Sermon of June 2, 2013 – James 1: The Word is Life; Living is the Word
I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. At least this month will see some regular postings!
As always, the manuscript I post may not be in it’s final form and probably has a lot of need for editing. Regardless, in it’s imperfect form, here it is: (3060 words)
It is a wonderful privilege to be able to share with you today. I have the honor of being able to spend the month of June with you, looking at passages in James.
The book of James has always captured my attention and it has been a long standing desire of mine to memorize it and preach it. This epistle has many detractors through the years, including Martin Luther, because it seemingly contradicts the doctrine of justification by faith alone. People often see James as a book preaching good works, maybe even legalism. Although that thought is not untrue, it doesn’t take into consideration the order of those works; they are always considered as a result of one’s faith. James does, however, significantly link our orthopraxy (our correct action) with our orthodoxy (our correct belief).
Unfortunately five weeks (or now four!) does not allow a close inspection of all of James, so I will be cherry-picking the sections closest to my heart. We will read through the entire epistle with some hopefully pithy statements, but each week we will focus on a specific part of the “chapter de semaine”.
Before we read from James Chapter 1, let’s pray together:
Today we’re going to be focusing in on James 1 verses 16-27 which is the basis of the contrast between works and faith that James is so know for. However, in light of the emphasis to come, it is appropriate to read the first fifteen verses for your encouragement and edification.
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
12 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. 13 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. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Originally I was going to touch on the little snippets and give you a quick “30 second sermon” approach to the verses that weren’t being exposited. Eg)
Verses 2-4: When you face hardships, take a larger look at what is being developed in you through those hardships. The Fruit of the Spirit is grown in tumultuous soil, and we should be thankful for the trials we face. Our attitudes should be ones of joy that we have the opportunity to grow.
That would have missed the more important arc in the context of what James is already starting to encourage us with. James is already speaking to faith in action. If we have a vibrant faith, we will see our trials as joy, knowing that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. If we have a vibrant faith we will request wisdom from God without doubting that we will receive it. If we have a vibrant faith we will not be worried about our social place because we know our lives are merely a vapor. If we have a vibrant faith we will realize our temptations are of our own making.
If we have a vibrant faith we will not be deceived:
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 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. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Verse 18 is almost the propositional statement of the rest of the book. Of his own will
he brought us forth
by the word of truth,
that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Let’s look at that a little more closely:
Of his own will: We have already established in the previous sentence that every good and perfect gift comes from God, so the highlight is that what happens next is from God.
he brought us forth: the reference is not to our first creation or birth, but to our new creation or new birth. We can see this because of how James says it happens—namely,
by the word of truth: This is a reference to the gospel (Colossians 1:5; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Timothy 2:15). 1st Peter 1:23 says it this way: 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;
that we should be the firstfruits of his creatures: The firstfruits were the best, the most desirable and the offering.
In a sentence James is saying that God develops salvation in us through the Gospel so that we can be a living sacrifice in this world. In light of that assertion, let us keep reading:
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
Receive with meekness the implanted word.
Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls
So verse 18 tells us that the way God causes the new birth is by the word of truth, the gospel. The Holy Spirit carries the word into our dead hearts and causes us to see the truth of Christ as we never have and we are given life through the word of truth—the word of God, the gospel.
Now verse 21 says that this word did not come and go. It was implanted. It took root. It is in us and is part of us. This is amazing. I pray the Lord causes this truth to sink in and grip you. We are born again by the word. And the word stays. Indeed, verse 21 says that this implanted word “is able to save your souls.” Don’t underestimate the power and the importance of the word of God.
It is treated here the very same way that the Bible treats the Spirit of God himself. We are born again by the Spirit (John 6:63), and we are born again by the word of God. The Spirit dwells in us, and the word is implanted in us. This indwelling Spirit is God’s way to keep us and bring us to heaven. The implanted word is God’s way of preserving and saving our souls in the end. You could not say anything more important about the word than this.
Here is the way Paul talks about this implanted, saving word. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, he says, “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” The word of God did not come and go. It did not leave these believers. It is “at work in you.” It is, as Hebrews 4:12 says, “living and active.” John writes about this implanted and active and saving word by saying: “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14). The word does not come and leave. When it creates life and faith, it “abides.”
So the word of God is “implanted” in us, and “is at work” in us, and “abides” in us, and (James 1:21 says) “saves” us. We cannot easily overstate how profoundly powerful and important the word of God is for our lives. If the word of God does not rank with your most cherished possessions, you may need to reprioritize things. Nothing, other than God himself, is more important and powerful than his word. Your money, your life, your family, your status, your comfort, your health, your fitness, your talents and abilities all pale in comparison to how powerful and important the implanted word of God is in your lives.
But wait, what did he mean by “receive the implanted word”, if it’s implanted, how can I receive it. I already have it, right?
This is a horrible and tragic problem within those who profess Christianity. This is the reason for the plague of weak faith and immature Christianity we see in our western world today. This is the cause of so many divisions and splits and relational issues and sin and timidity and anything and everything that stops us from being the firstfruits of creation. We do not remember to receive what is implanted.
Here’s my best word picture for what I mean.
We consider the word of God that saved us to be like our lungs. We’ve got them, without them we’d be dead, but they are firmly implanted, so we’re good. Sometimes we need to think about breathing, and different times and activities can create more work for our lungs, but for the most part, we don’t need to think about them, they just breathe. They are firmly implanted, so we’re good.
Everyone… Take a deep breath and hold it.
Instead we should be thinking of the word of God like the oxygen in our lungs. Our lungs do not sustain us, they need oxygen. Without oxygen our lungs are useless. It gives life and in giving life, it makes you breathe, and in breathing you receive oxygen. No one says: “I have oxygen; look how well it is working in me; it makes me alive; I don’t need to receive oxygen, I already have it.” (breathe)
The implanted word of God and the external word of God are so united that we live by having it already implanted and we live by receiving it. It is at work in us, as Paul says and the work it does in us is that it makes us want to receive it. Receiving the external word replenishes the power of the implanted word, and the implanted word creates the hunger to receive the external word. Then to make us very serious about this process, James adds at the end of verse 21 “which is able to save your souls.” What saves our souls? The implanted word which we receive.
In other words, our souls depend on the implanted word, and our souls depend on receiving the word. If you decide that you don’t need to receive the external word, you are like a person who decides he doesn’t need to breathe. If you are spiritually dead, you can carry through that decision. You can choose not to breathe, but if you are spiritually alive, you can’t. The implanted word is powerful; it produces life and breathing. It takes over the spiritual diaphragm and demands oxygen. It demands the life-giving external word. If the word is implanted in you, you cannot hold your breath forever. The implanted word will sooner or later conquer and be replenished. You will receive the word again and you will love it.
Just a word about meekness. In this context of hearing the word of God, meekness surely means something like “teachability” or “readiness to submit” to God’s word. The opposite of receiving the word with meekness would be to receive it suspiciously, because you doubt that all of it is true or good for you; or to receive it partially because you want to reserve the right to pick and choose what parts of it you will follow; or to receive it with the cocky self-assurance that you can understand it and apply it without God’s merciful help.
But James says receive it with meekness. When you open your Bible, say to God: I trust you, I submit to you, I need you to help me. Incline my heart to love your word. Open my eyes to see the greatness of what is really there. Satisfy my soul with the glory of Christ revealed in all of this book. I bow. I yield to the supreme truth and value of this book. In all meekness and lowliness, I look to you. I wait for you. Come to me through your word, my Savior and my Lord and my God and my friend and my highest treasure. That would be a meek way of receiving the implanted word.
This importance of breathing is lived out in each and every one of us every day and is proven as true in our daily actions.
Do you remember when you first realized your need for Christ? Do you remember that day when grace taught your heart to fear, and then relieved those fears? Do you remember how precious that Grace appeared? When, through God’s own will, the word of truth came to us and we were implanted with His word of truth, do you remember how much you felt and how much you changed? Even if you had lived a wonderfully moral life and had little to change behaviorally, do you remember how much the motivations changed? Do you remember that love, that passion for Christ, that zeal? If you don’t, you’re probably forgetting to breathe.
Are you being dragged down by every little thing going on in your lives? Do you have so much to do and so little time to do it? Does the weight of every day and every need and every kid and every task steal your sleep and deplete your energy? Are you living each day bordering on depression and gasping to get through it? If you are, then maybe you are just forgetting to breathe.
Do you get ensnared by those desires that so easily entangle and distract you from the true joys in your life? Do your attitudes suffer when anything infringes on your space or time or rights? Does your hope get lost in the monotony and daily drudgery of your predictable life? You may just be forgetting to breathe.
I am not saying all the world’s problems will be immediately solved if we all just start breathing in the Word of God (and breathing deeply) on a daily basis, but I feel confident in saying that if all the world was breathing in God’s word every day we would have much different priorities and relationships and lives. Many of those problems would not exist.
I also speak as one who has gone long stretches without this breath of life. Returning to a regular habit of breathing in God’s word can be as hard as starting to breathe again once you’ve literally had the wind knocked out of you; you need to stop the harried gasping, calm yourself and purposefully take time to take deep corrective breaths. Before you know it, you’ll be breathing normally again.
If you are holding your breath from Sunday to Sunday hoping to be refreshed for another week when scripture is breathed as the Body of Christ meets here at Trinity, you are going far too long between breaths. Worse yet, if Sundays is the only breath you are surviving on, the problem becomes compounded when we miss Sundays or a few in a row.
Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls
Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls
I guarantee you. When you breathe deeply of God’s word, when you breathe deeply and daily, you will find that first love once again. Your heart will be renewed. Your attitudes and outlook will brighten. Your soul will be encouraged, and the rest of James will make sense. With a good air supply, we will be able to run the race marked out for us and we will have the strength to be God’s firstfruits among creation. God’s word saves us. God’s word abides in us. God’s word changes us. God’s word implanted in us and regularly replenished gives us the desire to do God’s word.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 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.
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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.
What we need to do first, is breathe.