Not Hearers Only
by Harry Reeder
“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 who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 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” (James 1:22–24).
Obviously, a pastor’s heart desire for the flock is that none are “deceived” but all are “gospel-blessed” by not only receiving freely the saving grace of Christ but experiencing increasingly the transforming grace of Christ, out of love to Christ, from a desire to exalt Christ through the life-changing preaching of God’s Word.
I want to provide three pastoral exhortations to help us to move from being “hearers of the Word” only to being effective “doers of the Word” purposefully. Beforehand, however, let’s establish two essential presuppositions that lie behind these exhortation:
Presupposition 1: The public and searching expository preaching of God’s Word is the divinely ordained and designed primary means of grace and growth. It is not the exclusive means, but I would affirm it as the primary means without hesitation. This is why the Apostle Paul declares, “For Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel” and “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
Presupposition 2: The believer’s relationship with God’s Word before and after it is preached is the single most important factor in becoming a “doer” and not a “hearer only” of the Word. Paul affirms this in Acts 17:11 as he profiles the noble-minded believing Jews in Berea by identifying two characteristics. First, “they received the word with all eagerness,” meaning that they intentionally prioritized the faithful exposition of God’s Word. Secondly, they “examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so,” meaning that they had a daily commitment to personally and intentionally study the Scriptures while reflecting upon what had been preached to them. So on the one hand, they were teachable since they longed to learn profoundly from an intentional exposure to a faithful pulpit ministry. On the other hand, they were also discerning, as demonstrated by a prioritized, habitual study of God’s Word.
Both elements are crucial. We could not grow without being teachable since we cannot do what we do not know. The Christian life is not lived by human imagination or intuition but by divine revelation. In being teachable the Bereans were not gullible; they refused to be misled by preachers who were not handling the Scriptures accurately. This practice was not born of a critical spirit but from a desire to learn rightly since Christians cannot do rightly until they know rightly.
Now that we’ve established our presuppositions, here are my three practical pastoral suggestions to help you become both a better “hearer” and a better “doer” of God’s Word.
First, establish a sacred time, a sacred place, and an intentional practice for the daily study of God’s Word. I suggest the morning so that you can reserve the evening for family worship and Bible reading. Assign Saturdays for personal and family reading of the passages of Scripture to be preached on the Lord’s Day. Our forbearers called this “Sabbath Eve preparation.” This is one reason I recommend Tabletalk. By design it leaves the weekend open from the regular daily studies, allowing an opportunity to secure from your church the texts for the Lord’s Day worship. Consider redeeming the time on the way to corporate worship by having one family member read the text again and then another pray for the service, your family’s participation, and the success of God’s Word. This has been an unbelievably helpful family practice for us.
Second, on the Lord’s Day afternoon or evening, consider and discuss what was preached and its life implications both personally and as a family. We enjoyed doing this after the Lord’s Day evening worship as our family partook of our traditional Sunday night popcorn and pizza.
Third, since “all Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17), establish a “band of brothers/sisters” to share what God has been teaching you and its implications for your life. This allows you to develop an intimate and transparent, same-gender small group designed to encourage, pray, and hold “one another” accountable as Christ-followers who desire to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord” (2 Peter 3:18). Also, I have found the use of a personal journal to be an invaluable asset for continual reflection upon what the Lord is teaching me and how He is challenging my heart and life. To paraphrase the words of a faithful Puritan divine, I have become convinced that reading makes a thoughtful man; listening makes a learning man; writing makes an exact man.
One final thought. A believer’s motivations to be a “hearer” and “doer” of God’s Word are multiple, not the least of which is “if you love me [who first loved us], you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). While we don’t “do” God’s Word to be saved, we long to “do” God’s Word to exalt our Savior because we are saved.
May our Lord bless you to be both an intentional “hearer” and “doer” of God’s Word as you “long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up into salvation.”