Last week, I used the term “total package” in reference to being what James calls “mature and complete, not lacking anything”. They are one and the same. For example, if an athlete is a “complete” player without any weaknesses or lacking in any way, exceling in every facet of their particular sport, they would be a “total package”. A businessperson who has all the “tangible” (technical knowledge, ability to operate machinery, etc.) and “intangible” (leadership, people skills, flexibility, and adaptability, etc.) skills needed to do their job would be a “total package”. For those old enough to remember the 1963 song “I’m a woman” by Peggy Lee, it would be another great example of being a “total package”. In other words, the “total packing” is “mature and complete, not lacking anything”. They can do it all with excellence. They can “bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan”.
So, for example when God says “be holy as I am holy” in Leviticus 11:44,45; 19:2, and 20:7, He means for us to be more complete, like Him. God is the total package. We can’t be Him of course, but we can strive to be more like Him.
The Hebrew word “holy” from these verses in Leviticus is קְדֹשִׁ֔ים (qə·ḏō·šîm) which means “sacred, God, an angel, a saint, a sanctuary”. Peter, the disciple and apostle, references these passages in 1 Peter 1:16 when he says, “for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy.” The Greek word for “holy”, Ἅγιοι (Hagioi), is relatively the same as the Hebrew, but it also means “set apart” which kind of has a double meaning. We are set apart and created by God for His purposes or His will, but we are also commanded to be “set apart” from the world. The Apostle Paul references this in 2 Corinthians 6:14 where he talks about being “unequally yoked with unbelievers” or closely associated with those who conform to the sinful patterns of this world. Then in verse 17 Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:11 and Ezekiel 20: 34,41, which says, “Therefore, come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.” It is not God’s will for us to be “unequally yoked”, joined, associated with, or “conform to the pattern of this world”. (Romans 12:2), especially those patterns of behavior that are not holy or are sinful according to God’s word. He wants to separate us from that and be “transformed by the renewing of our minds”. (Romans 12:2) God wants our heart, soul, mind, and entire being to be completely renewed and changed in accordance with His will and word.
I say all that to set us up for the remainder of James 1. If we are going to be the total package, holy, set apart, transformed for God’s purposes, and have a “religion” (faith) that isn’t worthless, we’re going to have to “do” or be “obedient” to what God’s word says.
In James 1:22-25, James says, ”Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” The “word” in this passage from the Greek is λόγου (logou) which is a form of λόγος, meaning “word”. This “word” isn’t just any old word. It is referring to the “word” or the “perfect law” of God, more specifically for this time period it would have been the Old Testament. The same “word” or “perfect law” that Jesus read and taught from in the synagogue. The same“word” or “perfect law” that Paul and the other disciples quote regularly in their writings.
In Romans 1:16 Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation…” In 2 Timothy 3:15-17 he says, “and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” So, when James is talking about the “word”, the “perfect law”, and doing what it says, he is referring to only one resource, the “Holy scriptures”, the word of God, the Bible (Old and New Testaments), the gospel that is “God-breathed” and the “power of God that brings salvation”.
So, what else do we learn from James 1:22-25? Apparently, there is more that is required than just “hearing the word”. For example, one might assume that just attending a church worship service, Sunday school class, Bible study, or reading the Bible occasionally would be enough. However, Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-24 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and, in your name, perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Remember this isn’t just James’ teacher or rabbi. Jesus is his biological brother, and we see that Jesus’ teachings including Matthew 7:21-24 influenced his writing. For example, when Jesus says “only the one who does the will of my Father” will enter the kingdom of heaven, we can hear it echoed in James 1:12 when James says that only those who love Him will receive a crown of life or eternal life. Likewise, when Jesus says, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock”, James backs that up with ”Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Doing what it says is putting it into practice.
This is the heart of the book of James, applying and doing what the “word” of God or the “perfect law” says, so we can’t emphasize that enough. Sorry it took me three weeks to get here, but it’s the theme of this series, “Just Do It”.
So, as we continue to go through the book of James there will be other examples of how we can apply or “do” what the word says, like how we need to control or keep a “tight rein” on our tongues, what comes out of our mouths, or what we say in James 1:26. If we can’t keep a tight rein on what we say then, according to James, our “religion is worthless”. Jesus talked about this in Matthew 23:27-28 when addressing the Pharisees or religious leaders. Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” The Pharisees-religious leaders knew the word of God. They read it, heard it, and studied it, but apparently they weren’t very good at doing it or applying it properly.
To finish off the first chapter of James, because there were a few verses I jumped over, let’s look briefly at a couple of important details about God that James wants us to remember, and three things that we do need to apply to our lives.
- James wants to make it clear in verses 13-15 that God is not the source of temptation. God doesn’t tempt anyone. According to James temptation occurs when “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” It is true that some temptation comes from the devil as we have seen from recent studies and Jesus’ own encounters with him in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13, but according to James our primary source of temptation and sinful behavior come from within. It is self-inflicted. So, we need to be prepared for the battle of the mind. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6 “taking every thought captive”; Ephesians 6 “putting on the full armor of God”)
- James also wants to clarify in verses 16-18 that all the good stuff, the “good and perfect gifts”, comes from above or from God to us because He created us to be the “first fruits”, the pinnacle, and/or masterpiece of all of His creations. We are special and unique to Him above all other creations. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). He loves us, so we can count on Him to be trustworthy, constant, and consistent. God doesn’t or won’t change like a “shifting shadow’.
- Keeping a “tight rein on our tongues” from James 1:26 has already been mentioned, but it will be addressed more extensively in James 3:1-12.
- Verse 27 explains that if we want to have a “Religion (faith) that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless”, we need to take care of others, more specifically orphans and widows, but it applies to our “neighbors” as well. We also need to keep ourselves from being “polluted by the world”, which goes back to being “holy” or set apart from the sinful behavioral “patterns of this world”. “Religion” in the Greek is θρησκεία (thrēskeia) means “ceremonial practice”. In the Aramaic Bible it is translated as “ministry”. As we have observed in recent devotionals and in our current culture, it’s not just individuals who are polluted or contaminated by the world. It happens to ministries, churches, and denominations today as it did in Jesus’ day with the Pharisees and religious leaders.
Okay that’s the end of chapter 1. We’re on to James 2 next week.
Have a great weekend! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC