James 1: 19-27
Let me start by going back to Jesus’. Let us start with Jesus’ advice to his disciples. In Mark 9:33 onwards he finds out that the disciples have been arguing about who is the greatest. And his advice is simple. Mark 9:35 (NKJV) And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”.
This month we are studying the book of James. The Book of James is a classic case of the first becoming the last. Historians record that the Book of James is most probably the very first New Testament book to be written. Studies show that is was probably written as early as AD45. That makes it the very first New Testament book to be written. However, it took a long time for this book to be included in the New Testament. Studies reveal that only somewhere between AD325 and AD393 this book was admitted as canonical. Remember that the first canon was accepted in AD170. There are many reasons quoted for the non-inclusion of the book of James in the first canon. It is a book of non-theological nature, was one of them. Anyways, the book of James was not a popular book. Even leaders like Martin Luther did not accept the book of James. Of course the resistance from Martin Luther (and many others) could be from the mistaken notion that this book opposes the doctrine of justification by faith and not by works as taught by Paul. That misunderstanding has cleared up a lot in recent times with many studies and arguments showing that James was not proposing a different doctrine, but was only highlighting the fact that good works were the genuine proof that one had faith and could therefore be assured of justification.
Despite this, the book of James is still not a popular book. To me, the reason is clear. The Book of James is not philosophical, it is not academic, it is not charismatic, it is not a theologian’s dream, it is just all about action. This focus on action is not liked by many. And we will see the reasons as we go along this sermon. In the corporate world where I come from, there is joke, that people who cannot do business very well ultimately end up as consultants and trainers. Now, don’t ask me how or why I became a trainer. I am not going to give you an answer. The fact is this. It is easy to preach something, it is easy to listen to a sermon, but it is not easy to be action focused.
The passage that was read to us (James 1:19-27) starts off with some good advice about listening, rather than speaking. It implores us to be slow to anger. It asks us to control our blind passions. However the central theme of the passage is this James 1:22 (NKJV) But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Or as the message bible puts it James 1:22 (MSG) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!. This is a message that many do not like to hear. It is easy for us to sit down and listen to a good sermon, but it is very difficult to put some of that into practice. And this is not a new problem. This problem is ages old. In Ezekiel 33:31 (NKJV) the Lord says, So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain.
Let us take a moment to think this through. Let me ask you a question. How does another person know how good or bad you are? Is it by the qualifications you hold? Is it by the degrees that you have? I recently got my PhD, but how will anyone else know if that has made me a better person, or a worse person? Will people know you as Christian if you have memorized the bible verses from Genesis to Revelation? How do others, especially non-believers know the person of Christ through you?
The secret is simple. It is our behaviour. What others see is only our behaviour. How do we behave in situations? It is our behaviour that will make people want to be around us or away from us. It is through our behaviour that people will know what our personality is, what our values are, what our beliefs are, what our faith is. They don’t see our intent, they don’t feel our faith, they don’t recognize the immense amount of knowledge we have. They only see how we behave in given situations. Do we have any control of the situations? Not really!! We did not choose our parents, we did not choose our siblings, and many of us do not really choose our spouses even. No, situations are not under our control. God places us in situations that He thinks is right for us. What is on our control is the way we choose to behave. I say choose, because, the natural behaviour of ours is always controlled by the flesh. That comes from our natural born , defective identity. Last month we studied the passage from Romans which is very relevant here. Romans 7:15-21 (NKJV) For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. This is the cry of a sinful man. This is the cry of all of us who have been borne in sin, brought up in sin, and have continued to live ny the defective identity that we have been borne with. Fortunately for us, there is a solution, as the end of the same passage tells us. Romans 7:24-25 (NKJV) O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
So here is the grand ending of this problem. Through Jesus Christ, we have been saved from the body of death, and hence we are called to exhibit behaviours that demonstrate this saved nature of ours. And this behaviour is especially noticed when things go wrong. Take me for example. I am generally an affable person, smiling and happy. But let us say that one fine morning Nidheesh does not like my sermon and while I am preaching he gets up and gives me a tight slap. Do you think my behaviour will remain the same? Do you think I will act the same way I was acting before? Not really. My flesh will tighten up, my sin nature will want me to retaliate, choke him may be. See how our behaviour can change with situations? Do you see how our actions can change in adverse situations?
Our theme for this month is Godly living in troubled times. Last week we heard that we should rejoice in our troubles and trials. This week the message is that we must continue act like a Christian even during troubles situations. We should, with the help from Holy Spirit, moderate our actions and behaviour even during troubled times, so that others may see how differently we handle trials, how our faith acts out even in times of trouble.
I do not want us to leave here thinking that James message is only for hearers of the word. Or, in other words, only for those sitting in the pew. James’ message is not just for the hearers of the word, but also for preachers of the word. That makes it interesting. That includes those who preach the word too. Let us hear it from the Lord Jesus himself. Matthew 7:21-23 (MSG) “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ Paul is more aggressive about this. In Romans 2:21-24 (NKJV) he says, You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written.
In conclusion, you will notice that the book of James draws much inspiration from the Sermon on the mount. Like the Sermon on the mount, James advise is for us to fulfill the law through love. And love is not fulfilled only through words or thoughts. Marriage is probably one institution where love needs to be constantly demonstrated through actions, actions of sacrifice, actions of affection, actions of affirmation, actions of service. Other relationships are not much different too. If we tell our children that we love them but do not do anything for them, will they see that as love? If we tell our aged parents that we love them but leave them to fend for themselves, will they see that as love? And God knows this too. God’s love was not represented only through doctrines or prophesies or strong messages. If it were so, there would not have been a new testament in the Bible. The Old Testament would have sufficed. God’s love was fulfilled through the painful and real action of His own son dying on the cross. Can we take care to demonstrate our love for the Lord and our love for others through acting out the word in our lives.