“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 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 1:22-25
I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve heard this passage used as a reprimand by preachers and teachers – almost like they are wagging their finger in someone’s face. I just don’t see it if you keep the passage in its context. Just a couple of verses before this, James writes, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” (James 1:17-18) The passage begins with a gift…we must keep this in mind if we are make sense of what it means to be doers of the word.
The capacity fo live generously comes as a gift to us from a faithful God who remains steadfast even through the chaotic changes of life. So, our call to live holy and righteous lives is not a ‘religious obligation’, rather it is a grateful response to God! I’ve always found gratitude a much better motivation for a holy life than retribution. As people of God, we become blessings to others through our grateful willingness to obey God.
Remember the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10? Martha is distracted…pulled in several directions at once. Jesus says, “you are worried/bothered about many things.” Jesus is pointing out that she can’t really give herself to any one thing at that moment because her attention is scattered. She compares what she is doing to what Mary is doing and is resentful. But as I once read, this is not about ‘either-or’ its more about ‘both-and’…We are invited by God to do our ‘Martha-work’ but do it in a ‘Mary-way’. We do God’s work out of the center of our being – the inner source of our power is God.