When you read the book of James you need to ask, “Who is this man named James?” He was the second born son to Mary and Joseph which means he was the younger half-brother of Jesus. Have you ever heard of the “second child syndrome?” James was probably known more as “Jesus’ brother” than just James. Sort of always existing within the shadow of the older sibling. So here was Jesus as the older brother who never sinned. But James did. James was born of a sin nature just like all of us and he was living in the shadow of a big brother who was God in the flesh. With his sin nature and being far from perfect, James had a built-in problem right from the start.
When Jesus left home James was probably happy to see Him leave home when He did. But then his “different” older brother came back to their town claiming to be the long awaited Messiah. How do you think James felt towards his older brother then? We don’t have to wonder. The Bible tells us His brothers didn’t believe Him. “For not even his brothers believed in him.” (John 7:5). The word there means “siblings.” It also says they thought He was crazy. “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (Mark 3:21).
Throughout Jesus’ ministry we see James in a state of unbelief and skepticism when it came to Jesus. But everything eventually changed for James. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:7 about Jesus appearing to James after His resurrection. When the disciples were gathered together in the upper room after Jesus’ resurrection James was there. “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” (Acts 1:14). When Saul (who became Paul) came to know Christ as his Savior was finally accepted into the Church he tells us in Galatians 1:19 he sought out James.
James came to believe in Jesus as His personal Lord and Savior after his brother had died, was buried, resurrected and ascended. In AD 49 James went on to write the very first book of the New Testament. This book we call James is a very short but practical manual on Christian living. The theme of the book of James is “putting feet to your faith.” The main idea throughout the book of James is . . . Take the faith on the inside and display it on the outside! Your inside must match the outside.
Think about the difference between a Hershey’s Kiss and a Reese’s Cup. I will admit that my favorite of the two is definitely Reese’s Cup . . . I love peanut butter! But spiritually that is not the right answer. The right answer spiritually is Hershey’s Kiss. Spiritually speaking what is inside must match the outside. You must allow God’s Word to change you on the inside. Make that change obvious on the outside by how you live, what you say, what you think and what you do. You must live what you say you believe!
James was writing to a very specific group. “To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” (James 1:1). The Jews had been dispersed or scattered at this time due to various persecutions from the Roman government. They had established Jewish communities throughout the Roman world and many of these Christians had even been kicked out of their own communities because of their faith in Jesus as their Savior. These hurting and persecuted believers were the ones James was writing to. That is why he penned a letter to them about how to live an authentic faith in a hostile world. As you read through the book of James, you need to always be asking yourself, “How can I internalize what I see here and let others see it in me?”
If you have your Bibles turn with me to James 1. We are going to begin in James 1:19. You can tell James is writing to believers when he says, “19 Know this, my beloved brothers . . .” (James 1:19). He is acknowledging that they already know what he is about to say. He is basically saying, “I know you are aware of what I am about to say, but you need to hear it again. You need to review and revisit some of the basics.” He is giving them a reminder but he is also giving them a rebuke. In telling them to remember he is also telling them they have forgotten.
This entire section is about how we receive and respond to God’s Word. His first reminder of how to approach God’s Word is Be Humble. “19 . . . let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” (James 1:19). “Quick to hear” (James 1:19) is basically saying, “Hurry up and listen.” Hidden within this word for “hear” is the thought of genuinely receiving the Word. It is listening with the intention of learning and obeying. “Slow to speak” (James 1:19) is another way of telling us to be quiet. Be humble as you approach the Word. “Slow to anger” (James 1:19) means don’t come with your defenses up because all that does is lead you to anger and resistance to God’s Word.
James knows so often we approach God’s Word talking and not listening. So often we come to God’s Word thinking, “Here is what I want it to say.” We are looking more for justification than modification! We prefer justification because that speaks to our pride and doesn’t hurt like modification. Modification always calls for change and adjustment and those can be painful and we are made to avoid pain. “20 . . . for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20). If we don’t come to God’s Word humbly listening and being quiet, we are like people who are in an argument. Anger is all based on raw emotion and blocks your ability to be rational. Now be honest, most of the time when you are in an argument instead of listening to each other, you are consumed with formulating your next response.
Then James says Be Repentant. Be willing to get rid of anything and everything in your life that is not 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.” (James 1:21). When he speaks about “filthiness and rampant wickedness” (James 1:21) it is talking about all of our sinful and selfish desires. The only way we can truly receive God’s Word is to first get rid of all the sinful stuff we tend to hold onto. “Putting away” (James 1:21) is literally the idea of “taking off a garment.”
Many of our ideas and habits from the world confront and contradict God’s Word. The Word thinks so much differently from the world. “Filthiness” (James 1:21) in life plugs your hearing like wax in your ears. Like your air filter that is completely clogged with dust and debris. “Wickedness” (James 1:21) slows down your response time. All of this can lead to pride that will keep you from exposing your true selves to the light of God’s Word. But humility allows you to submit to whatever the Word tells you. Humility is the only right response. Humility is being ready to put aside all the thoughts and actions of your sin nature and enthusiastically embracing the attitudes and actions of your new nature in Christ.
After you have shown true humility and a repentant spirit, then James says Be Eager. “Receive” (James 1:21) here in James has the idea of eagerness. It’s the image of the person who can’t wait and can’t get enough of God’s Word. This person craves it and knows he can’t live without it. It’s like with your favorite meal or favorite dessert. You always want it and you can never get enough of it. For me it’s the old-fashioned banana pudding. As soon as somebody mentions it, my mouth begins to water and I could eat the whole thing.
Peter illustrates this when he compares us to newborn babies. “2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3). Babies are quick to let you know when they are hungry. They love to eat and can’t seem to get enough. We should be the same way with God. We should love God’s Word and always feel like we can never get enough. The question is, “Do you value Scripture?” Do you value it more than you value your reality TV shows, your songs downloaded from iTunes, your favorite sports teams, etc.? The definition of value is what you crave and desire more than anything in the world.
After James reminds us how to approach God’s Word then he gets to the main idea of the entire book . . . Take faith that has changed you on the inside and show it on the outside. Put feet to your faith! He reminds us to Be A Doer. “22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22). Do you want to know what you really believe? Look at your behavior, your lifestyle, your language, your desires, your actions, your reactions, etc. These are a true indicator to what you believe. We hear a lot of stuff but we will only act on what we truly believe in. So, you want to know what you believe? Then, how do you act?
There is so much we have heard and probably a lot we can even quote from memory, but has it changed how we live? For many Christians God’s Word fails to make it from their head into their heart! A.W. Tozer said, “An intelligent observer of our human scene who heard the Sunday morning sermon and later watched the Sunday afternoon conduct of those who heard it would conclude that he has been examining two distinct and contrary religions. It appears that too many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right but are not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right.” James is telling us if we have heard God’s Word but are not living according to it we are fooling ourselves.
The bottom line is the Word always produces and demands action. If there is no action from the Word, then there has been no acceptance of the Word. James goes on to illustrate it. “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.” (James 1:23-24). Mirrors back then were not like today’s glass mirrors. They were polished metal of bronze, silver or gold. But they did enable them to get a good look at themselves. When he says “his natural face” it means “the heart of our birth.” In other words you are looking into God’s Word and the reflection you see is your sin nature. You see yourselves for what you really are.
This is not a casual, passing glance. But he says he, “looks intently” (James 1:23). It is an attentive look and a scrutinizing look. It is the idea of critically analyzing it and studying it. As they say, “the mirror doesn’t lie.” This person sees it all but rather than deal with it and change what they see, they walk away. Whether out of fear, stubbornness, pride or laziness or whatever they choose to ignore what they saw and do nothing. You see it, you acknowledge it, you know things need to change but you choose to be disobedient.
When God’s Word confronts, challenges and convicts we put it aside and forget it refusing to put it into action. We choose not to put forth the effort to change. It’s the principle of Conforming vs. Transforming in Romans 12. “2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2). Conformity is a process that means “fitting into a mold.”
It is allowing outside forces to shape you. Like when you take Play Dough and make it into something. Transformation is a process that takes place from the inside out. That “implanted word” (James 1:21) inside of you pushes out against those outside conforming pressures of the world and transforms you into what God wants you to be. If you have accepted Jesus, you will obey Jesus!
Remember the guy in our video today? You need to see both what you actually are, what God wants you to be, and be willing do something about it. “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.” (James 1:25). The “perfect law” (James 1:25) is God’s complete, inerrant, infallible Word from Genesis to Revelation. “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Being a doer means when you are confronted, challenged and convicted by God’s Word you submit to it and choose to change.
James says the way to blessing is by doing. “25 . . . but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25). Often we say Jesus loves you just the way you are and He loves you no matter what you do. When it comes to Jesus saving you from your sins and loving you when you have nothing in you to deserve this love is very true. But Jesus also requires obedience. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.” (John 14:23). And, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14). The result of that obedience is blessing. This is not a “name it and claim it” kind of material blessing. It is the promise that if you are a doer and act on what Jesus shows you, you will be genuinely happy doing what is right.
The question is, “Are you just a hearer or are you a hearer and a doer?
When you look in the mirror of God’s Word, what do you see?
When you see what you see, what do you do?
Do you ignore what you have seen and continue just like you are?
When it comes to God’s Word, do you just hear it?
Or, do you take action and do something about it?
Maybe God has shown you something from His Word in the past. And because of your unwillingness to change, you walked away ignoring what He showed you. Maybe God is showing you something today? Are you taking what is on the inside and showing it on the outside? Are you putting feet to your faith?