Receiving And Doing The Word - Part Four
Scripture: James 1:19–27
Receiving And Doing The Word-Part FourJames 1:19-27
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith
Lord willing, this morning we will conclude the first chapter of James and our four-part study from James on the importance of the Bible, God's Word.
We have learned from verse 18 that God brought us to faith in the exercise of His will by the Word of God. We are commanded in verses 19-21 to receive the Word of God in all humility throughout our Christian life. Then our ultimate goal is to put what we hear from the Word of God into practice. Application, or as James puts it in verse 22, "Prove yourselves doers of the Word."
The command is clear. But before we continue let me ask you, Grace Tabernacle, what is our motivation to obey Holy Scripture?
Wrong response number one: We obey Scripture to avoid God's punishment. It is the belief of many that God has imposed arbitrary rules upon your life to steal as much fun from you as possible. You don't want to obey the Scriptures, but forever hanging over you is the fear of punishment if you do otherwise. You imagine God just watching and waiting for you to slip. You imagine Him finding some sadistic pleasure in making your life as miserable as possible. You want out, yet you're trapped because you fear the temporal consequences and the eternal punishment of hell. Your relationship with God is based on fear. God is seen in the shadow of a tyrannical earthly father or a mythological god positioned to strike with a couple of lightning bolts in his hand.
Here is how that behavior is reinforced in many youth groups. The kids go on a retreat and are gathered around the campfire. While they are jacked-up on Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew, the leaders perform a skit late in the evening. The story is always the same. Three teens are in a car. One is a Christian and two are unbelievers. The car gets into a nasty accident and everybody dies. While the two unbelievers are being dragged to hell by demonic individuals, they are crying to the believer, "Why didn't you tell us about Jesus! Why didn't you tell us about Jesus!" Then the altar call follows after the students have been scared out of their minds. "Raise your hand if you want to go to heaven!" Listen beloved, heaven is not a place for those simply afraid of hell. A key ingredient is missing!
Wrong response number two: We obey Scripture to earn God's love. Obedience to the Word of God is like a crow bar that pries God's reluctant love from His divine storehouse. The more we do to please Him, the more of His love is guaranteed. And best of all, we get to write the script as to how we wish that love to be displayed. Maybe it's salvation. Maybe it's trial-free living. Maybe it's material prosperity. We obey to ultimately get what we want. God becomes obligated and indebted to us. And if He fails "after all I have done," He is no longer a God that deserves my time and attention.
Can I correct these two errors as simply as possible through an illustration? As parents is this how we conduct ourselves with our children? How does a parent intent of following biblical guidelines act? We love our kids unconditionally from the second they are conceived. Regardless of what they do, our love for them does not change. Disappointed at times? Of course, but the love does not fluctuate with their actions. As a matter of fact we prove our love for them through appropriate discipline. And here we go - it is because we love them that we correct them and do what it takes to steer them away for self-destructive behavior! It is because we love them that we give them guidelines! "My parents are so mean!" "Why?" And with the progression of age: "Because they won't allow me to drink the Clorox from under the kitchen sink!" "Because they make me do my homework!" "Because I can't wander around town after midnight!" The guidelines are given in love in the child's best interest. We tell them that life will go well if they obey.
Likewise, as Christians we understand that all our punishment was taken away at the cross. We are in a relationship with God not based on fear, but based on love. Verse 18 says God brought us forth by His will to be His children. It is a relationship He initiated! He too has given us guidelines so that it may be well with us. And when we do as He says, verse 25 informs us that we will be "blessed." Verse 25 also calls God's Word the "law of burden." Right? No, it is called the "law of liberty!" Being a "doer of the Word" (verse 22) is God's loving way of leading us to freedom and peace and significance.
Despise the Word? We should be like the Psalmist: "O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psm. 119:97). God's instructions are not created to rob us but to give us life. Therefore we obey not to earn God's love, but we obey because He has already set His love upon us in Christ. And therefore faith in His love for us is not only necessary for salvation, but also for believing that His guidelines in the Bible are for our good. We believe that He is a good Father who knows only how to give good gifts to His children (remember verse 17?).
So what is our motivation to be a "doer of the Word?" We obey because we trust God that His law is for our good. We obey because we want to honor God by acting more like His Son than His enemy (the "Prince of Peace" verses the "prince of darkness"). We obey because our chains to sin have been broken and we now have the desire and ability to choose righteousness. Because these things are true, James will make the case in chapter 2 that obedience ironically is basically the litmus test as to whether or not we are really saved by grace! It is no different than the words of Christ: "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (Jn. 14:15).
Back to our study. Verse 22, "But prove yourselves doers of the Word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves." "But James, what does a doer of the Word look like?" And this is where verses 26 and 27 fit in the progression. Though he could have provided more, James gives three indispensable truths that characterize a "doer of the Word." We will briefly review the first two and then cover the final aspect.
1. SPEECH (review)
First we learned last week that a true believer reveals himself by his speech. Verse 26, "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."
There is a profound temptation to sin with our words. All of it is rooted in pride. We lie to cover our tails. We exaggerate to make ourselves look better. We jump to rash conclusions to justify our anger. We gossip and slander to elevate our status. We curse to find greater acceptance with others. We over talk because we think too highly of ourselves. The list continues. I believe the two greatest topics of commandments in the Bible center around the use of our money and the use of our words.
God puts a high premium on our words because they are a reflection of what is happening in our hearts. As Jesus said, "For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart." Therefore, says James, true spiritual people always show themselves by their ability to "bridle [their] tongue[s]." True believers are filled with the Holy Spirit who not only changes their affections, but also provides self-control (Gal. 5:23) to speak wholesome words that originate in a renewed heart.
2. SERVICE (review)
Second, last week we saw that "doers of the Word" are also committed to service. Verse 27, "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress."
I mentioned that "widows and orphans" are mentioned because they were and still are primary examples of people in need. Read the Old Testament. The Lord has a special place in His heart for these individuals, and He expects His children to as well. Last week we spoke about what our church is doing and how you can help needy people as well. If you missed it, please listen to the sermon. The bottom line is this, with salvation comes a new heart after God's heart, and God's heart is one of compassion. It goes without saying that every Christian should have the ability to see and desire to assist those in need. Read the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:30-37) or the story about sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:31-46).
Let's move to the new material, our third point. The third picture James provides of a "doer of the Word" and the continuation of "pure and undefiled religion" in verse 27 is "keep[ing] oneself unstained by the world."
Let's define a couple words to see what God is getting at. The first word is: "unstained."
We have a little pool in our backyard. I bought it from K-mart for about $100. It is now on its third summer. The electric pump broke so the only thing I do is pour a cup of "shock" into the water every day. No matter how hard you try, the chemicals will always find their way to your clothing (ask Julie about her new Nike shirt!). It is incredible that the smallest drop can cause so much damage and discoloration to the fabric. Keep that thought in mind.
The word "unstained" in the Bible literally means "without spot." The immediate thought that would have come to James' readers (Jewish-Christians, 1:1) would have been the sacrificial lambs of the Old Testament (Dt. 17:1; Mal. 1:14). God wanted them without blemish. The ultimate thought that should come to all Christian minds is Jesus Christ, the One to which all the sacrificial animals pointed. He, Hebrews 9:14, "offered Himself without blemish to God." Jesus Christ was (and needed to be) the perfect sacrifice to be our substitute and take away our sins. And the goal of His unstained offering is to produce an unstained church. Listen to Ephesians 5:27: "That He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless." So God wants His people spotless, without blemish.
Next we have to ask what causes the people of God to be stained. That leads us to our second definition and that is of the word "world." As the verse says, we are to "keep [ourselves] unstained by the world."
The Bible uses this term in several ways. It can refer to the universe or the earth or people. Obviously none of those would apply in this context. What James is referring to is the term that will first come to mind for any student of the Scripture and that is the system that surrounds us which seeks to oppose the things of God. It is composed of attitudes and thoughts and activities that compete with the lordship of Jesus. The world system is run by Satan as he is called the "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4) and the "ruler of this world" (Jn. 12:31). Revelation 12:9 says he "deceives the whole world" and 1 John 5:19 says the "whole world lies in [his] power."
The sayings you have all been exposed to: "As Christians we are in the world, but not of the world" or "Our boat is floating in the world for fishing, but we shouldn't allow the water to get in" or "This world ain't my home, I'm just passing through." I believe these sayings preserve a balanced biblical intent. God has placed us in this world to "let [our] light shine before men" (Mat. 5:16). In order to "make disciples of all the nations" (Mt. 28:19), we must be in the world to show and speak about Jesus. Yet what James is hitting at is that while we are to influence the world, we must not allow the world to influence us. There is God's way, and there is the world's way. The two are diametrically opposed. We must pick our sides. And while still in the world, we must keep pure in the midst of the world's contamination. We must keep the bleach from staining our clothes!
Worldliness is basically living as if God doesn't exist. It is not going to the Bible (as we have been learning over the past four weeks), but going to society to find out what is an acceptable worldview. It could be the abuse of food or alcohol or recreation or sex. There is God's way, and there is a way of the world in appropriating these items. The world finds nothing wrong with putting yourself first and coveting items you don't have and living without prayer. The world finds nothing wrong with abortion or homosexuality or premarital sex/living together before marriage. The gods of the world are money and pleasure and fame. We are surrounded by the advertising and television shows and music and the Internet and the co-workers and fellow students and neighbors that promote this worldview contrary to Scripture. It seems so normal and innocent. After all, everybody thinks this way!
As a matter of fact, if you live contrary to this type of worldview, you will be viewed as the strange one. Could Jesus have been clearer in His prayer to the Father? John 17:14, "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." In John 15:19 He told His disciples, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." Maybe that is why the Bible repeatedly calls us as Christians to live as "aliens" (Heb. 11:9; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11).
What James is saying is be discerning! Is the Word or the world shaping your views and values? Do not, Romans 12:2, "be conformed to this world." Deny, Titus 2:12, "worldly desires." Be a "doer of the word" and not a "slave to the world." Keep yourself pure in the midst of this, Galatians 1:4, "present evil age."
So why does God have such a problem when His children would rather follow the world than Him? It goes back to where we began the sermon. Our relationship with Him is one of love based upon trust. Often the Bible calls it a marriage. And like any good marriage fidelity to your spouse is essential. When we find any attraction to the world, God takes it as if we are going after other lovers. We are giving Him a vote of no confidence. We are saying that He is unable to fulfill and satisfy our hearts. We might convince ourselves it is innocent. God calls it spiritual adultery. Eventually we will get to James 4:4: "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (cf. 1 Jn. 1:15-17).
We will talk a lot more about worldliness when we get to chapter 4, but for now let us understand that the greatest way to overcome worldliness is to replace any affection for the world with a greater affection for Jesus Christ. And the greatest way we will see Jesus Christ in all His glory is to appreciate His beauty and power through the Word of God.
What have we learned? It was through the Scriptures that God called us to Himself. It is through the Scriptures that He reveals Himself and His expectations for our lives. And it is through the Scriptures that we can act like Him and be blessed in this intimate relationship built on trust and love.