In the Disney film Snow White, there is a magic mirror that is summoned and used by the evil queen, and she asks the mirror this question, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” The reflection in the mirror only tells the truth and describes Snow White as the fairest. This angers the evil queen, yet the mirror is always honest. It has no choice to reflect the image that is before it. When we stand before the mirror of God’s word and ask, “Mirror mirror of God’s word, do you see Christ in me at all?” The mirror will be honest and you need to be honest with yourself.
I am going to guess that most of you at some point this morning after you woke up, looked into a mirror. We often do this to consider our physical appearance. We have mirrors everywhere, from the bathroom to the bedroom and vanity. We also have mirrors in the car on the sun visor, a rearview mirror, the side mirrors. We use these to see blind spots and oncoming traffic. We even have more compact mirrors that we can carry around now. Mirrors are clearly important to our lives.
The first mirrors were made from highly polished metals such as copper or brass and you were lucky to get a dull image resembling your reflection. Since the 1600s, mirrors have been made from plate glass with a backing of silver covered by coatings of copper, lacquer, and paint. Mirrors do not transmit light but reflect it. The angle at which light strikes a mirror is exactly equal to the angle at which the light is reflected back. Therefore, the image reflected is a “mirror image” of the original.
Did you know God has provided a mirror for your life? Modern glass mirrors reflect only the physical aspects of our life, but God’s mirror reflects everything else: the spiritual, mental, and emotional aspects of your life. A glass mirror reflects physical light whereas God’s mirror reflects spiritual light. That mirror is, of course, the Word of God which shows us our hearts before God. Please grab your Bible and think of it as a mirror and turn to the book of James. As we get back into our study on “Dispersed & Dedicated”, we are going to be finishing chapter 1 where James will elaborate more on this idea of God’s word being a mirror. We left off with verse 18 in our last lesson called, “The Approval of the Blessed”. We learned that if we persevere in trials, take responsibility in temptations, and follow the truth in times of deception that we will be blessed with a crown of life.
James has been teaching these early Christians (first fruits of the gospel) how to endure the tough times that they were facing while they were scattered everywhere during a period of persecution. These words are inspired by the Holy Spirit and James writes with high hopes that they would remain faithful to their commitment to the Lord. Part of that commitment is defending our hearts against the enemy in overcoming the attacks of trials and temptations. But we also need to make progress in our faith and get on the offensive and move forward into the service of the Lord.
Today, we are going to learn how to be ready listeners as Christ had said we should be (Mk. 4:24; Lk. 8:18). Right after telling these Christians that God is good and not the source of our challenges in life, he reminds them that they were born again by the word of truth and that they don’t have to be defined by their past. Then he informs them how to continue using the word of God to pursue the righteousness of God. The word in this passage for “quick” or in some translations “swift” also means “ready without unnecessary delay, promptly, right away (without an unjustified time-lapse).”
We can be a ready listener if we are:
- Ready to Repent and Humbly Receive the Word to Save Our Souls (vs. 19-21)
- Ready to Effectually Do & Abide By the Word to Be Blessed (vs. 22-25)
- Ready to Faithfully Serve Others & Remain Unstained by the World (vs. 26-27)
Let us begin by reading the context for our study before we get started in James 1:19-27
“19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; 20for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. 26If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Ready to Repent and Humbly Receive the Word of God to Save Our Souls (vs. 19-21)
“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
James wants his brethren to speak less and appropriately while listening to God. Parents can often be heard speaking to their children, saying “I know that you hear me (the audible sound of the voice), but are you listening to what I am saying.” We ask because we want to know that what we are saying is being received, being comprehended, and understood clearly. This usually follows a time when instead of closing their mouth and actively listening, the child fails to comprehend the instructions that they are given. God is expressing a similar sentiment here to us as His children. He tells us to stop talking and certainly don’t be moved to anger too rapidly, which usually causes us to say things that we end up regretting. To keep this verse in context, James just warned that we could be found saying, “I am being tempted by God” when trials come. That is not said with a positive upbeat spirit. This type of speech would generally come out of anger and should not proceed out of our mouths. We need to pause when a thought comes to mind and use wisdom with the things that we say. Proverbs 17:28 says,
“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
Also in Proverbs 29:20 we see this piece of wisdom,
“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
The advice here is to stop and listen to God before saying anything which allows time for us to check our demeanor or disposition and use proper speech. His admonition is to close your mouth long enough to absorb the message of the word of God. James will eventually get to the use of the tongue in more detail, but in this study, the focus is on ears, our hearing. The fact is that you cannot learn to listen unless you learn to shut your mouth. The goal is to hear the same word of truth through which we were born again (James 1:18). If God’s word is truth, you can never go wrong if your ears are listening to His voice. Psalm 119:160 states that the sum total of God’s word is truth. It is not so much that we do less talking but we must certainly do more listening. The old adage says, “you have two ears and one mouth, so do twice as much listening as talking”. One author shared that God put two rows of teeth in our mouth to hedge in our tongue. As long as we don’t open the gate, the flood cannot escape from our mouth. The Bible says,
“A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.” (Proverbs 17:27)
The top priority is that we hear God’s truth, not become angry at his teaching, and if we speak we must speak as the oracles of God (I Pet. 4:11). You must stop talking and hear the word of God to gain the wisdom needed for living by faith. The point being made is that speaking too much or speaking rashly, and out of anger cannot achieve the righteousness of God. Our speech and angry outbursts do not make God any less righteous, but they prove that we are not living up to the calling of God for our lives to be conducted in righteousness. In order to be free from these sinful behaviors, James admonishes us to put aside, “all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness”. This is what we call repentance. We cannot get rid of only some of these negative behaviors but we must make a complete change and all of them need to be moved far away from us. It is amazing how many people look at the commands of God and instead of obeying them become angry and do the exact opposite. They are dissatisfied with God’s teaching and instead of repenting and aligning with truth, they run further into sin. Even worse, they malign the Lord claiming that He is wrong. This makes no sense because God’s word is absolute and objective truth, and we are sanctified by His word (John 17:17). Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. How can He be incorrect? It is amazing how a created being can look at the Creator and become angry at His authoritative word. Paul told Timothy,
“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all [men], apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And [that] they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will." (2Ti 2:24-26).
We speak the truth in love, but the response sometimes is not so receptive. God is looking to give everyone an opportunity to repent and turn from their wicked ways unto His righteousness.
Show people in our modern cultural climate can see plain passages on the sanctity of life and they will become angry and argue all day with you about how abortion is fine and should be a choice and that we have no right to be pro-life and criticize them. Show someone clear teachings from the Bible about homosexuality being an abhorrent sin before God and you will get all kinds of ridicule about being narrow-minded, bigoted, unloving, and judgmental.
Let’s make this personal and more applicable to our lives as active Christians. Brace yourselves! Tell some members of the church that we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together and you might be surprised how many people get revved up and want to be upset claiming that we cannot determine faithfulness by this standard because of their personal relationship with the Lord. Tell churchgoers that unless they are active in the Lord’s church in serving and bringing forth good fruit that they are not truly disciples of the Lord and see what kind of response you get. Try asking a fellow believer about their Bible study and prayer habits outside of the assembly and see how they respond. You might be surprised. We haven’t even discussed choices of entertainment, overeating, personal habits, etc. James is trying to get us to see that we cannot be moved to wrath when we are being challenged by the word of God or admonished by our brethren to do the very things that are going to save us from the wrath to come. Sin is a sin! We are not picking on any particular one, but you are being asked to take a look at your life and see where you stand with the Lord.
While many people claim that they don’t practice sin or participate in evil ways (filth and overflow of wickedness), there are very few that complete this process by humbling themselves to receive the word and implant it deep in the heart. Only then can our souls be saved. To implant the word it has to settle to our core. The actual word here is even stronger than implant in that it speaks to the idea of engrafting the word of God to our lives. Every time that we read or hear God’s word we have a new branch that we can add to the process of producing fruit. If our ears are not open, the words can never make it to our hearts. If the word is not embedded in our hearts, we cannot produce fruit and it will never save our souls. It all starts with being ready to listen to the word of God and receive it willingly adopting fully every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).
May we have the spirit of Cornelius and his household to listen, “We are all here present before God to hear all the things that are commanded you from God.” (Acts 10:33). What kind of listeners are we? Are you like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 that when they heard the word of God, studied the Scriptures daily to see if these things that they heard were true? Are we like those in Nehemiah 8:3, that when the word was being spoken by Ezra, the people stood from morning until midday to attentively hear all that was taught and it led them into praise toward God? Are you excited by the idea of coming to hear another portion of God’s word?
If we transplant our assembly back into the first century, the idea of being “swift” to hear takes on a whole new meaning. In any given assembly of Christians, to hear from an apostle or to read one of their letters would most likely be a one-time opportunity. Bibles weren’t readily available like they are today so you may only get one chance to soak in a message from Paul, Peter, or one of the other inspired apostles or writers. How would you listen to that message? You would hang on to every word if your heart was in the right place. Do we take our Bibles for granted? When you open your Bible, does it occur to you that in your reading, you are hearing the voice of God? If a video camera was turned on in the assembly aimed into the auditorium and you came up on the big screen, what would you be able to tell about how ready you are to listen to the word of God? Some members are taking notes, others are following along in their Bible. Some of you might even be meditating on how you are going to incorporate what you are learning into your life. Others might be nodding off, checking messages on your phone, thinking about lunch, worried about life, and unable to clear your mind enough to hear. Others are tired from work, or maybe you wrestled little one late last night which leaves you exhausted. Unfortunately, some have hardened their hearts against the truth and your ears are closed. Paul mentioned such people when he wrote in II Timothy 4:3,
“Who turn away their ears from the truth.”
Wherever you are on this spectrum, I think we all could agree that we could do much better at being ready listeners. James says that the salvation of your soul is at stake here.
Ready to Effectually Do & Abide By the Word and Be Blessed (vs. 22-25)
"But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does."
We need to prove that we are doers and not only hearers. Those that hear the word of God and do nothing to obey it are delusional (Matthew 7:24-27). We need to prove ourselves by doing what we hear. Some people amongst the Christian community believe that the most important thing that they can engage in every week is in hearing a sermon or having a Bible study. I would be crazy to try and downplay the significance of preaching and teaching because without it no one can hear the message. The point is, if we read, study, and hear a message preached but it fails to motivate us to humble our lives to the place of doing what we have learned, we are deluding ourselves. The Bible teaches that the Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul (Psalm 19:7). God’s word goes forth and will not come back void (Isaiah 55:11). Only good and honest hearts receive the word fully (Matthew 13). The word of God has been compared to a lamp to our feet, bread of life, milk and meat, a sharp sword, the very breath of God. We really underestimate the power found in the Bible.
James compares this to someone who beholds their face in a mirror, recognizing perhaps a hair of our head out of place, some food in our teeth, oils that need to be washed away from the skin, and even some blemishes that need to be addressed and then we simply turn and walk away without changing anything. Let me emphasize that there is only enough room in the mirror for your face. Consider the use of personal pronouns in the context. You look at yourself in the face and examine what you see against the word of God. While it might be easy to show other people their faults, this practice completely misses the point of the lesson found here. Unless you have little concern about your appearance, you would never allow yourself to be seen in public if a mirror revealed these issues to you. You would correct the problems that you could see. James says that when we look in the perfect law of liberty, we see all of our imperfections, flaws, filthiness, etc. and we are given an opportunity to fix them all by obedience.
Why waste your time looking into the mirror day after day if you aren’t going to make any changes? To be clear, when we hear the word of God, it is in those moments that we are most keenly aware of the areas in our lives that need to be straightened out. This is why we end every lesson with an invitation to allow all who hear the word a chance to remove any discrepancies before we say the final amen and return to our daily lives. James adds that when we walk away from the mirror of God’s word, we forget what it was about; we dismiss the message that stormed our will, pricked our heart, or moved us deeply in the inner man. The urgent need to respond flees from us and we can no longer recall the truths that stirred us and called us to action. We read in Hebrews that 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." (Hebrews 4:12).
It only cuts to the core of our being while we are before its pages or within earshot of its messages. We are warned that if we don’t take action and respond in obedience to the word of God when it is fresh on our hearts, Satan takes action and removes the word from our hearts. Apart from an open Bible, we have stepped away from the mirror and we forget what we need to do. This also emphasized the importance of visiting the mirror regularly on a personal level but just like Paul told Timothy, we are to give ourselves to the public reading of Scripture (I Tim 4:13).
We are told to look with “intent” at the law of liberty. The word "intent" is an interesting concept here because some people approach the Bible trying to prove it wrong, while others cherish it and can’t get enough of it, knowing that each word was breathed (inspired) by God (II Tim. 3:16-17).
It is called the law of liberty here not because it frees us to do whatever we want, but because it frees us from the sin that entangles us. We look into the mirror of God’s word, and we realize that we are sinners and that God in His love, gave His Son to redeem us and cleanse us by His blood. The law of God has always shed light on the darkness in us. When the light is on we can see clearly. Instead of desiring that clarity, many would prefer to turn the light off and do nothing. The law of Moses exposed sin as well but didn’t provide a permanent remedy. You were overwhelmed by the reality of your lost condition. The law was not bad in and of itself for it came from God. Due to our inability to keep it, the Law had to be fulfilled and done away with so that a new covenant could be established. Jesus did not abolish the law but fulfilled it and in turn, establishes the law of liberty. There are still teachings that we need to abide by and commandments that we have to keep. The difference is that we keep them out of love for the Lord and His sacrificial death which freed us from the law of sin and death. The commandments are not burdensome. Now that we are under the law of Christ and by abiding in it and doing what He commands, we gain all the spiritual blessings found in the Lord.
Ready to Faithfully Serve Others & Remain Unstained by the World (vs. 26-27)
"If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
James offers some practical and tactical ways for us to do God’s word and abide in it. Do you think of yourself as religious? It really doesn’t matter how religious you think you are. James says that religion is a practice. One example that he provides here ties back to an earlier point in the lesson, where he admonished us to be slow to speak. In other words, if you do not hold your tongue, controlling your speech, your religion is worthless. This is an introduction to chapter 2 where James is going to spend almost the entire passage addressing faith in action. James will also spend part of chapter 3 developing more thoughts about the use of the tongue. The reason we call these teachings practical and tactical is that we are not only using them in life to live according to the will of God, these have eternal implications.
Next James describes pure and undefiled religion. This religion is that which is approved by God our Father. Then we hear some of the oldest principles that God has always required of the people of God even in the Old Testament about being kind to those in need. The prophet Isaiah recorded,
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:16–17)
First, he tells us to visit orphans. Children are close to the heart of God. The fatherless are cherished by the Lord and He wants to show His love to them through us. Jesus warned that if we caused a child to stumble it would be better if a millstone were hung around our neck and we were thrown into the sea and drowned. Jesus said, "Let the little children come" to Him for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Now remove the earthly parents of the child and God says that this escalates the need to provide tender care.
Secondly, James said that the Lord is concerned about widows in their distress. The women who lost their husbands to death were destitute and were dependent on others for basic needs and loving care. If your religion doesn’t include concern for widows, your religion might need to be purified.
The final point that James includes is keeping yourself unspotted or unstained by the world. While we are out serving others in the world, we need to take precautions not to become weary in doing well and avoid allowing the world to negatively influence us and lead us back into sin. The greatest challenge of every Christian is to maintain their faith and to avoid returning to their former ways. The bride of Christ that will be saved will be pure. In Ephesians 5:26-27 we find,
“that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”
How are we doing church? Let’s look in the mirror and make an honest assessment.
Today we have addressed three areas where we need to become ready listeners:
- Ready to Repent and Humbly Receive the Word to Save Our Souls (vs. 19-21)
- Ready to Effectually Do & Abide By the Word to Be Blessed (vs. 22-25)
- Ready to Faithfully Serve Others & Remain Unstained by the World (vs. 26-27)
How are we doing in these areas of our faith? Perhaps you are not even in the faith of our Lord today and you need to come in obedience to the gospel. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by and walk away from the mirror of truth. Today is the day of salvation! What is keeping you from putting your trust in Christ, repenting of your sins, claiming that Jesus is Lord and being baptized for the remission of your sins? We want to help you in making this decision to follow Jesus.
If you are in the Lord but you have struggled to be a good listener as evidenced by some struggle in your life that you need help with, please let us know how we can encourage you to be restored to your faithful walk with the Lord. Remember that James was writing primarily to Christians when he commanded them to put away filthiness and what remains of wickedness. It is possible that we become stained by the world and the Lord asks us to repent and confess our faults, pray together about it and he will forgive us of all unrighteousness. How can we help today? In II Cor. 3:18,
“Beholding, as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image –from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Holy Spirit.”
Are you ready to be changed? Jesus is the exact representation of God’s image and the more we become like Christ, we become like God. God wants to use you to reflect His light to the world. You cannot do that if you are not in fellowship with Him through His word.
Contact us for more information or reach out to a local church of Christ and seek this right relationship with God in Christ Jesus our Lord.