Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 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 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 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. (verses 21-25)
Years back I was in a Christmas operetta as a member of the chorus of shepherds. Every night we got slathered with pancake makeup on face, arms and legs – everything that wasn’t covered by the costume. Under those bright stage lights, I had the appearance of a nicely tanned, Middle Eastern shepherd. But standing in front of a mirror, I looked like some bright orange extra-terrestrial!
One night, I was rushing off to a Christmas party afterwards. I looked in the mirror and determined I would simply dash home and have a full shower to deal with all that excessive colour. (Which was a great plan, until I ran out of gas en route – walking several blocks to a gas station was incredibly embarrassing!) Once home, if I ignored the mirror, neglected the shower, and headed to the party in my bright-orange-state, my embarrassment would have been entirely justified.
James is telling us that God’s word helps us see and understand where we are truly at. “Humbly accept the word planted in you,” he says. Which is to say, let God’s word instruct you, giving you insight, helping you to see with greater clarity your own attitudes and behaviours that need to be brought into line with God’s will. Listen attentively. Open your ears. Open your eyes. For it is in this way that we can “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.”
But don’t leave it there. Don’t just listen. Don’t just look. “Do what it says,” James urges. Otherwise, it’s as useless as looking in a mirror and then completely forgetting what you’ve seen.
All of this, of course, needs to be in submission to the Spirit who is the one who opens eyes and ears. We are reliant on him. But we ourselves are called to engage. Here are four things James instructs us to do:
(1) Look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom. “Intently” is a loaded word. It implies eager focus. Paying attention. Ready to receive – expecting that we will. Whether opening the Bible to read on our own, or listening to someone else preach or teach, we’re called to engage “intently.” What is it that the Lord wants to say? What does he have in mind for me here and now?
(2) Continue to do this. Make it a regular habit. Keep on looking. Keep on listening. Engage “intently” day by day. Feed on God’s Word, just like daily bread.
(3) Not forgetting what was heard. It’s so easy to glean an insight from Scripture, and then forget. This is why journaling is important, writing down what you’ve discovered. It speaks, also, to the importance of memorizing Scripture – storing truths in your heart and bringing them to mind, again and again. Don’t forget.
(4) Doing it. Just do it. When the Scripture speaks a word of correction, or encouragement, or new action, or renewed direction, don’t put it off. If it gives new insight, change your perspective. If it reminds you to pray, enter right in. Whatever it is, don’t turn way. Don’t look, and then forget. Just do it.
So, look into the mirror – don’t be afraid, don’t back off. And don’t ignore what you see. Instead, fully engage, continually, not forgetting, but stepping right in, putting into action what the Lord has spoken. You will be blessed as you do.
O Lord, give me eyes to see and ears to hear as I engage with your Word. Strengthen me by your Spirit to do what you say. For my blessing. For your glory.
Reflect: What has the Lord spoken to you through this passage? How do you need to respond? Do it.
Photo by Lisa Fotios: https://www.pexels.com/photo/mirror-on-hand-2412353/