Doing vs Hearing

Our church had a prayer and communion service last night. My husband and I went because we both knew we needed our hearts to be centered on Jesus right now. As the pastor directed the congregation in prayer, he did so around the book of James. I’d forgotten how much good stuff (and by good I mean convicting!) is in there. But one passage he read has always put me in a bit of a funk. Last night was no different. It comes from chapter 1.

“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)

Pretty straight forward, I know. But a bit daunting. I always come away from that passage wondering how to truly put it into practice. I mean, there are so many things in the Bible to do, but not enough hours or days or months or years to do them all!

I was still pondering this morning when I sat down with my journal and began to write. I wasn’t really writing about these verses. I was writing about how much I want to trust instead of fear, to live by faith, especially in this season of uncertainty where we can’t see exactly what our next few months will look like. Before I could even grab hold of that thought, I wrote this:

“I believe God–His plan, HIs goodness–but then I don’t act as if I believe.”

Huh. Kind of goes with hearing but not doing, doesn’t it? And maybe, I realized, acting as if I believe God is part of the point of this passage. That “doing” isn’t just acts of service or acts of kindness or even “not doing” things displeasing to God. Perhaps “doing” is also acting on what God says–about Himself, about me, about His love for me–because I believe God’s word to be true. Letting the Word which I clearly hear be the foundation for I do. That includes how I think, because actions start in the mind.

I grabbed my New Testament word dictionary to see if I could find any insights along these lines from the original language. There I discovered that the word “doer” is more in line with “builder, creator” than just doing a task. So while yes, being a “doer” refers to an outward, physical activity, I believe the meaning of “doer” also points to our internal “actions.” Many times Scripture compares our spiritual life to building–the parable of building our house on the rock, the metaphor of the church being built up together with Jesus as our cornerstone. We have to do the work, so to speak, on the inside in order to do any work of value to the kingdom of God on the outside.

The other interesting thing I found in this passage was the word “persevere.” In this instance, I don’t think that word really coveys the true sense of original language. The King James Version translated this “continueth therein,” which is closer but still not great. The word used means “to stay, to remain nearby with someone, abide.” So our “perseverance” in the law of liberty isn’t really our action. It’s us abiding in the True Vine. It’s us staying near to Jesus–and Him near to us through the Holy Spirit. It’s us hearing the Word of truth, which is the law of freedom, and then living as if it is true. Which it is!

I don’t know about you, but suddenly James’s exhortation that we be doers of the Word makes more sense. It’s both internal and external. And when I’m “doing”–when I’m abiding in Jesus, living by the law of liberty–then my external “doing” will happen as a natural consequence of obedience of Christ rather than being something I have to figure out for myself.