Hearing the Word Is Not Enough

by Spiros Zodhiates

"But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only…" (James 1:22a).

"Be ye doers" seems to be the climax of the message which James wishes to convey to his readers. Previously he has told us that we are to be swift in hearing the Word of truth, but now he calls our attention to a very great danger which exists in this swift hearing: Sometimes when we hear a thing very swiftly, it hardly has time to sink in and take effect.

Never in the history of the United States have there been so many people attending church, "the church of their choice," as today. These crowds are mixed: those who hear but let the Word go in one ear and come out the other, and those who hear and do. Those who do are those who let the Word come through both ears and descend to the heart, affecting their whole life and behavior.

James must have had many discouragements in his ministry of preaching the Word, just as many preachers have today. And we should not forget that many of our hearers are also disappointed in us. A layman visited a great city church in Ohio during a business trip. After the service he congratulated the minister on his service and sermon. "But," said the manufacturer, "if you were my salesman, I'd discharge you. You got my attention by your appearance, voice, and manner; your prayer, reading, and logical discourse aroused my interest; you warmed my heart with a desire for what you preached; and then-then you stopped, without asking me to do something about it.

That is indeed the first lesson that we preachers ought to learn. We are God's salesmen and we ought to help the people to make decisions as a result of hearing us proclaim the Word of truth. Spiros ZodhiatesIf we keep on preaching and they keep on hearing without tangible action, then we can be sure we are failing in our God-given duty.

The verb used in the original Greek text, which is translated "be ye," is gínesthe. The radical sense of this verb actually is "to come into a new state of being." James must be referring to the new birth of man, of which he has spoken before. We cannot possibly do the things which please Christ unless He dwells within our hearts. We cannot act in a Christ-like manner unless we have become children of God through faith in the finished work of Christ.

James is saying that the first and most important thing is becoming a child of God. Only then will we be able to act as children and obey the commands of our Father. This child-father relationship is absolutely essential before we can be doers of the Word of truth. We must first have the incarnate Word of truth in us if He is going to be outwardly manifested.

This word gínesthe also has the meaning of completion, of finishing. James has spoken previously of the perfection, of the completion of the believer. He continues to lay stress on that note. He wants us to become complete in Christ. It is not enough to be born into the family of God; it is necessary to grow. The greatest tragedy in a family would be to have children who never grew.

But how do we grow? We become by being. Doing is essential to becoming, and hearing is essential to doing. Life is essential to hearing. How can we hear if we do not have life-that spiritual life which gives us a pair of spiritual ears?

One more thing about the tense of this word, "become ye": It is not in the aorist imperative, but in the present imperative. This indicates that we are not just born and perfected in an instant of time. No, there is a process of growth; we keep becoming perfect as we do the things which please God and which He has commanded in His Word. Many of us are like posts instead of trees. If we plant a tree, it begins to grow; if we set a post, it begins to decay.

James wants us to keep becoming, to keep moving. Gínesthe, he says, which means that Christian perfection is achieved by stages in the process of doing, and as we do we become better as the days go by. Everything we do leaves a permanent mark upon our characters; so let us be careful of all that we do.

Now what are we to keep becoming? The English translation of the Greek word as we have it is "doers." The Greek word poietaí used here is found only six times in the entire New Testament, four of them in the Book of James.

The verb poiéo, from which this noun is derived, means more than just to follow a prescribed course, to do something habitually. It designates creative performance, a productive action pointing to an actual result. Just by looking at this wonderful Greek word used by the Holy Spirit, we can learn a great deal about the kind of activity in which we as Christians ought to engage.

First of all, our activity ought not to be just a habit, but it must also be creative. Unfortunately, most of our organized religions today, Christianity included, have become religions of "deeds," deeds which are so habitual that they are lacking in creativity. We do certain things because we are used to doing them, instead of doing them because of an inner urge.

The things that we do, furthermore, should produce results, first of all in our own selves and then in others. As we "do" the Word of God in our daily lives, our lives themselves must change and that change must be seen by others. That's exactly the message which James wants to convey through this verse.

One thing God detests is the religion of words. It was Robert E. Speer who said: "After thirty years of leadership in Christian work, it is my conclusion and conviction that the greatest missionary problem is just the failure of Christian people to live up to their profession."

The world poietaí used in our verse also means "poets." A poet is one who puts words together in order to express a thought or feeling in a beautiful manner. That is what God wants us Christians to be-poets, creators of the beautiful. We are to take all the experiences, pleasant and unpleasant, and present them as attractive poems to the world around us. If we wish our neighbors to see what God is like, let them see what He can make us like.

"You don't get much sunshine in here, do you?" asked a gentle old lady as she entered the elevator at the back of a big department store. "Only what folks like you bring in, ma'am," answered the elevator operator with distinctive courtesy.

From Faith, Love and Hope (the Book of James), AMG Publishers