13 November 2013

James 1:19-27

“be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves” (v. 22)


Verse 22 is the key to this passage of the letter, which is about putting God's word into practice.

James begins this section of the letter with some straightforward advice. It is possible here that he is addressing some real situations in church life. In view of James 3:1 ("Not many of you should become teachers"), it may be that some have been too quick to give others the benefit of their advice. Perhaps too, the effects of uncontrolled anger have been felt within the Christian community, and he is saying that this is not appropriate behaviour for those who seek to promote the righteousness (or justice) of God. On the other hand, there is righteous anger, which is different to irritation which spills over into harsh words. Discerning the appropriate expression of righteous anger requires the wisdom which James describes as a gift of God (James 1:5).

James continues with an exhortation to get rid of every kind of sin in order to be a fertile ground for transformation (verse 21). Acceptance of God's message is only complete when it is acted upon and lived by. Hearing is not enough.

In verses 23-25, James offers an illustration which seems to do the opposite of clarifying his message. Greek philosophers thought of a mirror as a method of self-improvement. If we see our real selves in the mirror, we can be stimulated to make changes to our lives. Thus the Christian is to look at the "perfect law", ie the gospel, and be moved to action.

James ends the chapter with advice about careless talk, a theme that he has already touched on (verse 19) will return to in chapters 3 and 4. Whilst not attempting to summarise all that true religion should include, he emphasises caring for the vulnerable, represented by widows and orphans (verse 27). Finally, he warns his readers not to so absorb the standards of the world around them that they fail to live by God's standards.

To Ponder

  • Do you think that there is a place in life for righteous anger? If so, against what should such anger be directed?
  • How do you put your faith into action in your daily life?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.