“Living Within the Kingdom”

James 1:17-27

We are reading through the book of James. Last week we read that we are called to be doers of God’s Word, not just hearers, especially when life gets difficult. When the rubber meets the road and we are faced with major difficulties, or with difficult people, what do we reveal? Our desire to be like Christ or our human side? When a difficulty comes that has me wavering, I often put my response like this:

Do you want to know my human response? Or 

The response I know God wants me to do?

Basically James is telling us to get over ourselves and step up to the higher ground where we place our focus on others and how things are done in God’s kingdom. When we follow James’ advice, God’s Kingdom becomes real.

Today as we continue reading in James we are told that God’s goodness stands in contrast to the temptations we face. James tells us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” We can all agree with this statement, however, there is a bit of subjectivity in determining exactly what a good and perfect gift is and how we act with what we have been given. The ultimate goodness of any gift must be measured on an eternal scale. Winning the lottery could be a “good gift” but could also easily become a destruction. 

These good gifts come down from God “who does not change like shifting shadows.” God doesn’t sneak around or play games. All is good that comes from Him. He doesn’t change, He is the same today, yesterday and tomorrow. God is light. James is reminding us that we can count on being able to see God’s good. 

One demonstration of God’s goodness is the fact that God chose to give us birth, or re-birth through His Word. James is reminding us that the best gift given by God was Jesus, who brings us salvation. We don’t have to appeal to God for salvation or provide an excellent argument for Him to give it to us. We simply need to “believe.” Because God loves to provide us with His love and desires us to become one of His children, or as James put it, “a kind of firstfruits of all He created.”

Then James tells us to bequick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Quite similar to the way Jonah described God in chapter 4, 

“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

James is describing for us how to be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. 

Much of our anger and wrath come from being self-centered, not others centered. James is telling us to begin with being, 

  • Swift to hear 
  • Slow to speak

We have two ears and one tongue, we should use our ears twice as much as we do our tongue. 

James tells us to beware of our wrath as well. Most often our wrath doesn’t accomplish the righteousness of God but more often defends or promotes our own agenda. 

James also gives us a warning and a command to help us focus on God’s ways and not our ways. 

He returns back to our own lusts and tells us to examine what we are putting into our lives. We should be vigilant in what we take in, James reminds us to get rid of the moral filth and evil that is so prevalent. Let’s face it, one can’t even watch the evening news without experiencing moral filth and evil. James tells us to focus on God’s Word, the Word you have planted in you and its need to be watered with more of the Word to keep it growing. You are watering it today by being here at church. James reminds us that God’s Word is what will save us and keep us from going in the wrong direction. 

James doesn’t just give a direction, he also provides us with how to do it. James goes on to tell us how to receive the Word of God. He begins by reminding us that we should not only hear God’s Word, but we should be “doing” God’s Word. In ancient times, people would listen to a teacher. 

However, if you actually followed what the teacher taught, you would have been that teacher’s disciple. Jesus was looking for disciples, doers of what He taught. We have been called to make disciples. Which means investing our lives into others so that they “do” God’s Word, not just “hear” God’s Word. 

Jesus used the same point when He concluded His Sermon on the Mount. He described the person who heard the word without doing it was like a person who built their house on the sand. But the person who heard the word and did it was like a person whose house was built on a rock. The one who was the doer, who both heard and did God’s word could withstand the inevitable storms of life as well as the judgment of eternity. (Matthew 7:24-27)

Here is a place where understanding the Greek language makes this next statement clearer. James gives an analogy of what it is like to hear the Word and not do it. He said it was like, verse 23

 “someone who looks at his face in a mirror” 

The Greek word for “look” in this sentence has the understanding of “looking with careful scrutiny.” So these people would be known as Bible experts, but it doesn’t mean they are doing what it says. We have a saying for such people, “they are so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good.” 

Also, according to the Greek, this mirror the person is using is not just a mirror that reveals just our external features, but a mirror that shows us “the face of our birth.” In other words, the face of our nature. 

So James is telling us that when we read and hear the Word, we will not only see our actions there, but our motives, our desires and our inward condition. 

That is the power of the Holy Word. Preachers hold up this mirror every Sunday. It is the Word of God that is 

“….alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

It’s not what I say or think that should make you change your behavior or do what is right in God’s eyes. It should be the Holy Spirit that gives you wisdom, to comprehend what to do and strength to actually do it. 

I’m just a conduit, placing God’s Word before you, to make a positive difference in your life, should you choose to follow it. 

A healthy person looks in the mirror to do something, fix your hair, make sure there isn’t any spinach between your teeth. Just like a healthy Christian looks into God’s Word to do something about it, not just store up facts for trivia night, but to use by being a doer of the word. 

Check in time. 

What are you doing with the Word of God?

You hear it every Sunday if you come to church. 

Is that where it stays, at church? Or 

Do you put it to work, in your growth as a Christian, in your relationships, in your daily life. 

What about the rest of the week? 

Are you reading God’s Word, listening to God’s Word, thinking about it, grappling with it? 

Or is it just on Sunday?

James tells us in the next verse that there are rewards for following God’s Word and putting it into action. We will be blessed. Again, the Greek words are not easily translatable. 

The Greek for “looks intently into” means using a penetrating examination, so that a person would even bend over to get a better look. Which demonstrates that although James has been stressing the “doing” he does not neglect the studying of God’s Word. 

Then there is the next word translated, “continues” commentator Adam Clarke puts it this way, 

“Takes time to see and examine the state of his soul, the grace of his God, the extent of his duty, and the height of the promised glory. The metaphor here is taken from those females who spend much time at their glass, in order that they may decorate themselves to the greatest advantage, and not leave one hair, or the smallest ornament, out of its place.”

James then calls God’s Word, the “perfect law that gives freedom.” What a wonderful description. 

James concludes this part of his letter with examples of what it means to be a doer of the Word of God. He directs this section to anyone who thinks they are religious. He has just identified that real religion is demonstrated by not just hearing the Word, but also doing what it says. James provides a direct issue that gets in many a person’s way, the unbridled tongue. 

The New Testament never uses the ancient Greek word for “religious” in a positive sense. James used it here as of someone who thinks they are religious but is not right with God because of an unbridled tongue. James states that basically their walk with God “is useless.” If what comes out of your mouth and what you do does not match what is written in God’s Word, who are you kidding? Unfortunately, the deception does not only affect the one who thinks they are religious. Many others are also deceived along the way. Jewish leaders were a prime example. They proclaimed they were religious when their religion consisted of a lot of external observances and keeping themselves from ceremonial defilements, when morally they were bankrupt and were seeking only their own benefits.

James then offers two features of what God sees as pure, unsoiled religion expressed in acts of charity and in chastity:

  1. To look after orphans and widows in their distress 

  1. to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Another Greek word here, the word to “look after” isn’t merely giving something for the relief of the distressed, although that is nice. It means to visit them, to take them under your care. Go to their houses, speak to their hearts, listen to their hearts. If it is within your means, relieve their wants. Share with them God’s love and at the very least, lift them up in prayer. 

The second feature is that while you are participating in taking care of widows and orphans, don’t retreat from the world, but go “into” the world. 

Doing what God has called us to do. 

When you forget what it is we are called to do, go back to the Sermon on the Mount. 

Here remains the problem. We start out all right. We go into the world, we do good things and in the meantime something comes along that looks good and feels good. It has a good side and a bad side, so we take care to only participate in the good side. That all in itself isn’t wrong, until… 

Where is the line? 

Pretty soon the line between good and bad becomes blurry and before we know it, we are in it, all the way. 

An example of this from the Old Testament is the story of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. He started out following his uncle when Abraham was called to leave his family and go to a place God had planned for him. 

Mistake #1, Abraham should have never allowed Lot to come with him in the first place, God had told him to leave his family, not take someone with him. But then again, Abraham wasn’t that good at following God’s directions anyway. They eventually made it to where God had planned and there were too many of them so they had to split up. Lot decided to live towards Sodom, disregarding the spiritual climate of the area, because of its prosperity. Lot had certainly prospered by hanging out with Abraham and he had grown to like prosperity. It wasn’t long before Lot moved into the wicked city and even became part of the city’s leadership. The end result was that Lot lost everything and was saved only by the skin of his teeth because of his uncle. 

James was trying to keep this new group of believers from falling into the same trap. Life as a Christian was difficult. Prosperity was everywhere else. 

What was it that kept James and the other apostles steadfast? 

They had spent time with Jesus. They remembered His words and believed that this existence is just that, an existence that is preparing us for real life in eternity. By living for Jesus, with a view of the Kingdom of God, we catch glimpses now and prepare forever with Jesus. Knowing what lies ahead, knowing that God is with us, providing wisdom, providing strength, providing hope, dare we be anything but steadfast?

Let’s pray.