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But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (James 1:22)
James is telling his readers to be doers of the word. The present tense Greek verb be or be you becoming (γίνομαι ginomai) is an imperative, which is the mood that typically conveys a command, intention, exhortation, or polite request. Here James is exhorting, if not commanding his readers, that they need to enter or assume a certain condition. Yes, they need to be doers (ποιητής poiētēs), meaning someone who is continuously, actively obedient to the word (λόγος logos). Obedience to the Word is not optional. It is required if one is to walk faithfully with God. Jesus pointed out: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21, 24-27) He also said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28) James is not suggesting they become doers, but that they are doers, i.e., make sure they are continuously doers. The expression doer of the word is a Hebrew idiom that literally means ‘makers of the word.’ It could mean a writer or speaker, but more likely carries the meaning of one who lives by the word, obeys the word, and puts the word in practice.
Notice that James says that we are not (μή mē) to be hearers only. The way this is expressed does not negate hearing the Word of God, nor downplaying the importance of hearing the Word God. Really, how then can we be doers if we have not first been hearers (ἀκροατής akroatēs)? This is not just some hearing the words that were said but rather being attentive, paying close attention to what was said. It does not make one a Christian because they listen dutifully as one is sharing the Word of God. While it is excellent if a Christian attends Christian services and reads the Scriptures daily, there is more to being a Christian. Literally hearing the Word, even understanding the Word, is not enough. In the early first century, Jews and Christians had similar services, wherein a lecturer would read from the Scriptures regularly while also explaining what had been read. However, this alone does not lead to faith. If one is the type of hearer that James is speaking of here, he would have genuine faith, meaning that his belief in what he heard would result in works, an evident demonstration that he is a genuine Christian. (Rom. 10:17; Jam. 2:20) In other words, a Christian, who was a hearer only, would be one who lacked faith.
Over 41,000 different Christian denominations today are filled with dutiful persons who regularly attend Christian services, periodically read their Bibles, and involve themselves in the social actions of the congregation. In this, they all believe that they are fulfilling their Christian obligations. However, many of these people’s lives are no different from the atheist that is a good person, living by the laws, paying his taxes, and doing good to others. The person who hears the word only but does not live by it is deceiving (παραλογίζομαι paralogizomai) himself. He is misleading himself with the false belief that hearing is enough, knowing is enough, which makes him a fool. We are deceiving ourselves if our entire life is not inundated in our worship of God. We may not be aware of, or maybe we even block out the fact that obeying the Word of God is an unnegotiable requirement. We may not realize that this deceiving ourselves is like a roadblock on our path to salvation and harder to set aside than ignorance or skepticism itself. God expects exclusive devotion from his worshipers, which encompasses every aspect of the Christian life. (1 Cor. 10:31) If our worship is merely an outward display, we are falling short after going through the motions. We were given the great commission of proclaiming and teaching God’s Word, as well as making disciples. If we are not regularly engaged in such work in our own communities, we are missing the most essential act of obedience.
Let’s take a deeper look at Jesus’ very powerful words at Matthew 7:21-23. In verse 21, he said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Many have supposed that by their insignificant punctual attendance on Christian services, or respectfully listening to it, having that feel-good moment for the rest of Sunday, they have done all that is required of them. Well, according to James and Jesus, they are working under the grossest self-deception there can be. Listen to the self-deception in verse 22, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’” Some multitudes have imagined that they have done all that is required of them because they were regularly attending Christian meetings and were listening attentively to the Word of God. James says that these ones are deceiving themselves if they think they have a righteous standing before God. However, Jesus takes it even further because he condemns the same sort of “Christians” who were doers. It is just that they were doers of their will and purposes, not the will of the Father. What happens to such persons? Jesus does not leave us wondering. Verse 23 says, “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”