Search the Scriptures: Those Who Do the Word

The biblical book of James is a very direct and practical book of Christian doctrine. Consider, for example, the following passage from the first chapter: “But be doers of words, and not only hearers, by deceiving yourselves. For if someone is a listener of the word and not an actor, he is like a man who gazes intensely at his natural face in a mirror. Because he looks at himself and leaves and immediately forgets what he was. But he who examines the perfect law, the law of freedom, and perseveres, not being a hearer who forgets but a doer who does, he will be blessed in his action. (James 1:22-25; ESV)”

The Bible is not meant to be a coffee table book, honored but never read, or read but never applied. It is not intended to be a family keepsake for keeping family dates and storing important documents. Nor is it a talisman whose mere presence will bless a home, warding off tragedy and evil. It is a book of wise instructions and sacred counsel for securing blessings and salvation. It is a message from the Creator to His Creation that provides the story of His love and the details of how people could abide in His love forever. It is, in short, a book about what men should do.

James compares the Bible to a mirror. The original purpose of a mirror was not primarily decoration or aesthetics. A mirror is useful to let you know when your face needs scrubbing, what hairs are out of place, to remind you to shave, or even to help you apply cosmetics to your face to apply them evenly and cleanly. If someone has a dirty face, looks in the mirror, sees the need to wash, and then continues without engaging in this washing, the mirror has done nothing useful.

So it is with the Bible. A man may read every page of the Bible or listen to a sermon every day, but until that man puts into practice the things he has learned, it does him no good.

Jesus taught a very similar lesson in the Sermon on the Mount. After laying out precept after precept in his sermon, Jesus concluded by saying, “Whoever therefore hears these words of me and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the torrents came, and the winds blew and beat that house, but it did not fall, because it was founded on rock. And whoever hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. And the rain fell, and the torrents came, and the winds blew and beat that house, and it fell, and its fall was great. (Matthew 7:24-27; ESV)”

The sermon Jesus delivered was not meant to be an entertaining diversion or an emotionally uplifting piece of rhetoric to soothe the nerves. It was meant to be an authoritative discourse by which men could prepare themselves spiritually for the Kingdom of God by the act of “doing.” Simply listening to the sermon did no long-term good if one was unwilling to obey it.

Notice also Jesus’ emphasis not only on the idea of ​​“doing,” but on the universality of the need for such obedience. “Everyone,” says Jesus, not once but twice, referring both to the wise and to those who have foolishly failed to act.

Which makes one more point about the Bible and the message of Christ. The commandments of God, in Christ, are not reserved for a few benefactors or an elite of Christians. God does not have certain expectations for apostles and ministers, while allowing everyone else to get by without really paying attention to what he has said. Too many people have the idea that God might want other people to heed his word, but they themselves have no immediate need to do what the Bible clearly tells them to do, or that God overlook their inability to listen to him. But the Bible is meant to be applied equally by all who are concerned about their spiritual needs, and their relationship with God, who we are told, will not be one-sided, playing favorites (cf. Acts 10:34- 35).

Each of us must ask ourselves if we are really striving to do what God teaches us to do in his word. This requires, first, that we know what God teaches in His word. But once we have read it or heard it, we all have to do it. “Everyone”, in this case, means exactly that.


Jonathan McAnulty is a minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. The views expressed in the article are the work of the author.

Brandon D. James