What is a mirror good for? A mirror shows us the state we’re in. It shows messy hair, food in between teeth, and dirt on our face. This is the negative role of a mirror: it reveals what’s wrong with ourselves. A mirror also has a positive role. It helps us change to become what we ought to be. A mirror is for transformation. The word of God is like a mirror, and the transformation is to make us like Christ.
The Bible Shows us What’s Wrong
The Bible on three occasions uses a mirror as an object of comparison. In focus here will be the use in James 1, which compares hearing God’s word to looking in a mirror.
22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
This is a complex passage, and for years I had only a foggy idea of what it meant. The main construction of the passage is to show the difference between mere hearers of the word, and actual doers.
Hearing Without Doing
The first point worth mentioning is that those who are merely hearers are deluding themselves (v. 22). Is there any kind of delusion worse than self-delusion? Other kinds of delusions, based on trickery or lies, can be pitied in a sense, but self-delusion is willing and intentional. Such are those who hear the word but don’t do it.
Then the illustration is set up like this:
Hearing — someone looking at himself in a mirror
Not doing — going away, and forgetting what he was
How the Bible is a Mirror
So hearing the word is like looking into a mirror. Isn’t it true, that the Bible exposes to ourselves our flaws and shortcomings, and all the ways we fall short of Christ’s perfect example. Hearing can have one of two results: to go away and forget or to be a doer.
Verse 24 shows the path of the first man, the non-doer. Let’s set up a side-by-side contrast between him and the description of the second man, the doer (v. 25). In summary, the first man looks, leaves, and forgets; the second looks intently, abides, and remembers.
Looking at the Word
Hearers and doers look at the Bible differently. The first word for “look” (v. 23) in Greek means “to observe fully”. Make no mistake, these people are fully hearing the word. The doer of the word “looks intently” (v. 25), which means to “lean over” and “peer within”. While we shouldn’t read too much into small word differences, they’re different words for a reason, and the two are set up in contrast to each other. The first man may observe fully, but the second one changes his position in order to look more closely. He stoops down, committed to having a careful look.
Abiding by the Word
The second mistake is to leave the word. The Greek word translated as “abide” literally means to stay near. How quickly can we become forgetful and disillusioned when we don’t abide by the word. What better way to abide by the word than to have it abide in us? “Your word I have treasured in my heart” Psalm 119:11.
Remembering the Word
The third mistake is to forget, and notice just what is forgotten in the illustration. The man looks at himself and then forgets what his face looks like! It is here that the word is acting like a mirror, showing us what we really are. How difficult must it be to forget such a thing, indeed, to forget it, the person must “delude themselves”. But the doer of the word does not forget! And there is blessing in what he does.
Part 2 will discuss the process by which the word of God, acting as a mirror, transforms us and the blessings that come with it.
So lets be people who look intently into the word, abide by it, and remember it. “Look, Abide, Do” and if you prefer alliteration. . . 🙂
Look, Linger, Labor