How many sermons or Bible lessons do you think you’ve heard in your lifetime?
I haven’t done the math, but I think it’s safe to say that I’ve probably heard several thousand sermons. I grew up in the church, so, if you factor in worship services, Bible studies, youth group, Sunday school, listening to sermons on tape (yes – I’m old) or online, etc., several thousand sermons seems reasonable. If you’ve been a Christian for some time, I’m sure that’s probably true of you as well.
Overall, it’s a tremendous blessing that we have so many different ways to be exposed to biblical content. Throughout history, many believers didn’t have their own Bibles, let alone access to this much content related to God’s word at their disposal. In another sense, it could be a danger to us if we’re not careful.
What do I mean by that?
It could be dangerous if we become like sermon connoisseurs, as opposed to spiritual babies hungering for the pure milk of the word. It could be easy for us to be more likely to critique a sermon than to listen to it with the intent of implementing what it’s commanding. We could become like dispassionate Olympic judges offering our grades at the end of a Sunday service: “That sermon was pretty good. I give it an 8.2”
Regardless of the quality of the sermon or the oratory skills of the preacher, we should always be focused on how we can implement the truth of the word in our lives.
In the book of James, James talks about this very topic.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.James 1:22-25
Just Do It
In this passage, James commands believers to be doers of the word and not hearers only. When it comes to God’s word, we shouldn’t approach it as if we were auditing a class and just observing it from a distance. We need to put it in action. This truth feeds into the main point of the book of James: true saving faith will always be accompanied by righteous works.
James is essentially saying: don’t let the truth of God’s word go in one ear and out the other. Meditate on it. Dwell on it. Let it crush you and mold you. Accept it in child-like faith and do what it says.
Furthermore, James says that if you’re approaching the Word of God as a spectator, you’re deceiving yourself.
There are many nominal Christians today who may regularly go to church, but their lives give no evidence of the fruit of saving faith. They may have “grown up Christian” or have warm feelings about Jesus like they have warm feelings about America, and mom’s apple pie, but they don’t obey the Word. When they go to church, they don’t want the hard truths of scripture; they want their ears tickled.
In a similar manner, Paul talks about those who are not saved, but have a form of religiosity in 2 Timothy 3:5,7: “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people….always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”
We obviously shouldn’t be like that. The Greek word that James uses for “doers” (poiētēs) carries the meaning of action that engages our whole personality, mind, soul, spirit, and emotions. The mark of a true Christian should be diligent obedience to the word stemming directly from a regenerated heart.
In contrast, the word James uses for “hearer” (akroatēs) is used for a passive audience member who listens to a singer or speaker. A hearer is not accountable to what they hear. They can take it or leave it. They keep themselves at a distance from what they’re hearing and may only be listening from a merely academic standpoint.
A person whose life shows a consistent pattern of only hearing the word and not obeying it gives strong evidence that he or she is not a true believer. A truly regenerated person will have a new nature that desires to do God’s will.
John speaks to this in his first epistle:
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.1 John 2:4-6
Someone who is not regenerated will not have that inner drive to obey.
Short Term Memory Loss
James goes on in this passage to give an illustration of what a hearer is like: someone who looks at their reflection and immediately forgets.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.James 1:23-24
Since mirrors are so prevalent these days, this might seem like an odd analogy. Back in James’ day, they didn’t have mirrors everywhere, but they did have polished metal surfaces that were reflective. Most people couldn’t afford to have these in their homes, so, if you encountered one, you would probably stop to take a look at yourself. However, if you immediately forgot what you looked like as soon as you walked away, what good did that do?
When I hear that example, I can’t help but think of Dory from Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. If you’ve seen either of those movies, you’ll likely remember that Dory, a royal blue tang fish, has short term memory loss. She could have a conversation with someone, immediately forget it, and then try to restart the exact same conversation. That type of clueless forgetfulness is what we exhibit if we don’t put God’s word into action. It’s foolishness to the highest degree.
In contrast, a true believer’s life, while not perfect, should be marked by a pattern of obedience.
In contrast to that hearer who forgets, James says believers need to look into the perfect law. The word for “looks” here carries the idea of “examining intently.”
But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.James 1:25
What are we supposed to be examining intently or studying? The perfect law—God’s commands to us recorded in His word. So, as believers, we absolutely should be pursuing good Biblical content. We should study the word intently, but not just as an academic pursuit. We need to put it into action.
James also calls the word the “the Law of liberty.” We know from the good news of the gospel that we’re no longer condemned by the Law, because Jesus kept the Law perfectly and He paid for our sins on the cross. God’s word sets us free. We’re freed from the bondage of the Law and now we’re free to joyfully obey God’s word out of love.
The Blessings of Being a Doer
Why should we be doers of the word? Well, first and foremost, because the Bible tells us to do this. It seems appropriate given our topic that we should obey this command.
Beyond that, God always has our best interest at heart in His commands for us. In this case, James says we will be blessed in our doing. These blessings will come in many different forms. We will be blessed by walking closely with the Lord, with perseverance in our faith, with sanctification, with joy in knowing that we are doing what God says is right, with avoiding the painful consequences of disobedience, etc… The list of blessings that come with being a doer of the word goes on and on.
As believers, we should joyfully take advantage of the many channels of hearing God’s word that we have at our disposal. However, we need to make sure that we always take that next step of obeying what we hear. May we truly be blessed in being doers of the word!