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July 12 - James 1:19-26; 2:14-26 - "Faith in Action"

MPC 12th July 2009.

Garnet Swann


Introduction: The Action Figure

Now you'd know what action figures are. Maybe you played with them as a kid. Or seen your children or grandchildren play with them. Usually it's dolls for the girls. Action figures for the boys. And there are action figure like this. Now they're just boring old normal action figures. What kids want to play with those when you can have this! This is the librarian action figure.

This is true. On the packet it says, 'Although librarians can't travel faster than a speeding bullet, or leap over tall buildings in a single bound, they can direct you to a journal on the physics of speed, and a book about the world's tallest buildings. And the directions on the pack say, On this 5 inch tall, hard plastic Librarian Action Figure press the button on her back and her arm will move with amazing "shushing action!"

Well, how about that. A librarian action figure. And actually when you look into it, there are all sorts of novelty action figures. There's the Van Gough action figure, with bandage around the head. There's the House Dad Action Figure. There's the Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure - that comes complete with extra cats.

But here's a question for you. What would a Christian action figure look like? You know, if they were to mould a 5 inch plastic Christian - what would they make it look like?

You know - I suspect, the Christian action figure - might end up looking a bit like the librarian. Straight. Conservative. A person who stays indoors. Who reads. See, that's one image of a Christian.

But I put it to you - if they were to ever invent the true Christian action figure, it should be more like this: a real action action figure. OK. Minus the cross bow and the machine guns. Take that away. OK, and minus the scuba gear. And grappling hooks. But my point is - the real Christian - is a man or woman of action. Of deeds. Not just a person of the book.

As we look at James today, the title of this talk is 'Faith in Action'. And the thing about James, if you've read James before you'd notice it's quite a different book in the New Testament. Unlike other letters we have in the bible - there's no explicit explanation of Jesus, and his death for us and how he saves us. No presentation of the gospel. That's sort of assumed. James just gets straight into it - and talks about the implications of the gospel in the Christians life. And this is what we'll see today.

But the sort of questions this passage will pose for us are - "Why aren't more Christians people of action?" And, "What stops Christians from moving from learning to doing?" "What stops Christians from moving from looking like a Christian on Sunday - to behaving like a Christian through the week?"

So Faith in Action. That's what we'll look at.

1. Be Slow

If you're a person who follows the outline, you'll notice there are four things in this passage God wants his people to be about. People of action. And the first one is, Be Slow.

And what this is about is - be slow to speak. I don't mean - you got to speak like... you're... from... the... country. All slow like that. But if you have a look at verses 19-20 - slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

See it says, Every one 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.

There's that old saying - you have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you speak. And James has a lot to say about how we speak. More than we're looking at today.

But there's a general principal here. Don't be quick to respond in anger. You don't have to use your words as quick fire missiles. You don't have to use your tongue as a weapon. Can I say, I've never hit my wife, but I've wounded her with the things I've said. In church, I've wounded people by the things I've said.

You know in church I can remember a time when someone didn't follow through with what they said. So rather then just asking them why and talking to them about it. I let my frustration stew. And at the precise moment I let fly with a lashing dose of sarcasm. And I hurt them.

"Stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." Yeah, right. It's not true is it? Words hurt. Words cut. So be careful in how you speak. Be slow to speak. Be slow to be angry.

You know it's interesting that in talking about the 'faith in action' - we think our words sometimes are about action. Sometimes we think it's the one recourse we have. As we speak - we can defend ourselves when we've copped unfair criticism. As we speak we can pull someone back into line. As we speak we aim to right the wrongs. We think - speaking is taking action. Giving expression to our anger - seems like the decisive thing to do.

But faith in action is - Be slow. Be quick to hear. Slow to speak and slow to get angry.

2. Be Clean

That's the first active thing. And here's the second thing. Be clean. This is verse 21. It says there in verse 21. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the world planted in you, which can save you.

I'm saying the instruction is - Be Clean - because of the language that's there. Get rid of all moral filth. And if you look at verse 27, there's something similar there. It says, 'keep yourself from being polluted by the world'

Now we come to church here on Sundays and we put on a brave face, don't we? Put our best foot forward. And that's fine. I don't think it's necessary to let it all out -and expose all your sins to each other. But when you're a Christian, you know there's that sinful struggle within. It's not all whiteness. There's the stain of sin and filth that we need to work at so we can be clean.

Probably when we think moral filth, we think of sex things. Like Internet porn. That's moral filth. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. That's how Fred Hollows puts it - that moral filth. But it doesn't have to just be things to do with sexuality. Here in James it seems to be much broader. Moral filth and the pollution of the world - is generally - the way of doing things and thinking things that's common in the world, but is against God. Could be in the area of how you relate to family members. In the area of money, or career. How you choose to spend your time and ignore God. The filth and pollution from the world is the way our neighbours, our workmates and family- can influence us to do and think in ways that don't bring honour to God.

When I think of this idea of being rid of filth and pollution, I think Paul and Helen Douglas in China. Paul and Helen Douglas are a missionary couple that has a link with the Latechurch congregation. They're living in the XangXi province in China. I never know how to say it! The Chinese themselves call this particular province the armpit of China. It's so industrialised. So polluted. In the little house they live - Helen every day has to wash the floors to clean off the pollution. And that's inside. If they leave their windows go one day - they go grey.

That's pollution and filth. But Paul and Helen live in that pollution - so they can spend time with Chinese Christians - teaching them, what it means to be Christian. Helping them to to think differently about what it means to be prosperous. To stand up for their faith. To be generous, when the pressure is to be selfish.

See - Paul and Helen Douglas live in pollution but they encourage Christian believers to be separate from pollution.

We need to keep a focus on that as well. Get rid of all moral filth and the pollution of the world. I can put it like this, I think it comes down to the difference between association and participation. We should be there for all sorts of people. Shouldn't be in our Christian getto. Our holy huddle. And in fact, association is a bit of a weak word really. Should be there with them and care for them, love them. Hang out with them. Be real with them. But when necessary, draw the line so there is association but not participation.

And we'll need wisdom from God to know where that line is. I'm not saying it's easy to know where the line is. We should ask God for wisdom who gives generously.

3. Be a Doer

So we're looking at faith in action. First of all - it's about Be Slow. Then secondly, it's about Be Clean. But we now get to our third point. And this is really the heart of this passage. Be A Doer. It's there from verse 22. It says,

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.

Be a doer. This passage is about - be a Christian man or woman of action.

In verse 21 - we're told the word planted in us save us. And I take it that's Jesus. But our attitude can't be - accept the word about Jesus - for the sake of being saved and stop there. No, it doesn't stop there. Accept the word and do the word. That's real faith.

And the challenge for you and for me - where does our teaching and learning end up? Are we being changed? Are we being transformed? Can you say - compared to 5 years ago - you're getting better at being self-controlled with my anger? You're getting better at being more content with the things I have? Maybe you're not sure - but are you at least trying to be more clean? Are you self-reflective to realise the areas of your life you want God's Spirit to be at work in? Are you actively asking God for help to be rid of sin? Or are you just happy to learn.

You know here at MPC and also at Eatons Hill, we have a lot of focus on being a Christ-centred, bible teaching church. And that's very good. And maybe we can have some sort of pride about that. We're not like that church over there. But is our teaching, our learning resulting in doing?

Please pray for me. I'm a professional learner and teacher. I've invested in learning so I can teach. You know, if there was a fire at my place, I would first make sure the family was out. Then I think I'd grab the computer. But then it's a toss up. Kirsty would say - grab the photos. I guess I would. But you know the thing I'd want to grab as well? And that's a wheelbarrow. And I would go into my study. And I'd pile in all the books that I own about the bible. And I'd get in as many return trips to my study as I can. See, I've invested thousands of dollars into books on the bible so I can learn and teach. I'm always reading the bible, reading books about the bible. They're the things I wouldn't want to go up in flame.

But here's the thing. Please pray for me. Because my learning and teaching - needs to result in my doing. This is my great danger. It becomes academic. It becomes a job. I'm concerned how to best craft words - but am I concerned about putting God's word into practice? See, I need to be changing.

You know this passage has a way of describing - what it means for me - If I'm not putting it into practice. Verse 26 says, my religion is worthless. If that's what it is, all my books may as well go up in flames.

To have some sort of faith in Jesus - but it not being expressed in action, well it's worthless. It's a waste of time. We deceive ourselves.

And the rather funny picture we're given by James - to describe this self-deception - is like - looking at a mirror and then turning away and then straight away forgetting what you need to change.

See, if I turned up this morning in my pyjamas. Unshaven. With bit of cereal on my chin. Well, you'd think to yourself - what's Garnet doing, wouldn't you? Garnet's obviously lost it! See, I should know what to do by looking at the mirror. If I see, but then turn away and forget it and ignore it. That's foolish.

Well, that's the warning we're being given here. The mirror is the word of God - that tells us about ourselves. Let's go away - ready to make changes. Let's listen to what it says. And do what it says.

4. Be Compassionate

This is about Faith in Action. Be Slow. Be Clean. Be a Doer. But here's the last of the four. Be compassionate. Be compassionate.

And we have it there in v27. After talking about worthless religion it has this to say:

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.

This idea of being compassionate to who are in need is very strong in James. Flip over to chapter 2v14. It talks about this again. It says,

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

See - this is all about faith in action. Real faith is always expressed in action. And this is faith expressed in compassion. Caring for the needs of others.

You know compassion is one of our 4C's that's part of the church motto. We want people to grow as compassionate followers of Jesus. Are you growing in compassion? Do you see this as important? We always talking about Jesus - the kind and compassionate one. Are you seeking to be kind and compassionate like your saviour?

And I heard that many of the growth groups did a compassion project a few weeks back. Sounds like you did some great stuff.

But there's no reason we should let it stop there. Who are those around you who are in need. Could be orphans. Could be widows. Could be the sick or those bereaving. The Christian response is not just to have sympathy. Oh, it must be hard for them. But the sympathy should translate into sacrifice. To live out compassion is what it means to have real faith.

Are there people here in church - where you can see a need? Maybe you normally let it slide. You think - Someone else can help. And support them. Someone else always does help. But it's not always the way. People need your care. And this is faith in action. Don't just be a listener and learner of the word. Be a doer. Be compassionate.

Faith and Action Examples

Well, that's the 4 B's of faith in action, in the part of James we're looking at. Be Slow. Be Clean. Be a Doer - which sort of sums up it all. And Be Compassionate.

There are warnings in this passage - that come with it. If you and I don't have real faith, faith in action - we have a worthless religion. Or as chapter 2v20 puts it, we have a useless faith. There is real faith - faith in action. And there is useless faith.

But there's one more thing I'd like you to think about.

And there's a bit of background you need - this letter was originally written to Jewish Christians. You can see it in chapter 1, verse 1. To the 12 tribes scattered among the nations. That's code for the Jewish Christians. And it seems to be that Jewish Christian would have been very proud - of their descent. Proud of the their place in God's plans. They would've been very proud - that they had the law. That they had God's written revelation. What a wonderful thing - that in all the world - God gave the law to them.

But it's this pride - that would make them look down on Gentile Christians. The Gentiles don't have such fine pedigree of descent - leading all the way back to Abraham. And they were not the ones who were given the law.

So there's great danger of looking down on Gentile Christians who don't have the law. And there's a great danger - of thinking - as long as you have the law, sort of believe the law - well, that makes you better than anyone else.

But what James makes clear - is that faith in action, has always been the only way.

So please have a look at chapter 2v19. It says, you believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder.

James is referring to what's known in Judaism as the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-8. This is like the memory verse every Jewish boy and girl would've learnt. It's a verse that speaks of what defines a Jew - over all the Gentiles. There is the Lord and He is One. It's sort of a summary of the law.

But what does James here say in verse 19? Bully for you if you believe that, but it is not expressed in action! Satan has that sort of faith as well.

How about that! Satan is faithful! He believes. Satan is a believer! But it's certainly not real faith. Satan doesn't obey Jesus. He doesn't commit his life to Jesus. He's got no interest in being slow to anger. Being clean. Being a doer. Being compassionate.

It's supposed to be a shocking thing - that James compares certain Jewish faith - which is just knowledge, with the faith of Satan.

And what James does is give examples of true faith in action - to show it's always been the way. Two examples. The first is the faith of Abraham - the great Jew. He trusted in God. He believed and he was counted as righteous. In right relationship with God. But it was a faith that was real. When he was called to offer up his son, he was willing to do it. He was willing to give away his son. That's faith!

And the other example - and this is the example that's supposed to sting a bit. Because James is talking to Jews. And he now gives the example of the real faith of a Gentile. A Gentile prostitute at that! And in this example, it's the gentile prostitute Rahab rescued a couple of Jewish spies. You can read all about it in the book of Joshua. But Rahab hid these guys away and made sure they'd escape. For Rahab, this was a very dangerous thing to do. This was putting her life on the line. But her faith was in the Lord of Israel. And she showed it.

See - there's worthless religion. Useless faith. Dead faith. And there's real faith. It's always been the way.

Real faith actually can be dangerous. Real faith tends to put you on the edge. Real faith - is about flying close to the wind. Real faith - is when the time comes - being willing to do the very hard thing, the costly thing. Just like Abraham and Rahab.

And the examples of Abraham and the Gentile prostitute Rahab - were supposed to be a wake up call for Jewish Christian who feel good about themselves because they know stuff about the law. And it's supposed to challenge us as well.

See when it gets down to it and when we enter God's kingdom. We don't enter because of how much we know. We're not given a multiple choice test on bible trivia - your time starts now... and off you go.

It's not about what you know. It's where your faith is. Real faith in Jesus. And real faith is to be expressed in following him, obeying him. Not just knowing, but a doing.

Conclusion

You know today is one of those occasions - where the application - is wrapped up - in how you're responding right now to what's been said.

We've talked about not just knowing, but doing. Real faith. So you don't have to think - how this should apply to yourself. The application is already being worked out in your heart as you think about what this means for you.

What I mean is - this morning - we've been looking in the mirror of God's word. Don't have to go out and find the mirror. We've been staring into the mirror. And the challenge is - will you now - go away and forget what you've seen? Or will you change? That's real faith in Jesus.

It's a challenge for me. And it's a challenge for you. Don't go away from this morning, thinking you've benefited from hearing a talk. There's no benefit in hearing a talk. The benefit comes in doing the word of God.

Be slow. Be clean. Be a doer. And be compassionate.

Let me end by telling you a story.

Pretend you're the second-in-charge in a manufacturing company. This company is very successful. Very busy. And the owner of the company goes overseas for a few months. So the owner leaves you completely in charge in this busy business. But he promises to email you everyday and even write letters so he can give you direction.

So the months pass. And every day he's sends emails. Writes letters. And finally the owner returns. And gets back and he drives down to the office... and he's stunned.

See, grass and weeds have grown up high around the building. He sees a lot of windows along the street are broken. And then he walks into the receptionist's room and rather than being at her desk - doing things, she's out the back watching TV. And the owner notices all the waste baskets are overflowing. And the machines on the factory floor are off. Nobody is concerned at all that the owner has returned at all.

So the boss asks - where you are? And someone in the crowded lounge area points down the hall - I think he's down there. And very upset the owner finds you in a room -playing chess with the sales manager.

So this owner asks you to step into his office. And he says "What on earth is going on, man?" You say "What do you mean?". "Well, look at this place? I told you what you needed to do? Didn't you get my emails and my letters?"

And you say - "Oh, yeah. Sure - got every one of them. As a matter of fact we had a letter study ever Friday since you left. We divided up into small groups. We discussed the things you wrote. Some of those things were really interesting. Very challenging. You'll be pleased to know - a few of us committed to memory some of your sentences. Great stuff those letters!"

"OK OK. You got my letters. You studied them. You discussed them. You even memorised them. But what did you do with them?"

It's a crazy story isn't it? Absurd. But how more absurd - to hear God's word, study God's word - and not obey.

Let's be people of real faith. True Christianity is about being given life by Jesus. That implanted word of the gospel saves us. But we deceive ourselves to think - it's just about knowing about Jesus. No. It's truly trusting in Jesus. And real faith is faith in action.