The Epistle of James

Scripture Reading: James 1:22 (KJV)

With this verse, we come to the main theme of the epistle. It would seem already, in the early church, that there were some who professed to be Christians, whose lives gave very little evidence of being real. Besides, many seemed to think there was virtue in just hearing the Word, and that it did not matter much whether one obeyed it. Such, James says, were deceiving themselves. He everywhere affirms that good conduct must accompany salvation. Working for God does not produce salvation, but it is certainly a mark of a saved one. A mark of childhood is obedience. Sometimes, it is difficult to know whom James has in mind in his epistle. In some places, he seems to be writing to unbelieving Jews, as in 5:1-6: then, to those who make a profession, but whose salvation is questionable. Most of the time, he is thinking of those who are saved, but whose lives are not what they should be. This verse (1:22) could well be considered the text of the whole epistle.

"... be ye doers of the Word ..." To be a "doer of the word" is of the utmost importance, and should be a constant habit with the child of God. Just hearing it will not do. The Bible is not written merely to educate us, but to teach us how to live our everyday lives. Hearing only will not even do for salvation. It is, indeed, the starting point of salvation, but hearing is all in vain if it does not cause one to trust and obey our Lord Jesus. The Lord says, "Come unto me," but if hearing Him does not incite one to come to Him, the hearing is of no avail. This is what is meant by "obeying the gospel." In 2 Thessalonians 1:8 we read, of the vengeance of God upon those "that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Christians should be doers: When one trusts and obeys the Lord Jesus, he becomes a child of God. Our father in heaven expects even more of His children than an earthly father does of his. Parents tell children things not merely to impart knowledge, but to produce obedience. Much of the Bible is written for the same purpose. It is our Father telling us what to do. Often, many of the practical portions of the Scriptures are sadly neglected. The portions that our Father is trying to use to influence our hands and feet are quickly passed over. Peter's first epistle is very practical, and large portions of Paul's epistles are given over to practical exhortations. These are all there for us to obey.

Christ and doing: There is much on practical living in the discourses of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Matthew 7:24-27, we have a portion very similar to our verse. It is the story of the man who built his house on the rock, and the one who built his house on the sand. It is not wrong to make Christ the rock of this parable. He truly is the rock, upon whom, if one builds, he is safe for evermore. Sometimes, some, in their zeal for this application, forget the way the Lord applies it. He says in verse 24, "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock." Then, in verse 26 He says, "And everyone that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand." He emphasizes the fact that hearing His sayings only is not enough. There must be the doing of them, or disaster is sure to follow. This story comes as a climax to His very practical sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. These are the particular sayings that He exhorts to hear and to do. For further references as to doing the Word as taught by our Lord Jesus, read the following: Matthew 12:50; 28:20; Luke 6:46; 11:28; 12:47, 48; John 13:17.

Trust and obey: To trust in the Lord brings Him close; to obey brings Him into the soul and our life. The natural effect of trusting is obeying. If one never obeys, we could wonder if he has ever really trusted. One has said, "Trust and obey are the two wings that maintain equilibrium in flight, the two oars that keep the boat going steadily forward." Doing the Word is the natural fruit of believing it. An apple tree is of little value unless it produces apples. So, faith in the Lord Jesus, if we can call such faith, is of little value if it does not produce the desire to obey His commandments and produce fruit to His glory.

A word to the preacher: If you preach the Word, never seek to please the people. Bring the Word to the unsaved so that they may see their need of Christ and trust and obey Him. Bring the Word to the saved so that they may live upright, generous, Christ-like lives. Design your sermons so that either new Christians may be made thereby, or better ones. Unless one of these two purposes is sought, your preaching will probably end in failure.

The Word or tradition: One verse says, "Be ye doers of the word," not tradition. Some things that people are told they must do have no foundation in the Word. Then, in their zeal for this tradition, they neglect the doing of the Word. The Lord has much to say as to the traditions of His day in Mark 7. The climax is in verse 13, "Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition." Do you know of any who are doing religious things that they believe are according to the Scripture, yet by so doing, are failing to obey some direct command of the Word?

Present day traditions: A missionary wrote: "I started an outburst when I answered a question by stating there was nothing in the Bible saying it was wrong to eat meat on Friday. Some thought I was a terrible heretic." When it comes to religion, far too many of us hold on to traditions, in spite of the Word of God. Sad to say, traditions of men sometimes keep us from obeying and serving the Lord.

"... not hearers only ..." Every Sabbath day the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was read in the synagogue (Acts 15:21). Great value was placed on attending and listening to the reading. Some in that day seemed to think that this was their whole religious duty and some Jewish Christians may have had similar thoughts. Like some today, just attend the meetings of the church; the rest doesn’t matter too much. To attend and hear is of no value unless the Word of God is permitted to work in the heart and life. It is like scattering seed on hard ground where it cannot take root and grow.

The Word has no effect: Some listen to the Word for years and are never saved. They attend, but their mind is more on the clock than on the sermon. When the meeting is over all they think of is getting home; eating; or watching the game. Some may pass a few remarks, "nice sermon," but immediately proceed to forget it. It is possible to listen with attention, retaining some in memory, yet bear no fruit. They think of the discourse like they would think of a popular song, or a nice musical instrument, but their life is not changed. Even Christians can listen to the Word and know it well, yet not obey it. To be sound in doctrine is not enough. Some think of the Bible only as a book that substantiates their church doctrines. The purpose of the Word is to bring life to the sinner through the Savior, and as a result, a godly life lived for the Savior.

"... deceiving your own selves." To deceive others has been a common practice since Satan deceived Eve in the garden. Our verse speaks of self deception, which is worse than deceiving others. Some believe they are heaven bound, yet, in reality they are on the road to hell. Such is the case with those who feel that hearing the word is sufficient. When asking people about whether they are saved or not, you often hear, "I go to church!" Some have been surprised when they learn there is no salvation in going to church, and a few become indignant. When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, "What must I do to be saved?" they did not say, "Go to church" (Acts 16:31).

Some deceived through poor preaching: Sad to say, some preachers never tell a poor, lost sinner the way to be saved. In such places one might come to hear, and hear, and hear, and believe there was virtue in hearing, but they would not be saved – only deceived.

Deceived through unbelief: One might hear the true Gospel over and over, yet be self-deceived and not saved. The story is told of a lady, who “attended church” every time the doors were opened. She heard the simple story of the Gospel of Christ continually for nearly a year, when someone asked if she was saved. She replied, “To hear the Gospel of Christ is good, but there is no need to do anything right now.” Finally, it dawned on her that she must not only hear, but she must do what the Lord commanded to be saved; and she needed to do it right now. So, she was born again; no longer deceived.

Trusting religious ceremonies is to be deceived: Some are deceived by believing there is salvation in observing religious ceremonies. A young college student insisted that no matter what he might do or how he might live, he would never be lost because of his religious belief. The young student was deceived.

Other deceptions: Perhaps most of us have known one or two who believed they were good and did not need a Savior. Or who believed that since God is love, He will not punish lost sinners. A few, no matter how wicked they are, feel they will make it somehow; in some way. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). “Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor effeminate ... shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9, 10). To believe that one can serve the devil and still be saved is to be deceived. Of course, the worst among us can be saved by trusting and obeying Christ; no longer serving the devil.

A true Christian may deceive himself: If a true Christian thinks that God is pleased with his merely hearing the Word, he too is deceived. Our heavenly Father expects us to do what He commands. God is not satisfied with our having a mere knowledge of His Word. Even memorizing it is not enough. These things are good, but anything short of being doers of His Word is self-deception.

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