In yesterday’s post on James 1:21 “In humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”, we discussed welcoming God’s word into your life as your deliverer – to save you from destruction by receiving it and obeying it. We are told to submit to it with humility, putting aside all arrogance and pride. In today’s text, we are further instructed that hearing His Word is not enough, but we need to apply His Word to our lives. When we look at the Word of God we must look at it with an eye to putting the Word into practice in our lives. Listening to the Word and knowing what it says is not enough if our lives are not changed as a result. For if we only hear the Word of God and never put it into practice, we have deceived ourselves. Faith is not effectual if it does not produce obedience. This obedience flows from true faith but does not earn our justification. Rather, obedience to the Word of God demonstrates that the faith we claim to have is true faith.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:22-25 NIV)
“But be you doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any is a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was. But whoever looks into the perfect Law of liberty, and continues therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” (James 1:22-25 KJV)
JAMES has no speculations. “By their fruits you shall know them,” seems to have taken possession of his mind and he is always demanding practical holiness. He is not satisfied with the buds of hearing— he wants the fruits of obedience! In verses 23–25, James draws a contrast between the “doers of the word” and those who hear it only. The hearers are like those who look into a mirror and then forget what they have just seen (vv. 23–24). But the doer is blessed because he looks into the Law and does not forget but acts (v. 25). The contrast here between the hearer and the doer is that the doer remembers the “law of liberty.” Only those who look at the Word and submit to it will be blessed. Those who take only a passing glance at it and are unconcerned with how the Word must inform their actions are like those who look into a mirror and go away, not embracing the opportunity to act upon what they have seen.
In this passage, James refers to several types of “hearers”.
- THE UNBLESSED HEARER – They are hearers, but they are described as hearers who are not doers. They hear—some of them pretty regularly, others of them only now and then just to while away an hour—and they hear with considerable attention because they appreciate good speaking. They have heard a sermon on repentance, but they have not repented. The knowledge that there is a shelter from the storm will not save the ship from the storm. The information that there is a cure for a disease will not make the sick man whole. No, gifts must be grasped, blessings must be appropriated and made use of if they are to be of any value to us.
- HEARERS WHO DECEIVE THEMSELVES – They thought they were considerably better for being hearers—much to be commended and sure to get a blessing! The Gospel does not deceive you! It tells you, “You must be born again, you must believe in Jesus Christ or be lost.” You deceive yourselves if, being hearers and not doers, you are comforted from what you hear but don’t act upon. To see yourself as God would have you see yourself in the mirror of Scripture is something, but you must afterwards go to Christ for cleansing or your looking is superficial. “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” (Mark 8:18)
- FORGETFUL HEARERS – The text accuses these persons of being hasty hearers—“he beholds himself and goes his way.” They hear a sermon and they are off! These hearers are not receiving God’s implanted Word. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
- BLESSED HEARERS – Such an individual hears intently and earnestly, laying his soul open to the influences of the Truth of God, desiring to feel its holy power and to practice its Divine commands. That is the right kind of hearer—an earnest listener whose senses are all awakened to receive and retain all that can be learned. A hearer who desires a blessing looks closely into the Word of God. He is sacredly curious! He enquires. He pries. He asks all those who should know. He likes to get with old Christians to hear of their experiences. He loves to compare spiritual things with spiritual—to dissect a text and see how it stands in relation to another—and to its own parts, for he is in earnest when he hears the Word. The hearer who obtains a blessing, first gives his whole heart up to attention and afterwards keeps his heart saturated with the Truth by an earnest, diligent, searching study of it! And so, by the Spirit’s teaching, he discovers what is the mind of God to his soul. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) Looking so steadily he discovers that the Gospel is a Law of liberty. Blessed is the condition of those who are free from the Law of Moses and have come under Law to Christ who emancipates the soul from every form of bondage! There is no freedom like the liberty of holiness, the liberty to draw near to God!
If you hear the Gospel and it does not bless you, hear it again. If you have read the Word of God and it has not saved you, read it again. It is able to save your soul! Have you been searching through one gracious, earnest Book and did it not seem to fit your circumstances? Try another. If men would search for salvation as they search after hidden treasure it would not be long before they found it! “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
How do you look at the Law? Do you go to Scripture with an eye for how it may change your life? If not, you are in danger of being a hearer only. Look at your life today, and begin to take steps to obey the Word in those places where you have not been obedient. Our text does not say that such a man is blessed for the deed, but it says that such a man is blessed in the deed. He who does what God bids him shall not be blessed for it, but he shall be blessed in it. The happy result will come to us in the act of obedience. May God grant you Grace, whenever the Gospel is preached, to stir yourself up with the energy which God’s Spirit infuses into you and say, “I will do it. I will not dream about it, or talk about it, or question about it, or say I will do it and put it off, but now, at once, the act commanded shall be done.” Pause and consider what God, the Lord, sets before you. Be a doer of the work. Do what God bids you.
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (Luke 6:46-49) Is there anything specific you have heard from the Word that you need to do?
Our quest for wisdom is to be rooted in Scripture and covered in prayer. But don’t overlook the many lessons unfolding right outside the front door. Ask God for “eyes to see” (Mark 8:18). Then take every chance to grow in understanding so your capacity to live by His principles will be strengthened.
- My notes from Bible Study “Faith: A Bible Study on James for Women“
- Life Application Study Bible (NIV)
- Two Sorts of Hearers by Charles Spurgeon
- Doers of the Word
- Go to the Ant