Listening and Doing
Did you realize that Howard Stapleton invented "the mosquito" in 2005. Not the annoying, disease carrying pest but a 17.4kh noisemaker intended to keep kids from loitering around shops and stores. It works because most people over 25 can't hear that high a sound. Consider this; the same group of people it was developed to annoy is now downloading the same pitch and using it a as a cell phone ringer. The reason is because many of their teachers can't hear it.
At the end of this chapter he once again approaches the theme of humility. He's told us that lacking wisdom requires we ask God, an act of humility, trusting totally God's answers and not running around and being pulled ever which way by the world. He's told us that those who appear to be the least are actually people of high standing in God's kingdom. And that we can't blame God for the temptations we face, they are our own doing.
He comes at this subject again in how we deal with our anger. The reason is quite clear in God's scheme of things anger doesn't help God's kingdom. Anger also points to a bigger problem. Verse 21says, "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." The fact is, as much as we'd like to think our anger is righteous and serving God it is 99.9999% the result of the "moral filth and evil" that isn't hidden in the corners of our lives but "prevalent".
We are told to "get rid" of such things. We are to rid ourselves of them the way you would if you'd just been sprayed by a skunk. You don't carefully unbutton everything and gently lay them aside for later. You rip them off and toss them away. The reason is because what God is talking about is a million times worse than skunk spray. Not only is what we have within us putrid, the second word indicates an abundance of such filth.
This superabundance of filth is a reflection of the "anger" that is in us lies over against the "implanted word" which saves. If God's kingdom is about salvation and anger does not help or bring about salvation, what does? The answer is accepting God's implanted word. What's more, whereas the filth tends to explode out in wrath and anger, here the word is welcomed with humility or gentleness. The one who receives God's Word and finds it implanted in their lives will find that they are the ones who no longer are ruled by the world's filth and garbage.
"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." has sometimes taken center stage in any discussion about James. In fact, it this instruction is the outcome of ridding ourselves of the junk and accepting the word of God. This implanted word, is what we listen to and at which we stare intently. This isn't a strange idea for Jews. A rabbi from about the same time wrote "Make your study of Torah a fixed habit; say little and do much; and receive every person with a cheerful countenance."
So what do we do when we hear God? This gets tougher because sometimes we don't really want to hear God let alone obey him. Edwin McManus, pastor of Mosaic tells a story about his son, Aaron, who had wondered how you know when God is speaking to you. That summer there was some problems at a camp his son attended and he arrived finding his son packed and ready to leave. Apparently Aaron had started to assault another student.
McManus asked for a last talk with me before they went home. He asked, "Aaron," I asked, "is there any voice inside you telling you what you should do?"
"Yes," he nodded.
"What's the voice telling you?"
"That I should stay and work it out."
"Can you identify that voice?"
"Yes," he said immediately, "It's God." It was the moment I'd waited for. I will never forget Aaron's dug-in response: "Well, I'm still not doing what God said." *
To refuse to obey God has the better than even possibility of starting a progression that hardens your heart and deafens your ears. Keep on that direction and you may well never again hear the voice of God. In fact, one runs the real risk of ending up like C.S. Lewis' character, Susan in his Chronicles of Narnia. She ends up NOT being with Aslan at the end of the series.
James then goes on to reiterate a theme he'll come back too, namely the type of actions expected of those who are doing God's word. Here are two traditional places in Jewish culture where needs are many—orphans and widows. The reason for that is because they had no one else to help. There was no social system for such people. They were among the lowest rungs on the social ladder contributing little and needing much. They had no power, advocates or the like except God . We'll see that this extends to the poor in later places in James' letter.
Just because someone considers himself or herself a "good" Christian doesn't mean they are. One can say all the right things. One can answer all the questions of the catechism or explain the difference between Anabaptist and Reformed theology. One may have an extremely good grasp of orthodox theology without ever having the implanted word of God in their lives.
Such people are found out because their lives are still filled with the trash of the world and their words, although knowledgeable, are also fast and angry. Those and us are better served by taking care of the needs of those who have no say in our society, neighborhood and household.
Most of us would be amazed at how much more effective we would be in our witnessing if we stopped talking and began to listen. The most effective means of ministry, for example, is responding to need, not dumping our load. One finds it hard to be prideful when they are truly listening to another's pain. One finds it difficult to be only concerned about them self if they are staring intently into God's word and understands what Christ did for them. USA TODAY ran an article Evangelism 2.0 about the coordination of work between the city and the Luis Palau ministries called Season of Service.
Tom Krattenmaker writes:
"Kevin Palau does not share his father's gift for preaching. He has a different project: ... that emphasizes serving the needy and forming relationships with citizens of whatever religious (and political) persuasion.
'We evangelicals have been mainly talking to ourselves," Palau says. "The evangelical community wants to make a difference and show people what we and our faith are about. We recognize that the only way we're going to do that is by the way we live.'
Out of that realization was born the Season of Service. This year, some 500 area churches — mostly evangelical, but also some Catholic and mainline Protestant — are fanning out across the Portland area to feed and clothe the homeless, provide free medical and dental services, fix up local public schools, and support their low-income students with supplies, mentoring and other resources. All this with 'no strings attached,' Palau emphasizes...
Kenton has been part of that in the past when we were mowing the lawn at Kenton School with those from Peninsula Baptist. We are doing the same sort of things with the lunches we make for the homeless ever couple of months. This coming Wednesday I'll be going down to Corvallis to meet with other pastors and some elders to discuss what a Ministry Network will look like for us as we take on cooperative work to meet such needs.
Kenton has had, has today and will continue to emphasis a faith that doesn't stop with proclamations and statements but touches the lives of people each day. So, where do we need to stop talking and start working? Where in our life have we ignored the reality of God's implanted word and instead accommodated the world and filth it offers us.
Let me suggest we rid ourselves of that and start doing for Jesus. Amen.
*Adapted from Erwin McManus, The Barbarian Way (Thomas Nelson, 2005), pp. 87-89