Keep on becoming a doer of the word
Charles Spurgeon once commented, “When I went to school, we drew such things as houses, horses and trees, and we used to write the word house under the picture of the house, and the word horse under the picture of the horse. Otherwise, some persons might have mistaken the house for a horse.” Then he suggested that some Christians need to wear a label around their neck or we might never guess they are Christians.
When people look at me—at the way I live and the way I treat others—can they tell that I am a Christian? Or would I need a label to let people know?
In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer remarked, “Only he who believes is obedient; only he who is obedient believes.” In other words, only those who genuinely trust Christ do what he calls us to do, and only those who do what Christ calls us to do truly trust him.
James 1:22 challenges us, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”
Actually, the inference of the Greek verb here (in the present middle imperative voice) does not assume that it is an accomplished act—that we always do what God calls us to do—but that we are consistently growing in that direction. The verse literally implies, “But keep on becoming doers of the word….”
A true Christian is not the person who has succeeded in obeying God at all times but one who is growing in obedience and faithfulness. The question to ask ourselves is: Am I growing in becoming a doer of the word or do I come to God merely for the blessings I can get from him?
James draws a contrast between those who merely hear the word of God and those who do the word of God. He compares those who only hear the word to the kind of person who looks in a mirror then forgets what he or she looks like. What strikes me in this comparison is not merely the short attention span of the one who looks in the mirror but, most significantly, the direction of the person’s attention. One who only hears the word and doesn’t do the word is focused on oneself. The person who does what Christ calls us to do is focused on God’s will and on the good of one’s neighbor.
I love Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend’s perspective on this: “Obedience is to look outside ourselves for our purpose, values and decisions. This essential stance of life admits that God knows better than we do how to guide our steps. And it is the only way to truly live, for he is life itself.” (How People Grow, p. 283)
The one who only hears the word and doesn’t do the word of God continues to live by their own purposes, values and directions, never admitting that God knows better. Only the one who believes obeys; only the one who obeys truly believes.
True Christians—those who do not need labels hung around their necks—find their focus directed upward and outward.
Mark Labberton stresses, “The heart of God’s call is this: that we receive and live the love of God for us and for the world. This is the meaning of the two great commandments, that we are made to love the Lord our God with all we are and our neighbors as ourselves. The Bible as a whole, and Jesus in particular, reveals what such a life looks like. Our call is loving communion with God and God’s world….
“Who are we? We are God’s chosen people, members of a community set apart for God’s purposes….
“Why are we here? We are here to love God and to love our neighbor.” (Called, p. 14-16)
No wonder James concludes his call to us to keep on becoming doers of the word, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself undefiled by the world.”