I am curious: When you look at a Bible, what do you see? That is, what does it mean to you? Do you see a dry, historical book? Do you see a collection of myths and fairy tales? Do you see some inspirational stories and sayings, a la Chicken Soup for the Soul? Do see the very thoughts and heartbeat of God? Do you see spiritual nourishment?
Throughout history countless Christians have seen the Holy Scriptures as powerful because they lead people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The parable of the growing seed in Mark 4 captures this idea: “A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” The seed of God’s word has inherent power to touch hearts and change lives.
That’s why the Apostle James, the brother of Jesus, instructed Christians to “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (James 1:21). This means Christians must ingest/digest/fully absorb God’s word. It must become our spiritual nourishment. When Jesus was tempted in the Judean wilderness, he said “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
But receiving the word is not enough. James says that Christians must also “Do what it says” (James 1:22). Thus a mature Christian community receives and obeys God’s word. James gives us two reasons why obedience is crucial: negatively, if you fail to obey, you are like a person who looks in a mirror and forgets what you look like. Positively, James says if you obey, you will be blessed, which means God favors you, he smiles at you, which in turn makes you feel happy.
Then in James 1:26-27, James outlines three specific ways Christians can obey God’s word in community. First, control your tongue. I paraphrase it this way: “Control your chops so you don’t chomp a chunk.” Controlling our mouths is crucial to having healthy relationships. For example, Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist and professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle, spent over twenty years studying what makes marriages last. He could predict which couples would divorce with 91% accuracy. What Dr. Gottman discovered was that in functional marriages there are five times as many positive interactions as negative interactions. This ratio of five to one can predict whether the couple has a stable marriage or is headed for divorce. The tongue is powerful!
Second, care for orphans and widows. One of the strengths of the Christian faith is its long-standing history of caring for the weak and vulnerable. In his book The Rise of Christianity, historian Rodney Stark details how Christianity exploded from the second to fourth centuries: as plagues swept through the Roman Empire, the pagans threw their sick into the streets, while the Christians took them in and cared for them, even sacrificing their own lives. Emperor Julian, who tried to revive paganism around 360AD, found Christian compassion galling: “It is disgraceful that…while the impious Galileans [Christians] support both their own poor and ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us!”
The legacy continues even today: perhaps you have seen the headlines involving Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol who contracted Ebola serving the poor in West Africa. True Christians have always cared for those in need. But you don’t have to travel to West Africa to help the poor. In our community there are many needs. Don’t know where to start? Donate one hour a month to a local soup kitchen through the Community Meal Network. For more info contact your local clergyperson or email the director Roland Chase at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Third, cast off the world’s pollution. Clearly, if Christians focus their attention on receiving God’s word, controlling their tongue and caring for the needy, it will be much harder for the world to pollute us!
If you are thinking, “all this is way too hard to do!” Think upon the brother of James, a man named Jesus Christ. He received and obeyed the Scriptures. On the cross he blessed and forgave his enemies. Throughout his life he cared for the poor, and he died having lived a sinless life. If you’re a Christian, he lives in you and his power will activate your faith.