Introduction to the sermon
Hands up if you are a good cook?
Well I have got loads of cookbooks at my house and I’ve brought a few to show you…and a few more! I must have more cookbooks that any other type of book in my house. I have a shelf in the kitchen of books and a full shelf in the lounge but every time a new cookbook comes out either myself or my hubby buys it or we ask for it as a present.
My latest one, that I bought a few weeks ago, is called ‘Never Mind the Spouts’ – Simple and easy recipes that all the family will enjoy….especially fussy eaters. It’s worth a try!
We have cookbooks on how to make just about anything you can imagine. I like to look through these cookbooks and read the recipes and think about all of the delicious foods that I could prepare.
The recipes in these books tell me step by step exactly what I need to do to prepare these wonderful foods. I usually only buy the ones that also have pictures so I can see what it should look like. It makes me hungry just looking at these pictures!
Hands up if you think I must be a good cook with all of these cookbooks?
You are (almost) all absolutely right, I am not a good cook. I am happy to admit to that.
I could read all of the cookbooks in the world, but that won’t make me a cook. To be a cook, I not only have to read the recipe, I have to actually do what it says.
The Bible is like a cookbook. The Bible has God’s recipe for becoming a Christian and living a life that is pleasing to Him.
A lot of people read the Bible every day but it isn’t enough just to read the recipe. Reading the Bible won’t make someone a Christian any more than reading a cookbook will make them a cook.
Today we are thinking about a letter in the bible written by James and one of the main themes explains that it isn’t enough to just read and study the Bible, we must put its teachings to work in our daily life. We must follow the recipe in the bible in our daily life.
Do we just read the recipe in the bible, the step by step guide, for becoming a Christian and how to live a life that is pleasing to God, or are we actually using it to live a life that is pleasing to him?
Well I just hope I am a better Christian than I am a cook!
Sermon on James 1
There is a lot to take in when we read and want to reflect on a complete chapter of the bible. So to help us take it all in, I wrote down the key passages and we’ll do a quick recap as there are some real gems in that chapter.
First James talks about:
Faith and Wisdom, he wrote
- The testing of your faith produces endurance
- Ask in faith, never doubting, for wisdom and it will be given you (not possibly be given, but that it will be given to you)
Poverty and riches
- Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up
- The rich, in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away ( I think many of us can relate to a bit of withering)
Trials and temptation
- God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one
- One is tempted by one’s own desire
- Every perfect gift is from the Father
Finally, James talks about Hearers and Doers
- Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger (the advice of many parents)
- Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls
- Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves….they will be blessed in their doing
Hopefully that recap is useful as there was a lot to take in with that reading but the 3 key themes we are going to reflect on are:
- Access to God’s wisdom
- Trials and temptations
- The call to be ‘doers’ of the word
Access to God’s wisdom
First, access to God’s wisdom.
How easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking that we don’t really need to pray and ask God for wisdom! How often do we think we know better?
Not necessarily due to our ego talking but we are taught from an early age to stand on our own two feet, so we seek advice only from within ourselves.
How often do we soldier on in our own strength thinking that I’ll do it “my way?” Is it any wonder then that we often find that things fail and we fall flat on our face?
We may also not pray for wisdom as we simply think that we have enough knowledge to make the decision on our own. But what is the basis of that decision? We make a decision based on our existing knowledge, our past experiences, but is the past the best basis for shaping our future decisions?
We may think we know better but only God knows what is best for us. Perhaps one of the signs of our maturity and growth as Christians is to acknowledge the need for God’s wisdom. To first recognise our own human limitations and vulnerability and then follow the advice from James.
James advised ‘If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.’
Ask in faith, never doubting, for wisdom and it will be given you.
I am reminded of Proverbs 3 – ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he shall direct your paths.’
And we sang in our opening hymn:
Lord of all wisdom, I give you my mind,
rich truth that surpasses my knowledge to find;
what eye has not seen and what ear has not heard
is taught by your Spirit and shines from your word.
So a request for God’s wisdom needs to be asked for in faith and in the belief that God will answer and provide what is needed. If asked for in steadfast faith, there is the promise that wisdom will be given to us.
But we need to get into the habit of not just leaning on our own understanding. So how can we break that habit and make a new habit of praying for God’s wisdom before making a decision?
May I suggest training those wonderful neurological pathways of our brain, by perhaps touching your cross if you wear one. Imagine you are about to make a decision, quickly touch your cross – on you neck or a cross in your pocket. You then have time to stop making a hasty decision and remember that the cross is to prompt you to first pray for God’s wisdom. It’s just a suggestion, but we need to get into the habit of always seeking God’s wisdom when we make decisions.
So God’s wisdom will be given to us if we trustingly ask. But what if we don’t like the answer? It is often easy to ask for advice and then not take it because it is not the answer we wanted to hear.
Well we then have a choice. We either ignore the wisdom that God shares with us or we faithfully follow his wisdom and learn the lesson that His ways are always better than ours.
Surely wisdom is taking all the help He so willingly wants to provide for us, and not chucking it back at him because it doesn’t quite fit in with our own agenda?
There is the promise of absolute wisdom if there is absolute trust. Let us therefore ask in assured faith, not having any preconceived ideas of what we want the answer to be, but in childlike trust, be grateful for the gift of wisdom which we are given. If we ask without any doubting, he will give us all that he knows is best for us.
Trials and temptations
Secondly, we think about what James has said about trials and temptations.
What is he actually telling us here? ‘Blessed is anyone who endures temptation’ but ‘No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire.’
James is saying – don’t blame God for the bad times in life, God tempts no one, you are responsible for your own actions.
So be strong, be faithful, trust God, don’t blame God for the bad times, you are responsible for your own actions so seek God’s wisdom to make the right choices.
I love the quote: ‘I cannot control how others treat me, but I can control how I react.’ And this ties in perfectly with what James is saying. He was writing to people who were being persecuted for their faith and he was trying to help them make the right choices during difficult times. And still today we have a choice how we react. We cannot control how others treat us, but with God’s help, we can control how we react.
In this world we will have trials and temptations, that’s guaranteed, but we also have choice. We decide whether we give in to that temptation, we decide whether we are going to hold on to a grudge or judge someone. We choose whether we take on that worry and anxiety or instead we choose a different, peaceful, response to conflict and trials.
So how do we do that? We simply relinquish the situation to God. We ‘let go and let God’. God is always around us and wants to cocoon us in his love and light.
But we block out our awareness of him and start worrying about all the trials and temptations, the things that appear to be going wrong in our lives.
But since God is in charge of our lives, worrying is just a complete waste of time and energy. I was always a big worrier but if you think about it, worrying is a form of unbelief.
God tempts no one, we are responsible for our own actions but God has promised us absolute wisdom if there is absolute trust, like we discussed earlier.
Therefore in the knowledge of this promise of God’s absolute wisdom we are able to relinquish any situation, any worries or trials or temptations, to God and he will take care of the problem. He will either take care of it himself or show us through his wisdom how to handle it.
We relinquish the situation to God; we back-off a bit and refocus on God. Look up from the situation and keep our eyes focused on God.
James is telling us that we can get through trials and resist temptation. It can be done because God is with us in it. We can choose a better and more fulfilling life. It won’t be easy and we won’t always get it right, but with God’s help we are called to try.
Doers of the word
And finally James advises us to be ‘doers of the word’.
‘Actions speak louder than words’. How often do we say that? And then there is the profound statement that as Christians ‘we must preach the gospel always and if necessary use words’. ‘Actions speak louder than words’. We preach the gospel first and foremost through our actions.
James advises us to ‘be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
So what does that mean? What is the perfect law he is referring to?
Many of the early Christians would have been brought up as Jews and been taught the importance of keeping every Jewish law (over 600 laws – that number always blows my mind! I’d struggle to remember over 600 laws let alone keep them). If they had been taught from a young age to keep every letter of the law then, for some, it was more important to get the legal form right rather than live by the substance, the essence, of the law.
Time and time again, Jesus was criticised for his actions not keeping to the letter of the law. He associated with those who were considered unclean and healed sick people on the Sabbath. Jesus was far more concerned about the substance of God’s teaching rather than its legal form but it seems that early Christians were wrestling with an apparent conflict between Law and Liberty. As we still do.
James made it clear that for the followers of Jesus it is the way we live our faith that is crucial, the example we set in our personal lives and in the way we treat others.
How often does the way we live reflect well on our faith? Do we actually ‘use’ the recipe in the bible, the step by step guide, for becoming a Christian and how to live a life that is pleasing to God? Or do we just read all about it and create very little for others to see? Are we part of the ‘example’, the one we baked earlier?
So, James gave three main messages on – access to God’s wisdom, Trials and temptations and our calling to be doers of the word.
If we combine it in one nutshell, James is telling us that God has promised us absolute wisdom if we have absolute trust and through trusting in him, relinquishing everything over to him, we are able to get through the trials and temptations. And it is how we get through these trials and temptations that preaches the gospel, far more than any words could ever manage, to the people around us. Amen