Five Kinds of Hearers of God’s Word
“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” (James 1:22-25)
1. Mr. Blind. He is blind and thus unable to see the spots on his face in a mirror. Others see his flaws but he cannot see them because of his spiritual blindness. He is so blind that he calls evil good and good evil. He is living in sin and is not bothered by his sinful life.
2. Mr. Afraid. He knows that he has some spots on his face but is afraid to look at them in a mirror. He is like a person who knows that he has a health problem but is afraid to see a doctor for a checkup. Mr. Afraid cannot accept reality; he tries to avoid the truth. He does not want to be confronted by God’s Word.
3. Mr. Self-righteous. He looks at his face in a mirror and notices some spots but he does not do anything about his face. He is self-deceived. He deceives himself by thinking that he is good when in fact he is bad. He thinks that he is good enough to go to heaven. When corrected to change his wicked behavior, he reasons, “I don’t need to change. My neighbor does, but not me.”
4. Mr. Pessimistic. He looks at his face in a mirror and sees his blemishes and thinks that they are too great to be washed. Mr. Pessimistic knows that he is a sinner, but he thinks that his sins are too great to be forgiven. He dwells on his misery. He despairs, saying, “I am too sinful to be saved.” Mr. Pessimistic needs to learn from the German reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546):
Because you say I am a sinner, I will be righteous and saved….I fly to Christ who has given himself for my sins. Therefore, Satan, you will not prevail against me when you try to terrify me by telling me how great my sins are….On the contrary, when you say I am a sinner, you give me armor and a weapon against yourself…for Christ died for sinners….You do not terrify me but comfort me immeasurably
The Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne reminds us, “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”
5. Mr. Wise. He looks at his face and sees his spots in a mirror and cleanses his face. That is, upon noticing his sins through God’s Word, he comes to God for forgiveness. He prays with the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” James says that this kind of person will be blessed (v. 25).
Which kind of hearer are you?
Note: This post is a slightly edited excerpt from the message, “Be Doers of God’s Word,” delivered on February 10, 2013 at Dutton URC.