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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
Title:Put God's Word into practice
Text:James 1:19-27 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Read: James 1: 19-27

Text: James 1: 19-27

Sing: Psalm 37: 5, 12
Psalm 19: 3, 5, 6
Psalm 50: 9, 10, 11
Psalm 39: 1, 2
Hymn 38: 1, 2, 3, 4
* 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. James uses the imperative tense throughout. He does that also in this text. For that reason some people do not like the letter of James. 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.

However, careful reading of this letter shows that that is far from the truth. There is lots of good news about salvation through Jesus Christ alone. James, however, 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 intellectual knowledge, but who don’t put that knowledge into practice. It’s all talk. He 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:

You do that by:
1. Humble acceptance;
2. Careful listening;
3. Religiously serving.

1. There are people, also amongst us, who are very particular about the right Bible translations. They want to make sure that they have the word of God in all its purity. And they can get quite emotional about which translation is the best one. Now don’t get me wrong. Bible translations are important. But the one translation does not differ all that much from the other one. There is no such thing as a perfect translation of the Bible. And that is because we are imperfect, and our language is imperfect. We can only really get an inkling of what God is saying to us. But what he does say to us is important and clear. In spite of the nuances of languages, he gives us the clear message of salvation. He gives us clear promises and clear rules to live by. For the rest, there are so many things that we don’t understand. We do not fully understand the mind of God.

But now, James is also concerned about Bible translations. But not about the words as such in the first place, no, he says God’s words must be translated into action in your lives. Paul says something similar in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3. He says there, “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

God the Holy Spirit, says 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, he does that from the cradle to the grave. Most of us were brought up in Christian homes. As soon as you were able to understand, your parents spoke God’s Word to you. They did that in many ways and contexts. They read to you from the Bible at meal time, and read Bible stories to you at bedtime. But they did much more than that. Time and again they reminded you in one way or the other that you are a child of God, and how important and how wonderful that is. They also told you what your responsibilities are as a member of God’s household. In this way God used your parents as instruments in his hands. And he also used others: your teachers, your minister, your elder. He also used your friends and your relatives and your siblings. They are all instruments of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord God continues to write his words on your heart. That’s what happens in church, and when you attend the study societies, and when you read your Bible at meal times and other times.

It is beautiful the way that James writes about the word. For him the word is active and alive. God’s Word is not a dead letter. In the passage just before text, in verse 18, he said that God gave us birth through the word of truth. He shows that God’s word is living and active. Ultimately the word is God himself. His words and actions are one and the same. He spoke, as 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. When he created you he spoke the language of love. He also recreates you through His Word because you are dead in your sins. God’s Word is mighty and wonderful.

It is important to understand James properly with regard to this. For if you don’t, then indeed you see nothing but imperatives, commands. And then you see God’s Word as nothing but a command, as a book of do’s and don’ts. You have to do this and that, and then you’ll be a child of God. No, God’s Word first of all created you. Through the word, you are given life. And not just any life, a beautiful and wonderful life.

In this passage James also mentions the law. But to James the law and the word of God are virtually one and the same. That is also the way it is in the rest of Scripture. Think about the 10 words of the covenant. They begin by stating what God has done. The Lord begins by stating that he has delivered his people from the land of Egypt. He saved them from bondage to slavery. And so, even the law speaks about our redemption. And so does the rest of the Bible. God’s Word and God’s law are full of good news. In that wonderful book he shows us that he gives us the freedom to serve him.

And that is why James also says in verse 25 that God’s perfect law gives freedom. Brothers and sisters, and I hope you are also carefully listening boys and girls, if you do not try to do what God says to you in his word, if you do not keep his laws, that is his rules, then you will not have freedom. Without rules your life will be chaos.

Let me give you an example that illustrates this. When you drive on the highway, then you will see that it is loaded with lots of traffic; there are lots of cars and trucks and buses. But the highways are also loaded with lots of rules, with lots of laws. If you want to have freedom to drive down that highway, then you had better obey the laws: the stop signs, the yield signs, the speed limit signs etc. For what do you think will happen if people did not obey the laws of the road? It would be chaos. People would be smashing into each other. You’d be scared stiff to get into a car if there were no traffic laws. For you know that 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, because he does not want to see you come to harm. He wants you to be free.

And that is why he also plants his word into your heart. In verse 24 James speaks about the word that is planted in you. Whereas first he uses a gynecological term, now he uses an agrarian term. God’s Word not only gives birth to you, it is also planted in you. But once the seed is planted, it needs lots of attention. The seed needs to be watered. It needs to be fed. And it has to be the right kind of nourishment. The seed may not be choked out either by the weeds that grow up around it. For those weeds will be in competition with the plant. The plant also needs the right amount of sunshine. There are a lot of ingredients that go into the good growing 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 moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, 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.

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

2. James says that everyone should be quick to listen. 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 to God’s Word. He says, “hear what it says.” Some people have the habit of reading large passages of the Bible at mealtime. Study societies also deal with large chapters in one sitting. Now, the reading and studying of God’s Word is always good. But how much of it do you retain or understand? It is better to read small portions, to reflect on it. To discuss it. And if necessary to take a commentary to try to understand it better.

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, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-he will be blessed in what he does.”

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. But even though we have much better mirrors today, 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, that’s what James has in mind here. He says, don’t do that with regard to God’s Word. If you are a good listener to the word of God, then you do not just look at it once in awhile, but then you look at it all the time. You are constantly busy with it. You listen carefully to what it says. 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. And you realize how you must walk and talk. You also realize what a sinner you are and how you must be redeemed from your sins.

James also says that we must be slow to speak. The Lord God has given you two ears and only one mouth. There’s good reason for that. He wants you to use your ears a lot more than your mouth. And again, he is speaking here about our relationship with God himself in the first place. 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. That’s what we are like. We are prone to right away interpret scripture in accordance with our own likes and dislikes. We want to apply it in the way that suits us best. He says, don’t do that.

And don’t do that either when others apply God’s Word to you. That is why he adds the words that you must be slow to become angry. When do people become angry? When they are rebuked. Or when someone or something gets in their way. The minister and the elders encounter that too frequently. They apply God’s word to someone, and they become angry. They don’t want to hear it because it doesn’t suit them. People don’t like to be rebuked. Yet, we have to rebuke each other all the time. Husbands and wives have to do that, as do the parents with their children. And sometimes children also have to respectively put their parents in their place. And they do that because they want their loved one to lead a godly lifestyle.

When it comes to those who are quick to speak and slow to hear James 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 toot their own horn. They may not come with their own opinions on the pulpit, nor in the homes of the people. The preacher has to be a keen student of the Bible. He has to be a true servant of the word. As a matter of fact that is what the word “minister” means – servant.

And the preacher should not become angry either when he is not listened to. No, he must be gentle and 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. 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 bring about the righteous life that God requires. Such anger does not win anybody; it only turns them away. We have to let God’s Holy Spirit do the work.

Note well, that James does not say that anger as such is wrong. That is why it also says in various passages in the Scriptures that in our anger we should not sin. You may be angry, but only if it truly reflects God’s anger. But that can only become clear to you once you have truly 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 for man to do. That is clear from what happened already in paradise. God said to Adam and Eve that they should not eat of 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 conceived will kill you.

A famous evangelist once said, “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. It is only when God’s Word is opened to you and you apply it in your life, then that sin will be done away with in your life.

It’s important to listen to God. It’s also important to listen to others. 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 as 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. Is that true? 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 often 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 if 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 that “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” 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 are not a Christian because you follow certain rules. No, you are a Christian because of Christ.

In chapter 3 James has a great deal to say about keeping a tight rein on your tongue. And so it is not necessary to go into that now, except to say that if you cannot keep a tight rein on your tongue, then you can do a lot of damage. If you just say whatever pops into your head, then you break down a lot of relationships, including your relationship with the Lord God.

And that is why James says that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” 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? 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:

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

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