19 My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you. 22 But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works—this person will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Yesterday we came to understand that God’s intent is to transform us by His Word, which is truth. We ended our study with an important question: Once I understand the truth, what should I do? James is concerned that his congregation takes this question seriously. He begins by telling them (and us) why we should take the Word so seriously: When it takes root in us, it is able to save us (vs. 21). That word “save” means “make you whole.” Psalm 19:7 (MSG) puts it this way: “The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together.” BUT, James is careful to point out, only if we become doers, not just hearers. Hearing always requires a response.
James paints with a powerful word picture here. A man looks into a mirror and sees (literally) “the face he was born with.” He walks away and forgets what he looks like. As I woman, can I tell you: a woman would never do this! A woman looks carefully into a mirror. She studies her face and notices every flaw. If there is something amiss—and we usually find something amiss with the face we were born with—she does something about it before she walks away.
Let’s take a closer look at the language James uses. A man looks into the mirror in verse 23-24. The Greek word here is more precisely translated “glances” or “observes.” It’s a quick glance, but he notices something about himself. Yet he walks away and forgets what he noticed. That’s often our response to the Scripture we read or hear. We notice something important to God, or notice something about ourselves, but we forget and move on. Nothing changes. This is what Jesus meant when He warned, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
But a Doer of the word is one who looks intently (vs. 25). This Greek word literally means “stoops down.” And this is our proper response to the Word. We stop. We stoop down. We look closer. We examine. And we do something about what we discover. “Now that you know these things,” Jesus told His disciples, “you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)
Bible study is like looking into a two-way mirror. In the Scriptures we meet God and learn His nature, His ways and His purpose. But the Scriptures also show us our own reflection. In the stories of people very much like us, we recognize our own behaviors, our own fears, our own “natural face.” Sometimes we hesitate to dig deeply into the Word because we don’t want to be shown these things about ourselves, or we are afraid of what obeying the Word will require of us.
The enemy uses shame and fear to keep us from digging deeply into God’s Word. Just like Adam and Eve in Eden, we end up hiding from God, rather than walking closely with Him and enjoying the grace-filled loving relationship we were created for. We’ve already talked about spending time with God, meeting Him in the Scripture. In those pages, we will meet a God who deeply loves us. How do we love Him back?
“If you love me, you will keep my commands.” (John 14:15) Why not focus on how you can demonstrate your love for Christ, rather than on how hard it is to obey? Doing what Jesus taught is how we show Him that we love Him.
Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount: “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention”(Matt 7:13-14 MSG).
Here are some ways to stoop down and give careful attention to God’s Word:
Before you begin to hear or read the Scripture, pray. Three helpful prayers that open your heart to obedience:
- Show me.
- Teach me.
- Help me.
- God always answers these prayers. So as the Word takes root in you, make note of what God is showing you or teaching you. What do you need help with? Understanding? Applying? Obeying? Keep asking Him to help you. Remember that James challenges us to become a doer. Obedience is a life-long process.
- Hebrews 4:12 tells us “the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.” Just as you keep a list of what you learn about God, begin making note of what you learn about yourself. What is the Word revealing? What are your reactions? What adjustments are required from you in order to obey?
- The Bible is the best commentary on itself. After your first “glance” at a passage, go back and look intently by following the cross-references. What do other parts of Scripture say about this? Where and when was God speaking in these cross-references? Who was He speaking to? How did they respond? Did they hear and obey, or not? What were the results? How should you respond?