Last week we began a series on Sunday mornings entitled, “Five Things James Would Tell the Wesleyan Church.” We discovered last week the importance of living a life in submission to God; a life of confession and repentance; and a life that is humbled in God’s presence. This is the most important thing to learn as Christ’s church.
Several years ago the band “For Him” had a song entitled “The Basics of Life.” The premise was that we need to return back as a people of God and as a country to our foundations. The song even was used, as I recall, as part of one of the presidential election campaigns. As we take look at the letter of James this morning, I believe the second thing he would tell the Wesleyan Church is to return to our roots. I can hear the amen’s already. At this very moment I have some of you agreeing with me. Let me offer you a word of caution. This sermon is not a call for a return back to the “good old days.” I want you to listen carefully with an open heart and open mind. As we have found out already James is straight and to the point. Let’s take a look now at James 1:19-27.
19My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-he will be blessed in what he does.
26If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Let’s focus for a moment our attention on verse 27. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” This is the key to this passage.
A moment ago I said that James is calling us to return to our roots; to return to the basics. Let me use this as an example. When I say they don’t turn out good music anymore, my reference point will be music that was written in the 70’s and 80’s. That’s when I was a teen and young adult. We tend to identify good times with those years. When you say they don’t write good music anymore, you may be referring to a completely different generation. Here’s my point – Sometimes we want to look back 20 or 30 or 40 or even 50 years to a point when church was the way we thought it should be. We say church sure isn’t like it used to be. One of the things that I’ve discovered as I’ve looked at church history and especially worship is that the church has always been changing. When I said we need to get back to our roots, some may have said, if it could only be what it was like in the 70’s, or perhaps back in the 60’s before the merger, or perhaps back in the camp-meeting days of the early 20th century. But I want us to go further back. Back past the Moody-Sankey revivals; back past Phoebe Palmer, past Orange Scott, Luther Lee, and Seth Rees and the beginnings of the Wesleyan Church. We are called the Wesleyan Church because of the teachings of John Wesley. We can even go way back past Wesley to the early church fathers, back to the book of Acts. What was important to the church? Taking care of the widows and orphans and keeping themselves from being polluted by the world.
My home church in Allentown, PA was started as a children’s home. Many of our Wesleyan churches were started on the “wrong side of the tracks.” My mom’s home church in Baltimore, MD was a storefront church. My mom is a product of bus ministry. The early Wesleyans found ministry needs and filled them and in the process brought people to Jesus and kept themselves from being polluted by the world. Another organization that comes to mind is The Salvation Army. They continue to this day to take care of the less fortunate. This is what we were called to do as a church, according to James.
But we started in verse 19, what about the rest of this passage, let’s go back. One of my favorite ways to paraphrase verse 19 is this; “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and even slower still to become angry.” I remember teaching one Sunday morning on this once and I got excited when I asked our Sunday School students what I preached on and he quoted it the way I just quoted it to you. Do you notice James says, we need to be quick to listen first. What are we so apt to do? We listen but we only partially listen because we are getting ready to respond. James says, “Be slow to speak.” Take time to listen and don’t just listen so you can form a response. Take time to truly listen. He goes on to say and be slow to get angry because, anger can never make things right in God’s sight. How many times do we get angry because we haven’t heard the whole story because we were forming a response to just part of what we had heard? Sometimes we are even quick to dismiss God’s message for us. In verse 21 he says, So get rid of all filth and evil in your lives and humbly accept the message God has planted in your hearts. See why we need to be quick to listen. We may even miss God’s message – a message that can save our souls. I don’t want to dismiss the first part of this verse. Get rid of all filth and evil in your lives. (This is a message that we as Wesleyans should embrace.) We should live our lives blameless. “Pure and lasting religion that the Father accepts means…refuse to let the world corrupt us.” There are many ways in which this can happen, and sometimes it can sneak into our lives, other times we just let it in. We need to live lives that are pure and blameless. It helps in our witness.
But there’s more than just listening to the word. There’s more than just coming to church on Sunday morning and listening to me preach God’s word. There is a doing aspect to it. 22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. In this particular instance, I like the way the King James says it. “But BE doers of the word, and not hearers only.” A life of faith in Christ is a life of action. Verse 23 goes on to say, “23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” How many of you get up in the morning looking perfect? Now I want you to be truthful. Most of us when we get up in the morning make our way to the bathroom and take a look at ourselves in the mirror. For some of us, it’s not a pretty site. Some of us would like to do what James says and forget what we look like at that moment. Most of us once we look in the mirror will do something about it. The same thing happens in our spiritual life. If we listen to God’s word and don’t do anything about it, it does nothing to improve our spiritual standing or appearance. If you listen and don’t do anything about it, you simply forget what you heard and are no better off for listening. Each Sunday when you gather here, you should leave here better off than you came. I’m not talking about feelings and emotion. You’re spiritual life, if I’m doing my job and our teachers are doing their job, should be better than when you arrived. James tells us that we need to keep looking into God’s law (his Word), because when we do it will set us free and he gives us a promise if we do what it says, if we take the message to heart on Sunday morning, God will bless you for it.
I want to take a quick side step here. We should always measure our lives by God’s law. Yes, we have The Wesleyan Discipline, but that only reflects God’s perfect law. Sometimes we as Christians like to put a hedge around God’s law, much like the Pharisees did in Jesus’ time. They were slaves to their own law that protected God’s law. God’s law will set you free.
Right before James give us those words about pure and lasting religion, he gives us another warning and it’s connected to the opening passage. “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself and your religion is worthless.” Ouch!!!! James is getting a bit personal here. I like how he contrasts worthless religion with pure and lasting religion. The psalmist said, “Be still and know that I am God.” It is important to listen and do what God tells us to do. How can we listen if we are always busy? How can we listen if we are always flapping our gums?
James then goes on to say, “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we MUST care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and REFUSE to let the world corrupt us.” James calls us to get back to our roots by taking care of the less fortunate. James calls us to get back to our roots by not letting the world corrupt us. This isn’t much different from last week. Friendship with the world is being an enemy with God. This is a great challenge for us this week. How can we listen to God’s word this week? What is he challenging us to do? What things can we do as a church and a body of believers to take care of the widows and orphans, not only those in our church, but those right here in our community of Preston? One practical way that you can help take care of orphans is by contributing to the Hephzibah “Back-to-School” project. You’ll see in your bulletin, school supplies. These are needed for the Hephzibah Children’s Home in Macon, GA. I encourage you to contribute. I encourage you to think along with me practical ways we can reach our community for Christ. I’ve only been here four weeks. I need your help. That’s the first part of the challenge. The second is what is in your life this morning that is keeping you from walking with Christ. What is keeping you from being Christ-like? Is the world corrupting you? Is your religion worthless or is pure and lasting in the sight of God the Father?