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THE ‘LISTEN AND DO’ DANCE James 1:22-25 November 28, 2010 Given by: Pastor Rich Bersett [Index of Past Messages] Introduction I rediscovered an important truth during the Thanksgiving weekend this year—something I learned years ago and had let go somewhere along the line. What I re-learned is this: that thanksgiving isn’t simply a condition of the heart—just a feeling of gratitude. Gratitude is an act of obedience to the will of God who tells us straight up, be thankful!” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 snagged my attention again this year: Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Have you found that if you wait for inspiration to come to you before you are thankful it rarely arrives? Our duty, our calling is to stir up a continual sense of thanksgiving in every setting in which we find ourselves. Like the character Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoons. He could kick up a cloud of dust no matter where he found himself—even in the middle of a snowstorm. What a different mindset we would create for ourselves if we were always looking for things for which to be grateful! And the gratitude mindset would become addicting to us, feeding us more motivation to be more grateful! Let that thought capture your imagination three days after Thanksgiving and help you to make it more than a seasonal preoccupation, but a lifelong, day-to-day, month after month practice. It is, after all, the will of God for you in Christ Jesus! Now, as we approach the next four verses in our study series in James 1, let’s try to apply that same approach of establishing a habitual mindset of thanksgiving to another uniquely Christian behavior: our personal response to Bible teaching. I refer to it this morning as a dance: the dance of Listening to the Word of God and obeying it. Behind the teaching this morning, see if you can’t hear God challenging you to move with the rhythm of this dance and see how one step leads into the next. James 1:22 – Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Listening In his typical style James gets right in our faces with this abrupt authoritative injunction. We’ve come to expect that of James. And our NIV translation even softens it a bit by inverting the sentence. It literally reads: Become doers of the word and not just hearers, thereby deceiving yourselves. I can still hear my mother’s voice saying, “When I tell you to do something, it’s not because I like the sound of my voice. I expect you to listen and do it!” Quick to Listen That whole idea of “listening” should sound familiar. Back in verse 19 we were exhorted by James to be quick to listen. In order to do that, he instructed us to stop talking so much and get rid of issues in our lives that impede our ability to listen well: things like anger, moral filth and worldly evil. Then we will be able to humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Don’t Merely Listen; Do That was “Listening 101”. This, then, becomes “Listening 201.” Now that we have learned to posture ourselves to listen and hear the word, we are ready for the next step. Don’t stop with just listening to the word; do what it says! You know, the Bible is a very different sort of book. It is peculiarly authoritative. Most books we read for entertainment, and some we read for information. But the Word of God will not permit us to simply treat it as a novel or an instruction manual.   It requires obedience. We publish the suggested daily Bible readings list each week (in bulletin this morning), and I hope you have noticed the recommended prayer in bold print center page. It reads: “Lord, what difference should this passage make in my life today for You?” In fact if you’re unwilling to pray it, you are probably not really listening. That is a good prayer to say every time you approach God’s Word. It is a book of instruction, but it calls for obedient response. When we come to the Word of God with the attitude of readiness to put it into action, we honor the Author. Hearing must lead to obedience, or the hearing is unnecessary (if not dangerous). There is a way to take classes at college at a far cheaper cost than the regular tuition, sometimes even for free. That is, to “audit” the class. When you audit a class, you are not required to do the homework, or turn in papers or take exams. Even if you do turn in the work, the professor is not obligated to grade any of it. When you audit, you just come to sit in and learn. Now, there are at least two reasons auditing is so cheap: 1) you are not going to get credit on your transcript for the course, and 2) you probably won’t do the work because you don’t have to, and that means you will probably not even finish the class. Auditors rarely finish the course. They usually stop attending altogether mid-way through the semester. Here’s the point. If you are a Christian, you don’t “audit” your faith. You are either committed to living for the Lord, according to His Word, or you aren’t. Hearing must lead to doing or it isn’t Christian faith at all. Christianity is not just a class you can “sit in on.” It’s life commitment. So James gives strong direction: Don’t just listen to the Word—do it! To illustrate the ridiculousness of listening without doing, James draw on a simple analogy—looking at a mirror. He compares the reflection of a mirror image to the truth of God’s Word about ourselves. When we learn the truth about ourselves, what we need to change, it is foolish to just walk away and do nothing. James 1:23-24 – Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. Why do we look in the mirror? (With a few notable exceptions I would say most of you did this morning.) You want to see what you look like (is my hair messed up; do I need a shave; is my make-up just right; do I have any zits?). What would be the point if staring back at you was a zit-faced, stubble-chinned face with smeared mascara and nappy hair, and you walked away without fixing anything? There was an old mountain man who lived high in the hills of Tennessee. He’d never seen civilization, and among the many things he’d never encountered was a mirror. One day he came upon a vacated campsite where people had left some food, supplies…and a mirror! He looked into it, and it scared him. “Well, I’ll be, a pitcher of my old pappy! Sentimental, he decided to keep it. His wife saw him hide it behind the jar of moonshine. When he was gone, she went and got it, looked into it! Startled by what she saw, she said, “So-o-o, that’s the old hag he’s been running around with!” Mirror-looking can be dangerous! Don’t ever approach it with the wrong attitude, like I really don’t intend to change anything in me. God has designed a dance into the process of hearing and obeying the Word. Hearing anticipates obeying. But then, when we are obedient, something else happens: we are given an improved ability to hear the Word the next time. We understand it better, we hear it more clearly, we are able to comprehend it at a deeper, more mature level. How do I know that? Look at Hebrews 5:11-14. There the Christians are being chided for staying weak and immature in their understanding of spiritual truth. We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it. Whoever hears my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. (John 14:21) There is a depth of faith and a mature knowing of Christ that comes only to those who learn the dance of hearing and obeying, which leads to better hearing. Those who hear and do not obey are known as foolish and forgetful, and verse 22 says they are self-deceived. And self-deceit stops the dance. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him. (Luke 8:18) If you will not obey the word you have been given and you have heard, why would more word be given to you? Your understanding begins to dry up when you refuse to obey. Verse 25 says: But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. Look at the steps of the dance (like a Box Step Waltz): Listen – Obey – Blessed - Listen better – Obey better – Blessed, and so on… Doing That’s the message on Listening to the Word—and listening with an intent to obey it. Now let’s turn our attention more specifically on the Doing of the Word. What does James mean when he says that the proper response to the Word is to look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom? First, it is important to see what James means by “the perfect law,” because he is not referring to the Law as it is presented in the Old Testament through Moses and the prophets. Paul also used the term “law” referring to the commandments and rules in the Old Testament. But James specifically says, the “perfect law,” and by it he means the simple, new law as established by Christ: the law of love. Over in the second chapter, verse 8, he will call it “the royal law” and there he explains it is the law teat Jesus emphasized: that of first loving God with heart, soul and mind, and then loving your neighbor as yourself. Galatians 5:14 teaches “The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” And Romans 13:10 says, Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. So when James talks about the perfect law, he means the law as perfected in Christ. Remember, Jesus perfected the law in three ways: he kept the law, He clarified the law and He made the law doable by saving people, writing the law on their hearts and putting His Spirit in their lives enabling them to obey it James says the obedient disciple looks intently at the perfect law. That means he is persistent, consistent in his understanding and obeying of that royal law. He even says that he continues to do so. The Lord values kingdom continuance. Too often we present a “flash-in-the-pan” enthusiasm, a short span of intense obedience, then we flame out. But this guy is steady eddy, faithful freddy and long-term teddy. Jesus said that the one who puts his hand to the plow and then turns back is not fit for the kingdom. Jesus is looking for spiritual stick-to-it-iveness; even if you’re the tortoise who by patient endurance outlasts the hare. Perseverance. Remember verse 4? Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. And you remember how that perseverance comes to be yours, don’t you? Facing trials of many kinds, the testing of your faith. The next phrase is fascinating: not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it… Maybe this describes you as much as it does me. Most of my failure to do what pleases the Lord has to do not so much with out and out flagrant rebellion, but with a lazy, forgetfulness. Do you easily learn and then just as easily forget? Listen, that is precisely the problem James is getting at! That’s why he brags on the guy who looks intently and continues. The only cure for forgetfulness is to continually remind ourselves of the grace and mercy we have found in Christ, and to consistently keep before our mind’s eye that perfect law of love in all its dimensions. How do I do that? I stay in His Word. I stay on the dance floor, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, Listen-Obey-Now better, Listen-Obey-Now better. That is the kind of faithfulness to which we are called, and the faithfulness we committed ourselves to when we said we loved and trusted the Lord with our whole lives. Don’t give up. Endure, persevere. Be wise and not foolish. Don’t forget what you’ve heard, but keep on doing it. Six pages to the right in your Bible is a picture of the obedience of the disciple who is determined not to forget, but to grow and mature, stay on the dance floor. 2 Peter 1:3-11 - His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Look at that last phrase in our passage in James 1 – verse 25c –he will be blessed in what he does. Who? The one who stays in the dance. The one who by constant use of the Word of God, endures until the end. The one who keeps humbly accepting the word planted in him, who keeps intently looking into the perfect law, not forgetting what he’s heard. The one who is bound and determined to obey what he’s heard, so that he can hear even more and be obedient to it. Don’t give up and say it’s too hard. It is not. But you must get your entire heart, soul and mind in love with the Lord. I encourage you to write your own translation of the Bible this next year. There are so many translations out there these days, but the very best translation is the one you present to the world around you, by translating what you hear and learn into what you do. We’ll call it the Doer’s Translation. Paul said of the Corinthians among whom he ministered the Word of God, You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. There isn’t anything sweeter at a wedding reception than when the bride shares a dance with her father. Share the Word of God in its most beautiful translation: God’s Truth lived out in His dance with one of His children. Speaking His loving truth into the life of one who is ready to listen and ready to obey. What a delight it is to God as His Word finds reception and expression. Conclusion The story is told of King Edward VI of England who attended worship service and stood while the Word of God was read taking notes which he later studied with great care. Throughout the week King Edward earnestly tried to apply them to his life. That’s the kind of serious-minded response to truth the James means when he says "Be doers of the Word...". A single revealed fact cherished in the heart and acted upon is more vital to our growth than a head filled with lofty ideas about God. Don’t think that a 40-minute teaching on Sunday morning is enough for you. Not in a life of commitment to Christ, it isn’t. You need the Word in a daily dietary format. I plan to continue providing the daily Bible readings called Healthy Thirty into 2011. Of all the Bible reading programs I’ve sponsored, this has met with as much participation as any. The Lord willing, I will be providing daily devotions rising out of those assigned passages through our PrayernShare email service. Later I hope to have a blog for additional thoughts and dialogue on the scriptures. In addition, beginning in January, your Healthy Thirty bookmarks will also include a Read Thru the Bible option. Some of you have never read through your Bible. Maybe 2011 should be your first time through it, or your twentieth time through it. Get involved in small groups as they are made available. For heaven’s sake, get out on the dance floor with others and share rich Word-saturated fellowship with others. Let the Word of Christ dwell in your richly as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.(Col 3:16) For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb. 4:12) All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)   Closing slide       [ Back to Top]          
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