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JAMES 1:17-27|TRUE RELIGION

September 4, 2018
Posted by Office Staff

TRUE RELIGION

JAMES 1:17-27

SEPTEMBER 2, 2018

 

THE FAMED CHURCH REFORMER, MARTIN LUTHER, DIDN’T THINK MUCH OF THE LETTER OF JAMES.  HE CALLED IT AN “EPISTLE OF STRAW.”

 

TRUTH IS, THE LETTER ALMOST DIDN’T MAKE IT INTO THE BIBLE WHEN THE CANON WAS BEING FORMED, BECAUSE IT WAS CONSIDERED TO BE “TOO PRACTICAL;” TALKED TOO MUCH ABOUT US, AND NOT ENOUGH ABOUT GOD; AND EMPHASIZED “FAITH AND WORKS;”

 

BOTH THE CHURCH FATHERS AND LUTHER WERE REACTING TO THE IDEA, HELD FOR TOO LONG, THAT PEOPLE COULD BE SAVED BY THEIR FAITHFUL DEEDS, RATHER THAN BY THE GRACE OF GOD.

 

AS OFTEN HAPPENS WHEN WE REACT TO SOMETHING, WE TEND TO GO OVERBOARD, AND THE PENDULUM SWINGS TOO FAR IN THE OTHER DIRECTION.

 

AS IS ALSO THE CASE, WE ARE BETTER SERVED, USUALLY, BY FINDING TRUTH SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE.

 

YES, WE ARE SAVED BY GRACE ALONE (THROUGH FAITH);

 

BUT THE WAY WE PROVE OUR SALVATION, IS BY LIVING IT OUT.

 

FAITH THAT IS NOT ACTIVE IS NOT FAITH AT ALL.

 

THE AUTHOR OF JAMES KNOWS THAT PEOPLE SOMETIMES CONFINE THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF FAITH TO A SIMPLE SERIES OF TRUTHS – STATEMENTS OF BELIEF – SOMETHING LIMITED TO THEIR HEADS OR THEIR WORDS.

 

FOR JAMES THIS ISN’T ENOUGH.  THROUGHOUT THIS LETTER, THE FAITH THAT COUNTS – IS THE FAITH THAT IS ACTUALLY OPERATIVE IN A PERSON’S LIFE.

 

PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE ONE THING, YET DO SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, ARE NOT ACTING OUT THEIR FAITH.

 

TRUE FAITH, THE LETTER OF JAMES SAYS, IS WHAT WE BELIEVE AND SAY, AND

DO.

 

BY THE WAY, IN THIS, THE AUTHOR OF JAMES AGREES WITH JESUS, AND PAUL, AND YES, MARTIN LUTHER TOO.

 

TAKE, FOR INSTANCE, OUR PASSAGE FOR THIS MORNING.

 

IN IT, THE AUTHOR OF JAMES ANSWERS TWO OF THE MOST BASIC QUESTIONS OF FAITH: WHO IS GOD? AND WHO ARE WE?

 

AND, THIS SECTION OF THE LETTER OF JAMES ALSO ADDRESSES THE TWO WAYS IN WHICH CHRISTIANS HAVE TRADITIONALLY UNDERSTOOD WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A BELIEVER:

 

PERSONAL PIETY AND SERVICE TO OTHERS.

 

FIRST, WHO DOES THE AUTHOR OF THE LETTER OF JAMES SAY GOD IS.  WELL, HERE, IN OUR PASSAGE, AND FOR THAT MATTER THROUGHOUT THE REST OF THE LETTER, THE AUTHOR OF JAMES SAYS:

 

THAT GOD IS OUR FATHER; OUR CREATOR; THE LIGHT OF LIFE; THE ETERNAL POWER AND PRESENCE IN ALL THAT IS; THE SOURCE OF ALL TRUTH.

 

THOSE ARE BIG WORDS; MIGHTY CLAIMS; OVER-THE-TOP WAYS OF SPEAKING OF GOD;

 

BUT IN OUR PASSAGE FOR THIS MORNING, ALL OF THAT GETS SUMMED UP IN THIS:

 

“EVERY GENEROUS ACT OF GIVING, WITH EVERY PERFECT GIFT, IS FROM ABOVE…”

 

IN OTHER WORDS, THE BEST WAY WE CAN KNOW WHO GOD IS, IS TO LOOK AT WHAT GOD GIVES US – EVERY GENEROUS ACT OF GIVING, EVERY PERFECT GIFT, AND AS THE VERSE GOES ON – GIVING US BIRTH BY THE WORD OF TRUTH, SO THAT WE WOULD BECOME THE FIRST FRUITS OF HIS CREATURES.”

 

GOD IS – THE GOD WHO GIVES.

 

THEN THE LETTER OF JAMES, AND THIS PORTION OF IT WE ARE READING HERE THIS MORNING, GOES ON TO SAY: WHO WE ARE.

 

WE ARE “THE FIRST FRUITS OF GOD’S CREATURES.”  KING OF THE HILL.  TOP OF THE LIST.  HEAD OF THE HEAP.  A NUMBER ONE.

 

BUT, REMEMBER ME SAYING THAT THE LETTER OF JAMES ALMOST DIDN’T MAKE IT INTO THE BIBLE BECAUSE IT WAS “TOO PRACTICAL”?

 

HERE’S PROOF – RATHER THAN COUNTING OUR STATUS ON TOP AS SOMETHING TO BOAST ABOUT, SOMETHING TO HOLD OVER OTHERS, SOMETHING THAT MAKES US BETTER THAN THEM, THAT SETS US APART FROM THEM…

 

JAMES GOES AND RUINS IT ALL, BY SAYING THAT TO BE A NUMBER ONE, KING OF THE HILL, TOP OF THE HEAP, MEANS: THAT MUCH MORE IS EXPECTED OF US!

 

THE BEST ARE ONLY THE BEST BY BEING THE BEST!

 

AND WHAT DOES THE LETTER OF JAMES DO IMMEDIATELY AFTER NAMING US AS THE BEST?

 

IT CAUTIONS US AGAINST SAYING OR DOING ANYTHING THAT WOULD MAKE US LESS THAN WHO GOD HAS CREATED US TO BE.  IT SETS A HIGH STANDARD:

 

YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THIS, MY BELOVED: LET EVERYONE BE QUICK TO LISTEN, SLOW TO SPEAK, SLOW TO ANGER, FOR YOUR ANGER DOES NOT PRODUCE GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS.

 

THEREFORE, RID YOURSELVES OF ALL SORDIDNESS AND RANK GROWTH OF WICKEDNESS.”

 

(NOW I DON’T KNOW WHAT RANK WICKEDNESS IS, BUT IT DOESN’T SOUND GOOD!)

 

AND INSTEAD, JAMES SAYS, “WELCOME WITH MEEKNESS THE IMPLANTED WORD THAT HAS THE POWER TO SAVE SOULS.”

 

IT’S HERE, BY THE WAY, THAT THOSE WHO PRIMARILY FOCUS THE CHRISTIAN FAITH ON PERSONAL PIETY PLACE THEIR EMPHASIS.

 

FOR MANY BELIEVERS, THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS MOSTLY ABOUT, AND IN SOME CASES, ENTIRELY ABOUT, ME.

 

IT IS ABOUT ME BEING A BETTER ME.  IT IS ABOUT ME BEING A GODLIER ME.  IT IS ABOUT ME NOT BEING THE ME I USED TO BE, BUT THE ME THAT I HAVE BECOME DUE TO GOD’S GRACE, AND BY GOD’S SAVING POWER.

 

IT IS ABOUT ME BEING SAVED.  ME GOING TO HEAVEN.  AND ME TELLING YOU THAT YOU CAN BE A ME TOO.

 

THIS IS THE WAY SOME BELIEVERS DO CHRISTIANITY, AND THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH IT – PER SE – IT IS PART OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A BELIEVER;

 

AND MOST OF THE “ME’S” I KNOW LIKE THIS ARE GOOD, WELL-INTENTIONED BELIEVERS.

 

THEY EVEN HAVE THE BEST INTEREST OF OTHERS AT HEART, AS LONG AS ANOTHER’S BEST INTEREST IS LIMITED TO THE STATE OF THEIR SOUL, THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD, AND WHERE THEY WILL SPEND ETERNITY.

PERSONAL PIETY IS IMPORTANT… AND MANY A WELL TURNED CHRISTIAN HAS SPENT THEIR LIFETIME HONING THEIR PERSONAL PIETY… AND ENCOURAGING OTHERS TO DO THE SAME.

 

EVEN THE LETTER OF JAMES ACKNOWLEDGES THAT… BUT, IT ALSO SAYS, THAT THIS IS NOT ALL IT MEANS TO BE A CHRISTIAN.

 

“BE DOERS OF THE WORD, AND NOT MERELY HEARERS…”

 

IT’S INTERESTING TO NOTE, HERE, THAT WHEN OUR MISSIONARIES, DAN AND ELIZABETH TURK WERE HERE A MONTH OR SO AGO, TELLING US OF THEIR WORK IN MADAGASCAR, THIS WAS ONE OF THE PASSAGES THEY REFERENCED.

 

IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO SIMPLY BE “HEARERS OF THE WORD” WE MUST BE “DOERS OF THE WORD” AS WELL.

 

WE SAW THIS IN THEM AS THEY TOLD OF THEIR WORK IN HELPING THE PEOPLE OF MADAGASCAR OBTAIN CLEAN WATER, GROW CASH PRODUCING CROPS BY WHICH TO MAKE A LIVING AND SUSTAIN THEMSELVES, AND BY PROVIDING ACCESS TO GOOD MEDICAL CARE.

 

YOU WON’T FIND ANY OF THOSE THINGS QUOTED IN SCRIPTURE, BUT THE WORD OF GOD, AND OF CHRIST, IS IN, AND ALL AROUND, THESE ACTS OF FAITHFULNESS.

 

HEARING AND DOING THE WORD, IN PART, APPLIES TO PERSONAL PIETY, THAT WE LIVE OUT WHAT WE BELIEVE BY BEING A BETTER ME; A BETTER US;

 

AND BY ENCOURAGING OTHERS TO BE A BETTER THEM.

 

BUT IT ALSO CARRIES WITH IT A BROADER MESSAGE THAN JUST ME, AND OTHER- JUST-ME’S;

 

IT CARRIES WITH IT A MESSAGE OF BEING DOERS-FOR-OTHERS AS WELL.

 

IT’S NOT ENOUGH, THE LETTER OF JAMES SAYS, TO LOOK IN THE MIRROR AT WHO WE ARE, AND THEN GO ABOUT OUR DAY;

 

MAYBE FORGETTING WHO WE ARE; MAYBE CHECKING BACK, OFTEN, IN THE MIRROR, TO FRESHEN UP THE MAKE-UP OF WHO WE ARE; MAYBE, EVEN, TAKING AN HONEST ACCOUNT OF WHO WE ARE, AND BETTERING OURSELVES.

 

NO, SAYS JAMES, INSTEAD OF SIMPLY LOOKING IN THE MIRROR AND SEEING OURSELVES REFLECTED THERE;

 

MAYBE WHAT WE NEED TO DO IS TO “LOOK INTO THE PERFECT LAW, THE LAW OF LIBERTY, PERSEVERING, AND BE NOT MERELY HEARERS OF THE WORD, BUT DOERS;

 

WHO, AGAIN AS JAMES SAYS, “WILL BE BLESSED IN THEIR DOING.”

 

WHEN WE LOOK INTO THE LAW OF GOD – THE LAW OF LIBERTY – THE LAW OF LOVE, THAT IS, – WHO DO WE SEE THAT WE ARE?

 

WE SEE THAT WE ARE GOD’S OWN – THE FIRST FRUITS OF CREATION.  WE SEE THAT WE ARE LOVED.  WE SEE THAT WE ARE BLESSED.

 

TO KNOW THAT WE ARE THOSE WHO BELONG, WHO ARE LOVED, AND BLESSED, FREES US, THEN, TO DECIDE WHO WE WILL BE, AND WHAT WE WILL DO.

 

WILL WE BE GOD’S OWN, BASKING IN GOD’S GLORY, SOAKING UP GOD’S LOVE, HOARDING OUR BLESSINGS UNTO OURSELVES?

 

OR BEING SO LOVED, SO BLESSED – WILL WE BE A CONDUIT OF GOD’S GRACE AND LOVE TO OTHERS?

 

WITH A FINAL NOD TO PERSONAL PIETY, JAMES REMINDS US, THAT IF WE THINK WE ARE RELIGIOUS, BUT DO NOT BRIDLE OUR TONGUES, DECEIVING OUR HEARTS – THAT IS, BELIEVING ONE THING AND SAYING ANOTHER – OUR RELIGION IS WORTHLESS.

 

THEN, HERE IT COMES, (DRUM ROLL PLEASE) THE LETTER OF JAMES TELLS US WHAT TRUE RELIGION IS:

 

“RELIGION THAT IS PURE AND UNDEFILED BEFORE GOD, THE FATHER, IS THIS:

 

(AND THIS IS WHERE THOSE HOME IMPROVEMENT SHOWS, AMERICAN IDOL, DANCING WITH THE STARS, VOTE-THEM-OFF-THE-ISLAND, BACHELOR/BACHELORETTE PROGRAMS WOULD CUT TO COMMERCIAL – JUST BEFORE REVEALING THE ANSWER…”

 

TRUE RELIGION IS… (BUMP, BUMP, BUMP, BUMP, BUMP…)

 

“TO CARE FOR ORPHANS AND WIDOWS IN THEIR DISTRESS, AND TO KEEP ONESELF UNSTAINED BY THE WORLD.”

 

THE WINNING FAITH IS… DOING FOR OTHERS… AND KEEPING OURSELVES PURE!

 

DOING FOR OTHERS AND PERSONAL PIETY.

 

SO, GIVE YOURSELF A ROSE.  YOU’VE BEEN CHOSEN.  CHOSEN TO LIVE OUT A LIFE OF PERSONAL PIETY, OF UPRIGHT LIVING;

 

AND, OF DOING GOOD DEEDS FOR OTHERS.

 

IF WE THOUGHT GOD WAS GOING TO GIVE US A PASS ON ONE OR THE OTHER;

IF WE THOUGHT WE COULD GET BY, DOING JUST ONE OR THE OTHER;

IF WE THOUGHT THERE’D BE A CHOICE BETWEEN THE TWO;

 

ALL WE NEED DO IS REMEMBER THE THINGS JESUS SAID:

 

LIKE, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, MIND, SOUL, AND STRENGTH, (ALL ABOUT ME) AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

 

“AS YOU WOULD HAVE OTHERS DO UNTO YOU, DO UNTO THEM.”

 

“FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS, AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS…”

 

“AS I HAVE FIRST LOVED YOU, LOVE ONE ANOTHER…”

 

“AS YOU HAVE DONE IT TO ONE OF THE LEAST OF THESE, SO YOU HAVE DONE IT UNTO ME…”

 

JESUS’ WORDS WERE, AND ARE, ALWAYS ABOUT ME; BUT THEY WERE, AND ARE, ABOUT SO MUCH MORE THAN ME.

 

THEY WERE, AND ARE, ABOUT OTHERS AS WELL;

 

AND WHAT WE ARE TO DO ABOUT WHAT WE HEAR AND BELIEVE.

 

THE STORY IS TOLD OF A PARISHIONER LEAVING AFTER A SUNDAY SERVICE:

 

“WONDERFUL SERMON,” THE PARISHIONER SAID TO THE PREACHER.

 

“THAT’S YET TO BE DECIDED,” THE PREACHER RESPONDED.

 

YOU SEE, SAYING THE WORDS IS NOT ENOUGH.  HEARING THE WORDS IS NOT ENOUGH.  DOING THE WORDS BEGINS TO GET AT THE HEART OF TRUE RELIGION.

 

WE STARTED OUT BY ASKING: WHO IS GOD?  GOD IS THE GOD WHO GIVES…

 

WE END BY ASKING: WHO ARE WE?  WE ARE THOSE WHO GIVE…

 

AND WHAT IS TRUE RELIGION?  “TO CARE FOR ORPHANS AND WIDOWS IN THEIR DISTRESS… AND TO KEEP ONESELF UNSTAINED BY THE WORLD.”

 

 

 

 

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