This article contains an exposition of James 1:19-27, as well as some discussion questions on the material.

3 pages.

James 1:19-27 – Doers of God's Word

Connection with what Precedes🔗

In the preceding verses, James taught that God gives life by means of the Word of truth.  He now continues with the meaning of that Word of truth in the practical preaching for every day.

The Church is the Church of the Word🔗

God has called the church into existence through the Word (v.18). This is the basis for the admonition in verse 19-21. Verse 19 is not a humanistic advice such as "speech is silver: silence is gold".  Rather it is an evangelical command.  The church must not forget that it is the church of the Word. With this belongs a posture of attentiveness.  The hearing of the Word is the life of the church. The church is not only brought forth by that Word, but it is also sustained by it. Thus, it must always remain under the discipline of the Word. This does not come to us by discussion, debate, or dialogue, but by faith.

The Church has its Own Lifestyle🔗

Whenever the church lives in faith to the Word, then it demonstrates its own lifestyle.  She follows Christ and lays aside all filthiness and wickedness. When the Greek word is translated as "put off" [RSV], the image brought to mind is that of taking off a cloak (i.e. Romans 13:12; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:8).  One can also translate it as "lay aside" or "pull out".  This brings to mind an image of a field from which the weeds must be removed.  The implanted Word must be received/accepted.  With faith there must be a change.  The preaching must take root deep in the heart of the hearers.

The word makes alive through the power of the Spirit.  The Word has the power to grow, just as a seed. (i.e. Mark 4:14; 1 Corinthians 3:6)  This is to be received with meekness, which Paul calls a fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 6:22)

Hearing and Doing🔗

In verses 22-25 there is a call to act according to God's Word. The church is not only a communion of listeners; it is also a communion of doers (Matthew 7:21ff.; Luke 11:28).  In the warning of verse 22, James is the submissive servant of Christ.  He builds on the only foundation, the foundation of all the apostles and prophets, of which Christ has become the chief cornerstone.  The point at issue in the church is the dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ. James knows of no conflict between word and deed, and also not between Word and law and between law and the gospels.  Whoever divides that which God has brought together, whoever places hearing and doing over against each other, whoever does so deceives himself.

In the church the dominion of Christ's grace is proclaimed.  Whenever we have a good understanding regarding the character of the church, that is the church of the Word, then we will not be like the man who after looking in the mirror, immediately forgets what he has seen.

If we are both hearers and doers, then we will bow before the Word of God.  Then what do we see but the perfect law of liberty.

The Perfect Law of Liberty🔗

James does not consider the law to be only the Ten Commandments.  For him, it is the Word of God in the Old Testament in the five books of Moses.  The word "perfect" does not mean the highest step or highest ideal, but rather being able to restore or revive (Psalm 19:7).

The perfect law is the Word of God which gives and maintains us in freedom.  Consider the prologue to the Ten Words of the Covenant (Exodus 20), which speaks about our freedom.  The laws which follow were given to us to keep us in that freedom.  Freedom does not stand in contrast with the law; it is a necessary component of the law.

He who continues in the perfect law, who acts according to the Word of God, is considered by James to be a true doer and will be blessed (v. 25).  This is the second time James speaks of blessing (see also 1:12; 5:11).  Here is a perfect compliment to the teaching of Jesus Christ (John 13:17).

True Godliness Contrasted with false Religion🔗

Verses 26 and 27 give a practical example to what preceded.  If we are rich (in) through the "perfect law, the law of liberty", then that will be evident in all of life. Only those who are hearers and doers, are truly serving God. Otherwise we are in the church, but not of the church.  Then we do not possess true godliness.

James gives two examples.  Firstly, he tells us what true godliness is not (v. 26): misuse of the tongue.  Our speech must be placed under the vale of Christ's lordship.  Whoever does not do that, their service to God is vain, and they mislead themselves (cf. v. 22).  Pure and undefiled service to God requires us to practice the communion of saints, particularly with respect to orphans and widows.  Is God not a father of the fatherless and defender of widows (Psalm 68:5)?  Also compare Job 31:6, Isaiah 9:17, and Zechariah 7:10 with Matthew 23:14, Acts 6:1 and 1 Timothy 5:3.  The inplanted Word must be confirmed by deeds.  Service to God is not only vertical, it is also horizontal.  We must love God and our neighbour.  True service to God also consists of keeping oneself unstained by the world.  The world here means humanity which stands in enmity against God (cf. James 4:4).


James encourages and admonishes the church in the dispersion.  She is tempted and tested, both from within and from without.  James points to God the Father, who calls them through the Word of truth and continues to sustain them with the proclamation of that Word.  In this way the church can proceed in faith, a faith which results in confession and deed, both vertically and horizontally.

Questions for Discussion🔗

  1. May we ever express anger? Did Christ show anger? See Mark 3:5; Ephesians 4:26.
  2. Is the admonition in verse 19 found in the Old Testament? Read Proverbs 17:27; Ecclesiates 5:2.
  3. How is the recruiting-power of the church diminished? (John 17:20, 21)
  4. How do the activities of listening and doing, as taught in this letter, relate to our worship services?  See G. Van Rongen; Liturgy of God's Covenant.
  5. Sermons are sometimes described as doctrinal, rather than practical.  Why should sermons be both doctrinal and practical?
  6. In what respect do we, as Reformed believers, have our "own" lifestyle?  How do we fail to maintain our distinctive way of life?
  7. Is it possible that the church can be tempted to succumb to an unbiblical approach concerning the care of widows and orphans?  Give examples.  (cf. Acts 4:32-35; 6:1; 2 Corinthians 8:13-14; 9:8-12; 1 Timothy 5:3-4, 8, 16)

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