By Mike Willis
The word of God is so frequently extolled that we sometimes take the singing of its praises too .lightly. It is altogether proper that it should be given so much respect. Sometimes, however, the respect which we vocalize is never put into action in our daily living. I have gone into many homes where the Bible was revered but not read; most obvious that this was so was the placing of the “Family Bible,” a $30-40 Bible which was very beautifully bound, on the coffee table when no one in the family read it or tried to live by it. Such inconsistencies as these are what remind us of what James wrote; he said,
“This you know, my beloved brethren. But let every one be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty and abides by h, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does. If any one thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (1:19-27).
To vocally give respect to God’s word is insufficient, according to James. Let us consider what is necessary for man to do to be pleasing to God.
The Word of God
In the passage before us, James uses several terms to discuss the word of God which help us to understand his concept of it. I would like to discuss these with you:
1. It is a law (v. 25). One of the things which James called the word of God was a law. Many people today no longer think that Christians live under a law. They misunderstand the passages which teach that we are no longer living under the law of Moses and that we cannot be justified by law keeping (i.e., perfect obedience to any law); they conclude from these that we are no longer under a law. Let us not forget that if we are not under a law, there can be no sin since sin is simply the transgression of the law (1 Jn. 3:4). “Where there is no law, neither is there violation” (Rom. 4:15). Hence, if anyone is going to teach that there is no law for people today, he must accept the conclusion that there is no sin. James, however, did not accept this. He conceived of God’s word as a law for mankind.
2. It is a perfect law, a law of liberty. In contrast to the law of Moses, the law of Christ is perfect. The writer of Hebrews described the -law of Moses as one which had fault with it (Heb. 8:7). The problem with it was that it shut up all men under sin. Anyone who disobeyed the law of Moses was under the curse of the law. Inasmuch as the blood of bulls and goats could not atone for sin, the law of Moses by itself had no ability to redeem man. However, the law of Christ is a law of liberty. That is, it frees us from our sins; through the law of Christ, one can be freed from sin in order to become the servant of Christ.
3. It must be implanted (v. 21). The word of God must be planted in the hearts of men before it can do them any good. Jesus spoke of this same truth in giving the parable of the sower (Mt. 13); the word of God must be sown in the hearts of men. Of course, the other side of this is that men must “receive with meekness the implanted word.” We who hear the word preached must receive it, that is, take it into our hearts and treasure it as a prized possession.
4. It is able to save our souls (v. 21). The implanted word is able to save our souls. This is very similar to what Paul wrote in Rom. 1:16 where he described the gospel as “the power of God unto salvation.” Earlier in this chapter, James said, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth” (1:18). This passage teaches that man is “born again” through the word of truth, the gospel.
Surely, we can perceive the respect which James had for the word of God. Yet, the main point of this passage is not “respect the word.” All of these descriptions of the word are given in passing as James teaches us his main point which is “be ye doers of the word and not hearers only.” In teaching this lesson, James contrasted two kinds of persons: (1) the forgetful hearer and (2) the doer of the word. Let us move on to notice his contrast.
The Forgetful Hearer
James described several things about this man which we want to examine. By knowing the kind of man we ought not to be, we can better know what God wants us to be.
1. This man is self-deluded (v. 22). He somehow thinks that he is made better by the mere fact that he has heard the word preached. Actually, he has only increased his responsibility. Prior to hearing the word, he may have been sinning in ignorance; after hearing it, his sins are willfully committed. Hence, his sins are of a different nature once he begins to sin willfully than they were when he sinned in ignorance.
Any man that thinks that he is somehow better because he has heard the message preached does not understand the method of sanctification taught in the Scriptures. Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). Man is sanctified when he hears the message preached and then obeys it. The mere hearing of the message does not make a person one whit better before God. However, when he hears the message and obeys it, his life is purified as he eradicates the evil which is in it and replaces it with moral virtues demanded by God. Hence, religion does not consist merely in the knowledge and belief of fundamental doctrines but rather in our being brought to a certain character in our daily living.
2. This man is religious (v. 26). The word “religious” which is used here refers to one who gives attention to the outward expressions of religion, the forms of worship. Hence, this man is one who is frequently’ present at the worship services, sings, listens to the sermon but never gets around to obeying the word. Through the years, a number of Christians have perceived Christianity to be going to church on Sunday. Theirs is a time-clock concept of Christianity. Christianity is the daily obedience to the word and not mere attendance to the outward forms of religion.
3. He is forgetful of God’s word (vs. 23-24). James compared him to the man who looked at his face in a mirror and went away having forgotten what he saw. I fear that many of us give more attention to our outward appearance than we give to our soul. We surely would not Appear in public looking untidy though many of us have no qualms of standing before God stained with sin. How frequently we look at ourselves in God’s word and then do nothing about it. How soon we forget what was said in the sermon and in the Bible class.
“Some, when the service is over, seldom think of anything but going home. Others will pass a remark about the sermon, and then dismiss the subject finally from their thoughts. A few will express more deliberately the pleasure with which they listened to the discourse; but perhaps even these are satisfied merely with having enjoyed it. The purpose of preaching, however, is not that the people may be ‘very much pleased,’ but that they may be profited, edified, and inspired to live an upright, generous, godly life. The highest praise that can be bestowed upon a Christian minister is not to tell him how much his preaching is enjoyed on sabbaths, but to let him see how well it is being translated into the life on the other days of the week. We live in a practical age; and the mission of the pulpit is as practical and definite as that of any other institution of our time. It is an agency for man-building, Its work is to promote the doing of the Word of God in the everyday lives of men. Those people, therefore, are the victims of a miserable self-deception who regard ‘hearing’ as the sum of Christian duty. Such persons have no idea of the nature of true piety. Their profession is nothing better than an empty form. They may be strictly orthodox in doctrine and evangelical in sentiment; but what does this profit, if their church-going carries with it no power to direct their daily life into the ways of holiness? A theologian is not necessarily a Christian. The ‘hearer only’ is on the road to final spiritual ruin” (C. Jerdan, “James,” The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 21, p. 17).
4. This man’s religion is worthless (v. 26). The word which is translated “vain” means “void of result.” This man’s religion does not accomplish what religion is designed to accomplish, namely, reconciliation to God. Hence, the person who is the forgetful hearer is not one bit more acceptable before God than he was before he heard the word.
Doer of the Word
In contrast to the forgetful hearer, the doer of the word is compared to one who looks in a mirror and sees defects in his appearance which he corrects. In this illustration, the mirror is God’s word. As the word is presented, we see ourselves as God sees us. Paul commented, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Cor. 14:24-25). The word of God exposes our faults and presents the kind of person which we should be. The doer of the word is one who looks intently at the mirror with the idea of changing the kind of person which he is.
Then, he obeys the word which he hears. The result in his life is obvious. He becomes “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (v. 19); he puts aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness (v. 21). Then, he bridles his tongue (v. 26); visits the orphans and widows in their affliction (v. 27) and keeps himself unspotted from the world (v. 27). The result is a man who has changed his life. Whereas he had been a vile sinner who wallowed in the quagmires of sin, he becomes a man who tries to live by the commandments of God.
As a result, he is blessed by God (v. 25). This is the kind of hearer whom God approves. He is the kind of man whose life can be changed by the word of God, who brings forth fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.
What kind of hearer are you? In just about every assembly which I have addressed, there have been men and women there who had heard God’s word often enough to be able to tell me what they needed to do to be saved. Yet, they never responded to God’s will. My friend, today is the day to obey God’s word. You who are using profane speech, now is the day to quit using it. You who are mistreating your wives, now is the day to repent and ask their and God’s forgiveness. You who are forsaking the Lord for week-end trips, now is the time to stop it and begin to serve the Lord each Lord’s day. Will you be a doer of the word of God?
Truth Magazine XXI: 25, pp. 387-389
June 23, 1977