God and Religion
In our journey through James we are going to see comparisons between our actions and our faith. Last week I introduced you to the “Faith gauge”,
James is asking us to aim for a strong faith. In so doing the question arises, “What is the evidence of a strong faith?”
I want you to keep that question in mind as we consider today’s text.
I chose a rather long section of Scripture this week, but it all does fit together. It point us to who our God is, and who we are in following God. Let’s pray before we read our text this morning:
Righteous, Holy, Sovereign God, you have loved us before we even knew of you. We seek to hear from you again this week the eternal message from your Word. Open your Word to our hearts and minds as we seek to follow your Son Jesus, who proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Show us the way O Lord. In Jesus Name, we pray. Amen.
Our Scripture for today is James 1:12-27:
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
This is God’s Holy Word.
Thanks be to God.
James begins by referring to those who stand up under trial as blessed.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Last we our text began with vs. 2 where James said, “Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds...”
The reality is that trials come in our lives, vs. 12 is a natural restatement of that verse. And when those come and we endure, we persevere, we stand up under them there is a promise of the crown of life.
The source of many of our trials - this is where James illuminates for us the source of many of our trials being our own temptations. It’s our own desires that lure us and entice us away from God (as it has been since the beginning). And when this desire is conceived it gives birth to sin as it did in the garden of Eden. And as we read in vs. 15, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Contrast that with God’s gifts, vs. 17
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
There is so much packed into that one verse. God our heavenly Father gives us good and perfect gifts, but more than that is the statement “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
God is unchanging. The God who blessed, loved, and cared for you yesterday, blesses, loves and cares for you today, and will continue to do so tomorrow! More than that, He is the Father of lights - this phrase points to God as creator of all things as it reminds us of the first command, “Let there be light” and there was light. This same God, the creator of all things has not changed, there is no variation or shadow within God.
And our heavenly Father is the One who has brought us forth not because of our own work; not because we are perfect or good in ourselves; No. He has brought us forth by the word of truth - God’s word of truth that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
James doesn’t say it here - he’s speaking to an audience of Jewish Christians - but it is not a leap to say the Word of Truth is by our Lord Jesus. John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word…and the word became flesh and dwelt among us” in referring to Jesus (cf. John 1). Jesus referred to himself as the “Truth” (Jn 14:6).
So how were we brought forth? as James said in vs. 18?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
Through our Lord Jesus God continues to lead us forth to be the people God created us to be.
Actions & Words
Actions & Words
I’ve said that James is aiming us toward a strong faith. A demonstration of that faith in James is our actions. James writes:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
The words that come from our mouth definitely reveal whats in our heart - and it’s not always just the words but the tone with which they come out.
Quick to hear - hearing isn’t just hearing the words spoken, but hearing what is being said. Sometimes people get all agitate by the words that someone has said only to discover they actually agree with what was meant.
Slow to speak - take time to understand what another is saying before you speak. You will use fewer words, and you will also save yourself the embarrassment of misunderstanding. And it makes the last one much easier to live by...
Slow to anger - our reactions are seldom products of righteousness. They tend to be self centered and harsh. There is such a thing as godly anger, but it is seldom the product of our quick reaction.
Our goal is to be meek (humble), blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. This meekness comes from God’s word living within us.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
This is possibly one of my favorite group of verses in James. Most of us have come across those who profess to be Christian but they’re living their lives in a way that doesn’t exactly promote Christianity.
And the promise in vs. 25
But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
Notice God’s law is not a law of flaws, but it is perfect; not a law of confinement but a law of liberty. The one who perseveres here acting on the Word that he hears will be bless in doing so.
James closes with what pure religion is:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Religion that is pure and undefiled is marked by compassion and purity. Compassion for orphans and widows and all others that are afflicted in any way. And our own purity, unstained from a world that is full of all kinds of stains.
How do we keep ourselves unstained in a world so full of stains? We are all marred by sin. We see it so prevalent in the divisions in our current culture. The Bible tells us that even our most righteous acts are as filthy rags to God (Is 64:6).
Our hearts need to be changed from the heart of stone that is within us to the heart of flesh. We need to recognize what we fail to see again and again - our worldly problems are not going to be solved by our worldly solutions. In a world where people decry the immoral treatment of individuals and races it’s ironic that they also decry any one source of morality. We fight for justice and for what is right without any standard by which to gauge what is right and what is moral.
Justice by popular opinion is no justice at all. Throughout history we have seen the horrors of what happens when nations have been swept up in the popular thinking of the day. Since it was popular, it had to be right and it led to the desecration and even deliberate execution of groups of people simply because they were different.
If we are going to say there is a definite right and a wrong, we must define them by a moral law that is outside of ourselves. If there is such a moral law outside of ourselves then there must also be a law giver. Yet this is precisely the opposite direction our popular culture wants to take us, and it is clear we are seeing the results.
It was G.K. Chesterton who said, “God made man in his own image, and man was quick to repay the favor.”
It is God who created the world, it is God who said “let there be light”, and it is God who is the Father of Lights from whom every good and perfect gift comes. God is the one who illumines the Word in our hearts so that we can be doers and not merely hearers of that Word.
Seeking after God, living in relationship with our God through His Son Jesus, we cannot help but love as God loved. As we seek to see things as God sees them we will see all others on this journey here on earth as created in God’s image. How could we help but love them?
It is “of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures,” (v. 18).
The light of God does not change, there is no shadow or variation to our God - let us trust in this light and that it is the light that we carry into this world, no matter how dark it may seem. Let us live as children of the Father of lights, living out the word that has been illuminated in our hearts. This is how we will change the world.