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Faith at Work Perfecting the Believer Through the Word

dr. howard eyrich Jun 19, 2024


James 1:19-27

This blog is adapted from my counseling-oriented commentary on the book of James, James: The Other Side of the Coin: Taking a Holistic Look at Christian Living. Growth Advantage Communications 2020. Available on Amazon


Many of the counselees we see struggle with the why and how of dealing with temptations and struggles, many times over how others have treated them. James encourages the believer to count these life transactions as joy. He then continues his instruction by moving his reader to turn to God's Word and learn our response to these transactions. Ultimately, what he argues here determines if we allow (“let”) endurance to have its perfect work (1:4).

The Lord Jesus illustrates how the Word is related to trials and temptations in his life. The Word supplied support and sure answers when Satan attacked him during those forty days in the wilderness. James argues that faith at work will have its maturing effects in our lives through receiving the Word and responding properly to it. In this lesson, James argues for faith at work through the Word of God.

The Manner of Receiving the Word (1:19-21)

As James shifts his focus to the Word, he starts by explaining how it should be received. He identifies four fundamental attitudes that are necessary for this process.

  • An Attitude of Humility (1:19a)
    Embrace the Word of Truth with the same humility you had when acknowledging your sinful state before God to receive salvation. This humility, which played a crucial role in your salvation experience, is a lesson every Christian can learn from. Recognize that your journey to Christ was solely due to God's grace. With this humility, accept the Word, understanding that it is a source of learning and a measure of judgment.
  • An Attitude of Attentiveness (1:19b-20)
    It follows that if the Word is Truth we should listen to the Word. James explains how this attitude of attentiveness is expressed. Christians must be ready to listen to God’s Word as it is recorded in the Scriptures and as He may speak through the voice of conscience conditioned by the Scripture. James enjoins the brethren to be “swift to hear.” By the same token, James required the Christian to be “slow to speak.” He is not to be anxious either to complain to God or to proclaim the Word of God to others until it has become a functioning article of his life.
  • An Attitude of Abandonment (1:21a)
    Not only must a Christian be attentive to the Word of Truth, but he must also abandon himself to the Word by putting it into action. One of the most difficult things for any Christian to do—in this case, Jewish Christians of the First Century—is to break with the religion and culture of his pre-Christian lifestyle. But if one will receive the Word of Truth by faith unto maturity, James indicates that breaking with the past and abandoning oneself to the Word of God will be necessary.
  • An Attitude of Submissiveness (1:21b)
    But abandonment of the past can be a negative reformation without a positive submissiveness to the Word of God. The Lord Jesus warned against this danger (Matthew 12:45), indicating that the last state is worse than the first.

    However, it must not be thought that James is seeking perfection before the Word of God can be received. He has in view rather the constant process of interacting affirmatively with the Word of God. He completes his thoughts on the manner of receiving the Word of God with the instruction to do so in meekness (humility, gentleness).

The Manner of Applying the Word in Personal Life (1:22-25)

In every assembly of believers, there are those who read the Bible, believe the Bible, and revere the Bible but do not do the Bible. Sometimes, I will ask a counselee, if I picked up the Bible from your coffee table, would I reveal a clear dust spot? Then I will follow up with you, maybe not, but from what you have shared with me, you may as well not pick it up since it does not affect your living. It has been said that the Bible is our only rule for faith and life. In other words, it is our guidebook for what we believe and what we do. The illustration of verse 23 focuses attention on the tendency of believers to accept the Bible as the guidebook of what they believe but not of what they do.

The believer who hears the Word but does not do the Word is like a man beholding his face in a mirror. He neglects the purpose of the mirror. He goes away without cleansing the dirt from his face. The Word of God reflects the dirt of disobedience and moral impropriety and prescribes the cleansing (Psalm 119:9). If faith is to be at work perfecting the believer through the Word of God, the Word must be implemented by the believer in his personal walk. There is probably no situation in life where this is more quickly observed than when facing temptations and trials.

The “perfect law of liberty” is a descriptive name for the Word. As a believer lives the law of the Word, he is freed from the incumbrance of sin. Here again, James is reminiscent of the Lord Jesus, who said, you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).

The Manner of Applying the Word in Personal Life (1:22-25)

What we observe in James's theme and purpose is that he is practical. His interest is not merely in the faith that a man professes. His concern is a faith that is at work perfecting godliness in life, even in temptations and trials. How are you applying the Word in corporate life? How are you responding to other people within and without the assembly?

James lays out three cutting edges: self-control, unselfishness, and purity. The first two edges or tests apply within the corporate life of the church, while the latter obviously refers to life in the world.

  • Self-Control (1:26)

    In the third chapter and second verse, James declares, “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” The implication drawn in 1:26 and 3:2 is the same. If a man can control his tongue, he is a man of self-control. Here, in 1:26, James indicates that his tongue is controlled; it is a good indication that he has control of his life in other respects and is, in fact, bringing his life under subjection to the “perfect law of liberty.”

    There is no place like a temptation or a trial, often one and the same, to reveal an uncontrolled tongue. Hence, count these all joy, for the tongue reveals to the believer where his cooperation with the Spirit of God is needed in his life to effect transformation.

  • Unselfishness (1:27a)
    The second cutting edge of James’ test of the manner of applying the Word in corporate life, unselfishness, is seen in verse 27. The word “visit” suggests the idea of “to care for” or “to look after.” Here is unselfishness. What can a widow or orphan return for the kindness shown unto them? Many Christians keep a “scorecard” on entertainment. Little wonder then that assistance, “looking after the widow and orphan,” is seen as a test of the Word applied in corporate life. To minister to them reveals unselfishness, which indicates that faith is at work perfecting through the received Word, which instructs us to care for others.
  • Purity (1:27b)

    The Christian lives in the world, too. Some Christians seem to be able to keep their façade intact within the church. However, the crack in their practical faith often becomes evident in the world. The Word of God is so profuse regarding worldliness.

    James concludes that if the world is contaminating us, we are not allowing faith to be at work, perfecting us through the Word applied in corporate living in the world.

Theological Teaching

James’ benediction of blessing, the doer of the Word of God, this man shall be blessed in what he does; this is the only way to blessedness for the believer.

The nation of Israel provides a continuous example of this principle. When Israel was obedient and implemented the Word of the Lord, she experienced peace, guidance, and the Strong Arm of deliverance. When she was not a doer of the Word, her experience was anything but blessed, as even a cursory reading of Israel's history reveals.

The thirty-fourth Psalm bears a similar understanding. In verse eight, the writer says, "O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” And, in verses 13-14, he depicts the action of this blessed man, “Keep your tongue from evil, And your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; Seek peace, and pursue it.” Verse 15 suggests the blessedness of this behavior when the Psalmist promises, "The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry." Likewise, Psalms 41, 119, and 153 reiterate this truth, as do many other passages.


There are three questions to ask your counselee (maybe yourself) to assist in implementing James’s instructions.

  • Does the use of your tongue square with your profession? We tend to judge whether a man is real merely by his walk; James says that we are judged also by our talk. Jack Wertzen had a message entitled, “If you don’t walk the talk, don’t talk the walk.” James has a message that might be called, “If you don’t talk the walk, are you walking the talk?”
  • Do you actively care for others who can offer nothing in return? James says this is the test of true religion. Jesus set the example in that He gave Himself for us while we were his enemies. It is easy to get Christian folks to give money for “spiritual causes,” but the pipeline clogs when the giving is for the mundane needs of one who can offer nothing in return. James says, “My friend, put your money where your mouth is.”
  • Are you in the world or of the world? The Bible exhorts, Keep thyself pure (1 Timothy 5:22). It tells us clearly that this present world system is evil (Galatians 1:4). It plainly teaches that Christians are not to be conformed to this world. To use Paul’s thought, the Christian has but one choice: he must have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather reprove them (Ephesians 5:11).


Author: Dr. Howard Eyrich