“I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Ps 119:16). What does it mean to forget God’s Word? We forget with our heads (notionally) when we no longer remember what we formerly knew. We forget with our hearts (affectively) when we’re no longer affected by what we know. Here, the psalmist is speaking of the second. The person who forgets affectively is a mere hearer of the Word (Jas 1:22). “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” (Jas 1:23–24).
The opposite of a forgetful hearer is an effectual doer. “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” (Jas 1:25). God’s Word is “the perfect law” because it’s complete and sufficient; and God’s Word is “the law of liberty” because it calls us from a state of bondage to a state of freedom. We’re to “look” into it. The verb literally means to stoop down to look (Lk 24:12; Jn 20:4–5; 1 Pet 1:12). It includes deep meditation and sober consideration. We’re also to “persevere” in it, “being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts.” When we do, we’re blessed (Ps 119:1–2).
But what exactly does this “doing” entail? James points us in three directions.
A Bridled Tongue
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (Jas 1:26).
James emphasizes the tongue because it’s the best indicator of the condition of the heart (Matt 12:34). (1) When we bridle our tongue, we’re “slow to speak” (Jas 1:19–20). We don’t lash out with cynical words, critical words, harsh words, sarcastic words, abusive words, or vindictive words. (2) When we bridle our tongue, we don’t “speak evil against one another” (Jas 4:11). We refrain from telling lies and spreading rumors. In addition, we aren’t driven in our speech by envy or malice or the desire to make ourselves look good. (3) When we bridle our tongue, we don’t “grumble against one another” (Jas 5:9). We mortify all seeds of bitterness so as not to succumb to complaining and murmuring. In short, a doer of the Word guards his mouth “with a muzzle” (Ps 39:1).
A Compassionate Heart
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction …” (Jas 1:27).
The word “visit” is important because it carries redeeming overtones (Ex 4:31; Lk 1:68). The expression “orphans and widows” includes those who are destitute of family support and assistance. Why these two? The psalmist tells us: “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” (Ps 68:5). A doer of the Word sees poverty and wants to provide for the poor; sees disease and wants to build hospitals; sees sickness and wants to provide clean drinking water; sees famine and wants to distribute food; sees brokenness and wants to provide healing; sees broken homes and wants to restore; sees despair and wants to encourage.
An Unstained Life
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: … to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jas 1:27).
The world is a defiling thing because it sticks to us. When this happens, “our tastes are vitiated, our consciences are blunted, and that sensitive tenderness of feeling, which shrinks from the remotest contact with sin, is worn off and replaced with an amount of callousness” (Horatius Bonar). We’re to be in the world but not of the world (Jn 17:13–17). (1) We live by a different principle: “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God” (1 Cor 2:12). (2) We live under a different ruler: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” (2 Cor 4:4). (3) We live according to a different course: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2).
In brief, that’s what it means to be “a doer of the word.” Before ending, I want to make sure you notice an important detail: James is careful to give us all the motivation we need to practice “pure and undefiled” religion — namely, God is our Father (Jas 1:27). God has adopted us as sons in Christ. How does this relationship shape us? Our love for him causes us to bridle our tongue. Our love for him leads us to visit those in affliction. Our love for him motivates us to keep ourselves unstained from the world. These are marks of pure religion. And these are the fruit of wisdom.
Dr. Yuille is Teaching Pastor/Elder of Grace Community Church in Glen Rose, Texas. He has served the Lord as a missionary, preaching elder, and as a seminary professor at Toronto Baptist Seminary in Toronto. He is the author of several books including The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ and others.
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