Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Scriptures and the Resolute Man

 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. (James 1:22-25, NIV 1984)

"Starting January 1, I will..."
  • “... eat healthy foods”
  • “... exercise regularly”
  • “... lose weight”
  • “... quit smoking”
  • “... spend money wisely”
  • “... start saving for the future”
  • “... spend less time on video games and more on studying
  • “... I will spend more time with my wife and kids”
These are just some of the most common resolutions people make every New Year. If the one making the resolutions is a Christian with sound theology, he would add one phrase in his resolution: "for the glory of God" . He might also include other spiritual activities:
  • I will spend more time in prayer
  • I will read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation
  • I will memorize more Bible verses
  • I will share the gospel to at least one soul every week
  • I will seek opportunities to use my spiritual gifts
  • I will keep a daily journal of my quiet time
But here's the problem. Richard Wiseman, a professor at the University of Bristol conducted a study in 2007. The study says that 88% of those who set New Year's resolution fail. That only shows that though people may desire self-improvement, they lack the resoluteness to fulfill their resolutions. To be resolute is to be "characterized by firmness and determination". Some may exhibit some resoluteness for the first month, or even the first quarter, but eventually give up on their good resolutions.

James wrote his letter to a group that needed lots of improvement. Those areas of improvement are implied by the items addressed by James in this epistle.
  • In chapter 2, he addressed the issue of favoritism; also the problem of professed faith yet not evidenced by works
  • chapter 3-- misuse of the tongue
  • chapter 3-- false wisdom by self-seeking people that disrupts peace in the churches
  • chapter 4-- fights and quarrels caused by uncontrolled desires
  • chapter 5-- the rich and the powerful exploiting the poor and weak
But before giving the Lord' word to address all those problem areas, he first exhorted them to be doers of the word  and not hearers only. That makes a lot of sense for what use it is for him to give instructions in the chapters that follow if there is no determination on the part of his audience to obey? So he must first build a case for resoluteness in obeying the word. He issues a command: "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only"

"Hearers", doesn't exclude other means of Scripture intake. It is just that it was the primary means of Scripture intake during their time. The first printing press won't be in operation until 1450. The mimeograph won't be patented until 1876. And the Xerox machine won't be introduced until 1959. Also consider the fact that the literacy rate during that time in the roman Empire could not have exceeded 20 percent according to separate studies by William Harris, Catherine Hezser, Harry Gamble.

Given that circumstances, hearing was the primary means of Scripture intake way back then. In our time, much has changed. The old primary means of hearing is still here with us. But in addition to that, copies of the Bible abound. There is rarely a home without a copy of the Bible. Cheap editions are available at the bookstore. You can even download them for free at the Google Playstore. By extension of application: We could also hear the command from above--
"Be doers of the word, and not readers only"
"Be doers of the word, and not memorizers only"
“Be doers of the word, not students only”
1. The Danger of Self-Deception
How are we self-deceived? We are deceived when we think we are okay in the eyes of God just because we are hearing, reading, memorizing, studying the Bible. The Greek word translated as “deceiving” could also be translated as  "miscalculate"-- a mathematical error. You think you are in good standing before God because you are spending time in the word of God-- yet in reality you are in a bad condition because you are not doing what it says.

Donald Burdick wrote "In reality, the responsibility of those who hear is far greater than that of those who have never heard. If they do not combine doing with hearing, they put themselves in a most vulnerable position." (Expositor's Bible Commentary, 1st edition)

Luke 12:47-48 teaches that the one who knew and the one who knew not the Master's will would be both punished but the one who knew the Master's will would receive more blows.

2. The Danger of Unlearning the Things You Know
We must close a cultural gap here. For we live in an age when we have a pretty good idea of how we look like. We have good mirrors in our houses, so we see our selves daily. We could take portraits of ourselves with phones we bought for more or less a thousand pesos. We even coined a word so our narcissism would not sound so blatant. Do you remember Narcissus of Greek mythology.? He was the one who fell in love with his self upon seeing his image on the pool. If only Narcissus is not a fictional character, and if only he is living with us today, all he would upload on Facebook would be selfie photos. That is the coined word I'm referring to: Selfie.

The point is, in our time, we are well informed of how we look like. That is not so in the time of James. There were no cameras way back then. Perhaps mirrors were costly, and the mirrors that they had were not of the same quality as we have today.  The Macarthur Study Bible informs us: "First century mirrors were not glass, but metallic". People then may have some idea of how they look like but not as informed about it as we are today. That is the background of this imagery from James. A person who comes to hear the word without the resoluteness to obey it is like a person who comes into a first century mirror. He observes his face. He learns something about himself. But as soon as he walks away from the mirror, he forgets the image.

We come to hear God's word, and like a mirror it shows us our true condition. It also shows us the remedy to our condition. Yet because we are not resolute in obeying the word, as soon as we walk out of this building, we forget what we have learned.

As James was encouraging them to be resolute doers of the word, he tells some things about God's Word. If James found these truths helpful in building resoluteness, then these are the same truths that will help us.

1. The Word of God is Perfect
In verse 25, James used the term “perfect law” to refer to the word of God. In Psalm 19:7-8, we see synonyms for God's word (law; testimony; statutes; commandment). Psalm 19:7 is of course parallel to our text in James. Both verses describe the word of God as perfect. After the description, the Psalmist tells us what it does to us. The Perfect Law of God converts the soul.  It transforms our passions. It reverses our bad dispositions. The word of God not only changes our deeds outwardly; it also changes us inside. Paul David Tripp explains the need to be changed inwardly:
"A person who does not have biblical convictions does not have an internal restraint system. This person will do right when under a watchful eye, or when under external pressure. However, when these external motivators are removed, this person will behave very differently." (Age of Opportunity)
So to become a doer of the Word, there must be a change in our inward convictions or else, we would return again and again to worldliness. Praise God the word of God is perfect, and because it is perfect, it convert the soul. In penetrates deep inside. It is the Holy Spirit's scalpel for spiritual surgery.

2. The Word of God Liberates
James refers to the word of God as "perfect law of liberty". In the Bible, the person who lives in sin is the one who is really in bondage. He may think he is free, but in reality he is a slave to sin. Describing our condition before conversion, the Apostle Paul wrote "... at one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures" (Titus 3:3 NIV). When you have all the opportunity to satisfy your lusts, that is not freedom. You are like an animal falling into a trap. You enjoy sin now and at the very next minute, you are caught to be butchered (James 1:14) For the wages of sin is death.

Why not resolve to obey what the word says? True freedom is found in it. For when we are freed from the enslavement of sin, we will then be free to serve our Only Worthy Master. And hasn't the Lord 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 NIV). Freedom is found in holding on to Jesus' teaching; freedom is found in pursuing biblical truth.

3. The Word of God is the key to blessing
 James ends verse 25 with the assurance that he who continues to be a doer of the word "will be blessed in what he does." The constant testimony of the Bible is that blessing is for those who treasure God's word.

  • we see it in the lives of the Old Testament saints
  • we see it in the Psalms (chapter 1)
  • we see it in Jesus' teaching (Matthew 7:24-27)
  • we see in Apostolic teaching (1 Peter 4:14)
  • we see in in the last canonical book (Rev. 2:11)

Brethren, do you want to be blessed? If you do, then be resolute in obeying the word.

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