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Living the Word

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There was once a Shakespearian actor who was known far and wide for his one-man show of readings and recitations from the classics. He would always end his performance with a dramatic reading of the Twenty-third Psalm. Each night, without exception, as the actor began his recitation—The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want—the crowd would listen attentively. And then, at the conclusion of the psalm, they would rise in thunderous applause in appreciation of the actor’s incredible ability to bring the verse to life. But one night, just before the actor was to offer his customary recital of Psalm Twenty-three, a young man from the audience spoke up. “Sir, do you mind if tonight I recite the Twenty-third Psalm?”  The actor was quite taken back by this unusual request, but he allowed the young man to come forward and stand front and center on the stage to recite the psalm, knowing that the ability of this unskilled youth would be no match for his own talent.  With a soft voice, the young man began to recite the words of the Psalm. When he was finished, there was no applause. There was no standing ovation as on other nights. All that could be heard was the sound of weeping. The audience had been so moved by the young man’s recitation, that every eye was full of tears.  Amazed by what he heard, the actor said to the youth, “I don’t understand. I have been performing the Twenty-third Psalm for years. I have a lifetime of experience and training—but I have never been able to move an audience as you have tonight. Tell me, what is your secret?”

The young man humbly replied, “Well sir, you know the psalm…but I know the shepherd.”

·       The Word of God is more than a creative piece of literature.

·       It has the power to make tremendous differences in the lives of those who hear it.

·       It needs to be known for it to make a difference, but it needs to be known in a way that is deeper than many people understand.

·       James 1:19-27 gives us instruction for what it means to truly live the word of God. 

      James (brother of Jesus) is writing to Jewish Christians that have been scattered because of persecution.

      As a result of the scattering they have fled to areas of relative peace and have begun to live their lives.

      As a result they have begun to neglect aspects of Godly living and James is writing to them to encourage them in the faith and correct their beliefs.

·       Together we want to have a better understanding and hopefully a deeper commitment to the instruction of this living word.

1.  Clearing the Way.  (vs. 19-21)

My dearly loved brothers, understand this: everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil excess, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you.  

James begins by providing instruction for the right conditions for receiving the Word.

  • Being quick to hear has the idea of carefully considering, contemplating digesting.
  • It is more than just listening without action.  It is the concerted effort to understand.
  • It is not filtering what truth to choose but being open to God to hear his entire instruction.

  • Closely tied to hearing is the next clause which calls us to be slow to speak.
  • When we speak it should bear out that we were good listeners of the Word.  In other words what we say should be carefully measured at all times so that it is biblically based.
  • Additionally it is a known fact it is hard to receive a message when we are constantly talking.

  • James continues by indicating that preparation for the Word requires us to avoid anger.
  • There are many ways of expressing anger including physical harm and using harsh words but the context in this passage tells us that it is anger towards the truth of God as it exposes false ideas and ungodly lifestyles.  It is an anger that is not perceived outwardly but festers without letting others know.
  • This type of anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.  In other words rebellion impedes a good relationship with God.

  • Clearing the way so that we can receive the Word comes conditional upon putting aside evil.
  • Moral filth has the idea of being bodily unclean but in a moral and ethical way.  Evil excesses indicates a person that is deliberately sinning. So this person is deliberately stinking up the place with their moral depravity.
  • Putting aside this sin comes when a person decides to put aside the rebellion that produces anger and starts to live according to the message Christ (Gospel) has given to you and has the ability to save your soul.
  • Putting aside evil is a condition dismissing personal attitudes and behaviors and accepting God’s goodness through our teachability.

Understanding what God wants for our lives as instructed in the Bible can only come when we clear the way for its reception.  This reception comes by listening in such a way that carefully considers, being slow to respond so that we have time to hear the message, and does not resent a message that may reveal our sinful or inappropriate behavior.  When we put off sin through humility we begin to live in the saving grace of Christ.

Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses  surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance  the race that lies before us, 2 keeping our eyes on Jesus,  the source and perfecter  of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. (Heb. 12:1-2)

When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.     -- Alexander Graham Bell

2.  Not just good theory (1:22-25)

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face  in a mirror; 24 for he looks at himself, goes away, and right away forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who acts—this person will be blessed in what he does.

James then continues by instructing us that following God’s Word is more than just good theory.

  • If a person does not do the word they are fooling themselves that they are actually following God properly.
  • A great deal of knowledge gained by careful and intent observation is not enough.
  • Hearing is not to be a passive activity which only listens but it should take action.
  • James uses an analogy of a person observing themselves in a mirror.  The mirror represents the word of God.
  • In New Testament times, mirrors were typically made of highly polished brass or bronze, although a wealthy person could buy one of silver or gold. But even the most expensive mirrors were primitive compared to glass ones, which were not developed until the fourteenth century. Consequently, those early mirrors gave a dim and distorted reflection of the person using them. But by carefully turning the mirror and finding the best light, a person could eventually see a fairly accurate image of his face, and that is the idea James has in mind. By careful and patient observation, he could eventually discover what he actually looked like.- John MacArthur
  • James indicates that the person observes their image and then promptly forgets what they look like.  He says this is foolish just as hearing the word and then neglecting to live it out.
  • The “intent looking” in v. 25 has a stronger sense that in v. 24.  It has the idea of stooping down desiring to learn.
  • It is not studying the mirror but the image it produces-not just studying the word but what it reveals for our lives.
  • The one who lives in the perfect law which is the message of Christ brings freedom and produces a blessing.
  • This blessing is not of health and wealth but the blessing of a relationship with God.

We can prove our faith by our commitment to it and in no other way. Any belief that does not command the one who holds it is not a real belief--it is only a pseudo-belief. It might shock some of us profoundly if we were suddenly brought face-to-face with our beliefs and forced to test them in the fires of practical living.

   -- A.W. Tozer

3.  Actions to live by (1:26-27)

If anyone thinks he is religious, without controlling his tongue but deceiving his heart, his religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. 

James has called us to clear the way to live the word and has commended us to go beyond listening to taking action.  He continues by instructing us how to take action.

  • Christianity is not to be merely a religion.  In v. 26 the word for religion refers rituals and ceremonies.   The message conveyed is one of going through the motions.
  • This kind of faith is powered by personal efforts and will eventually be revealed for what it is.
  • An example is expressed about the tongue and a lack of controlling it.  A faith that is merely religion will be revealed in ones speech and exposes the heart.
  • This kind of faith is one that is devoid of content and meaning.
  • The tongue is not the only indicator of true spirituality but is one of the most reliable. It has been estimated that the average person will speak some 18,000 words in a day, enough for a fifty-four-page book. In a year that amounts to sixty-six 800-page volumes! Many people, of course, speak much more than that. Up to one-fifth of the average person’s life is spent talking.
  • Religion that is authentic is one that does two things.  It cares selflessly and applies the word to itself.
  • God calls his followers to care for those that cannot care for themselves.  In the first century orphans and widows were two common groups that required care.
  • The idea in this verse is not just for a moment or to have a brief visit but to give continuous and dedicated care.
  • James is expressing a continuous action that should have no break from the obligation to avoid sin.
  • This is not conveying a message that we are to achieve sinless perfection but is condemning continuous and habitual sin.
  • It is being part of the worlds values and desiring them in a habitual and intentional manner

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. (Jas. 3:17)

In the movie The Poseidon Adventure, the ocean liner S.S. Poseidon is on the open sea when it hits a huge storm. Lights go out, smoke pours into rooms and, amid all the confusion, the ship flips over.   Because of the air trapped inside the ocean liner, it floats upside down. But in the confusion, the passengers can't figure out what's going on. They scramble to get out, mostly by following the steps to the top deck. The problem is, the top deck is now 100 feet under water. In trying to get to the top of the ship, they drown.   The only survivors are the few who do what doesn't make sense. They do the opposite of what everyone else is doing and climb up into the dark belly of the ship until they reach the hull. Rescuers hear them banging and cut them free.   In life, it's as if God has turned the ship over and the only way for us to find freedom is to choose what doesn't make sense: lay down our lives by serving, supporting, and sacrificing for others.


  • Each of us has to clear a way for the living word to make a difference in our lives.
  • Each of has to treat this living word not as good theory but truth to live by.
  • Each of has to demonstrate by the actions we take to live this truth.

  • James in this passage as in the rest of this book tells his audience of scattered believers that they need to take action.  He explains things in such a way that lets us know that he is tired of their complacency.  Are we really any different in our lives? 
  • Some questions for us to ponder:

      Have we been committed to not just listening to the instruction of the Word but actually studying and absorbing it as our primary belief?

      Do you and I have sin that has made it nearly impossible for the message of God to change our hearts?

      Have you or I read the Bible and its instruction for us and simply ignored it?

      Have you or I taken this faith we claim and put it into action by serving others, especially outside the Church?

      Have we become a part of this worlds system of beliefs so that Christianity has not looked much different than the world?

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