Don't forget your face!
Topic: James: Wise Advice for Everyday Living Scripture: James 1:19–1:27
Don’t Forget your Face
Rev. Stuart Strachan Jr
Well we are continuing in our summer sermon series on the book of James. James is, as I hope you all have been discovering, a wonderful letter filled with wisdom and advice on how to live our everyday, ordinary lives as Christians, especially in light of struggle.
Especially in light of pain and suffering and affliction and persecution. And while in some ways, maybe that’s not our current situation, we know it will be. Because, as we’ve already discussed, when it comes to trials in this life, it’s not a matter of “if” but a matter of when.
Today, James is going to shift his focus away from advice related to dealing with trials and he’s going to be talking about what it ought to look like when the gospel of Jesus Christ takes root in our hearts. And so, we are now going to jump into our scripture text, which is from
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Before I begin my sermon, I’d like to show you a short video. Are we ready? Okay roll the proverbial tape…
[video shown here]
wow…kind of embarrassing right? And yet I think we all identify, at least to some degree, with these two guys.
Most of us have some propensity for gossip, for talking behind people’s backs…and it’s interesting because of course something inside them begins to notice the problem only when they get to the church building. As if, God only hears their bad words when they come within a 20 foot radius of a church building.
But of course, we know that’s not the case, that God created not just the houses of worship, but the entire planet earth, and even beyond that, to all created matter.
So it’s kind of silly that we change our behavior when only when we approach the physical building in which worship takes place.
But the question is, what do we do with this seemingly constant struggle with our words.
Well James gives us a clue in verse 19;
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
For some of us this comes quite naturally, we are introverted or we are just wise enough to bite our tongues. But I think for the vast majority of us, this is something we struggle with. This is something I struggle with.
In fact, I’ll never forget one of the most profound spiritual encounters I’ve had happened because of my unbridled, or unrestrained tongue.
When I was in college, at a Christian college there was a big debate on whether or not homosexuality was in fact a sin. And there was actually a professor at our school who was gay and who spoke out in favor of homosexuality during the debate.
And so the debate happens, in my opinion the conservative position came out on top and afterward, we were, no joke, walking to our car to go to church and I’m just ripping this professor and his arguments. I am just going off on how irrational or incoherent, how unbiblical his arguments were.
And all of a sudden, one of my friends does that thing that people do in this circumstance, where they kind of nudge you to stop talking, and so I kind of glance behind me, as informally as I can and realize the professor is right behind me.
And instantly I realize, that regardless of whether or not this man’s arguments were well defended, I had sinned against this man.
And what happened next was nothing short of experiencing God’s presence right there in that parking lot. It’s not something I can really define other than, I felt God’s presence, and I knew that I had done something wrong. I had sinned against this man. And I knew I needed to repent.
Now, the honorable thing to have done would have been to go to him and apologize, I’m sad to say, I didn’t do that…but I knew that at that moment it is possible to be both right and wrong.
I may have been right about the argument, but I was wrong in the way I talked about it.
But truthfully, that is just a small part of what James is trying to teach this group of people he is writing to. His desire is to see them become doers of the Word. That is, not just believe in God, in Jesus, but to put those beliefs into action.
Because for some reason it appears as though some folks among the Christians he is writing to are not following through with their beliefs by putting them into action.
And the way James describes this is like someone who looks in a mirror and then quickly forgets what they look like. James is pointing out here that something has changed in these followers of Jesus’ very identity.
And it should lead to life-change, but for some it isn’t. And so he gives us three examples of how to put our faith into action. The first has to do with the tongue, and then he calls for us to put off the corruption and sin in our lives, and finally he calls us to care for the poor.
Each of these are ways that we can become doers of the Word.
Let’s start with our first verse: how do we become quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry?”
The first thing to recognize is that this is really difficult for us. We live in a world where words are coming at us all the time…whether it’s the radio, the television, the internet…we are so inundated with words…and sometimes it’s so overwhelming that we feel like we need to get our words in.
But the problem is, I think, because there is so much going on around us, so many words vying for our attention that we have lost the ability to turn it off. We become almost addicted to the noise.
My mother as many of you lives in California and she told me this, true story, one of her neighbors, the husband loves to go camping, and they were recently retired and they had this beautiful RV that that they wanted to use but the wife began refusing to go.
And do you want to know why? Because she couldn’t get Television service in the remote locations of the campsites and she was so addicted to (and I won’t give the name but you can probably guess) a cable news station that she couldn’t go out of town for wont of missing her 24/7 news.
Not only that, but she purchased this small television that she hooks up to an outdoor cable so that she can watch the news even as she is doing her chores outside.
She’s addicted to the words.
But of course, retired baby-boomers aren’t the only ones addicted to words. For those of us with these devices [pull out iphone] how easily do we get addicted to words on here.
Have you ever seen couples at restaurants who will sit on their phones the entire meal just glued to their phones?
But the bigger issue here, in James, and I think that fits with each of these two examples…is not that just that we are addicted to words, but that we are addicted to hearing our perspectives, our beliefs reiterated over and over again.
I mean isn’t that the entire reason CNN and Fox News and MS NBC exist? They exist in large part to confirm our pre-existing biases.
And what happens then, is that when we talk to other people, we assume everyone else already agrees with us. James says, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger…
I’ll be honest, I’m not really good at that…and neither are most of us…but we ought to be. We ought to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
But how do we do that? Well for one, I think we need to create space for silence, where we can be alone with God and ask Him to renovate our hearts.
It also may be helpful to memorize these verses from scripture and begin to recite them. In our last sermon series we learned that changing the stories we tell can change our behavior.
So why not changing some of our stories with the stories of scripture? And so to that end, if you are the kind of person who struggles with over-sharing or becoming prone to anger because of your speech, why not consider memorizing James 1:19-20.
I’ve decided to, and as you’ll see…on the backside of your connection card that is one of the next steps you can take, to memorize those verses.
So that is the first way James advises his followers to be doers of the word…what else does he suggest?
Let’s look at verse 21:
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
That’s kind of a strong statement…I haven’t heard anyone recently advise their good friend to get rid of their moral filth, but it is good advice.
James seems to be dealing with some folks who have decided to believe in the Word, but they haven’t acted on it. They haven’t allowed the gospel to take root not just in their hearts, but in their behaviors.
And part of what, my guess is, from reading this text, holding them back from putting those beliefs into the action is the “moral filth and the evil”…that is to say, when we come to believe that Jesus is Lord, usually, there is still some stuff that God needs to deal with right?
Maybe you have an unhealthy relationship with a family member. Someone you need to forgive. Or maybe you have an unhealthy relationship with food or money. Or maybe it’s lust or anger or status…whatever it is…it’s holding you back.
It’s keeping you from being able to walk the talk...that is to actually live out the gospel as it is meant to be lived.
But the truth is, you have to let go of the sin if you want to experience the next thing God has for you in your faith journey.
You know we talked about this when we started our series on James that as adults, we don’t like being given advice…
And I know, from talking to some of you, that some of you have wanted to give me advice but have either put it off or simply abandoned the idea because you were afraid that it would break relationship with me.
But you see, I have a responsibility both to God and to you, to take your advice seriously. I may ultimately disagree with your perspective, or I may need some time to pray about it, but ultimately, I have blind spots. You have blind spots. We all have blind spots.
And these blind spots, which often are sins that we cannot see, are keeping us from growing in our relationship with God.
If you feel stuck, I’m going to encourage you to ask a trusted person, someone you know cares about your best interests…and I want you to ask them this question:
What is it like to be on the other side of me? What is it like to be on other side of me? That is, what is it like to be my friend, how do you experience me as a person? Am I judgmental? Greedy? Selfish? Angry?
It’s a very important question isn’t it?
And if that person you ask really someone that cares about you, they will be able to share something that you need to work on.
So what do you need to lay aside? And if you don’t know, well, then you have some work to do.
The third and final piece of advice James gives about how to be a doer of God’s Word is to take care of the poor.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time left to dive into this, but I think it’s interesting that when James is looking for ways to encourage the church to be the church he reminds them to take care of the poor.
We are called to take care of the poor. And so my advice, if you don’t support a ministry that supports then maybe you should find one.
Maybe it’s giving to the deacons in this church. Maybe it’s giving to the food pantry. Maybe it’s sponsoring a child in a developing country through Compassion International or World Vision, but my suggestion is, find a way to regularly be giving to the poor.
So as we close our time together this morning, how is God calling you to become even more of a doer of the Word of God? How is Jesus calling you to allow the gospel to reign in your heart in such a way that you are willing and able to throw off the corruption in your heart, to be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry, and to give to the poor?
Will you memorize James 1:19-20 and try to recite it as you feel prompted to say harsh words? Will you ask a friend or neighbor what it is like to be on the other side of me? Or will you begin giving of your time, talents and treasures to the poor?
Let us pray.
Will you pray with me?