The Discipline of Receiving (James 1:19-25)
Passage: James 1:19–1:25
Sunday Morning Disciplines
I. Flying Blind
In the world of aviation, there are two kinds of flying. One is called “contact flying” and utlizes what are called “visual flying rules”. This is the kind of flying that begins with and is firmly based on what the pilot can see out the window, including the horizon line, clouds, and other aircraft in the vicinity.
The other kind of flying uses what are known as “instrument flying rules”. This kind of piloting is often called “blind flying” or “flying blind”. This is how a pilot flies when the visual, when what one can see out the window, is taken away...by a cloud, by fog, or by the dark. This kind of flying relies on a cluster of six guages on the control panel. If the pilot ignores or is not trained to read these instruments, spatial disorientation will eventually drive the pilot into the ground or into the side of a mountain.
So why is any of that important, especially this morning? Well, God's word does not tell us anything explicit about piloting an aircraft, but it does warn us about moving through this world with no real visibility. That's the situation all of us find ourselves in because of sin.
In order for us, as individuals and as a church family, to fly in the right direction spiritually, to not veer off course, we need reliable instruments.
II. The Disciplines of Gathering and the Word
This morning we are beginning a new three-part series entitled “Sunday Morning Disciplines”. What do I mean by the phrase, Sunday morning disciplines? Well when we think about that term “spiritual disciplines”, we usually think about those personal “habits of devotion” that we cultivate and God uses to make us more like Christ; things like Bible reading, prayer, fasting.
But are spiritual disciplines only found in the context of my personal devotions or individual habits? No, of course not. There are spiritual disciplines that God has called us to practice corportately as we come together every Sunday morning.
In fact, our coming together is a spiritual discipline. A discipline, by definition, is not something we do naturally. It is something important that we must very deliberately plan to do, over and over again.
Gathering on Sunday mornings is like that. Even though God's word, in Hebrews 10:25, calls us to “not neglect meeting together”, all of us can struggle with making this time with God's people one of our highest priorities.
And so, because of the temptation to “sleep in” or because we don't “feel like it” or because the kids are acting up or because the game is on or whatever the reason, all of us need to discipline ourselves in terms of meeting together on Sundays. In so many parts of the world, people walk for hours just to worship with the people of God.
But when we gather together, there are other disciplines we should be practicing, there are “Sunday morning disciplines”. And the most important of these disciplines is “the discipline of the word”. Just as the word should be the foundation for your individual walk with Christ each day, it should also be the foundation for everything we do on Sunday mornings. Why is God's word so important? Because...
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16, 17)(if you knew of a “burning bush”, would you go every week?)
This is why Paul told Timothy in an earlier letter, Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (I Timothy 4:13). Our desire at Way of Grace is that every person who comes into this place has a clear sense of how important God's word is to us and everything we're doing here. Look at your bulletin, do you see Scripture all over it? Didn't we read God's word together this morning? We even have Bibles available on the chairs if someone didn't bring their own (in some churches today, if you are carrying a Bible, you look like an oddball) . These are all expressions of this discipline of the word.
But Paul goes on in II Timothy 3 and charges his younger co-worker in light of these God-breathed Scriptures:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (II Timothy 4:1-4)
Notice that the context for this charge is not the world out there. It's the community in here. Verses 3 and 4 make that clear. Those verses also make clear that we need to preach the word because there is the always looming danger of turning from God's word and God's will in order to follow our “own passions”. God's word is the instrument cluster we need to navigate in this world of spiritually low visibility.
But sadly, many churches today are relegating God's word to the sidelines. Even though there may be a sermon or message delivered in these churches, it is usually a “diving board” sermon, that is, a sermon where the teacher begins on the word of God, but quickly springboards into the pool of antecdotes and practical advice. Such preachers are often “skyscraper” preachers, that is, their sermons are just one story after another.
Take Joel Osteen for example. As Pastor of Lakewoord Church in Houston, the largest church in the country with over 43,000 attending each week, his TV broadcast reaches over 7 million viewers in 100 countries around the world. This is what he says about preaching:
“Well, I really feel like what I’m best at is taking a part of the Scripture, or just taking one thought from the Bible, and making it relevant to our everyday lives. And so, I may speak my whole message and just come back and bring in Scripture at the end. But to me...I just want them to leave with one great thought whether it’s love your enemies, or don’t get stuck in a rut or know that God loves you. So, I don’t know, I think that there’s different callings for each minister. And I’m not kind of line by line, I’m not going to tell you all the in depth, you know, study behind it all. I’m just going to give you a simple thought.”
One source indicated that on average, Osteen references the Bible one time for every twelve stories he shares. But on the church's website, we read this under the “What We Believe” section: We believe the entire Bible is inspired by God, without error and the authority on which we base our faith, conduct and doctrine.
Does this make sense? Is this what it means to “preach the word”? And I haven’t even talked about the way Osteen handles, or I should say ‘mishandles’, God’s word when he does use it. But there are so many churches who are tragically going down this same road. These churches are flying “blind-blind”. No visibility because of sin, and ignoring the instrument cluster of God's word. Like passengers on a just such a plane, people's lives are in jeopardy.
We always need to cherish and yearn for clear, Bible-based, Christ-centered, expositional preaching. “Expositional” just means that the goal of the message is to exposit or explain a particular verse or passage of Scipture in light of the original author's intention and the fuller revelation of God's word.
Because the Bible is God's word to us and for us, we must discipline ourselves as a church to always keep His word at the very center of everything we do, including Sunday mornings.
III. The Passage: “Receive...the Implanted Word” (1:19-25)
But there's another discipline I'd like us to focus on this morning, another discipline that represents the flip side of the coin of that discipline of the word. While God calls you to seek out a church where the word of God is central, and even use that word to encourage others on Sunday morning, much of what we've talked about so far is primarily the responsibility of the leaders of this church and of me as the preacher.
So what is your primary responsibility on Sunday morning in terms of the word? When you wake up on Sunday morning, as you step out the door, as you click on that seatbelt, as you step out of your car in that parking lot out there, your heart and mind should be focused on the spiritual disicpline of receiving.
Turn with me to James 1, verses 19 through 25. Let’s do some exposition.
A little background about the book of James: evidence from chapters 2 and 5 in this letter seems to indicate that the first readers of James were struggling against the rich and powerful in their community. And in the face of this struggle, it appears some were beginning to subscribe to the mindset of those who called themselves “zealots”. These believed that when injustice prevailed, violence could be used against one's oppressors. Keep that in mind as we look at the opening verses of this section.
A. Check Your Agenda at the Door (1:19-21a)
Look with me at verses 19 through the first part of 21:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness...
What James is doing here is chapter 1 is preparing his readers for the challenge he wants to bring them. To borrow Paul’s language in II Timothy 3, James wants to teach, reprove, correct, and train them in righteousness. In light of the suffering they are enduring, James wants them to persevere and to seek God’s wisdom.
As we see in these verses, James wants them to understand that anger, that violence, will get them nowhere. Instead, they need to turn back to the word which they were first taught, the “word of truth” by which they were “brought forth” (v. 18) into eternal life. This is why his first instruction in this section is “let every person be quick to hear”. This verse is not about practicing good interpersonal communication skills, about being a “good listener”, as it’s sometimes been presented. It’s about hearing the word of God.
But this morning, I believe God wants us to see in this passage three principles for receiving the word of God, not just in our personal study, but also when we gather on Sunday mornings. We might say, three principles for listening to a sermon. And the first principle is right here in verses 19-21a. When coming to hear the word of God, first check your agenda at the door.
All of us come on Sundays with a trajectory that has been set by Monday through Saturday. And sometimes we are tempted to come simply because we first want to hear from God something that is truly affirming, rather something that is simply true. James’ readers were prone to speak, that is, they were prone to assert their perspective. And their perspective was meant to justify their anger.
But God calls us on Sunday mornings to (verse 21) “put away” our sinful perspectives and our sinful practices. He calls us to prepare ourselves to receive the wisdom of God by first acknowledging the foolishness of our own wisdom. If you really want to taste the incomparable feast of God’s word, you first have to spit out the rotten food and sour milk of human wisdom.
I know everyone single one of us “get’s ready” to come on Sunday mornings (we shower, we shave, we pick out our clothes). But do you spiritually “get ready”. Do you prepare yourself to hear God’s word? Listen to how the great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon spoke about this kind of preparation”
“We are told men ought not to preach without preparation. Granted. But we add, men ought not to hear without preparation. Which, do you think needs the most preparation, the sower or the ground? I would have the sower come with clean hands, but I would have the ground well-ploughed and harrowed, well-turned over, and the clods broken before the seed comes in. It seems to me that there is more preparation needed by the ground than by the sower, more by the hearer than by the preacher.” (Charles Spurgeon)
When you first wake up on Sundays, or on your drive over here, or even as you sit in this seat, pray something like this: “God, I admit that I am stubborn and prone to error. I confess that I have rejected your word on many occasions this past week. But please help me to set aside my agenda, my sin, and to hear what you have for me. Help me to be quick to hear you.”
B. Humbly Embrace the Life-Giving Word (1:21b)
But look at what James goes on to say in the rest of verse 21:
The word translated receive here is a word that means to accept, to take hold of, to embrace. It’s the same word Paul used in I Thessalonians 2 when he wrote:
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (I Thessalonians 2:13)
When we come on Sunday mornings, when we come to hear God’s word proclaimed, we cannot be satisfied with simply hearing something or simply approving of something. We need to humbly embrace the life-giving word. The Greek word used here for receive is also the word Jesus used when he talked about town and households that received the Apostles as they went out to preach.
But can you imagine receiving someone into your home and then letting them sit in the front room all day, by themselves, while you went about your business, content that you did the right thing and let them in the house? But this is what we do sometimes with God’s word. We let it in and say, “Oh, so nice to have you. Yes, you look like a fine person, really wonderful. Please have a seat.” And then we go on with our business, without any real interaction with God’s word.
But when you truly receive someone into your home, you spend time with that person, you cherish them, you ask them questions and allow them to ask you questions. You interact with them. You allow them to define your agenda for how you spend your time. We need to receive God’s word, to embrace it.
And James gives us two qualifications in this verse in terms of receiving the word. He says, receive it with “meekness”, that is, receive God’s word humbly, knowing that you do not deserve His word and knowing that it comes from God your Creator.
James also reminds us that this word, God’s word, is “able to save [our] souls”. If you were dying of a snake bite, wouldn’t you embrace the offer of anti-venom? If you were being swept away by flood waters, wouldn’t embrace, for dear life, the strong grip of the rescue worker? If we recognize our desperate need, our desperate hunger, we will embrace the preached word. We will receive it, by God’s grace.
In his excellent little book called “Listen Up: A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons”, Christopher Ash says:
“Preaching that makes a church Christlike under grace takes a double miracle: the sinful preacher must be shaped by grace to preach; and sinful listeners must be awakened by grace to listen together week by week in humble expectancy.” (Christopher Ash)
As you come to hear God’s word each week, pray something like this: “God, help me not simply to hear. Help me not simply to acquire information and be satisfied with that. Help me, O God, to hear your word and receive it as a starving man receives food.”
C. Consider How to Do, Commit to Do, and Then Do (1:22-25)
Let’s finish with verses 22-25. Look at those with me:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 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. 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 will be blessed in his doing.
If we prepare ourselves to hear the word, and embrace it when it comes, then we also need to consider how to do what we hear, to commit to do what we hear, and then do it.
James challenges us, God challenges us, to be doers of the word. Look at the illustration James gives us here. He says God’s word is like a mirror. When you look into a mirror, unless you just love to look at yourself, you are looking in order to make sure everything looks right. You are looking in order to fix or correct or change or straighten out what needs to be straightened out in terms of your appearance.
But if you looked in that mirror and saw your hair sticking up or your lipstick smeared or that your forgot the shave the day before, and then walked away without doing anything, your time in front of that mirror would have been wasted.
Is that how we come to God’s word? When we see what needs to change in the mirror of the word, are we walking away as “forgetful hearers”? If we merely hear, and do not do, then we will prove that we have not truly received the word.
The great Puritan writer Thomas Watson said:
“If you would hear aright, practice what you hear. Practice is the life of all…Hearing alone, will be no plea at the day of judgment—merely to say, "Lord, I have heard many sermons." God will say, "What fruits of obedience have you brought forth?" The Word preached is not only to inform you, but reform you; not only to mend your sight—but to mend your pace in the way to heaven.” (Thomas Watson)
As you sit hear each Sunday, as you listen to what God’s word is saying, are you thinking about how you can apply what you hear? Are you thinking about what needs to change?
May God help each of us, in light of His word, to pray something like this: “God, as hard as it might be, would you help me to never rationalize away your call to obedience, but instead, to step out in faith as a doer of your word? Show me how I need to change to become like Christ and grant me the grace to respond rightly.”
This morning, James has reminded us about this discipline of receiving. And as we’ve talked about this is not simply something we practice in our personal Bible study (although it is that). No, this is a discipline for Sunday morning. This is the discipline of rightly hearing the word of God as it announced to the people of God.
Are you disciplining yourself in this way? By God’s grace, and with the new heart that Jesus’ purchased us for us on the cross, we can do the very thing we’re talking about by responding to this sermon. May God form in us these holy habits. May God help us to remind each other of these things. May we come on Sundays with the mindset that God wants us to have…for our good, and for His glory.
One of the great statements faith from the time of the Reformation sums all of this up beautifully with these words:
“It is required of those who hear the Word preached that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures, receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate upon it, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.” (Westminster Larger Catechism)
More in Sunday Morning Disciplines
April 17, 2011The Discipline of Building Up (I Corinthians 14:1-20)
April 10, 2011The Discipline of Praise (Psalm 66)