The Bible Is Not Always Clear

The sermon this morning was on James 1:22-25. Here it is.

But become doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 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; for once he looked at himself and has gone away, he immediately forgot what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in what he does.
‭‭James‬ ‭1:22-25‬ ‭LSB‬‬

The preacher this morning spent an inordinate amount of time on the “common sense” mirror analogy. To summarize, he said, “Unless you’re a ‘doer’ James is saying it’s like you see bedhead in the mirror in the morning and then don’t fix it. Hearing-only is only seeing the mirror, James is saying. But we want to be ‘doers’, so we have to do something about what we see.”

This interpretation, of what you’ll see is an uncommon teaching, is incredibly flawed. See if you can follow me as I explain why.

Firstly, the mirror is never truth. The mirror is never reality.

Secondly, the Bible is not a mirror. As I was critiquing the sermon on the short drive home, my wife somehow defended the sermon with, “but the Bible is a mirror!” This exclamation was especially saddening as she knows better. To be clear, a quick, but exhaustive, search of the Bible shows that no Bible writer ever expressed as much. Of course they didn’t. It isn’t true. The Bible writers never wrote that the Bible is a mirror because the Bible is not a mirror. (This is because the Bible is true and mirrors are not.)

Thirdly, James plainly says that the hearer-only forgets without the mirror. When apart from the mirror, the hearer-only forgets.

Let’s take an example of forgetting. As a professional pilot, I wear a uniform when I fly. The uniform is what a professional pilot wears. You see me in a uniform, just the same as I see myself in a mirror in a uniform. You see pilots in uniforms, but—and you know this—uniforms aren’t the thing that makes him a pilot.

It’s a good look, the uniform. So I like to see myself in the mirror. “Yeah, that’s me. I’m a pilot. Cool.”

Now imagine that I walk away from the mirror and am unable to get the plane into the sky. Am I still a pilot? Even though I’m in uniform? (We’re still on point three; James’ emphasis is on forgetting.)

I saw the other pilots in their uniforms. I put on one that fit me. But, imagine that for some reason I couldn’t perform the task of flight. I have forgotten who I was/am. As it turns out, how I look has nothing to do with whether I am a pilot.

(Here insert any of your own reflective, superficial, outward traits.)

Fourthly, and finally, mirrors, in-and-of-themselves, are not compelling. Don’t believe me? Hmm. Okay. Then I guess you’re not slightly overweight, not slightly unkempt, good from this angle, and you don’t appear to weigh as much as the scale says. I guess you really do look best on video chat when it’s just your face, your clothes really don’t matter, and you’re only working from home—so no need to look nice.

If mirrors could compel us to change, we’d all look exact like we want to, no matter the cost of achieving it.

James was writing to liars (that includes you and me too). Specifically, he was writing to believers who were undergoing various trials. James believes that he (James) knows a thing or two about how to gain the righteousness of God. And he writes that we don’t gain the righteousness of God by living a lie. Or as James says “deluding ourselves”.

If you think hearing a sermon every week, or your having heard a powerful sermon once in your life, is going to gain you the righteousness of God, then think again.

This short passage is not clear. It is not common sense. It is murky, it is mysterious, and it is deep enough that a lifetime can be spent contemplating it. This is because James is promoting the need for religion. He is promoting the need for repetition. He is promoting the need for repentance.

Why? Why repent? Why repetitively perform good works? Why get religion?

Answer: “To achieve the righteousness of God.”

(Here notice that we haven’t touched on what that is. Maybe some other day.)


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