Responding to God's Word with Obedience (James Sermon 3)
January 26, 2020 | Andrew Davis
Sanctification, Christian Living, War Against the Flesh, External Journey, Holiness, Money and Possessions, Humility, Good Works
How We Respond to God’s Word
I'd like to ask that you turn in your Bibles to James 1:22. It says, "Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves, do what it says." There are different ways to listen to God's Word but not all of them are beneficial to the soul. Throughout redemptive history many, many people have heard God's Word faithfully and clearly preached and taught, or explained, or shared and it's done them no good at all, ultimately.
One powerful illustration of this, a bad way to hear God's Word, we see in the Old Testament, with the Prophet Ezekiel whom God consistently called son of man. This is in Ezekiel 33:30-32, it says, "As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of their houses saying to each other, come and hear the message that has come from the Lord. My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words, but they do not put them into practice."
Historical Example: Benjamin Franklin
So for me as a preacher and also one who loves church history, I think about the times that great preachers have attained notoriety in their generation, great popularity, for a short time perhaps. Their sermons have been wildly popular, thousands have flocked to hear them. Many people were genuinely converted by the hearing of the Word and helped by their sermons, but others just came for the spectacle of the whole thing. I think about, for example, George Whitefield who preached during the Colonial Era, before the American Revolution to tens of thousands. He was by far the most famous man alive in that day. Everyone in Colonial America had heard of him, and thousands were genuinely converted by his preaching ministry.
But then there was Benjamin Franklin, that old skeptic, that old scientist with whom George Whitefield developed a very close relationship. Franklin was his publisher of many of his sermons and made a lot of money off of Whitefield, based there in Philadelphia. And he came and heard Whitefield preach, and he said this, "Whitefield had a loud and clear voice and articulated his words and his sentences so perfectly that he might be heard and understood at a great distance. Being among the hindmost in Market Street, Philadelphia, I had the curiosity to learn how far he could still be heard by retiring systematically backwards down the street to the river. And I found his voice distinct till I came near Front Street when some noise in that street obscured it. Imagining then a semi-circle of which my distance should be the radius and that it was filled with hearers to each of whom I allotted two square feet, I computed that he might be heard clearly by more than 30,000 people." This is what Benjamin Franklin was doing during one of Whitefield sermons. I think there are better ways to hear a Whitefield sermon than that.
George Whitefield, as I said, became very good friends with Benjamin Franklin, and they dined together frequently. And Whitefield earnestly sought his salvation every time they got together. After his famous lightning experiment, he wrote him a letter saying, "You're advancing much in science, I would urge to you the study of the Doctrine of the New Birth. It will do you much more good both in this world and in the world to come.” One of the saddest things I ever read about George Whitefield was something said about Benjamin Franklin after he died. And he said, "we were good friends," Franklin said this, "And he consistently sought to win me but he never had the answers to his prayers." That was Benjamin Franklin talking about himself.
Historical Example: William Randolph Hearst
Another example of this occurred in 1949 when a tall, young, unknown, but ardently zealous evangelist from the western part of our state in the mountains of North Carolina, Billy Graham, was carrying on a tent crusade in Los Angeles. William Randolph Hearst, the most powerful media mogul of the mid-20th century, a man who owned 28 major newspapers read by over 20 million Americans every day. He was a hard man. Hearst was a recluse. He carried on a long affair with an actress. He heard about Billy Graham's tent crusade. And perhaps, although we don't have confirmation of this, listened to some sermons by radio, we'll never know. And then he sent a two-word command to his editors all over the country, “Puff Graham.” Well, the editors knew exactly what that meant, make a big deal out of him positively. Put him front stage, front and center, his crusade in LA. That was a signal moment, a significant moment in the history of American evangelicalism and in Billy Graham's life and ministry.
Now, Graham never met William Randolph Hearst personally, but his career, Graham's career took off right from that point on until the end. But there's no indication whatsoever that Graham's gospel message had any influence at all on William Randolph Hearst who died two years later after saying, “Puff Graham.”
This problem of hearing God's Word with a certain kind of pleasure, a certain kind of interest, but not obeying its life-changing message has been around a long time. Think of wicked King Herod who loved to hear John the Baptist preach. Even though John clearly proclaimed that he and his wife at that point, were living in sin, committing adultery. Mark 6:20 said, "Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John he was greatly puzzled, yet he liked to listen to him." Now we know what happened. A beautiful young girl danced at his birthday party, Herod's birthday party, and he made a rash oath and it led to Herod giving the order to decapitate John the Baptist.
Historical Example: Felix the Roman Governor
Or again, think of the Roman governor Felix who imprisoned the Apostle Paul. Felix often sent for Paul while he was a prisoner, and he loved to hear him speak the words of scripture. But he became alarmed when Paul talked to him about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come. Those were not topics Felix wanted to talk about. He became alarmed and he sent him away, saying, "I'll send for you again. Talk again later, at another time." And God in his grace gave him more time. Actually, two years he kept Paul a prisoner, and kept summoning him and listening to him, but actually what he really wanted was to receive a bribe from Paul, so he could set him free. And then at the end of the two years, while he was still in chains, he went off and another Roman governor came. And that was it. All over this religious nation of ours, we're a very religious people, people are assembling together. Churches are filled with people hearing God's Word, and in many places God's Word clearly preached, faithfully expounded, but many of them are deceiving themselves that just doing that religious system is enough, just coming to church is enough, sitting patiently under the Word is enough, and this text is for them and it's, frankly, for all of us.
I can't hear the words in James 1 without being convicted. Is this true of me? It's not enough to merely listen to the Word. Well, I'm going to say it about myself, it's not enough to merely get up week after week and preach it, faithfully or accurately. What is happening in my life? Am I actually obeying these words? That's what this is about. What do you do when you hear God's Word? What effect is it actually producing in your life? That's what James is about. James, I think, is one of the most convicting books in the Bible. He doesn't waste any time. It's like an industrial strength cleaner, and it just gets in your grill, and he wants to get you ready to hear God's Word. And so I want to walk through that with you, walk through the text. My first point on the outline is this, “Quiet Humility Prepares to Receive God's Word.”
I. Quiet Humility Prepares to Receive God’s Word
Look at Verses 19 through 22. "My dear brothers, take note of this, Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry for man's anger does not bring about the righteousness of God. 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."
Application to Human Relationships
So now listen, I can take verse 19 and just do a very helpful horizontal application. It would be beneficial and I'll just start there. By that I mean how we should treat each other and the people in our lives. That's what I mean by horizontal. There's three pieces of really good advice for us that we would do well to follow. We should be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry. If you follow that in your relationships with others, especially in your marriage, home life or in your work life, or whatever your living arrangement is, if you're a college student, whatever is going on, if you follow that things will go better. I actually can preach that, and I think it's helpful.
So let's just look at it at that level first. “You should be quick to listen. You should develop the habits of being a good listener.” Proverbs 18:2, says, "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions." So that fool is not really interested in anything other people have to say. So I would say husbands and wives need to listen to each other better than they do. Parents and children need to listen to each other better than they do. Co-workers need to listen to each other and bosses need to listen to each other better than they do. This is all helpful. Democrats and Republicans need to listen to each other better than they do. That's my last political comment of the day. Being quick to listen means you're eager to learn from others, you've got a basic humility and teachability, and that's a good thing. So be quick to listen.
The flip side of that is to be slow to speak, don't be in love with the sound of your own voice, the sound of your own words. People spend a huge amount of time talking. One study said up to one-fifth of your waking hours you spend talking. That's a lot of time. And then along comes Proverbs 10:19 which says, "When words are many, sin is inevitable." That's a strong word, isn't it? The more you talk the more likely it is that you're going to sin. So, be slow to speak.
And then thirdly, be slow to anger. Human anger, James calls moral filth, it's toxic, it destroys human relationships. Marriages are destroyed by anger, by husbands being angry with their wives or wives angry with their husbands. There's a bitterness and unforgiveness. Things can happen at the horizontal level. There are many criminals in prison right now, that they're there because of a fit of rage that came over them one day. And for the rest of their lives they look back with deep regret over having basically lost their mind. Anger can be like a drug. And then your mind clears afterwards like, "What did I do?" And so it's dangerous.
Of the three advices he gives us, this is the only one James comments on. Look at 20 and 21. "For man's anger does not bring about the righteousness of God, therefore, get rid of all moral filth." That's strong, "moral filth." Like radioactive waste, that's what human anger is. "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." So, human anger is powerful and effective but it's not constructive. It's usually destructive. It definitely makes an effect. And you could say there's certain roles where anger is really needed, like a coach that gets all red-faced and yells at his team and then they go out and win second half, play with tremendous zeal. Or a drill instructor at boot camp and all that, but friends, we know, for the most part, human anger is a destructive force. And you should be slow to get angry. Get rid of it. Take it out. Like toxic waste, take it out. As Ephesians 4:31 says, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." That's an amazing verse on anger. It's like how many different shades, and hues, and colors of human anger are there? Well, look at Ephesians 4:31 to find them all. There's bitterness, there's rage, there's anger, there's brawling, there's all different kinds of things. Get rid of it. Just get rid of it. Alright, so, that's how a simple horizontal approach to verses 19-21, works.
Application to Our Relationship with God
But I think it's better to look at it vertically, to look upward toward God and your relationship with God, with these exact same commands. Be quick to listen to God, be slow to speak before God, and be slow to get angry at God. Now I think it has to do with how you prepare yourself to receive God's Word. I think it's a better context. It just weaves the whole thing together. So you remember how Jesus spoke of the parable of The Seed and the Soils? “He went out to sow the seed and some fell on the path and the birds came and ate it up, and some fell on rocky soil and sprang up quickly, but then the sun came up and the plants were withered. And then some fell among the thorns, which grow up and choked the plants, and some fell on good soil, which produced a crop 100, 60, 30 times what was sown.” Each of these represents different states of the human heart, like the path represents a hardened hearer. The Word has no impact whatsoever. And so the birds come and eat it up, it has made no penetration, Satan comes and takes away what was sown in that person's heart. And then the rocky soil shows a shallow penetration. There's an initial reaction of positivity, some joy, but then in the end when the Christian life gets difficult, when there's persecution, then it dies. And then the thorny soil represents the worries of this life, and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it out, making it unfruitful. The fourth is the only good outcome. It produces different levels of harvest in different people's lives, 100, 60, 30 times what was sown. It's interesting what Luke says in that parable. Luke 8:15, "The seed on the good soil, stands for those with..." listen to this, "a noble and good heart, who hear the Word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop," a noble and good heart. Where do you get one of those?
The Heart Prepared for God’s Word
Anyone who's been in the Word any length of time knows what God's Word says about the natural state of our heart. "Sinful and desperately wicked," Jeremiah says. But here's the thing, when God in his sovereignty, through the Holy Spirit saves you, He takes out that heart of stone, He gives you a heart of flesh, and He works nobility and goodness into your heart and this is what it looks like, this is how you get your heart like black, moistened soil, plowed, soft, ready to receive God's Word. And so, look at it then that way. What does my heart have to look like when God is sowing the seed into me? So look at it vertically, why would I do that?
Well, look at verses 21 through 25, and I think you'll see right away in verse 21, "Therefore... " alright, because of that, get rid of all moral filth. "Therefore..." so the things about quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry, the comment on anger, therefore what? The Word. "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 a person who looks at his face in the mirror and then after looking at himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." Verse 25, "But the one who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom," that's the Word, "and continues to do this, not forgetting what he's heard, but doing it, he will be blessed in what he does." This is Word, Word, Word, Word. So let's just extend it back to verse 19 and look at it vertically.
How should I get ready to hear God's Word? Alright, so be quick to listen, come to God's Word humbly, humbly accept the Word planted in you which can save you. Get ready to listen to God speaking to you. Be ready to hear when you open up God's Word, when you're having your quiet time, or when you come here to hear a sermon, you're ready, you've got the scripture open and you're ready to hear God talk to you, Almighty God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, wants to say something to you. It's powerful.
Hebrews 3:7-8. It says, this, "So as the Holy Spirit says... " present tense, not said says, “today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts." That's Psalm 95, written 1000 years before the author of the Hebrews wrote his epistle. David wrote it. No, the Holy Spirit's saying it today. "Today, if you hear His voice don't harden your heart." And it's in quotations, so as you're reading Psalm 95 better get ready to listen to God speak to you. Today, if you hear his voice, don't harden your heart. So expect then that God is going to speak to you by his Word, he has something to say to you. I love 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul says to the Thessalonians, to that church, "When you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of man but as it actually is, the Word of God which is at work in you who believe". That's a beautiful way for a church to be. You're coming not to hear from a man. Flawed, fallible, sinful man, but you're coming to hear God speak through his Word to you.
Humbly Accept God’s Word
So many verses call on God's people to listen to Him. I love Deuteronomy 32:1-2. "Listen, O heavens, and I will speak. Hear, O earth the words of my mouth, let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on the tender plants". That's God speaking to you. "Listen to me, be ready to drink in my Word". Jesus frequently said, "He who has ears, let him hear". Do you have ears? Are you ready to hear God speak, are you quick to listen to God?
And then secondly, "Be slow to speak in the presence of God". I'm not saying we shouldn't pray, we should pray, but there's something powerful here about coming quietly into the presence of God. I love Habakkuk 2:20 on this, it says, "The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the Earth be silent before Him". Or again, Ecclesiastes 5:1-2. It says, "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in Heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. Much dreaming and many words are meaningless, therefore stand in awe of God". Just come into God's presence and just be quiet before Him, and remember who you're about to talk to, and then pray.
And thirdly, vertically, "Be slow to get angry at God". What is that? Why would I get angry at God? Well, God's Word is a sharp double-edged sword, and when you come and stand in God's presence, He's probably going to hurt you. He's going to cut you with a surgical scalpel, because you need it done. You remember when Peter denied three times knowing Jesus and then Jesus sought to heal him, you remember how he did it? "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?" And it said the third time Peter was hurt. Did Jesus intend to hurt him? Yes. Not ultimately, but He had to hurt him in order to heal him. And so, if you're actually coming in the presence of God's Word, He's going to say things that will cross you. He's going to do it this morning. He did it to me already.
He's going to cross you. Don't get angry at Him. That's what Jesus' enemies did, they don't want to hear from Him that they needed a savior, that their righteousness was not enough for Heaven, they got all self-righteous and angry and murderous, so don't do that. Don't get angry, don't shoot the messenger. When God's Word tells you you're a sinner and you need to repent and make changes, then be humble and be yielded and don't get angry at God. "Be willing... " verse 21, "to humbly accept the Word planted in you which can save you, which can save your soul from eternal condemnation". Are you saved? Have you trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Maybe you were invited here today, and you know you came in here, and you know you're not a Christian, then don't get angry at evangelists, don't get angry at friends that are trying to lead you to Christ, don't get angry at God. Humble yourself and trust in Jesus, the one who died on the cross, who shed His blood for sinners like you and me, and trust in Him and call on Him and say, "Oh, save me Jesus", and He'll save you.
Don't get angry. This is what makes evangelism and missions hard all over the world. People get angry when they hear people say, "You need to repent and believe in Jesus". So don't get angry. "Humbly accept the Word planted in you which can save you", and that means you, Christian. A Christian who's been walking with the Lord for 20-30 years, “humbly accept the Word which can save you, can keep on saving you.” "He gives us... ", James says, James 4:6, "more grace". That's why God says, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble". Do you need more grace? Please nod your head. "Yes, Lord. I need more grace. Give me more grace". At the beginning of all Paul’s epistles, "Grace to you", and then grace at the end, there's grace and grace. It's just a avenue of grace. Humbly accept it. Isaiah 66:2, "This is the one I esteem, says Almighty God, he who is humble and contrite and who trembles at my Word."
II. Honest Humility Obeys God’s Word
The Great Danger of Self-Deception
Alright, now humbly accepting the Word is not enough. The soil of a humble heart accepting the perfect seed of the Word must produce a transformed life. That's what James is all about, the works. What happens as a result of hearing God's Word. And, so my second outline point is this, “Honest Humility Obeys God's Word.” Verse 22, "Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves, do what it says". We keep bumping into this issue, like we did last week. The danger of self-deception, of lying to yourself about your true spiritual condition. "Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven. Many will say to me on that day, Lord., Lord. Did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? [Preach many sermons?] Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers." Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father". Let me make it simple. Not those who say, but those who do. That's what Jesus is saying there.
The Word as a Mirror
I don't want any of you to have an eternal shock on Judgment Day. I want you to examine yourselves to see if you're in the faith. I want you to look at what's actually happening in your life because of the Word. I want the same for me. And Jesus consistently said, "It comes down to obedience. If you love me, you will obey what I command". John 14:15. And so, we come this morning to the Word of God, "To look as in a mirror", James says. Look at verses 23-25, "Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror and then after looking at himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But 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". So James presents the Word as a mirror. Now, don't think of modern mirrors, which are our metal-backed glass that was invented in Germany in 1835. We're thinking about a polished plate of bronze, highly polished. If the light is right, and you look long enough you can see what you look like, and James likens someone who hears God's Word, but doesn't obey it, to someone who looks at his face in the mirror and then goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
God's Word has the power to tell you the truth about yourself. We should not imagine that at some point you'll look in the mirror and say, "I look so good. I mean, I have never looked better". That's not what we're talking about here. The Word is there to help you see yourself as God sees you, in this present state. This individual looks into God's Word, and God's Word generally does this, but God's law in particular does it. God's law in particular shows you how you need a savior. What ways you need to live differently. That's what God's law is designed to do. There's still a role for us once we've come to Christ, where we learn what a holy life looks like by looking at the commands and prohibitions. So God's law has the power to do that.
Now, this individual looks at his face in the mirror and then immediately forgets. It's like the hardened path here that the birds come and snatch away, just immediately, it's done. So perhaps a sermon is convicting, and you've resolved, you're going to do something different in your marriage.You're going to do something different with what you do with the internet, you're going to do something different with widows or orphans. You're going to do something different in evangelism, something different in the workplace, and you make a kind of a holy resolution. But then you leave church and get in your car and you go back into the machinery of your everyday life, and then it's like it never happened. Nothing occurred. That's what James is talking about here. Somebody looks into the Word and then doesn't do anything with it, nothing changes.
Looking Intently Into the Perfect Law of Freedom
Instead, he talks about looking intently into the perfect law that gives freedom. Verse 25, "But the one 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". So, you come to God's Word and you search yourself, you say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart, show me my sins. Show me where I can grow. Show me my flaws and my failures, my warts and my wounds". And then you bring it to the cross and you remember that you have been forgiven, and all of your sins are covered, but the Lord then wants to heal you up out of that, and help you to live a different life, and so you're gazing, you're saying, "Lord, show me". Psalm 139:23-24, "Show me my sins, show me my faults, what's wrong with my life.”
Now why does he call it "The perfect law that gives freedom"? Friends, “sin is terrible bondage,” Jesus said, and “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” But that slavery, the chains of that, is spiritual, it's invisible. You can't see how your mind, your heart, is fettered. It's chained. You can't see it, but then you come to God's perfect law and then you can see invisible chains on your mind and in your heart, and Jesus said, "If the son sets you free, you'll be free indeed". How beautiful is that? Oh Jesus, set me free. “Jesus show me these hidden fetters, show me the chains, and break those chains.” Shatter the yoke that burdens me in the bar across my shoulder. Isaiah 9, "Be to me a savior". And if that happens you're going to walk in a whole new life of obedience.
III. Obeying God’s Word Will Change Your Life
The Transformed Tongue
So, outline point number three, “Obeying God's Word Will Change Your Life,” and let's start with your tongue. Now I don't have to do a lot of work on this today, because we get to have like half a chapter on the tongue later. So we'll just defer that, but just let me tell you, the tongue's a problem. And you know what I'm talking about. 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". That's very strong. So a transformed heart will result in a transformed tongue. Out of the fullness or overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. So therefore you need to keep a tight rein on your tongue like it's a wild animal. And James is actually going to talk about that, “we've broken all kinds of wild animals, been able to subject them to the yoke, but the tongue, we can't seem to do it.” So, keep a tight rein on your tongue or, I like this one, Psalm 141 verse 3, "Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, and keep watch over the door of my lips". It's almost like your mouth is a maximum security penitentiary and there's a bunch of dangerous things in there. Please, O Lord, only let credited people out. It's like, is it that bad friends? It's worse than that. So, God, set a guard over the door of my mouth. Help me to say only those things that are helpful for building others up, that it may benefit them. We'll say more about that in due time in chapter three.
Now, only perfect people can control the tongue. We're going to see that. If you're able to bridle the tongue you are a perfect man or woman, able to control your whole body. So if you guys like a high-challenge, go after that one. I would like one day in which I don't say anything wrong, the whole day. So let's just set that as a goal, and if you do that your whole body will follow. We'll study that in James 3.
IV. Obeying God’s Word Purifies Your Life
What is Religion?
Second issue, outline point number four, “Obeying God's Word Purifies Your Life.” Now, I'm going to go to the end of the text here, because I want to deal with the pollution that the world brings in our souls before I talk about orphan and widow care. Verse 27, "Religion that our God and 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". Now, this is a very interesting couple of verses. Verse 26 and verse 27 use the word "religion". Now, when I was a new Christian, I talked to Christie about this, she had the same experience. We were both trained through Campus Crusade for Christ, now called CRU, and we heard this again and again and again, and maybe you've heard it. "Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship". Ever heard that? Something like that? And yet here's the word "religion", good religion. What is religion? It's a system, a pattern of thoughts and actions directed to a deity. I guess that's what it is.
When people say "Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship" they're talking about, I think, the very thing James is getting at here, a mindless machinery of system that doesn't do anything with your heart, you don't have any strong connection toward God. That's what we're talking about. Verse 26 talks about religion, but bad religion. Do you see that? "You're deceiving yourself and your religion is worthless". So, verse 26 has worthless religion, and verse 27 has pure and faultless religion. That's good religion. So bad religion versus good. So religion in and of itself is not the problem. Is it worthless or is it pure and undefiled before God? God hates mindless machinery of religion too. I quoted that last week, in Isaiah 1:14, and there it talks about the Jewish sacrificial system, religious machinery, that they just kept bringing endless animal sacrifices, but they were leading corrupt lives and He said, "Your new moon festivals and your sacrifices my soul hates". Isaiah 1:14. So God hates that kind of religion too. Here's the convicting part for all of us. Is that you? Is that happening to you? Are you in a mindless machine-like pattern that isn't actually affecting the way you live? That's the convicting part here. And so, we have to look at true religion, and true religion fundamentally hears God's Word and puts it into practice. It transforms the way you actually live.
Pure Religion: Purity from Worldliness
So let's start with this issue of worldliness, though it's at the end I want to set it up first. What does it mean, “keeping oneself from being polluted by the world”? The world is Satan's masterpiece of allurement and temptations toward lusts. We talked about that last week. It's a system of the lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, boastful pride of life, 1 John 2:15, that just draws you into wickedness and sin, that's the world. Worldliness means you've been polluted by all that. You're characterized by the lust of the eyes, characterized by the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life. Worldliness is pollution, it's defilement. So religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is to keep yourself unstained from all that, and that's harder than ever, friends. The world has amazing delivery systems to get its ideologies and its loss and temptations directly through your minds, in through your eyes, into your brains.
Recently I was watching a video of the 2007 Macworld when Apple CEO Steve Jobs was rolling out a new product. Actually, it said he's rolling out three products: A wide-screen iPod music device with touch controls, some of you will remember what iPods are. Secondly, a revolutionary mobile phone. And thirdly, a breakthrough internet communicator. And then, just in his own clever marketing sort of way, he just kept going over those same three again, and they kept turning around until, BADUM, the iPhone. And out it came. The iPhone, the smartphone that changed the world. Over the next 10 years, Apple would ship 1.6 Billion iPhones.
If any of you have an experience recently standing in an airport waiting area and looking around and seeing everyone like this, with their head down, it's like, "Is anybody talking to anybody?" I mean like, in here, in real time. I mean like another human being. Is that actually occurring? I think, just anecdotally, two-thirds or three-quarters of everyone I looked at was looking down at a device.
I was at a convenience store recently, filling up my tank, and I saw a Pepsi delivery guy with a two-wheeler, and he had one hand on the two-wheeler, the other hand on his device. So he walked about five to 10 feet, stopped, used the device and then walked another 10 feet, saw something, stopped, and used the device again. I'm thinking, "This is hindering commerce". Alright? This is going on all over the world. I have no idea what he was doing, maybe it was part of his job. I don't want to judge him. I just found it interesting. It took him a while to push that two-wheeler across the parking lot.
So, what is going on? Well, we are swimming in a lagoon, or a bay, and then at the edge of it are all these sewage pipes, draining a bunch of septic nastiness into it, how can we not be polluted by that? How do we manage to swim through this world and not get stained or polluted by the lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and boastful, pride of life? Now, the flesh. What is the flesh? Flesh, I've defined before, is the fanatical commitment to self. Fanatical commitment to self. You had it when you were born, in Adam. Fanatically committed to self-interest, and that is the thing the Lord is saving us out of. The I-phone. It's all about you, friends. What do you want? What would make you feel good? What social media thing will make people think well of you? What ego boost will you get when X number of people like what you put up? What are you interested in? It's all about you, you, you. And it's just feeding that. This is the hardest fight we have in this world. It says in Romans 8:13, "If you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." Ephesians 6 says, "You should put on the spiritual armor and stand and fight because your soul is being assaulted by invisible foes."
If You Are Defiled, Be Cleansed by Christ’s Blood
Now, if you're a Christian and you know that you've been defiled, you know that you've been polluted by the world and I tell you right now, it is the very mentality that's hindering us caring for needy people. Because it's going to take time and energy and money and your lives are going to get difficult, and that's probably a big part of why we're not doing it very much. So we have to start by saying, how have I been corrupted? How have I been polluted by the world? How am I living for me? How living for sensual pleasure? How am I living for easy things? Etcetera. And God, would you please cleanse me and forgive me. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” “Bring it to the cross, because the blood of Jesus can purify our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God,” Hebrews 9:14.
Obeying God’s Word Mobilizes Your Compassion
Caring for the Poor and Needy
Finally, outline point number five, “Obeying God's Word Mobilizes Your Compassion." James speaks also of caring for the poor and needy, orphans and widows and in their distress. Now, there are literal orphans and literal widows, and we should care for them but I think it just expands to people who are needy, spiritually needy, physically needy, anybody. And you just look at your life differently because you've been transformed by God's Word. Now, this is vital. A week ago, Sara Zweigle talked to me and then sent me a link to a David Platt sermon on orphan care. And David Platt's church at Brook Hills in Alabama led out in orphan care in that community in Birmingham and began the radical ministry etcetera. And the sermon was 22 minutes long. I've listened to it three times. And he zeroed in on what it means to look after. It was just a word study. “Look after,” and he just went through the Bible, and it means to visit or go physically to someone with the intention of caring for their needs. It's not just to come and say hello for a visit or something like that. It means to go look after people in their distress, to care for them. And he went through all these verses and he ended up in Matthew 25, the sheep and the goats. And there it says, beginning in verse 31, "When the son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, He'll sit on His throne in heavenly glory, and all the nations will be gathered before Him and e will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He'll put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. And then He, the King will say to those on His right, the sheep, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and," and here's the exact same Greek word as is in James 1:27, "you looked after me."
You didn't come and visit me and bring me a card, you nursed me back to health. I was in prison and you went to visit me. And then the righteous will say, When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? “When were you a stranger and we invited you in, or you needed clothes and we clothed you? When were you sick and in prison, and we looked after you? And the King will say to the righteous, I tell you the truth, whatever you've done for the least of these, you've done for me.” Then the goats, “He will say, depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger, you did not invite me in. I needed clothes, you did not clothe me. I was sick, you did not look after me, I was in prison, you did not come to visit me. And when did we not do all of those things? Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. And these, the righteous will go away into eternal life with the wicked into eternal punishment."
We Are Caring for Christ
What David Platt said in that sermon, is he said, "You know, we expect that when we go to minister to people, we're going to be Jesus to them." And in some sense that's true, but in the text, it's more of the other way around. When we go, they are Jesus to us, and that was very profound. What it said to me is the willingness that we have to have our lives disturbed, to have our resources upset, our time, energy, money, given to people that are hurting and needy. If we turn away from that, we turn away from finding Jesus in this world. We'll have a harder and harder time walking with Jesus just by reading the Bible and leading living safe, comfortable lives. It's only as we're willing to sacrifice to make changes, to go out and minister in various categories.
Be Obedient in Service
Now what's so beautiful about this church? There are so many of you that are doing this, this specifically, even in terms of adoption, or fostering, or prison ministry, or ministering to people from other countries who don't know anyone when they come here. It's happening, and I'm so grateful for your example, but the question each of us has to ask as we look in the mirror today, “So what's actually happening in my life? In what ways am I sacrificially living for widows and orphans in their distress. In what way am I actually being inconvenienced by the sorrow and misery of other people? And how am I living?” Other than that, if that's not going on, then we're just deceiving ourselves and our religion is worthless, but if on the other hand, we see God work in us and we don't talk back to God, we're not angry, we're humble, we're submissive, we're listening to Him, we don't get angry, we don't shoot the messenger, we just say, "I want this to happen in my life," he'll work it in you, and that's the beauty of Christianity. Whatever you want, you have a holy ambition right now, a holy, but I don't know what God's calling you to do. Everyone different things. I don't have a specific menu for you. The Holy Spirit does. He has gone ahead of you and prepared good works for you to walk in. So go find them. Don't be an ineffective hearer of the Word, but a faithful, obedient doer of the Word.
Close with me in prayer. Father, thank you for the power of your Word. We thank you for what it teaches us. God, make us ready to hear. Help us to be ready to just take in your Word and take it deeply into our hearts and be willing to be transformed by it. Help us to ask hard questions. What things are actually happening in my life that cost me anything, that cost me time or energy, or money? What ways am I inconvenienced for, literally for widows, or literally for orphans, or for lost people, or strangers in our community. What ways am I willing to serve? And please, oh Lord, let us not be just doing the machinery of religion, but let us be a church in which your Word is bearing an amazing eternal harvest for your glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.