The Book of James, Part 15:
The Distinctivenesss of True Disciples: We Need to Listen

Today we start into the section of James where he describes as "The Distinctives Of True Disciples".

What is distinctive about true disciples of Jesus?

How do you define what it means to be a Christian?

It's an interesting question, isn't it? It may surprise you to find that Jesus never talked about being a Christian. He spoke in terms of being His disciple. Consider the frequency of use of the following words in the NT:

Disciples250+ times(only in the Gospels and Acts)
Brethrenabout 200 times    (mostly in Acts and the letters)
Believers    12 times(in Acts and the letters)
Saints60+ times(mostly in the letters)
Christians3 times(Acts 11:26, 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16)

So maybe a better question is, what does it mean to be Jesus' disciple? David Wells writes:
"True conversion is not an isolated experience but one that is related to a life of discipleship. It is the point in time and experience at which we enter into such a life. Discipleship belongs to and should follow from conversion the way that natural life belongs to and should follow from live birth. Just as there is no life without birth, so there is no birth without an ensuing life, however long or short that life may be. And just as there is no discipleship without conversion, so there is no conversion without an ensuing life of discipleship that involves growth in moral maturity, a deepening faith, and loving service."
Jesus repeatedly said that our response to His words was a clear indication of whether or not we are truly His disciples. Consider the following verses: James places the same emphasis in the passage we are studying, starting back with verse 21: In these five verses (1:21-25), there are four direct references to God's Word (v.21,22,23,25).

Discipleship, according to both Jesus and to James, revolves around our response to His Word. And this will be the focus of our study for the next few lessons.

Here are some great quotes about God's Word and discipleship:

George Gallup, the famous pollster, is a committed Christian who was recently interviewed by Leadership magazine. Leadership asked Gallup whether any of his poll results had surprised him. "Oh yes," he answered. "I'm amazed at the low level of Bible knowledge. It's shocking to see that only 42 percent know that Jesus was the one who delivered the Sermon on the Mount . . . Are they reading the Bible? From our studies, the Bible is clearly not being read. It's revered, but not read."

"Revered but not read" -- That statement has the ring of truth to it, doesn't it? But James makes it clear that a commitment to being Jesus' disciple means a commitment to His words.

Howard Hendricks writes, "Dusty Bibles lead to dirty lives." He goes on to say, "Though the Bible is the most sold book in the world, it is also one of the most neglected."

This quote really relates to our study this week:  the importance of knowing and doing what God has said in His Word.

William Barclay writes:

"It's possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple; to be a camp-follower without being a soldier of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one's weight. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, 'So-and-so tells me that he was one of your students.' The teacher answered devastatingly, 'He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.' There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that in the Church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.'"
Our German buddy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: "If we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer this question we shall have to go to Him, for only He knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ who bids us follow Him, knows the journey's end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy."

The passage we're studying this week is a passage about being Christ's disciple. The truths and applications are simple - not easy but simple. We're going to consider four applications that God wants us to make -- four  applications that are essential to discipleship and that all relate to our response to God's Word.

  1. We Need To Listen
  2. We Need To Learn
  3. We Need To Live It
  4. We Need To Be Lights
    1. We Need To Listen.    v.22    Do not merely listen to the word...
   v.23    Anyone who listens to the word...
   v.25    ...not forgetting what he has heard...

Though these verses emphasize that listening is not enough, they also emphasize that listening is the first step. Listening to God is important. Although God may speak to us in many ways, here the focus is on His Word. That means we listen either by reading what He says to us or by hearing someone teach His Word to us.

We've all heard the paging service in an airport, "Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Mahatma Gandhi, please go to the nearest white paging telephone." This drones on and on and eventually you just tune it out completely. In fact, I've heard of people who were actually paged but never heard the page. Why don't we listen? Because we always assume the voice is speaking to someone else.

If we're not careful, we do the same thing with God. We read the Bible but don't consider that these words are addressed to me.

There's an interesting story on this subject found in 1 Samuel 3:1-10. Samuel is still a child and one night He hears God calling out his name. He doesn't know who it is, so he goes to his guardian, Eli. Eli recognizes that the God is speaking to Samuel and this is what he says:

'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'.  Let's see what we can learn about listening to God from these words.

"Speak"a prayer, a request for God to speak to us.
Open my eyes, that I may behold
Wonderful things from Your law. --Psalm 119:18
"Lord"reminds us of His authority over us;
He speaks as our Lord
"Your servant"     listen as a servant; listen as His servant     
"is"present tense; I'm listening now
(not sometime in the past or future)
"listening"active, focused

Someone has said that "the first duty of love is to listen." If this is true in our relationships with people how much more is it true in our relationship to God? A great illustration of this truth is moms and babies. Have you ever been in a room with a bunch of people when a baby cries? What happens? One mother will jump up and say something like, "I think that's my baby", and head to the nursery. How is it that a mother can recognize the cry of her baby as distinct from all the other babies? She has learned to listen to the voice of her child. And that's our job in reverse! Our responsibility is to learn to listen for and to our Father.

What can make it hard for us to "hear" what God is saying to us?

A man named M. J. Adler wrote a book entitled, How To Read A Book. In this, he makes the following observation:
"The one time people read for all they are worth is when they are in love and are reading a love letter. They read every word three ways. They read between the lines and the margins. They read the whole in terms of the parts, and each part in terms of the whole. They grow sensitive to context and ambiguity [what did he/she mean by that??], to insinuation and implication. They perceive the color of words, the order of phrases, and the weight of sentences. They may even take the punctuation into account. Then, if never before or after, they read carefully and in depth."
Isn't that great? This is how we should read the Bible! And consider the implications of this analogy of the love letter -- the greater our love for the writer, the greater our preoccupation will be with the writer's writings. So what does your attitude toward the Bible say about the measure of your love for the Lord?

Look back over the verses in this passage that refer to listening, and what truth do you see God emphasizing?

   v.22    Do not merely listen to the word...
   v.23    Anyone who listens to the word...
   v.25    ...not forgetting what he has heard...

The point God is making is clear - listening alone is not enough. In fact, James 1:22 tells us that people who just listen are only fooling themselves. What do you think this means? In what ways are "listeners only" fooling themselves?

Listening to God is important, very important. But it's only a beginning not an end.


Remember that at the beginning of this lesson, we made the point that:

  1. We Need To Listen
  2. We Need To Learn
  3. We Need To Live It
  4. We Need To Be Lights
We dealt with the listening part, but we still need to learn, live and light up.


Next week:

...we will pick up this same passage and see if we can internalize those concepts also.


This week, read James chapter 1 again. See if your life exhibits the attributes that make Christians distinctive, as James describes them.