But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. – James 1:21
Are you a doer of the word? James, writing to brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world, warns us of the temptation to be a hearer of the word without doing it. It’s a great temptation.
Everyone likes to hear. We are a generation of people that love to hear some new thing. Just like the philosophers of ancient Greece who sat around doing nothing else but ‘hearing or telling some new thing.”
Knowledge puffs up. There is a lot of pride connected with the accumulation of knowledge. People love to KNOW things. People hate to be in the dark.
The same is true with Christianity. Preachers, who preach with passion and clarity, are very interesting to listen to – just like Jesus, who preached in such a way that all listened to him gladly. But even though thousands would come to the mountainside to hear Him preach, he would still warn them solemnly of the importance of doing the word, and not just hearing it:
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who DOES the will of My Father in heaven – Matthew 7:21
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and DOES them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock… But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and DOES NOT DO them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand- Matthew 7:24-27
These quotes come from Matthew chapter seven. It is the very end of the famous sermon on the mount that began in Matthew chapter five. Jesus made sure to solemnly warn the people that just because they acknowledge Jesus as a good teacher or a great leader or even the Son of God, it would not do them any good if they didn’t put it into practice. Even though they accumulated such wonderful knowledge, they would only be like the foolish man who built a house on sand. And, even worse, if they didn’t become doers of the word they would be the people to whom Jesus would eventually say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
Notice how James says that those who hear, but don’t do, are deceiving themselves. They deceive themselves by thinking that an acknowledgement of the truth is good enough. They agree with the truth, they agree with Jesus, and with the bible, so they reason that they are safe. But they are not safe. It’s very similar to the man that smokes. He knows smoking is bad, he knows it will bring him to an early grave. He even preaches to others that they should never smoke. But this knowledge does him no good unless it is put into practice. And the truth is that his preaching to others has much of the opposite effect, since his actions undo all his words.
Being a hearer of the word is easy. Being a doer is not so easy. There are many who will listen to a thousand sermons, but will not lift a finger to do what they know. Many people have become so spiritually fat that they can not so much get out of their spiritual arm chair. Being a doer of the word requires effort, emotional strength, and the willingness to expose yourself to failure. Those who are doers need to be willing to fall seven times and get back up again. Some people have the perverted idea that because they have finally decided to do something good that God should move heaven and earth to make sure that everything goes perfect. And if it doesn’t, so often they say, “See, I try to do something good, and look what happens!”
I can tell you from experience that failures will come. Failures will come, not because God fails, but because we fail. Being a doer of the word is just like everything else: practice makes perfect. We will have theories of how the word will work, but in practice we will learn how the word really works.
Some of my toughest failures have come out of times when I was endeavoring to be a doer of the word. Those failures hurt, but I have never regretted getting out there to try. Once I was preaching on the boardwalk at Ocean City, MD. I was being a doer of the word since the word says, “Go into all the world and preach.” I preached twice on the boardwalk and my second sermon went awful. So awful that everyone left while I was preaching! I was deeply distressed over the whole incident and it took me several days just to emotionally recover from the ordeal. BUT, I don’t regret doing it. I’d much rather be known as the person who tried and failed, than to be known as person who never tried. I can learn from failure, but I can’t learn if I do nothing.
In another instance, I had the opportunity to speak to the entire student body of a local high school. I didn’t have to do it, but I knew the Lord wanted me to do it. I was being a doer of the word (of course, not everybody is called to do things like this, but I am). To make a long story short, it was a rough experience. The sound system crackled badly the whole time, the students talked the whole assembly, and after reviewing the tape (I had it recorded), I noticed that the students behind me had fallen asleep! This was a hard thing for me to do! It took me all the nerve I had to step out and do it. Shouldn’t I have some sort of glorious experience?!
I didn’t have a glorious experience that time, but other times I did. I’ve had some very glorious experiences.
Once I preached at a juvenile delinquency center where about a dozen incarcerated teenagers came to the front in tears, seeking the Lord. One of the prison guards also asked for prayer. Another time I preached at a boys center (which housed teenagers that were orphans or else given up by their parents for various reasons). There almost all of the boys came to the front in tears, many of them testifying in front of their peers. Most notably, I was told that one teenager, who was particularly opposed to Christianity, an atheist, had given his life to Jesus. He was one that the rest never expected to be devoted to God. I heard sometime later that he was still seeking God with more zeal than the others.
The truth is that I’m always ‘blessed in my deed’ when I’m a doer of the word. I’m either blessed with a glorious experience, or blessed with a learning experience – and the satisfaction that I, at least, tried.
Are you a doer of the word? If not, what’s holding you back? Is it laziness? Is it fear of failure? Is it simply because you are overly distracted by the things of this life? No excuse is valid before God. So heed the words of Jesus and, “be zealous and repent.”
Sadly, there will be many at the Day of Judgement who will have deceived themselves into thinking that they are among the sheep, when they are not. Those are the ones that ‘believed’ the message of Jesus, but never put it into practice. They deluded themselves with some excuse, and then it will be too late:
And these (who were not doers of the word) will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life – Matthew 25:46
Be a doer of the word! God will teach you how to have success if you don’t give up. But even in failure, you have not failed, you have learned. Either way, you will be blessed in what you do.