(Preaching Series) Bible Month: James Chapter 1 ‘Doers of the Word’

May I speak and may we listen, in the name of God who is Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen .

 

‘welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves’.

 

 

This morning, we’re beginning our preaching series, looking solely at the letter of James. And today, the chapter of James we’re looking at is the first Chapter, and the theme for this Sunday is ‘Being Doers of the Word’ – Doers of the Word.

 

So who is James? And what is the letter of James?

 

Well, James is the first of a group of seven letters

 

James,

1 Peter

2 Peter

1,2 & 3 John,

and Jude.

 

And James, although it starts like a letter is really like a long sermon – or long address covering topics about Christian conduct….

 

The rich and the poor,

Pride and humility,

Wisdom, patience, prayer,

Controlling the tongue, and most importantly faith and action.

 

We don’t really know how it came to be written, or even who it was written to – but we think it has been written by James, the brother of Jesus around AD 60. And by the same James who became a Christian when he saw the risen Christ. And James went on then to become the leader of the early Church in Jerusalem…and we hear about that in Acts 12, 15 and 21.

 

So, we have a whole month with this James character – and his letter. And his letter to whoever he was writing is also a letter to us. And in Bible Month, I think the idea is that we get to grips once again in a new way with the word of God, with the Bible. And if we do this together this month, we’ll be doing it with Churches all over the connexion and in other denominations.

 

I know that many of us belong to a cell group, and some belong to a Church fellowship group or a class meeting – but in terms of actual biblical study and prayerful study of scripture…we probably lack in that area far more than we ought.

 

Now I have about 25 Bibles.

And I don’t open any of them for more than about 25 minutes a day….and that’s on the days when my mind and soul can find the motivation and the time.

 

That’s not a good thing….when you think how much longer we spend on other things that really don’t feed us, or have the capacity to feed us as much as Holy Scripture.

 

I come from a Jamaican family, and for some reason we have this bizarre tradition in our houses of having a bible either a huge one or a little one always on a table with a cloth by itself, opened and religiously collecting dust on the pages of Psalm 23. This was for our protection and safety from the powers of darkness….but what good it really served, unread and undisturbed I’m not so sure.

 

And so, I ask myself whether James isn’t right in saying to me, to us, to whoever he is writing to….

 

‘If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.’

 

What is it about the word of God that makes us shy away from it so often? I know in my own life there have been times when it’s only on the cliff edge of despair that I have gone to God’s word actually expecting to find a word of life within its pages.
Maybe we shy away from it because it’s long,

Maybe we shy away from it because we’ve never managed to see its benefits,

Maybe we shy away from it, because actually it cuts us to the heart – and tells us the truth – and is unapologetically honest…

 

Honest about God,

Honest about us,

Honest about the world,

Honest about the human condition.

 

And I think that that is true no matter how you look at scripture – whether you see it as an ancient useful text book, whether you see it as an accurate record of parts of history, whether you see it as the Word of God, directly from the mind and heart of God, or whether you see it as inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, written by human beings, giving us insight into who God is and what God does and what God in Jesus came to bring the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Now, James says in this Chapter many things – but mostly he is trying to provide us with an idea of what a Christian should be like…

 

For St James,

A Christian has a positive attitude to life’s difficulties…they know the value of the learning that can come from struggle.

 

A Christian doesn’t blame God when things go wrong. They know where to turn for help and for guidance.

A Christian has the right sort of values and priorities.

They have control over their tongues and their tempers,

They set themselves to discover God’s standards and to live them out –

They put their faith into practice.

 

And all of this, because they are rooted and grounded and inspired in and by the Word of God.

 

For us to be rooted and grounded in something, and for us to be inspired by something – we have to know it. And this is where the challenge really is:

 

James says:

 

‘You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

 

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

 

He says be ‘doers’ of the Word – not merely ‘hearer’s.

 

But again in order to do the Word, you have to know the Word.

In order to love the Word, you have to know the Word.

In order to speak the Word, you have to read the Word.

And the Word is Jesus Christ, and we learn of him and hear from him and get an image of him – in the Gospel.

 

 

So if we want to know who Jesus is, we have to pick up our bibles – and with all our strength, and with all our will, we need to sink our teeth into this text which James says, ‘is the implanted word, that has the power to save [y]our souls.’

 

I remember hearing a story, which I’m sure wasn’t the actual experience of the person who told me it, but had come from somewhere else. It was of an elderly couple who were invited to a Wedding, and the Bride and the Groom reluctantly sent the invitation but they sort of knew they had to – so they did.

 

And this elderly couple who hadn’t been to a Wedding for some time and were expecting something quiet and low-key went – and they thought to themselves what gift can we get the newlyweds….and in the end they both decided that a Bible would be a great gift accompanied by a letter. They put the letter inside the cover of the Bible and the Bible was a fancy one that came in a box.

 

That couple received the gift – said thankyou, but when they realized it was just a Bible the didn’t bother opening it, or reading it.

 

And that young couple, grew up, they themselves aged and passed away and when their children were clearing away their things and wanted momento’s to keep one of the chidren opened the Bible and found inside the letter and the cheque for £4000 pounds.

 

The young couple assumed that they knew the value and worth of God’s Word.

 

And we too do the same.

 

I reckon we’re quite good at the doing – James says be ‘doers of the Word’, we’re often quite a busy Church actually….and we do a lot of things.

 

And as people, we prefer to do, than just to listen in my experience, but James reminds of something really important.

 

That if you are just doing, or just hearing – neither of them are adequate. We need to know why we do what we do. We need to know that we are actually doing the things the Word asks us to do, and in order to do that we need to be rooted in it.

 

For James – the Word of God changes how we act, how we behave, how we live, how we believe….

 

And he believes this because the Word and Christ are intimately linked – how precious is it that we actually have the words of Jesus, written down for us today and we can read them and know that they are from the Lord.

 

You know sometimes I feel that we lack a little in confidence in being able to say to folk, loudly and courageously: There is nothing you need more in the whole universe than an encounter with Jesus Christ and his Gospel.

 

And if that’s true for others then it’s true for all of us….and I think actually it’s more crucial for us because we are here – and this can begin to look like a destination, and complacency is always around the corner.

 

Perhaps we think we are full when we are empty, and rich when we are poor….

 

‘Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.’

 

 

Our riches, are our faith – and what James is trying to tell his audience, is that there is another way of being. That through Jesus Christ, and through his word – we can be both hearers and doers of the things of God.

 

Pope Benedict XVI said in his latest and final book: “if we no longer know Jesus, the Church is finished.”

 

And it sounds so obvious, and so simple – but it’s true.

 

James 1 ends with the words:

 

‘If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.’

 

We will only care for the orphan and the widow in distress, and stand before God pure and undefiled, and keep ourselves unstained by the world – if we dig deeper into the Word of God, and have that transformational encounter with Jesus.

 

It’s an encounter that could happen more if our bibles were collecting less dust on our shelves,
It’s an encounter that could happen more if we were willing to be changed and challenged and set ablaze by the Word of God…

 

That’s an encounter we need every day of our lives, Because in God’s word – we see God’s face, and we come to know our story as human beings and as disciples – in God’s word we realise that there has always been someone in history who has been where we are before.

That encounter with Christ in the Gospel, is an encounter we need regularly and often – it’s an encounter which leads to an empowering of the Holy Spirit, and through it both the world and the Church become transformed to be the places they can be.

 

Because we read it and in parts and at moments it has the capacity to open our eyes, break our hearts, unblock our ears – and make the hairs on the back of our neck stand up….

 

Charles Wesley wrote in a hymn:

 

 

‘Father of mercies, in thy word

What endless glory shines!

For ever be thy name adored

For these celestial lines.

 

Here may the wretched sons of want

Exhaustless riches find;

Riches above what earth can grant,

And lasting as the mind.

 

Divine Instructer, gracious Lord,

Be thou for ever near;

Teach me to love thy sacred word,

And view my Saviour there’. – CW.

 

 

Today, this Pentecost Sunday, might we: once again, or for the first time….

 

‘welcome with meekness (humility) the implanted word that has the power to save [y]our souls. {That we might) Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves’.

 

Might we grow in love for God’s word, and in that word find Christ, and in Christ find life.

 

In the name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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