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Christian Character in James

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James 1:19-27

February 5, 2006

Various topics addressed here.  In fact, this passage sets the stage for the rest of the letter.  Topics introduced here will be brought out in more detailed discussion later. 

James is looking at what it means to be a Christian. – building our Christian character.

Quick recap:

C     first 18 verses have jumped into trials/temptations. 

C     brother in humble circumstances should take pride in his high position.

C     Consider it joy when tempted – blessed is the man who perseveres under trial.

Now James enters a new section – which introduces topics that he’ll address more in depth throughout the rest of the letter.

Here he writes about what true Christian religion is like – a Christian character.

I. Part 1 (vv. 19-21)

A.  focuses on communication, in both speech and act

1.   Self-discipline involves 3 things: Quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

a.   what are some instances when it’s hard for us to follow these 3 commands?

2.   Character means learning how to control the way we communicate, in both word and act.

a.   Proverbs 29:11 – “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”

b.   Proverbs 29:20 – “Do you see a man who speaks in haste?  There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

c.   Matthew 5:21-22 – Jesus takes the ancient law “do not murder” and revises it to include anger and name-calling.

B.  Man’s anger doesn’t bring about the righteousness of God

1.   Anger is futile, James reminds his readers, because it cannot produce God’s righteousness

2.   Anger is just one thing that isn’t fitting for the Christian:

3.   Righteousness

a.   what God is

b.   what God expects

c.   what God does (justifies/makes righteous)

C.  Therefore...(a neg. and a pos. command follows): Get rid of all moral filth and the evil...

1.   language of casting off clothing

2.   Baptism

3.   Colossians 3:7-14

4.   The Christian is to put away all those vices associated with the old person `

5.   In Col. 3:12, the positive command is to put on (lit. to clothe yourselves with) Christian virtues, which are then listed.  In James, the command is to receive (welcome) the “implanted word”

6.   Christianity affects the whole being of a person, not just inward spirituality.  If you’re a Christian, you need to act like it. 

a.   James uses language of all parts of the body... listening, speaking, doing, looking, etc.

D.  humbly accept the word planted in you...

1.   How should we receive the word?  – with meekness/with humility. 

2.   humbly – meekness recalls the lowly of v. 9 and is an impt component of virtue lists.

3.   We are to put off one thing – sordidness and rank growth of wickedness” and welcome/receive the other – the implanted word that has the power to save. 

4.   Meekness, like humility, is a key to his view of Christian character. 

5.   Echoes third beatitude (Mt. 5:5).  (Col. 3:12). 

6.   In contrast to our meekness, the word itself is powerful.  In fact, it has the power to change our souls (i.e. you as a person)

7.   reflects vv. 9-10

E.   In summary:

C                 connection between communication and character

C                 command to be quick to listen slow to speak

C                 identifies anger as the act that keeps us alienated from God

C                       like see-saw: anger (us) and not God; humility and implanted word that Saves us.

C                 urges us to get rid of everything that keeps us from growing in our devotion to God

C                 returns to the need to listen to that word of God that can deliver us

C                 To be a Christian means to let go of our own sinfulness and receive God’s word.

II.  Part II:

A.  Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says

1.   Being good listeners/hearers is not enough.  We must be doers as well.  This anticipates 2:14-26.


B.  Man who looks in mirror

1.   James implies a quick glance, and ancient mirrors of polished metal might distort the image.

2.   If all we do is to hear the word, then we are like those people who just glance in the mirror, go away, and forget how they look. 

3.   Photo IDs.

C.  Man who looks into the perfect law

C                 first, in contrast to those persons we just met who simply glanced in a mirror, people who gaze or stare into the law.

C                 reinforces an image of permanence.  These people not only gaze at the law but persevere. 

C                 the shift is from forgetful hearers to active doers.

III. Part 3: Religion that God accepts

1.   According to James, character develops not only by facing trials, or being single-minded in our devotion, but by hearing and doing the word/law.  But exactly what are we supposed to do? 

2.   point of verse 26 is that our religion is worth nothing unless we have integrity.  Thus James has told us what religion is not.

a.   connection back to v. 19 – tongue.

3.         four things to note:

C                 focus of religion is not ourselves but God.  Religion is not a means of personal gratification but a way of relating to God.

C                 religion involves purity.  in Hebrew Bible, priests had to avoid contact with anything that might contaminate them.  Could also refer to moral purity, avoiding vices that make a person unacceptable to God.  For James - moral purity not cultic purity.

C                 religion in clues a very practical social concern for orphans and widows.  Drawing on theme that appears in Hebrew Bible.  Caring for widows continued to be concern of early church.

C                 readers are warned to keep themselves unstained by the world.  Already implicit in general advice to keep themselves pure and undefiled; now a contrast with the world is made explicit.  Keeping oneself unstained does not necessarily mean withdrawing from the world into a monastic existence.  Christians must find a way to live in the world without adopting its value system, as we’ll see in 4:4.  That is the mark of Christian character, which James has been describing throughout this chapter.

C                 Character develops only through self-discipline. 

C                 communication - particularly on controlling our listening, speaking, and anger

C                       involves getting rid of evil habits and receiving God’s word

C                       need to act on what we have heard from God’s word, the perfect law or law of liberty

C                       defines true religion in terms of self-discipline (controlling speech) and of service (care for oppressed).

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