Be Good, Do Good, Part 2: Listening and Doing – James 1:19-27

James uses the metaphor of a mirror to make his point today about goodness – being good and doing good, which is what this message series is about. He says that people who listen to the word of God without letting it change them are like those who look in a mirror, then immediately turn away and forget what they look like.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 (Worship) that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

(James 1:19-27)

I’ve recently taken up a new hobby, bearding. 

See, when I was 30, I started going thin on top. For a decade I fought against it with combs and creams and willpower, but to no avail. When I was 40, in a last-ditch effort to make the most of what little hair I had on top, I let it grow out for a whole year. The results were not good. Bobby and Brooke, if you can hear this, I am still very sorry for my hair when I did your wedding!

So after 40, I gave up. I started buzzing it once a week, and that was that. I kept a short beard, but other than that, I went into uber-low hair maintenance mode.

All that changed last July. I forgot my clippers when we went on vacation. And, now approaching 50, I came to the realization, inspired perhaps by some of my bearded friends, that I still had control over one aspect of my mugshot, my facial hair. And so, nearly a year later, I now have what I think is a respectable mane going on. 

But, we’ll see how long this lasts. So far, Tammie has held her cards close to her chest, but she hasn’t specifically said anything negative... So I’ll keep at it for a while. I think.

But this new do has brought an old flame back to life -- I’m speaking of course, of my relationship with the morning mirror. And it’s not just that mirror. It’s every mirror. Whether it's the bathroom mirror, the rear view mirror, or the mirrored sunglasses of the person I’m talking to, if I can see my mug, I’m checking out my beard.

Vanity perhaps. Human nature, certainly. But we can’t seem to help looking at ourselves in a mirror, can we?

I’ve heard it said that when a MAN looks in a mirror, he sees nothing wrong, but when a WOMAN looks in a mirror, she sees nothing right. Of course, that’s a gross generalization – pride knows no gender. But that saying does touch on a truth: there are two basic responses we have when we look in a mirror. We either like what we see and feel good about ourselves, or we don’t like what we see and try to fix it.

James uses the metaphor of a mirror to make his point today about goodness – being good and doing good, which is what this message series is about. He says that people who listen to the word of God without letting it change them are like those who look in a mirror, then immediately turn away and forget what they look like.

Of course, we know that the Bible teaches us in Genesis that we were made in God’s image, and that when we look in the mirror we are seeing not only who we are, but also a glimpse of who God is, and the person God wants us to be. 

Every one of us is an idealist when we look in a mirror. We know what we ought to look like, we know what we want to look like, we know what we wish we looked like, but then we pick up the looking glass, and we’re confronted with the truth of what we really look like. That’s why we primp. And polish. And suck in that gut every time we look in the mirror. Most of us want to be better than what we see. We want to improve. We have an ideal in our heads, and we want to live up to that. And unless we are extremely vain and sinfully proud, we realize the ideal image we carry inside doesn’t quite match the not-so-ideal image we see inscribed in our earthly flesh.  

When my dog looks in the mirror, she doesn’t notice the sleep in her eyes or the chip in her tooth. But when I look in a mirror, I instantly know when something is out of place, whether it might be a blemish on my face, a smudge on my shirt, or a button out of order. 

Why is that? 

It’s because God planted within each one of us an image, an ideal, the concept of good and right, like a homing beacon that points to heaven and reminds us of the better us we were meant to be, and one day hopefully will be. I believe the image of God implanted in us is that part of us that tells us there is something more we are supposed to be. We have an image of goodness, the law, implanted in our hearts, as the Scriptures say. 

And so, as James reminds us, God has given us the word of truth as a sort of mirror, which does two things. First, the word of God reminds us that we bear the image of Christ, and second the word of God reveals where we fall short and have room for improvement. 

Take a look at verse 19,where James says, “Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak…” Listen to what? 

The previous verse, verse 18, gives us the context and the answer: 

“He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” Then James goes on, “Everyone should be quick to listen…”  Listen to what then? “The word of truth.”

If that isn’t clear enough, James repeats that exact point several times throughout the following verses: 

In verses 22 and 23, he mentions it twice, urging us to listen “to the word,” and in verse 25 he talks about gazing into the perfect law that sets us free. The perfect law is, again, the word of God.

So we can plainly see that, for James, the word of God is a mirror which shows us both how we match up – and also how we don’t match up – with the goodness of God. In John’s gospel, Jesus says the very same thing: “Sanctify them” – purify them, make them holy – “by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17).

Then, James goes on to clarify a theme he has already introduced: that in order to truly worship God, we must embody both the charity of God and the purity of God. In verses 26 and 27, he gives us the example of looking after widows and orphans in distress, which is charity, or compassion. He then urges us to maintain purity by keeping our minds and bodies from being polluted by sin.  

Charity, also known as mercy, or compassion, is doing good, exercising and serving others in need, which is the work of God. Purity is being good, which is adopting and conforming to God’s character. Charity is reflecting the image of God our Father outwardly, to our neighbors. Purity is reflecting God’s image inwardly, opening ourselves up to being transformed at the deepest level of our being. Charity is the evidence of the love of God manifesting itself in our lives. Purity is the evidence of the truth of God doing it’s appointed work in our lives, convicting us of sin and stretching us toward goodness and righteousness.

We’ll spend time exploring those themes of charity and purity – doing good and being good – in the chapters to come. But before we launch into the details of being good and doing good, we first must pause right here to consider James’ insistence that true charity and true purity are only developed as we gaze intently into the pristine mirror of God’s word. 

The world cannot produce charity through us in the same way that the word of God does. The world cannot produce purity in us in the same way that the word of God does. There is a qualitative difference between the charity and purity of the world, and the charity and purity of God. The righteousness of the world is filthy rags when compared with the righteousness of God. Remember, we are after the fruit of the Spirit of God, not the fruit of the spirit of this age.

James cries out to you and me to establish charity and good deeds firmly in the unchanging word, and not in the transient affections of the world. James makes it perfectly clear that our purity must be measured by the razor-sharp standard of God’s word, not the shifting standards of a world that is as incisive as a stick of butter.

True charity, James says, is doing good as God does good, not as the world does good. True purity, James argues, is being good as God is good, not as the world defines goodness. Any lower standard than the image of God is inadequate. We glimpse the highest standard when we peer intently into the word of God as a mirror that challenges us to grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

And so I want to share three insights from James on how to establish ourselves in the mirror of God’s word.

Here are the three Key Principles James gives us for effectively using the mirror of God’s word.

First, The Word of God Must Be CAREFULLY Heard

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19)

Have you ever woken up late, and rushed to get ready and get out the door? How well does that work? We experience our biggest hair, face, and wardrobe fails when we rush to get ready. On the other hand, it feels good when we have given ourselves plenty of time to get it together. A rushed job is rarely done well, and everything good takes time. 

The same is true for the way we interact with the word of God. If we wake up late and rush through our morning and give little – or no – time to carefully hear the word of God, we are liable to go through our day blinded by the spiritual crust in our eyes and oblivious to the stains on our spiritual collars. 

How many of us give the same attention to the more important spiritual matters of life that we give to our physical appearance in the mirror each day? I’d guess that for most of us, we are so busy with physical preparation that we do little to no spiritual preparation for our day. It isn’t wrong, but it also isn’t enough to listen to a line or two of a worship song on the way to work. We need to engage carefully, thoughtfully, reflectively with the mirror of God’s word, and let it show us where we are in need of change. 

If you’re interested in spending more time in God’s word, but don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place.  I’d highly recommend downloading two apps on your phone. As a matter of fact, I’d like to give you a moment to get your phone out right now so you don’t forget. First is the YouVersion Bible app, which comes complete with seasonal and topical reading plans along with multiple audiobook versions of the entire Bible. The second app I strongly recommend is Lectio365, which is put out by 24/7 prayer in the UK. Many of us in the church have recently been challenged by the speakers and writers who lead us in a daily meditation designed to help us pray and align ourselves with the word of Jesus. 

I’ll give you a moment to download those now if you are willing. They have the capacity to make the word of God come to life for you. There are plenty of other apps out there, and I’d encourage all of us to consider allocating a little more bandwidth for God, and a little less for games, streaming, and social apps.

First, the word of God must be carefully heard.

Second, The Word of God Must Be HUMBLY Accepted

“Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (James 1:21)

I have this weird blind spot on the back of my forearm. Sometimes when I’m working I get a big smudge right there, and even though I think I’ve washed my hands and arms thoroughly, I sometimes miss that spot. I’ll go on for a few hours, not realizing that I have this awful oil stain on my arm, and then I’ll look in the mirror and it jumps out at me. 

We all have spiritual blind spots where we think we’re just fine when we’re really not. I shared before that there are those of us who look in the mirror and see nothing wrong with ourselves, even if everyone else around us sees the problem plain as day. This is pride, and not the good kind. Sinful pride is that insistence that we are right and everyone else, including God, is wrong. Sinful pride is that stubborn refusal to acknowledge the smudge on our arm, or the eyebrow hair that sticks out for eight miles, or that grudge we’ve been holding onto that is threatening to tear our family apart forever.

Humility is the opposite of sinful pride. Humility approaches the mirror with the understanding that there is always work to be done, there is always something to learn, and there is always room to grow. When we’re tempted by the sin of pride – and we all are every day – we would do well to remember that when the word of God convicts us as we humbly listen, it is not condemining us, just as when a mirror shows us a stubborn cowlick or a surprise blemish, it is not condemning us. The mirror is not there to condemn but to correct; not to shame us down, but to shape us up. When we approach the mirror of God’s word, we must show restraint, set aside our sinful pride, and be humble, remaining open to letting it show us where work needs to be done. 

Now, the word will ultimately judge us; we will be judged by God’s word one day. And so we must be humble and respectful as we approach the word of God, recognizing its authority and seeking to live under the freedom it gives us from the slavery of the world.

For example, if the word of God speaks to me in my morning devotions about the sin of fearfulness, or greed, or lust, I should always ask myself how those sins are present in my life, and ask God to help me get beyond them. Too often we read the word thinking it applies to those around us, forgetting that we are in no position to judge others, only to receive correction for ourselves. 

First, James instructs us that the word of God must be carefully heard. Second, the word of God must be humbly accepted. And third …

Third, The Word of God Must Be CONSISTENTLY Obeyed

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)

Of course, this should be obvious, but it doesn’t do much good to point out a problem if we aren’t going to do anything about it. That would be like receiving a diagnosis of appendicitis without getting the thing removed! Hearing the word of God without obeying it is like waking up, looking in the mirror at a monstrous case of bedhead and heading off to work without fixing it. 

It isn’t enough to acknowledge the wrinkles in our character and stains on our soul, we’ve got to do the work, by the grace of God, required to make things right. It isn’t enough to listen to the words of Jesus about caring for the poor and maintaining pure thoughts, we must do what He says.

Not only that, but we must do what he says – consistently. In other words, developing the fruit of the spirit “goodness” is a lifelong process that requires daily effort. 

Imagine for a moment a professional woman waking up on Monday morning, taking a shower, doing her hair and makeup, picking out the perfect outfit, and heading off to work. Now imagine she gets home after a long day and goes right to bed, still in her makeup and work clothes. The next morning, instead of cleaning her face and choosing a fresh outfit, she just rolls out of bed, and heads straight to work with yesterday’s makeup and clothes. Now imagine she does that every day for the rest of the week until she finally cleans herself up and changes her clothes the next Monday. That wouldn’t be pleasant for her or for the people around her. 

And yet we have boatloads of Christians who rely on the minuscule amount of time they spend hearing the word of God on Sunday mornings to get them through an entire week.

Jesus said anyone who wants to follow him has to learn to take up their cross DAILY.  Sometimes I think we care about our teeth and hair more than our souls. We wouldn’t comb our hair or clean our teeth on Sunday and call it good for the rest of the week. Why should we treat our eternal souls with any less dignity and respect?

So to recap: first, the word of God must be carefully heard. Second, the word of God must be humbly accepted. And third, the word of God must be consistently obeyed.

I’d like to invite the worship team to come up at this time. They are going to lead us in a hymn as we celebrate the Lord’s supper. 

But as they come, I want to recognize that this is a touchy subject. It’s easy to slip into guilt as a motivator for spending time with God, and that isn’t particularly productive or healthy. We all fall short of where we need to be when it comes to spending time in God’s presence, with the word of God. And as I said earlier, this word is not meant to shame us down but to shape us up. 

We need to be reminded that where we fall short, God’s grace is sufficient to fill in the gaps and see us through. And thank God for that, because we all need forgiveness. And that’s what the Lord’s supper celebrates – that where sin is great, God’s grace is greater.

I invite you to come up and take the bread and the cup and return to your seats as we sing. And as you wait there for everyone to get a chance to receive the elements, take time to reflect on the ways that God is speaking to you through His word today. 

Please come when you are ready to receive and recognize God’s free and generous gift of mercy and grace through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. 

Let us sing.

Let’s take the bread together.

And now the cup.

Lord, thank you for making us new by the power of your blood and by your heart that forgives us. Jesus, we want to be good and do good, to become more like you. Would you show us through your word of truth where we have blemishes and spots, wrinkles and stains that need to be dealt with?

And would you help us to become more like you by investing as much time, if not more, in your word as we do looking in the mirror each morning.

Lord, we need your help. We cannot do it on our own. Help us to realize that you are for us, and not against us. Thank you for the cross that proves your unconditional love for us.

In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

As we prepare to close out the morning, I want to point out the questions for reflection at the end of the message outline in your bulletin.

Under the heading “Real Life Application” I’ve put three questions if you want to make it real today. 

The Inward Question is: Am I willing to surrender my position on issues that are not in line with God’s word?

The Upward Question is: Am I willing to listen when God speaks to me about things I need to change?

And the Outward Question is: Is it more loving to speak an uncomfortable truth to my friends, or to say what they want to hear?  

Please let me know how I can encourage you this week. I will be in the back to answer any questions you may have right after the service, but I’d also be more than happy to listen to you and share any ideas about growing into the word of God.


Service Times

Worship Service
Sunday @ 10:30am (English)
Sunday @ 11:00am (Spanish)

Women's Restoration Gathering
Monday @ 5:30-6:30pm

Men's Breakfast
Wednesday @ 7-8am

Eat, Pray, Love Bible Study
Wednesday @ 7-8pm (Supper at 6:30pm)

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Women's Bible Study
First Saturday each Month @ 9:30am

Bible Study (all ages)
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Spring Valley, CA 91977


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