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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Being Doers of the Word, Part 2

In our previous three posts, we’ve looked at how James1:19-27 calls us to be hearers of the Word, receivers of the Word, and doers of the Word.  Now our objective is to explore one possible method for doing the Word. 
If you’ve become convicted of a particular sin, that sin has most likely become a strong habit.  So, following the biblical model for change (Eph 4:22-24), you have to put off the sin and put on something in its place.  Kill the sinful habit and replace it with a godly one.  As an example, let’s say you are an habitual gossip.  (My definition of gossip is engaging in a conversation--talking, listening, or both--about a third party in which what is shared is not either good or for their good.) 
The first thing to do is to determine how that sin is manifesting itself in your life.  Maybe you have an insatiable desire to know what is going on in other people’s lives.  Maybe when you find out a secret, you have a compulsion to tell someone else.  Maybe there are certain people you gravitate toward because you know they will engage in gossip with you.  Write those things down.
Second, determine what you are thinking each time you are tempted to that sin.  It may be, “I wonder what is going on there…”  It may be, “Oh, so-and-so will not believe this…I can't wait to tell...”  Whatever it is, write those things down.
Third, determine what you are wanting in those moments.  It may be a distraction from your own problems.  It may be sheer entertainment.  It could be a way to get back at someone who has hurt you.  Perhaps, you want to “correct” someone’s favorable opinion of the person you are talking about – in order to elevate or vindicate yourself.  It may simply be that talking about someone else’s big sins makes you feel better about your own small ones.  Write down what it is that you are wanting. 
Fourth, determine when that sin is manifesting itself.  When do you find yourself tempted to talk about someone behind his or her back?  Perhaps it is when you are with a certain person or group of people.  Perhaps it is during the boring hours of the day, whenever that is for you.  Or maybe its at church.  Also, where are you when you are tempted to listen to gossip?  Write it down. 
Fifth, go to the Word and find out what the Bible teaches about that sin and the opposite Godly virtue.  (Here is an old blog series on gossip.)  Write that down.
Now we’ve got all that information written down. What do we do with it?  The how tells us the specific actions we need to put off.  The thinking tells us what thoughts we need to replace.  So if the thought we’re putting of is, “I wonder what’s going on there…,” I need to construct a biblical thought to replace it, like: “I should strive to build others up rather than being a busybody” (1 Tim 5:13).  Write down that new thought. 
The wanting tells us what we’re worshiping that needs to be replaced with worship of Christ.  If we want “the scoop” so much that we will sin to get it or sin if we don’t get it, it’s an idol.  We need to recognize it as such and determine that in the moment of temptation we will focus on worshiping and pleasing Christ alone. 
The when tells us the specific times when we need to prepare ourselves for temptation.  If we are tempted when we are around certain people and we cannot avoid those people, we should take time to review all the material we’ve accumulated: the sin that we are avoiding and the godly behavior we want to exhibit in its place…the thoughts we are going to resist and the godly thoughts we will strive to think instead…the idol that will be calling our name in that moment of temptation and the excellencies of pleasing Christ that we will focus on instead…and all the Scriptural truth.  And then we should pray for God’s grace and strength to withstand the onslaught of temptation.  We should acknowledge before God we can’t do this alone.  Only His grace and strength will enable us to obey as we trust in Him.  And we should commit to the Lord that we will strive to be faithful. 
We should go through that every time we are about to go into a situation where we know temptation will be waiting.  If those times for you are very predictable, set an alarm to remind you to do that.  Remember that looking intently at the gospel is what fuels the fire of our devotion to the Lord, giving us the very desire to obey.
This is just one method of taking what we hear in the Word and putting it into action.  Whatever method we choose, we have to do something.  Taking copious sermon notes won’t cut it.  We’ve got to put it into practice where the rubber meets the road.  That means actually sitting down and coming up with a plan for how to obey.
I know it sounds like a lot of work.  That’s because it is.  Which is why Peter writes in 2 Peter1:5 make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue.  Expend energy on this.  That’s why Paul commanded Timothy in 1Tim 4:7, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.  In v10 of that chapter, he says to toil and strive.  That’s why Paul writes in Philippians 2:12 to work out your own salvation as God works in you.   
The key thing to remember is that we do it trusting in the Lord’s strength, not our own, and focusing on the gospel, but we do have to do something.  Isn’t that the spirit of James 1:19-27?  Be doers of the law, not hearers only who deceive themselves.  Look at the perfect law of liberty and persevere.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Being Doers of the Word

In our previous two posts, we’ve looked at how James 1:19-27 calls us to be hearers of the Word and receivers of the Word.  Now, we will see that James’ ultimate objective in the passage is to call us to be doers of the Word: 
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)
Notice how James has phrased this. It doesn’t say “do the Word”.  It says be doers of the Word.  Be a person characterized by the doing of the Word.  James is calling us to a lifestyle, not an activity.  We shouldn’t think of this as a lifestyle of perfect obedience, but rather as a general pattern of obedience.
He contrasts this with another kind of lifestyle – being a hearer only.  If you have been going to Providence Bible Fellowship for very long, you most likely have had at least a few times where you have been confronted with the truth and convicted that you should obey the truth.  When that happens is any action taken in your life in response to that conviction?  Or do you process it and then continue on your way?
If you have never thought about that, it's possible that you have deceived yourself.  That’s what “hearers only” do, according to v22.  They deceive themselves.  But in what way do they deceive themselves?  James explains by giving us a great illustration in the following verses to show us what is really happening when we are hearers only.  Consider vv23-24:
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (James 1:23-24)
What would you think about a person who looks intently in a mirror – that is, really studies his reflection, looks at all the contours of his own face and the imperfections, possibly the signs of age – and then goes away and immediately forgets what he looked like?  “That’s ridiculous.  Nobody does that.  Who forgets what they look like?”  That’s the point.  The absurdity is the point.  That’s what we do when we hear the Word and are not doers of the Word.  The clear push of God’s Word is that it makes claims on our lives.  We are repeatedly called to obey.  To be confronted with that and then not to follow through and obey is as absurd as looking intently at yourself in the mirror and walking away and immediately forgetting what you look like. 
The one who is a hearer and not a doer deceives himself, v22 told us.  The deception comes in the “looking intently”.  Here’s how I think this works.  You hear preaching or teaching or you read the Word, and you look intently at it in light of the mirror it holds up to your life.  You contemplate what it means, you think deeply about it, and your eyes are opened to some flaws in your heart that you were previously unaware of.  Your attention is fixed on that.  You are convicted and you see what needs to change.  And you talk to others about how convicted you are.  And you spend much time thinking about that and how much you want to change…
And then you walk away and nothing changes.  It’s easy to think that feeling conviction and even desiring to change and thinking hard about it causes change, but it doesn’t. You go away and forget what you saw when you looked into the mirror of Scripture.  It happens all the time.  And even though you were so convicted about your sin, you’re still doing it.  That’s what it means to be a hearer only. 
Now, what does a doer look like?  V25 tells us:
25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts…
He describes the Word as “the perfect law, the law of liberty.”  This law of liberty is the word of the gospel that frees the sinner from the power of his sin.  And consider what the doer does with this law of liberty.  He “looks” at it, the ESV says, but the underlying Greek word doesn’t just indicate gazing at something.  It means “to make considerable effort in order to try to find out something.”  It is the picture of deliberate, intentional time feeding on the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation, which includes sanctification (Rom 1:16).
So there is a difference between the looking that the hearer does and the looking that the doer does.  The hearer looks intently at his reflection.  In other words, he looks at his life in light of what the Word calls him to, and that is absolutely necessary.  But the doer moves on and looks at the perfect law of liberty.  He doesn’t just identify his imperfections, but he searches the Scriptures so as to bring them to bear on His sin.  He seeks to appropriate the gospel to do something about his imperfections, to free him from the bondage of his sin.
It would be difficult to over-emphasize how important it is to preach the gospel to ourselves in our daily pursuit of godliness.  The gospel helps us to understand clearly our sin problem, why we must change, the reality that Christ’s death has provided a mechanism for us to change, the reality that we can’t do it in our own strength, the gifts that God has given to assist us in this, and a growing affection for the Savior which becomes the overriding motivation to change. 
That’s why in Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians Paul preaches the gospel to the reader before giving them any commands.  The truth of the gospel is essential for being able to obey the commands.  The doer of the Word focuses on the gospel.
But we see another huge difference between the hearer and the doer.  Remember the hearer looks at himself in the mirror and goes away.  The doer looks at the perfect law of liberty and perseveres.  His gaze is transfixed on the gospel and it stays there.   The Greek word for perseveres literally means “to stay with.”
And consider what it says about him next: “being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts.”  It literally says, “not a hearer who becomes a forgetter, but a doer of work.”  What is it that prevents him from becoming a forgetter?  He doesn’t leave the Word, but he stays there.  He doesn’t let the busyness of life pull him away.
After considering all of this, would you characterize yourself as a doer of the Word, or a hearer only.  We probably all go through seasons of both.  Where are you right now?  Next time, we’ll consider some practical suggestions for how to do the Word.  In the meantime, meditate on the truths of the gospel, all that God has done in Christ to save us and transform us into His image.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Being Receivers of the Word

In the first installment of this series on James 1:19-27, we saw that vv19-20 call us to be hearers of the Word.  This involves more than mere auditory function, but is a call to pay attention to the Word and to seek to understand it. 
V21 calls us to be receivers of the Word:
Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21).
This verse like numerous others in the New Testament calls us to remove one thing from our lives and to replace it with something else.  We call it the “put off, put on principle.”  Get rid of that and replace it with this.  And according to v21, what should we put off?  All the sin exposed by the Word.  When we spend time in the Scriptures, whether that is in our personal devotions, in a small group study, or in a sermon, the Holy Spirit uses the Sword to lay us open (Heb 4:12-13).  It exposes our sin that we might put it off.     
And what is the corresponding “put on”?  Receiving with meekness the implanted Word.  But what does it mean to receive the Word?  We might think “receive” is just a synonym for being quick to hear, which was mentioned in v19.  But there is more action involved in receiving than in hearing.  One Greek lexicon defines the underlying verb this way: to indicate approval or conviction by accepting.  So to receive something in this sense is not a passive action like getting something in the mail.  To receive the implanted Word is to accept it by conviction or approval.  You grab hold of it, knowing that it is true and right, knowing its value.  When we put off all filthiness and rampant wickedness and put on the implanted Word, we are rejecting one way of thinking and living and we are adopting another. 
Notice that the text tells us to receive the implanted Word with meekness.  Other translations say to receive it with humility.  What does that mean?  It’s the state of not being overly impressed with ones own importance.  It’s the opposite of the disposition pictured in v19 of arguing with the Word or rejecting the Word.  To receive the Word with meekness is to get out of ourselves and align ourselves with God’s objective, grasping with conviction the claim that it makes on our lives.  It involves recognizing that God’s way, prescribed in His Word, is better than the way we have been doing things.  In it we disavow our own way and take up His.
There is an interesting adjective describing the Word in this verse.  He calls it the implanted Word.  I think this reflects the character of the Word in the life of a believer as opposed to an unbeliever.  In the New Covenant, the Father puts His law inside of us, writing it on our hearts (Jer 31:31-33).  V18 indicates that our regeneration is prompted by the hearing of the Word.  V21 echoes this by noting that this implanted Word is "able to save your souls."
Do you see how being a receiver of the Word is a step beyond being a hearer of the Word?  Hearing is being open to the Word.  Receiving the Word is being eager for it, hungry for it no matter what it holds, willing to jettison anything in our lives that is not consistent with it.
So would you consider yourself a receiver of the Word?  Are you eager to embrace what it says even if it calls you to radical things?  Are you prepared to put off whatever violates Scripture that you might put on what it prescribes?  Many people in the church are hearers of the Word, but perhaps not many are receivers.  What will you be?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Being Doers of the Word

One of the things common to all human beings is the propensity for self-deception.  We are born masters in the art of convincing ourselves of things that are not necessarily true.  We do it in all areas of our lives, but for those of us in the church, one area in which we are particularly prone to self-deception is our own spiritual health. 
James 1:22 reads, But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  We self-deceive by telling ourselves we are doing well spiritually because we are in the Word, listening to the Word, or learning the Word, when the real question is whether or not we are doing the Word.  It is a valuable practice to periodically evaluate our lives to see if this particular brand of self-deception is working its way into our lives.  To that end, for the next few weeks we’ll be taking a walk through James 1:19-27.  May the Lord use this short series to wake us up to this danger.
This passage teaches us first of all that we need to be hearers of the Word.  V19 reads: Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.  Based on the context, we know that this is not mere hearing, not mere speaking, and not mere anger, as if the object of the hearing, speaking, and anger is indefinite.  The context revolves around the receiving of the Word.  The previous verse, v18, teaches that the Word of truth is the catalyst that brought us the new birth.  Then v21 speaks of the “implanted word that is able to save your souls.”  So both the previous and following verses speak of the communication of the Word, and the rest of the passage deals with being a doer of the Word.  That points to the Word being the object of the verbs in v19.
So the command is to be quick to hear the Word of God.  “Hear” refers to more than auditory perception.  The word means “to listen”.  It is an active thing.  Pay attention.  Listen to understand.  This speaks of an openness to what the Word has to say to us, which is clear, considering that James has juxtaposed “hearing” against the other two verbs in the verse.
It says be “quick to hear,” as opposed to being quick to speak.   What is a common characteristic of someone who is a bad listener?  While the other person is talking they are thinking about what they are going to say.  How would that apply to the idea of being quick to hear the Word?  When we think of the Word as making claims on us, convicting us, calling us to obedience in areas of our lives where we have been resistant, we are quick to speak, that is, we are quick to rebut the Word.  In other words, we argue with the Word.  Have you ever heard someone teach the Word in such a way that called you to a form of obedience or belief that you didn’t like, so you immediately started thinking about why that text couldn’t mean what it looks like it means?  That represents a heart closed to the Word, a heart that is not quick to hear.  We argue it away rather than considering the truthfulness of it.
And then even worse, sometimes we react in anger to the Word - He says be “slow to anger.”  This Greek word for anger speaks of a deep, internal resentment and rejection, in this context, of God’s Word.  So to be quick to anger is to be quick to reject what God’s Word calls us to.  Or for those of us who have a high regard for the Word, we may transfer our anger to the preacher or teacher, discounting what is said by assuming a wrong motive.
So what James is calling us to first of all is to be quick to hear, to be open to what the Word of God has to say to us, to not argue against it or reject it but to really consider what it requires of us. 
And then the text tells us why.  Why should we be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger? V20, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.  Remember that God’s objective is to sanctify us for His glory.  v20 tells us that those ungodly responses to the Word – arguing against it and flat-out rejecting it in anger – are not going to produce godliness in us, which we know to be God’s objective for us.  So he calls us back to that God-centered objective, and away from our man-centered objective of making ourselves comfortable. 
So a good question to ask ourselves as we come together to hear the Word is what is our disposition toward it?  Are we open to it or are we defensive?  What has been your disposition toward the Word recently?  The first step to being doers of the Word is to have hearts that truly hear the Word.