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
‘In one ear and out the other’, is an idiom that can be used to describe a variety of situations, such as when someone is giving advice that is not taken seriously, when instructions are given but not followed, or when a person is simply not paying attention to what is being said. It can also be used to describe situations where someone is intentionally ignoring or disregarding information.
The letter of James is brief but full of practical insights. It is packed with powerful lines and memorable imagery. Today’s Bible reading is an example of that. The gist of the passage is to NOT exemplify the behavior of the person in the idiom. When Christians are passive recipients of God’s Word, they are guilty of deceiving themselves. ‘Listening’ as opposed to ‘hearing’, involves information being received, understood, evaluated and responded to. This of course, is not just about developing the right techniques of listening to good advice. It is about being proactively engaged with God’s Word which is, ‘living and active, able to convict us of sin, dispels our self deception (Hebrews 4:12), ‘teaches us truth, and leads us in righteousness’ (Psalm 119:9-11).
The emphasis on being a ‘doer’ of the Word invites blessing. The opposite therefore can be deduced, that in letting God’s Word in one ear and out the other, we set ourselves up on a foolish path of self destruction.
In His teaching, Jesus often used the expression, ‘He who has ears let Him hear’. It is unnatural to not have ears as humans but the point is that when we hear God’s words, we must do our part in paying close attention and follow through by applying what is being communicated. We need to familiarize ourselves with the content of God’s word but being able to pass a test on the Bible or theology doesn’t prove anything about our faith and love for God. A genuine Christian’s behavior will be shaped by what the Word of God says.
James reinforces the point he is making with an interesting analogy. When someone hears God’s word but doesn’t do what it says, it is like a person who looks at his reflection and then walks away and forgets what he looks like. God’s word serves as the ultimate mirror which we need to look into to reveal the unholy in us. When these come to light, we need to actively cooperate to put things right. If we do not follow through with the ‘doing’ we delude ourselves into thinking all is well. ‘To see yourself as God would have you see yourself in the glass of Scripture is something, but you must afterwards go to Christ for washing or your looking is very superficial work’ (Charles Spurgeon).
The book of James walks us through the practice of living the Christian faith. It takes the abstract concept of faith to make it concrete. When faith does not take form in our lives through our actions James calls it a faith without works which is a dead faith. James is not speaking of faith with regards to salvation. We can never do anything to earn our salvation. However many Christians say they have faith and believe in Jesus, but their actions say otherwise. It is this dissonance that James is addressing, ‘the enemy, even demons, believe and know about God and of Jesus being the Son of God, and they shudder (James 2:19).
The great chapter of Hebrews 11, referred to as the Hall of Faith, names great heroes of faith.
Each of the heroes demonstrate their faith through their actions which cost them dearly. Faith is seen by what is done. Read copious amounts of God’s word but more importantly act on what is being highlighted.
How is God calling you to demonstrate your faith in your life?
As an example, when you read the following verse, consider what ‘doing’ actions you need to implement, to demonstrate an active reading of God’s Word. Fill in the blank and follow through.
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
To better demonstrate my faith in Jesus Christ, I will seek to do the following: ___________.”
Jesus told a powerful parable in Matthew 7:24-27
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
Dear God, I do not wish to be someone who lets Your words enter one ear and out the other for I will be on very dangerous ground if I choose that way of living. Thank You for the gift of Your precious Word and for the blessing that follows when I do what it says. Help me persevere and demonstrate my faith by actively obeying Your Word. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Ministry Fellow, Christian Union Lux at Yale University
FREE OFFER: Get the "Seeking God Lifestyle" Bible Course Manual. Download this 67-page, 5-lesson course in PDF format.