Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:22-27 NLT)
All my life, I heard the phrase in church: “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.” We even had a children’s song about it.
If a believer takes this passage seriously, the stakes are very high. If we don’t obey the Word, we are fooling ourselves and our religion is worthless. What do you suppose eternity holds for someone whose religion is worthless?
Do you have a worthless religion that goes to church, listens to preaching and teaching, even reads and studies the Bible regularly, but never translates it into personal action? James is painfully clear in chapter 2 that a “faith” like that is useless — dead — and cannot save you. Pointing to Father Abraham and even Rahab the prostitute, James says “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (v.24) That may be the least-preached Bible verse among evangelical Christians.
So what is the “word” you are supposed to be doing? James answers that in 2:8 by quoting Jesus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
We know about “love your neighbor.” We know Jesus explained it by telling the story of the Good Samaritan, and many of us do things to help people in need. But are we getting the “as yourself” part? Who among us doesn’t take far better care of himself than we do of people in need? How can I say I am loving my neighbor as myself when 98% of my time, talent, and treasure is spent on my wants and needs and the 2% I give to “the Kingdom” is largely spent on the brick-and-mortar costs of maintaining a religious institution?
It’s not that we need to quit giving our 2% to the church. Most congregations are being stingy enough with the pastor as it is. The challenge is to figure out what sort of bold action I need to take to get the rest of my life in line with truly loving my neighbor the way I love myself. What sort of radical change will be required for me to truly be a follower of someone who had nowhere even to lay his head? (Luke 9:57-62)