Receiving And Doing The Word - Part Two
Scripture: James 1:19–27
Receiving And Doing The Word-Part TwoJames 1:19-27
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith
Let's pretend that you work for me. In fact, you are my executive assistant in a company that is growing rapidly. I'm the owner and I'm interested in expanding overseas. To pull this off, I make plans to travel abroad and stay there until the new branch office gets established. I make all the arrangements to take my family in the move to Europe for six to eight months, and I leave you in charge of the busy stateside organization. I tell you that I will write you regularly and give you direction and instructions. I leave and you stay. Months pass. A flow of letters are mailed from Europe and received by you at the national headquarters. I spell out all my expectations. Finally, I return.
Soon after my arrival I drive down to the office. I am stunned! Grass and weeds have grown up high. A few windows along the street are broken. I walk into the receptionist's room and she is doing her nails, chewing gum, and listening to her favorite [radio] station. I look around and notice the wastebaskets are overflowing, the carpet hasn't been vacuumed for weeks, and nobody seems concerned that the owner has returned. I ask about your whereabouts and someone in the crowded lounge area points down the hall and yells, "I think he's down there." Disturbed, I move in that direction and bump into you as you are finishing a chess game with our sales manager. I ask you to step into my office (which has been temporarily turned into a television room for watching afternoon soap operas).
"What in the world is going on, man?" "What do ya' mean…?" "Well, look at this place! Didn't you get any of my letters?" "Letters? Oh, yeah - sure, got every one of them. As a matter of fact…we have had letter study every Friday night since you left. We have even divided all the personnel into small groups and discussed many of the things you wrote. Some of those things were really interesting. You'll be pleased to know that a few of us have actually committed to memory some of your sentences and paragraphs. One or two memorized an entire letter or two! Great stuff in those letters!" "Okay, okay - you got my letters; you studied them and meditated on them, discussed and even memorized them. BUT WHAT DID YOU DO ABOUT THEM?" "Do? Uh - we didn't do anything about them" (Charles Swindoll, Improving Your Serve, p. 170-171).
I wonder how much this silly illustration applies to many who attend solid Bible churches? We listen to detailed sermons, attend Bible studies and read the Word throughout the week. We memorize Scripture. We paint it on the walls of our home. We carry our Bibles everywhere we go. But how faithful are we to put the Scriptures we know into practice? How faithful are we to be a doer of the Word? That will be our lesson from James this morning.
Two lessons ago we learned in verse 18 that we were "brought…forth by the Word." God used the Scriptures to save us, grant us new spiritual birth. Last week we learned that we grow in our faith also by the same Word of God. Therefore as James said we must, verse 19, "be quick to hear [the Scriptures]" and, verse 21, "in humility receive the Word implanted." Now today we will learn that God also expects us to put in practice what we learn from the Bible. In other words, we must hear the Word, but the problem comes when we become merely hearers. The overall climatic goal of all Bible knowledge is always application. If we fall short of that final step all the biblical knowledge we have accumulated is useless.
1. THE DEMAND
I begin the first of three points with, "The Demand." In verse 22 James says, "But prove yourselves doers of the Word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves."
Let's take this back to the beginning. The Bible is clear that the reality of salvation results in a radical change. Jesus Christ is not tacked on to an already crowded heart. When we come to Christ we are given a new heart, a place where He reigns supreme as Lord. The Holy Spirit indwells us, and with His presence come new desires. Front and center of those desires is the ability to understand and the passion to do what the Bible says.
Before Christ we rejected the teachings of Scripture. Maybe we gleaned a moral lesson or two from the Bible, but our bent was toward unholiness and complete submission to a holy book was out of the question. In 1 Corinthians Paul describes such a person: "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Cor. 2:14). That is why we learned last week in verse 19 that an unholy man will be quick to anger when exposed to the Bible because his sins will be uncovered. His desire is not for God-honoring behavior, but rather for guarding and cherishing his beloved idols. The Bible is viewed as a threat.
Yet for the believer we have come to see the Bible as a direct extension of God. It is His very words, words that flow from a loving Father sent to us for our good. They are words that open a window into His heart. And as we read them and listen to them and meditate on them and memorize them and study them, we grow in becoming like Him and deepen our relationship with Him. We have a new desire to want the Scriptures, a new ability to obey the Scriptures. Therefore it goes without saying that the common denominator of all true believers will be their pursuit to be, as James says, a "doer of the Word."
Listen to the testimony from Scripture: From the apostle Paul, "For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified" (Rom. 2:13). From the apostle John, "By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 Jn. 2:3-4). And from Jesus Himself, "You are My friends if you do what I command you" (Jn. 15:14). Again, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word" (Jn. 14:23).
Douglas Moo in his excellent commentary said, "In His message of the kingdom, Jesus announced the overwhelming, amazing wonder of God's sovereign grace reaching down to reclaim sinful people for Himself. But no one emphasized as strongly as Jesus the need for people touched by God's grace to respond with radical, world-renouncing obedience. Both the gracious initiative of God and the grateful response of human beings are necessary aspects of the gospel" (James, p. 89).
The command in verse 22 is clear: "prove yourselves doers of the Word." Anything less whereby we function as mere "hearers" is evidence according to the verse that we are deluding ourselves.
Here are some examples that came to mind this week: So when Satan convinces you that you will be happier pursuing sin over what you know to be right, see straight through the lie and prove yourself a doer of the Word. So when you find it easier to debate the minutia of theology rather than lift a finger to serve someone in the church, cut through the smokescreen and prove yourself a doer of the Word. So when you begin to pick and choose what you wish to obey from the Bible, detect the error of your ways and prove yourself a doer of the Word. So when you spend more effort critiquing others than working on areas where you know you fall short, wake up to the deception and prove yourself a doer of the Word.
God is not looking for His children to audit the Christian faith. Passive faith is no faith at all. He wants His players on the field and off the sidelines. Continual and deliberate disobedience reveals that our Lord is someone other than Christ Jesus. As He Himself said, "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Lk. 6:46). Our passage this morning is clear. Any response to the Gospel that does not include obedience is self-deception.
2. THE DECEIVED
While on that topic, James provides for us an illustration. If you remember back from your early education day, James uses a literary device called a simile. We move to our second point. Verses 23 and 24, "For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was."
Let's not try to find all kinds of hidden meanings in this analogy. The picture is clear. It is simply a story about a person who looks into a mirror, departs and forgets what he saw. Why did he forget? We aren't told. Possibly he was distracted. Perhaps he had a poor memory. Maybe he simply didn't like what he saw! Whatever it was (and here is the point), the look was meaningless as it produced no change as a result.
What is the spiritual application? The mirror is a metaphor for God's Word. As believers we are continually subjected to the Scriptures. We are left with two options. Either we will walk away unaffected or we will allow our exposure to the Word to make a difference in our lives. So the one who deludes himself is the one who looks at the Scriptures and goes on his way as if never being exposed to the realities. Such a person is ignoring a continual theme in Scripture: Remember ! (Ex. 13:3; Num. 15:39; Mal. 4:4; 2 Pet. 1:12-13). We must allow God's mighty acts and teaching to make a lasting impression!
What is the worst that can happen if you blow-off what you see in the mirror? A few hairs out of place? An unnoticed pimple on your forehead? A piece of tissue paper remaining on that razor cut? Food stuck between your teeth? Really no big deal! Blow off what you see in the Scriptures and the results can be catastrophic! Pastor Kent Hughes said, "God's Word becomes a millstone if we do not make it a milestone" (James, p. 74).
Well, what do you see when you look in the mirror of God's Word? On the one hand you see the glory of Jesus Christ, the One who proved His love by going to the cross and becoming the perfect sacrifice in paying the penalty for all your sins (if He is your Savior). You see His mercy and kindness and forgiveness. On the other hand you see your sin. The Bible is a sword "living and active" (Heb. 4:12) that cuts through all the façades and veneers to expose the reality of your heart. Sin is revealed. Will we submit to what we see in humility (Jas. 1:21), or will we be that angry man that attacks (Jas. 1:19-20)?
A story from the last century tells how a missionary out in the bush had hung a small mirror on a tree in order to shave. The local witch doctor happened by and curiously looked into the strange glass - and seeing her hideously painted features she jumped back! Immediately she began to bargain with the missionary for the mirror. The man demurred, but to no effect. Finally, realizing that the witch doctor would not be put off, he let her have the mirror - whereupon she threw it to the ground, breaking it to pieces, shouting, "There . . . it won't be making ugly faces at me anymore!" (Hughes, James. p. 73).
How are we dealing with what we see and then don't like from the mirror of the Word of God? When we fail to apply, we are acting like that witch doctor!
3. THE DOER
From the negative illustration of the deceived we move to the positive remarks about the doer. Our third point. Allow me to read the whole verse before we break it down. Verse 25, "But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does."
Notice first of all that James abandons the metaphor of the mirror and substitutes it directly with the Word of God. And in verse 25 he calls the Word of God "the perfect law" and "the law of liberty." Another interesting change. In verses 18, 21, 22 and 23 he called it the "Word." Now he calls it the "law" in verse 25. Why the change? And why the repeated use of the word "law?" It is because law emphasizes what James has been hammering home in this section. Law implies authority. It implies obedience.
I believe it is called the "perfect law" because it now comes to us in its completed form. Jesus has fulfilled the Old Covenant law (Mt. 5:17) and has now handed down to us the complete and final expectations for Christian living. I believe it is called the "law of liberty" because obedience to Christ's expectations are not enslaving (which many believe), but actually that which leads us into true freedom (cf. Psm. 119:45). We are finally free to do as we have been designed by God to do. Through the law of Christ we serve God not from fear or duty, but rather out of love, gratitude and delight. Contrary to the world's beliefs, remember that doing the Word of God, the law of God is liberating!
In verse 25 James speaks of the one who "looks intently" at this law. In the original Greek ("parakupto") it speaks of "looking by bending over" or "stooping down." It's the same word used in John 20 of Peter when he came to the empty grave of Jesus and stooped down and looked in (Jn. 20:5). We are talking about a serious and meaningful approach to Scripture, a desire to dig into the Word and a preparedness to obey what is discovered.
James goes on to say in verse 25 that such a person not only eagerly learns from the Scripture, but then also "abides by it." Being enabled by the Holy Spirit, they live it out. They allow it to frame their daily conduct. Such a person according to James is "not…a forgetful hearer (verses 23-24) but an effectual doer." Such a person is what God expects among His children.
So let me ask you a few questions by way of application:
First, are you in Christ Jesus? If He is not your Savior and number one in your life, you will never have any desire or ability to abide by His teaching. You must become (a Christian) before you can do (what a Christian does). Second, have you made the conscious decision to be a doer of the Word? If you haven't, you will never do it when the opportunity presents itself.
What does a resolved to be a doer of the Word look like? Obviously he is one that will spend much time in the Scriptures. He will listen intently and probably take notes when the Word is preached. You know why I started taking notes from day one when I was first saved at my former church? It was because everyone around me in the pews was taking notes! That leads me to another thought: he will also be eager to help others do the Word primarily through personal example. He will also establish some form of accountability. Never easy, but he will accept correction from those who know him well and love him enough to speak to the truth. He will also be excited to discuss the Bible with others. Conversations with others Christians will often gravitate to what he is learning and applying from the Bible. I'm sure there are other facets, but this is a portrait of a doer of the Word.
So as one who professes to love the Lord and wants to be more like Jesus Christ and is filled with the Holy Spirit and treasures God's precious voice, are you a doer of the Word? Generally, is there anything going on whereby your actions and known biblical teaching are not in agreement? Specifically, is there an addiction that you know God wants you to forsake? Do you sense the need to be baptized but keep putting it off? Are the words that flow from your mouth in line with biblical teaching? Are you sitting on your gifts instead of using them to serve the church? Is anything holding you back from sharing your faith? Are you holding to any grudges when God expects forgiveness? Is your prayer life acceptable? Are your financial givings cheerful, consistent and sacrificial as the Scriptures command? Are you diligent and productive both at home and on the job? Do you value the church as much as God does and how does it show? Are you teaching your children about the faith and living it out as an example? Is anger and greed put off? Is love and kindness put on? Is there any impurity that you know is contrary to biblical teaching? As you know, the list continues…
The main point from the lesson today: Are you a doer of the Word? You see beloved, as James says, if we know these expectations from the Bible and are not intent on doing them, we are living a life of deception if we profess Christ, and the knowledge we have accumulated is useless and even condemning.
But I close with the positive. The one who has the intention of doing the Word, imperfectly of course, but the goal by God's grace is to put into practice what Scripture teaches, James says is greatly rewarded. He finishes verse 25 by saying, "[Such a] man will be blessed in what he does."
What kind of blessing you ask? Here are at least four that come to mind: First, the blessing of great assurance of your salvation when we see clear evidence that our desires are no longer what they once were. For only when we become a child of God through faith in Jesus will we be able to do these things. Second, the blessing of avoiding sin's consequences. The more we reject God's Word, the more unnecessary heartache we bring upon ourselves. Third, the blessing of God's favor. Greater blessings always come with obedience. And fourth, the blessing of living not as a hypocrite, but as a shining example of Jesus Christ.
Our Lord's words from John 13, "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them" (Jn. 13:17).
After the death of Moses, Joshua was left with enormous task of leading God's people. Immediately he told the people where they needed to look and the result of living by that source. "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success" (Jos. 1:8).
We hear the same thoughts in the very first verses of the first Psalm: "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night" (Psm. 1:1-2).
"Letters? Oh, yeah - sure, got every one of them. As a matter of fact…we have had letter study every Friday night since you left. We have even divided all the personnel into small groups and discussed many of the things you wrote. Some of those things were really interesting. You'll be pleased to know that a few of us have actually committed to memory some of your sentences and paragraphs. One or two memorized an entire letter or two! Great stuff in those letters!" "Okay, okay - you got my letters; you studied them and meditated on them, discussed and even memorized them. BUT WHAT DID YOU DO ABOUT THEM?" "Do? Uh - we didn't do anything about them."