Life App - Success
James 1:19 - 27
There are very few constants in our world today. Trends and ideas come and go, styles and fads drift in and out. But one constant we seem to have in our culture is this desire to be successful. You might say that we have a bit of infatuation with this idea of success, how to achieve more, how to become more, and we see it all around us. There is a whole success industry out there. Millions and millions of dollars are spent on books, programs, and seminars helping us to become more successful.
But we come to this critical point in the road and we have to define success. What is success? What does it mean to live a successful life? If you asked 10 people you would most likely get 10 different answers. To some success would mean financial security. They would say being successful means they no longer have to worry about money. Others would say that being a success means that you not only rub elbows with the big wigs, or people think you are a big wig. If you were to ask a parent what they think about when they think of success, they might say that being a success is raising a young man or woman who is respectful, kind, and someone you could be proud of. Some of us think success is simply being better than others at a particular task. You know the folks who out work, out play, out think anybody and everybody so they can be declared the winner.
I have heard this quote a lot of places, but I found it attributed to Bill Cosby: “I don’t know the definition of success but I do know the definition of failure. That’s to try and please everyone.”
We are in a series called Life Apps, a study through the book of James. Today we get to look at what James has to say about being successful. I think James would agree in this sense that success can be found when we try to please one person ultimately, and that is God. In our text for this morning James is going to give us a look at how we can have a successful life. (Read Text)
The first thing that James said is that we have to learn to listen.
We live in a culture where everyone wants to be heard, but so many of us don’t always listen very well. There are so many things calling out for our attention that very often listening becomes quite a challenge. Does this sound like something that happens in your house? Last Tuesday night Trista and I were sitting on the couch; the television was on, I had my phone in my hand, and Trista was telling me about her day. I will admit that I am bad about trying to focus on too many things at one time, I am trying to give attention to Trista, the TV, and my phone. I heard her ask, Jeremy what do I need to do? I had no idea, I didn’t know that we were going to have a question and answer part to this conversation so I wasn’t listening like I should.
You have been there haven’t you? Someone is talking and you are nodding and smiling but really you are daydreaming. You are thinking about supper, or football, or the kids. Or even worse you get fixated on something else or some odd feature about them. And you forget to listen.
Or maybe you listen with your answer running. That is when you get so fixated on what you are going to say, that instead of listening you are waiting to jump in and make your point. I know that listening is hard but James says when we really want to experience success in life we have to learn to listen.
Daniel Goldberg has written that learning to listen is the most important relational skill you can learn. What really bonds two people together is when they feel that they are important enough to be heard. If you really want to win friends and influence people, then exercise your ears. Learn to listen and hear what is going on there. My Pa used to say “The reason we have two ears and one mouth is so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
In life we need to learn to listen before we talk. Proverbs 17:28 says this: “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent and discerning if he holds his tongue.” That is just full of wisdom, everyone will think even the foolish are wise if they can just be quiet. There is some wisdom in listening.
If you really want to be successful in your job, your relationships, really in every area of your life, then learn how to listen to others. James means be prepared to really listen, but it’s not just to other people, James wants us to listen to God. Listen to what He has for us; how He wants us to love forgive, accept, uplift, and encourage others. That’s what ultimate biblical wisdom is about. He says, Be quick to listen.
One of the more common things people tell me, is that they just don’t understand the Bible, or they have a hard time reading it. I always ask them two questions: 1) do you have a translation that you understand? there are some pretty poetic versions out there, but what good is poetry if you miss the point? There are over 75 English translations of the Bible, ranging from a word for word translation like the American Standard and King James versions, to the New Living and New International versions that are a phrase for phrase translation. Find one that you can understand.
Then I ask 2) how long do you spend with the text? The Bible is not literature, but it is great literature. Sometimes you have to read, and dwell, and read, and dwell, and think, and pray over the text Just spend some time with what God is saying so that we can begin to grasp how deep and beautiful His words actually are.
If you want to understand the Bible you need to understand that it’s not just about reading the Bible and trying to get from the beginning of it to the end. We are not trying to get through the Bible, we want to get the Bible through us. Maybe we need to take a passage and put it up on the refrigerator or pin it up on the visor of your car, tape it to your bathroom mirror. Think about it for a week or a month before you move to the next one. Think about the text and let it sink into your life and make a difference there. Really listen to what God is trying to say.
James says if we are going to be successful you must also think before you speak.
James says this in James 1:19 “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” Then you jump down to verse 26 and he comes back to this theme. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue then he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
I love to talk and always have. Growing up, every report card would say the same thing, “Jeremy is a good kid, a smart kid, but he just talks all the time. We can’t get him to be quiet.” One of the pitfalls of talking all the time is that there have been plenty of times when I put my foot in your mouth.
Maybe you can relate? Maybe you have said something that immediately you knew that you would have been better off just being quiet. I have heard people say some of the most hateful, raciest, or rude things only to turn around and say, “I’m not real sure where that came from.” I know where those words came from, Jesus says in Matthew 15:18: But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these defile you. The things you say, reveal the truth about what is going on in your heart. Your words reveal your true character and nature. I can make a lot of assumptions about you as a person, your relationship with God, and your ability to love other people. But when you talk, you tell the truth about what you are really thinking and your words prove the actual intent of your heart.
Far too often we try to excuse ourselves and say that we are not responsible for our words because they were spoken in anger or frustration. That’s why James says, be quick to listen, and slow to speak. You are responsible for what you say, in times of joy or times of anger. There was a little boy begging his mom for ice cream last week in Shop and Save. His mom told him they had ice cream at home and the little boy screamed at her, You make me so angry, I hate you! Now, you and I both know that the mom didn't make him angry, he was angry because he didn’t get his way. His words revealed his immaturity and his desire to be in control. When he realized that he was not in control, he was rude and ugly.
The reason we say rude and mean things to one another is because we have refused to get our attitudes in line with God. James is going to go back to this truth again and again, actually he goes overboard to impress on us that when we lie, gossip, when we are rude to one another, when we back bite or use obscenities, it doesn’t matter what we claim about Jesus, we are telling the truth that our hearts are far from Him. Paul reminds the Christian in Ephesus That some tongues just love the taste of gossip, Christians have better uses for language than that. Don't tell dirty stories, use foul talk, or coarse jokes. That kind of talk doesn't fit our style. A Christian should only speak words of Thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:4 JHV)
James warns us to think before we speak because he knows you cannot be quick tempered and quick to listen at the same time. We can’t be quick tempered and slow to speak at the same time. If I am a quick tempered person then it shows that I am not willing to listen. If I’m quick tempered then I will also be quick to speak. And if I engage my tongue before I engage my ears when my anger flares I am in trouble.
It’s interesting that if we would be quick to hear and slow to speak there would be less anger and heartache in our church, families, communities, and world. If we were quick to hear and slow to speak we would automatically be slow to anger. James knows that when we practice being quick to listen it often takes care of our speech. When you say something it matters. That’s part of what the Bible is getting at in this whole idea of living with wisdom. We need to acknowledge that what we say tells the truth about our hearts, wether we recognize it or not.
Allowing God to alter our attitudes will usually lead to a vocabulary adjustment.
Thirdly we see that James says we must act on what we have heard.
In verse 22 James says “Don’t merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. If anyone listens to the word but doesn’t do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror and after looking at himself he goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
I love that analogy. You look in the mirror and you see yourself. But if you walk away and forget what you look like. That’s what happens when you read the Bible, hear the teaching of God, and then refuse to do what you just read.
The word listen here could also be translated auditor. If you audited a class in college you didn't take it for credit, no tests, no responsibility, no research. You were totally relaxed. You just listened; you didn't have any intention of applying it. Sadly there a lot of folks who try to audit their relationship with God. They come to church, walk in, hear the word of God, walk out with no intention of ever being changed. For years, that described me. I took notes, wrote things down, but I was basically a good person, so what did I need to change? We must respond to God's word, let it change us if we're going to be blessed by it.
James says its self-deception when we don't let it change us. We think that just gaining content is making us spiritually mature. The test of maturity is not knowledge. The test of maturity is character. A lot of people have great Bible knowledge and are still spiritually immature. A mature person is not the one who can quote the most Bible verses, the mature person is the one who has allowed the Bible verses to be applied to their lives.
Because one of the secrets of life is that knowledge increases responsibility. The more we know the more we're accountable for. The more we understand, the more is required of us. We will all have to give an account of what we did with what we knew. Jesus said, "To whom much is given, much is required." And James said, "To him who knows to do good and doesn't do it, it's sin.” Knowledge with out action is just as worthless as action without knowledge.
Let’s say that you guys get concerned about my health. You come to me and say, “Jeremy you are getting a bit older and we would like to keep you around for a while. So we got together and bought you a book. Not just any book but Arnold Schwartzeneger's Bodybuilding Book. Jeremy we believe that this book can change your life, just like it has changed the lives of millions of people. It will keep you strong.
I say, "Thank you, that’s great" I take the book and then 6 months later I'm the same guy. You say, "What happened? Didn't you read the book?" What if I said to you, "I read the book. I enjoyed it. As a matter of fact it is one of the greatest books I've ever read. I loved it. I even underlined portions of it with colored markers and memorized sections of it and every night I would spend a couple hours studying it." But if there was no change in my appearance would you believe me?
I did that for far to long and grew up going to building with folks who did that same thing with the Bible. We give awards for memorizing facts about Scripture, and while we need to mark up our Bibles, it’s all worthless unless we allow our Bibles to leave a mark on our lives. I am not sure it matters how many times you've read through the word of God; what matters is how many times has the Word of God been through you. You've got to be a doer of the word.
I deceived myself in thinking that because I knew facts about the Bible, because I would answer every question in the Bible category on Jeopardy, that I was some how mature. Knowing how to lift weights doesn't produce muscles, and knowing facts about Jesus doesn’t make me faithful.
I have told you before that I like to get to the building early on Sunday mornings. I get here, and walk through the building and pray for you every Sunday. I mention you by name and pray that you will take what you learn here today and put it into practice. I pray that Central will develop the reputation of truly being people who are doers of the word. That we practice what everybody else talks about. That we live it. And for that to happen we have to make some changes. We are going to have got to get serious about living like Christ.
I love this story of Mother Theresa. She is cleaning out the wounds of a person who is sick and dying. It was grotesque. A priest walked by and in a moment of authenticity he said to her, “I don’t think I could do that for a million dollars.” Mother Theresa said, “I couldn’t do it for a million dollars either, but I’ll do it for Jesus.”
If we are going to truly be a Church that lives like Christ we must be a people that live out the Bible and where people are changed. God calls us to talk less and do more. We must let our actions speak louder than our words. Let our actions make the statement about who Christ is and how much He loves people and the difference He wants to make in people’s lives. That’s what God has called us to do.