head knowledge is not enough

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

James 1:22

Bible listening or hearing in scripture means obeying. This is especially clear in the Old Testament. One doesn’t really hear God, unless they’re intent on following through with what God has said. Samuel is a case in point. “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3). And with one intent only: to serve, to obey.

James makes it clear that we can deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re alright, “religious” (verse 26), just because we know truth, or have it in our heads, having heard it through our ears. But has it reached the heart, and worked its way into our lives, is the question. Are we attempting by God’s grace to put it into practice? Do we at least want to, even if it’s a struggle to us, sometimes even over our desire?

It’s about “getting down to brass tacks,” the essentials. If our Christianity is not something we practice, then it’s of no value at all. It helps neither ourselves, nor anyone else.

We need God in this. It’s not some personal self-help endeavor or project. God must be in this, or it won’t work at all. And God is at work in this way in his grace in and through Jesus. But it’s up to us to do it. God won’t do it for us. But God makes it possible for us to hear and follow through so that we not only hear the word, but do it. In and through Jesus.

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a godly processing, instead of an ungodly reaction

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 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 1:19-21

How often in our lives have we blurted out something in reaction to some difficulty? Our first “natural” yet sinful response is often to fly off the handle and utter a few choice words under our breath. Or maybe to speak our mind when something is being said, particularly when it seems to be somehow threatening to us.

The point here, and what James is getting at is that we need to train ourselves to be different. One can say James makes that point when he tells us in addressing the problem of anger and quick speech (along with slow listening) to rid ourselves of all moral filth and the evil so prevalent, instead humbly accepting the word planted in us, which can save us.

We need to process things in light of God’s truth in Jesus. There may be times when we need to speak right away, not later. But if we are developing along these lines, such times can be more marked with humility, and a heart ready to listen. And always imbued with grace, but a grace that does not leave truth behind. James is strong in pointing to truth and not mincing words, but he’s also strong on a wisdom which helps us receive as well as share that truth with others (see 3:13-18). In and through Jesus.

guarding our heart

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:23

This is a section in Proverbs, the fourth chapter of that book in our Bibles with the heading in the NIV , “Get Wisdom at Any Cost.” Proverbs directly addresses wisdom. And what is contrary to it.

And here, we’re told that it’s up to us. We’re to guard our hearts above all else. The heart in scripture, especially in the Old Testament means the thoughts, emotions, and will.

For me this means not only to keep some thoughts from getting in and taking over. Like thoughts of worry, or regret, or even second thoughts at times. Lustful thoughts certainly can be included. Anything that is contrary to God’s will.

And it means letting good thoughts, and specifically, God’s thoughts in, from God’s word, from scripture. Letting them sink in and take over.

But this is not automatic. As the text tells us, it’s up to us. It’s all in the way of wisdom, which is from God (see the link above for more context). In and through Jesus.

hearing (reading) and doing

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 someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 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.

James 1:22-25

One of our biggest challenges as believers in Christ (James 2:1) is put  God’s word into practice. As those who are born from above, we naturally love God’s instruction. And that means that we’ll want to obey it, and will be unhappy, or at least unfulfilled when we don’t. James calls this a deception, actually a self-deception, when we hear or read God’s word, yet don’t put it into practice.

It seems like the fallacy here is to know, but fail to do. We somehow think knowing is enough. To hear and read God’s word is important; we do need to pay close attention to it, just as James says in the passage above. But for James that means, not only to hear it, but do it.

Of course in order to do, we must know what to do. So a certain kind of knowledge precedes doing. We have to be careful here, especially in an age when knowledge seems to be just about everything. It’s not enough to know God’s will. It’s evidently easy to be deceived into thinking that’s enough. At the same time, we need to be in the process of reading and meditating on all of scripture. And basic before that, humbly accepting the word planted in us, which can save us (James 1:21).

And after this, after the passage quoted above, James gives us a word to apply:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion 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 1:26-27

holding on to wisdom

“Now then, my children, listen to me;
    blessed are those who keep my ways.
Listen to my instruction and be wise;
    do not disregard it.
Blessed are those who listen to me,
    watching daily at my doors,
    waiting at my doorway.
For those who find me find life
    and receive favor from the Lord.
But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
    all who hate me love death.”

Proverbs 8:32-36

Lady wisdom speaks to us in Proverbs, in words which we all desperately need. Too often though, we simply think because we read the words, and agree with it in our head, that all is okay. But those words, and that truth must seep into our hearts, and change our lives. And that takes time.

Wisdom is desperately needed all the way around. From the beginning in the reverential fear of God, to the end, and all times in between. We will fail sometimes in following wisdom, and reap something of the consequences, but even then we need wisdom from God to know what to do, and what not to do. Trust in God is paramount, which means depending on both God’s word and God’s Spirit. And being interdependent on God’s people.

We need to seek and embrace wisdom for all it’s worth. This needs to be a passion in our lives. And we’ll find our way to it through utter dependence on God in the midst of real life. Not in a vacuum somewhere off in an ivory tower. God wants to teach us wisdom right where we live, in real life. After all, that’s what wisdom is for.

We need to keep at it, not thinking we will arrive, but in pursuit of it our entire lifetime. Believing that God will faithfully and generously provide it to us as we ask for it as needed (James 1). And finding it most of all in Jesus, who is wisdom from God to us, even in the way of the cross (1 Corinthians 1). For all of us, yes, everyone, in and through Jesus.

in the trouble zone

“Mortals, born of woman,
    are of few days and full of trouble.”

Job 14:1

There is much to ponder and take in from the wisdom of Job. I’m thinking of the book as a whole, but Job’s words here are observant, to say the least. It seems like the goal of most people and much of the advertisement which appeals to us is to arrive to some kind of trouble free existence. But no matter how far science and technology may take us, as well as knowledge that no doubt can help, trouble really awaits us at every turn.

Probably half the battle for us is to accept that reality up front, and learn in a sense to relax in it. Some matters aren’t worth the time of day, nagging problems which we might or might not address at some time, maybe if we’re annoyed enough. But other issues we will be compelled to consider and work on with the knowledge that we may or may not be able to arrive at some satisfactory conclusion except to leave it in God’s hands.

As one work friend used to say: “Do your best and hang the rest.” Basically that’s all we can do. We have to stop thinking the world, or any given matter in it depends on us at all. It’s not like we may not have a role to play, but its outcome is ultimately up to God. That said, we should do what we can to resolve the problems which come our way. And the way everything is, the “honey do” list, or whatever you might call it, will never end. Instead of denying all of this, and retreating into either a disengagement, or even denial of trouble, we should face it. Believing that God can and will give us the wisdom to address it (James 1:2-5). And that the process will even be good. In and through Jesus.

the brokenness of our culture and the church

There isn’t a one of us who doesn’t need the Lord. “People need the Lord.” And we need each other in the Lord. The church is nothing less than the body of Christ. It is supposed to lovingly take care of itself, of its members, through mutual care from the head, Christ. And it’s supposed to, in love, reach out to the world. Christ’s saving and healing presence is primarily through the church, at least in getting through to people, of course through the gospel. But it’s also directly mediated to us by the Spirit.

On Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed, these two posts profoundly address this in much more detail: The Spirit And Discernment (Today) and The Death Of The Church: 1. If you don’t read another line of this post, and read those two, you’ll do well.

I am broken, too, of course. Just as in much need of God’s grace in Jesus from the Spirit, and through others, as anyone else. We can become more and more grounded in our faith and walk. But that doesn’t make us any less dependent on the Lord, and interdependent on each other, for sure.

May God give us the wisdom needed, and discernment to both be receiving the answer for ourselves, and helping others find the same help. In and through Jesus.