posted on Aug, 27 2012 @ 05:10 PM
In a previous thread on the New Testament letter of James, I was considering what he says about the importance of “hearing the Word” (ch1
He follows up this teaching, in v22, by warning his readers that merely hearing the Word is not enough.
We need to be “doers of the Word, not hearers only”
That is, we need to be activating, putting into effect, the Word that we have received.
If we think we can get away with hearing the Word, without acting upon what we have heard, we will deceiving ourselves.
If we think that, then we “have another think coming” (as people used to say before their pronunciation got sloppy).
James has warned us before about deceptive opinions; the false idea that he warned us against in v13 and v16 was that God sends us trials and does
not help us to maintain our Faith against them.
The common factor in these deceptions is that they reduce our motivation to follow the right path.
James compares “hearing” the Word with the way that a man looks at himself in a mirror.
The similarity between the two actions isn’t obvious at first sight.
The point of comparison seems to be the length of the effect, whether it is transitory or permanent..
A man who sees his reflection and then walks away and forgets what he looks like has a very short-lived relationship with his image.
Similarly, a man who hears the Word only, and doesn’t do anything with it, has a short-lived relationship with what the Word has been telling
Perhaps the “reflection” which a man finds in the Word is a closer understanding of his own moral nature [TO PROSOPON TES GENESIOS AUTES- “the
face of his birth”].
Then this would be the self-knowledge which is going to fade away if his “hearing of the Word” is not followed up, so that the “evil desire”
which tries his Faith(v14) has a better chance to regain control.
This problem, that memory fades, is remedied when a man “looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres” (v25).
This does not mean that he’s changing the mirror (though the description is unexpected, and I’ll come back to it in a moment).
The point is the “perseverance”; instead of walking away from the mirror, the man remains in front of it, like a Narcissus or a Sir Walter Elliot
(in Jane Austen’s “Persuasion”], with the result that he never loses contact with his reflection.
In the same way, “doing” the Word, instead of just hearing it, is a way of keeping in permanent contact with the Word.
Such a man, someone who does ” work”, will be blessed in what he does.
I’ve been explaining this analogy on the assumption that the mirror corresponds to the Word, in both halves of the comparison..
Following the natural flow of the argument, the opening words of v25 should have been something like “He who does the Word is like a man who remains
in front of the mirror”.
Instead of those words, though, James has written “the man who looks into the perfect Law, the Law of liberty”.
In effect, he has substituted the phrase “looking into the law” for the phrase “doing the Word”, which implies that he regards them as two
alternative descriptions of the same activity.
In fact it’s easy to see an equivalence between keeping the law and “doing the Word”, because they’re both about allowing oneself to be guided
into an appropriate course of behaviour.
It’s not surprising that James should describe this law as “perfect”; he’s already used this word in v4, for the man whose Faith has remained
It implies reaching or coming close to the intended ideal.
But the real puzzle is that he also qualifies the law as “the law of liberty”, since the concepts of “law” and “liberty” seem to exclude
Paul treats them as opposites in the advice that he gives to his own churches.
On the one hand, he considers the Law, in the sense of the written code of Moses, to be a restraint and a form of bondage from which Christians have
“For freedom Christ has set us free…do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”- Galatians ch5 v1
On the other hand, there were people in the congregation at Corinth- as modern scholars reconstruct the situation- inclined to interpret this liberty
in the direction of licentiousness.
So Paul is obliged to warn them about the need to keep their liberty under a different kind of restraint.
What Paul is advocating is a middle course between the two extremes of “law” and “license”;
“We serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit”- Romans ch7 v6
James is approaching the problem in a different way.
Instead of avoiding the two extremes, he uses this phrase “law of liberty”, which combines them and holds them together.
It seems that he’s calling for the best of both worlds.
On the one hand, there needs to be “law”- not necessarily the Mosaic Law, but enough sense of some kind of law to hold back behaviour from
drifting into license.
On the other hand, though, there should also be “liberty”- which implies that what he’s looking for is NOT the maintenance of “the old written
In v25, he implicitly identified the “law of liberty” with “doing the Word”.
But I’ve already suggested in a previous thread that “the Word” was one of the terms which James was using as a substitute for “the
So it seems to me that “doing the Word” and “the law of liberty” are both equivalents in James’ teaching for what Paul would have called
“walking by the Spirit”.
They are all about accepting a new kind of control, steering a middle course between legalism and license.
In the last two verses of the chapter, James offers definitions of “true religion”, involving control of the tongue, offering material assistance
to orphans and widows, and keeping oneself unstained from the world.
I’m sure that both verses were originally features of James’ regular pastoral teaching.
In their present context, though, they are being put forward as practical examples of what is meant by “doing the Word”.
So the whole of this first chapter of James, one way or another, has been about Faith.
It has been about the origin and outcome of Faith, about the helps and hindrances of Faith, and about the way that Faith is carried forward into
Taking into account this last, more active, aspect of Faith, we may find that Faith can be seen as an organising theme for much of the rest of this