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
When James wrote this letter to the early Christians they did not have access to God’s Word so prevalently like we do today. Most likely the church leadership had possession of a copy and they would read from it when the community gathered. Certainly, attending these gatherings put them a notch above those pagans who never attend church. Being Jewish Christians, some probably took pride in their observance of certain rituals and outward commands. They had been baptized, they took communion, they attended church, they didn’t steal or murder or commit adultery. Remember the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, he asked Jesus “what good thing should he do to enter enteral life?” and Jesus listed a few of the commandments. This must have made the rich young ruler beam with pride for he knew he had kept all these laws. But Jesus wasn’t done. He told the ruler to sell all his belongings and give them to the poor then to follow Jesus. (Matt 19: 16-22)
Completely surrendering to God and being a doer is hard. Later in James he says if we know to do good but we don’t that is sin (James 4:17). This includes correcting our sin, some sin that we are comfortable in. James is describing God’s Word as a mirror. Before we leave the house in the morning we check to make sure there are no blemishes or stains on our clothes. If we saw a huge stain on our shirt we would change it. How silly would it be to say “oh well” and head off to work? I am sure in the office, people would ask “do you own a mirror?” Now, how many times have you gone to church on Sunday and thought the preacher was talking directly to you. Then you get in your car drive home and “do” nothing. That is what James is talking about here. God’s Word shows us all the imperfections, the blemishes, the stains of sin in our lives. His Word is “for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3: 16)
The forgetful man James is describing is not a man with a poor memory, but rather a man with poor priorities. He doesn’t remember what he saw in the mirror because he doesn’t regard it as very important. We get so caught up in our day to day lives that we forget to study God’s Word and apply it to our lives. No instead we have a career to pursue and money to make. We forget what God’s word says about our sins because, really, it just isn’t all that important compared to these other priorities in our lives.
At the end of this passage James says the man that is a doer will be blessed. 2 Tim 3:17 says “that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Blessed and complete, those are things you want to strive for. Unlike the rich young ruler who went away sorrowful, take a look in the mirror today. God calls for action and He wants us to be complete in Him. The truth is we can’t if we let our sin stain our lives.