Becoming Doers of the Word

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant 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 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. 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. (James 1:19-25, ESV)

In this passage by James, I hear an echo of Jesus’ admonition about the importance of obeying His teaching. Jesus compared it to the difference between building a house on the rock instead of the sand (Matthew 7), and James talks about it in terms of looking in a mirror, walking away, and then experiencing what I like to call “biblical amnesia.”

What James describes is a common enough experience for me. I get up in the morning, wash and shave my face in front of the bathroom mirror, brush my hair, and then get dressed. I may return to the mirror again before I head out, just to be sure everything looks okay. But once I step away from the mirror, my detailed memory of what I saw begins to fade. As time goes by, I remember less and less. James says that people who receive the Word, only hearing it but not living it out, are deceiving themselves. But hearing without obedience only leads to forgetfulness. While obedience is an issue of personal responsibility, I think that many of us who lead Bible studies may be contributing to this problem of biblical amnesia. Let me explain.

Too often, when some of us lead a Bible study, we have our group read and explore new material, discuss its importance, think about how it might impact our lives, then pray and go home. The next week we gather and do it all again, this time with a new passage, ignoring what we studied the previous week. There is no reinforcement of what we discussed the previous week as important to do, no sense of accountability, no testimony to God’s work in our lives, and no real expectation that we will change and grow as a result of our study together. We familiarize ourselves with the Word, reflect on it, and then go on to other things. Under these conditions it is easy to forget what we’ve learned, because it is not making any real impact in our lives. What we saw “in the mirror” fades from our memories. “Biblical amnesia” sets in.

The antidote to this forgetfulness is actually quite simple. Each time we gather to study, before we dive into new material, we take time to review what we’ve been learning in previous studies, and we share how we have attempted to live out what we learned as God gave us opportunities. We give praise to God, sharing not only areas of growth, large and small, but also our struggles, disappointments, and failures. We repent and pray for one another, that God would help us do better next time. We rest in His grace, and over time, we expect to see God’s Word transforming us. When He does, we praise Him for His power to help us grow.

As a Bible study leader, your calling is to do more than lead your group in understanding a passage and praying that God would help them obey it. As you explore areas of obedient response, you set an expectation that, when the group gathers again, you will take time together to share how God has been working in your lives in the areas you’ve been learning about. Lead by example and share your own experience in this time of sharing, then invite others to do so, as well. It takes time to develop a safe environment for honest sharing, but this is how we grow together. Without accountability, it can be easy for us to deceive ourselves, imagining that we are growing, when we are actually just hearing and forgetting.

James offers this word of encouragement to us: If we commit and persevere in doing the Word, not just hearing it – we will be blessed in our doing. I long for this, and I believe you and your Bible study group long for this, as well. Encouraging this to happen may mean making some changes in how you use your time when you gather together for study. Create an expectation that you will be revisiting what you have been learning, to share how God has been working in your lives. Begin your study time with review, sharing, and reinforcement before you dive into a new passage. Over time God promises to bless you in your doing of the Word.

Father, thank you for your Word, and thank you for James’ warning and encouragement to us. Help us never to become content with merely hearing and knowing your Word, but to find joy and blessing in doing it. Help us use our time well as we gather, so we can reflect on your work in our lives and praise you for your grace that helps us grow as doers of your Word. Amen.

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