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. (Jas 1:22-24)
James now begins to argue that doing the word is important. While hearing is an important thing in the Christian’s life, it must be coupled by action on his part if it is to mean anything at all. In the parable of the Sower, each of the different soils represents someone who ‘heard’ the word and yet the fruit of each was considerably different. Of course, James is writing to Christians who have already heard and obeyed the Gospel of Christ so what is there to do?
From the beginning of this book and then even after this statement, James provides illustration after illustration of action that is, or is not, in line with the Faith which bears the name of our Saviour. The idea here is that to hear is not the same as to respond to what has been heard. Many times as I was growing up I heard the phrase “going in one ear and out the other” as a description of my powers of retention. I could hear my mother tell me to do something but that was a far cry from actually doing it.
In the same light, James says to his audience that those who hear the word but do not couple it with action are deceiving themselves. James had just urged them not to be deceived by thinking God created the problems in their lives and now they are suffering a self-delusion that they are pleasing to God even though they do not do according to what they have heard.
When one deludes themselves, all sorts of things can go wrong. James uses an illustration to prove his point. Suppose you get up in the morning and look ‘intently’ in the mirror. You notice messed up hair, a dirty patch on your forehead, sleep in your eye and maybe (if you dressed before you looked) you might see wrinkled clothes and a shirt that is buttoned in the wrong holes. When you look intently you notice these things. Then, you walk away and forget about them:”Out of sight, out of mind”. The first person you meet will either conclude you are on the way to a costume party, or that you didn’t pay any attention to what you saw.
James will further this illustration in the next few verses and make a spiritual application. However, each of us can probably relate to this illustration before us. Let us not deceive ourselves, let us be hearers and doers. Those who believed the report…acted on it.