Doer of the Word and Not Hearers Only
22 But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works—this person will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)
Verse 22 sets the premise of this next section in very simple terms, “But be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James emphasizes the need for believers to be active in what they have learned through the Word of God, being obedient to it. An individual who only hears the Word of God but does not take action in accordance to it is self-deceived, especially when it comes to their own spiritual well-being. Jesus clearly warns about these self-deceived individuals and the high stakes repercussions of it in Matthew 7:21-27.
With verse 22 in mind, James then gives an illustration to highlight the positive and negative aspects to those who respond to God’s Word. Verses 23 and 24 focus on the individual who is just a hearer only: “Because if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like someone looking at His own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was.” During the times of the New Testament, mirrors were made from clean polished metal. Before leaving the house to do the activities of the day, people would look at themselves in the mirror, fix their hair, wash their face, check one last time if there’s anything that needs care, and leaves for the day, rarely to think about their own facial appearance ever again.
The same can happen to those who just listen to the Word of God without any application and action. One of my favorite commentators, Max Anders states, “We give a quick glance into God’s Word, find a morsel of truth, and jump into another task without remembering or applying what we read.” This kind of blasé attitude to the Word of God is not beneficial to actual spiritual growth.
On the other hand, verse 25 shows the benefits of being an actual doer of God’s Word: “But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works—this person will be blessed in what he does.” Obedient readers gaze, “looks intently”, into the Word of God with this mentality to learn from it. The same Greek word used here can be translated as “bent over,” the same verb used by John in John 20:5 when he looked into the tomb, intently looking to learn what had happened to the body of Jesus. This kind of intentional thinking, reflecting, and desire to learn lead to John coming to the conclusion that Christ had resurrected in John 20:8.
The doer also continues to do what God’s Word has commanded them. They “persevere” in it. Because they continue to persevere, they do not “forget” what they heard, unlike the one in the mirror illustration previously. Because of their faithfulness, James states that they are blessed and experience freedom. Jesus states this freedom from sin through obedience of God’s Word in John 8:31-32, “If you continue in my Word, you really are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Anders summarizes this passage very well, saying, “Good listening, endurance, clear memory, and obedience characterize committed Christians. They are eager to receive and obey what God tells them to do.” May we be active in our reading of the Word of God, applying what God wants us to apply, and do what God wants us to do.
Isaac De Guzman