Sermon on James 1:17-27
Text: 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 and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness 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 someone 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 whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it — not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it — they will be blessed in what they do.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their 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.
As I was preparing to write this sermon, I wanted to look up the lyrics to the old Gospel song, “Give Me That Old Time Religion.” As I did so, I found a website that listed many different variations of those lyrics that spoke of the old-time religion of Buddhism, Native American religion, and even wiccan (witches)! What this website was implying was that all religions are just as good as any other religion, Christianity included. That is definitely a prevailing thought in our world today. “It really doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere about it.” “All steeples point to heaven.” Is that true? As we study God’s Word together, we are going to answer that as we look at GOD’S KIND OF RELIGION. It shows that we are to be 1. Quick To Listen, 2. Slow To Speak, and 3. Eager To do.
This epistle was written by James, who calls himself “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (James 1:1) In all likelihood, this is the James, who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He was a half-brother of Jesus. James wrote this epistle to Christians who were “scattered among the nations.” (James 1:2) He wrote to encourage them in their faith and admonish them for their shortfalls in Christian living. Most of this epistle deals with the third use of the law, which is a guide for Christian living. Having seen what God has done for us, we see the law as a guideline for doing things to say thank you to God.
This is evident when we look at the first verses of our text. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” (Verses 17&18) Before James teaches them how they were to act, he reminds them of the love that God had shown to them. He speaks of the fact that “every good and perfect gift is from above.” Everything that we have and enjoy in this life comes to us from our heavenly Father. From the food in our stomachs to the clothes on our backs to the roofs over our heads, all that we have comes from God. Everything that is our comes to us from “the Father of the heavenly lights.”
Of course, we would be remiss if we did not mention the greatest of all the good and perfect gifts, namely, Jesus Christ. In verse 18, James wrote, “[God] chose to give us birth.” This choosing took place before the creation of the world. God wanted us to be in heaven with him. However, our sins made that impossible. We could not be in heaven with him. So, the Father, in his great love for us, sent the perfect gift to the world in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. He saved us from eternal damnation by his perfect life, his innocent suffering and death, and his glorious resurrection. More than that, the Father sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to create the faith that receives the forgiveness of sins and eternal life as its own. What greater gift could ever be given to us? How can we even begin to that our God for all that he has done for us?
It’s on that note, the James addressed his original readers and us, as well. Having seen all that God has done for you, here are some ways that you can say thank you. He writes in verse 19, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Let’s take a few moments and look at that verse. First, James writes that we are to be “quick to listen.” Let’s apply that to God and his Word. We are to be quick to listen, or eager to listen. When we have the opportunity, we show our thankfulness to God as we listen to him. We come to our worship services, not because we must or someone would be upset, if we didn’t, but because we want to. We realize that we have the privilege to hear God speaking to us through his Word. Our feelings toward our opportunity to worship echo the words of the psalmist, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’” (Psalm 122:1) Did you notice the attitude that he had? He “rejoiced.” He was overjoyed at the prospect of hearing God’s Word. This thought also applies when we have opportunity to study God’s Word in Bible class and Sunday school, and as we read God’s Word for ourselves. As we have opportunity to listen to God’s Word, we are to be quick to listen.
In the next phrase of verse 19, we are reminded to be “slow to speak.” Again, let’s apply that to listening to God’s Word. There will be certain things in the Scriptures that may not make sense in the Scriptures. There may be things that offend our sensibilities. We may be tempted to add to what God’s Word says, or say, “This is what I think God meant to say.” Rather, we are to be “slow to speak.” Teachers have used the phrase, “You can’t listen with your mouth open.” If you’re talking, you can’t listen and pay attention to what is being said or taught. Rather than talking, listen to what God’s Word has to say to you. Being quick to listen and slow to speak is a part of God’s kind of religion.
Of course, the concept of being quick to listen and slow to speak also plays a role in our dealings with other people. We can see that especially when we add the third phrase of that verse: “slow to become angry.” (Verse 19) How often doesn’t it happen as we deal with other people, that we act the exact opposite of what James tells us we do out of love for God? We find ourselves changing the words all around. Instead of being “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” we find ourselves being “slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to become angry.” If someone disagrees with us or have a different viewpoint, we find that we close our ears and open our mouths. People easily become angry when they stop listening and start talking. When they disagree, people are less likely to listen and are far more ready to start talking.
However, this anger is not how God would have his people act. In verse 20, James writes, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” When a person is angry, they do things that are not in keeping with God’s will. The language that comes from the mouth when one is angry is often less than God-pleasing, whether its foul language or words that hurts someone. Anger can lead to physically harming someone or their property. Anger leads us to holding grudges. Listen again to what James says: “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
That is why James continues in verse 21, “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.” If anything is opposing God’s righteousness in our lives, if anything is keeping us from living in a way that is pleasing to God, we are to get rid of it. The picture that James uses is to strip off filthy clothing, clothes that have been crusted over with every sort of mud and filth. Get rid of them! Strip them off! Instead, put on the righteousness that comes from God. Jesus has washed us clean. Why would we want to go back to the filth again?
Ad you can see, there is more to God’s kind of religion than just having your name on a church membership list. It is our entire life in humble service to God, a life that is filled with thankfulness for all that God has done for us. We want every aspect of our lives to thank him.
James, also, writes about someone who considers themselves religious in verse 26, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” Our gift of speech is another of those gifts that comes to us from the Father of the heavenly lights. Yet, how often isn’t this gift misused? Earlier, we mentioned that, when angry, we may say things we ought not. There are also times when we share information about others, whether true or not, that damages their reputation. We tell stories or jokes that have no place coming from our mouths. The list could go on and on as to how we don’t keep a tight rein on our tongues.
We must all confess to the times when we not lived as Christians. We have not always thanked God properly for all that he has done for. However, we come to God in repentance. We confess our sins to God and are reminded of the beautiful fact that Jesus paid for those sins, as well. Salvation is ours. Eternal life is ours. All has been given to us free of charge. How can we help but say thank you to God with our entire lives?
As we began our sermon, we noted the religious feeling of our day that all religions are basically the same. However, that is completely false. There is one major difference. The one group says that you do something so that God will forgive you and give you eternal life. The other group says you do something because God has forgiven you and given you eternal life. The second is God’s kind of religion. That’s what’s taught in his Word. Out of love for God, may we be quick to listen, slow to speak, and eager to do all to the glory of his name. Give me that old-time religion. Amen.
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