Final thoughts on James 1:21-27
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 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. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. If anyone among youthinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. NKJV
In our text, God teaches us how we should respond in all our circumstances, whether bad or good. In verses 21-23 the “word” of God is mentioned three times. In all our circumstances, we should obey God’s commandments (Eccl. 12:13). Our text gives us three important reasons for keeping God’s commandments.
First, God’s commandments are able to save our souls (v. 21). God’s commandments are a tutor to bring us unto the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:24). They show us God’s standard of perfection and our inability to keep them teaches us that we are sinners, unable to be saved by our works (Eph. 2:8-9, Tit. 3:5). Realizing this, we then turn in faith to the only one who can save us from the penalty of our sins, the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6, Acts 4:12).
Second, we need to respond promptly to God’s commandments before they slip from our minds (vs. 23-24). Have you ever been reading or listening to the scriptures and you became aware of some change you needed to make in your life or some action you needed to take—but you did not immediately take care of it—and somehow you never got around to doing so? This happens when we do not respond promptly to His commandments.
Third, we need to obey God’s commandments because He gives them to us for our benefit. The word, “liberty” in verse 25 (see also Jas. 2:12) literally means “freedom.” The world mistakenly views God’s commandments as bondage. In the book of Exodus, God freed the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt by His grace and then gave them His commandments to keep them free from bondage. Every time the Israelites rebelled against God and disobeyed His commandments, they ended up back in bondage again (to the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans). Likewise, people today constantly find themselves in such bondages as unnecessary debt; alcohol, cigarette, or drug addiction; sexually transmitted diseases; or physical confinement in jail or prison; etc.—all of which could have easily been avoided if they had only obeyed God’s commandments.
God exhorts us to control our tongues in all circumstances (v. 26). The word “religion” refers to the external testimony of our Christian witness. Without control of our speech, our Christian testimony is worthless. In thirty-five years of pastoring, I have known several church members who were faithful in church attendance, knowledgeable in Bible doctrine, and active in Christian service, but their testimony was ruined by their loose tongues. Whenever other people spoke of then it was usually in regard to their grumbling, their critical spirit, or their constant gossiping.
Finally, our love for others and for God is seen in our actions (v. 27). Orphans and widows were historically among the neediest of people. Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31 declare that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Greek word for love is “agape,” from the root “agan” which means “to need.” “Agape” love is an unconditional, self-sacrificing love which sees the needs of others and, in so far as it is able, meets those needs. Agape love is demonstrated by God, who saw our need of salvation, and met that need by sacrificially giving His own Son to do so, in spite of our sinfulness and unworthiness (Jn. 3:16, Rom. 5:8).
The greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our being (Mat. 22:38, Mark 12:30). Our obedience to the Lord’s commandments (keeping ourselves unspotted from the world) is a direct evidence of our love for Him (Jn. 14:15). The Lord stated plainly that those who keep His commandments are the ones who truly love Him (Jn.14:21). The Lord gives us His commandments for our good—because He loves us—and if, we in turn love Him, we will keep His commandments.