Hearers versus Doers

February 1, 2019

James gives us a powerful illustration to ponder as we listen to and read God’s word. I suspect that James speaks of “hearers” because in his time and culture owning a personal copy of the scriptures was cost prohibitive for most Christians. Without a printing press, books had to be copied by hand. To give you an idea of what that means, a scribe can write about 2 characters per second. The four Gospels contain about 320,000 characters. 320,000 characters divided by 2 characters per second leaves a writing time of 160,000 seconds. 160,000 seconds divided by the 3600 seconds in an hour gives you a total 44 hours. And that is just for four books. We live in a time of privilege where physical books and electronic books are available at very reasonable prices. Whether we are hearing the word read in the assembly or we are reading it ourselves in the Bibles we are so privileged to own, the warning and the illustration speaks to us.

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, ESV)

We all understand mirrors. We probably looked in one this morning. We look so that we can make adjustments to our appearance. Some may wake up with a bad hair day and attempt to bring order to their hair. Men may shave; women may apply makeup. And none of us want food stuck in our teeth. We would think it odd for a person to look in the mirror, see these defects, and then walk away without correcting them.
In the same way, James wants us to look into the law of liberty. It is like a mirror in that it shows us what we should be as we ponder what we currently are. James says this takes perseverance on our part. But it should lead to us be a doer who acts. As scripture holds up a mirror on our lives, it should lead to correction, just as a mirror in the bathroom leads to corrections in our appearance. Failure to do this is self-deception. Perseverance in doing this will lead to blessing.