Be a Hearer and a Doer of the Word
15th Sunday after Pentecost
Be a Hearer and a Doer of the Word
Text: James 1:17-27
The same old routine. Each and every week. The alarm clock screams at you with that annoying buzz. Ugh. Already? Why do they have to make alarms with only annoying noises? You throw the sheets off and somehow manage to get your feet on the floor. You stagger around for a while until groggily, you manage to get a cup of coffee going.
You shuffle through your closet. “I guess I haven’t worn this in a while. This will do.” Eventually you are dressed—and just in time to rush out the door and make it by 9:59am (maybe 10:02 sometimes). You hurriedly walk in. You greet a couple familiar faces, “Good morning. Good morning. Good morning.” You find your seat.
Alright, here we go. Opening hymn. A couple responses. Some readings. Another hymn. A few words from pastor. (Hopefully it’s short this week.) A couple prayers. Another hymn. Finally! Done! “Goodbye. Goodbye. Have a nice day. Goodbye.” “Phew! That’s over with. Glad I don’t have to do that again for another week!”
The same old routine. Each and every week. You put your time in. You do what your supposed to do. You nod in agreement with the sermon (trying to look like you’re not nodding off to sleep or staring in the corner). You get your God time out of the way and you get on with regular life and the rest of your week.
Is that really what our lives have become though? Is that what God means to us? A two hour block on a Sunday morning (hopefully every Sunday morning)? A couple verses read here and there. Maybe we catch a Wednesday night here and there. Maybe we read a daily devotion on the church blog here and there. Is that what God and his Word mean to us?
This morning James the step-brother of Jesus wants to grab us by our Sunday-best and shake us and scream, “NO! That’s not what it’s all about!” Being a Christian isn’t about going through the motions. It isn’t about putting in your time or picking some place to have your name on the membership roster. It’s not about hearing God’s Word occasionally and then going on with your life as if nothing will ever change. No! James tells us this morning: Be a Hearer and a Doer of the Word.
Take a look at what he says in verse 22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
Wouldn’t that be foolish! How could someone look in the mirror, walk away, and then forget what he looks like? That’s not just foolish, we might be so bold as to call that stupid. It seems impossible even! How could you forget what you look like?
That’s James’ point though. How can we, who call ourselves Christians, look in the mirror of God’s Word and forget what we see? In that mirror we see what a Christian life is supposed to look like. So how can we walk out these doors on Sunday and not act like that? How could we read a Bible verse at home, or come to Bible study during the week, and then proceed the next day to do the opposite of what we heard from God as if we forgot?
So go ahead. The mirror is out again this morning. Take another look. Look at God’s Word. What do you see in the mirror?
Here’s what the mirror says (verse 19): “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
Is that what you see in the mirror? Do you see a person that is eager to listen? Do you see yourself as someone who hears gossip or complaining but first wants to find out the truth before buying in? Do you see yourself as someone that wants to listen carefully to the feelings and emotions of your spouse or your coworker before you blow a gasket?
Do you see in the mirror someone who bites their tongue? Someone who is careful not to lose their cool? Someone who will choose words carefully so as not to offend or hurt feelings or put a foot in the mouth? After all, a patient mouth is so important that James adds in verse 26: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” If you call yourself a Christian but your lips are constantly flapping in the wind complaining and whining and gossiping and arguing and fighting—what good is your religion? You might have heard the Word of God, but you aren’t doing the Word of God.
What do you see in the mirror today? Look even more closely. Verse 21: “Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.” Or verse 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.”
When you look in the mirror, how much filth do you see in your music, your magazines, your favorite TV shows or movies? Do you see yourself as someone who helps out the needy, orphans and widows being just two examples? Do you keep yourself from being polluted by the world? Or do you see yourself completed inundated and intertwined with American culture around you?
When I look in the mirror, I’m disgusted with what I see. I call myself a Christian, but that’s not always what I see. I see someone who looks in the mirror to see what a Christian should look like, and then walks away and completely forgets. I see someone who hears the Word of God but doesn’t always do the Word of God. When I look in the mirror I want to see a Christian but I only see sin.
It’s not pretty. It’s ugly. So instead of looking at myself, I need to look at someone else. I need to look at someone without any mistakes or flaws or blemishes. I need to look at someone who doesn’t falter or fail. I need to look at God.
So we first look at verse 17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows.” First we see the love of our God who continues to shower us with his bountiful blessings.
Every good gift that we have comes from him. He provides for us with food and clothing and shelter. He even gives us far nicer food, for more clothing, and far bigger homes than we would ever need. He pours out his goodness in all kinds of extra toys and tools and gadgets and goodies. He has allowed us to live in a country that, though it is struggling, is probably a nicer place to live than any other place in the world. Regardless of lives filled with sin, the Father who created the heavenly lights—like the sun, moon, and stars—loves us enough to shower us with blessings.
But unlike the shadows that shift and change with every passing minute of every day, our God never changes. His loving mercy continues to pour out on us. We not only see it in his good gifts, but also we see it in his boundless grace. Verse 18 says: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”
With all our blemishes and blunders, with all the stains and sins that we see in the mirror, God still chose us to be his own. He chose to give us a new birth and a new life. In his word of truth we hear about the height of his grace. There we find out about his Son, Jesus.
In the word of truth we see Jesus living a flawless life of perfection. We watch as he always was quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. We see as he was rid of all moral filth and evil. We observe him showing love to all the pure and needy.
Then in the word of truth we see Jesus march to Jerusalem to show the greatest of love to the neediest of sinners. We watch as he trudges toward Calvary to carry all sin. We see him endure the ugliest of suffering as punishment. We observe him giving up his life as the payment for our wrongs.
But this was all with purpose. Again, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstruits of all he created.” Firstfruits were the first and the best crops that were harvested from the fields. God chose us so that we could be his first and best new creation through Jesus. In him we are washed clean. We are forgiven. We have new lives.
So when we look at the Word of God and look at the mirror to see ourselves, the image we see is now much different. We don’t see blemishes or mistakes or faults or failures. We don’t see the ugliness of our sin. Now when I look in the mirror, I see Christ. I see myself wrapped in his perfection. I see myself clothed in his forgiveness. I see God’s newly created firstfruits, created to be his own dear child.
That’s all the motivation we need for a new and different life. God’s grace fills our hearts with love for him and a desire to do what he says. So James encourages us at the end of verse 21: Humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” Forgiven sinners recognize that the word of truth that saved us is something that we humbly accept.
And as we humbly accept the Word of God, we don’t just hear it, but we also want to do it. Verse 25: “The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”
How blessed we are when we don’t just hear the Word of God, but also do the Word of God! When we hear about God’s love in church, and then walk out these doors and show love to others, how blessed we are! When we hear the Word of God and then give careful thought to the words that come out of our mouth, how blessed we are! When we hear the Word of God and it fills our hearts to give us patience and slowness to anger, how blessed we are!
The Word of God and the grace of God completely change our lives. They give us a whole new perspective for how we live, what we do, and what happens to us in our lives. I was reminded of this on Friday.
Vicar Jacob called me late Friday afternoon. I was expecting a report on how the move went, or maybe some complaints about how awful it is to be sitting in a desk and writing papers again rather than working in a church. Instead he was calling to ask for the prayers of our whole congregation. On Thursday Laura’s mother called her and all her siblings to let her know that on Wednesday she found out why she has been having headaches and dizziness and pain lately. Mrs. Backus found out that she has aggressive brain cancer and at the most one year left to live.
Yet this pastor’s wife and strong woman of faith who has been saved by the word of truth and is the firstfruits of what God created, is not just a hearer of the Word, she is a doer of the Word. She lives her faith. She called her children to tell them that she is thankful for this cancer, which she calls “a gift from Jesus.” She’s thankful for this gift because now she has one year to let her light shine and share her faith through this sickness. She’s looking forward to that opportunity to witness and be strong for others. That’s not just hearing the Word. That’s doing the Word.
God’s grace and God’s Word change us in the same way. This isn’t the same old routine each and every week. We aren’t just putting in our time here at church because “that’s what you do.”
We gather here to look in the mirror and see our sin, to hear about our Savior Jesus Christ, and then to go out into the world to live that faith and share it with others. So be in the Word. Be around the Word. Hear the Word. Then do the Word. God give that strength to Laura’s mother. God give that strength to us.