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James 1:23

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. — KJV

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does. — NIV

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. — ESV

Greek Transliteration of James 1:23 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
hoti [3754] that, which… (conjunction) ei [1487] if, whether, that (conditional participle) tis [5100] anyone, anything, someone, something, somewhat akroates [0202] a hearer logos [3056] word, something said, communication, divine expression of Christ esti [2076] he/she/it is, them/they are kai [2532] and, also, even, so then, too ou [3756] absolute negative (adverb) poietes [4163] a performer, poet houtos [3778] he, she, it, they, this, these, which, who eiko [1503] resemble, be like aner [0435] male individual katanoeo [2657] observe fully: behold, discover, consider, perceive ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) prosopon [4383] front view, countenance, appearance, face, person’s presence ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) genesis [1078] nativity, natural, generation autos [0846] her, his, it, them (possessive 3rd person pronoun) en [1722] preposition denoting place: such as in, at, of, through… esoptron [2072] a mirror, glass

1.23.0 Introduction to James 1:23

In verse 23 James sets up a scenario. It is a parable of sorts, or what some might call a “word-picture.” The analogy (vv23-24) relates the almost silly idea a person would look in a mirror and moment later forget what they look like to a person who hears the word but doesn’t do it (v 22). In verse 25 James goes on to contrast this natural phenomena with someone who learns and acts on the word and is rewarded what James implies is simply common sense. Questions drawn from this verse alone seek to better understand some of its finer details.

1.23.1 Why does James specify “natural face”?

James is painting a word-picture in verses 23 and 24. He provides a simple allegory the reader can relate to for the overall passage. The man looks at his own reflection then goes away and forgets what he looks like. It may sound foolish, but it describes a person who sits through a sermon, but forgets (neglects to absorb and act on) the message as soon as he walks out the church door.

1 Cor 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The hearer James speaks of is a person with perhaps some semblance of godliness, but they live only by what their physical senses perceive as reality. The spiritual word reaching their ears doesn’t reach their heart. It is rejected because they aren’t open to it.

1 Cor 2:12-13 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. In contrast to the natural face seen by the eyes yet rejected by the mind, Paul explains how those who are open to the Spirit do receive it. The good news is we can be born again, regenerated of spirit, and set upon a course of righteous action leading to salvation – not because of the righteous action itself, but because it wells up from the soul born of spirit and of flesh living out the faith in the Savior, obedient to His Lordship, in love. After all, we do as we believe.

1.23.2 Why look into a mirror?

1 Cor 13:11-12 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. We can only see the flesh of our face in a reflective surface. A mirror is a reflective surface. A person is more than mere appearance. To see what we are truly like as individuals we must seek our reflection in others.

Mk 9:42 Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin [or to stumble], it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. We must look at others to see ourselves because all we do is based on what we believe. What we do impacts others. The impact is either good or evil. There are consequences to all actions. Even the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle agrees. It essentially says anything you interact with, even if only to observe, will by that action effect what you observe. You impact those around you. In answer to the study question – given what we learn from Jesus here – what effect do you want to have?