Jack Graham - The Life-Changing Power of God's Word
You know you can read the book of James in less than 15 minutes and yet we are going to spend weeks and months talking about the truths that we discover about how life works in the book of James. It is very personal, very practical and it's certainly true regarding this message today which will be in 2 parts, this week and the next time that we are together but I do want to talk to you about your words and about God's words. We are born again by the word of God. That's what verse 18 says: "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creation", we are a beautiful offering to God in Christ. Then verse 19, staccato like words: "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear (Are you listening?), slow to speak, slooooow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God".
We live in a communication society, an information age. We are in a veritable tsunami, a tidal wave of words that come our way every single day. For example, daily people send out ten billion emails, ten billion emails every day. That's way more than ten times the population of the entire earth. How about text messaging? Six trillion a year, six trillion text messages. Words, words and more words! Each day, every day 5000 new books are published. And whether it is old line media or new line media, we are inundated with communication! And so much of this is good. We are able to learn so much in this age of communication.
You can Google this and Google that; you can Google almost anything. And that's not even to speak of twenty-four hour news channels which, the stories change every hour, if not every minute, more and more conversation, more and more communication. We're in a political season. We're hearing lots of words. We are just inundated with all these words, words, words, words, words and more words. And so it's a challenge to focus. We're more and more A.D.D. our attention deficit is not decreasing it is increasing. James spoke to this very issue 2000 years ago when he tells us very practically that what we need to do regarding words, in particular the word of God, is to be quick to hear and slow to speak and slow to anger.
Number one, listen up! Listen up! "Be quick to hear". Do you see it there in verse 19? "Be quick to hear"! Are you listening? I don't hear you. Maybe you're just being silent. Be quick to hear. That literally means run to hear! As the Amplified gives it, "Be a ready listener". And primarily this starts with hearing the Word of God, and stopping long enough to hear from God. Now James was speaking to a congregation, early Christians who did not have the privilege of having Bibles as we have them, written copies of God's Word. They had scrolls at Synagogues where the Scripture was read, Old Testament Scripture.
Of course, the New Testament was still in formation, so they were learning the apostle's teaching, the words of Jesus, and writing these down, but James is placing an emphasis on gathering the people. And when we gather as a church what is our primary focus? It is upon the Word of God, the testimony of Jesus. In a church like ours this is why you have the pulpit at the center of the worship place. Not off to the side somewhere. But Baptist Christians through the years have said no, we are going to center our worship experience around the teaching and the preaching of God's Word, exalting Christ and teaching and preaching God's word. And that was James' emphasis here. In gathering the people he said you need to really listen to God's word. Getting with other believers to believe and behave the word of God.
We're told that we are born again by the word of truth in verse 18. Born again by the word of truth. Not a word of truth, but THE word of truth. The Bible is God's infallible, inerrant word, filled with God's words. We believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible which means that the words of the Bible are given by the Holy Spirit. The authors who used their vocabularies were guided along by the Holy Spirit so that when they wrote, they weren't writing just big ideas about God or thoughts about God, but the very words of God. Plenary, meaning all the Bible is inspired. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness". That the man of God, the woman of God would be thoroughly equipped in all good works.
And James' focus is on hearing the word of God and then responding because we have received it, and living it out, being transformed. A new birth produces a new behavior. The word of God transforms us from the inside out. And thus in these two weeks on this transforming power of the Word of God. "If anyone be in Christ he is a new creation. Old things are passed away, everything becomes new". So we are born again by God's Word. What does the Scripture say? "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God". When you hear the word of God and respond in faith then the word of God, the living word of God is alive in you. But not only are we saved by the word of God but we are transformed by the word of God.
We are growing, we are sanctified; that is made holy, made more like Christ as we go, as we grow because of the word of God. Therefore, listen carefully to God's word. A true Christ follower is committed and submitted to the word of God and the will of God as revealed in Scripture. And the Bible is such a living book! Jarrett Stephens last night found a quote from a book I wrote called Life Book. It's about the Bible which is the life book, and I liked the quote so much, even though I'd forgotten I'd given it that I thought I would share it with you. "Because the Word of God is alive, you and I can have a fresh encounter each time we approach it. Reading, studying and living in the truth of the word of God is unlike engaging with any other book on earth. When was the last time a history book saved your marriage, healed your wounded spirit, encouraged your teenage child, corrected a sinful habit in your life or gave you courage and hope in the face of disease, despair or even death? Unlike any other known book, people who embrace and (watch this) consume the word of God will be changed".
Jesus said in Matthew 4, verse 4 of Matthew 4: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God". The mark of a Christian is that we have an appetite, a hunger, a desire for the milk of the word, the meat of the word. We love God's word! It's like a great meal. Job said, "I honor your word, O Lord, I esteem your word more than my necessary meat". It is more than meat; it is life itself! The living word of God! It's like dessert. The psalmist said it's like honey. We are to desire the word of God. The psalmist said in Psalm 119, read Psalm 119, it's all about the Bible, the Word of God, and it says, "I love Your law, O God"! We love it, therefore, we listen; we tune into the Word of God.
Listening is a discipline, isn't it? When we don't listen, we don't learn anything in life. But if you will listen, you have a great advantage and you have the blessing of God. Unfortunately our American attention span is reducing. We get our information in short sentences and small bits and bites. We even want our messages and our sermons like that. Give it to me in short bite-size chunks. Adlai Stevenson was a presidential candidate for the Democratic Party back in the 1950's. He ran against Eisenhower. And on the campaign tour he said this to an audience before him. He said, "I'm here to speak; you're here to listen; I just hope that you don't get through before I do". I've felt that way a lot of times preaching. "I'm here to preach; you're here to listen; just don't get through before I do"!
Now how are we to listen to the word of God? I wrote down just several words as to how you can receive the word of God. And you may want to write this down. And one of the best ways you can listen, by the way, is through the end of a pen, or if you are typing on a screen of some kind. Now days when you say open your Bibles, I see a glow come everywhere as people are opening up their screens. And that's alright. But how do we listen? Listen prayerfully. Did you pray before you came and asked God to speak to you through His word? Did you pray for your pastor as I'm up here trying to deliver God's truth? Did you pray that God would speak to you personally? Did you come prayerfully today. I would ask you to come prayerfully, that God would open your eyes as the psalmist said "to behold wondrous things out of your law".
Secondly, come humbly. That is, "God, I need you. I desperately need a word from you. I'm hungry for you"! Then come expectantly, asking God and expecting God to move in your heart and move in your life. Don't be that kind of person who sits there with their arms folded and says, "Okay, you've got about fifteen minutes to work on me, God". No, come expectantly. Come submissively. Not with a take it or leave it attitude. "Well, I may believe this; I may not believe this. I may do this; I may not do that". Come submissively to the word of God, and when the word of God comes to you in force, in full throttle, don't resist it, but respond to it. Come continually. Come faithfully to hear God's word. Again, that's a mark of a believer. You have a desire to be where God's word is taught. hear the word of God continually, and then obediently. As we'll discover in our next message to be not only hearers of the word but doers of the word.
John Osteen is the founder of Lakewood Church in Houston where his well-known son Joel is now the pastor. John Osteen, before he preached, and I believe they continue to do this today at the church. Osteen would hold up his Bible and say this, and the people would repeat with him: "This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I can do what it says I can do. Today I will be taught the Word of God. I boldly confess my mind is alert, my heart is receptive. I will never be the same. I am about to receive the incorruptible, indestructible ever living seed of the Word of God! I will never be the same! Never, never, never! I will never be the same. In Jesus' name. Amen". That's good! Come with that kind of appetite! That kind of attitude with the Word of God!
Listen up! Secondly, tone down. "Be quick to listen, and sloow to speak". The Bible says: "Life and death are in the power of the tongue". Change your words, even the words that you speak to yourself, and you will change your life. And James clearly is saying to us here, "Listen before you speak. Think before you talk". Rabbis used to say, "God gave us two ears and one mouth, and he put the tongue behind the cage of ivory". Therefore we ought to listen twice as much as we speak. Some people love to hear themselves talk, to be the center of the conversation; that's all about the ego. And they not only use their tongue but their keyboard. They're typing and they're texting to spew out their opinions and hasty words.
Proverbs 29:20: "Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him". Can you imagine how much better your relationships would be? Your marriage would be if you practiced this principle? Listen more and talk less? Listen before you talk. Ogden Nash was a poet; he wrote this rhyme: "To keep your marriage brimming with love in the loving cup, whenever you are wrong, admit it, and when you're right, shut up"! We've all said things in haste and in anger that we wish we could take back, but unfortunately you can't take words back, and words can be cruel and caustic and carnal and critical.
The old children's rhyme, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me". Not true! Words have a powerful affect. They have the power of life and death according to the Scripture. And the Scripture here says be slow to speak. Listen to me! That's a command! That's a command in God's Word. Be slow to speak! Jesus said it in Matthew 12:36, that on the day when we are judged that every word, every idle word, "every careless word will be called into account". We all know that social media can be a place for mean-spirited haters to hang out and spew their venom. But the problem is many Christian are interacting with this kind of behavior and this kind of spewing of venom, and sometimes we write it, sometimes we listen to it, but so much of it is putting garbage in our ears. And we need to clean that up.
How many times have you written an email and hit send before you took time to think about it? Count to ten, count to one hundred, spend twenty-four hours, whatever. No, bam! Take that! And once it gets out into cyberspace it ain't ever coming back. It's out there forever. Henry Ward Beecher said this, "Speak when you are angry and you'll make the best speech you will ever regret". How many times have we hurt our mates with words that we regret because we weren't slow to speak? We're popping off and saying things out of anger or disrespect. Words do hurt! I would say students, men and women we need to submit everything we write on the internet to the Holy Spirit before we send it. We need to ask God for permission before we say anything or send anything that could be hurtful or harmful, especially to the body of Christ.
One last word, and that is lighten up. He said listen up, tone down, lighten up, calm down for we are to be "slow to anger". That is slow to take offense, slow to get angry. Let me give you a few riveting scriptures about this. Ephesians 4:31, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice". Colossians 3:8, "But now you must put them all away. Anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth". James is a series of tests initially. First are tests during trials, how we respond to trials. Then a test regarding temptations and how we resist temptations. Now he's talking about how we restrain our tongues, and that's a test. How you use your tongue, your speech, your words is a test!
Proverbs 29:11 says, "A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back". I didn't call you a fool but God calls you a fool if you can't control your temper. When you lose your temper you are really losing something! You're actually losing sanity at some level. Anger is borderline insanity. You're not thinking straight when you lose it! And some of you lose it way too much. You get up mad, you eat breakfast mad, you go to work mad, you go to lunch mad, come home mad, you watch TV mad, you go to bed mad, you sleep mad. Mad all the time about something. If somebody's happy, you're mad about that. I'm serious. God says get control of that.
Last week's message we talked about the goodness of God. God is good all the time and all the time God is good. And He is gracious and merciful and slow to anger, and so should we! Again, commanded to be slow to anger. Listen to Proverbs 16:32. James is often described, as I said, as the book of Proverbs in the New Testament. It's like Proverbs. This is like a proverb that we're reading. But Proverbs 16:32 says "Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city". James 1:20-21, look at it right there in front of you in your Bible, "for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God".
There's nothing righteous about unrighteous anger. And while we're often ready to say, "Well, I'm just righteously indignant or righteously angry", most of the time that's about our preferences and opinions, and not about a God-like anger. So God says, "Be slow to anger". And then he says, "And put off all wickedness and strip away filthiness". It's a picture of taking off filthy, dirty clothes. He's speaking of immorality, but he's also speaking of the immorality of disposition in anger! That's immoral too, you know. There are the sins of dissipation, but there are also the sins of disposition. He said put away, strip all that stuff off.
A man asked his wife if his shirt was too dirty to wear. She said, "If you have to ask, it is". Strip it away, and the superfluous sin that remains! Interesting, James uses a medical term for earwax there! He's talking about hearing and listening. He said get the wax out of your ears! Get this filth out of your ear! Some of that stuff you get out on a Q-tip is gross, right! And James says get that stuff out! It's dulling your hearing. It's keeping you from connecting with God. Get rid of any sin that clogs up communication with God.
I wrote this in my Bible as a teenager. It often helped me. "God's Word will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from God's Word". So open up your heart and open up your ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church. Get rid of anything in your life that limits you from hearing God. And when you take off the guilt clothes, put on the grace clothes. How do you overcome anger and abuse and all the rest with our words? The fruit of the Spirit. Love and joy and peace and patience and goodness and kindness and meekness and self-control. Pray everyday, Lord, Your patience, Your love, Your joy, Your peace, Your goodness, Your self-control. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is in you. And in the power of God's Spirit we have the opportunity for the beauty of Jesus to be seen in us. So listen up, tone down, lighten up and let the Word of God do its powerful, transforming work in us.