This past Sunday (March 19th) I preached a sermon at First Presbyterian Church Bradenton. Here is the transcript from the message.
(Read James 1:19 – 27)
Let’s pretend for a moment that I went to the local business supply store and bought a new desk for my office. When I pick it up I find that it is in multiple boxes and needs assembling. I take the boxes back to my office and upon looking at the directions I quickly realize this is going to be a job that is going to take me longer than I expect and maybe a bit beyond my skill level. I ask our maintenance man, Fernando, if he would be willing to take the instructions and figure out how to assemble my desk. He agrees. I leave him with the manual and inform him that I will return. After a few hours, I come back to my office and Fernando says he has finished the desk. I anxiously go upstairs and notice, to my shock, the desk is in complete disarray and it looks nothing like the one I saw at the store. There are drawers missing. It is crooked. It is unstable. It is nailed together (and last I checked nails weren’t in the hardware bag). There are extra pieces on the floor, next to this sad excuse of a desk… boards, pegs, screws and various hardware. I look at Fernando, who is smiling ear to ear and clearly proud of the job he did and I say, “I appreciate your willingness to assemble this desk, but didn’t you use the directions I gave you?” He responds, “Yes, I read them. I memorized them and then I called the office staff Michelle, Grace and the family minister Mary Beth up to your office and we read the instructions together. We even had a deep discussion about them. Mary Beth, who has a Masters of Divinity, translated some of the foreign language instructions so we could know what they said. It was a great time. Afterwards we had some snacks felt pretty good about our instructions discussion.” He goes on to say, “I then decided that even though the instructions were well thought out, clear and helpful that I didn’t really need them to put the desk together so I put it together the way I thought it should go.” Insert palm to face.
This story seems silly, doesn’t it? Well, as absurd as it may sound it is something Christians are doing when it comes to Scripture reading. They read their Bibles, memorize passages, and have small group discussions. They pull out multiple translations, and on occasion dig into to the original Greek or Hebrew text to study a certain word or thought. These are good things. They are necessary things. I am not knocking them. But too often they stop at the Bible reading or study and never dig any deeper. They gain knowledge about the Bible but they do not practice it. Unfortunately, this is not something new. This has been going on for centuries.
Doers and Hearers
Today we are going to look at James chapter 1 verses 19 – 25 (more specifically verses 22 – 25) and this is a very practical passage in regards to human relationships. The author, James, writes about the importance of being good listeners, slow to speak and controlled in anger. In doing so we are called to be active doers of the word of God. He reminds us that human anger does is not part of God’s calling. Human anger does not come from the righteousness of God. Human anger is a response of the flesh and it always leads to more trouble.
James continues with his next topic of being doers of the Word of God and not just hearers. I have met men and women who could easily be experts and intellectuals in the Word of God and yet some of them are the most pompous, self-righteous, and unChrist-like people I have ever met. They know the Bible inside and out, but their actions speak to the contrary. Anyone who thinks that knowing the Word of God is enough for their Christian walk is only deceiving themselves.
James gives an example of what a hearer only would look like. He describes the person as one who stares intently at his reflection in a mirror and when he walks away forgets what he looks like.
I read a story about a missionary out in the bush who had a mirror on a tree so he could shave daily. One day the local witch doctor came upon this mirror and looked curiously at this strange glass hanging from the tree. As she looked at the mirror she saw a hideously painted face and jumped back in fear. Immediately she began to bargain with the missionary for the mirror. After a while the missionary gave in and gave her the mirror. As she received the mirror she threw it to the ground breaking it into many pieces. She began shouting, “There… it won’t be making ugly faces at me anymore!”
Mirrors in James’ time were not like mirrors we have today. They were usually polished metal, bronze, gold or silver. When people looked at themselves in the mirror they were unable to get a true picture of themselves in the mirror. Their image was distorted and vague. In this passage of James, the mirror represents God’s Word. And practically speaking we are people who just look at the Word of God and never allow it pierce our hearts, we end up having a distorted view of ourselves and scripture. Thus, we can tend to see ourselves in a distorted way… we may see ourselves as righteous, intellectual and useful to the Kingdom of God than we actually are. We become people who can quote scripture faster than a machine gun, but when it comes to living out the Word we are void. We begin to lack compassion and love, both actions Jesus spoke about. Interestingly, I have also found individuals like this to be very harmful to others with their words and in their anger.
James warns it is not enough to just know the Word of God, we must put it into practice. Can you imagine what Christianity would look like if we would fully practice loving God, loving others and making disciples? But our failure to practice what we preach is a big reason why Christians are not known as light to the world as we are supposed to but instead seen as hypocrites. If we only preached love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy and did not practiced it then we would be one sorry bunch of followers of Jesus. There are so many out in this world who do talk the talk but do not walk the walk. Let us commit to being a people who live out our faith and not just talk about it.
Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Do you hear those words? The Bible is LIVING and it is ACTIVE. This Bible we read, love and know is intended to be lived out. Obedience to the Word is the genuine mark of Christianity.
The NET Bible translates verse 25 “But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out – he will be blessed in what he does.” I love how it reads… “The one who peers… and fixes his attention… does not become a forgetful listener BUT one who lives it out.” I believe this is precisely what God desires from his followers. The one who hears the Word of God, applies it to his life and lives his life accordingly will be blessed in all he does.
So, what is the practical application for today’s message? It is three-fold.
So, my friends let us be hearers of the Word AND doers of the Word. God has given us his Word for our benefit and His glory so let us live it out so we may be blessed and that He may be glorified.
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I live in Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with 20 years of full time ministry. He is and has been faithful.