James 1:17-27 – Be Good because God Is Good

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all he created.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness 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 someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our 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. (New International Version)

God is Good – All the Time

And all the time – God is good. That statement is a bedrock foundation for Christian faith. Without a basic affirmation and belief of God’s goodness, our faith will experience cracks and not stand the test of hardship and difficulty in life. Without the steadfast conviction that God is good, the alternative is that God is somehow fickle or even mean – that God does not care about my problems.

The trials and tribulations of life are intended by God to be watershed experiences that prove the genuineness, or lack thereof, of our faith. When life is good, it is easy to say God is good. However, when it isn’t, we may slide into a belief system that thinks God is the source of our trouble. And if we have not been working on a relationship with God, we will have scant resources to draw from to help us.

God is good, and not mean. Every single good gift there is in this world comes from God. Nothing evil comes from God. God’s grace is constantly around us. If his grace were not here, it would be like living inside a dystopian novel, or a zombie apocalypse, where everyone is constantly looking over their shoulders for the next evil thing to happen. Although evil exists, it could be a whole lot worse if it were not for divine grace and goodness.

“This is true faith, a living confidence in the goodness of God.”

Martin Luther

God is immutable, that is, God’s goodness is ever-present. On this earth we are constantly subjected to changing light as the sun rises and sets, and as the clouds come and go. Yet, God does not change like shifting shadows. God is not fickle or capricious. God’s goodness is always at high noon, standing like an eternal sun in a bright blue sky radiating unbroken grace to us.

God’s goodness has delivered people from sin, death, and hell. God’s grace has given us new life. God created the world and pronounced it “good.” God formed you and called you “good.” And God has forgiven you, in Christ, and says it is “good.”

God gave us a good word for us to accept and live by.

Hurry Up and Listen

There is a great need for listeners today. Precious little productive communication takes place because there are so many people in a hyper-vigilant state airing their opinions. They talk over and on top of each other because they’ve already made-up their minds about how things really are and what should be done. Nobody is listening.

Bible reading is a primary source for listening to God. Yet, although many people own multiple Bibles, and Scripture is freely available through digital sources, far too many persons simply don’t read and listen to it.

Slow Down and Speak

God has given us two ears and one mouth so that we will listen twice as much as we talk.   

Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut. (Proverbs 10:19, NLT)

A loose tongue and constant opining happens because of faulty listening.  An inability to listen leads to a lack of understanding because we do not take the time to get the whole story. It’s easy to pronounce verdicts with little information, and offer bad advice, when there is little listening.

Have a Long Fuse

Be slow to anger. A fool speaks without thinking, which stirs up strife. Slow to listen and quick to speak leads to anger flares. An angry spirit is an unteachable spirit, unwilling to listen to both God and others. 

Rash words said in anger produce an ugly unrighteous life. Selfish opinionated anger produces harsh bitter words and kills God’s plan for a good life.

We are to accept the Word of God. Throwing labels at people only de-humanizes them. They become objects of anger and scorn, and not people made in God’s image. Nothing good comes from ignoring God’s Word and giving-in to bitterness. It destroys good people.

Get Rid of Evil

Get rid of all moral filth, and the evil that is so prevalent. The unwillingness to listen, a loose tongue, and unrighteous anger are moral evils. Evil is not only perpetuated by serial killers, terrorists, and other people different from us. In fact, the face of evil rarely comes to us in the form of red horns and a pitchfork.

Evil also resides as soft-core wickedness – common ordinary evil. The demonic can work in an almost ho-hum manner, subtly questioning whether anyone can really live up to the precepts of God’s Word, and generally undermining all that takes place to the glory of God.

The face of evil is neither hot nor cold, but “meh.” It is the bitter slow-cooked seething anger bubbling just underneath the surface which comes out in a plastic smile while offering up a morsel of slander based on a lack of listening well. It comes out in fake gestures of niceness while being quick to make judgments with little to no information.

Put away the “meh.” Receive God’s Word. Take a teachable posture. Stop and listen to what God’s Word has to say.

Be a Doer of God’s Word, Not Just a Hearer

The Word of God is not truly received until it is put into practice. 

It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (Romans 2:13, NRSV) 

Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it (Luke 11:28, NIV). 

The person who only hears is like a Mr. Potato Head that is only ears. He cannot stand because he has no feet.  He cannot do anything because he has no hands. Mr. Potato Head needs some feet so that he can follow Jesus wherever he goes. And he needs hands so he can do God’s will.

Listening to the Word without obedience is just that – it is mere hearing.  Profession of faith means nothing without a practice of that faith; learning the Bible is useless without living it; and acceptance of the Word is nothing more than a mental exercise without action to back it up.  Profession, knowledge, and acceptance alone does not satisfy God’s plan for our lives. 

Pay Attention to the Person in the Mirror

A person looks at himself in the mirror. He clearly sees all his flaws. Yet he does not respond, likely because he doesn’t like what he sees. It’s silly to look into a mirror, see a major bedhead, and just do nothing about it and go to work as if everything were fine. We look. We examine. We hear. We see exactly who we are. And we can’t even identify ourselves in a police lineup.

The person forgets what he looks like because he does not really want to face himself. This isn’t a clueless guy. It is one who sees himself as he really is and chooses not to do anything about it.

Forgetfulness happens because of inaction. Remembrance, communion, and hope all occur through active participation. God blesses the one who looks hard into the mirror of God’s Word, then intentionally makes changes based on what he finds.

Obedience to God’s Word brings freedom, not bondage. Listening, seeing, adjusting, and changing is a freeing activity. That’s because it’s how we are designed to live.

Holy and good God, give me grace to see you, others, and myself clearly so that I will be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Amen.

God Is Good

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created (James 1:16-18, NIV).
 
 
 
            God is good – all the time.  And all the time – God is good.  That statement is a bedrock foundation for the Christian faith.  Without a basic affirmation and belief of God’s goodness, our faith will experience cracks and not stand the test of hard circumstances and difficult situations in life.  Without the steadfast conviction that God is good, the alternative is that God is somehow fickle or even mean – that he does not really care about the problems we experience in life.
 
            Last week I had an experience I have not had in twenty years; I bounced a check.  First of all, it’s embarrassing because I didn’t have the resources I thought I did. It’s frustrating because you tack on the charge for your negligence. So, here I walk into the bank where everyone knows the pastor.  And I get to walk up and tell them that the pastor needs to clear up his insufficient funds.  A trial is like a bounced check. You feel stuck with a problem that you don’t have the resources to solve. The temptation is to rant to God: “Do you see me over here, God? Do you see what I’m going through? Are you paying attention? I’m about to bounce a lot of spiritual checks here. I don’t have the resources. I don’t have it emotionally. You’re rattling my faith, God. Don’t leave me in this mess.”
 
Those expressions of desperation you feel so awful about are in fact the exact truth that God has been trying to bring to your attention. You flat out don’t have the resources. He wants you to come to the place where you humbly get before him in a deeper way and tell him what he’s known to be true all along: you are in over your head and you need him.  Your poverty of spirit enables you to receive from God.
 
            When life is good, it is not a stretch to say God is good.  But it might be easy to slide into a belief system that thinks God is the problem when situations take a turn for the worse – that somehow God is the source of our trouble.  And if we have not been working on a relationship with God, we will have scant resources to draw from in a time of trouble.
 
            God is good.  God is not mean.  Every single good gift that there is in this world comes from God.  Nothing evil can come from God.  There would be no good in this world if God was not around.  God’s grace is constantly around us.  If his grace were not here, it would be like living in a dystopian novel.  It would be like a zombie apocalypse where everyone is constantly looking over their shoulders for the next evil thing to happen.  But, although there is evil in this world, it could be a whole lot worse if it were not for God’s goodness.
 
            People will typically question God’s goodness when they do not understand what is happening with something they do not like.  They want answers.  They want justice.  They want stability.  And when it does not come right away, they might question if God really cares.  But you do not need to understand everything about a situation to know that God is good.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  Nothing can separate us from God’s love – not trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword – not any adverse circumstance that occurs in your life.
 

 

            God has good plans for his people, the church, because he is a good God – all the time – without changing like shifting shadows.  As long as we believe we have the resources and abilities within ourselves to do church ministry, it will likely either not happen or not occur with the blessing of God.  Only through the humility of dependence in a good God who gives good gifts is there true hope and faith.  World Communion Sunday reminds us that our good God is at work in people from all nations and ethnicities all across the earth, providing spiritual nourishment to us at his hospitably good Table.  Thank you, Jesus.

The Price of Prayer

 
 
All of the Christian life is grounded in two important theological truths:  God is good; and, God acts powerfully in the world for good.  Prayer is based in the conviction that God is concerned to hear us; and, that he is able to respond and answer.  Prayer might be something that we can engage in at any time, but real God-focused, God-honoring prayer has a price.  It will cost us time, effort, vulnerability, and following through with action.  Biblical prayer is not just throwing up some private requests, but is an activity that requires something of us as a community of believers in Jesus (James 5:13-20). 
 
            The entire church is to pray – all of us, the happy and the suffering, the healthy and unhealthy.  More specifically, the New Testament letter of James tells us that the leaders/elders of the church are to pray for those who are “sick” (James 5:14).  The word James used refers not just to a physical illness, but also to those who are weak and weary, those who are completely worn down because of their life circumstances.
 
            James provides a clear chain of responsibility.  The onus is on the sick person to contact the elders of the church.  James clearly puts the need for communicating the situation on the person who is undergoing the trouble.  For many people, this is humbling and difficult, so they do not do it.  But prayer has a price – it will cost us some openness.
 
            When the needy person communicates the trouble, then the elders are to anoint the person in the name of the Lord and offer a prayer of faith on his/her behalf.  It is the leadership’s job to pray.  In the Bible, anointing with oil was a deeply symbolic act of encouragement in which a tangible thing was being done in order to lift the person from the trouble.  Physical ailments of bodily sickness; sinful problems of anger or bitterness; spiritual struggles of doubt; emotional challenges of depression; anything and everything that would cause a lack of health could be prayed over and people could be anointed and encouraged.
 
            Prayer for James was not a strictly private affair; it was a communal activity.  I want us to entertain the notion that if we are not experiencing healing, wholeness, and health whether it is physical, relational, or spiritual, then maybe God is calling you and I to not only personal private prayer, but corporate prayer offered by the elders of the church.  It is not just the prayer offered by one solitary individual that makes the sick person well – it is the collective faith prayer of the church’s leadership on the troubled person.
 
            The goal of prayer is healing in its complete form:  physical, mental, emotional, relational, and, of course, spiritual.  Effective prayer results in reconciliation with others, and a restoration to the community of faith.  To bring those who wander from the truth back – to realize a return of a prodigal – will result because of prayer (James 5:19-20).
 
            In the past ten years, the American church has experienced a pronounced slide of people out the door.  According to Christian pollster, George Barna, 25% of the U.S. population now identifies themselves in the religious category of “none.”  They have no religious affiliation.  Many of them have left churches.  You already know this.  You know it because this is not a statistic to you.  You know some of the “nones” personally.
 

 

            What will you do about it?  Wish it were different?  Lament it?  Complain about it?  Or will you and your church pray with heartfelt, earnest, passionate, deliberate, sustained, and believing prayers so that prodigals will return and those who have wandered far from God will experience the grace of Jesus Christ?  Bring them back.  Do it with prayer.