THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD

James 1:19-27

 

One of the distinctives of Christianity is that we have a God who has spoken.  Christianity is not merely a system of philosophy in which men have sat down and pondered what God is like.  We believe that we could not know God except that He first made Himself known to us.

 

We saw this in James 1:18 where we read that God “brought us forth by the word of truth.”  That is a reference to our salvation.  In a very real sense, we are children of the Word.

 

You did not come to Christ apart from the Word of God.  You might be thinking, “I didn’t read a verse from the Bible when I was saved.  Someone explained the gospel and I believed.”  But they used WORDS to explain the gospel and the content of those words were taken from the Word of God.

 

The ministry of the Word in our lives does not stop when we come to Christ.  It only begins there.  James 1:18 says that in the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth -- that is the message of salvation.  But the passage continue to say that He brought us forth so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures -- that is the promise of sanctification; the promise of present and future growth.

 

God calls us just the way we are, but He does not leave us the way we are.  He has called us in order to change us.  Just as the calling comes through the Word, so also the changing comes through the Word.  That means the study of God’s Word is not an end in itself.  It is a means to a greater end.  It is that the Word my be received and applied in your life.

 

 

RECEIVING THE WORD

 

            This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.  21  Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:19-21).

 

When I was a lot younger, I attended Florida Bible College.  It was an exciting time of learning and studying and, in those early days, I had visions of becoming something of a scholar.  I found a lot of people whose heads were much further along than their hearts and it was not long before I became one of those people.

 

I am not saying that Bible College or Seminary is bad or that it is necessarily bad to learn so much of the Bible before you have had time to spiritually digest it.  But it is wrong if those spiritual truths that you learn are never translated into physical actions in your life.

 

James cuts to the heart of this matter.  He will not be satisfied with a faith that sits in your notebook or up on your shelf and is only dusted off on Sunday mornings.  He will demand a faith that works.

 

1.         Receiving the Word means that you must first Know the Word:   This you know, my beloved brethren (1:19).

 

The King James and the New King James Versions give us a slightly different reading when they say, “Therefore my beloved brethren...”  The difference between these versions with the New American Standard is not one of translation, but rather a case of two different Greek texts.  The difference is between the spelling of a single word: Iste (“You know”) versus Wste (“Therefore”).

 

In either case, James is forming a conclusion based on what he has just said regarding our new birth via the Word of God.  Because we have been born again through the Word, we should now live our lives according to that word.

 

Sin

God

Verses 15-16

Verses 17-18

What we are able to accomplish

What God is able to accomplish

Brought forth sin

Brought US forth by the Word of truth

The result is DEATH

The result is LIFE

You know this, therefore...

                   ¯

Because anger does not bring forth the righteousness of God...

¬

Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.

 

If you are a Christian, then you know some things about God.  But that knowledge is not to remain dormant.  It is to have a practical outworking.       

 

2.         Receiving the Word is an ongoing Process:  But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger (1:19).

 

James is not giving a new teaching.  He is telling them things that they already know.  How did they know these things?  They are taught in the Old Testament.

 

Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise;

When he closes his lips, he is counted prudent (Proverbs 17:28).

 

He who is slow to anger has great understanding,

But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly. (Proverbs 14:29).

 

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,

And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city. (Proverbs 16:32).

 

James calls for a “speed adjustment” in three areas: What we hear, what we say, and in how we feel.

 

Be Quick...

To hear

Be Slow...

To speak

To anger

 

All three of these are given in the present tense.  This gives the force of continual action:   “Let each man CONTINUE to be...”  This is to be an on-going process.  You do not do this as a one-time action.  You are to continue to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.

 

3.         Receiving the Word brings a New Governing Principle:   For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God (1:20).

 

It is noteworthy that James uses the Greek word andros to speak of the anger of MAN.  He is not merely speaking of the anger of mankind in general.  He uses the word that specifically denotes the male gender.

 

Why is this?  Perhaps it is because men seem to think that it is manly and masculine and macho to become angry.  God, the One who made men and women, says that there is nothing masculine in anger.  God’s righteousness is achieved quite apart from man’s anger.  It is not anger that is to be our governing principle.  Our governing principle is to be humility.  This is seen in the next verse.

 

4.         Receiving the Word is a Grace Process:   Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls (1:21).

 

James does not merely say, “Receive the Word.”  You must receive it with a certain type of attitude or else you will find that you have not received it at all.  What attitude is required?  It is the attitude of humility.  This was not written just for your wife or for your husband or for your children.  It was written for you.

 

Humility is the response of grace.  Humility recognizes its own undeservedness.  Humility recognizes that every gift comes from above, from the Father of lights within whom there is no turning or change.  Humility recognizes that you are undeserving and that everything you have is a gift of grace.  It is only when the Word is approached with humility that the Word can be implanted.

 

5.         Receiving the Word is an Organic Process:   Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted (1:21).

 

Elsewhere we read of the Word being preached and of the Word being heard and even of the Word being the subject of diligent study.  James speaks instead of the Word being IMPLANTED.  This refers to more than merely the hearing or preaching or reading of the Word.  This is what causes the Word to take root and to grow.

 

Do you recall the parable of the sower?  There were four different types of hearers.

 

·        There was the hard ground where the person heard, but there was no penetration and the word had no effect.

·        There was the rocky ground where the word could obtain no deep roots.

·        There was the ground in the midst of thorns where the word was choked by the cares of this world.

·        It was only in the fourth ground where there was permanent growth.  This was the good ground where the word was implanted and grew up to bear fruit.

 

How do you receive the implanted word?  You do it by repenting of all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness.  You do it by coming in humility to the cross.  You do it by accepting the gracious gift of God, trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Savior.

 

6.         Receiving the Word Results in Salvation:   Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls (1:21).

 

When you come to Christ in faith, a process begins within you.  It is a process of salvation.  On the one hand, it is appropriate to speak of salvation in completed terms -- you have been justified and declared righteous.  You received something that is enduring because you are kept by His power and His strength.

 

And yet, your salvation isn’t completed.  You are still being saved.  You are being transformed into something that you never were before.  You are becoming like Christ.

 

            For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

 

I like the bumper sticker that says, “Have patience, God isn’t finished with me yet.”  That is true.  You are not finished.  You are only half-baked.  You are in the process of salvation.  It is a process that takes place as you continue putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness and as you come to the cross in humility to have the ingrafted Word do its work in your heart.

 

 

RESPONSE TO THE WORD

 

            But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  23  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  25  But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25).

 

As we saw in the previous paragraph, so now also the Greek text uses the present tense, indicating the demand for a continued action.  You are to continue to prove yourself a doer of the word and not merely a hearer only.

 

A hearer was a technical term among the Greeks for people who attended lectures but who were not committed disciples of the teacher.  They were under no obligation or accountability to obey the teachings that they heard.  In colleges today it is similarly possible to audit a class.  James uses this same image of an auditor.

 

This brings up an important aspect of the church.  It is ACCOUNTABILITY.  Every so often I hear of someone who has dropped out of the church and who merely wants to fellowship with Christians in an informal setting and attend home Bible studies.  There is nothing wrong with home Bible studies.  A great deal can be learned in that sort of informal setting where questions can be answered and where discussion is encouraged.  But Bible studies cannot take the place of the church because they lack any system of accountability.  Unfortunately, there are also many churches that have also failed in this important area of ministry.

 

1.         A Dangerous Delusion:   But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves (1:22).

 

One of the most dangerous things about being a hearer of the word and not a doer of it is that you can easily delude yourself into thinking that hearing is enough.  You think, “I did my part for God by getting up on Sunday morning and coming and hearing the word.  I put my money in the offering plate.  I sang the hymns.  I read the confession.  I shook the preacher’s hand.  I have fulfilled my Christian responsibilities.”  If that has ever gone though your mind, you need to know that you have been deluded.

 

2.         Doers Versus Hearers:  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer (1:23).

 

There are two kinds of people described here.  There is the hearer and then there is the hearer who is also a doer.

 

Hearer Only

Hearer and Doer

He contemplates the word (Greek).  There is no fault in the way he looks, but he then goes and forgets.

He looks intently at the word.  He bends over it and studies it.

He immediately forgets.

He becomes an effectual doer.

He deludes himself.

He is blessed in what he does.

He does not bridle his tongue.

He is slow to speak.

He is quick to anger and has not put aside all filthiness and wickedness.

He visits orphans and widows and keeps himself unstained from the world.

His religion is worthless.

His religion is pure and undefiled.

 

The contrast is the same that we see throughout the Bible.  It is the contrast between the believer and the unbeliever.

 

3.         Illustration of a Hearer:   For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was (1:23-24).

 

The man who only hears the word and who does not obey it is like a man who has been out working.  He comes in and he looks into a mirror.  The mirror tells him that his face is dirty.  It needs to be washed.  He has a big grease smudge across his nose.

 

But instead of washing his face or otherwise utilizing the information that the mirror has given to him, our hero gets dressed and goes out for the evening and spends the rest of the night wondering why people are laughing at him.  It is not that he didn’t see the problem.  The issue is that he failed to do anything about it.  The sight in the mirror did not motivate him to go and wash his face.  The result was the same as if he had not looked into the mirror in the first place.

 

4.         Looking at the Law of Liberty:  But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does (1:25).

 

By contrast, we see another type of man.  This is the man who not only looks, but he looks carefully.  The Greek word used here (parakuptw) is the same word that John used to describe the disciple stooping over and PEERING into the tomb of the resurrected Jesus (John 20:5,11).

 

He looks carefully.  And then he abides by what he does.  But notice what it is at which he looks.  It is the perfect law, the law of liberty.  To what does this refer?

 

James is writing to those who were well familiar with the Law.  They knew all about the requirements of the Law, both its moral code as well as its various rituals for worship and sacrifice.  The Law is good and it is holy and it is perfect.  But one thing the Law was never called in the Old Testament era was “the Law of Liberty.”

 

·      The Law was the manifestation of God’s righteousness.

·      Those who are under the Law are under a curse, for the one who does not keep the Law is accursed (Galatians 3:10,13).

·      The Law served as our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24-25).

 

The Law could not free anyone.  The Law did not free you from your sins.  It was like a mirror.  It only pointed out your sins.

 

            Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39).

 

Jesus did that which the Law could not do.  The Law could only declare you to be guilty.  Jesus declared you to be righteous -- He justified you.  He fulfilled the just demands of the Law upon the cross.  Where the Law condemned our sins, He paid the penalty that the Law demanded for those sins.  When the Law called for death of the guilty, He bore our guilt upon the cross and gave His own life.

 

            For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4).

 

There is a new Law in effect today.  It is the Law of Liberty.  It is not like the old law that was written on tablets of stone.  This new law is written in the hearts of men.

 

This is not a new concept.  The law was never meant to remain only upon tablets of stone.  God promised that He would do something special.  He promised that He would manifest the Law from the inside out.  Throughout the Old Testament, there was a continuing emphasis upon taking the Law of God and allowing it to sink within the hearts of men.

 

            Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 32:46).

 

God promised that there would come a day when this would be reversed.  There would come a day when He would write His Law within the hearts of men.

 

            “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  34  And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).

 

There is a great freedom when you realize that the penalty of the Law has been paid -- when you realize that instead of the Law being a hindrance to coming to God, it is now the operating principle that manifests your liberty.  You now have that within you that causes you to be a doer of the word and not just a hearer of it.

 

You are like the man who went to look at his face in a mirror and was transformed by what he saw because it wasn’t his face that looked back at him.

 

            Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18  But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

 

When you look at your face in a mirror, what do you see?  If you only see your face, then you are missing something.  You need to realize that, as a Christian, you have the very Spirit of the Lord within you.  Realizing that will change your life.

 

 

RELIGION OF THE WORD

 

            If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27  This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27).

 

We often think of religion in terms of what we SAY.  We proclaim a message that we believe.  We hold to a doctrine with which we verbally agree as we confess a creed together.  But that is only one aspect of Christianity.  Our religion is not merely made up of beliefs.  It is also seen in action.  Our truth should match our tongue.

 

James sets forth the example of the man who thinks himself to be religious.  He is very sincere.  He is not a hypocrite.  He is not pretending.  He really does think that he is religious.  But he is wrong.  He has deceived himself.

 

How then are we to understand true religion?  James gives the answer in terms of our ACTIONS:    This is pure and undefiled religion  ...to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (1:27).

 

When you spoke of purity to a Jewish person, he thought in terms of ceremonial purity.  He had a whole list of rituals that he went through to keep himself ceremonially pure.  They were all outward things.

 

James has some outward things in mind, too.  He says that our love of God is to be manifested in our treatment of others and in our pure life.

 

How do you treat others?  There was no more down-and-out class of people in the ancient world than orphans and widows.  This was before the age of orphanages and social security.  These were the people who had nothing.  They had nowhere to turn.

 

It is easy to minister to those who have no needs.  It is easy to keep our religion confined to the socially acceptable -- to those who dress the way we dress and who talk the way we talk and who smell the way we smell.  But that is not true religion.  That is worthless religion.

 

How do you keep yourself?  Christians have been made pure through the work of Christ on the cross.  We have been declared to be righteous.  And then we have been told to go out and live in accordance with our calling.  We are called to be clean in a dirty world.  We are called to live in a manner that reflects our new purity.

 

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