Illust – cleaning window with butter
Sometimes it just doesn’t come out right – “You talk like you’re not educated at all.”
It is difficult to communicate – most difficult to communicate simply.
One time-management specialist did a study of the things people invest their time in – he found out a lot of interesting things.
In an average lifespan a person will spend:
24 years sleeping 6 years eating
14 years working 3 years reading
8 years entertainment 5 years waiting in lines
How many hours have you spent listening to sermons? 50 years old, 2x a week = 3 ½ months of sermons and Bible classes. Not all of it spent listening well.
One fellow fell asleep during a sermon – preacher was preaching on hell – To emphasize his point he said, “All those who want to go to hell can just stand up right now.” All he heard was “stand up right now” so he did and the crowd gasped. He looked around and said, “Preacher, I don’t know what we just voted on, but it looks like you and me are the only ones for it.”
That’s being there, but that’s not listening. Is God pleased simply because we spend a lot of time listening to the Word of God being preached?
What did Jesus mean when he continually exhorted people to “have ears to hear”? What kind of hearing honors God? James takes direct aim at this very subject:
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 does not bring about the righteous life 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 a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, 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. James 1:19-25.
How do you listen?
Inspector – comes to listen for error / has the gift of straightening others out / not with the ear of appropriation, but evaluation.
Sampler – “Cafeteria line” approach – I like a little of this, some of that, ugh – none of that, I don’t like that at all.
Spectator – “Don’t teach me - amuse me” – we would rather be entertained than informed (amuse – “not thinking”)
Pharisee – “I’m glad so-and-so was here – they needed to hear that message.” How well do you listen well when you think the message is not for you?
James walks us through what it means to, not just listen, but really hear the Word of God and let it change our lives. He addresses the different stages of hearing:
Before the hearing: 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 does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent… (vss. 19-21a)
1) Examine your attitudes:
Most of us are guilty of not preparing to hear.
The Jews had the right idea – they prepared the night before - their Sabbath began on Friday night.
We wouldn’t take a test without studying, we wouldn’t try to assemble a piece of furniture without reading the instructions (forgot my audience! Maybe you would…). But we show up to worship without any preparation at all. Our hearts are hurried, we’ve fussed with out family in the car, our minds are racing through the dozen things we’ve got to get done today. And we plop into our seat halfway through the first song and we are no more ready to worship than if we were rushing to catch a flight at the airport. We rush into the presence of God with less preparation than we will have made to go out to eat at a restaurant after church.
We should never approach the Word of God without prior preparation. And we should come to the Word with a teachable spirit.
James says, “be quick to hear and slow to speak” That’s why we have two ears and one mouth. He is saying listening does no good without a teachable spirit. If you listen to the Word having already decided what it says, and what it means – if you listen with a defensive or critical attitude – if you listen assuming God agrees with you – you aren’t teachable.
2) Examine your actions:
James writes, “Get rid of all moral filth”
There’s an interesting word here in the original language: Ruperia – “moral filth” is from rupos – a common word meaning “wax in the ears”.
Before you hear you need to examine your life. Sin makes us dull of hearing. When sin has control over our life, it filters and dilutes the power of the Word – “God didn’t really mean…” “Surely God wouldn’t…” “Of course God would understand in my situation…”
To listen properly, we need to deal with the sin in our lives. That doesn’t mean we must be sinless before God’s Word can have effect – but to listen properly we need to have a life that is ready to be changed by it.
The second stage of listening is during the hearing: and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. In these words, we find both the proper attitude and the proper action needed when we stand before the Word of God.
The proper attitude – “and humbly accept the word planted in you.” The attitude we need while we listen is humility.
Humility really goes back to that teachable spirit – it is the follow through. It’s one thing to say you have a teachable spirit – that you’re open to being transformed by the Word. It’s a completely different thing to have your opinion or understanding actually challenged by the Word. We might theoretically agree with the possibility we could be wrong, but deep in our hearts, we doubt it will ever happen. (“I thought I made a mistake once, but I was wrong.”)
Arrogance and pride will do more to stunt the growth of the word in our lives than any other sin. When I think of myself as above the word and approach the word as an intellectual exercise instead of an opportunity to let God’s Word change and transform me, it will remain a lifeless pile of paper and ink.
The proper action is found in the same phrase: While the NIV translates the phrase with a passive, “humbly accept”, I appreciate how the NRSV translates the phrase with a more proactive voice: “welcome with meekness”
“Welcome” – the idea of greeting friends you’ve not seen in a long while. Embrace this Word as a dear friend and companion. By your words and actions saying, “Lord, you are welcome in my life.”
Do you see the difference? This is not simply attending church, not managing to stay awake, but expecting a message from the Lord and welcoming it gladly – even when it challenges the way you’ve always thought, even when it confronts a sin in your life. Instead of rejecting it, welcoming it’s transforming work in your life.
The Word of God is still living water – but sometimes we want to critique the faucet rather than drink the water, and so James takes us to the final stage…
After the hearing Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (vss. 22)
James spends most of his time on what you do with the teaching after you have received it.
There is a very significant implication: The purpose of hearing is not information but transformation. People who come only to hear the Word are living under self-delusion – they consider themselves connoisseurs of sermons – they enjoy a well preached sermon – they love a well-constructed message – they have their list of favorite preachers on television. But when the sermon is over, they are done. They think that all that is involved is to come, to sit, to listen, to leave.
They wrongly assume that God will bless them just for listening. But when the sermon stops, it should not end. I can tell whether you believe what I say by what you do with it:
· Someone comes up to the front and announces your car has its lights still on…
· Someone comes running up and announces a fire has started…
· What would your reaction be? And yet, we sit semi-comatose as we listen to the very Word of God.
The phrase “merely listen” in vs. 22 is a word the classical Greek authors used for an auditor. Have you ever audited a class? There’s no responsibility for learning the information or applying the lesson. You come when you want, skip when you don’t – no tests, no papers, no grade – and usually, no learning.
To be an “auditor’ is to pour poison on the seed that has just been planted in you.
If there is responsibility placed on the one who preaches the Word, we find an equal if not greater responsibility on those who hear the Word – not merely to listen, but to take action.
Jesus told a parable of two men who built houses – one on sand, one on the rock – one was wise, the other foolish. Jesus was not comparing listeners with non-listeners, but doers with non-doers. “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand...”
Information does not make you wise. It is what you do with what you know.
Yet, we emphasize listening, not doing. How do we generally define a “faithful member”? Someone who shows up regularly at the church building. We have convinced ourselves that God is more concerned with our attendance on Sunday morning than our lifestyle on Saturday night, that where we stand on the issues is more important than our example in the world.
How do you teach your children? Baseball, bicycle, brushing teeth. By doing – we learn by doing.
That applies to everyday things, but not living God’s Word? There is no such thing as theoretical doctrine. Doctrine is meant to be lived, if doctrine doesn’t affect our lives in a practical way, then we probably don’t understand the doctrine.
Listen to James’ illustration – Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, 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. (vss. 23-25).
How ridiculous it sounds to stare at your face in a mirror and then walk away and forget what you look like. (Now, I can meet you this week, hear your name and a week from now, introduce myself to you again – memory is the first thing to go). But I don’t usually walk into the bathroom and say, “Who is that looking back at me?”
James says it’s just as ridiculous to think of someone hearing God’s Word and then walking away and not putting it into practice. That which is not done is forgotten.
Don’t confuse going through the Bible with the Bible going through you. It’s not a new problem. God spoke to his prophet Ezekiel and said, 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 do not put them into practice. (Ezek. 33:31-32)
· Ask God to bless the one who prepares and shares God’s word
· Be still and humbly accept the word planted in you
· Confess any sin that keeps you from accepting the word
· Don’t worry about what anybody else thinks, or needs to hear
· Eagerly expect a word from God to your life
· Find something in the message to live
· Go do it.
This sermon is finished but it remains to be done.