Summary: Are we just hearers of the Word, or are we doers?
Living Out God’s Word
James 1: 19-27
Let me start by going back to Jesus’. Let us start with Jesus’ advice to his disciples. In Mark 9:33 onwards he finds out that the disciples have been arguing about who is the greatest. And his advice is simple. Mark 9:35 (NKJV) And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.".
This month we are studying the book of James. The Book of James is a classic case of the first becoming the last. Historians record that the Book of James is most probably the very first New Testament book to be written. Studies show that is was probably written as early as AD45. That makes it the very first New Testament book to be written. However, it took a long time for this book to be included in the New Testament. Studies reveal that only somewhere between AD325 and AD393 this book was admitted as canonical. Remember that the first canon was accepted in AD170. There are many reasons quoted for the non-inclusion of the book of James in the first canon. It is a book of non-theological nature, was one of them. Anyways, the book of James was not a popular book. Even leaders like Martin Luther did not accept the book of James. Of course the resistance from Martin Luther (and many others) could be from the mistaken notion that this book opposes the doctrine of justification by faith and not by works as taught by Paul. That misunderstanding has cleared up a lot in recent times with many studies and arguments showing that James was not proposing a different doctrine, but was only highlighting the fact that good works were the genuine proof that one had faith and could therefore be assured of justification.
Despite this, the book of James is still not a popular book. To me, the reason is clear. The Book of James is not philosophical, it is not academic, it is not charismatic, it is not a theologian’s dream, it is just all about action. This focus on action is not liked by many. And we will see the reasons as we go along this sermon. In the corporate world where I come from, there is joke, that people who cannot do business very well ultimately end up as consultants and trainers. Now, don’t ask me how or why I became a trainer. I am not going to give you an answer. The fact is this. It is easy to preach something, it is easy to listen to a sermon, but it is not easy to be action focused.
The passage that was read to us (James 1:19-27) starts off with some good advice about listening, rather than speaking. It implores us to be slow to anger. It asks us to control our blind passions. However the central theme of the passage is this James 1:22 (NKJV) But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Or as the message bible puts it James 1:22 (MSG) Don't fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!. This is a message that many do not like to hear. It is easy for us to sit down and listen to a good sermon, but it is very difficult to put some of that into practice. And this is not a new problem. This problem is ages old. In Ezekiel 33:31 (NKJV) the Lord says, So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain.
Let us take a moment to think this through. Let me ask you a question. How does another person know how good or bad you are? Is it by the qualifications you hold? Is it by the degrees that you have? I recently got my PhD, but how will anyone else know if that has made me a better person, or a worse person? Will people know you as Christian if you have memorized the bible verses from Genesis to Revelation? How do others, especially non-believers know the person of Christ through you?
The secret is simple. It is our behaviour. What others see is only our behaviour. How do we behave in situations? It is our behaviour that will make people want to be around us or away from us. It is through our behaviour that people will know what our personality is, what our values are, what our beliefs are, what our faith is. They don’t see our intent, they don’t feel our faith, they don’t recognize the immense amount of knowledge we have. They only see how we behave in given situations. Do we have any control of the situations? Not really!! We did not choose our parents, we did not choose our siblings, and many of us do not really choose our spouses even. No, situations are not under our control. God places us in situations that He thinks is right for us. What is on our control is the way we choose to behave. I say choose, because, the natural behaviour of ours is always controlled by the flesh. That comes from our natural born , defective identity. Last month we studied the passage from Romans which is very relevant here. Romans 7:15-21 (NKJV) For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. This is the cry of a sinful man. This is the cry of all of us who have been borne in sin, brought up in sin, and have continued to live ny the defective identity that we have been borne with. Fortunately for us, there is a solution, as the end of the same passage tells us. Romans 7:24-25 (NKJV) O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.