It’s been a long time since I’ve been up here to give a full sermon, the last time would have been just after I returned home for the MV Logos Hope. As many of you know I spent two years serving on the mission ship run by Operation Mobilization in Southeast Asia. Now this ship was made up of many different nationalities so we often ran into situations of miscommunication because of language and cultural differences. An instance that comes to mind is a meeting with my foreman, a big Brazilian guy by the name of Matheus. ‘Luke,’ he said, ‘today you are going to take some beams, steel beams for the new pump we are installing, and paint them.’ ‘What colour?’ I asked ‘No, you need to paint them.’ ‘I know. What colour do you want them painted?’ ‘No, no, I mean bend them.’ ‘Oh, bend them.’ Accents and second languages can cause a lot of problems, even if you are listening hard and paying attention. And even thought I’m a native English speaker and you can all understand English, I assume, doesn’t mean you don’t have to listen closely. You still need to listen intently. Just because we aren’t talking, doesn’t always mean we are actively listening. The same rules for conversation apply to the Bible and to our relationship with God. There needs to be listening in addition to talking. You’ve probably heard a phrase that goes something like this ‘you have two ears and only one mouth, so you need to listen twice as much as you speak.’ And James makes some good points for listening well. I have three points here; just the way Adam likes it, the first point is Calm down, verses 19 – 21, then concentrate 22 – 25 and finally care for 26 – 27.
Calm down: My mother has an anecdote that she likes to tell about me; she says ‘I always know when Luke is sick, because he stops talking and he stops eating.’ It’s true I have a habit of talking, sometimes without actually saying anything, you can ask my parents, my sisters or my wife, and they would agree that I would not be what James calls slow to speak. I believe many of us suffer a lack of one, if not both of these commands; quick to listen and slow to speak. Men, how many times have we nodded in agreement while our wives said something, and then afterwards had to think really hard ‘what did she ask me to do again?’ James tells us that this should not be, he says to be quick to listen and slow to speak. This can be a fairly difficult thing to hear and put into practice in our society today. Everywhere you look you will see people encouraging the populace to be loud, to let your voice be heard and not take things quietly. You need to be vocal until you get your way, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. As far as I know, the only time that society demands silence is at movie theatres. Is James writing this because he doesn’t like people talking and prefers the peace and quiet? Let’s see some other verses that call for thoughtfulness over chattiness. Eccl 5:2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. Have you ever said anything and immediately afterward you wish you hadn’t said that? Maybe somebody cut you off when you were driving, or your child walked across the clean floor with their dirty shoes again, or the waitress got your order wrong? Maybe it’s late in the evening and as you’re crawling into bed you remember the embarrassing, or brash thing you said earlier in the day in the heat of the moment. Feels pretty bad doesn’t it? If you feel ashamed to speak recklessly to another human, how much more than when a hasty promise, i.e. a promise that we have no intention to fulfill, is made to God, how much greater the shame? Not to mention it is a sin as while, as it is lying. The Pharisees had a problem of making problems they couldn’t keep. Matthew 5:33-37 Again, you have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I tell you not to swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is His footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor should you swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ Anything more comes from the evil one. Many Pharisees were using this habit of swearing on various items, places or celestial bodies to determine the severity of the oath. The bigger the item, the more binding the oath, however that was often just an excuse to break an oath, ‘If I really meant to keep it I’d swear by the sun, or by the temple.’ Making a promise without the intent to keep it is lying, and Exodus 20:16 says you shall not lie, so don’t be quick to make a false promise to God. Now the last phrase in verse 19 often gets left out, and I feel it ties it all together, ‘and slow to become angry.’ This wasn’t just tacked onto the end of a list of dos and don’ts ‘don’t talk too much, be a good listener and don’t get mad,’ but rather it is directly related and completes the message being presented. Listen first before speaking and you will reduce anger. Think about it, how often have tempers flared because of a miscommunication, it’s the plot line of many episode of TV sitcoms. If someone cuts you off or tries to talk over you, or when you were younger and your mother told you do something for the second or third time and you said ‘what, I wasn’t listening.’ If we aren’t opening our ears and focusing or others or if we are talking when we should be listening it is very easy to become angry, for both the speaker and the listener. Anger is an emotion that James warns us against, but what is so bad about being angry? I know a lot of people are comfortable with their anger, and will even use Biblical examples to , even biblical to become angry, as long as it is a ‘righteous’ anger. The passage often quoted for this is in Matthew 21:12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. ‘See, Jesus got angry, so it’s fine if I get anger, especially at the injustice and bad things.’ If we can’t love to the same capacity Jesus loves, if we can’t show mercy to the same level he had mercy, if you devotion is not the same degree of devotion he had, if our sadness does not go as deep as his, why do we think we can show anger the same way His anger burned when we saw the desecration of the temple? This is what James says about our human anger, this is the NIV version of verse 20, ‘…the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.’ God is Holy, He is righteous, and He tells us to live lives that are Holy and righteous as well, He has set the standard in many texts, such as 1 Peter 1:16 ‘since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”’ Being angry does not help us get closer to the standard, but instead further away, being angry does not show God’s glory or grace through us. James also includes filthiness and rampant wickedness as qualities we should avoid in our lives, and encourages his readers to accept the word with meekness, that is referring to Jesus, as it can save you, and is in fact the only thing that can save us.
Concentrate: Even if you don’t have young children you are probably familiar with the game Simon Says. The leader, designated Simon, says an action and as long as he precedes it with Simon says you carry out the action. If you don’t do what Simon says, or you do something Simon didn’t say, you’re out.. Now on a much larger scale that is the idea behind verse 22 to 25. God speaks to us, in the Bible and we need to obey. Be doers of the word, James says, and not hearers only. For if anyone is a hearer not a doer he is like someone who looks intently at his face in a mirror, then goes away and forgets what he looks like. The comparison James gives here, likely because Simon Says had not been invented yet is of someone looking into a mirror and then forgetting what they look like. This metaphor is used to emphasize the foolishness of being a hearer but not a doer. I know it’s easy to forget somebody else’s face, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve last seen them, or you weren’t very well acquainted to begin with. However, James isn’t talking about forgetting other people’s faces; he is talking about our own face, right after you’ve seen it in a mirror. If you forget your own face, after you have just looked in a mirror, that’s not a good sign. But this isn’t a condemnation of those with bad memories or dirty mirrors, rather it is for those who after reading the word of God, or hearing it from the apostles and other disciples, neglect and turn back to their sinful ways. The reason we look into a mirror is to see how we look, to compare how we currently look to how we know we should look, to see if there is something wrong with our face. If there’s a piece of hair sticking up, or something in your teeth, or a bit of dirt or food on your face, you can only see that in a mirror. Only by looking into that mirror can you see what is not in place or dirty and be able to clean it up. Likewise only by looking intently at the word of God do we see where the stains and dirt are, the sin stuck in out teeth that we were blind to otherwise. Without the law, we would be unaware of sin as Paul says in Romans 7:7. What then shall we say? Is the Law sin? By no means! Indeed, I would not have been mindful of sin if not for the Law. For I would not have been aware of coveting if the Law had not said, “Do not covet.” Without the law we cannot see our sin, just like without a mirror you cannot see your face. Verse 22 says ‘But be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.’ If you looked in the mirror and saw that you had some spinach in your teeth, would the knowledge of the spinach alone make it go away? No, you need to pick it out, use floss or a toothpick or your fingernail just get it out. If later in the day you go to meet a friend and they said, ‘hey, you got something in your teeth’ would you respond with ‘yes, but I’m aware of it, so it’s fine’? No, knowledge doesn’t removing the imperfections, actions do. When Paul says that the Law made him aware of sin, he doesn’t follow it up by saying, and because I was aware of my sin it no longer was sin. Rather, as Paul says to the church in Colossae, in Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Put sin to death, get rid of it, let it be in your life no longer. You need to repent, believe in Jesus and trust in Him, and you need to be doers of the Word. Now, back to the mirror metaphor, forgetting what you look like is just as silly as hearing a sermon about loving your neighbour, then going to work the next day and trash talking the weird co-worker. Or if you read a devotion on the importance of forgiveness, but continue to harbour that same grudge against your neighbour that you’ve been holding for years. This is why James tells us to look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, look into it like a mirror because the Bible is the standard which we should live and which will point out the flaws and the dirt so we can clean up our lives. Without having God’s perfect Word as our standard we don’t have that image to compare ourselves against.
Care for: The last couple of verses are a few examples of how the readers of this letter could be doers of the word. James is concerned that these people have a fake faith, one that rests in just words, and is not being lived out. He says if anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart this person’s religion is worthless. Obviously, someone was not watching their tongue, as James warns later on in chapter 3:8-10 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,[a] these things ought not to be so.’ Our tongues can be very dangerous, they can lie, curse, gossip, belittle, deceive, and many other sins are verbal. Proverbs says in chapter 26:18-19 Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbour and says, “I am only joking!” Despite what some television shows would have you believe, no human being can read another’s thoughts. Only Go alone can know our hearts, why is this relevant? Well, since I can’t judge you by your thoughts to know who you really are, I have to go by the things I can see and hear. There are only two ways to show somebody what you think, by speaking and by acting. And since actions take more effort than words, actions are weighted much more heavily than words. It’s easy for me to say, I’m the best hockey player in this town. But all it would take for you to find the truth would be to put me on some skates and watch as I hopelessly flail about aimlessly. This is why James charges his readers to watch their tongues, because it is so easy to ruin a reputation, especially the fledgling one the early church would have had, with careless words. If the first Christians would have claimed to have a new life in Christ but no visible change in their lifestyle, that would have been a poor witness and a weak foundation for the modern church. So he gives some examples of practical application of our faith. What does the last verse say ‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the father is this, to do a little less sin then your neighbour?’ or ‘don’t be as bad as the people in jail?’ ‘or go to church every Sunday?’ No, it says ‘to visit orphans and widows and to keep oneself unstained from the world.’ We are required to take action, we are told to not just sin less than the next guy, but to refrain from it completely. To keep yourself unstained, other translations say unpolluted, uncorrupted, without defilement, you get the idea? Also, be doers of good, not just abstaining from evil. God watches over the oppressed, notably the orphans and the widows and it is not only James who highlights these two groups, but so does the psalmist Psalms 146:9 The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The prophet Jeremiah as well, Jeremiah 7:6-7 contains a portion of a message given to Jeremiah by God, it says if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. Likely there were orphans and widows who were being overlooked when James wrote this letter, since he is addressing this issue. The last verse in the chapter really is just reiterating and giving a practical example of verse 22 Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.
So I have three points of application, Listen, Look and love;
How do you feel when someone cuts you off? It’s very annoying right? It makes you feel as if the person talking doesn’t actually are about what you are saying, but is instead more interested on making sure their opinions get heard. Well what about when you don’t listen to God? How many times, even in this last week, have you cut off God and His voice? How often do we speak to God in prayer without quieting our hearts and listening for His reply? Verse 19 applies not just to human conversations, but also to our interactions with God. Think about the last time you prayed, was it mostly you doing the talking? We can be so quick to pray for something; health, finances, good weather, success, family, etc without listening to hear what God has planned for us. Psalms 95:7-8 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness. When God speaks to us, through His Word, dreams or other people, we should not ignore it. This is why there are so many people who get angry at God for not answering their prayers, or not answering them the way we wanted or expected. And even though you can argue that Christians are still allowed to be angry in general, I cannot find any verse that supports being angry at God. Why do you get angry at people? Essentially it boils down to ‘they did something I think was wrong.’ They took my parking spot, they lied to me, they mistreat people, they are arrogant, etc, etc. If we get angry at God it’s the same as saying, ‘God, you’re wrong.’ Which, by extension, is robbing God of His glory, you’re saying that God is not all knowing, that He did something wrong, and that you, a created human being, know better than the omniscient creator. That’s a problem. As James says in verse 20 the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. I think a lot of our actions, not just anger should be weighed against that statement. ‘Does what I am about to do or say produce the righteousness of God?’ How do we know the answer to that question? By listening to the Word of God. Read your Bible, listen to what it says. You need to be carefully listening to God’s word and being quick to follow His instruction.
James says that if you hear the word, and don’t do what it says, it’s like you’ve forgotten your own face in a mirror. It’s like you have seen the dirt on your face, but you decide you don’t need to clean it up. You need to look at your face, we can’t have a mindset of ‘well, if I don’t look at the mirror I won’t know what’s wrong. There’s a saying that goes ‘what you don’t know can’t hurt you,’ unfortunately that saying is very wrong when it comes to the Bible. If you don’t know about your sin, does God still see it as sin? If you say, ‘I don’t want to go to church, they’ll tell me everything I like is bad,’ will that make all your sinful habits unsinful? Food stuck in your teeth is there whether you know it or not, and sin is sin. Like that game of Simon Says, if you don’t do what God’s Word requires you to do, you don’t remove the sin and stains, and you’re out. Repent of your sin, turn to Jesus, he and he alone can cover the sin and your life, bring forgiveness and carry you into eternal life with him. If there is anyone here today who has not accepted Jesus as their Saviour, this is for you to hear, Jesus sees your sin, even if you don’t know about it, the Bible says in Romans 3:23. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but there is a way to remove the sin, if we look intently into the Bible and see that Jesus’ sacrifice takes away the punishment from us. 1 John 1:7 – 9 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If you already know Christ and are following the Word then you know that we are not perfect beings and still struggle with our sins daily, so look in the Bible, then look at your life and see what areas still need to be given over and cleaned up.
Love is such a central theme in the Bible, God’s love for Israel, for those who follow him, and for the whole world. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” So when James tells us to look after orphan s and widows, the oppressed and down trodden in society, this is an act of love. Loving those around us is a great and practical way to show that there is something different in us. Just as James says to his readers later on in 2:15-16 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? There are so many people in need; the homeless, the poor, refugees, immigrants, the elderly and so many more, these are the people we need to love. Maybe even in your own family there is a relative in need of help. Even if you don’t know exactly how to help, there are food banks, charities, government programs and even the church. There is no excuse for not doing anything, especially as a Christian we are called to look after the oppressed. We need to be a physical example of Christ’s love.
So when you go home and look into the mirror in your bathroom, think of what that mirror would look like instead if it reflected back the sin in your life. Would you even be able to recognize who was underneath all the sin, or has it been wiped clean by faith in Jesus? Remember that this is what your bible is, a mirror that will expose the sin in your life. And if you’re afraid to open it because you don’t want to feel convicted, than that’s even more reason to read it. Read the Bible, and do what it says, love on the oppressed of the world, be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry, be doers of the word, and not hearers only deceiving yourself.