James 1:22-25: Laziness is Not Happiness
Almost all of our visions of happiness are visions of laziness.
(note: before penned as a blog this was preached as a sermon. The words in this blog will come to life as you watch the sermon by clicking here.)
Do you remember the comedy movie Office Space? The film revolves around an unhappy office drone with a distaste for his job and his boss (“did you get the memo?”). There’s one scene that’s piercing.
In a counseling session, the office drone is hypnotized into a brief state of relaxation. Before the counselor can count back to the number one and snap him out of hypnosis, the counselor dies. This, of course, leaves the office drone in a hypnotized state of relaxation with no cares of his job, commitments, or troubles. So for most of the remaining movie, the ex-drone goes around doing whatever he pleases: showing up to his job late, parking in his boss’s reserved parking spot, fishing during the work day, and wearing a Hawaiin shirt in for work. And the entire movie forces the viewer to ask this question: wouldn’t life be more joyful if we didn’t have to do anything?
James 1:22-25 fights against Office Space’s vision of the good life: “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 who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 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.”
Hearing and not doing leads not to happiness, but death.
This was made painfully obvious some few months ago when, in a letter my wife penned for me, she wrote: “Sometimes I struggle to reconcile who you are at home with who you are behind the pulpit.” Ouch. It’s the one comment from the one person pastors most fear to hear, more than any angry email, social criticism, or voicemail. It’s the one person every pastor swears to not become, the hearer who is not also the doer of the word. It’s these people, people like me, that James is mocking in this text.
And there is a little mockery in James’ voice. He calls the hearer who is not the doer “a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror… and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” And this forgetfulness is not the result of amnesia or dementia or intellectual slothfulness, it’s a purposeful forgetfulness. It’s the type of forgetfulness that is forced upon the brain because you can’t handle thinking about the zits, acne, and boils on your face that the mirror just revealed.
You can’t handle the zits, acne, and boils on your soul that the word revealed.
After reading the word, maybe you want to be hypnotized like the office drone in Office Space into a state of forgetfulness so that your soul doesn’t feel pressure to do the word.
Dead Men, let that not be us. James, and Christ himself, doesn’t want for us to be the man who who deceives himself after looking in the mirror. And so James motivates us by writing: “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.”
We will be blessed, happy in the Lord, in our doing of the Word.
Blessed. Although this phrase, “(we) will blessed in our doing” makes up only 1/4 of a sentence in a paragraph with four sentences, it is significant. It functions as the anchor, the foundation, of the text. If you remove it from the text, you have a foundationally different paragraph. It’s not a cherry-on-top, an add-on, or an accessory to the command to “do the word.”
But “do” is not the last word in this text, “blessed” is. And here are two descriptions, although there are a multitude more, why doing leads to blessing, why we ought to be motivated towards obedience by joy.
- To be blessed in doing the word means that joy in Christ is our motivation for doing the word of Christ: Every motivation to do the Word that is not rooted by joy in Christ is in total vain. All it takes is a little time to expose and reveal this: why do you want to do the word? Do you want to do the word because you want to be seen as a doer of the word? You’re not doing the word because you want to glorify Jesus, you’re doing the word because you want to glorify yourself. Non-Christians would do the word if they thought it would glorify them. Do you want to do the word just so you’re not sent to hell? You’re not doing the word because you love Jesus, you’re doing it because you love your own eternal safety. Even non-Christians would do the word if it meant they wouldn’t be sent to hell.
Only the Christian can do the word from a motive of joy in Christ.
- To be blessed in doing the word means that the word is written for our joy: If Christ truly is your greatest joy, then you will delight in everything that proceeds from him. Especially his word. Note how the Psalmist slobbers for the Lord: “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” and “For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence” and “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Now, take note how the Psalmist’s slobber for the Lord translates to a slobbering for anything that proceeds from the Lord, especially the word: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” and “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold” and “Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.” If you find no joy in Jesus, then when you open his word the thought of your heart will be: another thing to do? But if your joy in Christ spills over into a joy for whatever proceeds from Christ, when you open the word your heart will sing: give me another thing to do!
Blessedness, joy in Christ, makes us into people who are greedy for the word and all its commands. Our relationship with the word will be like a glutton’s relationship with food, like a lover’s relationship with love making, like drug dealer’s relationship with cocaine. We will be drawn to hear it, and compelled to do it.
We don’t need to be hypnotized into a state of laziness to achieve happiness. Anesthesia, novocaine, and hypnosis are not the Christian’s vision for happiness. Hearing his word, doing his word, these are the ordinary means of how Jesus blesses us.