July 24, 2011

Receiving And Doing The Word - Part Three

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: James Scripture: James 1:19–27


Receiving And Doing The Word-Part Three

James 1:19-27
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith

I know I've shared this story before, but it bears repeating.

It was the winter of 1990. I was almost two years out of college and teaching Physical Education in the western suburbs of Chicago. After living my whole life apart from God and the church, I began to attend a small Lutheran church by myself not far from the home where I was raised. I went faithfully for about a year until I bought a small house about 30 minutes away. At that point a fellow football coach and solid Christian invited me to his church which was only a mile from my new home. I agreed to check it out. He told me to bring a Bible.

Despite the fact that I could only name a couple biblical books, my major problem was I didn't own a Bible apart from one I salvaged from my cousin that she was about to throw away. So I dug it out of the closet and not knowing any better I brought this! (Show big Bible). You wouldn't believe the stares and comments I received that first memorable Sunday!

I immersed myself in several Bible studies (bringing along this big Bible) as I couldn't get enough of the Word. One day another friend felt sorry for me and my big Bible and gave me this New Testament Life Application Bible. About a year later he presented me with a NIV Study Bible. Within no time I had the entire book filled with notes. A few years later I purchased a NASB Bible with large margins and within a couple years again, filled the book with notes.

I wanted to know God. Up until the point that I began immersing myself in the Scriptures, the only god I knew was the one I created in my image. Once exposed to the Bible my spiritual life skyrocketed! I couldn't get enough of the Bible: listening eagerly in church, attending weekly Bible studies, personal reading, frequent discussions about the Word with other believers. Through the Scriptures the Holy Spirit showed me the true God and what He expected from His people. I was excited to be in a special relationship with God. Despite some worldly success, this was the first time I experienced direction and meaning and satisfaction with life. The emptiness of the world was exposed to the true life that humanity is intended to experience. And without this devotion to the Scriptures, none of it would have ever happened.

One unknown Christian said, "This Book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler's map, the pilgrim's staff, the pilot's compass, the soldier's sword, and the Christian's character. Here paradise is restored, heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand object; our good is its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is given you in life and will be opened in the judgment and will be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents."

For a Christian to be indifferent to his Bible is like a cyclist uninterested in his bicycle. I mean how can we ignore the divine manual and then expect to live a God-honoring life? How can we claim to love God and then care less about hearing His voice? How can we profess allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ and then spend more time in sources that give us a contrary worldview. As C.H. Spurgeon said, "If you find a professing Christian indifferent to his Bible, you may be sure that the very dust upon its cover will rise up in judgment against him." God has created us to be a people that treasure and then live by the principles taught in the Book! It is inherent that Christians know this!

If we need a reminder, James has been making the same point. In the latter verses of chapter one he stresses the priority and power of the Word of God and how indispensable this Book is in the life of every believer. First in verse 18 we learned that we were "brought…forth by the Word of truth." God used the Scriptures to give us new life. Second James adds that the Book that saved us also sanctifies us. God uses the Bible to mature us in the faith. Therefore he says in verses 19-21 that we should be quick to hear the Bible. We should be eager to hear the Word and read the Word and memorize the Word and meditate on the Word and study the Word. And while the Holy Bible will point out our sin, James exhorts us to be slow to anger but receive the Word in humility whereby God can use it to make us more like His blessed Son.

So we are brought forth by the Word. We should humbly and eagerly receive the Word. And then last week we learned that we are to be doers of the Word. The climatic goal of all biblical instruction is application, putting into practice the things we have learned. And if you need additional motivation, verse 25 adds if we do these things we will be "blessed."

James as you know is very practical so he concludes the chapter by answering the final anticipated question in the progression. "What does a doer of the Word look like?" In verses 26-27 he will provide three snapshots that should define a true Christian. Obviously there are more examples he could provide, but for this week and the next we will examine these three benchmarks that show what a doer of the Word looks like. A doer of the Word is revealed by his or her speech, service and separation.

So think of yourself as a tree. Your roots are firmly planted on the Word of God. From the Word you are continually drawing nutrients to sustain your life. And on your branches fruit is borne that bears the reality of your faith. Or we can put it this way, true spirituality is vertical, but it will always show itself by producing horizontal actions in our relationship with others around us.


The first component that identifies a believer is his or her speech. In verse 26 James says, "If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless."

Twice in the verse James speaks of being "religious." Have you ever had someone ask you, "Are you religious?" What does that mean? Radical Muslims are religious. Witches are religious. Is it simply a belief in a "higher power?" Usually "religious people" are pictured as having little shrines set up on their dresser. Palm branches, a cross around their neck, possibly even a picture of Jesus in the hallway. Some more sophisticated might even add a few "church words" to their vocabulary. Perhaps they will even align with some social morals. Maybe they will even go to church, get baptized and put a little fish sticker on the back of their car! Now that's really religious! Many believe their religion is what it takes to make them right with God. "Are you going to heaven?" "Why of course, can't you tell how religious I am!"

That is why informed Christians often shy away from the term. Like the old REM song: they know it's about "Losing My Religion" in exchange for a relationship. All the religion in the world will still send a person to hell. Our need is not for more rituals and traditions and ceremonies to make us right with God. To be accepted by a holy God we need our sin removed. What we need is to receive the free gift of salvation found in Jesus Christ. God is looking for a relationship (He wants our hearts!), and that relationship is not based on our works, but rather on His grace. So it is not about what we need to do to be saved. It is about what God has done to save us in Christ.

We are saved through our faith in Christ, period. But, and here is where James is going, the reality of that faith will prove itself in our desire and ability to be a "doer of the Word." And one clear dimension of a doer of the Word is the ability to "bridle [your] tongue." You can have all the outward religion in the world, but if you are not in control of your speech, verse 26 says, "[You] deceive [your] own heart [and your] religion is worthless." Worthless, "mataios," a word often used to characterize the vain and meaningless activity of idolatry.

You see, church attendance and financial givings and prayers and baptism and good theology are all very important, but millions of people apart from Jesus will be practicing all of them today. You may even claim to have great faith. Yet in 2:19 James says the demons also believe. So there must be something to characterize the true believer! James says there is, and it is by the ability to demonstrate self-control (Gal. 5:23) with your speech (or as he put is "the tongue"). This is something only the Holy Spirit can give which provides evidence that He is dwelling within us.

In verse 26 he speaks of bridling your tongue. As a bridle controls a horse, we should have control over our tongue. In chapter 3 James expands his discussion of the tongue and in verse 3 returns to the same imagery. "Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well." The tongue, a very small part of our body is pictured as a wild rearing horse completely out of control. Yet as a small bit can direct a 1,500-pound horse, we by God's grace should be able to control our tongues in a God-honoring direction.

I went horseback riding only once in my life. I can remember the day vividly. It was a college friend who invited me one summer. I recall driving forever. I think the stable was near the border of Wisconsin! I had a horrible experience. She tried to teach me, but I couldn't figure out how to control the horse, and the rebellious horse I was riding could smell it a mile away! I pulled and tugged on those reigns and that horse did whatever he desired.

James is saying the opposite should be true for us. Christians are people who should be marked by their ability to control their tongues. The specific expectations are all over the Bible. Are we people who can avoid profanity when a little swear word would seem to add some spice to the conversation? Can we refrain from gossip and slander? Can we speak without any deception? Can we abstain from overtalking? Can we avoid jumping to false conclusions? Can we bridle our tongues to steer clear from hurtful remarks? Do we have control over our speech? Are we known for encouraging comments, kindness and wise words?

You might ask, why is this so important? Well, it goes without saying that most of our greatest hurts were received by the words people spoke to us with unbridled tongues. We probably would also all agree that there have been several comments we have made in the past that we would love to take back because we kept the reigns too loose. But moreover, God is concerned about our words because our words are a reflection of our hearts. Words are a window to who we are on the inside. What is on the heart will eventually reveal itself in our words. Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, "For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart." Simply put, a controlled tongue is often an indicator of a heart that is controlled by God. Therefore those in Christ will demonstrate the reality of their religion by their desire and ability to bridle their tongue.


Let's look at the second of the three defining marks of a true believer. Here is another example of "doing the Word." In verse 27 James says, "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress." Why "orphans and widows?"

Some historical information is imperative here. Pretend we are living in the first century when James wrote these words. There is no welfare or government aid of any sort. Women and children were rarely if ever given employment. These people were helpless if they received no help from their families. They were often thrown on the street. Some would beg for morsels of food. Many that survived would need to prostitute themselves or be taken in as a lifetime slave. So James is arguing that a Christian cannot remain indifferent if one sees the plight of these unfortunate people and fails to show any compassion.

James grew up in a Jewish community. He was steeped in the Old Testament and in his epistle, argued by many to be the first New Testament epistle written, he continues a common Old Testament theme. It is simply this: God has a special place in His heart for the widows and orphans and He expects His children to as well.

In Psalm 68:5 God is called "a father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows." Deuteronomy 14, "At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do" (Dt. 14:28-29).

In Isaiah 1, God, like He does throughout James, clearly makes the connection that true religion is not merely ceremony, but helping these people. "'Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah. What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?' Says the Lord. 'I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer. Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies - I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (Isa. 1:10-17).

So, how do we apply this today? Obviously the needs are different today. Many widows and orphans get governmental assistance. Most children and single mothers have families that provide. Few (in our country) are starving to death before our eyes. Yet this does not mean it is not a problem. We still have a responsibility to help these individuals as Christians. A clear expectation is set for us. How are we doing?

This past week I spoke with Anthony Marsango, our head deacon and asked him what our church has done in this area. The deacons keep close tabs with the widows through regular contact. With the deacon's fund the extra money we collect from you using the little envelopes in the back of the church has enabled us to provide food and pay rent and utility bills. The deacons have coordinated people to assist with chores around their homes. They have provided advice and prayer regarding the management of money. Last Thanksgiving the men coordinated a food drive for needy families in the community. We have a food pantry. Every Christmas Mary Freda coordinates the "Operation Christmas Child" whereby we send around 250 shoeboxes of living necessities, food and Bible literature to needy children around the world. Jen Taylor does a great job coordinating meals for families when moms are "out of action." Our church "Care and Share" ministry coordinates flowers, cards and visits for those hospitalized. Each week we list all the major prayer concerns of the church in the VINE.

I'm sure there are even more organized events going on around here at the Grace Tabernacle to orphans and widows, and we still have much room for growth, but to get to the heart of James' point we need to expand our thinking.

Widows and orphans were mentioned because they were chief examples of people in need during the time of this writing. But I believe what the Holy Spirit is teaching is that we as Christians should always have an eye and a heart to help all needy people. And to keep this in context, I do not believe God is asking what our church is doing to help the needy, but what we are personally doing either through the church or on our own to help the needy, and as James says in verse 27 to demonstrate "pure and undefiled religion."

Obviously you cannot do it all, but here is a short list of some examples that comes to mind ranging from small to large possibilities: Listening to someone's concerns. Visiting someone in the hospital. Visiting someone who can't make it to church. Helping a new mom. Assisting single moms. Visiting the elderly. Driving someone to church. Protecting the lives of the unborn. Praying for specific people. Supporting Christians worldwide that are persecuted for their faith. Adopting a child. And the long list continues. And lest we start gravitating only to the social gospel, let's remember that the neediest people in the world are those without Jesus Christ!

True religion will always show itself in a genuine and tangible compassion for the needy. In his first epistle John said, "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth" (1 Jn. 3:16-18). Is this teaching dispensable? Could Jesus have been any clearer? "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn. 13:35).

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who won't survive the week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 20 million people around the world.

If you attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than almost three billion people in the world.

If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy.

If your parents are still married and alive, you are very rare, especially in the United States.

If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful, you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.

If you can hold someone's hand, hug them or even touch them on the shoulder, you are blessed because you can offer God's healing touch.

If you can read this message, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world that cannot read anything at all.

You are so blessed in ways you may never even know. [In God's name and for the glory of Jesus Christ, are we willing to share His love with others?]

Source: Recent e-mail received

So the instruction from the Scriptures is clear this morning. All believers will value the Word of God. And proof that they value it and proof that God is working in their hearts will be their desire and ability to be a doer of the word. For starters, they will be people who can control their speech. And second, they will be people who have a heart to assist the needy. We'll look at the third one next week, but for now may God by His grace enable us to be such people, striving to live out these indispensable traits of our new life in Christ, doing it from the heart, verse 27, "in the sight of our God and Father."

other sermons in this series

Feb 5


Sheep Shepherding Sheep

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:19 Series: James

Jan 29


Let's Close With Prayer

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:13–18 Series: James

Jan 15


To Tell You The Truth

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:12 Series: James