“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
Be A Doer of the Word: James 1:22-25
“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.”
In verses 22-25, James uses an analogy to drive his point home. If we truly believe God and what he says, it will change our behavior. Otherwise, we’re like someone who looks at himself or herself in a mirror and walks away forgetting what he looks like. That person is deceiving himself. The true believer, though, looks intently in the mirror of God’s word, taking it in and examining their life as his word reflects back to them who they truly are. Then, they go live differently because of it. They live according to the truth of what God’s word has shown them. They don’t hear what God says and say, “Nah, I don’t really like that. I’m going to do it a different way.” Those who put God’s word into action hear it, examine their lives, and live according to what God says—not what they want to see.
Here’s a silly analogy. Have you ever looked in the mirror and realized you have a piece of broccoli stuck in your teeth? You didn’t know it was there until you looked in the mirror–and then, of course, you mentally backtrack to add up how many people saw you and how embarrassed you need to be. But my point is that we didn’t see the food stuck in our teeth until we looked in the mirror. Similarly, we won’t know how our lives need to change if we never look at the word of God. And to take the analogy a little further, we’re all glad when that close friend pulls us aside to point out the big green vegetable tainting our smile. They’ve saved us from a dose of humiliation. We need the same thing in our spiritual lives. We need the community of faith to point out our blind spots and sin so that we can change.
When someone points out broccoli in our teeth, or when we look in the mirror and notice it, we don’t leave it there. That would be almost as ridiculous as this analogy. In the same way, if we’re to live out our faith, we shouldn’t look in the mirror of God’s word and not put what it says into action.
The “doer of the word” constantly comes back to the word, using it as a reference point for the way they live their life. And they are changed because of it.
Understanding the Law of Liberty
In verse 25, James uses the term “law of liberty.” I didn’t quite understand what was meant by this for a while, but I’m ever so slowly starting to grasp it, and I found N.T. Wright’s analogy helpful. He uses the example of driving rules. In some countries, we drive on the right side of the road. In others, we drive on the left side. If you live in America but you’re dead set on driving on the left side of the road, you won’t get very far for very long. You could decide you hate the right side of the road and it feels constricting to you and you never want to follow that law—until eventually you suffer the consequences.
While the metaphor falls short eventually, you can see the point. God’s design for the way we should live our lives is good. And just like when we drive on the correct side of the road, we can enjoy the freedom of driving that way it was intended, so too abiding by God’s law allows us to have the freedom to live life according to his design. This doesn’t mean you’ll never get in an accident even if you drive on the correct side of the road, and it doesn’t mean nothing bad will happen in this life even if you follow God’s law perfectly. But that’s where faith comes in, and that’s where we have to circle back to the beginning of James 1. Living according to the way God calls us to live, even when we can’t understand it, will yield a reward. When we live God’s way, James 1:25 tells us, blessing follows—maybe not immediately, maybe not in this life. But it will come. (Check out this post on James 1:12 for more on the word “blessed.)
Do Things Differently: James 1:26-27
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
If we want to be doers of the word, if we’re serious about living our faith and not just pretending, we will reflect that in the way we speak, in how we love the vulnerable, and by not getting caught up, distracted, and tempted by what the world has to offer. The way we do things will be different. It will look odd. It will cause discomfort. It will require sacrifice. It will be hard.
James knew this well and was eventually martyred for what he believed. But if we are true followers of Jesus, we can bear all of that now because we know that the weight of glory will surpass it all (2 Corinthians 4:17). That crown of life (James 1:12) will absolutely be worth anything we face now. Do we actually believe this?
If we do, we will learn to control our speech—to “bridle” our tongue, steering and controlling it just like a bridle on a horse. We will also serve the vulnerable. In James’ time (and often still today) that included widows and orphans. The Old Testament is filled with passages about how God’s people were to serve the vulnerable. They were to demonstrate the generosity and goodness of God to the world, and this meant they were generous and good to others. God’s people were to serve the vulnerable, because God did the same for us. God’s people were to work for justice, because God is just.
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you we’re sojourner in the land of Egypt.” In the book of Isaiah, God rebukes his people for their “vain offerings” and empty worship. He calls them instead to, “Wash yourselves; make yourself clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:16-17). God didn’t want them to just do the religious stuff. He wanted to use them to change the world to be the way he intended. They were supposed to live in a way that pointed to who he is. (This video from The Bible Project is helpful for understanding our call to advocate for others and pursue justice.)
From the Old Testament until now, one of the hallmarks of God’s people is that they actively pursue justice and dismantle oppression—which doesn’t just mean on an individual level. God is remaking the world, and as the people of God, we get to be a part of that process. That means we work to bring about his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We work to ease the burden of our neighbor, and we work to dismantle the systems that put that burden on their backs in the first place.
Church, let us be people who are known for loving our neighbor. Because who, after all, is my neighbor? According to Jesus, even those who look, believe, act, worship, or think differently than me are my neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).
“How could we offer those being abused anything less than the end of their suffering when we have the power to grant it? James does not say, ‘Tell the orphans and the widows to put up with their suffering.’ He says to the Christian, ‘Help them!’”
— ESAU MCAULLEY
New Testament scholar, Esau McCaulley, wrote this. “How could we offer those being abused anything less than the end of their suffering when we have the power to grant it? James does not say, ‘Tell the orphans and the widows to put up with their suffering.’ He says to the Christian, ‘Help them!’”
Let us be people who are known for being just as God is just, for being merciful as God is merciful, for being good as God is good. Let us be people who feed the poor and change the social structures that forced poverty upon them. Let’s work to eradicate racist systems that threaten the lives and livelihoods of Black and brown men and women. There’s no racism in God’s kingdom, so as the Church we get to be people God uses to make that a reality on earth as it is in heaven. There’s no hunger in God’s kingdom, so we must feed the hungry. There’s no abuse in God’s kingdom, so we must advocate for the abused.
You get my point.
As we do all of that, as we live out our faith in our actual lives, we are to remain “unstained from the world.” As Christians, we operate differently than the rest of the world. We abide by a different standard–the law of liberty. But our role is to be people who live out who God is and what his kingdom is like. That is a high calling–one that’s an honor to live out and one that will be worth whatever it costs us now.
Holy Spirit, help us today as we do that work.
- How is your speech–both in person and in the digital world? Is it used to love God and love others? What do you need to work on most in this area? (For example, the way you talk to your kids or spouse (one of my major struggles), your online interactions, your ability to listen, etc.)
- We’re to put away “wickedness” and live differently. What does this look like for you this week? What does it look like for you to live a life “unstained” from the world? (P.S. This doesn’t mean we walk around with a “holier than thou” attitude. We’re supposed to remain meek and humble as we live according to God’s way instead of the world’s.)
- In verse 27, James is clear about the two traits that characterize pure religion: helping the vulnerable and not giving into the ways of the world. What does doing those things look like for you in this season? Sometimes our initial thought can be, “Well, I don’t have the resource to help,” or “I don’t know how to help.” Ask God for wisdom to know how you can be a doer of the word in these areas. Take time to meditate, pray, and think creatively.
- Make sure to check out the video below from The Bible Project. It helps us understand the biblical call to put our faith into action by pursuing justice and righteousness.
“Justice” is a felt need in our world today and a controversial topic. But what is justice, exactly, and who gets to define it? In this video, we’ll explore …
 Longman, Tremper, David E. Garland, et al. Hebrews—Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006, p 225.
 Wright, N. T. The Early Christian Letters for Everyone. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, p 12.
 McCaulley, Esau. Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020, p 133.
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