Divine instructions for living in a world of evil

Divine instruction for living in a world of evil – a sermon on James 1:19-21 by Rev. Colin Pretorius.

When I did a speed-reading course many years ago, the instructor explained to us that people on average read at about 300 words per minute. That’s fast enough to be able to read through a normal sermon in about 10 minutes. You’d think that reading 300 words per minute would keep our brains occupied. But I’m pretty sure that if you’ve ever read an article or a book, you’d sometimes turn the page and then all of a sudden realise you can’t remember what you’ve actually read, even on just the previous page. That happens because our minds go walkabout. In a sense our brains switch off because they are not stimulated enough.

The same applies to listening. Sometimes you’ll be speaking to someone, and you know that they are hearing the drone of your voice but it’s like the lights aren’t on… just ask any preacher! Or you’d be speaking to someone and their eyes would be sort-of glazed over. One preacher calls this a “dialogue with the deaf.” We see that sometimes with our children too, don’t we? You know, you’d ask “John, are you listening to me?” and the answer comes back “I hear you, Mom” or “I hear you, Dad”. They heard the noises coming out of your mouth but it seemed to have been lost in translation somewhere – they’ve heard but they have not listened…. And sometimes their attention spans seem to be extremely short! But friends it’s not only our children, it’s us too. That’s one of the reasons preachers break up a sermon into a number of sections, with illustrations and some repetition or reinforcement too, because that gives the hearers’ minds something different to hook onto. It makes it easier to listen to … and hopefully easier to remember.

Before we look at our text, let’s awaken our brains by remembering what goes on in the first part of chapter 1. James starts off his letter by reminding us that no matter what we face in life, we are to face it “rejoicing in the Lord always.” We can do this because of the glorious assurance that we have of what the Lord has done for us. At the same time we have to recognise, James says, that our lives will not be just filled with smiles and laughter – there will be trials too. Because of our sinful nature we will at times face temptations and at those times we are reminded and encouraged to seek wisdom from God in His Word and through prayer. Moreover, James says, remember God’s generous nature and His provision for our lives. Remember His exceptional goodness! All good things come from this Great Giver of gifts who is not only the creator God but also a personal God who has given each believer the greatest gift – faith in Jesus, leading to eternal life! In His sovereign will He chose us to make us people of His very own as a type of first-fruits. And it is to examples or elements of living first-fruit type lives that the apostle turns in our passage today, in verses 19-21. In this section he zooms in onto what the appropriate response to God’s Word is for all believers.

Often when this passage is preached, preachers tend to skip the few verses of the text and instead focus on the “be doers of the Word” part. The hearing, speaking and temper part is often skipped, but we’re not going to do that today, because verses 19-21 are also about doing – they also are about being doers of the Word, just in a different way. These verses focus on the responsibility of moral behaviour that God’s Word places upon us. Together they give us divine instruction for living in a world of evil. They have to do with characteristics that believers are to cultivate. We’re going to look at these divine instructions, at these characteristics under four headings:

  • Rule for the ears (v 19a-b);
  • Rule for the mouth (v19c);
  • Rule for the temper (v19d-20); and
  • Rule for life (v21).