It’s Not Enough Just to Hear the Word: James 1:19–27

On any given day there are a plethora of ways I can enjoy the Scriptures. I can read my Bible. I can read it on my phone. I can check the verse of the day. I can listen to online sermons and podcasts and Bible apps while I run or drive or cook.

Hearing God’s Word is not a problem for most of us; applying it to our lives is the problem. Do we hear it and receive it? Or do we hear it and walk away from it to do what we want instead? 

We all have to decide daily how we handle the Word of truth, and it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. As James 1:19–27 says, there’s a huge difference between hearing the Word and actually receiving the Word.

James sets up a contrast between worldly living and godly living. 

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. . . . If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (vv. 19–21, 26–27)

And in the middle of this passage, he puts the way to live this godly life. 

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 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. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 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. (vv. 22–25)

The key to living out our faith is to not just hear the Word of God, but to humbly receive it and allow it to reshape our thinking so we will do as it says. To hear the Word and not do it, is to not really hear it at all. God’s Word is intended to change us, not entertain us. It’s not just for our consumption; it’s for our construction. 

What It Means to Truly Hear 

We are not capable of producing the righteousness of God apart from God. Our only hope is Him working in us through the Word and the Holy Spirit. 

The Bible is truth, and therefore, it shows us our true reflection: we are sinners in need of salvation. But the Bible also shows us God, and offers us the opportunity to reflect His holiness instead of our sinfulness through a relationship with Jesus Christ. But unless we spend time cultivating that Word which has been implanted in our hearts, it won’t grow, and we won’t grow into the mature believers God calls us to be. 

Instead, we’ll be like “a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror” (v. 23), only to walk away and forget what he looks like. It sounds kind of silly. How could someone forget what they look like? But when the Bible tells us we can do nothing apart from Christ, and yet, we care little for Christ in our day-to-day lives, walking away from the mirror is exactly what we’re doing.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m often quick to offer an “amen” when I hear the truth taught from the pulpit or piped into my eardrums, but I’m not nearly as quick to offer up my life in response to that truth. 

What It Means to Truly Do 

Here’s the thing about living according to the Word of God: it’s not optional. If a person says they accept God but they do not accept what God says to do, then they have not actually accepted God. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we think we can follow God apart from obedience, we’re only deceiving ourselves (v. 22). 

When God’s ways are most prevalent in our hearts then God’s ways will come out. But if it’s the world’s ways filling our hearts, then the world’s ways that will come out. This is why the psalmist says in Psalm 119:11, 

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. 

A daily commitment to doing the Word requires a daily commitment to being in the Word, willing and ready to receive what it says. Meekness, or humility, is key. If we don’t come to God, needing God, then we’ll be unwilling to receive what God says. 

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. (v. 25)

The Greek word for "looks into" literally means "to bend down for a better look." It takes time and effort to meditate on God’s Word. But God assures us the effort is worth it, promising that anyone who spends time in the Word in order to receive it, and respond to it, will be blessed.

What It Means to Truly Have

God could have just required our obedience and left it at that. But in an outpouring of mercy and grace, God has done much more. Not only has God given us His Word to encourage and guide us, but He’s written it on our hearts and given us the Holy Spirit to help us live it.

A true follower of God does what God says, not only when life is easy, but also when life is hard. When trials come and temptations persist. When loved ones are hard to get along with and the kids are driving us crazy. When the future looks shaky and we’re unsure of the outcome. When life is threatening to overwhelm us and fear is threatening to grip us. 

Believe God. Respond with faith instead of fear, kindness instead of anger, hope instead of despair. Be doers of the Word, even in hard times. And by our actions, we will testify to the greatness and the power and the truth of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. 

About the Author

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery is a farmer’s wife and mother of four—or as she likes to say, “President of Home Operations.” Stacey loves teaching women the Bible and along with her family makes her home in the cornfields of Indiana. For more, … read more …

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