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How to Make the Most of Your Life: James 1:21-25

Part 3 of 7: Doers of The Word
John Witte


Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which can save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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 1:21-25 (ESV)

We all want to make the most of our life, and each of us has a list of things (at least in our minds) of what it would take to achieve that. In week one, we learned that someday our lives would be examined at the Judgement Seat of Christ. Some of the things we invest in will resonate in eternity, but some will be counted as worthless. If the life we’re living doesn’t matter then, it doesn’t matter now. In week two, we learned that every day presents us with opportunities, but we have to seize the moment. Some moments come our way, and when they are gone, they are gone. This week we learned that it isn’t enough to get the list straight in your mind and heart: We must be doers.

Our text today says we must “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Verse 21). This means hearing it or learning it – something we do well at Faith Bible Church. James, however, says that isn’t enough. James knew we could get our list right and still get our lives wrong. There are at least three reasons why:

1.Sin
2.Arrogance with God
3.Not doing the right thing

Sin can wreck our lives. Since James said to receive the implanted word, it’s possible that he was using the analogy of our lives as a seedbed for the word of God to be planted in. Jesus taught this in his parable of the soils in Matthew 13. James may have been picking up on Jesus’ metaphor for the soils as a reflection of our lives. For the word to flourish in our lives to make the most of our lives, for it to produce in us what it inherently can do, it needs good soil; not hard, not rocky, not thorny. Sin soils the soil!

You can get your list right and still get your life wrong by blaming / resisting/fighting with God when life gets hard. James said if the word is going to make the most of our lives, we have to receive it with meekness.

The word “meekness” is one of the most powerful Christ-like qualities available to us. The word was used 11x in the New Testament (8x by Paul, 2x by James, and x by Peter). It’s part of the fruit of the Spirit, and Paul said it was a characteristic of Jesus himself.

The third way James said we could get our list right and our life wrong is by not doing what we know to be right. Verse 22 begins with a small word that plays a significant role in making the most of our lives. For the interpreter, the word “but” leaps off the page because it starts a section in which James more fully defines what it means to listen to and receive the word of God. James knew his audience was suffering. He knew life was a grind. The daily process of survival had become a significant hardship. Sure they could remember James’ messages, but now was no time to try to live them out. They had to live life out!

As a mature elder, James knew what people tend to do when times get tough. We tend to talk to everyone else about it! The harder it gets the more we talk, and the more we talk usually the worse it gets. To make the most of your life, particularly in hard times, it’s critical to talk less and listen more. James’ point is that we can gaze a lot at the word of God, but unless we actually act on it, it won’t act on us. Unless we act on it it won’t make the most of our lives. We can get our list right, and still get our lives wrong.

Discussion Questions
  1. How does sin keep the Christian from doing the right things?
  2. Discuss the differences between sins of commission and sins of omission.
  3. James uses strong language about sin – “filthiness and rampant wickedness.” Are these terms too harsh for the sins most Christians struggle with? Why or why not?
  4. How can a person be actively meek? Is that a passive characteristic?
  5. Is meekness the same as humility? Why or why not?
  6. Grab a dictionary and read the definition of “docile.” Would you describe yourself as docile?
  7. When was the last time you knew the right thing to do and didn’t do it?

Dig Deeper
James is thought to be the earliest of the New Testament’s letters. It was written when there was a company of Jewish believers, probably between a.d. 45–48. The author is James “the Lord’s brother,” not James the Apostle (see Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; 1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19; 2:9). James the Apostle, the brother of John, was martyred about a.d. 44 (Acts 12:1–3). Like the other brothers of Jesus, James did not believe in Him at first (John 7:2–5). But after the Resurrection this brother was not only converted but became a key leader in Jerusalem and at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). One tradition nicknames James “camel knees,” because of the calluses he was supposed to have developed from long hours spent in prayer.
James’ theme is “faith.” But here faith is not saving faith, or justifying faith. James’ theme is practical: he looked at the lifestyle which is to be produced by faith in Jesus. James knew, with Paul, that true faith generates obedience, and so he gently encouraged the early church to live a life that was worthy of their profession of Jesus as the Christ.
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