Which Law Are You Reading?
James 1:22 ¶ But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
James 1:23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror;
James 1:24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.
James 1:25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
James, the half-brother of Jesus is writing to the Jewish-Christian community that has dispersed as a result of the persecutions. They are now spread throughout much of the known world and have had opportunity to soak in the law and word of God. Unfortunately, that's most of what they've been doing -- soaking. Maybe this was a temptation from their days of soaking in the Jewish laws, and yet now, as Christians, there is a call to radical engagement with the world. Going to worship and following the religious practices is not enough.
If someone hears the word and yet does not apply what they are hearing to their lives, they have a problem. Here is the situation and the nuances are clever. We have translated the one looking into the mirror as "those" who look in a mirror, or the NIV says "someone" but the Greek word here is definitely masculine and I'd like to suggest it may have been a bit of a joke on how men look in the mirror. I would guess that women of the day spent a lot more time looking into the mirror than men and men, with a quick glance, would look in that mirror and just as quickly forget what they might have seen. Do they really care how their hair or makeup might look? Do they notice that bit of toothpaste still stuck on their cheek? Maybe not -- and so is the person who hears the word of God but just as quickly forgets what it says or does nothing about it.
But now there is a contrast and the question about those who look into the "perfect" law. The teleion law! There's that word again -- that telos word. Who is the "perfect law?" It's Jesus! Therefore those who fix their eyes on Jesus, the ones who are constantly seeking his face and persevere, they are the ones who will not just hear but will act. Why? Because they are becoming a reflection of Jesus Christ himself. Instead of looking into a book and then forgetting what it says, your focus is on the "perfected one" -- and it's not a book of laws, but a live person with whom we are in relationship. When we are engaged in this relationship and Jesus is transforming us into his image, we can't help but be doers of the word as well.
The point of this is that we have a choice in our Christian walk. How many might be like the men who look into the mirror and then immediately forget? Maybe a lot of those who call themselves Christians. These are the ones who love to read the Bible or other Christian material but as soon as they close the books or put it down they forget about what they've read and go on with their lives. They've given their time, they've done their duty by having devotions.
Unfortunately they are looking and reading a written law and not reflecting the living and perfect law. It is important that we read the word of God and that we read other Christian literature, but if it does not point us in the direction of Christ, if it does not encourage us to seek his face, then it means nothing to us. When we focus our study of the law on Christ the perfect law, then we stop gazing to the right or to the left and we seek his face in all that we do. Jesus so infuses who we are that we want to be like him on this earth. The one who is studying the perfect law will be compelled to engage with a hurting and needy world. There is no other option for the perfect law is a living and breathing Jesus Christ whose kingdom is already come and is acutely involved in the world.
We need to ask ourselves "which law are we reading?" If we are simply "doing our time" by going to church, reading a short devotional and maybe saying prayer before we eat, we may not be reading the right law. The right law takes us beyond our habits and culture and draws us into a vibrant and transformative relationship with Jesus, the perfect law. This law will not allow us to simply mull over Christian truths but will compel us to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our needy world.
What are we reading today?
Lord, please help me to be seeking you today and then engaging as your hands and feet in the world. Amen.