The book of James is said to be the earliest written New Testament book, and though comparatively short, it manages to touch on several important topics that are crucial to the growth and the development of Christians. While it has only 108 verses (that’s fewer than Psalms 119 alone), half of these verses are commands, and James is an advocate of being doers of God’s words – applying God’s truths in one’s works and thereby manifesting a living faith. James 1:22 is one of the representative verses of doing God’s works – not just in this book, but also across the entire Bible. In Chapter 1, James discusses what is true religion – pointing out two main aspects – true religion consists of trials and temptations (suffering); true religion requires doing. James 1:22 refers directly to James 1:19 [Article], in which James had first introduced the importance of listening especially, as he emphasizes that when it comes to the word, while listening is important, it is not sufficient.
I would like to think that all Men thrive on knowledge, and naturally pursues knowledge. Likewise, I’d like to think that I thrive on knowledge, and in my pursuit of greater knowledge I better myself. You may not agree, and I can see why – this is obviously a flawed perspective on my part. In my pursuit of knowledge, I eventually came to a point in which I realised that having heard so many sermons, so many lectures, having gone for so many classes, having studied so many books and the Bible – it struck me that despite gaining greater knowledge and understanding, I have not grown as compared to years ago. My mentor reminded me that perhaps, it’s time for me to stop learning and start doing – it is pointless to learn, learn, learn and not do anything about it. My motive for learning was wrong – I no longer remember why I was so obsessed in pursuing knowledge – maybe so that I can store pieces of information in my head and one day if I’m quizzed, I can show off that I know my stuff. That was rather a warped understanding of the purpose of knowledge – especially in the Biblical and spiritual sense. You learn so that you can apply. You understand in order to do. Even if you aren’t particularly hung over about the pursuit of knowledge, if you’ve been a Christian for a number of years, there ought to be a certain amount of biblical knowledge that you’ve garnered. Yet, more often than not, our spiritual lives are far poorer than what our amount of spiritual knowledge suggests. Spiritual knowledge does not equate to spiritual health. An empty obsession over spiritual knowledge more often than not merely masks one’s declining spiritual health.
Do not merely listen to the word – In James 1:19 the importance of listening is brought up, especially when dealing with people or with emotions. At a glance this equation would probably work – Speaking < Listening < Doing. I love equations, but doctrine isn’t mathematics. Something like this will probably be more accurate – Speaking (rashly) < Listening (well) < Doing (what’s commanded). Oh well, probably still not detailed enough, but I think that’s the gist of it. The word ‘merely’ suggests that listening is not bad, and we shouldn’t stop listening – I believe very strongly in the act of hearing, and I see it as the first step to salvation, a loose concept based roughly on verses like Romans 10:14 – merely suggests that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just listening to the word, because we can do more than just that.
and so deceive yourselves – Often we are led into believing that studying God’s precepts, going for numerous prayer meetings or worship services; listening to gospel songs and subscribing to daily e-devotionals are enough to sustain our faith, and that doing these things are an expression of our faith. While it cannot be denied that a Christian should thirst after God’s words and meditate upon God’s precepts [Psalm 1:2]; a true Christian would not stop there. If you are clear about God’s purposes for you, you will be clear about why you should learn more and listen more, that is, so that you can better relate to and apply God’s commands. At the end of the day, it’s easy to see if we have been deceiving ourselves – if our motive for studying the Bible are selfish, that’s pretty much self-deception. It’s like how Sunday School children mermorize ‘memory verses’ so that they can get prizes or impress their parents. Not that it’s a bad thing for kids, but we can no longer hide under the naivety of children.
Do what it says – I view the key word of this verse as ‘do’. It’s not just about empty speaking – Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven [Matthew 7:21]. Luke 6:46-49 is an ideal passage regarding showing your faith by doing God’s work rather than simply hearing God’s words not doing or simply claiming your faith. In this passage Jesus uses the analogy of a foolish builder versus a wise builder. In one way or another, this parable always reminded me of the fairytale of the Three Little Pigs.
Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete [Luke 6:46-49].
Sometimes we delude ourselves by telling ourselves, hey, I’m doing enough, I’m reading the Bible everyday. I’m studying God’s words. I know what’s right. I understand the doctrines. I’m good. I’m all set. I’ll just continue doing what I’m doing. Writing this blog is kinda the same. It is not enough. It is the result of my daily study of verses, yes, but if I don’t apply these verses, I’m nothing more than a self-deluded and hypocritical Christian. Sometimes we study the Bible like we study Shakespeare – or any other literary work of art. We read, we analyze, we conclude a few ‘morals of the story’; and then we close the book and go to bed. That’s not how the Bible was meant to be read. When you read Shakespeare, you won’t take the text personally – when Romeo and Juliet cannot be together, it probably doesn’t affect you much – unless you are a romantic. Even if you are touched by a story, or you feel duly inspired by it; it doesn’t quite work the same way as the Bible. The Bible is more than just a storybook; it’s more than just a history text; it’s more than just a lifestyle manual. You read it, and you are expected to live it.
I hope you don’t live out Twelfth Night or Macbeth. If you do, try living out the Bible instead. Be a doer, not just a listener.