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James 1:22-24: Practicing the Word

James has just charged his readers to receive (welcome) God’s Word of Truth. In this section he elaborates on what it means to receive the Word, showing that genuine acceptance of the Word is marked by practicing the Word. To fall short of achieving that objective is to delude one's self into saying, “I'm okay.” The analyst would have us say, “I’m O.K, you’re O.K.”, but the truth is I’m not O.K., and you’re not O.K., but Jesus says, “That’s O.K. I’ve got you covered!” The reality of one's faith (that he really is "Okay" with God!) is demonstrated by one's obedient life! In short, James says that our hearing must be balanced with and backed up by our doing.

It’s always profitable to be exposed to God’s word! Sometimes the motive isn’t pure, but God’s word will break through any resistance! “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void (useless, without result), but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 NLT).

Why do people go to church?

Some go just to please mom and dad, husband-wife or children. I’ve actually heard people say, “My grandmother would turn over in her grave if I didn’t go to church.”

Some just go on special days. Dr. Combs, the pastor who led me to Christ called them “C” and “E” Christians…Christmas and Easter. He would wish people Merry Christmas as they were leaving from the Easter service. I read about a church in the Midwest that had an attendance of about 40 people, but they were famous for their once-a-year chicken-noodle dinners, when more than 500 attended. The next Sunday they were back down to 40.

Some go to ridicule. When I was a boy, my friends and I used to go to this full-gospel church and laugh, be disruptive and in general make fun of everything. The church had an orphanage, so there were girls! Need I say more?

Some young people, needing a preacher to perform their marriage ceremony, will go to church until after the wedding.

Some have gone to church as spies, taking down every word preached, so they may find something with which to charge the pastor. This is going to be happening more frequently in the Politically Correct world of today.

But anyone who comes near to the fire of the word of God, even with bad intentions, may find themselves overcome by its heat!

Hugh Latimore, 19th century preacher, tells the story of a woman who couldn’t sleep for many nights, even through the use of drugs. She asked to be taken to church, because she had often enjoyed a quiet slumber during the sermon. He went on to say, “Even if people came to a sermon to sleep, it is better than not coming at all, for they might be caught napping.”

When people come to where gospel arrows are being shot, they will more than likely be hit by them. There are countless illustrations of people who were within the sound of the gospel and became believers. One of my former seminary students told me that when I was preaching in college chapel years ago an electrician, working in the building heard the message and accepted Christ.

In my own personal experience, Marlena took me to a rather liberal church, where I heard preaching, but I didn’t hear the gospel. Then when we went to the Olivet Baptist church in Lynwood, California, Dr. Combs preached the word, eventually resulting in my salvation. The truth is the very first time I heard the gospel, I was saved, shortly thereafter.

Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…”

Hebrews 4:12 MSG, “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.”

In Verse 21 James told us to “…receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Now that we have received the word, and our salvation is secure, it’s time to get to work.

Verse 22: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

My friend, Pastor A.C. Janney used to say, “A praying knee and going foot both grow on the same leg.”

In Luke 11:28 Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” And in John 15:17, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

The word “doers” is taken from the Greek word poietes, meaning, “to do, to make, to accomplish.” “Doer” carries the idea of resourceful performance. Greeks use the term “doers” for poets – creators of striking words. It describes one who does something creative, such as a producer, a poet or an author. The same Greek word is used for a poet. One commentator describes a doer as “a person whose life is characterized by holy energy.

“Poietes always depicts someone putting forth his fullest creative abilities to achieve something. Now James uses this word to tell us that we must put forth our fullest efforts and most creative abilities in doing what we have heard preached! We cannot passively hope that the Word becomes a part of our lives; we have to get creative and find ways to make the Word a practical part of our lives.”–Adapted and edited from Rick Renner

Martin Luther once said “The world does not need a definition of religion as much as it needs a demonstration.”

“James presents us with two of the vivid pictures of which he is such a master. First of all, he speaks of the man who goes to the church meeting and listens to the reading and expounding of the word, and who thinks that that listening has made him a Christian. He has shut his eyes to the fact that what is read and heard in Church must then be lived out. It is still possible to identify Church attendance and Bible reading with Christianity but this is to take ourselves less than half the way; the really important thing is to turn that to which we have listened into action. Second, James says such a man is like one who looks in a mirror--ancient mirrors were made, not of glass, but of highly polished metal--sees the smuts which disfigure his face and the dishevelment of his hair, and goes away and forgets what he looks like, and so omits to do anything about it. In his listening to the true word a man has revealed to him that which he is and that which he ought to be. He sees what is wrong and what must be done to put it right; but, if he is only a hearer, he remains just as he is, and all his hearing has gone for nothing. James does well to remind us that what is heard in the holy place must be lived in the market place--or there is no point in hearing at all.–William Barclay

Christian pollster, George Barna for example, found that one out of three “born-again Christians” (defined as “those who report having made a personal commitment to Christ and expect to get to heaven because they accepted Jesus”) accept same-sex marriage. Thirty-nine percent believe it is morally acceptable for couples to live together before marriage. And, born-again Christians are more likely than non-Christians to have experienced divorce (27% to 24 %)! James would be aghast! Although the readers to whom he wrote differ from the modern church, his message is just as relevant now as it was when he wrote it. He’s saying, To hear the word and not do it leads to deception, but to hear the word and do it leads to blessing.” –Adapted from Steve Cole

“Doers of the word…” in Greek, “word” is logos, meaning to speak with words; it means something said and describes a communication whereby the mind finds expression in words. It is a general term for speaking, but always used for speaking with rational content.

The story is told of King Edward VI of England who attended worship service and stood while the Word of God was read taking notes which he later studied with great care. Throughout the week King Edward earnestly tried to apply them to his life. That’s the kind of serious-minded response to truth the James means when he says “Be doers of the Word…” A single revealed fact cherished in the heart and acted upon is more vital to our growth than a head filled with lofty ideas about God.

Recall the parishioner who met the preacher at the door after the service and said, “Pastor, that was a wonderful sermon.” To which the pastor replied, “Well, that remains to be seen, doesn’t it?” This should be our approach, not just to learn it but to live it!

“Hearers only…” is a statement that characterizes self delusion and hypocrisy. In contrast, some Jews at the time believed they were only required to memorize the Law (Word of God), but did not need to practice it. The value was only in the learning; the practicing of it was considered with contempt.

In the Jewish home, the education process, and in the synagogue worship, the hearing of the Law read aloud played an important part in their life as Jews. The rabbis also stressed very strongly the necessity of keeping the Law Romans 12:13, “For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified…”

“Hearers” in Greek is akroates, a common term for persons who were attendants at a lecture but not disciples of the lecturer. They were hearers who in life did not follow the instructions given. It is a common human failing from which Christians are not exempt. If all who are auditors of the Word on Sunday would put it into practice during the week, what a difference that would make! Roberts tartly remarks, ‘Our churches are filled with spiritual sponges who soak up the information, sit, sour, and eventually stink!’” –Hiebert

“Akroates was a term used to describe students who audited a class. An auditor usually listens to the lectures, but is permitted to treat assignments and exams as optional. Many people in the church today approach spiritual truth with an auditor’s mentality, receiving God’s Word only passively. But James’ point, shown by his illustrations in James 1:23, 24, 25, 26, 27, is that merely hearing God’s Word results in worthless religion…In other words, mere hearing is no better than unbelief or outright rejection. In fact, it’s worse! The hearer-only is enlightened but unregenerate. James is reiterating truth he undoubtedly heard firsthand from the Lord Himself. Jesus warned powerfully against the error of hearing without doing (Mt 7:21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 -see notes Mt 7:21; 22; 23; 24; 25; 26; 27), as did the apostle Paul (Ro 2:5-note).” –John MacArthur

“Deceiving yourselves…” “Deceive” in Greek is paralogizomai, meaning, to delude, circumvent, beguile, reason falsely, or mislead.

Any response to the gospel that does not include obedience is self-deception. An old Scottish expression speaks of such deluded professors as “sermon tasters who never tasted the grace of God.”

An illustration of hearing without doing is when, the mighty seemingly invincible Titanic was on her maiden voyage in 1912. The ship’s radio man received a message from another ship that there were icebergs in area. Unfortunately the radio operator placed the message under a weight next to his elbow and went on with his work. And thus the word of imminent danger never reached the captain, and this small miscue led to the loss of 1500 lives when the Titanic struck an iceberg and suffered a mortal blow. Information without action can result in destruction.

Another illustration of self-deception can be seen in the Titanic, It was reported that one of the crew stated, “God Himself couldn’t sink this ship!”

“A man in New York City who died at the age of 63 without ever having had a job. He spent his entire adult life in college. During those years he acquired so many academic degrees that they “looked like the alphabet” behind his name. Why did this man spend his entire life in college? When he was a child, a wealthy relative died who had named him as a beneficiary in his will. It stated that he was to be given enough money to support him every year as long as he stayed in school. And it was to be discontinued when he had completed his education. The man met the terms of the will, but by remaining in school indefinitely he turned a technicality into a steady income for life—something his benefactor never intended. Unfortunately, he spent thousands of hours listening to professors and reading books but never “doing.” He acquired more and more knowledge but didn’t put it into practice. This reminds me of what James said: ‘Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only’ (James 1:22). If we read the Bible or listen as it is taught but fail to put to work what we have learned, we are as bad as that man with his string of degrees. His education was of no practical benefit to anyone. Hearing must be matched by doing.” – Richard De Haan – Our Daily Bread

An unknown author captured eloquently the way in which we so practice religion but fall short of truly being “doers of the Word…”

•I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger.

•I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.

•I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

•I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

•I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

•I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.

You seem so holy, so close to God. But I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold.

Verses 23,24: “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.”

“The reflection of ancient mirrors was often imperfect, as Paul implies in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly…” but generally they were adequate for an individual to gain a good view of himself.” –Hiebert

This metaphor is very simple, but very expressive. A man wishes to see his own face, and how, in its natural state, it appears; for this purpose he looks into a mirror, by which his real face, with all its blemishes and imperfections.

James’ main point when he writes of a man in the mirror is that this man quickly forgets what he saw in the mirror. And it is not the mirror’s fault. It does not give a false impression but shows the man what he really looks like. Figuratively, it speaks of showing what his heart, his inner person, his character looks like, something a literal mirror can’t visualize.

“The man who continues to look into the mirror of God’s Word sees in it things far more wonderful than his own face. He sees not only his filthy garments, not only the spots and stains on his life; he sees in it Christ, the Christ of the thorn-crowned brow, the Christ of the Cross, his Savior, whose blood cleanses him from all sin. When a person honestly and humbly looks into the Word of God, he will see two things—his own sin and the sinless Savior and Lord. When such a person sees and responds to Christ and then lives out the Word, he is blessed in the doing.”–Adapted from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

“To every hearer, the true Word of God is as a mirror. Certain preachers dream that it is their business to paint pretty pictures, but it is not so. We are not to design and sketch, but simply to give the reflection of the Truth of God. We are to hold up the mirror to nature, in a moral and spiritual sense, and let men see themselves. We have not even to make the mirror, but only to hold it up! The thoughts of God—not our own thoughts—are to be set before our hearers’ minds—these allow a man to discover himself. The Word of the Lord is a revealer of secrets—it shows a man his life, his thoughts, his heart, his inmost self.”–Spurgeon

The Word of God is the only mirror that can transform our appearance!

What is important is not how many times you have been through the Bible, but how many times and how thoroughly the Bible has been through you!

These “hearer’s only” fail to obey what the Word tells them to do. They think that hearing is the same as doing, and it’s not. We Christians’ enjoy substituting reading for doing, or even talking for doing. We hold endless committee meetings and conferences about topics like evangelism and church growth, and think we have made progress. While there is certainly nothing wrong with conferences and committee meetings, they are sinful if they are a substitute for service.

So James here isn’t talking about bad memory, but bad priorities! He does not consider what he sees in his mirror as important. As we grow older appearance is not as important to us. We get a little sloppy in our dress, a sweat shirt and pants has been substituted for a suit and tie. Just as long as you are comfortable! So it’s easy to look in the mirror and not notice the flaws and imperfections. By the same reasoning, do we look in the mirror of the word and miss what God sees in us? And he forgets what God’s word says about his sins because, really, it just isn’t all that important compared to these other priorities in his life.

Listen to this ancient allegory:

A man was complaining about his neighbors. “I never saw such a wretched bunch of people as there are in this village. They’re mean, greedy of gain and careless. They are forever speaking evil of one another.”

“Is that so?” asked the angel who was walking with him. “It is indeed,” said the man. “Why, just look at this fellow coming toward us. I know his face but I can’t remember his name. Look at his little, beady, sharp, cruel eyes darting here and there. Even the droop of his shoulders is mean and cringing, and he slinks along instead of walking.” “It is clever of you to see all this,” the angel said, “but there is one thing which you don’t understand.” “What is that?” asked the man. “That’s a looking-glass we’re approaching.”

The Scottish poet, Robert Burns, put the moral to that fable in this way:

O wad some power the Giftie gi'e us, to see oorsel's as ithers see us.

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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