Thursday, February 27, 2020

Listening and Doing

Read James 1

If you have been fully engaged in the Month of the Bible, you already know much of what I will tell you.  James is the Lord’s half-brother.  He might have been skeptical about this whole Messiah business while Jesus walked the earth in the flesh and had to share a bathroom with his brothers, but became a believer. 

He became the leader of the church in Jerusalem, but it was time to reach beyond Jerusalem to other Hebrews who had come to know Jesus as Lord.  James wrote to his own people who were seeking to live as disciples of Christ Jesus.

As we discussed earlier, he begins his letter with a provocation:  Consider it pure joy when you face trials of all kinds.  If you keep your faith and persevere, your faith will grow and you will mature.

If you are only existing then every trial becomes a major inconvenience to living a convenient life. 

If you live with purpose—God-given purpose—these trials are just grist for our character mill.  We think to Paul’s words that God will use all things for good for those who are called to his purpose and who love him.

Your trials are so much more than trials.

God wants to give us so much, perhaps chief among his good gifts is wisdom.  We don’t have to deserve it.  In fact, we don’t really deserve it, but he will give it generously without condemning us for our stupidity to date.

But we must not doubt.  We must not be double-minded.  If we doubt, we should not expect anything from God.

If our prayers ask God wondering if he can help, we are seeking the wrong God.  We must know that he can help.  If that’s still a struggle, pray that God help you with your unbelief.  Every good answer and good gift comes from God.

That’s enough for where we have been.  Yes, there is plenty more packed into the first part of James that I hope you dived into in your classes and personal study time, but now we come to one of my favorite memory verses.

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 cannot produce the righteous life that God desires.

We learned it a little differently but that’s how I learned it a few decades ago and no matter how many things I will forget on a day-to-day basis, I will always have that counsel engraved within me.

We have been here before.  When we read quick to listen, think first to listen.  Let us seek to listen to the other person first.  We all have a need to be heard and understood.  James tells us, let’s meet that need in others before we meet it in ourselves.

If you want to have a productive conversation, you should agree with another person to listen to each other until each person feels understood.

If you just need to love your neighbor and being heard is not that important to you—at least not right now—then just be the first to listen.  Meet someone’s need to be heard and understood. 

You don’t have to agree with them, but they need to be heard.  That’s their need.

Next, we come to slow to speak.  That doesn’t mean speak slowly as if you were from the deep South.  It means complement being quick to listen by not having to be heard right away.

Let me put this in terms of the fellowship meal.  Don’t go to the head of the line.  Let others go first.  I understand that means you might not get any deviled eggs, but these instructions are for disciples not country club residents.

We are regarding others more highly than ourselves.  We think that James is a challenging book, but he is not the Lone Ranger.  That last counsel came from Paul.

The third component of this counsel is slow to become angry or slow to anger.  Most people get that.  Christians are not supposed to be angry people.  This seems like common sense, except that it goes against our human nature.

We all get angry at some point.  We might manage our anger so we don’t do things that land us in jail or even Facebook Jail.

But James is not giving us the short course on anger management.  He is talking efficacy—the power to effect desired change.

Human anger cannot bring about the righteous life that God desires.  Human anger does not lead to good discipleship.

But sometimes, it just feels right.  It feels good.  Of course, so does heroin to the addict, but it does not produce good fruit.  Human anger is a placebo for discipleship.  We think we are doing the right thing because we are angry at things that we know God doesn’t like, but our anger does not lead to right living.

Discipleship requires action.  It requires putting the words of our Lord into practice.  Anger can feel righteous.  It can make us feel like we are allied with God.  If God has righteous anger, then I should be able to have righteous anger.

Here’s the thing.  You will have righteous anger if you look at how God says to live and you see how the world chooses to live.  You will have righteous anger, but it will not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 

There is no efficacy in anger!

In fact, it works against you.  Your anger makes you feel accomplished without accomplishing anything.  It is a numbing drug.  What’s being numbed?  Your discipleship, that’s what.

We know what God’s word says but we are called to put it into practice in our lives and not to sit on the sidelines with yellow penalty flags.  We are to take the word of God and put it into practice in our own lives.

Just saying the words is not action.  Just getting angry is not action.  Just pointing fingers is not action.

Well, what is action?  Get rid of the moral filth in your own life.

Help those who can’t help themselves—widows and orphans for example.
The list goes on but James gives us  a good start.  If we know what the word says and we don’t put it into action—again, getting angry at others getting away with sinning is not action—then we are like the man who looks in the mirror and then moments later forgets what he looks like.

But when we look into the perfect law—the law that gives freedom, the law of love—and then go put it into practice, we will be blessed.

When we remember to meet others needs first, not substitute anger for discipleship, and live by love, then we are growing as his disciple.

That might not be our first nature.  That might be difficult.  That might be more than difficult, it might just be considered a trial.  We have returned to the beginning.

Consider it pure joy when you face trails of all sorts because you are living for your Master, loving the unlovable, and discarding everything that pollutes your life. 

Sometimes, not always, the Hebrew people used a literary structure that the Greeks would later call Chiastic.  That is, the text or the story builds to the middle.

In the middle of the pericope that would be the first chapter of this letter as we label it today, we find these words.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Life is not about surviving the day.  It’s about winning the victory in our day-to-day trials knowing that the battle has been won already.

We are not just existing.  We are on a mission from God and if we trust him and don’t doubt, believe him and do what he says, and live by the perfect law of love, we will be blessed for it now and in eternity.


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