Do Not Merely Listen to The Word…
James 1:22-25

In John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, the traveling companions, Christian, and his friend Faithful run into a man named Mr. Talkative. Faithful is wowed by Mr. Talkative. He’s got the gift of gab, a quick wit, and an impressive knowledge of a wide variety of topics. Christian listens as his friend Faithful and Mr. Talkative talk about theology, doctrine, and the Christian life. Faithful is impressed, deeply impressed by Mr. Talkative’s spiritual knowledge. Faithful told Christian how impressed he was and then Christian spoke up. He said, “This fellow, with his tongue, will mislead those who do not know him.” Faithful said, “Do you know him, then?” “Know him! Yes, better than he knows himself” Christian answered. Faithful asked, “Pray, tell me what kind of person he is?” Christian said,

He is for any kind of company and any kind of talk. He prides himself on being adaptable. Like a chameleon, he changes his color every time he changes his environment. He can talk just as easily in a tavern as he is talking to you; and the more he drinks, the more he talks. Pure religion has no place in his heart, in his house, or in his daily living. His religion is only in his tongue. He uses religion in pastime for conversation for entertainment. When he talks of prayer, repentance, faith, and the new birth he is not speaking of his own personal experience, but merely repeating what he has heard. (Bunyan, John. Pilgrim’s Progress. 1678)

It seems like a new report comes out every year by those who study the Church and the lifestyles of Jesus’ followers in our nation. Each year their reports show that we are much more like Mr. Talkative than Jesus. Dr. Michael Horton has written,

Gallup and Barna hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general. (Michael Horton, “Beyond Culture Wars,” Modern Reformation (May-June 1993), p. 3.)

We have more access to God’s Word, to Bible studies, to Christian gatherings for worship and prayer via more than 1400 churches in our own city, as well as countless churches online. We have greater access than any generation that has ever lived and yet the Church in America, the followers of Jesus, have become increasingly anemic because we treat the teachings of Jesus so casually. We choose the teachings we like, the ones that fit into our preferred lifestyle, and dismiss the rest. Like Mr. Talkative we talk a good game. We can recite verses from memory, even talk doctrine in detail, but our lives, the way we conduct our daily affairs in our homes and in the marketplace, show little evidence that we’ve been transformed by the gospel. We must not merely listen to the Word, but it is imperative that we do it. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning found in James 1:22-25.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it– he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25 NIVO)

This is a powerful word from James that deserves our undivided attention because in our day we are prone to talk and not do. In 1883, Pastor Spurgeon wrote as if he were writing to us this very morning. He wrote,

The common temptation is, instead of really repenting, to talk about repentance. Instead of heartily believing, to say, ‘I believe,’ without believing. Instead of truly loving, to talk of love, without loving! Instead of coming to Christ, to speak about coming to Christ, and profess to come to Christ, and yet not come at all! (Spurgeon, C.H. On Laying Foundations. January 21, 1883)

Evidently the same problem, to some degree, was present in Pastor Spurgeon’s day as well as James’ day, or he would not have written, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” I’ve thought about this during the week. We read in Revelation 12:9 that Satan is the one “who leads the whole world astray.” Read it with me.

9 The great dragon was hurled down– that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Revelation 12:9 NIVO)

The “great dragon,” the “ancient serpent,” “the devil, “Satan” leads the whole world astray and yet James won’t let us off the hook that easily. James says that if we merely listen to the Word and stop at that point, we deceive ourselves. It is vitally important that you and I take responsibility for our growth in our relationship with the Lord, that we be active listeners, active participants in hearing and doing God’s Word.

There are two kinds of people that James points out for us this morning. Two crystal clear examples that are set before us. There are those who look and forget and then there are those who look, continue to fix their hearts and minds on God’s Word, and live it out. James’ lesson reminds me of something Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-29. Turn there with me and let’s read together.

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” 28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matthew 7:24-29 NIVO)

The person who hears Jesus’ words and puts them into practice is the one who is blessed when the storms of life come. The person who hears the words of Jesus and forgets, or better yet, disregards what He has said will not be blessed when the storms of life come crashing in on them. James uses a different illustration, but he is saying the same thing Jesus said in Matthew 7. Read James 1:23-24 with me once again.

23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. (James 1:23-24 NIVO)

Some Bible teachers have tried to draw attention to the fact that James uses two different Greek verbs to describe the man who looks and forgets and the man who looks and does. The truth is that both Greek verbs in verses 23 and 25 help us to understand that both men are looking with intent. The first word, “katanoeo,” which the NIV translates as “looks” means, “to consider attentively, to contemplate,” or “to fix one’s mind or eyes upon.” This man is not just glancing into the mirror, he is looking intently, and thinking about what he sees. The problem is not what he’s doing while he is in front of the mirror, the problem is what happens after he turns away. James says he “goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” Everything the man had seen while looking into the mirror vanished in an instant once he turned away. His reflection, all that he had seen, left only a momentary impression on him. And this is how many of us are regarding the Word of God.

We deceive ourselves if we think that merely taking an hour out of the week to “go to church” will lead to a right relationship with God. It very well could if it weren’t for the fact that many of us, as soon as we leave the building forget, or more accurately, totally disregard what we have experienced and heard. We deceive ourselves. We tell ourselves that we belong to Him simply because our names are on the roster of some church, we drop a few dollars in the plate now and then, and put a “Christians Aren’t Perfect, Just Forgiven” bumper sticker on our car. Sadly, this is the prideful mindset of those who filled the pews at First Church in Laodicea. Jesus spoke to them and said,

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm– neither hot nor cold– I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. (Revelation 3:15-19 NIVO)

I love that last verse where Jesus says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” Jesus loves us. We miss the abundance of life that comes from following Him when we settle for nothing more than cold, sterile, religious rituals. In contrast to the man who looks and disregards what he sees is the man that we find in James 1:25. Read it with me.

25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it– he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25 NIVO)

This man differs from the man we read about in James 1:23-24, not because of the intensity of his looking, but because of what he does after he sees. James says the man “looks intently,” which is the Greek verb “parakupto” meaning, “to stoop to see” or “to look at with head bowed forward.” The same word is used in Luke 24:12 to describe what Peter did when he arrived at the empty tomb on Resurrection Sunday. He “stooped” to look into the tomb and saw the linen burial clothes of Jesus. In John 20:11, John tells us that Mary was weeping outside of Jesus’ tomb when she bent over to look inside the tomb. It’s a different Greek word, but no more intense or focused than the word used in James 1:23.

The difference is that the man who looked into the mirror turned and forgot, or dismissed what he had seen, but here, in James 1:25, the man looks into the perfect law that gives freedom, “and continues” to do so. He doesn’t forget. He continues on in the Word. James says this man, this person, will be “blessed.” In Psalm 1 we can read about the person who is blessed and the wicked person. Of the “blessed” person the Psalmist says,

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2 NIVO)

The person who looks into God’s “perfect law” or His Word is the one who mediates on it, asking God to reveal His will in His Word, and then continues to think about, meditate on, and apply God’s Word to his or her daily life. The problem for many of us is that we don’t view God’s Word as God intends. For some, we view God’s Word as nothing more than an endless list of “dos and don’ts” to be followed. Many of these folks come to the conclusion that God’s Word is restrictive, oppressive, and only leads to feelings of guilt because we can’t do what we are to do. For others, God’s Word is viewed no differently than a good novel or some inspirational poem we’ve read in times past. The Bible is inspirational, but it ends there. Neither of these captures how James viewed God’s Word.

Just look at what we’ve learned so far. In verse 18 we learned that the “word of truth,” God’s Word, is the means by which God has given us new birth. In verse 21 we learned that God’s Word is the “word implanted in you, which can save you.” And now, in verse 25, we learn that God’s Word is the “perfect law that gives freedom.” James isn’t the only one who holds such a high view of Scripture, who understands the power of God’s Word to save us, guide us, and give us freedom. The writer of Hebrews wrote,

12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NIVO)

The Word of God is living, it is powerful, it is penetrating. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to open our eyes to our need for Jesus and to teach us, guide us, correct us, mold us, shape us, and use us. God’s Word is not a cold, dead book comprised of ink and paper, it is God’s voice speaking to us. God speaks to us through His Word. Dan McCartney is professor of New Testament Studies at Westminster Theological Seminary. He writes,

The law is not some legal code; it is the transformative and living speech of the living God, with whom one has a relationship. So here the gazing into the perfect law of freedom is not a scholastic analysis of a legal text independent of its author; it is a listening to the redemptive story because it’s the living speech of the author. (McCartney, Dan. James)

When we come to realize this, that God desires to speak to us through His Word, then all of those who truly belong to Jesus, those who have saved by Jesus, redeemed by Jesus, rescued by Jesus, will fall on their faces in humility before the Word of God and listen like they have never listened before. The more they listen, the more they put the Word of God into practice in their everyday life, the more they recognize the voice of God, the heart of God, coming through His Word. Those who experience this, experience an ever-increasing love for the Word of God because it truly is a “Lamp to guide their feet and a light to their path” (Psalm 119:105). Listen to the enthusiasm, love, and yearning coming from the Psalmists pen.

97 Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. 98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. 99 I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. 100 I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. 101 I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. 102 I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. 103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:97-105 NIVO)

Is that how you feel about the Word of God? I pray it is. Is that what you’ve experienced from looking intently into the Word of God and doing what it says? Do you find yourself growing in wisdom, gaining new insights? Do you meditate on God’s Word? Do you find what you are learning from God’s Word keeping you from “every evil path?” Is God’s Word sweet to your taste, sweeter than honey to your mouth? I pray this is your experience, but if it is not you need to know it is not too late. It’s never too late my friend.

Nat was 13 years old the first time he was incarcerated. Incarceration didn’t make an impact on his life so by the time he was 21, Nat was a gang member, big time drug dealer, and a hopeless addict. He knew he needed to change, but he couldn’t. The cycle continued. Nat was arrested for selling drugs and spent 16 months in prison. He was released on parole, but nothing had changed. In no time he was back for 6 more months. Then he was arrested for a third time on a federal charge. He was facing 10 years. Alone in his cell one night, finally broken, Nat prayed, “God, why can’t I change my life?” That night he decided he would walk away from his gang affiliation. The next day he went to his friends in the gang, inside the walls, and told them, “I’m walking with Jesus and Him alone.” Nat was shocked. They respected his decision. He says, “I was able to live in general population my whole sentence.”

Nat went on to earn his GED. He did so well that he began to tutor other inmates. He started studying God’s Word and he didn’t turn away and forget the things he learned, he put them into practice. While he was still in prison, Nat enrolled in college and got a job helping other prisoners who needed vocational training.

Nat enrolled in a Prison Fellowship year-long, intensive discipleship and mentoring program. That year changed Nat’s life as he dug deep into God’s Word, discipled another inmate, and put everything he was learning into practice while inside the walls of the prison. Nat was eventually released from prison and for the past two years he has been on staff with Prison Fellowship working with inmates. Don’t merely listen to the Word, but do what it says. This Word, God’s Word, is powerful, it is living and active, and able to draw you into an intimate walk with the Lord where your greatest desire is to know and love Him, to be used by Him to bring glory and honor to His Name.

The Word doesn’t just come alive to those who are desperate and locked up. It will come alive to anyone who is willing to humble themselves before God, turn to Jesus as Lord and Master of their life, and humble themselves before God’s Word. Let me tell you another story. We have 26 kids who are being discipled by adults in our church. One of those kids is a young man named Taytum Burks. Taytum is in the 3rd grade and being discipled by Cody Birsner. At staff meeting this past week Cody’s wife, Linda, told us a story. Taytum was at school and asked one of his classmates what he knew about Jesus? The kid said, “I use to go to church, but I don’t go any more.” Taytum told him about being discipled and said, “Would you like for me to disciple you?” The kid asked, “What is discipled?” Taytum went on to tell him that being discipled is how you learn about following Jesus. Even in the 3rd grade Taytum knows that it’s not enough to hear the Word, you must do what it says.

James isn’t telling us anything that Jesus hasn’t already told us. In Luke 11, Jesus was teaching one day when a crowd gathered to hear Him speak. The crowd was mesmerized. Luke tells us,

27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” 28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:27-28 NIVO)

No doubt the woman was in awe of all that Jesus was saying. He didn’t sound like the teachers she was accustomed to hearing. Out of the blue she blurted out, “Man, your momma is blessed! Who wouldn’t want to have a son like You! She is one lucky lady!” Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Don’t just hear the Word, do it!

In John 13, Jesus gathered in the Upper Room to share the Passover with His disciples. After the meal, Jesus taught them about what it means to be a servant. When He finished teaching, Jesus said,

17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:17 NIVO)

Jesus is unwilling to allow us to fit Him into our schedule when it is convenient. He is unwilling to allow us to pick and choose what we like about His teaching and discard the rest of His teaching. He is unwilling to allow us to be part-time disciples. Jesus told His disciples,

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26 NIVO)

It has been my prayer this week that we would allow the Lord to search our hearts, to reveal to us if we are merely a hearer of the Word or if we are a doer of the Word. There is so much at stake my friend. Not only is eternity before us, for those who will humble themselves before God and ask Jesus to come into their hearts as their Lord and Master, but there is also a dying world that needs to know Jesus’ grace and mercy. God’s method is to use you and me. He wants to use you and me to share His love, mercy, and saving grace with those around us.

Brennan Manning wrote some 15 books during his life, but my favorite is, “The Ragamuffin Gospel.” I’ve given away more than 100 copies to friends through the years. I was reading an interview with Brennan one day several years ago that stopped me in my tracks. Brennan said,

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. (Brennan Manning)

Our community is sick because we are sick. We keep looking, searching for something to satisfy us, give us peace, purpose in life, but nothing this world has to offer can provide anything more than momentary relief. Our community desperately needs to know the mercy, grace, and love of Jesus, but before we can ever be used to share His love and saving grace with them we must first come to know and experience it for ourselves. Won’t you humble yourself before our great King this morning and surrender your life to Him?

Mike Hays

Britton Christian Church