Last week, we started into the section of James where he describes "The Distinctiveness Of True Disciples". What is distinctive about true disciples of Jesus?
We focused on James' telling us that a disciple of Jesus spends a lot of time reading and studying the Bible, the Word of God. He mentions "The Word" several times in the section we are studying. We spent a lot of time recognizing that there are a lot of people who claim to be Christians, but who rarely if ever truly read the Bible. We also made the point that to read it and not pay attention, is pretty worthless.
Maybe the high point last week was the realization of how intensely people read a love letter compared to how we read a book. The greater our love for the writer, the greater our preoccupation will be with the writer's writings, which should affect how we read and study the Bible.
Remember that Jesus said:
If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine... --John 8:31
We have been studying in James 1:22-25:
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. --James 1:22-25
I broke the current section of James into four things we need to understand:
2. We Need To Learn
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. --James 1:23As we emphasized in the previous section, listening is important, but it is only a beginning. There seems to be a disturbing trend in American Christianity to consider listening as all that is needed. Think about it -- don't most people who go to church regularly feel like they are doing pretty well spiritually? Aren't they basing this on being listeners?
The next step after listening is learning. The Greek word for "disciple" is mathetes. It comes from another Greek word manthano which means "to learn". A disciple is a learner. A disciple of Jesus is someone who, on a consistent basis, is learning from Jesus.
Let's take the analogy that James uses here and see what we can learn from it.
God's Word helps us to see ourselves the way we really are. Have you ever looked in a mirror and discovered something about yourself that you hadn't known? Sadly, as I get older, this seems to happen with increasing frequency -- and what the mirror shows is rarely positive! Graying hair, belt overhang - a mirror shows you the way you really are!
God's Word works the same way. God uses His word to help us see the way we really are.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was ... like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror...and has forgotten what kind of person he was. --James 1:23-24How many people in churches are like this? When God shows us something about ourselves, do we take it to heart? Or do we just forget what God has said to us? How many people understand that the pastor is talking about other people, not them? ...or if he is talking about them, choose to ignore it rather than face it and fix it?
But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. --James 1:25Maybe one principle we should get out of this verse is that of focus. Take now, for example. We're looking at this short passage in James. Does God have your undivided attention?
"Look intently" is a translation of one Greek word, parakupto. It's an interesting word that means literally "stoop and look". The implication is that you stop what you're doing, bend over and take a good look at something. It's used of Peter looking in Jesus' empty tomb:
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened. --Luke 24:12It's used again by Peter in his first letter:
It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven-things into which angels long to look. --1 Peter 1:12God wants us to have the same focus, the same longing, the same intensity when it comes to looking at His Word.
But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. --James 1:25Another important lesson we need to get from this passage is to be sure that God and His Word are the source of our self-image.
What are some other "mirrors" we use to determine how we see ourselves?
Here's a verse that reinforces this view of mirrors:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. --1 Corinthians 13:12In the New Living Translation, it says:
Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now. --1 Corinthians 12:13 [NLT]It's logical to assume that high quality mirrors were only available to the wealthy. Maybe that's why James emphasizes that God's Word is the "perfect law". It's the only perfect mirror available to us, the only source that is "perfect" in everything it tells us about ourselves, about God, about life!
There are a lot of faulty mirrors out there - schools, family, friends, books, etc.
We're all vulnerable to their messages. So let's make sure that we spend lots of time
"looking intently" at God's perfect mirror - His Word.
...for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. --James 1:24What is some bit of sage advice you received from a parent or some other mentor in your life many years ago, that you still remember? Don't forget what God is saying to you. That's essential to learning.
What are some things we can do to better remember what God says to us?
Write things down; take notes; A great practice is to write down what God says to them in Quiet Time and in prayer time;
Memorize key verses; when God really speaks to you from His Word, then you should mark that verse down as one to memorize and meditate on;
Ask someone to hold you accountable when God tells you to do something; have someone check up on you and see if you follow through; Have an accountability partner. "The Hand Illustration" -- a great learning tool:
It shows us five methods of learning from the Bible. Each of these is important.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.Hearing others teach the Bible provides us with the insight and perspectives of others. Certainly teachers played an important role in the New Testament. However, this intake is the little finger on the hand because in some ways it is the weakest way to learn the Bible. Just as James warns in James 1:22, mere listening is not enough. Also, God doesn't want us to depend completely on what others teach about the Bible; He wants to teach us directly.
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.The next finger is reading God's Word. It has the advantage of being more active, less passive. We are learning God's Word directly. Reading through the Bible also has the advantage of giving us the big picture, a panoramic view of God's Word. We can see major themes and the connections between the Old and New Testaments.
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. --Acts 17:11Studying God's Word is more than just reading it. It means digging into the Bible and letting God lead us to understanding, insights and applications. Studying helps us go below the surface. And as we study, God speaks to us personally, highlighting both what we need to know and what we need to do about it.
How can a young man keep his way pure?Memorizing is the forefinger because of the strength of this method of intake. We recall 100% of what we memorize. God can bring to mind verses we've memorized in any situation, even when we don't have a Bible with us. We can also meditate on verses we've memorized during the spare moments available every day.
By keeping it according to Your word.
With all my heart I have sought You;
Do not let me wander from Your commandments.
Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,Meditation is prayerful and careful reflection on God's Word with a view to application. Notice that meditation is the thumb. That's because it works in cooperation with the other four. You can meditate on what you hear, read, study and/or memorize. As we dwell on God's Word, God's Spirit works to transform our minds and hearts.
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
George W. Truett said "To know the will of God is the greatest knowledge. To do the will of God is the greatest achievement."
That's a great statement to sum up this week's study concerning the Word of God. Both knowing and doing are necessary.
How many of you have ever been involved in the construction of a home? I read about an architect who complained that many of his clients would come and ask him to design a house for them. But then when they saw the design, they constantly wanted to make changes, "improvements" in their minds, even though they knew little or nothing about architecture or home construction. The architect said that they didn't really want someone to design their house. What they wanted was someone to endorse their own plans and ideas for a home. They were convinced they knew what was best.
In home building, architects and builders do need to listen to and adapt to the owners. But don't we do the same thing in our relationship with God? Jesus is the great Architect of our lives. Even when we come to Him and ask for wisdom and guidance, don't we often really want Him to bless our plans? We are not so much seeking His plans for us as we are seeking Him to approve and bless our plans.
How are you doing when it comes to learning God's Word?
How are you doing when it comes to applying God's Word?
We are midway through the four aspects of this section.
...we will work on living and being a light.
So read James 1:22-27, to see what James says about what we should be like as a representative of Jesus.
Read James Chapter 1 again. See if your life exhibits the attributes that make Christians distinctive, as James describes them. See if you see yourself. If not, what would need to change to see yourself? God won't change his word, so the change will need to be in you.