Be Doers of the Word
James 1:19-27 (NRSV) 19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself ) unstained by the world.
Tonight I watched the final two sermons I delivered at 16th Section UMC. I am always in awe when I witness my sermons, because each time I see myself preach I see God in action. Why God would use a short, fat, old(er) woman to deliver His word is beyond me, but I know that He did. And now I continue in His ministry as I share God’s Word through this blog.
Our last study dealt with wisdom, and today we will look at the wisdom of not just hearing the word, but doing it.
James begins by giving us one of the best pieces of advice in the Word–that we should be slow to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. Why? Because anger born within us does not produce the righteousness of God. But what about righteous anger, you might ask. Let me assure you that most of our anger has nothing to do with righteousness, but instead it is a result of pride. Yes, pride produces anger, and if pride produces anger, there is no way that it also produces righteousness. So James tells us to welcome with meekness the Word that is implanted in our hearts, for it is the Word that has the power to save.
James goes on to talk about the primary theme of his letter, and that is to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.
When I was young I got the idea that I could play a tape recorder while I slept and that what I heard would be implanted within me and therefore I would not have to study. Can I tell you that method of learning never worked, not even one time. The only way I learned was to read the material not once, not twice, but three times, making notes and paying close attention in class.
But James says even spending hours and hours learning is not enough if we do not transfer that learning into doing. Think about it–how much has ever been accomplished just by reading or listening and then going about your business as if nothing has changed. James mentions seeing one’s reflection in a mirror but then walking away and immediately forgetting one’s own image.
In today’s society, we cannot imagine forgetting our own image. We see ourselves reflected in store windows, in the mirrors in our homes, and of course, the ever-present cellphones. But in James’ time, mirrors were scarce and they did not provide an altogether accurate reflection. James is telling the readers that if God’s Word merely read and then forgotten, much like our reflection in a pond, then it is useless.
You see, the Law came to man from without, from Moses, and it served to inform us of our duty. But the Word was engrafted into us by the Holy Spirit, from within, to teach us how to do the Word. The Word was never meant simply to be heard, but to be acted upon.
James tells us near the end of this passage that if we say we are righteous, then we must learn to bridle our tongues. We all know that horses have great power, yet they can be controlled by a small bit within their mouths. The bridle is attached to the bit, giving direction to this massive animal with just a light touch. When we become doers of the Word, we, too, can be directed with just a light touch upon our hearts, forbidding us from taking the wrong path into anger or gossip.
James finishes this section by telling us what is required of those who consider themselves to be religious. We are to care for the widows and orphans, and to keep ourselves unstained by the world. In order to accomplish these things, we must learn to do the Word, not just hear the Word. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Father God, today may we become transformed to the point of ACTION by the hearing of Your holy Word. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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