How many of you made New Year's Resolutions? How many of you have already broken them? Why is it that at the beginning of a new year people make resolutions? Traditional New Year's resolutions are designed to help you improve your life. People usually resolve to give up destructive habits such as smoking, drinking or overeating. We know that if we get rid of bad habits or sins our life will be better. If you want to make a resolution that will really help you, resolve to spend more time in God's Word. If you really want to change your life for the better, there is only one sure way to do it, and that is by the Word of God. Making changes in our lives is not easy, but if we resolve to be more godly, it will pay off, even in this life. Our spiritual maturity, or our deliverance from the destructive effects of sin is directly connected to the Word of God and our willingness to respond to it. In the book of James, James tells us that our reception of the Word will preserve our lives from damage. The theme verse of James:
James 1:21 (NKJV) Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
The purpose of the book of James is to teach us how we can save ourselves from the damaging affects of sin. The key word in verse 21 is "receive." How you receive the Word will greatly effect your life. In verses 19-25, James tells us how we can protect our lives from the damaging effects of sin.
1. We must properly receive the Word, verse 19-21.
2. We must properly respond to the Word, verse 22-25.
In verse 19, we have a threefold admonition which explains the proper response to the Word of God in the midst of the difficult circumstances of life. A proper reception of the Word involves three things:
1. A willingness to receive the Word with submission.
We could call this a yielding to the truth. Now you might ask "Don't all believers naturally do this?" No!
Romans 6:11-13 (NKJV) Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present (yield) your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present (yield) yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
Paul tells the Roman Christians to yield themselves to God. This is not something that automatically happens. Do you know any believers who resist the truth? Sure you do. So, in verse 19 he says:
James 1:19 (NKJV) So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;
"So then" is the Greek word hoste. Most modern critical editions of the Greek NT accept "iste" as more probably the original reading. The two Greek words differ only in the initial letter. The word iste means "this you know." This is how it is translated in the NNAS:
James 1:19 (NNAS) This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;
Under this view, the verb looks back to what was said in verse 18 and acknowledges that the readers knew the reality of the Word's regenerating power. But, they must not stop there, they must allow the word to continue to function in their daily lives. James is saying, "You know the Word's power, let it continue in your life." Yield to it. The Christian life doesn't stop at the new birth, the new birth is just the beginning. We need to grow to maturity. Verse 19 gives us a triple duty. We are to be:
A. "Quick to hear." In context he is talking about our response to God's Word. "To hear" implies a public reading of the Word and oral instruction in the Christian faith. We are to be quick to grasp opportunities to hear the Word of God being taught.
We live in a fast paced society with a multiplicity of attractions so appealing that many are not ready and eager to avail themselves of opportunities for increasing their acquaintance with the Word of Truth. There are too many cheap and trifling things; newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, and computers to draw away our attention. To listen eagerly to the Word being taught is the first duty of discipleship. God's Word is the source of wisdom we need to face the trials of life. It is the source of our victory over temptation.
Psalms 119:11 (NKJV) Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!
God's Word is the source of our communion with the living God and our deliverance from sin. Earl Kelly said this, "There is a great need for a re-emphasis of hearing the Word among Christians today. Much of the shallow living, and the total inability of our vast, so-called Christian population to give the most elementary witness of a living Christ to a dying world, are do to the careless hearing. Christians could take a lesson from the wild animals of the forest. Their very survival depends upon their quickness to listen."
How eager are you to hear the Word of God taught or to study the Scriptures or read a good Christian book? Some folks miss church and the teaching of God's Word for any and every reason. And others you couldn't keep away. It's all a matter of priorities. People find time to do what they really want to do.
The second thing that James tells us is that we are to be :
B. "Slow to speak." This again is in the context of the Word, you are to be slow to teach the Word. You wouldn't rush into brain surgery after reading a book on the subject would you? Yet so many people run to be teachers with little or no understanding of the Word. Teaching the Word of God is serious and not to be done lightly.
James 3:1 (NKJV) My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
The teaching of God's Word is a tremendous responsibility. One for which we will be held accountable. The Quakers used to have a saying, "Blessed is the man who having nothing to say abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact."
When you teach incorrectly, you hurt and confuse the body of Christ. The health/wealth/prosperity teaching that is so popular today is very damaging to believers. It is a gross misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches. We are to be quick to listen to Bible teaching, but slow in becoming a teacher.
The third thing that James says in verse 19 is that we are to be:
C. "Slow to wrath." Again the context is in relation to the teaching of God's Word. The word "wrath" is orge, which means an inside smoldering resentment, not an outburst. We are to be quick to listen, slow to teach, and we are not to be resentful toward what the Word says. In other words, don't get angry when the Word confronts your lifestyle. Believers can get pretty hostile when the Word condemns their practices and desires, such as fornication, divorce, abortion, or rebellion, to name a few. James says, "Be quick to listen to God's Word and don't speak until you are really prepared and patiently accept God's Word without resentment." Then he says:
James 1:20 (NKJV) for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Man's anger does not bring about the righteousness that God wants. Righteousness means conformity to the Divine will. Don't get angry when God's Word confronts your sin, deal with your sin. So James says that we are to receive the Word with submission. This involves being quick to listen, slow to teach, and slow to get angry when it confronts your sinfulness.
The second thing that he says is, We are to receive it with purity.
James 1:21a (NKJV) Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness....
"Therefore" means: "for this reason" referring to verse 20. We are to put off all sin. Anger and everything else that hinders God's righteousness you must put off before you can receive the Word. If you have known sin in your life that you will not deal with, you will not grow no matter how much you study. You must "lay aside" your sin. The word "lay aside" is apotithemi, which means: "to put away," it is used in Hebrews 12 and in 1 Peter with the same idea - that you won't grow unless you deal with sin, you must put it away:
Hebrews 12:1 (NKJV) Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
1 Peter 2:1-2 (NKJV) Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,
James says we must lay aside all "filthiness." The Greek word used here for filthiness is rhuparia, which means: "filth which soils the clothes". It is a derivative of rupos and when rupos is used in a medical sense it means: "wax in the ear." James is telling his readers to get rid of everything which would stop their ears to the true Word of God. Just as wax in the ear makes a man deaf, so a man's sins can make him deaf to God.
We must not just confess our sin; we need to deal with it. There is a story told of a woman who prayed aloud in church on a regular basis this prayer, "O Lord, since we last gathered together, the cobwebs have come between us and Thee. Clear away the cobwebs that we may see Thy face." One man who was tired of hearing her pray the same prayer week after week shouted out while she was praying, "O Lord, kill the spider." It is not enough to just admit our sin, we must deal with it, we must lay it aside.
James says we are to "lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness...." Arndt & Gingrich suggest that "Abundance of wickedness" could be translated "all the evil prevailing around you." This implies that all conformity to the prevailing evils around them must be discontinued. God taught the children of Israel this same truth in:
Leviticus 18:1-5 (NKJV) Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'I am the LORD your God. 3 'According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. 4 'You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am the LORD your God. 5 'You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.
So, we are to receive the Word with submission, and with purity; then thirdly, we are to receive it with humility.
James 1:21b and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
The word "receive" means a welcoming or appropriating reception. We are to receive it with "meekness" - this is the Greek word prautes, which is really untranslatable. This Greek word has no precise English equivalent. The essential meaning of the word is: "no-self." Aristotle said, "prautes is moderation in regard to anger. You might define prautes as serenity and power, to not be led away by emotion, but to control emotion as right reason dictates." Prautes describes the perfect conquest and control of everything in a man's nature which would be a hindrance to his seeing, learning, and obeying the truth. It means: "to have a teachable spirit."
Psalms 25:9 (NKJV) The humble He guides in justice, And the humble He teaches His way.
James says we are to receive with meekness the "implanted word." When was it implanted? Verse 18 tells us, it was at our redemption.
James 1:18 (NKJV) Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
Why should we receive the Word with submission, purity, and humility? Because, as v21 tells us, it is able to "save your life." The word soul is psuche, which can also be translated: "life." The word save is the Greek word sozo which means "to deliver." It is used here in a temporal sense of saving your life from the damage that sin brings. The expression "Save your soul" is never found any place in the New Testament to describe the conversion experience. James is writing about the temporal life and how to preserve it from damage. "Save" has the idea of prolong and enhance your life. It is used this way in:
1 Timothy 4:16 (NKJV) Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.
Now in verses 22-25 James states and illustrates the need for active obedience to the Word which will save us from damage.
James 1:22 (NKJV) But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
"But" indicates something further must be said, it's not enough to hear, obedience must follow. Literally, it reads, "Become ye continually doers" Do believers always put the word into practice? No! Many Christians mark their Bibles, but their Bibles never mark them. Righteousness is imputed, not imparted. "Doers"is poietes, which means: "a performer." It is used 6 times in the New Testament, four times in James. Why didn't he just say "do the Word?" Because it's one thing to fix a car, it's another thing to be a mechanic. It's one thing to build a house, it's another thing to be a builder. We are not just to occasionally do the Word, we are to be doers of the Word.
"Not hearers only" - akroates, which is a classical term for an academic auditor who listens and maybe even takes notes but has no assignments, responsibilities, or tests. They listen, but don't do any of the work. Many people want to audit church. They don't want to get involved in service, they just listen. Many attend church the same way they would a movie, they're just spectators who listen and then evaluate the message as to how it appealed to them. Hearing is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end.
"Deceiving yourselves" is the Greek work paralogizomai, which means: "to misreckon, to delude or beguile, deceive." It is fallacious reasoning, you are making a huge mistake. This word is only used one other time in the New Testament and that is:
Colossians 2:4 (NKJV) Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words.
If you think that all that is required is listening, you are making a big mistake.
James now gives us an analogy of some one who hears but doesn't do, he says:
James 1:23 (NKJV) For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror;
The word "observing" is the Greek word katanoeo, which means: "to observe fully, to look carefully and intently at oneself." Why do we use mirrors? To see ourselves. Why do we want to see ourselves? So we can make corrections where they are needed.
James 1:24 (NKJV) for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.
He looks at himself and sees all the flaws, but instead of fixing them, he walks away from the mirror and forgets what he saw. Have you ever done that? Looked in a mirror and saw your faults and then walked away without dealing with them? I doubt it! You stay at the mirror until you have corrected or covered up all the flaws you possible can. Do you get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and then go off to work without correcting your imperfections? If you did, others would most likely remind you. There are times when I have done that. I looked in the mirror and noticed that I needed to shave, then I went off to do something else and forgot that I needed to shave until I looked in the mirror in the car. There are people who avoid mirrors, because they don't like what they see, so they just don't look.
Point: If you don't do something on the spot when you see it you'll forget when you get busy with life. When you turn away from the mirror, the image and impression both vanish. When unseen, it gives no uneasiness. Sunday's sermon is gone on Monday. You're gone from the mirror and you forget. You have got to deal with it when you see it.
Who do you look into a mirror to see? Yourself! The story is told about a mountain man who found a mirror among a tourist's stuff. He had never seen a mirror. As he looked into the mirror he said "I never knew my pappy had his picture took." He took the mirror home and hid it under his bed. His wife saw him hide it, and when he left she got it out. She looked into it and said, "so that's the old hag he's been running around with." It's easy to look into the Word of God and see others who need to correct their lives, but when you look into the mirror of the Word you need to see your own faults.
Now James gives us the other side of the analogy, the doer.
James 1:25 (NKJV) But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
"Looks into" is the Greek word parakupto, it means: "to bend beside, to lean over (so as to peer within) to examine closely." Your attitude when you come to the Word means everything. Are you teachable? Do you come here in prayer saying, "teach me from your Word oh Lord?" Or is your attitude, "I sure hope that David's interesting today." Do you read over the text before you get here? Do you memorize and meditate on it asking God to teach you? If you are here just to audit, I need to warn you that you will be tested. In chapter four James says:
James 4:17 (NKJV) Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
James calls the Scripture the "perfect law of liberty." It is God's perfect will for our lives. Seneca said, "to obey God is liberty." Our liberty comes through obedience. If you want to have freedom to drive down the highway, you had better obey the highway laws.
James says that this man "continues" in the perfect law of liberty. The word he uses for continue is parameno, from para which means: "beside" and meno which means: "remain or continue." The emphasis here is not on the manner of looking but on the duty of continuing or persevering in the observance of the law. This man doesn't forget what he looks like, he keeps looking and looking.
People for the most part don't want to seriously evaluate their lives, they're afraid of what they might see. We need to be willing to look honestly at ourselves and we can only do this through the Word.
In Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, there's a story about a couple of Pilgrims who were on their way to the Celestial City. As they got into the mountains, they ran into some Shepherds. And the Shepherds gave them a beautiful looking glass. "Now the glass was one in a thousand," writes Bunyan, "It would reflect a man, one way, with his own features exactly; but turn it another way, and it would show the very face of the Prince of pilgrims Himself. Yea, I have talked with those who can tell, and they've said they have seen the very crown of thorns upon His head by looking into this glass; they've seen also the holes in His hands, in his feet, and in His side. Yea, such an excellency is there in this glass, that it will show Him to one, if he has a mind to see Him..."
James goes on to say that this man "is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does." This man is blessed not by hearing alone but by being a doer of the work. He is blessed because he continues to stare into the Word of God and lives his life in obedience to it. Joshua teaches us this same truth:
Joshua 1:8 (NKJV) "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
What is the difference in these two men that James presents to us? One walks away from the Word without dealing with his sin. The other continues in the Word and by the power of the Spirit he submits to the Word, he lives it out in his every day life.
There is power in the Word of God. It is worthy of our time in reading, studying, memorizing and meditating upon it. The power of the Word is three fold:
1. EXAMINATION: By spending time in the Word you can see exactly what you look like spiritually.
Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV) For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The word "discerner" is the Greek word kritikos, which comes from krino which means: "to divide or separate, thus to judge." The Word of God is able to penetrate into the furthermost recesses of a person's spiritual being, sifting out and analyzing the thoughts and intents of his heart. The implication is that if the heart is hardened by sin, the Word of God will expose it. In response to God's Word, Job said, "I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes." The Word has the power to examine our hearts and lives.
It also has the power of:
2. RESTORATION: The word not only examines, it restores. It will cleanse us.
Psalms 119:9 (NKJV) How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.
John 17:17 (NKJV) "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
3. TRANSFORMATION: The word shows us our faults, it cleanses us, and it transforms us into Christlikeness.
Romans 12:2 (NKJV) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
In order for the Word to have these effects in our lives, we must spend time in it. We must continue in it. We quickly forget our faults and sins when we fail to abide in the Word.
If you want to make a resolution this year that will really change your life for the better, why not resolve to spend more time in the word of God. Why not read through the Bible this year? If you really want to change your life for the better, focus your attention upon the Word of God.
I hope you have an appreciation for the Scripture. I hope you have an appreciation for it not as a fetish, but because it is the greatest treasure apart from God Himself that we have. It is His very word, His very self revelation. God has revealed Himself in His book. And when you read the words of your Bible, you're reading the words out of the mouth of God. That is a tremendous reality!