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 observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. (James 1:22-24, N.K.J.V.)
A trader from India once asked a European trader to get him a European Bible. Knowing that the Indian trader couldn’t read English, the European asked, “What for? You wouldn’t be able to read it.” “That’s true,” said the Indian trader, “but I still want a European Bible.”
The European asked again, “Why do you want a European Bible?” This time the Indian trader answered, “When a ship brings a trader who is unknown to me and wishes to trade with me, I place my language’s translation of the Bible in front of him. If he opens it and reads it, I know that I can trust him. But if he sneers at it or throws it aside, I will have nothing to do with him because I know that I cannot trust him. So, I want to be able to use this same test for the Europeans who come to me to trade.”
Sadly, most of us know that the trader’s simple litmus test doesn’t always ring true. Some of the most devious, crooked, deceptive people in the world claim the title “Christian” and are quick to sing the praises of the Bible when it serves their purposes. Nevertheless, even with this admitted, this is not to say that the trader’s test shouldn’t ring true. What the Indian trader correctly understood was that the Bible ought to make a profound moral difference in the life of anyone who reads it.
James 1:22 commands us to be doers of the word and not hearers only. James then illustrates that command by describing a person who merely glances in a mirror and then goes about his business unchanged by what he saw (James 1:23-24). That’s the relationship some people have with the Bible. They read a few verses and then rush off to continue living the way they’ve been living rather than let what they read have a positive moral effect upon their behavior.
The contrast to such a person is the one who doesn’t just read the Bible but lives it out in everyday situations. Going back to the mirror illustration, this person is like someone who spends quality time in front of the mirror, allows the mirror to do its work of revealing any areas that need work, and then puts in the work to fix the problem areas. In this way, the Bible becomes an effective tool by which God helps us clean up our conduct. It’s one thing for you to read the Bible; it’s something else entirely for the Bible to read you.
With this in mind, I ask you, have you read something in the Bible lately that spoke to a problem area in your life? Well, if you have, did you apply what you read? You say, “No, I can’t say that I did.” Then what you are telling me is that you glanced in God’s mirror, the mirror showed you your defect, but you didn’t fix the defect. Friend, that’s not making proper use of God’s mirror, and it makes it impossible for you to bring your life in line with God’s will. Therefore, I would encourage you to revisit whatever passage you read, spend some serious time pondering it, and then apply its teachings to your situation. By doing this, you’ll make yourself a doer of God’s word rather than just a hearer of it, and you’ll let God help you make the appearance of your life better.