What’s one of the biggest charges non-believers aim at Christians? It’s hypocrisy. Christ-followers that talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. It’s not a new problem, James dealt with it too in James 1:19-27.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
What’s James saying here?
What’s the opposite?
What should we do?
Proverbs says a lot about controlling your tongue. Proverbs 10:19 says, “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” Look at anger in verse 20. One translation I read described anger as resentful, deep-seated anger. A grudge.
Who’s good at holding grudges? I am. Is that good?
It hurts you more than who you’re angry with. It hurts you physically and psychologically and it also hurts you spiritually.
What should you do? Forgive them, refuse to get even and let it go, like the song from Frozen. This is what Jesus said about forgiveness, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14)
Is the grudge worth eternity? The time this was written was a time of political unrest. The tensions between the Jews and Romans were rising, and in less than 20 years the temple would be destroyed by the Roman Empire. Think about today’s politics, it’s sticky, and the internet makes it easy to attack people.
Is it Christ-like to do that? Why should we listen carefully, choosing our words carefully and patiently, reflective, and forgiving?
Is all anger wrong? What kind of anger isn’t wrong? Anger at injustice and sin that hurts others. Not when our ego is hurt and we’re offended.
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.
James is pretty vivid. What does he want you to do?
Turn away from what morally contaminates you. Like what Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
“What does he mean by ‘word’? God’s word. The seed that is planted in us and grows.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
What does it look like to merely listen to the word, but not do what it says? How would we be fooling ourselves?
It’s in the action, not the listening. I can sit in church every service but if I don’t take that step to follow Christ and obey him, I’ve done nothing. I could not call myself a Christ-follower. James is explaining what God wants to see in our lives.
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 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.
How easy is it to forget what someone tells you? What if you immediately put it into practice every day? That’s what James is talking about.
What is the perfect law that gives freedom? The law of Christ.
What is it freeing us from? Sin and death. Salvation frees us from sin’s control and we are free to live as God created us, to obey Him in gratitude. Jesus, in John 13:17 says, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
I wish James would tell us what he really thinks. Why is your religion worthless if you can’t control what you say?
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.
What does James mean by “religion”? He uses it a lot. I looked at the Amplified translation and it said being religious is being scrupulously observant of the rituals of your faith. The Greek word means piety.
What rituals do we have as Christians? Baptism. Communion. Attending church.
So if we only observe the rituals listed, and we don’t love others and do good, what does that say about our walk as Christ-followers?
Why did James single out widows and orphans? All through the Bible are verses about God’s concern for them. Deuteronomy 10:18 tells us God defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the foreigner living among you, giving them food and clothing.
Amos 2:6-7 and 5:21-24 has God pronouncing judgment on Israel for not caring for the widows and orphans, and hollow ritual. Isaiah 1:17 says learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless. Plead the case for the widow.
Back then they didn’t have a large support network to care for them. What does this tell us about God? God loves those that society rejects and looks down on because every soul matters to God.
Did you know that Jesus identifies with those in trouble? There is a parable in Matthew 25 called the parable of the sheep and goats. Matthew 25:36 Jesus says, “I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.” In verse 40 he says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Food banks? It’s like we’re feeding Jesus. Working with the homeless? The Call? Orphanages. Caring for the sick? When you do this, Jesus considers it the same as doing it for him. When we’re in a bad situation, Jesus identifies with us, he says he understands. This makes me think, how do I feel when someone helps one of my family members? That’s what God feels when we help someone.
This is part of the perseverance we discussed in the last post. It’s doing the next right thing, applying Jesus’ teaching to our lives. In this passage, James is telling us what the attitude and behavior of a Christ-Follower look like. That’s someone who thoughtfully listens, chooses their words carefully, doesn’t overreact, and listens to and obeys God because He saved them. They care about what God cares about.
This week, I want you to check yourself against this grid. What can you do right now to do what it says?