17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. 19 My dear brothers, take note of this: 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. 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. 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 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. 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. 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.


What makes somebody a Christian ? Many people get confused between the cause and effect. The cause, what makes someone a Christian, is God's Spirit being invited into someone's life in response to what Jesus has done for them. The effect is to transform the way that person lives.

So people see Christians living better lives, or trying to live better lives and think, 'That's what makes a Christian.' They think that they can be a Christian if they try to be good. They may even think they are a Christian if they live their life according to a moral code.

In his letter to the church at Galatia Paul writes that " a man is not justified ( i.e. put right with God ) by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ" (2:16 ). The reason he wrote this was that there were false teachers in Galatia who taught that you had to have faith in Jesus and observe the Jewish Law to be put right with God.

In today's gospel we have a dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees. They insisted on people adhering to their oral traditions, man made rules that had been added to the written Law given by God. At this time a son could withhold money or possessions that were due to his parents by declaring that it was 'korban'. 'Korban' was a gift promised to God, yet retained by the son and still used by him. This was part of the religious 'Halakic' tradition that came after the law, and was used to avoid it's obligations. This goes against the fifth commandment. Exodus 20:12 "Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Jesus criticised the Pharisees for using their oral traditions to break the law of God. He called them hypocrites, play actors, because they pretended to be religious yet did not uphold God's law.

James addresses a similar problem where there are people who claim to have faith in Jesus, but it doesn't affect the way that they live their lives. It is not that James and Paul disagree about how we are 'justified'. Indeed, later in Galatians Paul writes that they are to reject the acts of the sinful nature, and to live by the Spirit. But James and Paul are writing to correct different problems.

At the start of his letter James has written how God can use trials to bring people on in their faith. But he writes that God does not tempt people do to wrong.

We then start our passage for today. This centres around three responses needed to the word. God's revelation to us found in Jesus and in the Bible.

The three responses are:

Being saved through the word, verse 18.

Listening and receiving the word, verses 19-21.

Obeying the word, verses 22-27.

Being saved through the word, verse 18.

God isn't the author if evil, verse 13, but the source of everything that is good, verse 17. Verse 18. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. The best thing that God can give is new birth. The birth of a baby is a wonderful and exciting time. It is a time when we can be brought near to God by the creation of this tiny person. But James is picking up on the words of Jesus to Nicodemus. "You must be born again". Talking about a new start with God in humble trust like a child, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This comes through the word of truth. Centred on Jesus who said "I am the way, I am the truth, and I am the life. No-one can come to the Father except through me" (John.14:6 ).

Listening and receiving the word, verses 19-21.

This is how we should receive God's revelation to us that we read in his word, the Bible, and as we are taught from it. James addresses three things that can block this in verse 19.

A failure to listen. We should be quick to listen. It is often very difficult to really listen. To take in what is being said and to reflect upon it. We can often be too busy to do this properly, so we need to make this a priority. In our private times with God, and in our corporate acts of worship. Some are reluctant to hear God's word, perhaps because of ignorance or fear.

A tendency to talk. We are to be slow to speak. That doesn't mean that Christians are to be characterised by speaking slowly. But God has given us two ears and one mouth. Sometimes we are too busy thinking about what we will say next, rather than listening to what is being said. Our words should be carefully thought out as we come to God's word.

Anger. "We should be slow to anger because man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." verses 18f.

This does not mean that we are never to be angry, for there are times when it is right to be angry. Jesus was angry when he saw the way that the Temple in Jerusalem was being misused by the traders and money changers. This is talking about man's anger, not God's. One that is in response to the challenge of God's word.

One of the reactions that people have when they feel threatened is to hit out. To get angry. As God's word challenges people it will provoke some to anger. Some people try to count to ten when they feel angry. I try to adopt the principle of reciting the nine fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 :22f.

Just as a building is only as good as it's foundations, so is the way that we receive God's word. It has to be built on humility, that is to say thinking of God and His word more highly than ourselves. This can only come about through a change of heart inspired by God's Holy Spirit.

To illustrate this James uses the image of removing one set of clothes and replacing it with another in verse 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.

This is how we can move on to the final section :

Obeying the word, verses 22-27.

Verse 22 is the key to the whole letter of James. If you were to sum up the whole message of it this would be it in two sentences. You can have a Doctorate in Theology, be a Professor of Hebrew, recite the gospel of Mark off by heart, read your New Testament in the Greek, but if you don't do it, it is useless. A sham.

This is not to say that we will be perfect, but it has to have an effect upon our lives.

Here James illustrates this with the story of someone who spends time looking at himself in the mirror, and then forgets what he looks like. This forgetful mirror watcher is contrasted with what God wants for us as we see in verse 25.

"looks intently" - this doesn't mean that Christians should go around staring ! But it should mean that we examine the word of God very carefully. Trying to understand the original situation that it addressed. Seeing where this fits within God's plan to save humankind. Then applying it to our lives today. Not the type of thing that comes from a superficial reading.

"continues to do this" - we are not called to act according to God's will on only one occasion, like a divine driving test. We are to continue to follow God's ways all of our days.

"not forgetting what he has heard" - we are to remember God's ways. Why? Because the word has been planted in you ( verse 21 ). How do we remember ? By reading it again and again. Discussing it with others. Coming to Church and House Groups. By memorising Bible verses like Jesus did. When the devil tempted him he replied, "It is written...It is written...It is written..."

"doing it" - God wants you and I to be more like Jesus. As a church he wants us to have vibrant worship, a loving and forgiving fellowship, meaningful prayer, Bible-based teaching to equip us to live for him, a church where everyone exercises the gifts that God has given them...

This is all centred around "the perfect law that gives freedom".

God's law is not a set of rules handed down from a spoilsport God who doesn't what us to enjoy ourselves. They are there for our benefit, and the benefit of others. They are given because God wants the best for us. Once we realise this, and receive the love that God has shown us in Jesus we are then set free. Free to obey the ways of God rather than to be restricted by them.

When we follow God's way this will result in us being blessed, says verse 25.

For those who are unsure of exactly what is being asked for James spells this out in verses 26f. Three areas of life are involved :-

1) Our Speech.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth said : "If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me." This is probably typical of many people today.

Read verse 26. 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.

James talks more about this in the whole of Chapter 3. Verse 17 of Chapter 3 gives a good yardstick for what our speech should be like. Read 3:17. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

This contrasts with the conversation of many which is impure, hostile, inconsiderate, proud, biased, and insincere. We should ask the questions : Is it true ? Is it necessary ? Does it build up the one who is being talked about ?

Often truth is not allowed to get in the way of a good story. We saw this in The Sentinel two Fridays ago when they claimed around half the gravestones in our graveyard had been 'toppled'. In fact, 60 out of 825+ were carefully laid down.

Sometimes hundreds of people dying get little coverage because they are abroad, and not British. A recent coverage of a French train crash was reported with the words that the one Britain on the train was O.K.

As Christians we are called to consider very carefully what we say. We should not get involved in gossip, or condemning others.

2) Practical Caring.

Read verse 27a. Orphans and widows had no-one to provide for them in these days other than their families. The early church appointed deacons to serve widows and others with food in Acts 6 so that the apostles were free to teach.

We are called to care practically for those who are in difficulty. Perhaps getting a prescription for an infirm person. Providing company and a meal for someone who would otherwise spend Christmas alone. Giving money to an agency like TEAR Fund. Something that we will do on Harvest Sunday as a church.

This caring is based on an understanding of what God has done for us and given us. It is a sign of gratitude, and a realisation of a need.

3) Our Holiness.

We are to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. The world around us would rather we imitate them, than imitate Christ. The reason that they crucified him was that he was too radical. Too God-centred. A threat.

This doesn't mean that we have to become hermits. Hiding in a cave on a hillside. But we have to take measures to ensure that we do not get polluted by what goes on around us. Like a cyclist who bikes in the city and wears a gas mask to combat the fumes. We are called to take measures to prevent ourselves from being affected by the filth that is around us.

Turning off the television when something that is unwholesome is on. Not joining in when people gossip, maybe even pointing out the other point of view if we feel people are being unfair.

We are not to be sucked in to doing what everyone else does. The way of knowing what is right is rooted in God's word. The perfect law that gives freedom from slavery to our sinful nature.