“Hearing The Word”
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness 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.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 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. 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.
Last Sunday we began a conversation about an important question, “Can God’s Word Speak to Your Heart?” This is not a frivolous question. It is a sad but true fact that every Sunday Christians attend a church where the Word of God is preached and yet they sit through the service unmoved and unchanged. Literally, the wonderful Word of God has been rendered ineffective. While it might seem safe to assume that everyone who hears the Word of God is touched and changed such an assumption is not true.
How is this possible? What would cause the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God to be stripped of it’s transforming power? Does not God’s Word claim to have incredible power?
Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.
God’s Word is as a consuming fire.
God’s Word is light.
God’s Word is like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.
God’s Word is living, powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword.
Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life.”
Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
The words of the Lord are pure words.
Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth.
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his ways, by taking heed thereto to thy truth.
The entrance of thy word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.
Forever O Lord your word is settled in heaven.
How can such powerful statements be offered about the Scriptures and yet an unyielding heart can render God’s Word ineffective? Last Sunday we noted the importance of purposefully placing the text of God’s Word as king in your heart. If we allow our own personal framework (worldview, opinions, circumstances, attitudes, traditions, etc.) to come first it will limit or even defeat God’s Word. But if we treat the text as king then there follows the wonderful blessing of experiencing a change in our framework and an openness to the transforming power of the Word of God in our lives. This is important!
Last Sunday we spent some time witnessing the amazing work of the Word of God in the lives of the Thessalonian believers. Although the ministry there was born out of a time of deep affliction and dangerous persecution, lives were changed. Framework was changed! They went from being convinced of a pagan, idolatrous lifestyle to a joyful heart transformed by the gospel! All of this was due to the powerful working of the Word of God, accompanied by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit of God, and packaged in the lives of obedient servants of God. The ministry at Thessalonica was a grand example of how hearts and lives can be changed when frameworks are shattered and new life is created.
Today we shift to another passage, some pastoral admonitions from James, but directly related to our topic. How can hearts be changed? What are evidences of wrong frameworks? What is the fruit of God’s Word being unleashed in our lives? We will find our answers in James 1:19-25:
Frameworks that must change. (vv. 19-24)
Anger (vv. 19-20)
It is very obvious that there were problems and conflict in the church in Jerusalem. Even though the book of Acts would describe this church as an incredibly strong, growing, evangelistic church, it was still a church made up of Christians who still sin. Hmmm. Sounds very familiar!
Notice the specific framework challenges in this text. They were not good at communicating effectively with each other. They were reluctant to hear and respect each other. They interrupted each other when they did attempt to communicate. And they quickly got very angry at each other. By the way, that is often how conflict looks in our lives. Whether it is a conflict in your marriage, a conflict within your family, a conflict at work or with a neighbor, or even a conflict right here at church we can expect that communication attempts will generally lead to more frustration and even anger.
Why is conflict and anger such a dangerous framework? Why does conflict and anger hinder us from effectively hearing God’s Word and experiencing personal, inner transformation? It is because anger and conflict generally produce a dominant self-focus. It all becomes about me! That’s exactly why Pastor James combined frustrating communication with anger. That’s where it usually leads. But in order for the Word of God to prosper we have to choose to deal with the conflict properly so that we are in a position to receive and benefit from God’s Word.
Conflict that produces anger will always result in a wrong framework. This is because an angry person will always lean toward a focus on the perceived injustices rather than on that which is true. An angry person has a real problem listening to and benefiting from God’s Word because the framework gets in the way. The framework says, “This isn’t fair, this isn’t right, I am being hurt, I am being disrespected, and I’m not happy about that.” But such a framework only works to block the very help that is needed the most. Help from the transforming Word of God.
Sinful practices (v. 21)
We do not know exactly what practices Pastor James was referring to. We know that in this document he dealt specifically with trials, practical faith, the offensive tongue, worldliness and the need for grace-filled humility, and an eternity focused worldview. All of these challenges would have easily led to multiple sinful practices. Suffice it to say, there were sinful people in this early church who, although saved and on their way to heaven, were walking in ways that dishonored the Word of God.
Sinful practices betray a wrong framework. Sinful practices reveal an unhealthy view that says, “God doesn’t really care how I live. God doesn’t really know how I live. I am free to do whatever I want to do.” It is a form of practical atheism. And it is a framework that must be totally changed in order that the Word of God might be free to do its transforming work in our lives. As children of God we are called to live a holy life that glorifies his name. That won’t happen until the framework changes.
Self-deception (vv. 22-24)
It is very interesting that this warning passage winds up addressing the problem of self-deception. When you think about it, God’s Word has a lot to say about deception. Beginning with the serpent in the Garden of Eden who was more treacherous than any other creature in all of God’s creation, to the deception perpetrated by Jacob whose very name meant “Supplanter,” to the deception of the sons of Jacob after they had sold Joseph as a slave…and that’s just in the first book of the Bible! Literally, there are scores of examples of deception in the story of the Bible. In the New Testament alone there are over 47 references to this word “deception” and warnings associated with each use.
Deception is a real problem. Bad enough if you deceive me, or if I deceive you, but worst of all is when we deceive ourselves. And that is where this text takes us. After exposing some specific areas where framework gets in the way, Pastor James goes to the issues of the heart. Self-deception. The most dangerous deception of all.
Specifically, how does deception work in this area? It begins with measuring our spirituality with a wrong standard. It wrongly assumes that it is enough to simply hear God’s Word. Many Christians think that they are good Christians because they have attended Sunday school and church for years. “Yep, I’ve heard it all.” But hearing is not the test or standard. The test is, “What are you doing with the Word of God?” Such a challenging question!
It moves, then, to the practice of self-deception. This occurs when people hear the Word but quickly forget what they have heard. Such action betrays a wrong framework. It means that their practice is to hear but quickly dismiss and move on to other matters that seem of greater importance. Like what? Sadly, the shift in focus from the Word of God to something else may sound like:
“I wonder where we should go for lunch today? So many restaurants to choose from! What if I don’t like the one someone else in my family chooses?”
“What time do the Olympics run today? Can they finally get a few more metals? This season has been painful.”
“Is it going to snow this week? I sure hope not. I’m sick of winter. I want winter to be over!”
“Did I set my TV to record the Daytona 500?”
“Did I set the oven to turn off before the roast is burned?”
“What if Pastor preaches too long?”
“When are we getting out of here???”
And before we know it any focus on the message of God’s Word has been lost and we forget what the Scriptures were revealing to us. We become forgetful hearers!
Using the graphic visual of a mirror, did you notice who it was that was looking into the mirror and then forgetting? Right! It is like a man… this entire illustration would not be believable if it had said, “This would be like a woman who looks into a mirror and then forgets.” That just doesn’t happen! We often do counseling at the parsonage. Couples sit at our table and we practice table fellowship and counseling together. Sometimes Kathy will counsel ladies at our table. It is always interesting to notice when a woman sits across from our hutch. It has a mirror. They can see themselves. They can’t take their eyes off themselves! Seriously, what is it with you women and mirrors? Some of you even carry mirrors in your purses. Is there a man you’ve ever met who carries a mirror? Never! This illustration would not be believable if it had said, “This would be like a woman who looks into a mirror and forgets.” But when it says, “This is like a man who looks into a mirror and then forgets what he is like” it is entirely believable! Have you ever seen a man who evidently hasn’t looked into a mirror in a while? Hair in some places that are just wrong! Clothes that really don’t match. Whiskers that were missed when shaving. Hmmm. A man who looks into a mirror and then forgets. That’s what we are like when it comes to the Word of God. We allow something or someone to steal our focus away and we forget. That is a framework issue that needs correcting!
Failures to do…a failure to remember…portray a heart issue that is dangerous. It is called self-deception and it is a framework issue.
Transformation that God promises. (v. 25)
A heart for God’s Word
Yes, as simple as it sounds, it all begins with a heart for the Word of God. This reveals a framework that is submitted to the authority of God’s Word. It reveals a framework that is willing to be challenged and changed by the Word of God.
Did you notice the contradictory description of God’s Word? The “perfect law of liberty.” Law and liberty in the same phrase? At the surface level that might seem contradictory but it is true. God’s Word is a record of the perfect law. It began with a view of God, followed by a record of the Law given by God, a law that reflected his holy character. Although man consistently failed to keep God’s Law it did not diminish the seriousness of learning a correct view of God and thereby a correct view of man. This is how framework is changed. Finally, Jesus came to finish what the Jews could not do. He fulfilled the Law, gave himself as our necessary sin sacrifice and established the New Covenant in his own blood. Today we stand in that New Covenant and see the beauty of God’s perfect law and the liberty that is ours in Christ.
To persevere means that we continue…that we abide (to borrow from John 15) in the wonderful and powerful Word of God. Great faith does not look to a moment in time when we did or believed something great. Great faith is persevering faith. Faith that continues!
It is one thing to honestly look into the mirror of God’s Word and experience the revealing, convicting power of the Word at work in our hearts. But it is another to choose to persevere in that posture. It is akin to the surgeon who has the courage to start the incision to open the sick patient and do surgery. But there will not be a good outcome unless the surgeon perseveres until all is finished, properly sutured, cleaned, the wound disinfected and covered, and the patient carefully brought back to consciousness. Once started the process must continue to the end to be effective. So it is with the Word of God! We must not simply give opportunity to be convicted and even shamed. We must persevere until true change has taken place.
A doer who acts
How can we know when we have properly listened to, responded to, and even resolved what the Word of God has revealed? When our actions demonstrate transformation! And when that demonstration translates into a changed life.
Opposite of being the forgetful hearer is the faithful hearer who listens, learns, and is changed by the Word of God as demonstrated by faithful acts of obedience. That’s when we know change has taken place.
What an amazing and encouraging end result to this process of changed framework leading to changed lives and all leading to experiencing the blessing of God. Is there anything that could be better? Does selfishly hanging on to your flawed framework really sound that inviting compared to the life blessed by God? No way!
When we contemplate the blessings of God where do we start? You can never describe only one blessing. It is always understood to represent multiple blessings! To know that your heart is right with God and that you can experience peace…doesn’t that sound better than what you are now experiencing? To see evidence of his grace at work in your life bringing change and developing you into a life conformed to the very image of Jesus Christ! Isn’t that better than what you are now experiencing?
And to think that the promise of blessing extends to the continuation of blessing. “This man shall be blessed in his doing!” That describes something that continues on into the future only as far as God can see. Amazing! This is the kind of blessing we need!
Conclusion: God’s Word calls for us to faithfully hear and obey but this will not happen until the obstacles are removed. Frameworks must change. Attitudes must change. Perspectives must change. Conflicts must be resolved or abandoned. And hearts must choose to be open to God’s surgical working through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. This is what God calls us to. This is what the Christian life should look like! This is transformation that will lead to multiplication and by God’s grace should start a movement of God’s Word in our lives, our church, our community, our nation, and our world!