Big Buts in James /3

Continuing to read through James chapter one, you run into a bucket-full-o’-buts.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 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 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 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.

That’s a lot of buts. And all three of them lend strength to this basic point: we’re fools if we read God’s word but fail to let it read us.

We’ve all heard the charge–Christianity is full of hypocrites. Never is it so visible as when someone articulates God’s word toward others but miss the glaring truth staring in their own face. Jesus spoke to how damning this can be to our testimony, but more importantly how damaging it can be to our hearts, when he cautioned that we remove the log from our own eye before attempting to address the splinter in someone else’s.

The first but in the above passage speaks to how the reader approaches the word: as if it doesn’t apply to me. Great place to pause for reflection. How do I approach God’s word? Do I recognize this as a revelation from God to me? Do I receive it as such?

The second but highlights an important truth: this law gives freedom. We tend to look at law–and I think James was brilliant to use that word to speak of God’s word in this context–as if it limits and restricts. Law tells us what we cannot do–we cannot drive more than 15 miles per hour in a school zone, for instance. What if we look at it in its bigger-picture sense? We are free to drive up to 15 mph in this zone–and that allows us to be safe as we operate, safe that we will not hit a child; safe for the child, that they will not be as vulnerable in the school zone; safe for other drivers, who will be on the lookout for children, and may not be as aware of other cars; and so on. Another great point for reflection: Do I recognize that this law is for my best interest and pertains to a bigger-picture?

The last but speaks to that promise: will be blessed in what he does. This isn’t some hokus-pokus promise, by the way. Many people have done the right thing and experienced devastating pain in doing so. That blessing has to be framed in a bigger-picture sense, too. There is certainly an inner blessing of the experience of being in God’s will–the comfortable-in-my-skin reality of knowing you’re doing the right thing no matter the physical experience. Moreover, there is the blessed hope–God knows your heart, and he’s pleased. He’s glorified.

That’s a bucket-full-o’-buts that call for a very serious look in the mirror. What do you see?

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