"22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.."
James is writing to people who are facing a variety of trials. Through these
trials, their trust in God is being tested, stretched. James wants to help
his readers to go through these difficult times in such a way that their relationship
with God deepens and grows. James has spent a lot of his time so far reminding
his readers of the character of God. He knows that in the midst of struggles
our view of God can quickly become cloudy. We wonder if God is still present
with us and if He is totally good. We wonder how much He really cares for us,
what our purpose is here on earth, even who we are.
James reminds them of the unchanging, generous, and completely good character
of God. He reminds them that God created them because He desired to and that
He did so in order that they (and we) could be "a kind of first fruits
of his creatures."(1:18) This is all true and stays true no matter what
In the paragraph preceding the one we are studying here, James encourages
his readers to be quick to hear these words of truth. Listening and receiving
again and again the truth of God's amazing love and grace for us will help
us to be more deliberate and faithful in our words and with our anger.
Now James wants to expand on what true hearing is. Hearing involves action
that is an appropriate response to what you just heard. If I am really hearing
a warning of an oncoming car, then I would respond appropriately by getting
out of the way. I make the adjustments in my life that fit with the truth I
have been given. We often wonder if our children or others in our care are
truly hearing us when we see no outward response.
James tells his readers that when they hear, but do not integrate what they
hear into their lives that they are deceiving themselves. He compares these
people to those who look into a mirror and then forget what they see. How does
this become deceiving? A mirror gives me a fair assessment of what is my physical
appearance. But as soon as I walk away from the mirror, I no longer have the
image in front of me. I can't "hold on to it" so to speak. If I never
go back and look in the mirror, I cannot be sure of what I look like. I begin
to forget. And if I choose to dismiss immediately what I saw (I am not really
that fat, thin, bushy-haired, etc.) then I forget even more quickly the truth
the mirror revealed to me.
If I do not act on the truth I hear of my good heavenly Father, then I am
deceived because the truth I heard does not stay before me, and I soon forget
it and so forget myself. We are tempted when we are in trouble to believe that
just hearing the truth, or "knowing" the truth is enough. We listen,
hoping that our listening itself with solve our problems. Isn't it enough to
know that complaining and grumbling are harmful to my peace in Christ? Do I
really have to stop doing these things? Isn't it enough to hear God made me
out of His own free choice and love and that He is good and generous? No. James
says that when we do this we are deceiving ourselves, lying to ourselves. We
believe that we are living in the truth when in fact we are not. We are not
enjoying any of the benefits of trusting in God because we are not in fact
trusting Him. We are like someone who goes to a specialist for a health disorder,
listens to his or her recommendations, but then do none of them. But we are
deceived because we want to believe that somehow just going and hearing what
the doctor had to say was enough.
But then after several weeks with no change in our health, we may start to
wonder why we are not feeling better. In my early 20s I went through a period
in my Christian life where I wondered why God seemed so distant or even absent
in my life. I spent time with a Christian counselor who took seriously many
commands in the New Testament that up until then didn't seem that important.
One of them was about grumbling and complaining. She actually believed I was
to attempt to obey that command! Over the time I met with her, she helped me
take some difficult steps to change what I thought and said. And what I discovered
is that God became much more present to me in my everyday life. Not that there
are not still times when I can't see what He is doing and that I trust Him
only by choice and not by much else. But overall as I took God more seriously
in all areas of my life, I began to see the truth of His love and care for
me in new ways.
To act on the truth we hear is to live as if God is truly our gracious heavenly
Father and that He alone gives us our worth, our identity. But this is to allow
very deep habits of mind, words, and actions to be transformed. The way we
relate to ourselves and others, how we spend our time and money, our general
outlook on life all need to come under the light of God's gracious work. The
reason we are to turn from grumbling for instance is because when we are complaining
we do not trust that God is good, present, and active. We are attempting to
live in two minds--to say we trust God but act as if we do not. Jesus often
encouraged people to not be afraid, but to trust Him. He knew that when they
acted out of their fear, they were unable to act out of trust in His goodness.
To act on what we hear though, is not simply to try harder not to, say, not
complain or be anxious. James is not encouraging his readers to simply try
harder to live right. He is encouraging them to do whatever they need to do
in order to feed their faith in their heavenly Father. So we turn our anxiety
over to Jesus Himself and our desire to grumble. We hand over each day, relationship,
thought, and question to God moment by moment, thus allowing our faith in Him
to become a living thing.
James says this is looking into "the perfect law of liberty." Trusting
in, resting in our Father is true freedom. This is where we become who we are
meant to be. Only by placing our hand in the Father's who has grabbed hold
of us will we come to know ourselves. We look into this perfect law when we
see that we are indeed children of our heavenly Father and not gods ourselves.
It is when we stop trying to trust in our money, looks, family or friends,
jobs, etc., to give us life and tell us who we are. And of course, this involves
actively pursuing being reminded of the great news of our Triune God.
James says this will involve persevering. It is a continual choice we make
to trust in God. It is a truly ongoing relationship. James has already spoken
of persevering when he spoke of steadfast faith(v.4) and endurance(v.12). Clearly
then James sees this as key to getting through the trials we face. We need
to keep on choosing to know the truth about God and to trust in His character
and work in our lives. James reminds them of who God is, not because they haven't
heard it before, but because part of acting on what we hear is to hear it again
and again. We so easily forget the truth about ourselves and our lives. We
need to keep going back to the mirror of God's Word.
Again James reminds them of the results of continually choosing to hand our
lives over to God. The one who perseveres in looking into the perfect law will
be "blessed in his doing." God will bless us in the midst of our
acting in faith. He will meet us richly as we choose to live as if He is who
He reveals Himself to be. The truth will become more manifest in our lives,
we will enjoy the true freedom He is calling us to, we will know and enjoy
His great love for us more and more. It is our hope in these things that can
enable us again today, to count on Him to be our true Father.
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