READ: James 1:19-27

As I write this post, I am sitting at Gate B, Terminal 1 at O’Hare International Airport.  There is a television within my hearing.  Some people are tuning in; many are not.  Someone on an intercom is paging a person who needs to come to the information desk…immediately!  And the ticket agent is reminding those of us waiting for our flight that boarding will take place in about thirty minutes.  Some are listening; many are not.

It reminds me a lot of what goes on in church Sunday after Sunday.  I know that sounds harsh.  But if I am accusing anyone else, I am also indicting myself.  A preacher proclaims a message drawn from a biblical text. People sit in the pews, and act as if they hear everything being communicated.  But in reality, some are listening; some are not.  A businessman keeps ruminating on a conversation he had with one of his best customers the previous Friday.  He has been informed that the customer has found another supplier who will get goods and services to him faster and at a lower cost.  A mother keeps hearing the angry words of her daughter who told her the night before that she just couldn't wait until she could go to college and be out of the “clutches” of her mother.  Multiply those two scenarios many times over and it is clear that the sermon is attended to about fifty-percent of the time.

There is one difference between what I am hearing at the airport and what we hear at church.  It’s not the fact that multiple conversations—in our minds and with others—but the One doing the communicating is the Living God.  And just what does He think of our ability to tune in and tune out? What does He expect as we listen?

Did you notice in our text that there are four references to the Word of God (vv. 21, 22, 23 & 25). This text is one of the most significant passages in all of Scripture that reveals the powerful significance of biblical preaching.  But what does this God who reveals His will and ways expect of those who hear His voice through preaching?  The answer is revealed in verbs like “receive” (v. 21), “be doers” (v. 22), and “persevere” (v. 25).  WHEN GOD’S WORD IS PROCLAIMED, GOD EXPECTS US TO OBEY IT!  

That’s easier said than done in our noisy world. So how does a “sermon-hearer” OBEY?  What would it look like?  The responsibility is not on the preacher alone.  Our text reveals at least three attributes of hearing that leads to obeying.

  • A person who ultimately obeys the Word is expected to humbly receive what has been proclaimed. (v. 21).  The author’s word choice is telling.  The image is one of a group of people in discussion, perhaps even arguing with one another, and suddenly they are made aware of the presence of another—God Almighty!  James says that we are to “humbly receive the Word implanted.”  God is active in our lives, planting His truth deep within the soil of our souls.  He is there, and He expects the Word to bear the fruit of righteousness.  For that to happen, we must humbly receive what is proclaimed from the scriptures.
  • In addition, a person who hears the Word of God must also intently reflect on what has been communicated.   James uses the illustration of a man looking in a mirror to make his point.  In the ancient world, mirrors were little more than shiny pieces of metal that gave a vague reflection of the person looking into it.  So it wouldn't be unusual for a person to look at the image and quickly forget what was seen.  By contrast, Christians are to reflect on what God is saying—not for a few seconds, but continually. Obedience demands intentional reflection.
  • Finally, a person who obeys the Word of God must actively relate to people around them.   We are not talking about more preaching here, but more engagement with the hurting and marginalized.  The author gives two examples as to what this looks like.  The first has to do with controlling our speech (v. 26).  What in the world does our speech have to do with “relating.”  Everything!  Words are powerful.  They can build up or tear down.  They can break a relationship or heal the deepest of hurts.  We relate to others by controlling what we say.  The second example of relating has to do with caring for those who are facing great distress in this life (v. 27).  James will have more to say about this in chapter 2.  But real faith (true religion) will show up in the way we relate to those who can benefit from our care.  And we care because God has spoken and expects us to obey.

Well, I’m about to board our flight.  There are still lots of voices.  In fact, it will always be like that.  Many of these messages can be overlooked.  But when God speaks—and He does every single day—we must obey whatever He says.  Hearing and obeying is the way to find God’s blessing in all we do (v.25).  So by all means, give attention…and then OBEY whatever God is saying.

You may also like...