The Epistle of James
HEARER, BUT NOT A DOER
Scripture Reading: James 1:23 (KJV)
This verse, along with verse 24, gives an illustration of a man who deceives himself. He looks at himself in a mirror, is not at all flattered, and turns away and tries to forget. So is a man who hears the Word of God, sees his condition, but tries to forget or make himself believe he is not as bad as pictured.
If any be hearers only: James does not openly accuse any of his readers of being hearers only. In our last verse (22) he tells them not to be such hearers. In this verse he uses the word "if." "If any be a hearer of the Word, and not a doer." This is wise procedure.
"... like a man beholding ..." The word "man" refers especially to the male member of the human family. Unlike a woman, a man does not usually spend much time before the mirror. He takes a passing glance to see if his hair is combed or his tie on straight, but seldom takes a good look at himself. However, the word "beholding" is a stronger word than just taking a passing glance. It implies taking a good look at himself. "Considering" would perhaps be a better translation. So we are to think of a man who studiously considers his natural face in a mirror.
"... beholding his natural face ..." "His natural face" literally means "the face he was born with." Many today, especially women, when they look into a mirror, do not see the face they were born with. It has been changed by make-up, age, or maybe even surgery. The color of the hair and sometimes the amount of it, are not what they are naturally. If we are true Christians, we should be content with our natural appearance. Our faces may not be too handsome, but if we let the light of Christ shine out of them, they will be remarkably improved. Moses did not appear the same after being on the mount with the Lord for forty days. "They looked unto him, and were radiant, and their faces shall never be confounded" (Ps. 34:5 RV).
"... in a glass." The word "glass" would be better translated "mirror" as in the Revised Version, "in a mirror." The mirrors of those days were made of polished brass or copper. These mirrors usually gave a good reflection, although not as perfect as our modern glass ones. A photograph often flatters one, but a mirror gives an accurate reflection. Socrates advised young men to carry a mirror. If they were good looking, they should remind themselves that an ugly life was out of keeping with good looks. If their appearance was not so good, they were told to remember that handsome actions offset ugly looks. Besides showing us every wrinkle in our face, every streak in our hair, and every expression, the mirror also tells us whether we are clean or dirty.
The Word a mirror: The Word of God is like a mirror. In it we can see ourselves as we are morally and spiritually. Many do not like the Bible for this reason. Their moral visage is not so good, and they do not like the mirror that reveals this to them. To a man who dares look, it will show him all his weaknesses, his failures, his sin. It will show how filthy he is, and how badly he needs cleansing. Men may flatter us, but this mirror, without any apology, will show exactly what we are in God's sight. It tells us bluntly that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9). "All our righteousness are as filthy rags" (Is. 64:6). These truths are very unpalatable to many, so they do not want to look into the mirror.
Paul and the mirror: Paul did not realize how much of a sinner he was until one day he took a good look into the mirror. He says, "For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died" (Rom. 7:9). Paul was very much alive in his tireless energy in combating Christians. He was filled with pride because of his education and self-righteous because of his outwards observance of the law. Then, one day he looked at himself in the light of the commandment, "thou shalt not covet," and he realized that he was a guilty sinner. Soon then we find this mighty man laid low at the feet of the Lord Jesus.
The laver: The laver was one of the articles used in connection with the tabernacle in the wilderness. It stood between the altar of burnt offerings and the tabernacle proper. It was made wholly of brass, and it had a basin to hold water. Before the priest offered any offering, or entered the tabernacle proper, he was to wash his hands and his feet at this laver. The foot of it was made from mirrors the women brought as gifts at the time the tabernacle was constructed (Ex. 38:8). It was thought that this foot was polished so that the priest could see his uncleanness, and then wash it away in the laver. At any rate, this is what the Word of God does. It first shows a sinner his uncleanness, and then shows him the Savior, who can cleanse him from all sin. It functions in a similar way with the Christian, the Word itself being the cleanser in this case. In Ephesians 5:26 we read, "That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word." "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word" (Ps. 119:9).
This verse is a continuation of the subject started in verse 23. Here we see the man who considered himself in a mirror, turning away, doing nothing about his condition, and soon forgetting all about it. He does not take just a passing glance, but takes a careful look, but yet turns away and forgets.
"... he beholdeth himself ..." The man of our verse, really considers himself in the mirror. Many really do get a view of themselves in the mirror of the Word. They do for a time get a gleam of their spiritual disfigurements, their spots, and blemishes. Sad to say, it is all soon forgotten. It does not drive them to Christ. There is no correcting or cleansing as there should be.
Look to no profit: Some read the Word much, and hear it preached often, but do not let it search their hearts or their consciences. They read it in a superficial way without letting it make a lasting impression. Did you ever look at your watch, and have one, immediately after, ask you, "What time is it?" and have to look at it again before you could answer? It is in this way that some listen to sermons. An hour after they cannot tell you the theme of the sermon. Some feel they should read a certain amount of the Bible every day. This is a good thing to do, but one must guard against hurrying through it, and not considering what is read. Perhaps some could not tell a single thing in it after reading their portion. If we do not watch out, this habit of inattention will grow, and reading will become wholly mechanical and profitless.
Many do not like the mirror: The story is told of a native African queen. She saw herself for the first time in a mirror, did not like what she saw, and dashed the mirror to pieces on the ground. Of course, smashing the mirror did not make her look any better. Many hear the Word, or read a bit of it, but do not want to remember. Some even hate the Word, because the picture it presents does not flatter them.
Hears but does not do: A man who hears, but does not do, is like a man who plows and sows, but does not reap. To be of any profit, truth must be more than known, it must be lived out. Many say, "I believe the Lord is coming," yet there is no purification of their lives, as is suggested in 1 John 3:3. Many know that they should be strangers and pilgrims on the earth, but they drive their tent stakes deep in the ground. To know and not to do, is to accomplish nothing.
"... forgetteth what manner of man he was." To forget that one has a black spot on his face will not cleanse it, nor will folks forgive him for being dirty. Nor will forgetfulness be an excuse before the Lord. None will be able to say, "Yes, I did notice I was sinful, when I read about it in the Bible, but I soon forgot." Nor will a Christian be able to excuse himself for not being what the Lord asked him to do. He will not be able to say, "I remember you told me, but I forgot." Some Christians could lose eternal reward, because they forgot to do what the Lord told them to do.