God’s Word for You
James 1:22-25 Forget what’s in the mirror?
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, July 16, 2020
James the coach just said, to his people and to us, “Receive the word planted in you. It is able to save your souls.” Even though he does not repeat this gospel truth again and again, it is the basis for everything else that he says. We are saved through the gospel. There are times when even Christian pastors, despite our education and our diplomas, can get carried away and belittle an author like James simply because he doesn’t write like Paul or Peter, because he is teaching sanctification and not justification. But we should not forget this important groundwork, worthy of Paul, Peter, John, or any other author of the Holy Scriptures: “This word is able to save your souls.” And now James coaches us about how we listen and take it to heart.
22 Be those who do what the word says, not those who only hear it, or you will be deceiving yourselves.
James is thinking of the members of his church, now scattered far and wide in the world, and how they apply their faith. The same scattering happened in my first little mission church. After a year of working and gathering members, two industries (Boeing and Microsoft) moved the divisions that were in our city to Chicago, and in about two weeks my little church went from 26 members, another 25 prospects and a hundred contacts to 3 adult members, no prospects, and a dozen contacts. I have tried to stay in touch with all of those far-flung Christians through these devotions and I’ve been so glad that almost all have found churches wherever they went, but I have still worried about them and prayed for them for decades.
James’ people were Jews who came from the synagogue into the Christian church. The danger for them was listening to lessons every week in worship, and hearing the sermon, but never putting what they heard into practice in their lives. Life in a Christian home that put the word into practice has a tremendous impact on the lives of everyone there.
“Let the son see his father praying and his mother quietly reading her Bible. Let the daughter see her father gently holding his wife’s hand and let her see her mother yield to her husband’s headship. Let our children hear their parents discuss the Sunday sermon at the Sunday dinner table, discuss it with reverence and respect. Let them share some of the problems their parents have. Then let them hear how their parents try to solve the problems in the light of God’s Word and how they rely on the mercy of God to get them through their problems. Yes, let them hear sometimes their parents confessions to one another and the forgiveness they share with each other and then with their children too.” (Deutschlander, Prof. Daniel M., The Theology of the Cross, NPH 2008, p. 171-172).
23 For if anyone hears the word and does not do what it says, he is like a man who looks at the very face he was born with in a mirror, 24 and after looking carefully at himself, he goes away and immediately forgets what he looked like.
James offers up an example of someone who listens but doesn’t act on the word of God. Since the perfect example of this would be the very problem James is addressing—someone who listens to the readings and the sermon in church but doesn’t put the word into action in his life—he has to take another example, and he does it with a man and a mirror. Imagine someone looking at his face in the mirror. “The face of his genesis,” James says, meaning “the very same face he was born with.” He’s known this face his whole life, and everybody else knows it, too. But then he walks away from the mirror and forgets what he looks like. If he happens to see his reflection again, he might even be startled and wonder who that other man is, like the emu in the insurance ad on TV that attacks its own reflection. The man who listens to the sermon week after week without really listening, without planning to apply the words, will only find it easier and easier to tune out everything he hears in church. It has become a formal act with no purpose; this is what the synagogue worship became for so many of the Jews. It was a form to be followed, a ritual, but with no impact on the heart. A great many people who profess to be Christians today but who find nothing valuable in public worship have this trouble at the core: They do not really take the word of God to heart. This is the word that commands us (really, invites us) to gather together for worship. This is the meaning of Jesus’ word “church” (Greek ekklesia, Matthew 16:18, 18:17). We gather to hear the word as it is read and preached and to build up one another’s faith.
25 But the one who looks carefully into the perfect law, the law of freedom, and keeps doing so—since he is not a forgetful hearer but actually does what it says—that person will be blessed in what he does.
Those who listen to the word of God gain more and more insight into what it means. James retains his “looking” analogy by talking about looking carefully into the perfect law. This is a deep look, a long look, a study the way an art lover might study a painting, or a girl falling in love might study her man’s face trying to memorize every feature. This study of the word of God is what Peter says the angels do, “Even the angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12). Such a look desires to have light shed on one’s understanding (this seems to be the meaning of the “narrow clerestory windows” in the temple, 1 Kings 6:4. They were probably there to admit additional sunlight).
The “perfect law,” the “law of freedom,” is more than the law of Moses. It is the complete will of God, but more especially the gospel than what we typically think of as the law. The law of the regulations of Moses brings wrath and death (Romans 4:15). But the complete and perfect law, the word of God adding gospel to law, brings freedom and life through Christ. And what is the command to those who believe in the gospel? “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Paul also said, “You have been taught by God to love each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:9), and, “The love every one of you has for each other is increasing” (2 Thessalonians 1:3). But before Christian love could ever show itself, before our devotion to Christ could appear in our lives, there had to be God’s love for us. This is the love that chose us in eternity (Ephesians 1:4). This is the love that caused the Father to send his Son to rescue us from our sins. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). Each one who trusts in Jesus and becomes one who does what the word says “will be blessed in what he does.” We will explore what some of those blessings are in the verses that follow as the chapter draws to a close.
Pastor Timothy Smith