Hearing Only or Doing Also?
15 sermons and five months later, we’ve reached the end of James.
What have we learned in that time?
This morning is a recap…
The first sermon was preached on 20th June. I remember that because it was after the first State of Origin game, and I remember that because in that first sermon I referred to something Phil Gould (one of the commentators, and ex-NSW coach) said during the pre-match carry-on.
One of the things he said about the players was:
They are State of Origin players. Will they be State of Origin players? Now that they’ve been selected, are they going to live like it?
· What sort of character will they need to display to be a true State of Origin player?
· What sort of actions will they need to carry out to be a true State of Origin player?
· What sort of camaraderie will they need to show to be a true State of Origin player?
It’s a bit like what God has been saying to us in this letter. Now that you are Christians, this is what a true Christian will look like: character, attitudes, actions, camaraderie.
They’re not mutually exclusive categories, but there are some obvious, significant differences between a State of Origin player and a Christian:
(1:18) State of Origin players are selected based on performance. Christians are selected based on sovereign grace, and grace alone.
(4:6) State of Origin players get to continue to be a State of Origin player as long as they can perform at a high enough level. Christians stay Christians because of grace, and grace alone.
(2:13) State of Origin players get a trophy if they win. Christians receive the prize because Jesus won, and he mercifully shares the spoils.
Now that we’ve come to the end of the book, let’s be clear. Nowhere was James talking about:
· getting on the team, “this is what you need to do to get selected”.
· staying on the team, “this is what you must do to make sure you’re selected for the next match”.
· winning a prize, “this is what you need to do to win the trophy”.
The letter’s not about becoming Christians, but about behaving as Christians.
James detailed for us some of the characteristics and actions and relationships we ought to expect from true Christians.
If you belong to Jesus, there will be an observable difference, not just in what you say but in what you do.
Now again, we’ve come to the end so let’s be clear – we’re not talking about perfection. At no stage did we talk about being perfect, and if we gave that impression, then I apologise.
James is too realistic for that, as we saw in 3:2, we all stumble in many ways.
There’s something disconcerting about that. There’s also something a little encouraging about that isn’t there? At least we can say we’re all in this together.
What a joke that slogan’s turned out to be over the last 20 months.
At least we know it’s true here: we all stumble in many ways.
The good news is, God has had something to say to us stumblers.
It’s not about perfection, but it is about direction.
Now that you’re part of the family, there are some things that are right and appropriate and good. There are some things that are not right or appropriate or good.
This morning I want to recall some of those things. We can’t go through the whole book of course, so I’m going to pick out just four themes, and do that by looking at four myths James busts, which are just as relevant today as they were then.
Myth #1: Jesus is an optional extra
Before we get into anything practical, there’s a question we need to ask.
Why? Why does it matter how we live?
It is because of who Jesus is.
Look at what James says about him right from the outset in 1:1.
He calls him Lord. That was the word used to translate the unpronounceable word from the OT Yahweh. They translated it Lord.
So here it is expressing Jesus’ identity. He is the Lord, Yahweh, God.
We know that the name Jesus itself means saviour, God’s rescuer. “You shall call his name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins”, the angel said to James’ biological father.
Christ means anointed one, God’s special king who was to come and do the things God wanted done.
That’s who Jesus is, and you’d be hard pressed to find loftier titles than these. Guess what? Jesus is worthy of them all.
That’s why if we claim to be followers of Jesus, it matters how we live.
Not so that we can win his approval. Not because he needs our help, and without us he has no hands.
It is because when you know who Jesus is, your heart changes and your desires change, and you want to do things to know and enjoy Jesus better (draw near to God and he will draw near to you 4:8).
You will want to do things to honour him and glorify his name.
2:1, My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.
If Jesus really is the Lord of glory, then don’t show partiality. It all starts with who Jesus is.
It’s essentially what James says at other points. If Jesus really is the Lord of glory, as you say you believe:
· humble yourselves before the Lord (4:10)
· don’t speak evil against one another (4:11)
· instead [of boasting] you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (4:15)
· be patient (5:7).
We’re not talking about perfection of course, for we all stumble in many ways. We are talking about the direction of your heart.
It all starts with who Jesus is.
So for those who think that James is the epistle of straw, because all it contains is just practical advice and nothing much deeper, think again.
Q1. Who do you say Jesus is?
Get that one wrong, and nothing can really ever be right. Get that one right, and we’re on the way to living as we should.
Myth #2: Servanthood is second-rate
That’s what the world thinks. It’s the opposite of what James says.
Again, right from the outset, he makes this clear.
James is the biological brother of Jesus. He’s also one of the big wigs (an important person, especially in a particular sphere) in Jerusalem. They’re big deals, but they’re not his biggest deal.
Look how he introduces himself. 1:1, James, a servant. He leads with his best foot as it were.
He says, “My name’s James and I’m a servant of Jesus.”
Do you know, if you’re a Christian, that’s your biggest deal, and mine too?
You may be a tradie, a medico, a teacher, an artist, a retiree, a stay-at-home mum, whatever you are your best piece on your resume is this: a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If this is who Jesus is, what an honour! If this is who Jesus is, how can it be any other way?
You’ve been chosen to be and made into a servant of Jesus. Are you going to be a servant of Jesus?
Q2a. Is that how you see yourself?
Top of the list: I get to do and enjoy lots of things in life, but this is the best.
Q2b. Is that how other people see you? Would your spouse, parents, co-workers, children, friends, all those with whom you come into contact when running errands, drivers of other cars, and those you church with say you are a servant?
That’s what James is about. The reason why James has written this letter is because that’s not easy.
Myth #3: Trials are bad
There’s obviously some truth to that statement. Unless you are a masochist (a person who enjoys an activity that appears to be painful or tedious) you want to avoid pain, whether physical or psychological. We all have an instinct for self-preservation, and in one respect that is appropriate.
Look at what James says, V2, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.
How can that be?
This seems to be an absolute contradiction doesn’t it?
Most of our contemporary life is lived trying to avoid trials.
If we can avoid trials, then we can have joy, but if we have trials, we can’t possibly have joy.
Therefore, we’ve got to get rid of these trials, some way, so that we can get on with joy.
James says, “No. If you want to know joy, you will find it in your trials.”
v3,For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
We know this in other areas of life.
It’s through the testing of a product that we know if it’s going to be suitable. If it hasn’t been tested, how do you know?
It’s through working out that muscles are developed. Walking through the front door of the gym doesn’t change your body, but only when you do the exercises.
It’s through the challenges of marriage that we’re taught to love someone who is not like us.
It is the same when it comes to following, and being a servant of, Jesus.
Sometimes it takes the removal of some things, or the testing in some area, to be able not just to say but to know, “Jesus is my Lord, he is sufficient, and to be his stumbling servant is the greatest privilege.”
That is the #blessed life, to be able to say, “I know from his Word, and I know from experience that Jesus is enough.”
Trials enable us to put into practice what we say we believe.
You might say, “Oh yeah, God’s ways are always best.” Do you really believe it?
One of James’ big points is just that. God’s ways are always best.
Whatever commands he gives, however hard it might be, God’s ways are always best.
It might not be what the world says, or what my friends or family say, or even what my heart says from time to time.
5:11, Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.
That is resolved to say, no matter what, God’s ways are best.
Q3. Having worked through James, are you more resolved to say, “God’s ways are always best”, or less?
Q4. Can you look back on a tough time in your life and see how God used that for good, and be glad for it? Have you giving thanks to God for it?
Robert Browning Hamilton…
I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
for all she had to say
I walked a mile with Sorrow;
and ne’er a word said she;
but, oh, the things I learned from her
when sorrow walked with me.
Myth #4: Faith is a private matter
Again, there is some truth to that.
It is true to say that faith is very personal. It has to be personal if it is genuine. Some kinds of public religion are nothing but hypocrisy.
What people usually mean when they say “faith is private” is, “I don’t want to talk about it”, or, “I don’t want to change my life because of it. It’s just something which is in here (head).”
In the name of religion or spirituality, we justify basically living life however we want. Religion becomes a tool for self-centredness and control over our own destinies.
James will have none of that – for two reasons.
Firstly, as we’ve been saying, true faith involves more than just what goes on up here.
Faith, or belief, must involve thinking of course. A rock sits. A plant grows. An animal has instincts, but people? We think. Much of belief, or faith, is tied up in thinking thoughts.
It doesn’t stop there. The point of hearing God’s Word is not simply to know it; the point of hearing God’s Word is to do it.
James says in 1:21, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save. Receiving it means trusting it so that you will do it.
V22, But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Hearing without doing is dangerous and potentially self-deceiving.
V26, If anyone thinks he is religious but does not do certain things like bridle his tongue, deceives his heart, and his religion is worthless.
It’s easy to deceive ourselves. It’s easy to sit and listen to a sermon, or 15 sermons, and think that because you have understood something the preacher says, you have moved closer to God.
Certainly, understanding something the Bible says is good. Yet hearing and understanding something the Bible says, but not making sure it translates into how you live is deadly, James says in chapter 2.
If we believe that Jesus really is the Lord of glory, then when he speaks of course we’ll listen and seek to obey what he says.
If we say Jesus is Lord, but don’t care about obeying what says, then there’s a disconnect somewhere.
If I’m not interested at all in doing anything he says – I have next to zero interest in knowing and enjoying Jesus more, I have zero interest in working out how I can be more for the praise of Jesus – if that’s you, maybe your profession of faith is just that, mere words.
We’re not talking about perfection of course, for we all stumble in many ways, but we are talking about the direction of your heart.
Faith that is not acted out is not faith at all. We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is not alone. Hearing … and doing.
Q5. If you didn’t believe what you believe about Jesus, would your life look any different, or would you just be doing, saying, desiring the same things you do now?
Q6. What sort of listener are you? 1:19, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Which one of those do you need to work on?
The second reason why the statement “faith is a private matter” is a myth is that Christian faith always involves other people. Christianity is a public matter. It’s about our life together.
James does not say that directly, but it’s the clear implication of the very thing he is trying to correct in this stress-riden, faction-prone church: bad relationships.
As we’ve worked through the book, we’ve seen this everywhere.
These Christians are quick to become angry with one another, and quick to use hurtful words (1:19). They are cursing at one another (3:9-10). They are judgmental of others and self-righteous (4:11-12). They are boastful about the future, comparing one another’s future prospects (4:13-17). They are grumbling against one another (5:9).
Then more positively, he closes the letter by encouraging his readers to treat one another with tender concern: praying for the sick (5:14), confessing sins to one another (5:16a), valuing the prayers of the righteous (5:16b-18), bringing back those who wander (5:19-20).
James knows that so much of our relationship with God will be shown by our relationship with other people, particularly within the church.
As a servant of Jesus, my primary obligation in this life is not to myself. It is to him and his church.
Mark Dever said this: “I have been in more than one church meeting where someone has made sharp comments about what he or she wants, or what must happen in the church for them to be satisfied; and I have feared how little that person must know of Christ. What but a loss of perspective and a lack of love for Christ and his body could lead to that sort of talk? Our Christianity, if it is to live up to its name, must affect other people in a loving and godly way. What does it mean to say we are followers of Jesus Christ, who literally gave his life for others, if we do not live like that ourselves?”
Faith is not a private matter. It’s personal, yes, but it is also public. It’s about our life together. Being a servant of the Lord Jesus means being a servant of others.
Q7. Think back over the last 5 months. How have you gone with your words? Judgmental, critical, boastful, not thinking about or concerned about the impact your words might have on others, regardless of how true your words might be?
What are several ways you can use words to maintain unity in this church?
Q8. Think back over the past 5 months. How have you gone in your relationships? Jealousy, bitterness, quarrelling, favouritism, exclusion? Is there someone who’s forgiveness you need to seek? Is there someone to whom you need to offer forgiveness?
What are several ways you can be a servant in this church?
These are not easy, but it all starts with who Jesus is. The Lord of glory, who gives grace.
We all stumble in many ways, but he gives more grace.
Our sins they are many, his mercy is more.
We ask for grace that we might live lives worthy of our calling. We ask for grace that as stumbling servants, there might be less stumbling and more serving.
Not so we can do things to get on the team, or stay on the team, or win the prize – but that we can be a church that prizes knowing Jesus and making him known, and that we might do that better in the future than we have in the past, to the honour and praise of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.
Cannot connect to Ginger Check your internet connection
or reload the browserDisable in this text fieldRephraseRephrase current sentenceEdit in Ginger
Enable GingerCannot connect to Ginger Check your internet connection
or reload the browserDisable in this text fieldRephraseRephrase current sentenceEdit in Ginger