************ Sermon on James 1:26-27 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 22, 2006
"Acceptable Religion (2)"
I was visiting one of our widows. She asked me about a report she saw on NBC's "Dateline." The report aired on Friday, September 29, 2006. Dateline correspondents were in Petaluma, California where two high-profile predator cases made national headlines (John Mark Karr, the former suspect in the JonBenιt Ramsey murder, was charged here with five counts of possession of child pornography; Polly Klaas, the 12-year-old abducted and murdered by a sex predator, lived here). Dateline wondered what its hidden cameras would find in Petaluma.
For this story, volunteers went into internet chat rooms posing as twelve and thirteen year olds and waited to be contacted by an adult. If a chat turned sexual, the decoys agreed to meet in person and gave the suspected predator the address to an undercover house where both Dateline and the police were hiding. All sorts of people showed up: a software engineer with Apple Computer, a man convicted for armed robbery, a respected doctor, a carpenter, a U.S. marine, an elder of a church; one man even came all the way from San Francisco with his wife but left her in the car.
The widow wanted to know about chat rooms. From there our conversation turned to blogging sites like MySpace.com, internet pornography, identity theft, and people who spend all their time making up computer viruses and worms and trojan horses. She was simply astounded and distressed by all that I told her.
We continue our study of the book of James this evening. James, if you remember, wrote his letter to teach Christians how to live out their faith. He insists that if we have real faith, we will show it by acting like Christians and we won't do the sorts of things exposed by Dateline.
In our text for this evening James gives us three marks of true religion. He tells us that if we do not control what we say, or if we allow the world to pollute us, or if we ignore the needy among us (we looked at this last week Sunday morning), our religion and our faith is unacceptable to God. James' list is not meant to be exhaustive and does not define all the content of true religion. However, if we do not obey these commands, we need to ask ourselves whether our faith really is genuine. Faith real faith must produce fruit of obedience.
I Who was James Writing to?
As I studied for this message I read through the entire book of James. Why, I wondered, does James say what he says? What problems was he dealing with? What concerns were heavy on his heart? What did he see in the lives of God's people that made him write what he wrote? Who was James writing to?
This is what I came up with. James wrote to people who had doubts when they prayed (1:6), the humble poor (1:9), the proud rich (1:9), the tempted (1:13), those who were slow to listen and quick to speak and quick to become angry (1:19), mere listeners of the Word and not doers (1:22), those with uncontrolled tongues (1:26), those who were selfish and self-centered (1:27), those who were polluted by the world (1:27), they showed favoritism to the rich (2:1), their faith was without deeds (2:14), they were filled with envy and selfish ambitions (3:14), they had fights and quarrels (4:1), they were adulterers (4:4), they were slanderers (4:11), they made plans without including God (4:13), they oppressed the poor (5:1), they were impatient in suffering (5:7), they faced troubles (5:13), they had sicknesses (5:14), they wandered from the truth (5:19). In other words, James wrote to people exactly the same as you and me. All of them, struggling with temptation. All of them, sinners. Yet, all of them, servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ and persecuted for their faith (1:1) imperfect though their faith may be.
I think you realize there is always a gap between what we believe and what we do, between doctrine and life, between justification and sanctification. We are saved people but we don't always live as saved people. So James writes to us in our struggles and admonishes and encourages us to live as God's children.
II Keep Yourself from being Polluted by the World
A In our text, James tells us that servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ keep themselves from being polluted by the world. We all know what pollution is. We have it in the air, in the water, on the ground. If impacts the quality of our life, the quality of the food we eat, the quality of the water we drink, the quality of the air we breathe.
A couple of weeks ago I looked over the gutters on my house. I couldn't believe all the dirt, dried mud actually, that I saw. Where did it come from? It is not like I live in the middle of an open field. It came from the air. It settled on the roof. And our little bit of rain turned it into mud that washed into the gutter and baked there in the Summer sun.
A couple of times this past Summer I noticed a burning sensation in my throat as I was cycling up Rocky Hill. That is the result of dirty air. Only a few particles of pollution per billion in our air or water is hazardous to our health.
James is not warning us about the pollution of our natural resources though the Bible does have plenty to say about that. James main concern is mind and soul and heart pollution. James is talking about the pollution of the world that makes our religion impure and faulty and worthless.
B What kind of pollution are we talking about? The kinds of things that I talked over with the widow I mentioned earlier.
A big concern today is pornography. I've had men and women of all ages in my office telling me about their addiction to pornography. It is all over the Internet and on our TVs. It doesn't take much to get you hooked. One man put it this way:
He saw them for the first time when he was in the fourth grade, and couldn't believe his eyes. Years later, he saw them again, and by the time he was in high school, he had a few tucked away in his bedroom.
"No one ever told me those images would burn themselves into my mind and come back to haunt me," wrote Christian music artist Clay Crosse.
Little did he know that his boyhood fascination with pictures of naked women would resurface in his dating life and later in his marriage.
Every once in a while I look over MySpace.com just to check up on area young people. Lots of kids in Visalia and Tulare have their own sites. And, sometimes I have a hard time telling the Christian kids from the non-Christian kids because of the pictures and the language.
Servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ keep themselves "from being polluted by the world." This means we are to work at living holy lives. The word "holy" means to be set apart, to be consecrated to God's service. As a sign of their holiness, the Nazarites like John the Baptist, Samuel, Samson, or Paul for a while did not cut their hair, did not drink any alcoholic beverages, and did not have any contact with the dead. They were set apart as being holy unto the Lord.
We, of course, are to be separate from the world and the ways of the world. Paul can say, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world" (Rom 12:2). He is talking about holiness, about being separate and different from the world, about not "being polluted by the world." According to one author, many Christians don't listen to this call for holiness:
Topic: SeparationIsn't this sad? Isn't it sad that people in the church look down upon someone who tries to live for Christ? Isn't it sad that Christian young people will pick on and poke fun of another young person who tries to be holy? And, isn't it sad that too often there is no difference between the Christian and the pagan?
Title: What's the Difference?
The standard of practical holy living has been so low among Christians that very often the person who tries to practice spiritual disciplines in everyday life is looked upon with disapproval by a large portion of the Church. And for the most part, the followers of Jesus Christ are satisfied with a life so conformed to the world, and so like it in almost every respect, that to a casual observer, there is no difference between the Christian and the pagan.
-- Hannah Whitall Smith in "The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life". Christianity Today, Vol. 32, no. 11.
How do we go about this business of keeping ourselves "from being polluted by the world"? How do we get our young people to realize how important this is? How do we get them to realize that some music, movies, books, magazines, and internet sites pollute their minds and hearts and souls? I want to repeat a story that parents loved and that most kids found to be totally disgusting.
Topic: Separation"To keep oneself from being polluted by the world" requires us to have nothing to do with the works of darkness (Eph 5:11).
Title: Brownies with a Difference
The father listened to all the reasons his children gave for wanting to see a particular PG-13 movie. It had their favorite actors. Everyone else was seeing it. Even church members said it was great. It was only rated PG-13 because of the suggestion of sex--they never really showed it. The language was pretty good--the Lord's name was only used in vain three times in the whole movie.
The teens did admit there was a scene where a building and a bunch of people were blown up, but the violence was just the normal stuff. It wasn't too bad. And, even if there were a few minor things, the special effects were fabulous and the plot was action packed.
However, even with all the justifications the teens made for the PG-13 rating, the father still wouldn't give in. He didn't even give his children a reason for saying, "No." He just said, "No!"
A little later on that evening the father asked his teens if they would like some brownies he had baked. He explained that he'd taken the family's favorite recipe and added a little something new. The children asked what it was.
The father calmly replied that he had added dog droppings. However, he quickly assured them, it was only a little bit. All other ingredients were gourmet quality and he had taken great care to bake the brownies at the precise temperature for the exact time. He was sure the brownies would be superb.
Even with their father's promise that the brownies were of almost perfect quality, the teens would not take any. The father acted surprised. After all, it was only one small part that was causing them to be so stubborn. He was certain they would hardly notice it. Still the teens held firm and would not try the brownies.
The father then told his children how the movie they wanted to see was just like the brownies. Our minds fool us into believing that just a little bit of evil won't matter. But, the truth is even a little bit of droppings makes the difference between a great treat and something disgusting and totally unacceptable.
The father went on to explain that even though the movie industry would have us believe that most of today's movies are acceptable fare for adults and youth, they are not.
Now, when this father's children want to see something that is of questionable material, the father merely asks them if they would like some of his special dog droppings brownies. That closes the subject.
"To keep oneself from being polluted by the world" also requires the right kind of marriage partner. The best thing I got from college was my wife far better and far more important than my education. To have a Christian spouse does more to keep you from being polluted by the world than almost anything else you can ever name. And, to have a non-Christian spouse can do more to pollute you than almost anything else you can ever name. In fact, almost every day Ruth and I pray that God will lead wonderful Christian women into the lives of David, Christopher, and Joshua.
"To keep oneself from being polluted by the world" means you recognize the difference between ethics and morals. Ethics tells us how a society should live and what the majority of its citizens should practice. Morals, on the other hand, describe how a society does live and what the majority of its citizens actually do practice. Ethics, for instance, tells us the speed limit on the freeway is 70 MPH; morals tells us the speed limit on the freeway is 80 MPH. Ethics tells us life is precious; morals tell us that abortion is okay. Ethics say sex is for marriage; morals say young people can go all the way. We need to recognize that just because the majority of people act a certain way does not make that action right in God's eyes. What we need today are Christians who live by ethics rather than morals. What we need today are Christians who recognize there are absolutes laid down by God. What we need today are Christians who keep themselves from being polluted by the world.
If we do not keep ourselves from being polluted by the world, our religion is impure and faulty and worthless and unacceptable in God's sight. Servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ work at keeping themselves from being polluted by the world.
III Keep a Tight Rein on Your Tongue
A When James talks about acceptable religion he also talks about the tongue. As we go through James we will discover that James has a lot to say about the tongue. As James looks at servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, he sees control of the tongue as being vital.
Don't forget, many of these Christians have been persecuted for their faith. Soldiers and officers have mistreated them. Neighbors have taken advantage of them. Some have even been rejected by family. In such situations it so easy to want to lash out, to say cruel things, to run people down, to even swear and curse.
No, says James, you don't want to do that. Religious people, servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, keep a tight rein on their tongues. This image of a "tight rein" is borrowed from the world of horses. A couple of weeks ago I watched the judging of Friesian horses. Some of the horses were nervous and high-strung because of the crowds and the noise and the other horses. I noticed that their handlers kept a tight rein on them not allowing them too much freedom of movement.
Servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ are to keep a tight reign on their tongues. There is no need to use profanity and swearing. There is no need to tell dirty jokes. There is no need to lash out with hateful language. There is no need to say what is unkind and untrue. There is no need to hurt the other person. George Sweeting put it this way:
Contentious tongues have hindered the work of God a thousand times over. Critical tongues have closed church doors. Careless tongues have broken the hearts and health of many pastors. The sins of the tongue have besmirched the pure white garments of the bride of Christ.
Cartoonist Charles Schultz was interviewed by "Vanity Fair". He has advice that is good for us to listen to. He said, "I have a strong dislike for vulgar phrases and find that the terms "good grief" and "rats" will cover virtually anything that happens."
Traveling on a plane next to a salesman, Billy Graham asked him, "Are you paid anything for all the swearing you do?"
"No," was the startled reply, "I do it for nothing."
"Nothing?" cried the famous preacher. "You work cheap! You throw aside your character as a gentleman, inflict pain on your friends, break the Lord's commandments, and endanger your own soul -- and all for nothing! You certainly work cheap -- TOO CHEAP!"
B Keep a tight rein on your tongue. That cuts two ways. We are not to use our tongue to hurt and to tear down and to swear. But we are to use our tongue to build up, to edify, to encourage, to praise, to thank, to pray and to worship.
We've been looking at true religion, at acceptable religion, at religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless.
Do you keep your tongue under control? Do you look after widows and orphans? Do you keep yourself from being polluted by the world? If your answer is "Yes" then you have religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page