This passage centres around being people of the Word. By “Word” here we mean God’s Word … as revealed in the Bible. That does not mean people who simply gather around the Word, hear the Word, or even know the Word. James here commends being “doers” of the Word. This is clearly distinguished from just being “hearers” of the Word. It is said here that “hearers” of the word “deceive themselves”. Why would this be so?? Because people think, in the hearing, that they have done all that is required! They can nod their head, say ‘well-preached’, and then go out unchanged. Are we fair-dinkum?
The “Implanted Word”
Verse 21 talks about making room for the “Word of God”. We make space for the “Word” by ridding ourselves of other stuff – that stuff which is either detrimental or superfluous. When you buy new furniture for your house, what do you have to do before this new furniture is delivered?? To really have space for the “Word of God”, we have to decide to “rid ourselves” of any dark and destructive stuff, or of any barriers that stand in our way. Sometimes people try to retain this old stuff while trying to squeeze in some bits of the “Word”. But would this ever really work well?!? We talked about problem of the ‘double-minded’ person last time – the results are never really much good.
Let’s look at this great phrase (v.21b), “… welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls”. To “welcome” is to willingly and happily allow access – it is to say, ‘please come in’. To do this with “meekness” is to admit that we can’t go it alone or we can’t do without … that we are in need and ready to learn. “Meekness” revolves around trust. To be “meek” is to be ‘open’ and ‘teachable’. To be “meek” means that, where necessary, our mind can be changed. We know that there are many views that just do not fit with the ‘kingdom of God’. “Meekness” is a preparedness or readiness to respond to something new (or maybe it’s actually something old and valuable that has been forgotten).
NB. There is no correlation between “meek and ‘weak’, for meekness (in the biblical sense), meaning openness and teach-ability, are actually great strengths – “… welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls”. Yes, we are saved by grace alone through faith. But what James seems to be suggesting, is that without having the “implanted word” we won’t last the journey! So where there is space and teach-ability, the “Word” can find a place to dwell and take deep root, then grow the person and produce good fruit. This process will ultimately save our souls, because the “implanted Word” takes us straight to Jesus, and through Jesus we find salvation. In a way, to crowd the “Word” out is to crowd Jesus out.
So much so does the “Word of God” (in its entirety) point to Jesus, Jesus himself is called the “Logos” or “Word” in John’s Gospel. So often does James closely reflect the teaching of Jesus! For example, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it (Mark 8:35). This also speaks of a readiness to empty oneself to be newly filled. Having the “Word” implanted means we are more likely to say and do the right thing more often. We also are able to come to greater maturity in what we believe and how we apply it. This is because our default positions are changing, from the ones we previously let develop, to the ones the implanted “Word” is moving us towards.
Being a “Doer”
What does it mean to be a “doer” of the Word (verse 22)??
· To put the Bible’s principles into action. And by this, I would mean those strong repeating major themes that keep coming through the books of Scripture. We have to be careful that we put the emphasis in the right places. We have to know that there is a great variety in types of writing within the 66 books collated together to form the Bible. The Pharisees got in trouble with Jesus for picking on minor points within the Hebrew canon (Old Testament) and oppressing people with these. Examples of this would be the requirement to divide out a tenth of the small little herbs that the people grew for an accurate tithe; or criticising someone who would lend a hand to help another just because it was the Sabbath. This is where ‘law’ (in a penal sense) takes back from grace, and faith becomes a chore rather than a liberty.
· So what is really meant, is a positive demonstration of the good news of Jesus in both word and action. You might also say … to be a “doer” of the Word, is to act as Jesus acted. To be a "doer" is to actually allow the Bible to influence your life.
When it comes to mere “hearers”, James (in verses 23-24) gives us an analogy concerning looking into a mirror but quickly forgetting what was seen there. A person checks their hair and that their clothes are on straight, and then as soon as they turn away, they couldn’t even tell you what colour their hair is or what clothes they put on. This is the level to which the Word of God has penetrated! Some of us might be happy not to remember what they see in the mirror. I actually remember well … seeing George Clooney in the mirror every morning. However, the point of this mirror analogy, is that if the “Word” has not taken proper root within us, if we have only merely heard it, if it hasn’t really become a part of us, then it will be easily forgotten … by just about the first step into the day’s affairs. We can hear the Bible read, but not take it in. We can read the Bible for ourselves, but not really engage with its meaning. It is possible to believe in God, but not be responsive to even basic directions or promises. It is then likely that our experience of the day is far short of what is promised to the “doers” of God’s Word – “they will be blessed in their doing” (verse 25b).
James uses another term for the “Word” in verse 25 – “the perfect law”, seeking to emphasise the same point. The “perfect law” is the epitome of ethical and moral teaching. Thus the “perfect law” is … the “law of liberty”, with no sense of enslavement or oppression. This is the “law” or “Word” that redeems, and thus brings freedom to individuals, families and communities. Blessing certainly follows along with this “perfect law”. There is a sense in the original Greek, that is just simply translated here “look” into the perfect law, of intense looking, or looking intently, or a penetrating look, or internalising. This is then underlined by adding the phrase … “and persevere” – making this a constant and ongoing quest.
None of this is easy, especially under trial; but this is the way to follow Jesus into a fruitful life. And it is under trial that we need the "implanted word" the most - to safeguard us, to encourage us and to guide us. Psalm 119:11 says, "I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you".
· If we want a summary of the major points of being “doers” of the Word, then we only have to wade into verses 26 and 27. If we want something to examine ourselves against, then here it is! There is a whole passage about taming the tongue coming up later in James, so we’ll leave further comments on that to then. But I will pick up the two points in verse 27:
(i) To care for orphans and widows in their distress – this is an external application of the “Word” – and a positive level of engagement – caring for the most vulnerable in our community. James would be citing “orphans and widows”, because these would be the poorest of the poor in his context, and the most defenceless – a context where there would be no regulated support for those devoid of the male income, and where exploitation was rife. Who would be the “orphans and widows” in our context, or, in our lives?? Since the needs of such people are constantly on God’s heart, God expects the same heart to be in us.
(ii) To keep oneself unstained by the world – or, (NIV) “keep oneself from being polluted by the world” – this is more an internal assessment that has external ramifications. This is not to say … to stay apart from the world, as many have applied it; not when Jesus had said, “Go into all the world …”. It rather means not letting the world rub off, or where you would wear on your clothes marks of the sort of “sordidness” referred to earlier. Here comes a separation from any false values held by the larger society. What in the world can stain us!?!
Putting these two concepts from James 1:27 together, comes out very much like the do justice, love kindness and walk humbly that we read in Micah 6:8.
Being “Quick to Listen”
As mentioned last time, there is always the temptation, certainly prevalent in the world, to put yourself first, and see others as sources of your happiness. This leads to the sort of quick-speaking, poor words and angry outbursts that are warned against here (v.19-20,26). We are to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to express anger”. Being “slow to speak” (v.19) opens the space for greater understanding of another person’s situation, thus building empathy. Being “slow to speak” also puts a check on what we are going to say before we say it, reducing the possibility of unnecessary hurt. To be quiet can be the path to new knowledge.
We might understand this best through certain contrasts – the ‘world’ on one side and the ‘kingdom of God’ on the other:
· It’s all about me versus real listening to another person
· Saying whatever comes to mind versus being discerning and sensitive with words
· Just hitting back versus guarding oneself against being simply reactive
· Doing whatever comes natural versus seeking higher standards
· Doing all the talking versus listening to the inner voice of God
· Being unresponsive, passive or forgetful “hearers” versus being active “doers”.
We can conclude by listening to Jeremiah 17:5-8, which has something very sad and challenging to say, and then something very encouraging.
Thus says the Lord:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. 6 They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.
7 Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8 They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.