In which hearing is doing and doing is obeying (James 1:22)

by Craig on February 7, 2011

Quick question.

When you’re thinking biblical stuff and you hear this:

what do you think of?

Me too.

I think either “The word of God” – as in Bible

Or THE “Word” – as in Our Lord.

So when I’ve read this verse all these many years as a Christian,

“Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” (James 1:22)

I’ve always thought it meant, “When I read the Bible, remember what it says, and apply it.”

And that wasn’t a bad thing…

but is it what this verse really means?

Is that what it meant to the readers of this letter of James?

Here’s the deal.  They didn’t have Scripture called “the Word” back then, just Scripture. And at the time of this letter – that meant only the OT.

So the “word”, in this verse, is not “Scripture” – it’s the word of truth – the Gospel. And the readers of this letter hadn’t read any Gospel at all – they’d heard it.  That’s why it’s “hearers” of the word, not “readers” of the word.

And the “hearing” of the word? It means way more than just making  a bow of assent to the Gospel – then going on my merry way.

“Hearing” this word means living it out,

not just listening to it,

not just knowing about it.

It’s the message firmly planted in the soil of my heart.

The “word” is always good,

the soil?

There lies the problem.

The problem is being a “doer”.

And I also always thought that “being a doer” was a catchy new phrase James came up with. But I have to keep reminding myself that James is the definitive Jewish Christian. He used lots of definitively Jewish phrases – and this is one.

The Greeks and Romans used this term – “doer of the law”. To them it meant being an orator, or legislator, or a lawyer. But to the people of Israel it had always meant obedience to the commandments of God. Being a “doer” of the law began way back in the time of Moses,

“When Moses came to the people and related all the words and ordinances of the LORD, they all answered with one voice, “We will do everything that the LORD has told us.” (Ex 24:3)

If I claim the name Christian – and don’t strive to “do” – or to obey – then I’m a paper Christian at best – and not fit for the kingdom.

Jesus said just this much in Matt 5:19 “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

The Greek word translated here as “obey”, is the same one James uses for, “doer of the word”.

Hearing, in this verse means doing. Doing means obeying.

So I have to receive the word of truth. Done.

Now I have to practice it. Done…


If I accept the word, and take it to heart, and honestly try to live the law of love, but mess up, that’s where Grace is needed…

and completes the circle where I fail.

But if I hear the word of truth, give it a nod, and live as I want anyway, then I’m deluding myself into thinking I’m a Christian at all.

James, and his brother, Our Lord Jesus, were very clear that being a follower meant being a doer.

I have to ask myself right now, “What kind of a doer am I?”

James really does make me look in the mirror


by the way,

is tomorrow’s verse…

God Bless

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Debra February 7, 2011 at 11:35 pm

When I hear “the word” I think of Christ, the Word made flesh – who dwells among us still. For we have this treasure in earthen vessels. It is Christ in us, the hope of glory.
And yes, I too think of the gospel of Jesus Christ when I hear “the word.”
Looking forward to seeing what’s in that mirror…


Craig February 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Oh the mirror – it’s not like the one that Snow White’s mom had – it’s always honest, true, and accurate. Thank you for reading Debra. God Bless.


Joyce L Gibson February 7, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Thank you, Craig, for this insightful blog. I love it when my grandson is alsso my teacher. I am eager for more.

I read daily but do not often leave a comment. I affirrm you eveen in my silence. Blessings.


Craig February 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm

That’s OK Grandma J – I know you are there – I know who cares. I know. God Bless.


Anonymuss February 8, 2011 at 11:42 am

I am reading this sort of backwards-this post after its successor. I have pondered the meaning of ‘word’ in the various places and know that it sometimes means Christ in some surprising contexts but didn’t know really what this one meant. This helps. I love learning more about the contextual and historical background-the ‘what did it mean to them, then’ information. It helps me get a better grasp on what it should mean to me, now. Thank you, Craig.


Craig February 8, 2011 at 11:52 am

Reading backwards – for shame!!!!! :)

Thank you as always A.


Debbie February 8, 2011 at 1:10 pm

I read this backwards too. haha! Too funny.
Without any schooling and deep study like you have been through, I can only guess. Do the best I can. It is so wonderful to get to learn, to get to know. What a blessing you are!!! Thank you! (but then I am responsible once I know and understand. gulp.)


Craig February 8, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Yup that’s a sneaky thing isn’t it – to she who much is given much will be required” – and STOP IIT now I say – you know plenty. And thank you deb. thanks.


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