“Is your Worship Worthless?”
Passage: James 1:22-27
February 9, 2020 Evening Service
Faith Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA
Pastor Nathaniel H. Gutiérrez
Please turn in your Bibles to James 1:22-27
(ESV p. 1011 in the pew bibles)
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
James 1:26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Everyone appreciates a doctor who has good bedside manner, who takes your feelings into account as he delivers his analysis and conclusions. Often these kind of doctors are the ones we recommended to friends and family. But there are also other kinds of doctors who just rip off the band aid and tell it to you straight. While we might not appreciate the lack of tactfulness, we might appreciate the directness.
James is like that second doctor. He goes straight for the jugular of the problem and he makes no effort to sugar-coat the news.
The section we are about to study has been described by some, as “a fierce hurricane from start to finish.” Others say that James’…..words are so sharp, so black and white, that they leave no middle ground for a moderate religion or a spirit of self-excuse.
The reason people say this is because James is on a mission to correct false notions of worship. He wants people to know that a holy God requires holy worship. If we are to be his children, we must worship him as he commands.
And God commands us to worship him with hymns and praise, AND he also calls us to worship him in all arenas of our lives. This is not unique to James, for Jesus himself says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.” Paul echoes these ideas when he calls us to present our bodies as living sacrifices as part of our Spiritual act of worship (Romans 12.1). Here in this passage James lets us know that if we are to truly worship God, the way he desires, then we must worship God with our listening, our speaking and our serving as well.
But as I mentioned before, James doesn’t sugarcoat it. He gives it to us straight. Not only does he tell us that we are to worship God in all arenas of life, but he goes a step further to say, if you aren’t doing that, then your worship is false. Your religion is false. Your worship is worthless.
Another way to summarize what James is saying is this:
- If you hear God’s word Sunday after Sunday and make no changes in your life, then Your Worship is Worthless – it is not genuine.
- If you sing hymns to God, but then slander those around you with an unbridled tongue, James says, “Your Worship is Worthless.” You are fooling yourself.
- If you are a kind person to those around you, and yet you do not visit orphans and widows in their affliction, James says, “Your Worship is Worthless.”
This passage is a punch in the gut to those of us who feel like we are doing pretty well in our worship and Christian life. Confronted with these hard words, we must answer the question: How can we go from this Worthless Worship to truly Worthy Worship?
We can move to Worthy Worship in the ways James highlights in these verses: Through
- Godly repentance,
- Godly speech and
- Godly service.
If we seek to worship God in all areas of life, we must worship him with:
- Godly repentance
James 1:22 begins this way:
“22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
Key to understanding this section of James is to understand what he is talking about when he mentions this mirror.
Let me use this example to illustrate:
Before digital cameras and photo editing software, it was much more difficult to create an image of yourself that looked just the way you wanted.
Photoshop, filters, angles and distance can now create a look that you can be happy with. We touch up, we edit, we sort through our photos and we choose our best to display to others. I don’t know anyone who intentionally looks for their worst photos to display. No, we only display our best photos.
Well, over time, we begin to persuade ourselves that, “hey, we don’t look so bad. In fact, I look pretty good.”
That is, until that moment when someone takes a candid photo of you when you weren’t ready, when you were having a bad hair day and were tired and wearing something unflattering.
Truly, unedited candid photos are like mirrors. They show us what we really look like. We can replace those unflattering photos with ones that we like, but the “real us” is not so put together. To try to convince ourselves otherwise is an attempt to lie to ourselves. To deceive ourselves.
In this passage, James wants us to consider this question: Do you photoshop your Christianity? Do you allow yourself to only see the better snapshots of your faith?
When you slip up and do something you aren’t proud of, do you cover that up with better moments? Do you cover up all that is unpleasant in life, to appear better to yourself and others?
In v. 23 James uses a mirror to explain this. Like a candid snapshot, mirrors reveal the truth about us. We can’t edit the reflection of a mirror. But one way we can edit the truth that is revealed to us in a mirror is to forget about the reflection, or to ignore it.
To ignore something is to pretend like what you saw wasn’t that bad, and that it was actually pretty good if you compare it to other things.
But the reason we look at a mirror is to fix something that might be off, not to be ignorant about it. After all, we can’t see ourselves for who we are without a mirror. We can’t see our blind spots.
In v. 25, James says that in the same way we look at a mirror, we must also look into God’s law and word and see how we measure up. We need to look at his word to see what is reflected back and how we need to change. Up against God’s word, we are confronted with all our sins and deficiencies. We see where we have allowed certain sins to grow like weeds, or we see sins that were in our blind spot.
But the problem is, in the same way that no one likes to see candid photos of themselves, no one likes to see their natural face in the mirror of God’s word either.
So we read God’s word, or we hear preaching and feel rebuked by it, but then we walk out the door and make no practical steps to change. We forget.
This is what James calls Worthless Worship.
If you come to hear God’s word, are convicted by it by the power of the Holy Spirit and feel remorse for your sin….but then do nothing to CHANGE…..then you are deceiving yourself.
Listening is a good first step. It is half the battle, but without the other half, it is worthless. In the same way talking to a specialist about a health issue is a good first step, if you do not act on their assessment, the visit proves worthless.
When God’s word shows you the sins in your life (as with a mirror) through a message preached, or a passage read, or a conversation had, we cannot merely tuck it away. We must write it down. Read it again. Pray over it. Dwell on it and do something about it.
We must ACT on God’s word.
May we not deceive ourselves into thinking that somehow we are changing by sitting in these pews. We must repent of our sins and obey the preached word.
Do not walk away this evening without taking this message to heart. Listen to James 1:22 – and “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” And offering God worship that is worthless.
For if you want to offer true and genuine worship, your obedience and humility are essential. V. 25 says, “but the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
We see then, that in order to offer true worship, we must hear God’s word and act upon it. We must take his word to heart and repent from our sins. To go on living in sin is to offer worthless worship. To live a life stained by this world, to adopt this worldly culture as our own is to offer worship to the prince of this world.
Look intently into the mirror of God’s word, brothers and sisters, and when you see where you need to change, take action.
This is part of our worship, is looking at how we speak and taking action against an unbridled tongue.
- If we seek to worship God in all areas of life, we must also worship him with
One of the most entertaining moments I’ve had with our children is when they are trying to convince us that they are not tired. Usually they are powering through yawns and sleepy-talk as they say these words and are falling asleep even as they utter them. You see them fighting it. They are convinced, and want you to be convinced, that they are truly not tired, but we all see it. They are tired. They are unaware, they are falling asleep. They don’t realize it, but you could say they are self-deceived.
In a similar way, James’ calls the church-going man or woman with an unbridled tongue a self-deceiver. He says, “if you think you are righteous, but you gossip, slander, and speak unwholesomely, and come to church and sing hymns thinking all the while that you are worshipping God…know your religion is worthless.”
Your worship is worthless, because your words are actually a reflection of the unrepentant sin that is in your heart. You are only fooling yourself if you think that you can say one thing in secret and another thing at church. To think that is to deceive yourself.
I remember one day in college, when my wife and I were just starting to be interested in each other, she showed up at one of my soccer games and was watching. I was flattered, until later she admitted that part of why she was there was because she knew that competitive sports often reveal people’s true colors. She wanted to see what was in my heart. She wanted to see if my attitude around her matched who I truly was in the heat of a competitive soccer game.
You see the heart is revealed in the heat of a moment, and it is also revealed through our words. Listen to Jesus in Luke 6:45:
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
So in saying these words, Jesus and James are telling us that our words matter, because they are a reflection of our hearts – who we are. If our words are ungodly, then our hearts must not be as holy as we thought. If they are not as holy as we think, then God’s word is revealing that to us this evening.
James says, “Look into that mirror and see your sin and do something about it.” Bridle your tongue.
Now, if you are like me, perhaps you are thinking of all the other people you know who have “a mouth like a sailor”. People who cannot stop cursing or who insert an unwholesome comment whenever the opportunity presents itself. We can each probably think of three or four people who could really benefit from bridling their tongue.
And yet, God brought you to church here this evening. He has you listening. You and I are the target of this message here tonight. So what is God’s mirror telling you?
Maybe you have a Sailor’s mouth, or maybe you don’t. But can you truly say you have been worshipful with your words?
An unbridled tongue, while including the obvious words you can think of, also includes words that are used for evil or ungodly purposes. For the manipulation and control of others. Again, before you lean over to elbow your spouse, remember that God is holding up this mirror for you too.
How do you use your words with your spouse?
Do you use your words aggressively to inflict harm upon them? Or,
Do you withhold your words to passive aggressively withhold reconciliation?
Or, do you use your words behind their back to slander and destroy them?
It is easy for our minds to drift toward the ways others have harmed us, but the point of a mirror, the point of you coming to church and hearing the word of God is so that you can see your reflection against his holy word. How are you using your words for evil against your spouse? Are you manipulative? Do you control with your words? Are you cleverer or faster with your words? Using your words for these means and letting your tongue go unbridled in this area is something God is calling you to account for this evening.
What about parents? Are we careless with our words to or about our children? Rather than deal with a problem appropriately and in a godly manner worship God with your words, do we use words with our children that will destroy them? Do we crush them with a single word?
How much of the pain adults feel today is due to the way that parents spoke to them in their childhood? How many times have we yelled, “be quiet!” “go away” or fill in the blank__________? Do we label our children? Do we say things that will stick with them for years, good or bad? We need to be thoughtful about these things and know that will be responsible for our careless words.
What about children? We are all children. Do you honor your father and mother? Do you speak respectfully to them and about them? How do you use your words to glorify God when you disagree with your parents or are frustrated with them? Is your tongue bridled, or do you mutter things under your breath or as you leave the room in anger?
The list goes on…we use words in traffic, with employees, with employers, with siblings and with authorities. We use words with customers and clients. What do the words you type in forums, chats, social media and search engines look like? Do you have room to repent there?
Think of the words you expose yourself to as well. In the music you choose to listen to, the shows, the books you read, the memes, the magazines and the podcasts. All of these words matter and influence you with their words?
It is common to think of our words as not being as important in the grand scheme of things. Our words, insults, gossip and unwholesome talk is something we laugh about with one another, because they are known as “acceptable sins.” We joke that we are “sharing prayer requests” (and laugh knowingly) when we know it is really an opportunity to pass along a juicy morsel of gossip.
But when God gave Israel the 10 commandments, two of which explicitly forbid careless use of our words, he did not consider it a subject of laughter. We ought to reconsider how seriously we take these commandments. How lax we have become with these two commandments.
Do you use God’s name in vain? Do you slander others behind their backs?
John Calvin points out that people seek to flatter themselves by speaking evil of others. If that is true, then we highlight other people’s errors, inadequacies, problems, looks, failures and problems so that other people will think more highly of us.
We are called not only to bridle our tongue against gossip, but we are also called to speak the truth and silence gossip. Are we using our words for good? Are we speaking the truth when lies are being propagated?
What of words of omission? Unsaid Words?
It was 20 years ago, but it still feels like yesterday. I was 18 years old and I had invited my manager to go to church with me. She accepted and when she went to church that Sunday we ran into someone she recognized.
She stopped and with unbelief in her voice said, “Wait a minute! You’re a Christian?! You have known me for years. You see me all the time and you have never once invited me to come to church with you?!”
This poor lady laughed embarrassingly as she escaped from that awkward moment as quickly as she could.
Krabbendam says, “The lack of good works is just as intolerable as the presence of evil works.”
We need to better understand how evil works and the lack of good works (sins of commission and sins of omission) are both intolerable to God. Oh that we would repent of our sins as Bishop Usher did when “he wept on this death bed about the immense extent of his sins, not of commission, but of omission!”
If we seek to worship God in all areas of life, then we must repent of our lack of holy speech and our lack of good speech when it is required of us! We must repent and speak truth.
God calls us to worship him through godly repentance, through godly speech and he also calls us to worship him through godly service.
- If we seek to worship God in all areas of life, we must worship him with
The call for godly service is also part of our true worship. God calls us to serve the helpless, the orphans and the widows.
- 27 of James tells us that true religion is to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
To be stained by the world is to have your comfort, your priorities and your needs put before the needs of others. The stain of the world is to have their priorities rub off on us – as we embrace a man-centered, selfish lifestyle.
To be counter cultural, to keep yourself unstained from the world, is to follow Jesus’ command, to love your neighbor as yourself. To love others the way the Father has loved you.
James calls us not just to serve one another, though other places in Scripture clearly call for that, but rather to help the helpless. To visit those helpless orphans and widows in their affliction. This is the hard work of worship – sacrificial worship.
Digging deeper into the meaning of the word “visit” in James’ letter I realized quickly that “visiting the orphan and the widow in their affliction” does not actually mean that we are only called to visit and drink tea with them (not that there is anything wrong with that) but it also means something much greater. The word “visit” also captures the idea of “looking after” or “going to visit with helpful intent.” The idea is to care for, to love to serve those who are in affliction. Worshipping God means caring for those in affliction.
This is what it means to remain unstained by the world. It means that you don’t put yourself first, but you put others – helpless others – first.
A 30 second search on foster care revealed this information regarding Washington’s children:
“There are 10,068 children in foster care in Washington; 2,167 of these children are waiting for adoptive families.
Most of the children awaiting adoption reside in foster care. Some are in group homes. They are mostly school age children. Some are part of a sibling group and need to be adopted together. Some are part of a racial, ethnic, or cultural minority. All have suffered major losses because they had to be removed from their birth family.” 
A brief meeting with Youth for Christ this week revealed to me that there is a waiting list of youth who come from troubled families, difficult backgrounds and who are actively asking for mentoring relationships through YFC.
Across the street from us on 6th Avenue, in Remann Hall, a Juvenile Detention Center, there is ministry that we can get involved with. Women 25 years old and up are needed in Youth for Christ’s drop in center for teens who are impacted by sex trafficking and abuse.
The homes of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz, a Christian Transitional Home with whom we as a church have a very close relationship helps single women, and their children, families and men and women who are transitioning out of jail, homelessness and more to transform their lives. 
CareNet, with whom we as a church also have an incredibly close and important ministry, helps the unborn and women who are in affliction. It has numerous ways to get involved and help those in need. Getting involved CareNet is probably one of the most direct ways you can help right now.
Better English on 6th, our local ESL ministry which averages 40 international students, is easy to get involved with and is a unique way to help the foreigners in our midst. 
Tacoma Rescue Mission, Progress House, Safe Families and so many more.
If you look in the mirror of Scripture and find you are not worshipping God with godly service and want to make a change, these are some of the ways you can get involved. You don’t need to travel across the world to serve. You can do it here at church, here in Tacoma and even in your own home.
True worship of God requires sacrifice. Sacrificing the comforts of our lives, our time and our comfort level to help those who are in affliction.
Again, James is not alone in his exhortation. Jesus, in Mt. 25:31 reminds us of what it will be like when he comes:
Matt. 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
This is true religion my brothers and sisters. To worship God with godly service.
To conclude, the message we are given in this passage is that our worship to God is so much more than singing hymns. Our worship must encompass all of our life. There is no area that of our life that should remain unchanged in our worship to God.
So beginning with godly repentance, may we offer up godly speech and godly service in worship of God.
For the Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows has called us to himself (Ps. 68.5), he chose us to be adopted as his own. “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God, and that is what we are! Our Father sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into this world not just to visit us in our affliction, but to rescue us from our certain death and condemnation. To redeem us and give us life.
In worshipping God in these ways that James has outlined for us this evening, we imitate God himself as we extend aid to the helpless in our world. We follow fully in the footsteps of our Father who adopted us as his children through the blood of Jesus our redeemer.
This sermon series draws on material from:
Adamson, James B. The Epistles of James. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976.
Bauer, Walter; Danker, Frederick W; F Arndt, William. BDAG: A Greek – English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.
Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Editors, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1989.
Kistemaker, Simon J. James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. NTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007.
Krabbendam, Henry. The Epistle of James: Tender Love in Tough Pursuit of Total Holiness. Germany: Martin Bucer Seminar, 2006.
Moo, Douglas J. The Letter of James. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000.
Morris, Leon. Tyndale New Testament Commentary: Revelation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987.
 Henry Krabbendam, 458, 461.
 John Calvin, 299.
 Krabbendam, 456.
 BDAG: A Greek – English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition.
Visit https://www.olivecrest.org/ for a faith-based Foster and Adoption agency in Tacoma.
 Douglas Moo, 97.