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The Book of James

For the next few weeks I would draw your attention to the book of James. It’s a small book, and probably  the first letter ever written  in the New Testament.  In this book the synagogue is mentioned as the place of meeting, rather than the church so we can tell that this was very early in the life of the church, because the church was still associated with Judaism and even met in the synagogue for worship, so it was probably written around A.D. 45.

The you read this epistle, it’s not like reading one of the gospels at all. It’s a letter to the church and the overriding theme is wisdom—Bible scholars refer to the book of James as the “Proverbs of the New Testament”.   It is, of course,  filled with the teaching of Jesus, but it includes more commands, per chapter, than any other New Testament book.


Again, it’s a short book, and if you read it you will see that James not take the space to brag about his pedigree or even his personal association with Jesus, but refers to himself a bond-servant of God.  This entire book recites what a true, humble follower of Jesus should be…. and even how they should think.   James rightly argues that faith produces authentic deeds that echo the believer’s love for God. In other words, if you are truly a Christian, your life will produce a specific sort deeds and fruit that is uncommon and distinctly Christian.

James knew that  faith was not some  abstract philosophy,  but rather that it affects the life of the believer and all those looking at this new “way” of following God.  If you know Jesus you live different—-or at least, you should.  And to make the point, he gives example upon example of what a true believer in God, and follower of Jesus Christ, ought to be naturally doing!  We will be looking at this things over the next few weeks, but James’ point was that the Christian faith is not compartmental, but comprehensive!  The Christian is not supposed to behave or believe one way on Sundays and another way when it comes to business, work, family, politics, etc.  James points out that our faith is evidenced by the way we treat and respond to all people in all places

So we start today with these verses:

“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. 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. 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 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. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” (James 1:19-26 NIV)


Can you see how this book is so similar to the book of Proverbs?  He’s giving wise and astute advice—but it’s nothing new—it comes right from the teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament. Nothing is novel in what he says, but as I read and reread James I am reminded that even when a man is born again and encounters the risen Christ, the hankering of the old life remains!  It’s just a sorry matter of fact.  When we’re born again we do have a new heart, but God still requires us to do our part to “working” to make the right choices and learning to live with that new heart! The old desires and  way of living has no place in the redeemed life—that’s James’ point here.  But God does not “make” you obedient, polite, kind, respectful or humble—His Holy Spirit gives you the appetite and desire of the abundant life, but He won’t make you “nice”, you have to “choose to be nice”, et al, and not simply read about it.


Here then are his points in this first message:

-Listening.  Do you listen?  It’s a courteous thing to do and opens the door to friendship and, more importantly, to evangelism. The humble soul listens to their brothers and sisters because they assume they have something to learn. They are open to correction, and they become wiser because they listen.

When I brought Greg into my home he was thirteen and almost never talked. He would just sit on the plane with me as we traveled, or ate at restaurants, but he has always been a young man of few words. But when he does talk, I must listen carefully—because there’s always more to what he is saying than what he says.   The younger sons, Tommy and Tyler are far, far different. They want to talk while I am reading my paper, praying in the morning, or even watching a movie in the dark. The problem I face is being able to listen and truly pay attention, to my two younger sons because they just don’t stop talking.  It’s a mental workout for me to make myself listen to them—-or to others that talk a lot.  But nothing says, “I love you” more than giving 100% of my attention to a person that wants to talk to me!

Now we all know people that never stop talking and assume that they are the authority in every matter—I know a few folks that replace the need for google or encyclopedias; then there are others that can only communicate in sarcastic, smart aleck remarks, or crude innuendos; and there are others that lack the grace to appreciate any one’s  opinion but their own, so they never hold back from saying exactly what they want regardless of how hurtful, unneeded or unkind it is; but thankfully there are those that speak when the really have something worth saying, and when they do speak it’s always carefully and thoughtfully spoken. When that person speaks, people listen.

Friends, the only way to lead a person to Christ is to first listen to their story.  Even if they are a know-it-all.  Take time to listen.

-Slow to speak.  This is of course related to listening, and I would add my two cents here: You never learn anything by speaking, so be slow to do so.  You don’t have to have the last word or make some witty,  biting remark. The Bible is full of verses about this!  Why?  Because most of God’s people—the ancient Israelites and Christians alike— “have the right to remain silent”, but don’t know when to.  People tend to talk when they out to be listening.  Ok, so God’s Word, the authoritative and final word on what God wants is as follows on this matter:

Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3, NIV.   Surely you know what Solomon is talking about here.  Watch what you say, who you say it to, and why you said.  Solomon added to this:

“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Proverbs 17:28, NIV.  The smartest ones are the ones ever-learning, and less inclined to tell us just how wise they are.  They don’t ring their own bell. They allow the other one to appear smarter, more informed, etc.

Conversation is a good thing, and from our mouths come kind words of love and encouragement, but it seems to me that most folks appreciate the economic use of words—that is, saying what you sincerely mean, and saying it sweetly, specifically and then stop looking for some way to be continue to be the  “big noise” in the conversation!  Let the other guy tell you and thing or two and don’t dominate the talking!  Solomon said, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Proverbs 10:19, NIV

After James’ epistle was written, Paul would later add that when we do talk, it should not include any language that is offensive to anyone. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”  Ephesians 4:29, NIV.  “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”  Colossians 4:6, NIV

So as a Christian, learn to hold back and not say everything you know. Be the friend that can keep their mouth shut.  Several years ago I performed a marriage for a friend, and I knew his parents well.  The groom shared with me, confidentially, where they would be spending their honeymoon. After  the wedding the mother of the groom got me aside and asked me if I knew where they were going for their honeymoon.  I told her that I did, and she asked me to tell her. I asked her, “Can you keep a secret?”  She excitedly told me “Yes, of course!”  I told her, “So can I.”  She was not happy with me, but I made a promise to keep the matter a secret.  Solomon said,  “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Proverbs 17:27, NIV.

-Slow to get angry. Now again, why, in the first epistle ever written to Christians, just thirteen years after Christ’s ascension, would the author telling the believers to  control their anger?  Obviously because there were some hot-heads within the church that were hampering the cause of Christ with their angry outbursts.  2000 years earlier Solomon said this:  “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” Proverbs 22:24-25 (NIV).  It’s one of the few instances where we’re told to avoid people. Have nothing to do with them! Not because you’re better, but because tempers and angers are contagious.  You and I are supposed to be infected with the love, patience and self-control of Jesus, not the tempers, aggression and venom of those damaging the cause of Jesus Christ!  There’s just no place in the church with people that won’t control their temper

-Get rid of what’s filthy in your life.  Well, duh?  Of course Christian’s should not be vulgar.  Christ was never filthy in talk, and yet coarse, sexually offensive, crude talking did not come out of nowhere  in the 1960s. It’s been around as long as there have been men of limited vocabulary.  Dirty talking is nothing more than a man or woman’s pitiful effort to express themselves forcibly.  I was brought up to believe that cursing made you look unintelligent.  That being the case, we seem to live in a nation of morons….

Finally, James tell them that, "those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.  Worthless!  Think about that for a moment. If you really believe that you are a devout follower Christ, adhering to what Jesus taught and God expects, but you can’t control your mouth, your religion is not worth anything!  Pretty aggressive words to come from the first book of the New Testament.  And yet I would admit that the dirtiest jokes I ever heard in my life was from an ordained pastor while I was a seminarian.  When I was in high school the first time I saw a grown man break confidence and share what he was sworn never to tell was also from a pastor.  In both cases their witness  and religion made their witness worthless.

What is the application for James’ words for us in 2024?  Churches are dwindling in Europe and North America not because Christ has divorced His bride, nor because the accommodations for worship and Christian fellowship and education have become intolerable.  Quite the opposite!  Our churches and Christian fellowships have become diluted and institutionalized to the point of perhaps booming sterile and ineffective. It could be argued that folks inside the church are no different from those outside the church.

We’re supposed to be different.  Self control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit—are you abiding in Him so that you bear that fruit? Are you slow to speak?  Do you listen to the homeless man’s story or ignore him?  Are you doing what God says—-and most importantly, are you Listening to God when He speaks to you.  He might be speaking this second.  You can forget what I have said if you like, but if you have heard Him at any point during this message——-please listen and do what He says.

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