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Living the Word-James 1_19-27

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An unknown writer said, “This Book is the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding; its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable.

Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s character. Here paradise is restored, heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. Follow its precepts and it will lead you to Calvary, to the empty tomb, to a resurrected life in Christ; yes, to glory itself, for eternity.

·         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.  (1:19-21)

1:19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. 1:20 For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 1:21 So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls.

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)

Gipsy Smith told of a man who said he had received no inspiration from the Bible although he had “gone through it several times.”

“Let it go through you once,” replied Smith, “then you will tell a different story!”

2.  Not just good theory (1:22-25)

1:22 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 1:23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. 1:24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 1:25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out – he 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

Neil Marten, a member of the British Parliament, was once giving a group of his constituents a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. During the course of the visit, the group happened to meet Lord Hailsham, then lord chancellor, wearing all the regalia of his office. Hailsham recognized Marten among the group and cried, “Neil!” Not daring to question or disobey the “command,” the entire band of visitors promptly fell to their knees!

3.  Actions to live by (1:26-27)

1:26 If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile. 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune 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 to 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

Tuned Out

A former park ranger at Yellowstone National Park tells the story of a ranger leading a group of hikers to a fire lookout. The ranger was so intent on telling the hikers about the flowers and animals that he considered the messages on his two-way radio distracting, so he switched it off. Nearing the tower, the ranger was met by a nearly breathless lookout, who asked why he hadn’t responded to the messages on his radio. A grizzly bear had been seen stalking the group, and the authorities were trying to warn them of the danger.

Any time we tune out the messages God has sent us, we put at peril not only ourselves, but also those around us. How important it is that we never turn off God’s saving communication!


  • 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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