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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:Put God's Word into practice
Text:James 1:19-27 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Humility
 
Preached:2007-08-19
Added:2008-01-04
Updated:2022-11-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 55: 1, 3 (Who Trusts in God, a Strong Abode)

Psalm 50: 8, 9, 10, 11 (a plea to take God’s law not just on our lips but also that we act in accordance with it)

Psalm 26: 1, 2, 3 (a plea for vindication and for the Lord to test our hearts and minds)

Psalm 1: 1, 2, 3 (the law and the wonderful fruit that he grants to those who keep it)

Hymn 81: 1 - 7 O For A 1000 Tongues To Sing”

 

Scripture reading James 1: 1-18

Text James 1: 19-27

Sermon:    Put God’s Word into practice.

    1. Humble acceptance;

    2. Careful listening;

    3. Religiously serving. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,

 

       The book of James is also known as the book of imperatives. In other words, it is a book full of commands.

For that reason, some people do not like this letter of James. Seeing the kinds of sinful people we are, that’s understandable, for people do not like to be told what to do. They see James as someone who is somewhat legalistic. “He comes with the heavy hand of the law. There is little gospel in this letter”, they say. Even Luther thought so.

       However, is that true? The fact is that there is a lot of Gospel in this letter. But you have to read it carefully.

For what is James’ concern? Well, he is concerned about armchair theologians. He is concerned about those people who can wax eloquently about the contents of the Scriptures, and have a vast array of knowledge, but who don’t put that knowledge into practice. It’s all talk. James says, “you must also walk the talk. Your leather-bound Bible needs shoe leather to go with it.” That’s what I will preach to you about this morning. The theme is as follows:    Put God’s Word into Practice. Do that by:

       1. Humble acceptance;

       2. Careful listening;

       3. Religiously serving.

       There are people, also amongst us, who are very particular about the right Bible translations. They want to make sure that they have God’s word in all its purity. Rightly so. The purity of God’s Word is essential.

But, there are many translations of the English Bible. And the Bible has been translated into 698 languages. The translation from Hebrew and Greek into another language is a human effort. Consequently, there is no such thing as a perfect translation. That is because we are imperfect, and hence our speech and understanding are imperfect and so also our language.

       But what God says to us in the Bible is clear and important. In spite of the limitation of human languages, he gives us a clear message of salvation. He gives us clear promises and clear rules to live by. For the rest, there are many things that we don’t quite understand. God and his creation are much too great for that.

       James is also concerned about Bible translations. Not so much about the words as such in the first place. No, about the way God’s Word is translated into action in our lives; about what’s written in our hearts. Listen to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3: “You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (ESV)

       God the Holy Spirit says that Paul took his own finger and reached right inside of you and engraved his own words in your heart.

When and how does he do that? Well, if you are brought up in a Christian home, as most of us were, God does that from the cradle to the grave.

Think about it. As soon as you and I were able to understand, our parents spoke God’s Word to us. They do that in many ways and contexts. They read to you from the Bible at mealtime and at bedtime read you from Bible story books.

But they do much more than that. Time and again they remind you in one way or the other that you are a child of God, and how important and how wonderful that is. Even though you do things wrong all the time, they teach you about forgiveness. They teach you that if God forgives, so can you. They also tell you what your responsibilities are as a member of God’s family. And they model their faith. At least, they try to do that to the best of their ability.

       In this way, God uses parents as instruments in his hands. He also uses others: your teachers, your minister, your elder. He also uses your Christian friends and siblings and relatives.

       It is beautiful the way that James writes about the Word of God. For him the Word is not just the dead letter, but it is alive and active.

In the passage just before the text, in verse 18, he said that God brought us forth gave birth to us through the word of truth. His word makes us alive. His word also makes us bear fruit, fruits of thankfulness.

And so God’s Word is powerful and productive throughout our lives.

       But what does God’s Word ultimately point to? Well, to himself. The Word is God himself. That is because his words and actions are one and the same. He spoke, it says in Psalm 33, and it came to be. God uttered a word, and as soon as he did, he created. Through his Word he creates and re-creates. Through his Word he has created you and me. When he created us he spoke the language of love. God’s Word is mighty and wonderful.

       It is important to understand James properly. If you don’t, you see nothing but imperatives, commands. And then you see God’s Word as nothing but a book of dos and don’ts. You have to do this and that and that, and then you’ll be a child of God.

No, God’s Word first of all created you. Through the Word we are given life. And not just any life, but a beautiful and wonderful life. Eternal life even.

This was an act of love.

       In this passage James also mentions the law. But to James, the law and the Word of God are essentially one and the same.

       Think about the 10 words of the covenant. They start by telling us what God has done. The Lord God begins by stating that he has delivered his people from the land of Egypt. He saved them from bondage to sin. And so, even the law speaks about the good news, the gospel of our redemption. And so does the rest of the Bible. God’s Word and God’s law are full of good news.

In that magnificent book he also shows us that he gives us the freedom to serve him. That is why James also says in verse 25 calls it the law of liberty. God’s perfect law provides freedom.

Brothers and sisters, if you do not try to do what God says to you in his Word, if you do not want to keep his laws, if you do not want to keep his rules, then you will not have freedom. Without rules your life will be chaos. You will be in bondage to sin. That is why God gives you his law as a loving and protecting embrace.

       Think about that.…

Can you imagine a world without laws? It would be chaos, wouldn’t it? Just think about the traffic laws. You may not always like them, but what would your life be without them? You would lose your freedom.

For what do you think will happen if people do not obey the laws of the road? It would be unsafe, wouldn’t it? People would be smashing into each other. You’d be scared stiff to get into a car. For without them you will likely be harmed or perhaps even killed. And so, all those road signs, those laws, give you the freedom of movement on the highway without fear.

       Well, that’s also how the law of God functions. If you do whatever you want, you are going to destroy yourselves. You are going to come to a big crash in your life. That is why God has put his laws into effect. They are there to protect you. They’re there because God loves you and does not want you to be harmed. He wants you to be free. He does not want your life to be full of turmoil and anxiety and fear.  

       And that is why he plants his Word into your heart. So that you may know them intuitively. So that those laws are part of you.

In verse 21 James speaks about the implanted word. What happens once you plant a seed in the soil? Does it grow on its own without paying any attention to it? No. The seed needs to be watered. It needs to be fed. And it must be the right kind of food, the right kind of fertilizer.

The seed may not be choked out either by the weeds that grow up around it. Weeds will be in competition with the plant. The plant also needs the right amount of sunshine. Many ingredients go into the good growth of the plant.

       Well, the same thing is true of God’s Word. It’s like a plant in you. But if God’s Word is to be firmly planted in you and take root, then it must also find fertile soil.

Do you know what the soil is? The soil is your heart. The soil, the heart, has to humbly accept that planted word. The acceptance of God’s Word is a life-changing event. For at that moment you work it out within your own life: God’s truth, God’s compassion and mercy, but also his commands.

When you accept God’s Word, then you reject evil desires. Then you reject the world. You get rid of all filthiness and rampant wickedness, as it says in verse 21 of our text. And then instead you put on Christ. And such a life-changing event is not a one-time occurrence, no, that happens time and again. That is why the adjective humility is used here. You must humbly accept it. You accept God’s Word, not in weakness, but in meekness. The word meekness is used here. You must humbly accept it.

Brothers and sisters, such a life-changing event needs to happen time and again. Why? Because you and I sin again and again. That is why it says that you must humbly accept the word planted in you.

       But you have to understand what you are accepting. And the only way you can understand it is by carefully listening (the second point).

2.    James says that everyone should be quick to listen hear. James writes these words within the context of the Word of God. And so when he says that we must be quick to listen, he’s referring first of all to God’s Word. He says, “Hear what it says.” “Listen to God’s voice. Pay close attention.”

       Some people have the habit of reading large passages of the Bible at mealtime. Study societies often also deal with large chapters in one sitting. Of course, the reading and studying God’s Word is always good. But, how much of it do you retain or understand? Is it not much better to read small portions, and reflect on that? Then you can discuss it together. And if necessary, to take a commentary to see how it has been interpreted throughout the ages by Christians before us.

       Brothers and sisters, God’s Word is so rich. It is so full of content. Don’t skim the surface. Listen carefully to what it says, to what God is telling you in a particular passage.

       In verse 23 and following James says, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (ESV)

       In those days they did not have mirrors like we do now. Their mirrors were polished copper or brass or silver. And they were mounted horizontally. In other words, you had to look down to see what you look like. The mirrors of those days were not as good as the mirrors we have today. They only gave a poor reflection. And so, you had to look very intently.
       Although today we have much better mirrors, it’s something that we do every day as well. Every morning after we get up, we all look in the mirror as we brush our teeth and comb our hair and adjust our clothes. We intently scrutinize our reflection. But then after that we go about our business. We no longer think about what we look like. We forget about it.

       Well, says James, don’t do that with God’s Word. If you are a good listener to the Word of God, then you do not just look at it once in a while, but you look at it all the time and reflect on it. You are constantly busy with it: in your heart and in your mind. You listen carefully to what it says. And you allow God’s law to show you what you look like as a human being, not just once or twice in a day, but the whole day long. Day in, day out.

God’s Word is the mirror that you must look at. And the more you apply God’s word in your life, the more you see the beauty of his laws, and the more you will want to live in accordance with it.

James also says that we must be slow to speak. The Lord God has given us two ears and only one mouth. There’s a good reason for that. He wants you and me to use our ears a lot more than our mouths. Here again, he is speaking first of all about our relationship with God himself.

When God is speaking to you, don’t interrupt him! In other words, don’t come right away with your own opinion as to what he is saying to you. For that’s what we are like. We are prone to interpret scripture right away in the way that suits us best. He says, “Don’t do that. Listen to me. Listen to what I’m telling you. Don’t put me into the little box in which you live. Step out of your own little world and let all of Scripture speak to you. Remember how I have dealt with my people throughout the ages. And do that especially during difficult times.”

Think about it. How do you respond when something bad happens? For example when you or a loved one is suddenly diagnosed with a terminal illness. Or when unexpectedly you lose your job, or are facing bankruptcy, or a pandemic hits, as happened a few years ago. What is the first thing you do? Do you then panic? Do you first put your trust in the medical profession or the politicians to save you, or the bank, or your friends and relatives?

Or do you first get on your knees and pray to God to help you and to comfort you and to remind you of the wonderful promises that he made to you about life everlasting and of the forgiveness of your sins? Do you then trust in God? Do you listen to him?

Brothers and sisters, God tells us that there is never any reason for fear. God always provides. In all circumstances. He tells us that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God. Isn’t that wonderful to know? Take it to heart. Trust God, the Almighty creator and re-creator of heaven and earth. He’s got you in his embrace because he loves you.

And so, when your circumstances change, for better or for worse, you must always ask what God is telling you. Get the bigger picture in your head. It’s not about the here and now, but about eternity; about the way he has always dealt with his people.

The fact of the matter is that life here on earth is precarious. But in so many ways God also reminds us of that. He tells us that life on earth is full of troubles and that it is short. He tells us that suffering is part of our sinful existence. For that reason, we must lead lives close to God and not be angry when things do not go our way. God has a purpose for everything.

That is why James tells us to be slow in anger. Think. Times of trouble and hardships are times of reflection.

When James says that we must be slow to speak and slow to become angry he especially has in mind the preachers. Ministers are called upon to speak. They have to speak from the pulpit and they also have to speak to the people in their homes.

But, before they speak, they had better listen very carefully to the Word of God. They may not come with their own opinions on the pulpit, nor in the homes of the people. They may not toot their own horn either.

The same thing is true of the elders. They have to be a keen students of the Bible. They must be a true servants of the word. As a matter of fact, that is what the word “minister” means – servant, servant of the Word.

       And the preacher or elder should not become angry either when they are not listened to. No, they must be gentle, patient. For it is not about the preacher, or about the elder or the deacon for that matter, no, it’s always about God’s Word. Oh sure, preachers have their weaknesses, and so elders… but they are God’s servants.

If people reject God’s Word, then they do not reject the messenger as such, but then they reject God. And then God’s wrath will rest upon them. And that is why James adds that man’s anger does not produce the righteousness of God. Such anger does not win anybody, it only turns them away. Let God’s Holy Spirit do the work.

When do people become angry? When something happens that interferes with their way of life. Or when they are rebuked, especially when this is done on the basis of God’s Word. The office bearers encounter that too frequently. They apply God’s Word to someone, and that person becomes offended. He or she doesn’t want to hear it. Why? Because it doesn’t suit them.

People don’t like to be admonished. We are all like that. Me too. Yet, we have to correct each other all the time to get back on the right track, don’t we? Husbands and wives have to do that, as do the parents with their children. And sometimes children also have to put their parents in their place. And they do that, or least they should, because they want their loved one to lead a godly and productive life.

       Note well, that James does not say that anger as such is wrong. Else it would not say in other passages that in our anger we should not sin. You may be angry, but only if it really reflects God’s anger. However, that can only become clear to you once you have really listened, not only to God’s Word, but also to the person who is sinning.

       Brothers and sisters, listening is one of the most difficult things is not the most difficult things for you and me to do. That is clear from what happened already in paradise. God said to Adam and Eve that they should not eat from a certain tree. Did they listen? No. And that’s where the trouble started. When we do not listen to God’s Word, then we sin. And sin, when it is fully grown, will kill you.

       A famous evangelist once said, “Sin will keep you from the Bible, or the Bible will keep you from sin.” Let me state that once again, “Sin will keep you from the Bible, or the Bible will keep you from sin.” It’s one or the other. When you don’t listen, then you do not want God’s Word opened. Then you don’t want to be rebuked. Then you want to keep on sinning. It is only when God’s Word is opened to you and you apply it in your life, that then sin will be done away with in your life.

Sin can be compared to a virus, such as the deadly coronavirus or smallpox or the flu or polio. Advances in modern medicine helped to stop the spread of many of these viral infections through mass vaccination, and some infections have even been completely eradicated over the years. But, the one virus that everyone in the whole world has been infected with is the virus of sin. We are born with it and we will carry it with us to the grave. And if we don’t find a cure for that virus, we will be dead forever.

You know what the cure is for that virus, don’t you? It is the Lord Jesus Christ. He gives you his Word, his law, to inoculate you against that virus. To save you from death. To give you a life without sin, without disease, without pain. To give you a most blissful life into eternity.

And so, listen to him.

It’s also important to listen to others when you want to correct you. What exactly are they saying to you, and why are they saying it? Listen intently. When people rebuke you, especially your loved ones, then they usually have the best in mind for you. That’s also true of the office bearers in the church. They want to keep you from harm. They want to apply God’s law, God’s Word, in your life.

We have to listen to each other in the same way God listens to us. It says in the Scriptures that the Lord God already hears us before we even utter a word. You say, well, that is because God is almighty, and he alone is able to do that. That’s true. He does that perfectly. But we can learn from him. He wants us to do the same.

When people rebuke us, they don’t always do it in the best way. It is done with imperfections. That’s because we are imperfect people.

Sometimes they rebuke us in anger, or in a judgmental way. But if you truly listen to the person, then you can understand what they’re saying to you and why.

Your loved one may say to you, for example, that you don’t care about the others in the family because of your selfish behaviour. And then you can right away speak up and defend yourself and speak about how you are showing your care in many ways. But, that won’t get you anywhere. Why are they saying it? Find out. Ask questions: Why are you angry with me? What exactly have I done?

When people rebuke us they sometimes do so in anger and overstate their case in order to make their point: You always do this, or, you never do that. And then you can either react to what they say – the exact wording – or react to why they are angry. There is a reason for their exaggerations.

And sometimes a person may say one thing, but in his or her demeanour is saying something completely different. You may say, I’m not angry! However, your tone of voice and your disposition shows that you are. Or you may say that you’re not depressed or worried, whereas your actions indicate that you are depressed.

The Lord listens to us, even before we utter a word. He studies our moods and all the other indicators. He takes a look at the whole picture, at the total situation. That’s how we also must listen. Listening is difficult. But if you don’t listen carefully, then, as James says in verse 22, you will deceive yourself.

And when you listen carefully to God’s Word, then you realize that it is not just a bunch of rules and regulations and laws, but then you also understand want God wants from you. It is “spiritually discerned” as Paul says. You are in tune with him. For you are listening carefully to him. And then you’ll also have the right kind of religion. We come to the third point.

3.    James says in verse 26 that “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (ESV) The word “religion” has to do with going through a ritual, a form, or a ceremony.

There are many religions today and they have many faithful and zealous followers. But you cannot call a religion “Christian” simply because it conforms to certain outward forms of ritual. In that sense Christianity is not a religion. You and I are not Christians because we follow certain rules. No, you are a Christian because of Christ.

       For that reason James says that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27, ESV)

He only uses those two things as examples. He emphasizes the theme that believing and doing must go together. If you call yourself a Christian and go to church every Sunday and do not care about your brother and sister in the Lord, then your faith is worthless. For then God’s Word is not written in your heart. Then you do not live God’s Word. Someone expressed this poetically: 

“The gospel is written a chapter a day

                     By deeds that you do and by words that you say.

                     Men read what you say, whether faithless or true.

                     Say, what is the gospel according to you?

       Let me ask you, how do your deeds show in the communion of saints? In what way are you a messenger of the gospel, of good news? How is God’s word translated into your heart? Does it translate into a godly life? What is the gospel according to you? Amen

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://www.edmontonimmanuel.ca/sermons_view.php?page=4

(c) Copyright 2007, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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