Here are two sermons and two homilies that I have preached on James 1.
25/8/96 6.30 pm ''Taking Action'' James 1:19-27, 2:14-26.
( Matthew 7:21-27 )
From the age of eleven I used to support Norwich City F.C. I used to go to all of their home games and the occasional away match, wear my yellow and green scarf, follow news of the team in the newspapers, watch them train during the school holidays, collect their autographs, and wear a black cloud on a Saturday night if they got beaten. When I was eighteen I went to Wembley to watch them play in a League Cup Final. I was so disappointed at the performance of the team and in the new manager, John Bond, that I stopped supporting them. In the last twenty years I have watched them about three times, usually after Christmas when I have gone with my father. I now follow their results where I can. But it no longer affects my Saturday night if they have lost, and I could only tell you the names of a few of their players. So I could not really be considered a supporter or a fan of The Canaries.
James is addressing the issue of people who claim to be Christians, to believe in Jesus, but it doesn't make any difference to their lives. Like someone who claims to be a supporter of a football team, yet never watches them, doesn't wear their colours, and knows nothing about the team.
PEW BIBLES - James 2:14-26.
James is saying that our relationship with God has to affect our relationship with other people. This is evidence of a genuine faith. Only this can save us from the judgement of God when Jesus returns. That is what Jesus was talking about in our Gospel reading. Our faith, what we claim to believe in, must bear fruit.
The teaching of James, and of Jesus, is not in opposition to that of Paul's. Paul says that it is only by faith, trust in Jesus, that we are saved, put right with God. The faith word in the Greek is a trusting word. Indicating that it has to involve a reliance upon and a following of, the one in whom the faith is placed. Therefore, if meone claims to be a Christian this should affect the way that they relate to other people. We see this in Paul's letters which are often prompted by people who call themselves Christians behaving in a way that is contrary to God's teaching. For example 1 Corinthians tells the Corinthians not to permit sexual immorality in the church, and to love one another and be united, rather than have divisions in the church.
James illustrates his doctrine by the example of someone who calls themself a Christian, has the right words with a prayer of God's blessing upon the poor, but does not help them practically. READ v15f.
As a church we believe in this teaching. We carry it out by giving away 10% of all that we receive to worthy causes. With our current financial position it would be easier for us not to do this yet following God's will costs, and not always in a financial context. This Harvest Sunday, 18th August, our collection will be given to TEAR Fund, and the produce given to the Elizabeth Trust as a practical expression of our Christian faith.
James say that faith without works is dead, a lifeless faith. He is talking about a head knowledge belief in God. Just saying that or just believing that it is true doesn't make someone right with God. James illustrates this with verse 19 - READ.
Many times I have heard people say that they believe in God in this way. I have never had the guts to quote this verse back to them !
Often such people believe that because they live their life by a certain code that they perceive as good this makes them a Christian. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what being a Christian is all about. Being good, whatever we may understand by that, does not make us a Christian. Being a Christian makes us good, or at least better ! People have confused cause and effect. They have thought that the effect is the cause, and the cause is the effect. You see the cause, our acceptance of Jesus as boss of our life should transform the way that we live, which is the effcet. Yet people mix the two up. They see the effect, the good works, and think it is the cause, what makes a person a Christian. This goes along with the idea that many people have that you have to work your way into God's good books. Whereas our faith is a gift from God, although he does expect us to do something with it. We are responsible, and accountable for the use, or the misuse of everything that God gives to us. Our faith, time, energy, talents, possessions, family etc.
James goes on to list two examples of faith from the O.T. In both examples the faith, trust in God, leads to action.
We have Abraham. God promised that Abraham's descendants would be as numerous as the stars. He trusted God's promise, even though he was old and childless. Then Isaac was born, and God asked Abraham to sacrifice him. Abraham went through with this until God provided a Ram to take Isaac's place. Abraham trusted and obeyed God, and was therefore put right with God. Not by his actions, but because they showed that he trusted God. The two are linked, but the faith comes first, and is proved by action.
Let's go back to Chapter 1:19ff to see some more examples of the action that God requires of us. Note that he is talking to "everyone" v.19. This applies to all who call themselves Christian.
What action does he asks us to take ? v19 - be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. None of these is passive. At Theological College there used to be a lecturer who was an academic genius. When you spoke to him he would sometimes go "Yeah, yeah, um I know , I know..." as if he wasn't really listening to you, had made his mind up about what you were going to say, and was totally bored with it.
Sometimes we listen to someone and are not really taking in what they are saying but are already preparing what we are going to say, and looking for a chance to blurt it out ! James says that our faith must affect our mouths and our minds. In two weeks we will be looking in more detail at Chapter 3 which is all about the tongue. The title is "Get the fire brigade!"
So we are to listen rather than speak, and be slow to be angry. This is not saying that we are never to be angry, because we see from Jesus' life that there is a time and place for Godly anger. Yet if our anger is quick and ill-considered it is more likely to be an initial, emotional response to something that threatens us. The fruit of the Spirit includes that of self-control, something that is needed when we feel an immediate urge to oppose something that threatens us.
Following recent work in our garden we have loads of garden rubbish that really requires a skip, or numerous trips to the tip. We've already filled one skip, soon after we came here and I haven't got around to the expense of another one! Each week we invariably fill our Wheeliebin but this isn't enough. God calls us to take radical action in our lives. To get rid of the rubbish all at once. Once we have done this, cleared the weeds if you like, God calls us to grow in obedience to his revealed will. This is what v21 is saying - READ.
I don't know what you look like in the mornings. Moreover, I don't WANT to know what you look like in the mornings. But I would just like to remind you what it is probably like. You get up, look in the mirror and recoil as you see an unwashed face, perhaps with stubble on it, and unkempt hair. What do you do ? For some people this is too much first thing and they go and have breakfast and a cup of tea before embarking on such an onerous task. Maybe, very occasionally, you have done this and forgotten to wash, shave or brush your hair.
James uses this scenario to illustrate what some people do. They hear God's word, His teaching, and they turn away from it, and forget it. Such a person deceives themself, says James, and v26 this is especially so if he does not watch his, or her, mouth !
James contrasts this with the person who deals with God's teaching correctly. This involves your ear, your brain, and your body. Ear; Brain; Body; -repeat ! Ear. We shouldn't just listen to the word v22, but this doesn't mean that we close our ears to God's word. No we should hear it and examine it intently v25. This is where our brains come in ! We are to hear, remember, and think about God's word. Not only knowing what it says but how to apply it in our lives.
v25 says we are to continue to do this. Do this. With our bodies. Earlier in Chapter 1 James tells us of the need to persevere in our faith. Here he is writing about the need to continue to do what is right, not to rest on our laurels.
At the end of Chapter 1 he illustrates the practical outworking of the Christian faith. v26 - keeping a tight rein on our tongues. v27 looking after the helpless, in their culture the widows and orphans. And to keep oneself from being affected by the mindset and values that are popular and oppose God's ways.
To conclude I would like to quote with a statement from the cover of a Commentary I Have on James. "Faith is not true faith unless it is the motive power that produces Christian living." PRAY
14/9/97 6 p.m. "The Proof of Faith" James 1:16-end ( Luke 17:11-19 )
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.
The problem that James addresses is that 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. 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 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.
How to obey 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. Read verse 18. The best thing that God can give is new birth. The birth of a baby is a wonderful and exciting time as the Osborne and Laughton/Rhodes families have recently discovered. 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" ( Jn.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. ( speak slowly) 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 have recently tried 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 . Read.
This is the only way that we can move on to the final section :
How to obey 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. Now for some of us that isn't a bad idea really. But can you imagine him filling his passport application in. Colour of eyes - wait, rushes back to the mirror. Colour of hair, returns again... invisible. Distinguishing features, disappears again... three eyes and, um, er, what is it, yes, forgetfulness !
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 everywhere. 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 ? By reading it again and again. Discussing it with others. Coming to Church and House Groups. By memorising Bible verses. 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 will is not a set of rules handed down from a spoilsport God who doesn't what us to enjoy ourselves. It is there for our benefit, and the benefit of others. It is 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, as it says in 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. 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.
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 ?
We have witnessed such talk recently following the death of Princess Diana. The Royal family were not allowed space to grieve without demands for them to show themselves to the public. People seized on this notion that was put into their heads by the papers and television desperate for something else to report to fill their front pages, or hours of screen time.
These same press people were the ones who tried to absolve themselves from blame for the way that they hounded the Princess. They said that they give the public what they want. I think it is more the case that the vast majority of the public uncritically accept what is portrayed to them as news, when it is often lewd gossip. Often truth is not allowed to get in the way of a good story. Hundreds of people dying abroad get little coverage because they are abroad, and not British.
As Christians we are called to consider very carefully what we say. We should not get involved in gossip, or condemning others when we do not know the full story.
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 cf vs 17f. 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 to life as we know it.
This doesn't mean that we have to live like a hermit. 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 fog. 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. Maybe ringing up to make a comment.
I rang up GMTV this week to point out that they were misunderstanding Jesus words. They were supporting a Vicar who obviously didn't go to Oak Hill Theological College. His church had been burgled, and he used Jesus words of "if your hand causes you to sin cut it off" to back up the notion that the thieves should be maimed. Jesus used these words as a figure of speech to show his disciples the importance of not sinning. He wasn't telling them how to deal with someone who sinned against them !
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. Not slavery to our sinful nature.
Today's theme is "the proof of faith". The cause and effect go together. And where people see the effect that our relationship with Christ has this will result in them wanting to find out more about Christianity, and bring glory to God.
8 a.m. Easter 4 21/5/00 James 1:17-21
Intro : are you good at remembering specific gifts that people gave you for Christmas and Birthdays ? I'm not, my mother and Melanie can often remember several years back who bought me what.
Doesn't mean that I am not grateful to the many people who have shown their continuing love to me by buying me gifts.
Earlier in Chapter 1 James had refuted the accusation that God sends temptation. In today's reading he reminds of the many, good gifts that God has sent.
Verse 17. He says that 'every good and every perfect gift' comes from God. He calls God the 'Father of lights' reminding us that he created everything including the sun, moons, stars and planets. The sun moves across the sky, causing shadows to change direction and lengthen. But God is constant, unchangeable, and will continue to give good and perfect gifts.
Verse 18. The best gift that God can give is eternal life. This is not something that we earn or deserve. This is a new creative work of God 2 Cor. 5:17 Therefore....
It is freely given by God to those whom he chooses to reveal himself through the word of truth, Jesus. Jesus said 'I am the way the truth and the life, no-one can come to the Father except through me.' We are called to follow his way, his truth and his life in response to his gift. That is why it says we are to be the first-fruits. Christians are called to be a sign of what is to come. To show what it means to live a life lived in a right relationship with God and to follow his way. This does not mean that we will be perfect fully grown fruit straight away, that comes later.
James then spells out what this righteous living means in practice. read verses 19-21a. N.I.V. 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
Get rid of refers to taking something off, like gardening clothes. This needs to be replaced with an alternative way of living ...
and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
This word of God needs to be accepted humbly. This word needs to be grow. Just as we can grow a seed in the right conditions, so we can grow spiritually if we devote ourselves to attending church, prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and obedience to God.
During the Thirty Years' War (1620 to 1648) the little town of Eilenburg in Saxony suffered severely. It was attacked by Austrians and Swedes. The influx of refugees brought crowding and the plague visited the town four times during the 28 years. Only one pastor survived it all and he sometimes had to conduct funerals for 50 people in one day. There was famine, too. When the news of the Peace of Westphalia came the Elector of Saxony ordered Thanksgiving Services to be held and gave the preachers throughout the land a text from Ecclesiastes 50:22, "Now bless ye the God of all, Who everywhere doeth great things, Who exalteth our days from the womb and dealeth with us according to His mercy. May he grant us joyful hearts, and may peace be in our days forever."
Pastor Martin Rinkart was struck by the power of the text and pondered it and shaped the sentiments into a hymn which has now been used in many languages and is used throughout the world. There is particular power in these lines when you remember the horrors of war the author had experienced and the close of that war which it commemorated. Rinkart's words have been translated by Catherine Winkworth into the now familiar words:
'Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands, and voices, Who wondrous things hath done, In whom His world rejoices; Who from our mother's arms Hath blessed us on our way With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today.'
I am unable to remember all the presents my friends and family have given me. But I am grateful for their gifts, and their love, prayers and support for me over the years.
God has given us so much that we cannot think of everything. When we think of Martin Rinkart the abundance that we have can make us seem ungrateful.
So, today, let us thank God for every good and perfect gift. Our homes, families, friends, food and water, peace, health, and especially the gift of Jesus.
Let us also receive God's word humbly and put off everything that is contrary to his perfect will, and live lives that show that we belong to him.
20/5/01 8.00 am Easter 5 B.C.P. James 1:22-27
Jas:1:22: But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23: For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25: But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. 26: If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. 27: Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
I recently had a wedding enquiry from a couple who turned up on a motorcycle wearing leathers. I chatted with them and it turned out they only covered about 2000 miles last year and had a car for most of the time. Twenty three years ago I had a Norton Commando motorcycle. I had friends who had motorcycles and we would often go out for the day whatever the weather and return wet and with cold-numbed fingers. However, some wouldn't be there if the weather was rough. They didn't wear the right clothes because they looked too smart. Their bikes didn't make the right noises. They were labelled posers or fair weather bikers.
James is writing about what it means to be a true Christian. He was addressing people who claimed to be Christians but who argued, acted immorally, and didn't help their less fortunate brothers and sisters. He says that Christianity is not just about what you say, or what you listen to, but it is about what you do.
These Christians hear the word of God, then go away and forget it, living unchanged lives. James wrote that they are deceiving themselves. He compares them to people who look at their reflection in a mirror, go away and forgets what they look like.
Christians need to listen intently to God's word. Really getting to grips with the Bible. And then putting it into practice, and keep on putting it into practice. Every day. Whatever the weather. Even if it does not appear to be smart.
He gives three practical tips on what we should do. He says :
watch your mouth; 26: If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.
James is referring to someone who goes through religious rituals, but does not have a tight reign on his tongue. When a horse bolts it can be very dangerous. So an uncontrolled tongue can cause severe harm, a topic that James returns to in Chapter 3. Again, James writes that such a person deceives themselves.
help the helpless; There are two types of sin. Sins of commission, something that you do that is wrong, and sins of omission, when you fail to do something that is right. This is what James refers to, 27: Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,
This is referring to practically helping the fatherless and widows, not just visiting them ! At this time there was no welfare state and those without a father or husband had no financial support, unless they had family to help. We are all in the family of our loving, heavenly father. We may never meet a destitute orphan or widow in this country, but this doesn't man that they don't exist.
In Africa AIDS is rife, 3 million people died of AIDS in Africa last year. There are many widows and 12 million orphans, with the number rising. Local churches are helping those affected with love and support. TEAR Fund is one organisation who is supporting these local churches and, by supporting organisations like them, we can help the fatherless and widowed.
thirdly Christians are to be pure.
and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
The world describes the total system of evil that affects every part of human existence. It is opposed to God and to righteousness. We are to follow the way of God. Because this opposes the way of the world this may result in opposition and ridicule, but we are to persevere in our faith.
To summarise, we could say that true Christianity is about receiving and doing God's will. This will involve loving others and holiness before God.