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 sat down to write this sermon, I wanted to find the words to the old Gospel song, “Give me that old time religion.” So I searched the Internet in hopes of finding those lyrics. Not only did I find them, but also I found spoofs of that song that were written by others, that spoke of the old-time religion of Buddha, Native American religion, and even wiccans or witches. They were implying that these religions were just as good and had been around as long as the Christian religion. We live in a day and an age that pretty much lumps all religions into one and says it really doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere about it. Today as we study this section from the book of James, we are going to look at GOD’S KIND OF RELIGION. We will see that we are to 1. Be 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.” 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 throughout the heathen nations. He wrote to them to admonish them for shortfalls in Christian living. The majority of this letter deals with the third use of the law, which is the guide. Having seen what God has done, we now view the law as a guideline for pleasing God.
This is evident as we look at the first two verses of our text (v.17-18): “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.” Before James tells them how they were to act, he reminds them of the love that God had shown to them. He spoke of “every good and perfect gift is from above.” Everything that they and we have and enjoy in this life came from our heavenly Father. From the food in our stomachs to the clothes on our backs to the roofs over our heads, all come to us from God. Everything that is ours comes to us from the “Father of the heavenly lights.”
Of course, we would be remiss if we did not, at this time, speak of the greatest of all good and perfect gifts that come from above. Here we are speaking of Jesus Christ. In verse 18, James writes that “[God] chose to give us birth.” This choosing by God took place before the world was created. God wanted us to be in heaven with him, but our sins made that impossible. We could not be in heaven because of them. 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 an eternal damnation by his perfect life, his innocent suffering and death, and his glorious resurrection. In addition to that, our heavenly Father sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts and created a faith that receives the blessings that God wants to give us, including the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. What greater gift has ever been given to us? How can we begin to thank our God for all that he has done for us?
It’s on that note that James addressed his original readers and also speaks to us today. 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 various parts of that verse. First of all, James tells us that we are to be “quick to listen.” Let us apply that to God’s Word. We are to be quick or eager to listen. When we have opportunity, we show our thankfulness to God as we listen to him. We want to hear God’s Word. We make use of our worship services, not because we have to or someone will be upset, but rather because we want to. We realize that we have opportunity to hear God’s Word. Our feelings toward this echo the words of the psalmist who wrote, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’” (Psalm 122:1) Did you take note of the attitude he had? He said, “I rejoiced.” He was overjoyed at the prospect of hearing God’s Word. As we have opportunity to listen to God’s Word, we want to be “quick to listen.”
In the next phrase of verse 19, we are reminded to be “slow to speak.” Again, apply this to listening to God’s Word. There may be times when certain things in Scriptures don’t make sense. There may be certain 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 may use the phrase, ‘You can’t learn with your mouth open.’ If you’re talking, you can’t listen and pay attention to what is being said and taught. Rather than talking, listen to what God’s Word has to say to you. Being quick to listen and slow to speak is 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 or relationships with others. We can see that especially when we add the third phrase in verse 19, “slow to anger.” How often doesn’t it happen as we deal with others that we act the exact opposite of what James says we are to do out of love for God. We find ourselves changing the words around. Instead of being “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger,” we find that we are ‘slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to anger.’ If someone disagrees with us or has 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 far more likely to talk.
However, this anger is not what God would have us as Christians exhibit. In verse 20, James writes, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” When a person is angry, he does things that are not keeping with God’s will. The language that comes from the mouth when one is angry is often less than God-pleasing, whether it’s foul language or words that hurt someone else. Anger can lead us to physically harm someone else or their property. Anger can lead us to holding grudges. Again, James writes, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
That is why James writes in verse 21, “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 clothes, clothes that have been crusted 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 that filth?
As you can see, there is more to God’s kind of religion than just having your name on the church books somewhere. It is our entire life in humble service to God. It is a life filled with thankfulness for all that God has done for us. We want every aspect of our lives to say ‘Thank you’ to God.
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 the Father of heavenly lights has given us. But, how often have we misused the gift? Earlier we spoke of the times that we, in anger, said things that we ought not. There are also times when we have shared information about others, whether true or not, that harms their reputation. We tell stories or jokes that have no place coming out of our mouths. The list goes on and on as to how we don’t keep a tight rein on our tongues.
We all must confess to the times that we have not lived as Christians. We have not thanked God properly for all that he has done for and given us. But, we come to God in repentance. We confess our sins to God and reminded of the beautiful fact that Jesus paid for those sins, as well. Salvation is yours. Eternal life is yours. All this has been given to us free of charge. How can we help but say, ‘Thank you’ with all our lives?
As we began our sermon, we noted the religious feeling of our day that says all religions are basically the same. That is completely false. There is one major difference. The one group say that you do something so that God will forgive you and give you eternal life. The other says that you do something because God has forgiven you and given you eternal life. The second one is God’s kind of religion. That’s what is taught us in God’s Word. Out of love for God, may we be quick to listen, slow to speak and also eager to do all to the glory of his name. Amen.
St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches ©2023 All rights reserved.