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Treasuring the Word (3): How to Live

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Third of three sermons on treasuring the Word -- this one emphasizing obedience from the heart.

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Treasuring the Word (3): How to Live (James 1:26-27) April 7, 2019 Read James 1:22-27 – Our series is Treasuring the Word – how to embrace this amazing gift from a gloriously transcendent God. Three ways – Listening (vv. 19-21); Learning (22-25) and Living (26-27). Mere reading won’t do. It must become part of our existence, our DNA. Or we’re like the young huz who found his wife engrossed in the Food Network. He asked, “Why do you watch those food shows. You don’t even cook?” Her quick reply: “Well, why do you watch football?” Touche! Why gain knowledge you don’t use!! Did you know the worst thing we can do is gain knowledge of Scripture we don’t obey? Why? Because the more we know, the more we’ll answer for. To learn and not do tightens the noose of accountability around our own neck. SO – don’t learn?! Not to God! The solution is to do what you know. Obey what you’ve learned. Actually we saw last week that we learn by doing. Experiential learning comes with practice – like hitting a baseball. So 22) “be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” Practice what you know. But we can do for the wrong reasons. So, vv. 26-27. These are usually taught as examples of doing. But Jas is aiming deeper than that. He’s comparing “religion [that] is worthless” (26b) with “religion that is pure and undefiled” (v. 27). He’s comparing one who “thinks he is religious” (v. 26) with one who really is. He’s comparing fake with real. Most religion is worthless, being merely people’s attempts to placate God; true religion comes from the heart reflecting love for God. It’s the difference between doing something bc you have to and doing it bc you want to – like doing for a boss you hate, to get paid, and doing it for a wife you love to show your heart. We appreciate the Word by knowing it; but we treasure the Word by living it. Love of the Word is shown in three ways – I. Inward Transformation; II. Outward Reformation; and III. Upward Conformation. Doers have all 3. I. Inward Transformation V. 26 defines “worthless” religion – which is outward, not from the heart! “If anyone thinks he is religious.” “Religious” (θρησκος) refers to rituals, routines and ceremonies. Anything wrong with those. Not if they come from the heart. But if we value the ritual alone, we have deceived our own heart. Ritual alone has never been acceptable to God. Consider. God established the ritual of circumcision with Abe in Gen 17:11: “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.” It signified a relationship. So was every circumcised Jew saved? No. Like baptism, it was outward evidence of an inward reality. It depicted a heart that trusted and followed God. Deut 10:16: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” Heart first – then outward obedience. Jer 4:4: “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it.” Rom 2:29) But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” The ritual without the heart was useless. Circumcision was to be an outward confirmation of inward commitment! Who required sacrifices? God. So in offering sacrifices, Israel was doers of the Word, right? So why Isa 1:11) “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats”? Why Jer 6:20b: “Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me”? Why Mal 1:10c, “I will not accept an offering from your hand”? They are doing? Why is He not accepting? Bc God looks on the heart, and He did not see doing there. He saw the kid whose Dad said, “Sit down.” The boy said, “I’m sitting on the outside, but I’m standing on the inside.” That’s what God was seeing – doing on the outside, rebellion on the inside. But outward compliance isn’t inward submission. God knows the human heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9). It can never offer anything acceptable to God until it is transformed and made new. So God says in Ezek 36:26, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Hard heart replaced by soft heart which can obey out of love, not duty. So how do we measure up? Is our religion nothing but ritual -- done from a grudging sense of “Why do I have to do this?” or is it real, from a heart of love? Is our religion pure and undefiled, or is it worthless and self-deceiving? Jas tells : “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” Jas point is simple: “What you say reveals who you are! Listen long and hard enough, and you’ll know.” The mouth eventually reveals the heart! Jesus was even more convicting: Mt 12:34-37: “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35) The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36) I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37) for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” If that doesn’t get your attention, you’re not listening! So what comes out of our mouth? Gossip disguised as concern? Criticism? Innuendo? Profanity? Crudeness? Shading the truth? Self-pity? Anger at man or God? Self-promotion? We’ll answer for it all, you know. Jesus said so. And if it’s inconsistent with your religious claims, the claims are worthless. It doesn’t matter who you are on Sunday. What comes out of your mouth the rest of the week? What comes out when you’re not thinking about it? Listen to yourself for a week – really listen -- and you’ll know who you are. When I was about 14 a family attended our church whose father worked with my dad on road construction. One day I went to work with my dad and during the course of the day I overheard this guy using profanity and telling a dirty story to another worker. Immediately I knew who he was – a fake and a phony. True – only God can see the heart, but his words indicated no transformed heart. A heart for God is reflected in our speech patterns! Church attendance is great. Being baptized and taking communion is great. Singing with the praise team, providing fellowship, adding to the Building Fund and helping nursery duty is great. But unless it starts on the inside, it’s worthless religion. Monday me needs to look like Sunday me. Two sisters feuded all their lives. One day Jane got sick. She called Tessie over and said, “Tessie, I think my time has come. If I die, I forgive you all you’ve ever done to me.” Then she added, “But – if I get well, nothing changes!” She knew she ought to forgive. She was hearing – and doing – but not from a new heart. It was just going thru the motions – trying to buy God off by outward compliance. It didn’t work for Israel; it didn’t work for Jane and it won’t work for us either. Doers must do from a transformed heart that does out of love, not out of duty. Of course we won’t get it perfect in this life, but the transformed heart will want to get it perfect and will never stop trying. II. Outward Reformation So worthwhile religion starts inside – a new heart and a new orientation. But it doesn’t end there. It must express itself – thru outward reformation and upward conformation. 27) Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction.” Inward transformation expresses itself in a renewed social conscience. Believers are kingdom livers – living by kingdom principles in world that largely ignores them. Mt 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Show kingdom living in a very non-kingdom environment. Give people a preview -- and start with widows and orphans. Why them? Bc, particularly in that society, they were absolutely unprotected. When a woman lost her husband or children lost their parents, there was no safety net -- no insurance or welfare. The breadwinner was gone and most became beggars. They were at the low end of the totem pole socially. It was a hard, hard reality. Widows and orphans have always been high on God’s list. Deut 14:29b: “and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled.” At harvest time, Israelites were to leave gleanings for these people. Thirty-one times in the OT God instructs those who have to protect those who do not – starting with widows and the fatherless. So James starts there. If faith is real, it cares for the helpless. The word “visit” means more than drop by for a chat. The same word is used of God visiting His people to help in passages like Lu 1:68: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” That’s talking about nothing less than the “visit” God made in the person of Christ to die for our sins and provide eternal life. Love – in action! So Jas is saying, “Be God to widows and orphans. Care for them. Demo kingdom life.” And the principle goes beyond widows and orphans to anyone who is need. Jesus elevates it exponentially in describing His 2nd coming. Everyone on earth will be divided into sheep and goats – those with saving faith and those without. Mt 25:34: Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit (not create) the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35) For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36) I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37) Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38) And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39) And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40) And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” When we see a person in need we are looking straight at Jesus. And what we do next shows whether we belong or not. We used to walk by. Not now. Xformed people are reformed. This is convicting, right? It’s meant to be. The 2nd great commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Would we ignore ourselves when in need? Sure there are those who would take advantage. But if truly in need, they are Jesus to us. “As you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” We so often differentiate between spiritual and physical needs. God seems always to see both. So where is our compassion? I can never forget David Platt telling of talking to the leaders of a church one Saturday night. He told of the ministry he and his wife had in the inner-city of New Orleans – among housing projects ridden with poverty, gang violence, homelessness and addictions – bringing physical help and the gospel. He told how God was drawing some people to himself in other ministry opportunities around the world – drawing people to Himself in some of the toughest areas of the world – thinking they’d share his excitement. But as he paused, one of the deacons said, "David, I think it’s great you are going to those places. But if you asked me, I would just as soon God annihilate all those people and send them to hell." Can that response come from a new heart? Inward xformation inevitably leads to outward reformation – and compassion for others less fortunate. We treasure God’s word when we live out God’s character, right? – starting with those closest to us and moving our from there. III. Upward Conformation Finally – “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this:… to keep oneself unstained from the world.” We’re in the world, but not of the world, right? A lot of Xns in my generation somehow got the idea that the way to reach the world was to be of the world – to show that we were as cool as they. We can drink like them; tell stories like them; dress like them; watch the movies they watch; adopt the tolerance standards they adopt; embrace the business practices they embrace; enjoy the pleasures they enjoy. Such a trap -- not only silly – it can be fatal. Jas 4:4: You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” What do we want – God or the world!? Listen, God’s not asking us to be isolated, self-righteous prigs. It’s not about avoiding a big list of don’t’s, it’s about pursuing a glorious DO. We don’t avoid the world by isolation – we avoid the world by pursuing Jesus. It’s not a negative; it’s a huge positive. Rom 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Don’t be squeezed into the world’s mold – be free in the likeness of Christ – thru the Word. We refuse the world’s direction for life, not because we fear the world but because we have something so much better. We have the Word. We treasure the Word and liberating law of God. It releases us into a world of forgiveness and pleasure and joy that the world can never give. Rather than being conformed to the world, we are being upwardly conformed which is infinitely better! Young people – the world will promise everything and deliver heartache. God promises eternal life and delivers on every promise. We stay unstained by the world by being conformed to Christ. Conc – Groucho Marx used to tell about a girl he knew who got her good looks from her father. Then the punch line – He’s a plastic surgeon! Well, we have a Father who is performing surgery on us, too. Rom 8:29) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” How does He shape us – the Word which shows us Jesus. In the 2008 Olympics when Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals, Australian swimmer Leisel Jones, who won two golds and a silver herself, said, “The highlight of my Olympics in Bejing was watching Michael Phelps. I couldn’t care less about my own swims.” That’s the way the Word can lead us to Jesus. So Jas is urging, treasure the Word by being a doer, not a hearer only. True doers experience inward transformation leading to outward reformation stimulated by upward conformation. Focus there and the rest takes care of itself. Want God’s blessing? Robt Murray Mc’Cheyne said, “It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus.” Treasuring the Word does that. So – let’s hear it; let’s learn it; let’s live it. Let’s pray.
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