STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“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 observing his
natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind
of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is
not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
A child’s lack of active listening often causes great frustration for his parents. When a child refuses to listen to his parents, he’s also sinning against God’s Fourth Commandment. However, when the child listens and lovingly obeys, God’s commandment is
kept , and the home is that much more calm and pleasant. For just as the act of disobedience breeds frustration and chaos, the act of obedience promotes goodwill and peace between parent and child.
When it comes to active lis ening, our text reveals that there’s much more at stake than a peaceful home life. James says that we are deceiving ourselves if we’re hearers only. Deceiving ourselves about what? By being hearers only we’d be deceiving ourselves about our faith.
Throughout his epistle, James is concerned about those with a dead faith, those who confess with their mouths but have no faith in their hearts. They believe that giving God a little attention on Sunday morning ought to be enough to stem His wrath. But James points out that if God’s words reach our ears but never penetrate our hearts, then we’re fooling ourselves. Such a faith is not a living, saving faith; it’s dead.
James continues with a relatable illustration. How easy it can be to forget what we see in the mirror, as when a man forgets the little tissue he put on the cut he received while shaving, or the mom distracted by her children who forgets to put up that last strand of hair in her braid or bun. How easy it is also for the sinner to hear the terrors of the Law and the horrible effects of sin, and then go about his day or week forgetting all about those fearful truths which had greatly worried him just a short time before.
“But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” The “perfect law of liberty” is the Gospel. God’s Law threatens, punishes, and keeps us enslaved to fear and terror. Only in the Gospel are sinners liberated.
We are told to “look into” this perfect law of liberty. This is the same verb that describes how Peter and John stooped down and looked into Jesus’ empty tomb on Easter morning. The same verb used by Peter to share that in the Gospel there are “things which angels desire to look into.” (1 Peter 1:12)
The one who “looks into the perfect law of liberty” looks intently with heart and mind set on searching it out, discovering it more and more. Such “looking into” then is the blessed gift from God’s grace of a living, active, breathing faith.
Being a “doer of the Word” doesn’t mean we never sin; rather, it means that we care deeply when we do. It means repentance and faith. Being a doer of the Word means “looking into the perfect law of liberty” and gasping with delight at this truth: sinner though I am, God loves me still!
Finally, being a doer of the Word means striving to put God’s will into practice against the will of our sinful flesh that would have us be hearers only. What a victorious blessing it is when by God’s power and grace we triumph over our old man in keeping God’s Word! Dear Jesus, may we all be so blessed to be active listeners to Your Word! Amen.
Chad Seybt is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming.