes from listening to the Word to showing us how to receive the Word. This is now our second point.
First we see what we need to "put off" to provide a greater reception for the Word. Verse 21, "Therefore [based on all he has already said], [put] aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness." Filthiness, "rhuparia" (in the original Greek), we can translate it "moral uncleanliness." To give you a visual and unforgettable picture in the original, it was the word used for earwax. If we wish to provide for the Word a fertile ground to be planted and take root in our lives, it is necessary that we put off all moral filth. In other words, before God's Holy Word can be received, unholy sin must be renounced. That is only logical!
Peter in his first letter follows the same pattern as James. Remember James? The Word that saves us (Jas. 1:18) is the Word that sanctifies us (Jas. 1:19ff). In 1 Peter 1:23 Peter also talks about the Word that saves us: "For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God." Then a few verses later he speaks of the Word's ability to sanctify us. 1 Peter 2:1-2, "Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation." But again, did you see the qualification? Just like James said, we must put off all spiritual filth and wickedness to receive the Word. Peter even identifies some of those specific sins: "[Put off] all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander."
This concept has helped me formulate one of my biggest principles in counseling. Before I work with an individual, the person needs to accept the fact that the Bible is our authoritative source, and they need to make the efforts to repent of any present sins. You see, if they refuse to accept the final say as God's Word, we will never come to any common understanding and proceed in a way according to God's directives. And if they refuse to put off known sins, they will never be able (according to verse 21) to receive the Word and allow it to profit their souls.
One of the classic examples I encounter is a couple asking me for premarital counseling. What should I do when I find out they are living together? I have developed a policy, appreciated by some and despised by others, that says couples from the time we begin counseling until the marriage day must be sexually pure and living in separate accommodations. I remember one young lady expressing the financial impossibility of her and her fiancé affording two separate locations. She mocked me when I offered she could live with us rent-free until the wedding. "That would be like moving back in with my parents." It didn't bother me that I was an old geezer in her sight. What troubled me was her unwillingness to repent when given a clear opportunity. So is this a bad policy? Am unfairly judging these couples that simply want a nice wedding? No, I am simply saving us all a lot of wasted time. I cannot imagine any couple desiring to honor God on their wedding day and willing to build their marriage on the principles of Scripture if they are engaged in present fornication.
Please don't misunderstand me. I am not saying we all came to marriage morally pure. But what I am saying is that if we are in Christ, we will repent from this obvious sin and enter the big day with a renewed virginity that is bent on honoring God. And if we don't, I cannot see how we can claim we are eager to receive God's Word and desirous of His blessings in our new life together.
So let me ask you, is there any moral filth or wickedness in your life that is preventing you from receiving God's Word? If you struggle with sermons like these, your problem is not with me or the Bible, but rather your unwillingness to repent which is preventing you for receiving God's Word with delight. You will never grow or have peace with the Lord until these barriers are removed.
From the negative, James goes to the positive. Like an old dirty garment we are to put off the moral filth and (verse 21) put on "humility" if we wish to "receive the Word implanted" (cf. Jer. 31:33). It is the opposite of the man we learned about earlier who receives the Word in anger. We are talking about a spirit that is teachable, open, receptive and welcoming to the Scriptures. It is like the Bereans when they listened to the apostle Paul, "For they received the Word with great eagerness" (Ac. 17:11). That is humility! You want to get the most out of the Word? You want an open heart for the Scriptures? Then by God's grace, put off moral filth and put on humility!
You know, when I think of the Grace Tabernacle, despite our weaknesses, this has always been, I believe, one of our greatest strengths. From the time I arrived you had been instructed by Pastor Jim Sharp to have a high regard for the Scriptures. Pastors Jim McColl and Frank Merckx, men who are here and have influenced many of you, based their decades of ministry on prioritizing Scripture. We must never wean from this commitment. We must trust the Word and not our cleverness or manipulation to save people, and as James says at the end of verse 21 we must also trust the Word to deliver us as believers from the consequences of sin. That is why we need to be diligent to listen to the Word at all times in a variety of ways and humbly receive it so that it can perform its work in us (1 Thes. 2:13).
Beloved, renew your affections for the Word of God. Cherish it for the many powerful ways it defines itself. Truth (Jn. 17:17). The Sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). Faith imparting (Rom. 10:17). Fire and a Hammer (Jer. 23:29). Life changing (1 Pet. 2:2). A Lamp (Psm. 119:105). Daily food (Mt. 4:4).
God and the Bible are inseparable. We cannot claim to love God if we are unwilling to follow His Word. It is no different than how it is impossible to come to the Father by bypassing the Son, Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. All of the Scriptures speak of Him. He fulfilled the Bible perfectly which qualified Him to be our perfect Savior. Have you trusted in His sacrifice? Have you by faith received this free offer of grace? Is He your Savior? Apart from Jesus Christ, you are disconnected from the Father and are unable to receive the Word.
Possibly one of the greatest marks of godliness is a love for the Bible. Amy Carmichael that faithful missionary to India once said, "The amazing thing is that everyone who reads the Bible has the same joyful thing to say about it. In every land, in every language, it is the same tale: where that Book is read, not with the eyes only, but with the mind and heart, the life is changed. Sorrowful people are comforted, sinful people are transformed, peoples who were in the dark walk in the light. Is it not wonderful to think that this Book, which is such a mighty power if it gets a chance to work in an honest heart, is in our hands today? (Thou Givest...They Gather, p. 7).