This past Sunday (March 19th) I preached a sermon at First Presbyterian Church Bradenton. Here is the transcript from the message.
(Read James 1:19 – 27)
Let’s pretend for a moment that I went to the local business supply store and bought a new desk for my office. When I pick it up I find that it is in multiple boxes and needs assembling. I take the boxes back to my office and upon looking at the directions I quickly realize this is going to be a job that is going to take me longer than I expect and maybe a bit beyond my skill level. I ask our maintenance man, Fernando, if he would be willing to take the instructions and figure out how to assemble my desk. He agrees. I leave him with the manual and inform him that I will return. After a few hours, I come back to my office and Fernando says he has finished the desk. I anxiously go upstairs and notice, to my shock, the desk is in complete disarray and it looks nothing like the one I saw at the store. There are drawers missing. It is crooked. It is unstable. It is nailed together (and last I checked nails weren’t in the hardware bag). There are extra pieces on the floor, next to this sad excuse of a desk… boards, pegs, screws and various hardware. I look at Fernando, who is smiling ear to ear and clearly proud of the job he did and I say, “I appreciate your willingness to assemble this desk, but didn’t you use the directions I gave you?” He responds, “Yes, I read them. I memorized them and then I called the office staff Michelle, Grace and the family minister Mary Beth up to your office and we read the instructions together. We even had a deep discussion about them. Mary Beth, who has a Masters of Divinity, translated some of the foreign language instructions so we could know what they said. It was a great time. Afterwards we had some snacks felt pretty good about our instructions discussion.” He goes on to say, “I then decided that even though the instructions were well thought out, clear and helpful that I didn’t really need them to put the desk together so I put it together the way I thought it should go.” Insert palm to face.
This story seems silly, doesn’t it? Well, as absurd as it may sound it is something Christians are doing when it comes to Scripture reading. They read their Bibles, memorize passages, and have small group discussions. They pull out multiple translations, and on occasion dig into to the original Greek or Hebrew text to study a certain word or thought. These are good things. They are necessary things. I am not knocking them. But too often they stop at the Bible reading or study and never dig any deeper. They gain knowledge about the Bible but they do not practice it. Unfortunately, this is not something new. This has been going on for centuries.
Doers and Hearers
Today we are going to look at James chapter 1 verses 19 – 25 (more specifically verses 22 – 25) and this is a very practical passage in regards to human relationships. The author, James, writes about the importance of being good listeners, slow to speak and controlled in anger. In doing so we are called to be active doers of the word of God. He reminds us that human anger does is not part of God’s calling. Human anger does not come from the righteousness of God. Human anger is a response of the flesh and it always leads to more trouble.
James continues with his next topic of being doers of the Word of God and not just hearers. I have met men and women who could easily be experts and intellectuals in the Word of God and yet some of them are the most pompous, self-righteous, and unChrist-like people I have ever met. They know the Bible inside and out, but their actions speak to the contrary. Anyone who thinks that knowing the Word of God is enough for their Christian walk is only deceiving themselves.
James gives an example of what a hearer only would look like. He describes the person as one who stares intently at his reflection in a mirror and when he walks away forgets what he looks like.
I read a story about a missionary out in the bush who had a mirror on a tree so he could shave daily. One day the local witch doctor came upon this mirror and looked curiously at this strange glass hanging from the tree. As she looked at the mirror she saw a hideously painted face and jumped back in fear. Immediately she began to bargain with the missionary for the mirror. After a while the missionary gave in and gave her the mirror. As she received the mirror she threw it to the ground breaking it into many pieces. She began shouting, “There… it won’t be making ugly faces at me anymore!”
Mirrors in James’ time were not like mirrors we have today. They were usually polished metal, bronze, gold or silver. When people looked at themselves in the mirror they were unable to get a true picture of themselves in the mirror. Their image was distorted and vague. In this passage of James, the mirror represents God’s Word. And practically speaking we are people who just look at the Word of God and never allow it pierce our hearts, we end up having a distorted view of ourselves and scripture. Thus, we can tend to see ourselves in a distorted way… we may see ourselves as righteous, intellectual and useful to the Kingdom of God than we actually are. We become people who can quote scripture faster than a machine gun, but when it comes to living out the Word we are void. We begin to lack compassion and love, both actions Jesus spoke about. Interestingly, I have also found individuals like this to be very harmful to others with their words and in their anger.
James warns it is not enough to just know the Word of God, we must put it into practice. Can you imagine what Christianity would look like if we would fully practice loving God, loving others and making disciples? But our failure to practice what we preach is a big reason why Christians are not known as light to the world as we are supposed to but instead seen as hypocrites. If we only preached love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy and did not practiced it then we would be one sorry bunch of followers of Jesus. There are so many out in this world who do talk the talk but do not walk the walk. Let us commit to being a people who live out our faith and not just talk about it.
Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Do you hear those words? The Bible is LIVING and it is ACTIVE. This Bible we read, love and know is intended to be lived out. Obedience to the Word is the genuine mark of Christianity.
The NET Bible translates verse 25 “But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out – he will be blessed in what he does.” I love how it reads… “The one who peers… and fixes his attention… does not become a forgetful listener BUT one who lives it out.” I believe this is precisely what God desires from his followers. The one who hears the Word of God, applies it to his life and lives his life accordingly will be blessed in all he does.
So, what is the practical application for today’s message? It is three-fold.
So, my friends let us be hearers of the Word AND doers of the Word. God has given us his Word for our benefit and His glory so let us live it out so we may be blessed and that He may be glorified.
Read Ephesians 6:11, 12
I have never ever come face to face with a demon. I can honestly say I am glad I haven’t. I am sure there have been times when I could sense that I was in a place where evil was present, but I can’t say that I have ever willingly or knowingly encountered evil incarnate. We are surrounded by evil daily and we are engaged in a battle that is going on around us but we cannot see it.
In the next few days I want to look at four realities in regards to the topic of spiritual warfare.
We are in a spiritual battle or wrestling match if you will, but our opponent is not a person. Ephesians 6 tells us that we do not struggle against “flesh and blood” which is translated as human/mankind. We are not in a struggle with humanity; our battle is spiritual. It is against rulers, authorities and evil powers of the spiritual realm. The enemy we wrestle hates us, he wants to destroy us, and he will do whatever it takes to overpower us. This is frightening when you think about it but we should not be afraid.
According to Webster’s 2 New Riverside Dictionary the word wrestle is defined as “a struggle with an opponent in an attempt to throw or pin him down.” This is what the sport of wrestling is, whether fake or real, one person trying to pin down his opponent. It is a sport of strength, endurance, the mind and manipulation. Many moves of a wrestler are not ones where you overpower your opponent by sheer strength but they are often moves of strategy where you set up your opponent by manipulating him so you can put a move on him that will give you victory.
There is a saying, generally said before going into battle or even before a wrestling match or any sporting event, “Know your opponent.” Why is this? Because if we have done our homework and studied our opponent’s strategy and tactics then we can properly train and prepare for our match, then we will be able to come out victorious. This is why sports teams watch films of their opponents the week before a game; so they can be familiar with plays, strategies and weaknesses so they can be victorious. The same goes for Christians in Spiritual warfare. We need to know our enemy because he is crafty, deceitful and he will do whatever it takes to pin you down and destroy you.
Our struggle is taking place in the spiritual dominion. The enemies are the spiritual authorities, powers, forces and rulers of evil in the heavenly realm. These include Satan and his legion of dark angels. Did you know Satan is real? I believe one of his craftiest maneuvers is to deceive people into believing he doesn’t exist, he is just a figment of our imagination. He is this character that people make up to represent evil. Some people actually think if you believe in this Satan character then you may be delusional or mentally unstable. The Bible talks about the devil, Satan, the dragon or Lucifer quite a bit. Jesus talks about him and many of the epistles make references to him as well. He is alive and well and he is doing whatever he can to try and destroy God’s people.
Who is Satan, what does he represent?
This could be a sermon series in itself, but I will give you a brief glance at his characteristics. Satan has no love for God’s people. Jesus says to Peter in Luke 22:31, “Simon, Simon, Satan demanded to have you, that he may sift you like wheat.” And James says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” He doesn’t like you and he will do whatever it takes to deceive you and cause you to fall and stumble. I believe Satan is at work today.
So, who is this devil being and how did he come to be? We will look at two passages in the Old Testament Isaiah 14:12 – 15 & Ezekiel 28:12a – 17 (this is believed to be the story of the fall of Satan).
Satan can do nothing without the permission of God (Job 2:2). I love how theologian Erwin Lutzer writes, “We should never give the impression that because Satan is the god of this world, that God kind of says, ‘Well, what am I going to do? He is the god of this world. I just have to let him do whatever he wants.”
Satan is like a bee without a stinger. He may look scary but there is no power in his sting because he has no stinger.
God has a protection plan for us! The first thing we must realize in this battle is that our strength does not come from human ability, talent and effort. It doesn’t matter how strong you are physically, how holy you may act or how much you read your Bible, our strength comes from Christ alone! He is our strength and power! God has given us the means to fight this battle and to be protected against the attacks of evil. Paul refers to this protection as the armor of God and I will talk about this on another day.
In conclusion, author Klyne Snodgrass writes, “Evil rarely looks evil until it accomplishes its goal; it gains entrance by appearing attractive, desirable and perfectly legitimate. It is a baited camouflaged trap.”
Read Acts 5:17 -
We are told "great fear had seized the whole church" after the unfortunate deaths of Annanias and Sapphira. This fear was not a paralyzing fear, it was the kind that did the opposite, it opened the eyes of the church to the seriousness of sin. This fear did not hinder the church from advancing and growing, in fact we read in 5:14 that "more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to the number."
But opposition was beginning to occur as the Gospel was preached. The religious leaders did not like this message that was being preached and they did not like the popularity this new message was gaining. The leaders were starting to lose their influence and control and they did not like this one bit. According to James Montgomery Boice in his commentary of Acts, there were three things that really bothered the religious leaders.
God had a different plan. In verse 19 we read, "An angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out." Typically when an angel appears in the Bible, he has a message to deliver. But in this instance the angel was sent to assist the imprisoned men by setting them free. The angel does not tell them to go and hide after their release, instead he tells them to go back to the Temple and continue speaking the Gospel message and they obeyed,
in the morning they went back to the Temple and preached the Gospel. The religious leaders were unaware that their prisoners had escaped until someone told them where they were. The guard was then sent to arrest them again, but they wanted to do it carefully and peacefully so as to avoid a riot.
When the guard brought the Apostles back to the religious leaders and were scolded by them. They said, "We told you not to speak in the name of Jesus. Yet you are determined to defy us and charge us with his death." The Apostle Peter responds, "We must obey God rather than men."
Was Peter being defiant? Was Peter going against his own words that he would eventually pen, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men; whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right." It would seem either Peter was contradicting himself? Theologian John Stott writes, "What shall we do then, when (people) use (their authority) to punish good and promote evil? We must resist!" He argues that since the states authority has been given to them by God we are to submit to them up to the point where obedience to authorities would result in disobedience to God. At this point it is the Christian duty to disobey man in order to obey God. I believe this to ring true today.
Peter and the Apostles then use this opportunity to present the Gospel message to the religious leaders. The outline of his sermons became known as the krgyma, which refers to the basic Gospel facts. These facts include: Christ's death for sins, his burial, his resurrection, his ascension to heaven, and his appearance in his resurrected form. This was/is the central message of the Gospel. They knew and understood the power of the Gospel and instead of making excuses or begging for mercy the Apostles seize the opportunity to share the essential message of salvation.
May we learn from the boldness of Peter and the Apostles? They were willing to defy human authority that went against God and stood in the boldness of the Gospel to honor God are you?
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I currently live on the Gulf Coast of Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with over 25 years of full time ministry. He is and has been faithful.