4-30-2017 Seeing Isn't Believing James 1:19-27

James Series  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  41:17
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A man was working in his backyard one day, when his neighbor began talking to him over the fence. He said, "Yeah, my wife and I went to one of those seminars yesterday, you know, where they teach you ways to improve your memory and such."
His neighbor commented, "Really. What was the name of the speaker?"
The man answered, "Ah, ah, what's the name of that flower that smells so good and has thorns?"
"You mean a rose?"
"Yeah, that's it." He called over his shoulder, "Rose, what was the name of that speaker we heard yesterday?"
We humans often have a hard time remembering things. My memory has gotten so bad I figure that within a few years I should be able to hide my own Easter eggs.
The Lord knows how short our memories are, so throughout the Bible we find Him reminding us of things again and again, and even doing things to help us remember. There are rainbows, books, and stacked stones to name some. Jesus used parables and items around Him in those parables, to help people remember what He taught; but in the whole Bible there is no reminder more important or significant than the one He established the night before His crucifixion. It is Communion, the Lord's Supper. Jesus says, "Do this in remembrance of Me." The whole meal is a reminder of Him, and the two elements of the meal remind us about Him.
But before we get into celebrating communion together, let’s see what James says that we shouldn’t forget:
James 1:19–27 ESV
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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 now brings to attention several issues here, but four general categories emerge.
(1) We are often guilty of worldly speech, whether it is an outburst of anger or premeditated gossip.
(2) More and more, it seems, we are sure that we have been wronged and assume the posture of righteous anger, confident that God is on our side.
(3) Our culture exposes us to moral filth, a situation that requires careful introspection.
(4) We cannot forget the image we see when we look into the mirror of God’s Word.
So let’s now look closer in this passage
“quick to hear, slow to speak” This is a proverbial saying:
Proverbs 17:28 ESV
28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
(cf. Prov. 10:19; 13:3; 16:32; 29:20).
Verses 22–25 relate to this first imperative phrase. Indeed when you diagram that Greek sentences, it becomes clear that James is saying the way we are doers of the word and not hearers by being quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
James’ expression be “quick to hear” is his way of exhorting us to active listening. We are not simply to refrain from speaking; we are to be ready and willing to listen. This “quick” listening is obviously to be done with discernment. We are to check what we hear with God’s word. If we don’t listen both carefully and quickly, we are liable to be led into all kinds of false teaching and error.
Quick to hear and slow to speak should really be understood as two sides of the same coin. Slowness in speech doesn’t refer to my preaching! It rather means speaking with humility and patience, not with a quick reply or nonstop rambling. how many times have you, maybe during an argument, cut somebody off as they were trying to explain something thinking that you knew what they were going to say next, and it turning out that where you thought that they were going with the conversation was completely wrong? Constant talking can keep you from being able to hear. Wisdom, here, is not always having something to say; but rather it is listening carefully, considering prayerfully, and speaking gently. When we talk too much and listen too little, we communicate to others that we know our ideas are much more important than theirs. James says here to reverse this process. When people talk to you, do they feel open and safe enough to believe that their viewpoints and ideas have value to you?
“slow to anger”
Anger in this context refers either to Persecutions, trials, or temptations .
We should also be slow to get angry. Anger closes our minds to God’s truth. Anger pushes us to too much fast talking and not enough quick listening!
Anger in of itself is not necessarily a sin (lest Jesus be accused of sin in the cleansing of the Temple or His harsh words to the Pharisees), but it is a God-given emotion easily used by Satan.
When injustice and sin occur, we should become angry because others are being hurt. But we should not become angry when we fail to win an argument, or when we feel offended or neglected. Selfish anger never helps anybody (see Ecclesiastes 7:9; Matthew 5:21–26; Ephesians 4:26).
James 1:20 ESV
20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Angry Christians distort the message that our God is trying to communicate to others through them—anger is not fitting for the believer unless it is Godly anger—an anger toward unrighteousness and sin. Anger is a stench to others that halts relationships, destroys intimacy, and is worthy of judgement (cf. Matt. 5:22):
Matthew 5:22 LEB
22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry at his brother will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Stupid fool!’ will be subject to the council, and whoever says, ‘Obstinate fool!’ will be subject to fiery hell.
Anger that results in thoughtless, uncontrolled temper and leads to rash, hurtful words can never make things right in God’s sight. Our anger toward others does not create within us a life that can withstand God’s scrutiny. Why not? Because expressed anger tends to be uncontrollable. Anger is inconsistent with Jesus’ command to love our enemies and not hate our brothers (Matthew 5:21–26).
Just this last week I had the privilege to pray publically at an event at the Caring House. There, I prayed before abused women & before our Lord. I asked God publically to keep them from bitterness and to give them the courage to pray for their offenders. Why? because Jesus tells us to!
Anger usurps YHWH’s role as judge. In fact, we can be sure our anger is wrong when it keeps us from living as God wants us to live.
James 1:21 ESV
21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
“put away all filthiness” This is an AORIST PARTICIPLE in the Greek that is functioning almost as an IMPERATIVE. This phrase emphasizes our volitional choice and responsibility as believers. The removal of filthiness usually referred to clothing and is often used as a biblical metaphor for spiritual characteristics. Its primary usage was “dirty,” as in dirty clothing as with Ephesians 4:
Ephesians 4:22–25 ESV
22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
Dirty clothing is also an OT metaphor which is often used for “sin” (Zech. 3:4).
Zechariah 3:4 ESV
4 And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”
“Vulgarity” is another possible usage of the Greek word, which would then refer to a believer’s speech and is highly likely as well considering the context. For us today, James, under the Holy Spirit’s moving, is saying: “Stop Cursing!” Bad words are bad words! then James continues:
“...and rampant wickedness” Other translations say:
NASB “all that remains of wickedness”
NKJV “overflow of wickedness”
NRSV “rank growth of wickedness”
TEV “all wicked conduct”
NJB “remnants of evil”
This “rampant” term is used in the NT of “that which is left over” or an “abundance of” something. Here, in context it seems to mean “abundant evil,” which would relate it to James’ continuing emphasis on the spoken word.
James is emphasizing and repeating: “Get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives.” Why should we do this? Progress in our spiritual lives cannot occur unless we see sin for what it is, quit justifying it, and reject it immediately—no questions, just do it! James’ words here have us getting rid of our bad habits and sin just like stripping off gross clothes.
“…and receive with meekness”
This Greek term mean “gentleness,” “humility,” and “consideration.” It is the opposite of the harsh, selfish attitudes and actions just spoken of in the start of v. 21.
God’s word, the gospel of Jesus Christ, must be received or Christianity is meaningless to you. This receiving is both initial repentance, faith unto salvation, and continuing repentance, faith unto godliness and Christlikeness. The hearing of faith must issue in a life of faith through sanctification.
Three metaphors are used to illustrate the “word”: a seed (this verse); a mirror (v. 23); and a law (v. 25).
“the implanted word” This is the metaphor of planting a seed. The text could imply that everyone already has the implanted word which they must receive by faith. This could then be referring to the original creation of humanity, as then could v. 18. If so it would refer to God’s image in us (cf. Gen. 1:26–27), which was marred by the Fall (cf. Gen. 3) but is restored by faith in Christ. HOWEVER, it makes more sense that James is referring to the Holy Spirit in them. How? Well remember James is writing to the dispersed Jews who’ve already accepted Christ! And v 18, as we saw last week, makes more sense with BELIEVERS being the firstfruits.
After we “get rid of it all,” then we need to humbly accept the message of God, seeking to live by it because it has been planted in our hearts and becomes part of our being. God teaches us from the depths of our souls, from the teaching of the Spirit, and by the teaching of Spirit-led people. The soil in which the word is planted must be hospitable in order for it to grow. To make our soil hospitable, we must give up any impurities in our lives. God’s word becomes a permanent part of us, guiding us through each day. The implanted word is strong enough to save our souls. When we absorb the characteristics taught in the word, these are expressed in living. Trials and temptations cannot defeat us if we are applying God’s truth to our lives.
So really, v21 contains both of the indispensable aspects of salvation: repentance (put away) and faith (receiving the word, cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16, 19; 20:21). This is a negative “turning from” (repentance) and a positive “turning to” (faith), much like holiness is a “set apart to”.
Mark 1:15 ESV
15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
This is a negative “turning from” (repentance) and a positive “turning to” (faith), much like holiness is a “set apart to”.
Acts 20:21 ESV
21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
So turn to God!
“which is able to save your souls”
The term “save” has an OT meaning of “physical deliverance” and a NT meaning of “eternal salvation.” The OT usage is found later in Jas. 5:15, 20. But here the NT usage fits best.
The term “soul” speaks of the whole person. Theologically, soul (psuchē) and spirit (pneuma) are synonyms for the whole person, which is why I am a dichotomist!
James 1:22 ESV
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
“But be doers”
This is a PRESENT IMPERATIVE —continue doing the word! This verse really is the central message of the entire book. Christianity is a decision to a faith relationship with the Christ which ushers in a Christlike lifestyle. It is possible that this phrase is an indirect way of referring to OT obedience as in the Ten Commandments (cf. James 1:12 combined with Ex. 20:6 and Deut. 5:10).
“not hearers”
This word was used in Greek literature for those who attended lectures but never joined the groups. Hearing the truth is not enough; believers must act on it and continue to act on it daily (cf. Luke 11:28; Rom. 2:13).
“ deceiving yourselves”
Modern Christianity is guilty of supposing that church attendance and helping out with things in the church is equated with Christian service, and while helping the church is a part of Christian service, it is only a small part. Our cultural segregation of the secular and sacred only achieves self-deception. Verses 23–25 are an example of such self-deception. Life belongs to God and each of us will give an account to God as to how we have lived it.
Simply reading, even studying, God’s word does not profit us if we do not obey what it says. We listen to God’s message not just to know it, but also to do it. Knowledge is a predicate to action; It is certainly important to hear God’s word, but it is way, way more important to obey it. We can measure the effectiveness of our Bible studies by the effect it has on our behavior and attitudes. So the question then becomes: “Do you put into action what you have read and studied from God’s Word?
James 1:23-24 In a sense, this is practical atheism, the irrelevancy of God!
James 1:23–24 ESV
23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
“if” This is a FIRST CLASS CONDITIONAL SENTENCE which is assumed to be true from the author’s perspective. Many believers often attend Sunday School and hear sound preaching, yet they walk out of church unchanged.
This metaphor, “natural face” is used in the sense of seeing one’s self. The whole point of vv. 23–24 is that believers must do more than just hear the truth or even know the truth. We must act on it. Out of sight, out of mind!
God’s word functions as a spiritual mirror of perfect clarity.
Christianity is not a building, nor a creed only, but a faith relationship with God through Christ that impacts every area of life, every day!
James’ desired reaction from his readers is an intent look, a deep and continued study of God’s word that allows a person to see flaws and change his or her life in line with God’s standards.
This kind of “mirror” that God’s word provides is unique. It shows us our inner nature in the same way that a regular mirror shows our exterior features. Both mirrors reflect what is there. When God’s word points out something in us that needs fixing, it is our duty to fix it. I wonder how many of us spend more time and focused energy in front of the mirror in the morning than we do in the mirror which is the Bible.
James 1:25 LEB
25 But the one who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues to do it, not being a forgetful hearer but a doer who acts, this one will be blessed in what he does.
“look” There are two Greek terms in vv. 23–25 for “look” or “observe.” The first is katanoeō, used in vv. 23 and 24. The second, used here, is a stronger term, parakuptō, which means “to look intently at” or “to closely examine”.
This phrase is parallel to “the royal law” in Ch.2:8 and “the law of liberty” in 2:12 (perfect = teleios). God’s word is not a barrier to our freedom, but is real freedom from our sin nature. Believers are now free to serve Him (cf. Rom. 6).
Believers are to observe themselves in light of God’s word, then they are to gaze intently at “the perfect law, the law of liberty,” the gospel of Jesus Christ. Knowledge of yourself is helpful for a while, but knowledge of God is Eternally helpful.
“ this one will be blessed in what he does”
As believers, our blessing is that we are free to live as God created us to live. Of course, this does not mean that we are free to do as we please—we are now free to obey God.
YHWH blesses people who look at His word, do what it says, don’t forget what they have heard, and obey it.
James 1:26–27 ESV
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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.
These last two verses are slightly odd. V.26 he is saying that the uncontrolled tongue is not religious, so v.27 should say that a controlled tongue is the religious way, right? wrong! No, instead James lists a couple of seemingly unrelated things:
Having compassion upon orphans and widows &
Keeping from the pollution of the world
By now one thing is pretty clear about James: worldly speech is a major issue for him (cf. 3:2–12:). And it should be for us too! Why? Self-control is a sign of Christian maturity (cf. Gal. 5:22–23).
Galatians 5:22–23 ESV
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
This is why it is hard not to look at an obese preacher as a hypocrite. As harsh as that sounds, a man of God must be disciplined even with food and health. But in America, Orthodoxy without orthopraxy is common even in churches. This is an empty show. Religion then becomes a barrier to God (cf. Rom. 9:30–32).
Romans 9:30–32 ESV
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,
God’s perfect law should be put into practice in our speech. Gossip, angry outbursts, harsh criticism, complaining, judging and the likes are ultimately against God.
So what is “Pure and undefiled religion”?
Pure religion is not perfect observance of rules and observances; instead, it is a spirit that pervades our hearts and lives
James expresses true religion in terms of service, as does Titus 3:8. James explains here that religion is practical service and personal purity. Rituals done with reverence are not wrong; but if a person still refuses to obey God in daily life, his “religion” is not accepted by God. Holiness is not a radical separation from society, but an involvement in the needs of the poor and socially oppressed.
Titus 3:8 ESV
8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
What good works? “to visit orphans and widows”
This refers to the social outcasts and socially vulnerable people. Orphans and widows are often mentioned in the concerns of the early church because these were the most obviously “poor” in first-century Israel. By caring for these powerless people, the church put God’s word into practice. When we give with no hope of receiving in return, we show what it means to serve others.
Even today, the presence of widows and orphans in our communities and cities makes this directive of James very contemporary. These people have hard lives. The needs always threaten to overwhelm our resources. Looking after hurting people is stressful work. Yet we are called to be involved.
The current debates over “Easy Believism” (all you have to do to get to heaven is believe in Jesus) versus “Lordship salvation” (in believing in Jesus, you have to let Him Lord over your life—you show it by obedience) is a good example of how modern interpreters proof-text one passage (or category of passages) to the exclusion of others and thereby developing a dogmatic systematic theological position. However, the NT is sometimes figurative and often dualistic in the sense of presenting truth in pairs. In this context, this combination of faith and works is James’ central message, faith and works! They are both necessary!
The true life-changing gospel always carries with it social concerns and activism. Truly knowing God always results in serving others made in His image.
And then finally: “to keep oneself unstained by the world”
Faith has two practical aspects: social action while keeping personal ethics. As believers we are in the world, not of the world; lack of involvement and heavy involvement are both inappropriate.
We who are doers of the Word with pure and lasting religion will refuse to let the world corrupt us. To keep ourselves from being corrupted by the world, we need to commit ourselves to Christ’s perfect morality, not the world’s. We are not to adapt to the world’s value system based on money, power, and pleasure. True faith means nothing if we are contaminated with such values. James was simply echoing the words of Jesus in what has been called his “high priestly” prayer (John 17), where Jesus emphasized sending his disciples into the world but expecting them not to be of the world. As we make ourselves available to serve Christ in the world, we must keep putting ourselves under the protection of this prayer. The prayer tells us we are to remain in the world because that is where Christ wants us; and that we will have God’s protection.
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