Summary: Christians can maximize their credibility by engaging in key Christian behaviors.
1. Illus. of waitress
• Christian man went into restaurant. Paid his bill with a $20 bill. When waitress brought him his change, she brought $10 too much.
• When he called her back to table and brought this to her attention, she said, “I know. I was watching church service on television the other Sunday when I saw you come to pulpit and pray. I have questions about becoming a Christian, and I just wanted to know if you were real or not.”
2. Like it or not, lost people are looking at our lives. They want to know if we are genuine. And let’s face it: that lost loved one or neighbor that you’re concerned about? They are probably scrutinizing your life looking for a reason NOT to believe! How can we convince them that what we have is real? That’s exactly what James is going to tell us about today!
3. Background: James is writing to a group of Christians scattered by persecution. Their little house churches existed in the middle of a hostile environment. Their survival depended on convincing the people around them that they were real! Three times in these two verses James uses the word religion or religious. The word is used exclusively in the NT to talk about the external rituals of faith, the part of our faith that people can see (like fasting, or public prayers, or giving alms to the poor).
4. Text: James warns his readers that since those around them couldn’t see their hearts, they would decide if their faith was real or useless based on their actions.
5. Today: The lost world will judge the authenticity of our faith based on our actions.
6. How can we convince them that we are real? James describes three actions that will authenticate our faith.
I. GODLY SPEECH AUTHENTICATES OUR FAITH
1. See vs 26
Thinks he is religious- if you think people can look at your life and know that you are this great Christian.
Does not bridle his tongue- Idea is not controlling the tongue.
Deceives his own heart…religion is useless- i.e., it’s not convincing anybody of anything.
2. Can I paraphrase this into modern speech for you? “If you think that people are looking at your life and saying, ‘boy, there goes a real Christian’ but you are not controlling your tongue, you are fooling yourself. What they are really saying is, ‘if he is a Christian, the woods must be full of them!’”
3. Principle: Godly speech convinces people that our faith is real.
4. Illus. of finding cave
• When I was a boy, some friends and I were out exploring one day. We came across the mouth of a cave. As far as we knew, no human foot had ever walked in that cave.
• As we got ready to go in, began to smell this horrendous odor coming from the mouth of the cave, the stench of something rotting and dead. We knew by what came out of the mouth of that cave that something was dead in the heart of that cave.
• The same is true spiritually. The world around us can tell what’s in our heart by what comes out of our mouth. If what comes out of our mouth is uncontrolled and ungodly, they are going to say, “This guy’s faith is no good!”
5. The best commentary on what it means to bridle not your tongue is Ephesians 4. Christians have a new verbal ethic they are to obey:
Vs 25- stop lying
Vs 29- corrupt communication = stinking talk, i.e. profanity, dirty jokes, vulgar statements, double entendres.
Vs 31- clamor = shouting matches, loud arguing.
Vs 31- evil speaking = Talking badly about someone behind their back. Slander, gossip, half-truths etc.
6. Application: When you leave this building and go into your home, to your job, or into that place of business, you need to remember something: what come out of your mouth reflects on you, this church, and the Kingdom of God!
II. GODLY COMPASSION AUTHENTICATES OUR FAITH
1. See vs 27a- “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble….” Visit- to minister, to care for in many newer translations. That’s really the meaning, and not just going by and saying, “hey.” It’s doing something to help them.
2. In those days there were no life insurance policies or social security benefits. If your parents died, you were often tossed out onto the street, becoming a target for slave traders. If your husband died, you lost all social and financial standing, and it was not uncommon to see women turning to immorality to support themselves. James says real religion means caring for people like that!
3. Now I don’t want you to think that widows and orphans are the only people that God wants us to care about. They are illustrations of a principle, and the principle is this: our faith is authenticated when the world sees us caring for those that are weak and needy.