Doers and Not Just Hearers!Fr. Barnabas Powell
“Well, now you’ve just gone to meddling.” It’s a great punch line to an old joke about a preacher who was talking about the dangers of sins. He mentioned drinking, and Sister so and so said “amen!” He mentioned gambling and Sister so and so shouted “amen.” But then the preacher mentioned gossiping and Sister so and so said “well, now you’ve gone to meddling!”
Isn’t it amazing how quickly we see the sins of others, but when our sins get revealed, we suddenly recall the scriptures about “not judging!” Yeah, I know, it’s getting a bit uncomfortable isn’t it?
Look at our lesson today in James 1:19-27:
MY BELOVED BRETHREN, let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing. If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
St. James Epistle has given fits to many scholars for years, especially those scholars who would rather this book not be included in the Bible. But the Church was wise to include this Epistle in the canon for us today because James has a wonderful way of cutting through all the rhetoric and getting down to brass tacks! He tells his fellow believers to not fall into the trap of just being a “hearer” of the truth but a doer as well.
James reveals to us three vital insights into just what he means by being a “doer” of the word. By the way, look how St. James identifies this “word” he is talking about. He calls this word the “implanted” word. Images of the Sower sowing seed comes to mind. The Word Implanted means it has gone beyond merely being received but it has found it’s way into the heart of the “hearer.”
He tells us that the atmosphere that allows the word to be implanted and enables one to be a doer of the word is when you are “quick to hear, slow to speak slow to anger.” And that’s because speaking stops you from listening and anger keeps you for hearing. Then he reveals that living a life where there is a “rank growth of wickedness” leads to self-deception and makes you deaf to the Word. What amazing insight into the basics of living a consistent faith. Listening requires humility. To hear well you must first be willing to hear. To allow the word to be implanted, to take root in your heart means you have to practice silence and active rejection of ego in anger and much speaking! Finally, if you are ever going to remember who you are, you are going to have to “persevere” in doing rather than merely hearing. This word of wisdom implanted has to then grow into behavior or else you will never remember who you really are!
Today, are you a doer of the word as well as a hearer? To be sure, you must first hear. Just like the Theotokos heard the angel Gabriel’s news, we too must be in a spiritual state to hear Good News. But, again, like the Theotokos we must then become doers of the word by embracing it and allowing this wisdom to actually remake our behaviors. St. James insists this is “religion that is pure and undefiled.” No wonder we keep insisting on being Orthodox on Purpose!