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Faith that Works – Part 3: Help For Hotheads, Hypocrites, & Bigmouths

James 1:19-27

If you ever feel like smashing something, I’ve got a little trip to recommend. Thundrdome Amusements has added something special to their usual bubble soccer, axe throwing and combat archery. They now also feature a “Rage Room”—actual name, the Rage Room. Here’s how it works: after you sign a waiver and suit up in protective gear, you’re given a selection of striking items like golf clubs, baseball bats, sections of pipe, even a sledgehammer. You then choose from a variety of packages ranging from a low of $24.99 per person if you bring your own breakables (BYOB), all the way up to $109.99 for the Super Smash package that includes 20 small items, 12 medium items, 5 large items, and as added bonus, 2 electronic items like televisions. They close the door behind you, and no one will ever tell what you did that time.

Their sales pitch is that spending 45 minutes letting loose in the Rage Room promotes a healthy lifestyle.

“The News You Missed,” The New Oxford Review (November 2017)

However a Rage Room strikes you, we all have to deal with anger. And that’s what James goes after in our Scripture passage today, one that holds out help for hotheads, hypocrites, and bigmouths—which probably covers most of us at some time. If you want to take notes, the theme driving everything James is about to say is…

God’s Word in us:

We need to slow down, listen up, & cool our jets.

When he talks about anger, when James talks about moral filth, and when he talks about the kind of religion that God approves of, everything he says is about how we respond to God’s Word in us; what we do with what we hear. Here’s where James starts, verse 19:

“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.”

James 1:19-20

It’s as though he says, “Someone is reading this out loud to you in church, right? Grab a pen and write this down: Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Everyone. Our anger doesn’t produce the good stuff that God wants to work in us. So slow down, listen up, and cool your jets. Got that written down yet?”

Some of you grew up in a family where this was modeled. Your parent or parents were patient. They demonstrated a long fuse.
Others were blessed that a parent not only modeled staying calm and listening well, they taught you how to do this when you were about to lose it.

Still others among us had one or more parents who were quick to yell, slow to listen, and quick to vent their frustrations.

Your family of origin is the single greatest influence on how you handle conflict, for your whole life. So how was anger handled when you were growing up? Was there a lot of yelling? Was one parent a bully and others had to just take it?

God’s Word here is that in his family, we’re called to new ways of dealing with each other. Other New Testament letters use the image of taking off ratty old clothes—the old abusive ways—and putting on new clothes, made to reflect Christlikeness. James simply lays it out in plain language: listen more, talk less, and put a lid on it when you’re about to blow. Slow down, listen up, and cool your jets.

Remember who James was writing to: people facing “trials of many kinds.” When you’re under pressure—at home or work or school or elsewhere—it’s harder to be self-controlled. So that’s what he goes after. When you’re stressed, one of the common reactions is to try to control the situation. Anger is one of the ways we try to control things, try to get our way.

Ralph Milton was jarred awake at five o’clock one morning, to a noise that sounded like someone repairing a boiler on his roof. Still in his pajamas, he ran out into the back yard to investigate. He found a woodpecker on his TV antenna, pounding its little brains out on the metal pole. Angry at this creature that was ruining his sleep, Ralph picked up a rock and threw it. The rock missed the bird, flew over the house, and he heard a distant crash as it hit his car. In a little fit of rage, Ralph kicked at the ground, only to remember—too late—that he was still in his bare feet.

Brian Weatherdon, New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Leadership, Vol. 8, no. 1.

Anger has its place. But it rarely produces the maturity, the right living, that God is trying to work into you and me. So here’s help for your inner Ralph: When your blood pressure rips from zero to sixty in no time flat, cool it. Count to ten. Or a hundred. Or more. Slow down, listen up, and cool your jets. Don’t just let fly with whatever comes to your mind and mouth—or you’ll regret it. Christlike character doesn’t grow from the dung of human anger. No kidding.

Blowing up can cost a marriage. It can cost a job. It can cost a long-time friendship. So take note, James says: God gave you two ears and one mouth. Use accordingly.

Last week we had pumpkins to fix in our minds how God delights every time a man, woman, or child says yes to Jesus for his forgiveness of sin and his leadership. How kids feel when they see pumpkins this time of year—as the promise of Halloween on the way with all its healthy goodness—that’s how God feels about you, as you come to Jesus and follow Jesus.

So here’s your help for today: Mr. Potato Head. Very simple: he has two ears and one mouth. So do we. Use them in proportion, James cautions. The Message paraphrase says it like this: “Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.”

Steve Tran got sick of the cockroaches in the apartment he was renting. So he bought bug bombs. But Steve was angry. So he didn’t get the recommended two big bombs. Steve got 25 bug bombs. He set them all off at once. But once he closed the door on those 25 bug bombs spewing insecticide throughout the apartment, the fumes reached his stove pilot light—at which moment they instantly ignited, shattering all his windows and setting his furniture ablaze.

The blast caused more than $10,000 damage to the apartment building. But don’t worry: the cockroaches survived.

The Arizona Republic (4/25/95)

Proverbs 29:11 says it clearly:

“Foolish people let their anger run wild.
    But wise people keep themselves under control.”

Proverbs 29:11 NIRV

Same thing James hammers home: slow down, listen up, and cool your jets, before you do irrevocable damage.

Second, James advises…

We need to get the gunk out so we can hear.
“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.”

James 1:21

The therefore this therefore is therefore is that what’s inside of us affects what comes out of us. What comes out flows from what’s within.

Probably every homeowner has the occasional unpleasant necessity of snaking your drains: the bathroom sink drain, maybe the tub drain. Because the more hair that goes down the drain, it gets twined together and mixed with all kinds of yummy biological matter that slows and eventually clogs the drain.

So you snake it. When you snake the drain, all that hair and wonderful decomposing biological matter is gotten rid of. Definitely gag territory.

Do the same thing, James advises, morally. Snake regularly. Get the gunk out before you erupt and cause a bunch of damage.

Cooperate with God in becoming who he has created and redeemed you to be. Clean out the junk that eventually erupts in anger and rage.

And in its place, James urges, “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” Listen to what God says about where you need to get the gunk out.

Cathy Fussell has found that if she doesn’t have a few minutes of set-aside time each morning to read a bit of the Bible, she tends to lose her temper over insignificant things. One day her son, Andrew, reminded her of her need to listen to God’s Word, and get the gunk out. Andrew had accidentally spilled his drink, and Cathy went into a tirade. But Andrew ended her harsh words when he quietly asked, ‘Mom, did you forget to ask Jesus to help you be nice today?’”

Cathy Fussell, Apopka, FL, Today’s Christian Woman, “Heart to Heart.”

God has given us his Word to help us get the gunk out. So when it comes to God’s Word, we need to slow down, listen up, and cool our jets.

Next comes James’ call to…

Choose regarding God’s Word in us:

There are ultimately only two choices anyone makes regarding what they do with God’s Word.
Either hypocrisy

“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.” 

James 1:22-24

Here’s 2×4 between the eyes James again. Imagine stumbling into the bathroom tomorrow morning, flipping on the light switch, and then as you open your eyes to gaze into the mirror, there’s a huge zit right on the tip of your nose. It’s red around the edges and white on top, and just filled with pus. You’re grossed out at just a glance. There’s no way you want to go to school or work with that thing on your face.

But as soon as you see it, you flip the light switch off and race out the door without doing anything about it. The zit goes with you. It’s just as ridiculous, James says, to hear God’s Word and then not do what it says.

Back to verse 22, James says God’s Word has been planted in us. Planting is a first step in farming, but it’s not the only one. The aim in farming isn’t planting, but harvest; fruitfulness. To say that plainly, what God is after is change, that we become more like Christ over time. God is looking for an ROI, a Return On his Investment. To fail to act on what God says is to be hypocrites.

So the second choice regarding God’s Word is…

Our holiness

“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.”

James 1:25

If we obey God’s Word, we will be blessed. The blessing comes in this life, not just after.

James describes blessing coming to those who “look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom.” As opposed to glancing in the mirror but forgetting about the zit, the blessed person is the one who comes to God’s Word looking for where you need to change beliefs, attitudes, words, and behaviors to reflect following Christ.

Every part of Scripture calls for a personal response. We’re not to just hear it but then shrug it off as good for someone else.

Jesus also speaks of the freedom that comes from obeying his word. John 8:31…

Jesus said,

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32

God’s Word gives us the freedom to be who we really are meant to be in relation to God and to one another. That’s what James is talking about. Genuine holiness brings freedom to enjoy life with God and one another.

James has addressed our need to slow down, listen up, and cool our jets.

He has addressed our need to get the gunk out, so that we can hear God.

He calls us to choose between hypocrisy or holiness.

And finally, James addresses…

The proof of God’s Word in us: There are three failproof evidences that you know Jesus; that you truly are following Christ. If you have these three, it’s obvious that God is at work in your life. If you are missing any of these three, James holds out a clarion warning that your religion just might be a fraud. Three proofs of God’s Word in us. First is that…
I hold my tongue.

“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” 

James 1:26

So blunt! Not controlling your speech is evidence of not listening to God. If you make no attempt to restrain unhelpful talk, you just might not be saved. That’s the warning—religion that is worthless in God’s sight is marked by unrestrained talk.

A Christian counselor told of a man who came for counseling because he was having trouble controlling anger. His outbursts were affecting his work and his family life. So he finally decided to get some help. The counselor wanted to find out if this guy could imagine a different way of living. So she asked, “What would your life look like if you got rid of your anger?”

He was quiet for a long time.

When he finally spoke, he asked, “But if I get rid of my anger, what will I have left?”

Kevin A. Miller, vice president, Christianity Today International

The answer? A faith that’s worth something. “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”

A second proof of God’s Word in us, James says, is that…

I open my heart.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”

James 1:27a

Real faith acts. As we say in our three C summary of following Christ, if you really know Jesus, you contribute meaningfully. You want to, and you do.

Orphans and widows in the first century were the most vulnerable of all. There was no Social Security, no Department of Child Services, no Christian adoption agencies. Here in Hamilton County we’re blessed to have the Good Samaritan Network. We have the Trinity Free Health Clinic. We have food pantries. Nothing like that existed when James wrote this.

And so this is where Good Samaritan and Trinity and food pantries and Christian hospitals arose from—from Christians hearing God’s Word, humbly accepting God’s word planted in us, and acting on God’s Word—putting it into practice personally and sacrificially. The proof of God’s Word in us: I hold my tongue. I open my heart. And the third proof of God’s Word in us is that…

I wash my hands.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this…to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

James 1:27b

I want to tell you a true story from the church one of my grad school profs pastored. He writes…

Jack had been president of a large corporation, and when he got cancer, they ruthlessly dumped him. He went through his insurance, used his life savings, and had practically nothing left. I visited him with one of [our church volunteers], who said, “Jack, you speak so openly about the brief life you have left. I wonder if you’ve prepared for your life after death?”

Jack stood up, livid with rage. “You — —- Christians. All you ever think about is what’s going to happen to me after I die. If your God is so great, why doesn’t he do something about the real problems of life?” He went on to tell us he was leaving his wife penniless and his daughter without money for college. Then he ordered us out.

Later [our volunteer] insisted we go back. We did. “Jack, I know I offended you,” he said. “I humbly apologize. But I want you to know I’ve been working since then.

Your first problem is where your family will live after you die. A realtor in our church has agreed to sell your house and give your wife his commission. I guarantee you that, if you’ll permit us, some other men and I will make the house payments until it’s sold.

Then, I’ve contacted the owner of an apartment house down the street. He’s offered your wife a three bedroom apartment plus free utilities and an $850-a-month salary in return for her collecting rents and supervising plumbing and electrical repairs. The income from your house should pay for your daughter’s college. I just wanted you to know your family will be cared for.”

Jack cried like a baby. He died shortly thereafter…But he [did so having] experienced God’s love [proven by the sacrificial actions of members of that church]. And his widow, touched by caring Christians, responded to the [good news of Jesus].

Van Campbell, Homer, Louisiana. Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 1.

You know what we see there?

Christians who held their tongue.

Who opened their hearts.

And who washed their hands—dealing beautifully, with purity, with someone who got angry at them, someone who had reached a point where he was only in a position to receive. And so they gave, sacrificially, as Jesus himself would.

Friends, this is what it looks like to obey the law that brings freedom.

This is humbly accepting the word planted in us.

This is true religion that God accepts as pure and faultless.

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