James 1:22-25 - Practicing What We Preach
James is clear: we must not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.
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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.
Several years ago Kathryn Schulz presented a TED Talk on being wrong. As part of her research she asked people what it felt like to be wrong. Those in the group responded with things like “dreadful,” “thumbs down,” and “embarrassing.” She then went on to tell them that those emotions weren’t actually what it felt like to be wrong. Those emotions are what it feels like to realize one is wrong.
The truth is that being wrong feels exactly like being right. And that is one of the things that makes being wrong-- or in the case of James 1:22-25, deceiving ourselves-- so dangerous.
In this portion of Scripture, James draws our attention to the vital importance of connecting the truth we hear with the actions we do. There can often be a temptation to listen to a powerful sermon or read Scripture and say to ourselves, “Wow! That was really good!” only to go right back to how we were living before.
Not only does this miss the point of reading God’s word or hearing it preached, it is in fact self-deception. For it seems that we haven’t actually heard the word at all.
James gives us a second example to illustrate his point. He says that this sort of person is like one who looks at their “natural face” in the mirror, and then forgets what they look like. What does James mean by “natural face”?
I believe he is saying that hearing Scripture is like looking in the mirror first thing in the morning. At that time of day, sleep is in our eyes, our cheeks are puffy, and our hair is disheveled. By looking into the mirror we are shown what we need to do in order to get ready for the day. In the same way, Scripture exposes our sin and displays to us the glorious perfection of Christ. We are shown what we need to do if we are to follow Jesus and be faithful hearers and doers of the word.
James ends this section by reminding us that following up our hearing with doing will not be an easy task. This sort of faithfulness requires perseverance.
Challenges will arise from the day in and day out of following Jesus. We will meet temptations and trials along the way. But in the midst of these difficulties we can rest assured that we will be blessed in the doing.
The doing of faith is not to be left alone, but must follow upon God’s revelation which we have heard. Our doing reveals that our hearing was real. Our hearing ensures that our doing is true. And what is more, we can be sure that we are not deceiving ourselves, but adhering to the wisdom of the one, true God.
Will Stockdale is a Ministry Associate in Washington, D.C. and the co-host of The Will & Rob Show.