"Mirror, mirror, on the wall"
1. Recognize the Context:
Previous Context: James 1:1-1-21 Verse 19 contains the same direct address found in verse 16, “my dear brothers and sisters.” This wise saying includes both positive and negative imperatives. positive-everyone should be quick to listen negative-slow to speak negative-slow to become angry While these instructions seem restrictive in today’s society valuing "free speech," it is consistent with both Jewish and Greco-Roman wisdom. In the Old Testament, several verses address the need for ethics in speech (Ps 39:1, 141:3, Prov 10:19, 13:3, 15:1, 17:27, 28, 21:23, Eccl 3:7, 5:2). Additionally, verses on anger can be found (Ps 37:8, Prov 15:1, 16:32, 29:11, Eccl 7:9).
Verse 20 provides the reason anger is to be avoided. Anger prohibits people from living in right relationship with God and others. This is supported throughout the New Testament (Matt. 5:22, Eph. 4:26-31, Col. 3:8, 1 Tim. 2:8).
Verse 21 includes two contrasting imperatives, one negative and one positive. The first is to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.” The verb “get rid of” was literally used for “taking off dirty clothes.” In the New Testament, it is used figuratively of “taking off” or eliminating behaviors contrary to the gospel, in order to “put on” or add other behaviors (Eph 4:22, Col. 3:8-14, 1 Pet 2:1). Initially, James refers to anger (verses 19-20), and here speaks more generally of any wrong behavior that can hinder the reception of God’s word. The second imperative is to “accept the word planted in you.” James uses farming imagery consistent with Jesus teaching in the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20). The message of the gospel is active, and it brings about salvation. This reception of God’s word is to be done in humility or meekness (Gal. 5:23), which indicates a proper submission to God.
2. Read the Scripture: James 1:22-25
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
3. Reflect on the Scripture:
James encourages a person to receive the word with humility, because it brings about salvation. In verse 22, they are instructed to “do what it says.” There is no virtue in hearing (or reading) the word without putting it into practice. To live like this only brings about self-deception. To illustrate his point, James draws on imagery from everyday life, the common experience of looking at one’s reflection. James compares the “non-doer” with someone who forgets what they look like after walking away from a mirror. This is quite literally, “out of sight, out of mind.” The notion of forgetting one’s own appearance, after self-study in a mirror, seems ridiculous. This is precisely James' point. Not to put God’s word into practice is equally absurd. The Christian life has always been about knowing and doing.
James now redirects his attention from looking into a mirror to examining “the perfect law that gives freedom.” For James, this phrase is equated to the word, which brings salvation, mentioned in verse 21. More specifically, as a follower of Jesus, it included the message of the Old Testament in light of the risen Christ and the teaching of Jesus found in the Gospels.
God’s word provides freedom. This freedom is not to live as you please. Rather, knowing and doing God's word frees a person to live for him. In doing so, the one who practices God’s word will be blessed (1:12), in “a joyously favored position by God.”
4. Relate to life:
This verse today is the basis for the "relate to life" section of this study. It is essential to read, hear, study, and know God's word. But it is just as crucial to put the Bible into practice. So… Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
Today, prayerfully consider being a hearer versus being a doer. What does this mean for you?
Today, ask God to reveal if there is something specifically hindering you from doing God’s word.
Today, ask God if there is someone you can help be a doer of the word.
Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers.
What specific actions can you take today?
Consider finding someone to be an accountability partner with you. Find someone who will challenge you to put God’s word into practice. To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)
If you haven’t already, read and study the verses found above.
Read and study 1 Peter 1 below. I have identified words and phrases that are similar to those found in James 1.
1:23 For you have been born again (Jam. 1:18), not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God (Jam. 1:18, 21-23). 24 For, “All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (Jam. 1:11) And this is the word that was preached to you.
2:1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, (Jam. 1:21) hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation (Jam. 1:21), 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
If you haven’t already, read and study these passages on being blessed. These include Wisdom sayings found throughout the Old Testament (Psalm 1:1; 32:2, 34:8, Prov. 8:34, Isa 56:2) and the Beatitudes found in the Gospels (Matt. 5:3-11, Luke 6:20-22).