James 1:19-27 - I won’t forget, I will listen and Obey

 

Let us Pray

 

I have a confession to make.  I forget stuff.  It’s not keys with me – I have a big wad of them, all on the same ring, and they live in the pocket of whichever trousers I have on.  And it’s not particularly big things – well, at least I don’t think it is, although of course there is always the possibility I’ve forgotten.

 

I’m pretty good at keeping appointments – and at remembering the milk when I go shopping.  But I am a bit useless with people’s names.  You see, I tend to work by writing everything down – and people generally take offence at having their names written on their foreheads in black marker pen.  I suppose we could always use post it notes.  So – apologies in advance!

 

And I wonder – how are you doing this year at remembering things.  Is it better than last year – or worse – have you discovered that fool proof system for organising reminders yet?  And if so – could you make it available to the rest of us.

 

And what kind of things do you forget.  Is it birthdays?  I think we probably all had an aunt or uncle who were notorious for forgetting birthdays when we were small – some of them could even forget Christmas – maybe you are that aunt or uncle.  Or perhaps it’s those times when you say ‘I’ll get back to you’ – and forget.

 

But maybe it’s the bigger things.  The more important things.  Birthdays of our own children or parents.  Phoning Hong Kong at the right time to make the deal.  Or the most desperate of all – a wedding anniversary.  Now I’ve never done that – yet.

 

And if you are a habitual forgetter – especially of the more important things in life – how do you try to remember?  A calendar – which you forget to write things on – or little yellow notes – that just get covered with other little yellow notes, until eventually you’ve got new wallpaper with a nice textured finish around the phone.

 

Forgetting big stuff has consequences – and we all want to find ways of avoiding that happening.  If we care about things, then we are going to try to find ways of not forgetting them – if people are important to us, we’re going to try and remember! So how do we avoid forgetting the biggest and most important thing of all – how do we avoid forgetting what God wants of us?

 

Turn with me to James – on page 1213 of the bibles in the chairs – as we look at forgetting and remembering today.

 

We’re in James 1, starting at verse 19 – as we look at I won’t forget, I will listen and Obey.

 

1. Hear (v19-21)

 

If we want to not forget, if we want to remember what God wants of us, then we first need to Hear – look with me at verses 19 to 21.

 

James starts with an encouragement to pay attention:

 

James 1:19 My dear brothers, take note of this:

 

Now our translation says dear brothers – but I’m sorry ladies, this does not exclude you – think of it like the old English ‘brethren’ – brothers and sisters.  So – my dear brothers and sisters, take note of this.

 

Listen up.  Here’s something important.

 

James 1:19 Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

 

Here’s a good way to live – listen.  Don’t open your mouth unless you are sure what’s going to come out – and you’re sure it not going to be something said in the heat of the moment.  Why?  Because loose, fast talk is often angry – and that kind of anger doesn’t help you live the kind of life God wants you to live.

 

We’re straight in here aren’t we – straight into some wisdom from James for our lives.  Straight into some instructions on how to live.  And I think we could all see the wisdom of what James is saying.  In fact this is very much a wisdom saying – the kind of thing you get in the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament – look at these verses from Proverbs:

 

Proverbs 17:27 A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. 28 Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

 

But these are not just wise words – this is not just advice on anger management.  Look at verse 21 – James applies this much more deeply:

 

James 1:21 Therefore, 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.

 

Being careful with what we say is about more than just not getting ourselves in difficult situations, and being made to look a fool.  It is also about living differently.  About getting rid of moral filth and evil – about listening to the word.

 

You see, what James says doesn’t have authority just because it works for some people.  He is not a management guru – his words have authority because they are God’s words – God’s word.

 

James wants his hearers to make a big life choice.  A big life and death choice.  They are, and we are, to put off  - get rid off – all moral filth and evil – including the example he has given us of an out of control and angry tongue. 

 

And then they are to accept the Word – the Word of God.  The word implanted – something which is inside us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The word which can save.

 

How does God’s Word save?  Look back to verse 18:

 

James 1:18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

 

God’s word saves because it is God’s word which contains the truth – the truth about Jesus Christ, about how he died on the cross for our sins, to make us right with God.  So if we live as followers of Jesus Christ, if we live with Christ as our saviour and lord, if we trust him for our salvation – then the word which tells us about him can save us – so that only the last day, we can stand before God – confident not in ourselves, but in the power of Christ, the one who saved us.

 

James wants us to put off our evil ways – and to listen to the word of God.

 

This means we need to repent.  But before we can repent, we need to recognise that we have a problem.  When I garden, I like to wear old clothes – and I take great pleasure in the fact that I can get as much soil as I like on my hands, just to wipe them on my jacket, – and step in as much mud as I like –and kneel or sit on the ground without a care in the world.  But I don’t think I’d be too popular if I absentmindedly wandered into the lounge and sat down without changing first.

 

If I need to get rid of the moral filth – the filthy rags – then I need to recognise that they are dirty. 

 

You see, I might think that my anger isn’t a problem.  I know that other people’s is – especially when it is directed at me.  But my anger is different.  I only get angry with stupid people.  And I know I say things that are inappropriate at times – but that’s juts me – that’s just the way I am – and everybody knows I’m only joking, everybody knows that’s just me. 

 

So my anger isn’t a problem – what I say isn’t a problem – people just shouldn’t be so sensitive. 

 

We can all think that our anger is righteous anger.  Or that it is just the way we are made – something to do with our Irish blood, or our Latin temperament, or our upbringing, or frankly anything that can’t be our fault.

 

If we are going to repent, we need to first recognise we have a problem.  Here, James’ example applies to what we say – but it could be something else.  And the crunch point is this.  Do we believe that if God’s Word says something is wrong, it is wrong – or do we really think we know better than God?

 

(Pause)

 

James is all about doing – and we’re going to come to that in a moment.  But we can’t do anything useful, unless we have first heard, and know what to do.

 

Otherwise, we are not going to be following God’s agenda, but our own.

 

Otherwise, we’ll make sins into virtues – and ignore the fact that following Jesus is a life and death issue.

 

We need to hear.

 

And then we need to do

 

2. Do (v22-25)

 

Look at verse 22:

 

James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

 

James wants us to start by listening.  But he doesn’t want us to stop there.  He wants us to do.  Well that seems simple enough, and it is.  But there is a danger here.  Look at the end of the verse again – James is concerned that people might be deceiving themselves.

 

We need to take this caution seriously, and be prepared to examine ourselves, seriously.  James has already warned us about how we speak, about anger – and we have seen there that it I quite possible to think that we are doing alright.

 

So as we continue through these verses in James, we need to be prepared – as we always should be – to look first to our own conduct, to look at ourselves closely, and to ask God to show us where we might be self-deceived – where we might be thinking we’re doing okay, where we need to humbly accept God’s Word.

 

(Pause)

 

James gives us the command – do it! – and then tells us of two types of people:

 

James 1:23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror  24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

 

This would be like looking at a photograph of yourself – and not knowing who you are – because you don’t know what you look like!

 

When we see ourselves in the mirror – we know what we look like – and we know what changes we’d like to make.

 

First thing in the morning, I often have hair going in all sorts of directions – if I sprayed it different colours I’d make a great punk – and when I see that in the mirror, I know I’m going to have to do something about it.  And so I do.  Honestly.

 

I see myself – and I remember – and I do something about it.  I don’t forget – because I think it is important.  I don’t neglect it – because I think it’s worth doing something about.

 

Look on to verse 25:

 

James 1:25 But 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.

 

Here’s the second type of person.  This man looks intently – and he remembers – and he acts.  I will not forget – I will listen and obey.

 

What does he look at? He looks at the perfect law that gives freedom.  This probably means the law of the Old Testament which has been fulfilled – made perfect if you like – in Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ who gives us freedom by releasing us from the authority of the powers of darkness.

 

And he looks continually.  He doesn’t just look once – he continues to look.  And so he remembers, and so he does.

 

If we want to remember something, we have to focus on it.  When you sit an exam, it’s customary to do a bit of revision first – and that usually means more than a passing glance at your notes.  Or think of all those PIN numbers we have today.  I can remember most of mine – because I use them regularly – but some I’ve forgotten – the ones for cards that I rarely use.  If we keep something in front of us, we are less likely to forget it.

 

And then don’t forget the promise of blessing here.  What kind of blessing?  The blessing of peace with God – peace with God that means a secure future looking forward to heaven, and peace with God which means we can enjoy a relationship with the father through Jesus Christ now. 

 

The message of this section of the letter is clear - don’t just listen, do.

 

But do the right thing – don’t forget what you look like as someone who has been saved by Jesus Christ – instead, look closely into God’s law – into God’s word – and listen, and remember and do.

 

We need to hear what God wants through his Word.

 

We need to Do what God wants, not forgetting what is important.

 

And finally we need to Live the way God wants

 

3. Live (v26-7)

 

James gives us three practical examples of what it means to listen and obey:

 

James 1:26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 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.

 

Call yourself religious says James?  Then these are the kinds of things you need to be doing.  Not just these things – but certainly these things. Now he is going to return to these areas later in the letter, but he introduces them here.

 

First, verse 26, you need to keep a tight rein on your tongue.   We’ve already talked about this – but notice the imagery – you keep a tight rein on a horse that needs to be controlled.  Or think of driving a fast car – you keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times – and if you stop concentrating, that’s when things can go wrong, and the horse or the car starts to head of in a direction all of its own.

 

We need to keep a tight rein on our tongues – we need to be careful what we say.

 

Then, second, we need to care for the helpless.  Widows in the ancient world were often helpless, because it was difficult for women to earn money, and so to look after themselves.  In our day, the categories of the helpless might include different people – but we have a responsibility to care for them in their troubles.

 

Then, third, we need to keep ourselves pure from the world.  Now this does not mean retreating to a monastery.  But it does mean that we should care about holiness, about living as God wants us to live, not polluted by sin.  We’ve already seen this morning that we can easily deceive ourselves, and thing we’re doing alright when actually we are busy compromising with the world.  We need to continue to examine ourselves – continue to measure ourselves against God’s word, continue to pray that by his Spirit God will show us where we need to change our lives.  And then we need to make changes.

 

***

 

How do we avoid forgetting what God wants of us?

 

Well, first we need to think and believe that it is important enough not to be forgotten.  We need to commit ourselves to remembering.

 

Then we need to Listen to what God wants to say – we need to hear his Word.

 

And once we’ve heard it – we need to do it.  Not just look at it and forget – but keeping it close.

 

We need to live the life God wants – doing the things God wants us to do.

 

Then, as God’s spirit works in us, we won’t forget – we will listen and obey.

 

Let us pray

 

James Hughes 17th April 2005