Updated: Sep 12, 2020
One of the significant leaders of the Protestant Reformation was a man by the name of Martin Luther. Luther was convinced that salvation comes by grace alone. This belief put him at odds with some of the views of the Catholic church. Being that Luther was so committed to his stance of salvation is obtained through faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, he saw problems with the book of James. In his writings, James emphasizes the need to labor in the Kingdom of God, which is another way of saying putting faith into practice. Due to James’ strong emphasis on work, Luther calls his book “a right strawy epistle.”
The fact of the matter is James fits perfectly into the New Testament’s teachings concerning salvation, for once a person is saved by grace that individual is to do all he or she can to further the Kingdom of God upon the fact of this Earth. We are saved to serve, and in these verses, the apostle is instructing his readers to be doers of the Word. Here James gives us insight into our duty, our discipline, and our discovery.
James says our duty as believers is to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (v 22). One way in which we are a doer of the word is by sharing it with others. Someone has said that evangelism is nothing more than “one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread,” and there is great truth in this statement. If we know Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, we have discovered the pearl of most exceptional price, the lily of the valley, the answer to life’s most important questions and the richest of all treasures. It is a sin before a holy God to know Christ and then refuses to share Him with others. As a matter of fact, in this very epistle, James says “Let him know, that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).
Another way in which we are doers of the Word is by reaching out to those who are less fortunate. This world is full of hurting, suffering people who need the compassion Christ Jesus has to offer, and it is up to us as His followers to minister this compassion. While it is impossible for us to alleviate all the pain and anguish in the world, we can certainly make a difference in the small corner we inhabit. We can volunteer to help in a soup kitchen, make donations to such causes like St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, make ourselves available to care for a sick neighbor or be there to listen to and pray with others who may come to us with problems they are facing.
Some believers reject this concept as being a “social gospel” as opposed to being evangelistic, but a careful study of the Word of God shows that we are to act with kindness towards others. King Solomon has much to say in this subject as he writes in one place “He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed, for he giveth of his bread to the poor” (Proverb 22:9) and in another “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat: and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink” (Proverb 25:21). Likewise, the prophet Isaiah says “…if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul: then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10).
As far as our discipline is concerned, James says that when we fail to be doers of the word we are deceiving [our] own selves (v 22). The word translated deceiving in the Greek means “to have unsound reasoning with oneself.” The result of this is allowing one part of our Christian work to negate the obligations that lie in another part of that same work. In other words, by merely filling our heads with Christian doctrine (teaching) while at the same time having hearts that are devoid of good intentions and purpose indicates that we lack in our understanding of what the Gospel is all about. Jesus instructs us through His teaching and by His example that we are to be involved in the lives of others, and the first-century church is a prime example of this concept.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ informs His followers that they are to “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matthew 5:42), and in another context He instructs them to “Sell that ye have, and give alms…” (Luke 11:33). In one of His most familiar parables, our Master extols the virtues of the good Samaritan who cares for the injured man who has been beaten and left to die by the side of the road. Those who name the name of Jesus are to be loving, caring, and sharing as they seek to be a blessing to all they meet.
Jesus not only speaks of reaching out to others, but His life reflects this virtue. His first miracle is to turn water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, and by doing so, He is helping the young bride and groom to save face before those who are in attendance. The Gospels likewise relate numerous accounts of Christ feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and otherwise making an impact in the lives of those who are suffering. Our Lord declares that He “…came not to be unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), and this He did as He died in our place on Calvary’s cruel Cross.
The book of Acts records the history of the first-century church, and in that book, we are told “…all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44–45). Later in Acts it says “Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need” (Acts 4:34–35). When we fail to be doers of the word we are not only withholding material items from others who desperately need them, but we are likewise robbing ourselves of the blessing that comes with being a cheerful giver (see 2 Corinthians 9:7).
James continues by informing his readers that being a doer of the word as opposed to merely being a hearer of the word entails self-discovery in that he likens the difference between the two to a man beholding his natural face in a glass (v 23). The analogy James is making is quite clear. When we look in a mirror, it reflects a perfect image of who we are. If there is a smudge on our face or if our clothes are rumpled, we can easily see these flaws; and once we do, we can do one of two things. We can correct the imperfections, or we can turn away from the mirror and go our way as we are.
The Bible is a mirror of the soul. As we look deep into its precepts, we see the sins and weaknesses of our lives. Once we do, it is up to us to either correct them or allow them to remain. James wants his readers to know that being a doer of the word has as much to do with changing our own lives as it does with getting involved in the lives of others. If we hear the Word of God and fail to act upon it, we are robbing ourselves of the power and influence it is to have over our existence. Later in this epistle James writes “…faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17); therefore, it is imperative that we put faith into action as we become doers of the word.
In conclusion, James informs his readers that they are to do more than just hear the Word of God in that they are to act upon it. When Holy Scripture is put into practice, the lives of others are impacted dynamically. Souls are saved; barriers are torn town; suffering is eased; poverty is reduced; and “…the love of God is shed abroad…” (Romans 5:5). It has been said that people don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care; therefore, we are to make it our business to touch as many lives as we can with the good news of the glorious Gospel.