Today we are beginning a new series that will be taking us through the very practical book of James. It’s 5 chapters long and this series is 5 weeks long. So, a chapter each week.
There is a lot of good stuff in this book. A lot of very practical points on what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be the church. Because ultimately there really is no separation between being a Christian and being the church. WE, us who believe in Jesus Christ, and have confessed him as Lord, ARE the Church. The Ekklesia. The Body of Christ.
And what James lays out for us is something of a HOW TO BE THE CHURCH – HOW TO BE A CHRIST FOLLOWERS. But even more than that, it’s actually more of a litmus test for authentic christianity.
As we learn elsewhere in Scripture, when you become a Christian, you become a NEW CREATION.
When you become a Christian, you are no longer a slave to your sin nature.
Instead, When you become a Christian, you now have the SPIRIT OF CHRIST inside of you and He should be calling the shots.
And with drastic changes like those on the inside, there can’t help but be drastic changes on the outside as evidence.
And James lays out in his letter some of the evidence you should see in your mind, heart, and life if that change has truly taken place.
But before we get into it, let’s talk about the author. James is the brother of Jesus. He is not the disciple named James, who was John’s brother and part of the inner-three of Peter, James, and John. That James was actually one of the first martyrs and was beheaded by Herod in Acts 12.
No, this is James, the younger brother of Jesus, who before the resurrection did not believe his brother was the Messiah. You can’t really blame him, I suppose. But he changed his mind when Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection. He got a personal visit. After that, James became a very prominent member of the early church. He was the head of the Jerusalem church and is mentioned as the one overseeing the Jerusalem Council that we talked about a few weeks ago. And what we call the “book” of James is a letter he wrote to the new Jewish Christians after they were scattered by the persecution that started with the stoning of Stephen.
He begins his letter…
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
At this point in time, salvation had not been given to the gentiles yet, and the Jews didn’t know it was going to be, so he was writing to his fellow Christian Jews who had been scattered due to the persecution. So keep that in mind as we read this. His audience was Jews who had been forced away from their homes. Many had to leave with nothing. Many lost all their possessions. Some lost loved ones. These were a people in need of encouragement. They had abandoned the centuries old customs of Judaism to believe in this new Way, and now they were being hunted and killed for their faith in Jesus. Which is why James begins with this:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
PURE JOY when facing trials!?! Certainly not our natural reaction. But the joy is not in the trial itself, but in what it is doing in you.
A trial is a testing of your faith. A testing of how much you trust God. These Jews who are being persecuted had lost almost everything. Now the only thing they could lean on was God himself.
And when you do that, it produces perseverance, or maybe a better word: endurance. And not the kind of endurance where you grin and bear it in your own strength, but the kind of endurance where you cling to the Word of God as the storms rage around you, trusting He will pull you through and that He has a good reason for allowing it. When you do that through the storm it changes something in you. You find that you truly CANNOT rely on yourself but you absolutely CAN rely on God. And that experience causes your trust in Him to grow, which is what maturity ultimately is.
It’s not unlike the maturity you gain with age. My 10 month old will freak out when Mommy goes out of his sight for just a minute because he hasn’t lived long enough to learn that she’s just going to the bathroom, not that she disappeared from the planet. As you grow, through your experience, you learn how things work and wisely put your trust in the things that are reliable. Well, it works the same with God. He allows you to go through circumstances that stretch you a little at a time, and if you approach them right – growth comes and you become a person who’s faith is unshakable, you are mature and complete, lacking nothing!
I could probably give a whole sermon on just those two verses, and many do, but James actually has more to say about this.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
One thing you will notice in James is that it can sometimes be hard to follow. He seems to jump around from point to point without any transitions. He often writes in short sentences and doesn’t offer much explanation like what we see in Paul’s letters. This often leads to many of his statements being quoted out of context. Such as part of what we just read.
A lot of people like to paraphrase that part about asking God and not doubting into something like this: “Ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt.”
Prosperity Preachers love this one!
It’s like, as long as I don’t doubt, then God will give me whatever I ask for!
James actually says, if any of you lacks WISDOM, ask God. He’s saying that if you don’t understand what is happening to you in this trial, or you need some wisdom on what to do, then ask God and He will give it to you. But when you ask, don’t doubt that God will provide this wisdom and don’t doubt the wisdom He gives you. Because if you doubt, then you are really not trusting God, you are trusting yourself instead.
This is what many of us so often do. We ask God for wisdom on what to do, but instead of asking with the intent to follow it no matter what. We ask with the intent of adding it to a menu of options from which you will make your own judgment call. We try to keep “all our options open.” And James says, that kind of person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
In other words, after reading God’s word here, and you are going through a trial that is testing your faith, you should ask God for His wisdom and trust that He’s going to give it and then trust the wisdom He gives. If you ask for wisdom but don’t actually use it, but instead stick with your gut or what your friends tell you, then you are like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind and you should not expect to receive anything from the Lord!
It’s like the person that keeps asking for your advice but never taking it. Eventually you stop giving it to them because they don’t really want it. If you don’t really want God’s advice , then why should God give it to you?
So, right off the bat here, James is telling his audience of scared and persecuted Christians that they should be joyful in their trials for what it is producing in them, and if they need wisdom to guide them through this hard time, then just ask God – with the intent to obey.
Next, he continues with some comments that don’t always seem to fit into this theme, but they do.
9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
What is James saying here? Remember he’s talking to a group of scattered believers, many of whom had to leave likely lucrative careers. He’s saying that those of you who find yourselves in humble circumstances, like being poor and possibly homeless, that you should take pride in your high position. What high position is he referring to? Why the fact that you are a child of God. That your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. You are a joint heir with Jesus Christ himself. And that you have been counted worthy to suffer for His name! There simply is no higher position possible for a human being!
But then he says that the rich should take pride in their humiliation? What is that about? What does James have against the rich? He has nothing against the rich, other than their tendency to put their faith in their wealth instead of their savior. He’s making the point here that the rich should be glad to lose all they have, because it makes them trust in God instead of the temporary treasures of this world. It’s not unlike what Jesus said in his sermon on the mount about storing up treasures in heaven rather than on earth where nothing lasts forever. He’s telling his audience that in this life it is sometimes better to be poor so that we remember who our provider truly is.
Then he closes off this section with this.
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
When you hold onto your faith through the trials instead of caving and trying to face them in your own skin, then you will come out shining with the crown of life. You will have passed the test that your faith is genuine, that you really believe what you say you believe. Because God does not accept counterfeit faith, a faith that only exists in the good times. This is why we are guaranteed by Jesus that in this life we will have troubles, we will have trials, it won’t be all roses, but it’s all for a purpose. It’s all for shaping your character and growing your faith, because Jesus also tells us to take heart, because He has overcome the world!
Now James moves onto a new topic.
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Temptation is different than a trial.
God absolutely DOES cause us to go through trials, but they are for our benefit.
But God DOES NOT tempt us to sin.
Instead, God gives us an out whenever we are tempted as is stated in an often misquoted verse:
1 Corinthians 10:13
13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
God does not tempt us, but he allows us to be tempted by the enemy. But he won’t allow us to be tempted to the point that we have no choice but to sin. There is always a way out.
Many like to misquote this as saying God will not allow you to go through trials beyond what you can bear – FALSE – the whole point of trials is to cause you to trust God more, which only happens when the trials are more than we can bear without Him.
So, God does not tempt us, but it is our own evil desires from within. We are all born with a sin nature. Paul laments about this in
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
And that sin-nature inside of us is dragged away and easily enticed. Then when we fulfill that evil desire, it becomes sin, which ultimately leads to death. Both physical death and spiritual death.
James is saying “Don’t blame God for your evil desires.” And certainly don’t blame Him when you give in to them. Many in our world today try this, suggesting that because they feel a certain way that God must have made them that way and thus they should fulfill every desire in their heart because it wouldn’t be there if God hadn’t put it there.
Jesus makes it clear what our human hearts are made of:
For out of the heart come evil thoughts–murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
That is somewhat of an echo of…
The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?
The human heart is a deceiver – a deceiver of self! The very thing that James warns against in the next verse:
16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.
Because if you really believe that God makes people with no choice but to disobey His word, then you are believing a very clever lie that our current culture is preaching from the rooftops! Don’t believe it! It’s a lie! Don’t be deceived!
This one verse, James 1:16, is my mantra for teaching you. My role as your pastor is to make sure you are not deceived. You are lied to all the time. But deceived is when you actually believe the lie over the truth. My prayer for all of you all the time is that you will know the truth and believe it and not be deceived. Don’t be deceived into thinking that God would create a human being with no choice but to sin agains his/her creator. And don’t be deceived into thinking that God has changed his mind of what he calls detestable. Instead, understand this:
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
This is in contrast to the false belief that God would tempt us to do evil. Instead, James says that everything that is good, and really only things that are good come from God. God is not a source of evil, He is the ONLY source of Good! Such as the great and wonderful gift that God chose us to be his children! And notice how he words it – He chose to give us birth through the word of truth. TRUTH! Truth is so vitally important. Don’t be deceived.
Now James goes in a new direction:
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry. That’s good advice in general, but James is actually talking about something specific. He’s talking about listening to the Word. He’s saying everyone should quick to listen to God’s word – which in those days was mostly from the mouths of the apostles as they didn’t have most of it written down yet. This letter from James may have been the first actual written correspondence. So, he’s saying that everyone who calls themselves a believer should be quick and eager to listen to God’s word.
And they should be slow to speak. This means actually listen instead of listening halfway while forming your thoughts on what your response is going to be.
And slow to become angry is specifically referring to the anger that may result when you hear God’s truth and it exposes your sin or you realize you’ve been deceived and you don’t like it. Anger over that is actually you rejecting the truth of God for your own lie, which will never produce the righteousness God desires.
If you are a true believer, you should never be angry at what God’s word says. That’s being angry at the truth. Instead be angry at the deceiver, that’s righteous anger, then repent (change your mind) and align your life with the truth.
The way I approach God’s word is, if I find something in God’s Word that I disagree with, then I’m wrong and need to change.
Counterfeit believers hold onto their preferred lies and try to make God’s Word bend to them. They approach God’s Word with “if I find something in God’s Word I disagree with, then I’m right and the Bible is just an old book that isn’t reliable and we’ve misinterpreted it all these years and half of it doesn’t apply anymore anyway”
How do you think God feels about that?
So, how do we do this? How do we keep our ears open to God’s word with a right heart? James answers:
21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
You know what I hope this reminds some of you of? EAT GOD. Remember that talk from awhile back and again at the Revival a few weeks ago? The whole point of that was that you pay attention to what you are feeding your brain. You should make an effort to stop feeding your head the filth of this world – which is mostly lies and will result in you being deceived – and instead have a humble and hungry heart for God’s word, which can save you! EAT God is giving God at least Equal Air Time – meaning you spend at least half of your free attention on getting to know Him better. Otherwise, if you go with statistics, most Christians only give God about 1 to 10% of their attention.
Perhaps that’s why so many Christians are easy to deceive.
Perhaps that’s why so many Christians get angry at God’s word when it contradicts their lifestyle instead of listening to obey.
Perhaps that’s why so many Christians blame God for their own evil desires. It’s easy to blame a God that you barely know.
So, James says to get rid of moral filth – get rid of it and hold tightly to the WORD, which can save you!
And again, this is something that a true believer should have a desire to do! You now have the Spirit of Christ inside of you and he is urging you to do this.
And perhaps hearing this and going through these verses is waking up that desire. Well, if so, that’s great – but it’s not enough.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
My favorite verse of the Bible.
It’s not enough just to listen. Listening without Doing is deceiving yourself, thinking that you can take God’s word as mere suggestion and make your own decision whether to follow it or not. That is a result of believing a lie. No, God’s word is non-negotiable. It’s not enough to just listen and agree and nod your head and say ‘amen.’ You must turn it into action.
Doing otherwise, James says,
23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
The idea here is someone looking in a mirror now sees the truth about their appearance (why else would you look in a mirror?). Perhaps they have something stuck in their teeth, or their hair is a mess, but more than likely something needs to be corrected. And instead of correcting it, they walk away and just forget there is a problem. In other words, they didn’t really look with the intent of doing something. A true Christ Follower will not be this way with God’s word. But instead will be like this:
25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
A true Christ Follower will look at God’s word as the only source of truth and freedom on this earth. They will eagerly want to know what God says about how to live life – every aspect of it, and when they find out the truth, they will live by it no matter what they previously believed or what the world believes. A true Christ Follower will want to know the truth and will look INTENTLY into God’s Word, and CONTINUE in it, NOT FORGETTING what it says, but DOING IT.
Because guess what the church is supposed to be made of?
Not just LISTENERS. Not just PEW SITTERS. Not just LESSON LEARNERS. But DOERS!
Church is not a place you go.
It’s not a club you belong to.
It’s not a spiritual check in the box.
The church is what you ARE if you are a true believer, and one of the KEY differences between a true believer and a false believer is that a true believer is a DOER of the Word, not a hearer only.
Jesus himself made this clear:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
This is not saying that the DOING is what gets you into heaven. The DOING is simply the inevitable result of a true saving faith. Many only say “Lord, Lord” to Jesus so they can get out of hell or get the benefits the prosperity preachers promise. Well, that is not what “LORD” means. “LORD” means he is your master, your king, and that your life is now subject to him. His will is your command.
In fact, for Jesus, there is no separation between loving Him and obeying Him.
He says this four different ways in John 14 so that there is no confusion:
15 “If you love me, keep my commands.
IF (maybe you do, maybe you don’t) you love me, you will do what I say.
21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.
Here Jesus is saying that if you do what he says, that means you love him. Obedience is what Jesus wants from us. Nothing else. Trying to love him another way without obedience is not actually loving Him. It’s like what I’m teaching my kids. When you get Mommy a birthday present, you get something SHE really wants – not a toy that you like and hope she will let you play with. The gift is for her, not you. And your love for Jesus is for Him, Not you. And Jesus tells us what He wants. His love language is OBEDIENCE.
Then Jesus makes it real simple…
23 Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.
24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.
It’s real simple. If you love Him, you obey Him. If you don’t, you don’t.
Remember that agape love is not a feeling, it’s an action. The action of loving Jesus IS the action of obeying Him. They are inseparable.
Salvation is not a free ticket to heaven then you go on your merry way. It’s not a golden ticket that will make you rich on earth with no sacrifice. It’s not even a guarantee of a pleasant life. Salvation is making Jesus, who died for you and rose again, your LORD and MASTER and DOING WHAT HE SAYS IN HIS WORD.
And while that may sound ominous, it’s actually a really good thing! Because Jesus is an amazing, generous, kind, and loving Master. And doing what HE says is ALWAYS better for ME than doing what my evil heart says.
And the reason I harp on this so much is because if you believe something else, then you are deceived!! If you believe God will save you but expect nothing from you, you are deceived. If you believe that giving Him lip service and going through the religious motions is enough, you are deceived!! If you believe you can call Jesus Lord but reject his rule and still go to heaven, you are deceived! And I don’t want any of you to be deceived. Especially about this.
And just to be clear – it’s not the obeying that saves you.
Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins, and he rose from the dead to give us new life. If you believe that in your heart and make Him your Lord, you are saved. But “making Him your Lord” implies obedience, so you really can’t call Him Lord with no intention to obey him. It’s not saying you will be perfect, but that your heart now beats to serve Him. And the amazing thing that happens, is that when you truly make that connection in your heart, His spirit comes inside of you and ends up doing all the work. As you let His spirit take up residence and start leading you, you will find that you are obeying because it’s now what your new nature wants to do.
Obedience is not the CAUSE of salvation. Obedience is the EFFECT. If the effect is not there, then neither is the cause. This is so important to understand.
James is not pushing a works-based faith. He’s making the obvious connection that true faith results in more than just LISTENING. It results in DOING!!
And in fact, that’s what I’ve decided to start calling our volunteers: DOERS. Because volunteer sounds so …. voluntary. Like we’re going to get to heaven and Jesus thanks us for those times we helped out. I don’t really see that in the Bible. I see more of an accounting of what I did with my life, which implies that something was EXPECTED of me, not just hoped for.
When you have a LORD and MASTER, what you do for Him is not voluntary. You are actually His slave. And so, for those of us who are believers and Jesus is our Lord, we really should be called slaves, or at least servants. But I thought it might sound better to call us DOERS. Because those who serve on the teams and in other ways are just that, they are DOERS. And those who give financially are DOERS. And those who participate in Life Groups are DOERS. Those who helped with the yard sale yesterday, they are DOERS.
And if you pay attention to our mission here at Reality, it’s all about DOING. DOING LIFE TOGETHER. LOVING OTHERS TOGETHER. Notice our mission is not LISTENING TO SERMONS TOGETHER.
Because guess what – this thing we are doing right now, where I talk and you listen – that should be a very small part of what CHURCH is to you. In fact, if you look at the early church, they spent way more time BEING the church than ATTENDING the church. They spent way more time DOING than they did LISTENING.
And the Lord added to their numbers daily those who were being saved!
Both are necessary, but the modern church has turned that ratio upside down. The modern church is almost entirely SITTING and LISTENING and sadly for many, it is listening with no intention of DOING. A whole lot of TALK without a lot of ACTION.
Well, that’s not how we are going to roll here at Reality Church.
I would rather have 10 DOERS in the seats than 100 LISTENERS.
I would rather have 100 DOERS than 10,000 LISTENERS.
BECAUSE LISTENERS DON’T CHANGE THE WORLD.
And if you don’t like that idea, then maybe you should find another church where all they do is listen. Because I’m not going to stop preaching this. Because I can’t turn a page in the Bible without seeing ACTION ITEMS. There are eternities hanging in the balance, and we have been given a job to DO.
And one of those things we are supposed to be doing is what James finishes this chapter with.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 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.
What the term “religious” is referring to here is someone who does a good job of following all the rules on the outside. Much like the Pharisees that Jesus called hypocrites. They did everything right in the eyes of men, but their hearts were evil. James is saying, that if you consider yourself good because of your ability to follow certain ceremonial rules and such but you can’t control your words (gossip, slander, course language, lies, grumbling, etc) then again you are deceiving yourself. You are missing the point, and all your efforts at outward “religion” are worthless.
But if you really want to do something that God likes, then take care of orphans and widows and keep yourself from being polluted by the world.
Orphans and Widows.
That last part about keeping yourself from being polluted I’ve harped on enough. Just EAT God instead of the world’s filth and you’ll be good.
Orphans and Widows.
It’s probably safe to say they qualify as “the least of these.” Which means that the way we treat them we are actually treating Jesus. And James makes it clear here (and there are other places in Scripture) that taking care of Widows and Orphans is the responsibility of the church.
But instead, we, the church, have abdicated that responsibility to the government. Shame on us!
Do you know what the early church did? In Rome, they would go find the babies that were left on the street to die and take them into their homes and raise them. They had whole systems of distribution for widows, who in that culture were pretty much destitute. They took this command serious and took care of the widows and orphans.
But what do we do?
We turn a blind eye. Out of sight, out of mind. We assume the government is doing a good job of it. We go about our lives trying to be comfortable, while there are children in our own city who have to live out of suitcases – whose parents are either dead, in prison, or have given up on them. And the church does nothing. Why? Because it’s hard? I’m not sure.
I heard Keeley Fenning speak at the most recent Spring Meeting of the Bridge Network. The pastors of 95 churches in our area heard about her organization and what they are doing. Guess how many pastors have contacted her since then from that group?
Because I pastor a church full of DOERS!
And this is a trend that I intend to see changed, starting with us!
Because God’s Word tells us to! Do we need any other reason?
That is why Embrace is our spotlight this month. That is why Keeley is here today, and you can talk with her after serve about what more you can DO for the orphans of our city.
And as for widows. We don’t have as many of those as they did in bible days, but we do have a lot of single mothers, which I think is practically the same thing. And an organization that does a lot for these precious women is the Crisis Pregnancy Center, which you know we do a lot with. In fact, they are having another training for volunteers – I mean doers (It might take awhile to get the rest of the world on board with the name change). They call it CPC 101 and it’s next Tuesday on the 24th. Mark the bulletin if you’re interested.
Because we must be a church that is about doing, not just listening.
Not just “getting fed.”
Not just “feeling something.”
This 90 minutes of music and listening to me talk is not what Jesus called his church. This should be the smallest part of what church means to you.
Each Sunday, after I preach and I’m shaking hands out in the lobby, I often get comments on how good the sermon was, or how it touched someone. And while that is nice, and I appreciate the feedback, I would much rather hear what you are now going to DO with the truth you’ve just been given. What changes will this make in your life?
Because no matter how it makes you feel while sitting in the seats, no matter how much you like the little tidbits of history and Greek, no matter how pumped up, or convicted it makes you feel – it’s all a waste if you do nothing with it. You might as well not even come and listen, because James says you’re only deceiving yourself if that’s all you do.
But that is not what I want for you. My HOPE is that you come EAGER with the intention to LISTEN AND DO!
My prayer for each of you, always, is that you will look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and that you continue in it—not forgetting what you have heard, but doing it, because then you will be blessed in what you do.
and the church will grow, and lives will be changed.