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. (Jas 1:23-25 ESV)
In the previous post we paid attention to the thoughts of looking at the natural face in the mirror in verses 23 and 24. The expectation is, that if you look into a mirror, you will correct what needs to be corrected. Why look in a mirror otherwise?
Have you ever had your mother ask: Did you look in the mirror? She doesn’t mean: “Did you only look in the mirror?” Nope. She means, ‘If you had looked in the mirror, you would not have failed to correct what I can see needs to be corrected, so go back, look, and correct it!” (Mothers have a way of putting a lot of meaning in one short question.) James’ point likewise is: Those that hear but don’t do are like those who see in a mirror but do not do (correct) what needs to be done (corrected).
In today’s post, with the word “but” in verse 25, James is going to change his subject. Instead of the person who hears and does not do, he is now going to talk about the person who hears and does. This person also examines himself and his mirror is the perfect law, the law of liberty.
Anytime you bring the word “law” into a conversation on spiritual things, there is always the risk of misunderstanding. It seems strange, at first, that James would suggest that one who perseveres in the law will be blessed, yet that is exactly what he says. I will offer a brief note on this with the realization that, in one short post, it will not be possible to cover every angle of this topic.
It is my understanding though, that as James qualifies it, he calls it the law of liberty. How does this law differ from other law, say the law of Moses? First, if we divide the Law of Moses into two broad categories, we have the ceremonial law and the moral law. We understand that the ceremonies, most of which pointed to Jesus, our ultimate sacrifice, have gone away. However, I think we also understand that the moral laws regarding murder, lust, brotherly love, godliness have not gone away at all, nor could they.
The moral standards are still the aim of every Christian. Still, we have not kept, nor does it seem we are able to keep, a law where the standard is “perfection or death”. The Liberty comes in Christ, whose blood cleanses us from our sins. We are not condemned for imperfection in keeping the law; we are liberated from the consequence of imperfection. So, since we don’t have to be perfect in it, can we then just not do the things we ought? Paul answers that in chapter 6 of Romans: God forbid!
So the persevering is something James wants these Christians to do. Paul’s illustration of a runner running for a prize shows perseverance and if you have ever done a 5k or marathon run, you know place that perseverance plays. James seems to link in this verse the idea of persevere with ‘hearing and doing’. As if to say, I am defining a perseverer in this way: One who hears and does.
Finally the reward: Those who persevere, that is, hear and do, will be blessed in what they do. Read Psalms 1:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psa 1:1-3 ESV)
David describes one whose delight and meditation (more than a casual consideration) are in the law of the Lord. He says this person will be prospered in what he does. Sounds a lot like what James is saying. The message should be clear: Hear the word of the Lord, Do the word of the Lord and you will be blessed.