Be Doers of God's Word
Topic: Christian Living Passage: James 1:22–1:27
Be Doers of the Word
Legendary football coach Bud Wilkinson once defined football as “50,000 people who desperately need exercise watching 22 men who desperately need rest.” Bud Wilkinson may be wrong though. Researchers at the University of Western Sydney discovered that watching a sport actually raises the heart rate just like doing a workout does. Not making this up. I know as a Giants fan my blood pressure definitely goes up whenever I watch them play. Apparently there is something called “muscle sympathetic nerve activity” where the nerve activity to our muscles increases as we watch someone else being active.
This is fantastic news. It means we can sit watching football all day long and be getting ripped at the same time! I did some quick calculations and figure that if you watch three games today – the 1pm, 4pm, and Sunday night football – you’ll burn so many calories that you can eat pizza and buffalo wings all day long and it will turn to muscle. Throw in Monday night and Thursday night football, and you’re looking at having a six pack by the playoffs!
I’m ready to believe this. Probably every guy in this room is ready to believe this. You know who’s suspicious of this research: every wife in the room. They’re thinking, “my husband has been doing this for years and I’m not seeing much muscle sympathetic nerve activity going on. If he has washboard abs, they’re well hidden under a pile of laundry.”
Deep in our hearts we know we’re deceiving ourselves if we think we can get into top physical condition by watching people who are in top physical condition. We will never be what they are unless we do what they do, it’s that simple. James says it’s that simple when it comes to being a Christian. Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (vs. 22). I think this may be one of the most important and needed words for the church today. We hear way more than we do. I know I do. And we can deceive ourselves into thinking that because I hear it, I’m doing it. The church can become a place where we hear and we watch but we don’t do. We’re sitting on the bleachers watching and God is saying get on the field and DO!
I want to ask you to consider some important questions. Do you ever feel like something is missing in your Christian walk? Do you ever feel dry or barren in your faith? Do you struggle with being unmotivated as a follower of Christ? Maybe sometimes even struggle with doubts whether this thing is even real? When we find ourselves in that place, we are conditioned to think that what we need is to hear something fresh. A powerful sermon, a conference with a big name key note speaker, a DVD series that will zap us out of this blah place. I think what James is saying is often the secret to a renewed and energized faith isn’t hearing more, it’s doing what we’ve heard more.
Ron Hutchcraft defines discipleship as an equation that goes Learn it ? Do it ? Talk about it. Too often we learn it and talk about it but miss the do it part. James says, be doers of the word. Let’s look into that more closely, but first I want to answer an important question that can come up.
Isn’t the message “do it” just legalism?
There is a danger in emphasizing doing and that danger is legalism. Legalism preaches that God loves and accepts us if and when we do certain things. Legalism emphasizes rules as a means to relationship with God: if you keep the rules, God loves and accepts you. Legalism is toxic and deadly. The Bible tells us very clearly that we can only be accepted and adopted as children of God by God’s grace and mercy alone. Salvation is totally about what Jesus has done, not what we do. Healthy churches emphasize relationship, not rules. James emphasizes relationship in vv. 16-18 as he assures us that our heavenly Father is good and pure and loving and we can trust Him when we go through trials and temptations. Legalism says we get relationship by doing. James is saying we get relationship by what Jesus did, but if we are in a living relationship with Jesus, we will do. The doing flows from a relationship of love and intimacy with our Father and our Savior. Religion without relationship is worthless.
But James goes on to say religion without action is worthless too. God wants our religion (our Christian walk) to be active and dynamic. Gives us the secret ingredient we need to add to our religion: DO!
- It’s not enough to just look, we need to act on what we see!
James uses the illustration of a mirror. If you got up this morning, looked in the mirror, and did nothing about what you saw, I’ve got news for you: we can tell. A lot of bad things happen to us in the course of a night. I had a friend stay over night some time ago and when I came out of my room in the morning he took one look at me and said, “Allen, some people wake up looking like the morning dew, but buddy, you look like the morning DON’T!”
We go to bed with our hair perfectly coiffed (some of us), we wake up with bed head. We brush our teeth before going to bed we wake up and it feels like something crawled inside our mouth and died. It’s not enough to look in the mirror we need to do something about what we see!
James is saying we should look at the good news of Jesus and do something with what we see. That’s what he means by persevering or continuing to look: keeping the word in front of us and allowing it not only to speak to us, but change us. Transformation doesn’t happen if all we do is hear the word - we’ll just forget what we heard -transformation happens when we act on what we hear: 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. (vs. 25)
As we step out, even in small ways, to do what God’s word directs us to do, God will bless our efforts in a big way. He loves it when we hear and do His word. By the way, Jesus also told us this when he said the person who built his house on a strong foundation isn’t the one who hears his words only, but the one who hears and acts on them (Matt. 7:21-27). So we need to look and act on what we see! But what does that mean? We want to be doers of the word, but what exactly are we supposed to do?
- What does it mean to be doers of the word?
James lists a couple things that capture the essence of doing the word: He says bridal our tongues, be careful about what we say and how we say it. We talked a little about this last week and James will come back to this in chapter 3 so let’s just leave with this: our religion is worthless if it hasn’t reached our tongue. Jesus said what comes out of our mouth comes from our heart so if it hasn’t reached our tongue it hasn’t reached our heart either. Bridle the tongue.
James says the religion that God loves takes care of the helpless and defenseless among us. Verse 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.
Orphans and widows are on the two ends of the spectrum of helplessness and defenseless: orphans have no parents and that is heartbreaking. A child is meant to be brought up with loving, caring parents. Orphans have no control or say over their plight, they are helpless to change it. Our hearts should ache for them and when we can, do something to help provide, not just physically, but emotionally as well. Widows in those days had no insurance money or welfare safety net. Often, without the care of their families or church family they had no means of providing for themselves, especially when they were older and couldn’t remarry. The idea isn’t to limit care to these two groups of needy, but all those who are defenseless and hurting and poor.
When we care about the poor and the hurting and the weak we are reflecting the heart of God who really cares about the weak among us.
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. Ps 68:5
Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. 17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. Isa 1:16-17
The gospel is love in action. God so loved the world that He acted in the most mind-blowing way by giving us His Son to rescue us from our lostness. God loves the hurting, the oppressed, the defenseless, and James is saying that religion that means something to God is religion that gives us the heart of our heavenly Father. That needs to be more than feeling something, it needs to be doing something.
James’ big point is to hear God’s word and do God’s word. He isn’t being exhaustive when he says bridle our tongue, help the defenseless, and keep unstained from the world, he’s giving important examples. The gospel of Jesus speaks countless words to adjust and sanctify and purify our hearts and lives and make us more like Jesus.
This is an important word for us at Grace as the Lord is speaking a fresh word to our hearts and I think the only appropriate way to close this message is by sharing some specific, practical things we can do.
- If you’re not already, find a way to care for the needy
We can’t do everything, but all of us can do something. You don’t need to do what the person sitting next to you is doing, ask the Father how He wants to shine His heart to the weak and defenseless through you. Some suggestions:
- Poor in our community: neighbor, Salvation Army, food pantries. Angel tree.
- Compassion or Feed the Hungry or other international organizations
- Adoption (thank you for giving to our adoption fund that sits at over $2300)
Jesus wants to use us to show his compassion to those who are hurting and defenseless
- Be a rescuer
The biggest “do” Jesus gave us is to follow him into a lost world with a message of hope. Jesus said in Luke 19:10 The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. His last word to his disciples was “go!” This is probably the biggest area where the church is guilty of “learn it ?talk about it” but not do it!
Let’s ask God to break our hearts for what breaks His. Ron Hutchcraft said talking to unbelievers about Jesus is probably the hardest obedience because it’s the most emotionally expensive thing we can do. But God can use us – He can use you - to help someone go to heaven. Can you think of a greater purpose or reason to live than that?
Don’t try to lay a lot of religious baggage on people who don’t know Christ. Don’t talk to them about changing their lifestyle or morals, definitely don’t get into it about politics with them. Do what Paul did, resolve to know nothing among them except Christ and him crucified. Share Jesus. Emphasize it’s about the relationship they were created to have. Ask them if they ever feel like there’s someone missing in their lives? They have their family, they have their friends, but it still feels like someone is missing? Someone is. Jesus. Share your own story of how the Lord reached you. Your job isn’t to persuade, it’s to present, and then pray that God will reach their heart.
- Love each other
Want to close with this: let’s tighten our grip on loving one another. Jesus says that’s not optional, it’s his
one commandment so we need to intentionally pursue doing it. We always want to make getting involved and connected relationally a priority in this church. There are different forums for that. Our primary context is our community groups but there is also the women’s bible study and youth group and men’s meetings and married couples meetings and other contexts. But we all need to make this a priority – not because it’s a “church program” but because it’s really essential to our spiritual health. Not just saying that to be dramatic. If we aren’t intentional about tightening our grip on loving one another we will drift.
Last year on a beach in Florida six members of one family – four adults and two young boys - got swept out to sea by a rip tide. When Derek and Jessica Simmons saw people pointing out to sea and saw this family being swept out, Jessica thought, “these people are not drowning today. It’s not going to happen. We’re going to get them out.” And so 70 people formed a human chain and were able to get every one of them out safely.
We will all tend to drift away from the Lord and from loving one another if we’re not intentional about fighting the currents of the world. If church is just a meeting we go to on Sunday morning, and we don’t intentionally pursue contexts for building relationships and connecting we will inevitably drift. Maybe not in a month, maybe not in a year, but eventually we will drift away. Let’s be committed to not do that. And if we see someone drifting, let’s love them enough to take the risk to reach out to them. The enemy’s number one strategy for taking us out is to separate us from the flock of God where we are easy pickings for him.
Loving one another can’t just be feeling, it needs to be doing. Loving one another can’t just be intentions, it needs to be intentional.
These three things: caring for the poor and defenseless, rescuing the lost, and loving one another, are the big commands that Jesus has told his church to do. God hasn’t called us to be among the 50K desperately in need of exercise watching the few who are in desperate need of rest. He’s called us all out on the field to do -do! – our part. Let’s recommit ourselves to get out on the field and be doers of God’s word!
Not a Christian – “what do I need to do?” Another man asked that question: Acts 16:30 a man asked Paul and Silas “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Relationship with God doesn’t start with what you do, it starts with what Jesus did. Believe in him.