This blog post is the third of four blog posts that together consider the four verses in a September 21, 2015, article entitled “Four Prayers for Bible Reading” by Pastor David Mathis, in which he discusses four verses to pray before one begins to open God’s Word. A link to Pastor Mathis’ article is (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/four-prayers-for-bible-reading ). This third blog post looks at Pastor Mathis’ third verse, i.e., James 1:22 (ESV), which reads:
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
In his article, Pastor Mathis shines a light on the importance of life change that produces spiritual fruit through Bible reading (emphasis added):
Pray that God, having opened your eyes to wonder and reminded you of the sufficiency of his grace, would produce genuine change in your life. Ask him to allow the seeds from Scripture to bear real, noticeable fruit in tangible acts of sacrificial love for others.
Many times people read or study the Bible and acquire knowledge, but they do not apply what they learn to their lives. An obedient believer must apply what he or she gains through Bible intake to bear spiritual fruit. To consistently study the Bible and not experience life change ought to create concern about one’s salvation. However, that is a topic for another day.
Let’s look at James 1:22 in the context of James 1:22-25 (ESV), which reads:
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
In these verses, James distinguishes a “hearer only” from a “doer” by how he or she reacts after looking at God’s Word using the metaphor of a mirror. In reference to the “hearer only”, the ESV translates the Greek adverb monos as “only”, and it means:
(an idiom, literally ‘throughout only places’): the only item of a class in a place—‘alone, all by oneself.’
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 590). New York: United Bible Societies.
In this usage, monos has the sense of nothing more. Further, James’ message to a “hearer only” is they are “deceiving yourselves.” The ESV translates the Greek verb paralogizomenoi as “deceiving,” and it means:
to deceive by arguments or false reasons
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 758). New York: United Bible Societies.
In the context of mathematics, paralogizomenoi means a miscalculation. See The John MacArthur Study Bible, Word Bibles, (1997), Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN at p. 1928. A “hearer only” miscalculates thereby deceiving themselves about the outcome from failure to apply God’s Word to achieve life change.
For the “hearer only,” he looks intently at his “natural face in a mirror.” The “hearer only” looks at God’s Word, but his process of Bible engagement is terminated because he goes away from God’s Word and “at once” forgets what he was like when he was looking at God’s Word. The “hearer only” may see God’s Word as a theory only, and ignores the mandate to act on the message of Scripture. A hearer only is one who may possess head knowledge about what God prescribes, but that is all. The knowledge of a “hearer only” never makes the journey from his head to his heart and his hands. It just stays in his or her brain never to result in any substantive life change.
In reference to the doer, the ESV translates the Greek noun poiētēs as “doer” and it means:
one who does what is prescribed, a doer
Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 842). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Emphasis added.
I normally cringe any time someone uses an English dictionary definition in Bible study. At the risk of causing someone to cringe, note the definition of “prescribe:
2: to lay down a rule: give directions
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, (2002), Merriam-Webster, Inc., Springfield, MA, at p. 1792.
One who is a doer is obedient to what God prescribes in His Word. Verse 25 presents four verbs that describe what the doer does concerning God’s Word. First, the doer looks “into the perfect law (of liberty)”. The implication is that the doer stares at God’s Word with the desire to learn. Second, the doer perseveres in obedience to do what God says in His Word. Third, the doer does not forget what he learns. He does not suffer from spiritual amnesia. Fourth, the doer “acts” in conformance with the teachings of God’s Word. What a doer learns from God’s Word travels from his head to his heart and his hands.
What is James intended message by this text to his audience? It seems to me that he is trying to strongly emphasize to his audience that mere biblical head knowledge is of no real value. And that for a “hearer only” to consider head knowledge valuable is self-deception that God does not bless. Please note that God blesses a doer.
How can we apply James’ message to us in the 21st Century? One answer is we need, and must, dig into God’s Word. We must take Bible intake seriously and fully appreciate that God’s Word is infinitely more than black print on a white page, but is instead, “living and active” per Hebrews 4:12–13 (ESV):
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
We must yield to God’s will as expressed in His Word by letting it change how we live our lives so that we produce an abundance of spiritual fruit.
For a practical application, let me suggest the following prayer to pray before Bible reading, study, meditation, or listening:
Dear Heavenly Father, I am about to engage in the study of, reading of, meditation on, or listening to the Bible. Please help me to see what You say and teach in Your Word about how I am to live my life. Please help me to continually engage Your Word. O, Father, please give me guidance and courage and determination to apply the timeless principles in Your Word to my life today. I hunger and thirst for Your Word to change me so that my life produces an abundance of tangible spiritual fruit. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen.
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Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. I believe the short quotations from Pastor Mathis’ article, Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 842). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, and Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 590). New York: United Bible Societies, The John MacArthur Study Bible, and the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary fall within the fair use doctrine.