From Faith, Love & Hope: An Exposition of the Epistle of James, AMG Publishers, 1997.
"For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was" (James 1:24).
In verse 23 we had an illustration of the hearer of the Word as standing before a mirror, understanding his present condition in contrast to the day when he first believed in the purpose of God's creation. Let us examine the Greek word translated "glass" in the King
James Version. "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." The word used in Greek is ésoptron, which refers to a mirror, usually carried in the hand and made sometimes of silver but more frequently of a mixture of copper and tin. Socrates, that great father of philosophy, advised young men to carry a mirror. If they were good looking, they should remind themselves that an ugly life was out of keeping with good looks. If their appearance was not attractive, they were told to remember that handsome actions offset ugly looks.
This word "mirror" actually comes from the compound Greek verb eisordō, which means "to look into with the power of discernment." The hearer is pictured as a man who stands before the mirror looking just at his face. That is not enough. There should be a deeper look when you and I look into the mirror of the Word of God. It is not only the face that we should expose to the mirror, but also the heart; for after all the face is only a symptom of the attitude and condition of the heart. The doctor examines the symptoms carefully to find out where the cause of an illness lies. But he cannot just treat the symptoms; he must also treat the cause of the illness and have a very good look at that. Let us be like that Christian policeman who prayed at prayer meeting, "O Lord, put something in our faces as we walk about that people trouble may see and so be led to seek our help."
How does your face and mine look before the mirror? We should take time to have a good look at it. Is it smiling or is it long? Just imagine how terrible it would be if we could never see what we look like. When pioneer missionaries make contact with hitherto uncontacted people, one of the first things they give them is a mirror so that they can form an idea of what they look like. It must be terrible for everyone else to know what a man looks like except the man himself. Let us not fool ourselves; if we are hearers only, others know it, but it is good for us to know it and to see what we look like as a result of our disobedience to the commandments of God. Why do we have so many long-faced Christians today? Because we have so many disobedient Christians, so many hearers and so few doers. It is the doer's face that is a delight for others and for himself to look upon.
Verse 24 tells us that this hearer does not stay long before the mirror of the Word of God. It says: "For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way." This is not a very accurate translation of the original Greek. The verb is in the aorist, which refers to an act in the past that is completed, an act which has no continuing effects upon the person who performed it. The verb, furthermore, is the same one that is used in the previous verse meaning "to understand." Thus we see that as soon as the hearer saw his face in the mirror he understood his condition, his state of heart and mind, but he did not linger for treatment. He went away and tried to forget what he looked like. Now is that intelligent? We look into a mirror to find out whether or not we are dirty. If we are, then the logical thing to do is to go get cleaned up. That is what God expects us to do, and He has assured us that His mercy and forgiveness are boundless.
The only way a person can really know himself is to see himself in the mirror of the Word of God. Is that not what our verse proclaims? It surely is, when we read it in the original inspired Greek. With one look in the mirror he immediately understands what he is, that he is a sinner. This business of knowing oneself is not easy. It is the hardest thing in the world. If a man does not know he is a sinner, he will not seek a Savior. If he does not know he is sick, he will not go to a doctor. If he wants to know what he really is, he must start reading the Bible, the Word of God.
Christian, if you wish to know how you rate with God, read His Word. Expose yourself to God's X-ray machine and you will know what you are in your inner self and not merely on the outside. When you look at your face in the Word of God, you will know not only how you appear but what you are. That is what verse 24 says: "For he understood or discerned himself." A paint company used as its advertising slogan: "Save the surface and you save all." That is what many Christians try to do nowadays. They do everything under the sun to save face, to make their faces appear perfectly normal and Christ-like to others, but when they look into the mirror of the Word of God, they will find how short they fall of that high standard which God has set for them. Let us as Christians take time to find things out about ourselves, outside and inside.
"Look, Mommy, this potato is so big and nice, is it not?" Then the mother peeled it and cut it in half. How surprised was the little girl when she saw it all black and hollow in the middle. "Oh, Mommy," she said, "this potato is not a real Christian, is it?" You can be a big, fine-looking member in the Church of Jesus Christ, but beware lest you be black and hollow on the inside. The Word of God has the ability to penetrate below the surface. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). The capacity for self-knowledge is one of our distinctive human endowments. Other creatures are not capable of knowing themselves. The study of our nature in the light of God's Word should become central in our lives. Let us not seek to find out only how we appear, and turn away from the knowledge of what we are.
But what does the man do after he acquires knowledge of what he is as a result of hearing the Word of God? "For he understood, knew himself, and he went away from the mirror." That word translated "and goeth his way" actually means "and has left from it." It is in the perfect tense, which would indicate that the man has gone away from the mirror of the Word of God with the purpose of staying away.
Have you ever seen people who just do not like to be exposed to God's Word? When they hear the Gospel preached over the radio they reach out and turn it off. They will not tolerate any preaching. It is not because they hate the Word, not because they hate Christ-far from it. You will never find them attacking religion. But they are afraid to be exposed to the Word because it will convict them of their sin. They are afraid lest it create in them uneasiness of conscience. The best way to silence their conscience, they figure, is to go away from the mirror which would show the filth of their life. But can one really get away from God?
So many people are like that young girl who, after sweeping the room, went to the window shade and hastily drew it down, saying, "It makes the room so dusty to have the sunshine coming in." She foolishly imagined that it was the sunshine which made the dust, whereas it only revealed it. We should rather get rid of the dust than the sunlight. That is what a wise man would do.
"He came, he heard, he has gone away, and immediately he forgot who he was." What the Apostle really wants to tell us is that this man forgot what he found himself to be, after he looked in the mirror of the Word of God.
In our previous study we saw that the hearer who stands before the mirror of the Word of God remembers the face of his natural birth. He remembers the day when he was first born into the kingdom of God and how happy he was and how obedient he was to God. Now he avoids this mirror of the Word because it brings back these wonderfulmemories to him. Oh, yes, he yearns for them again, but unfortunately he is not willing to pay the price. Let us not forget our first love so easily.Let us not forget those blessings which were ours when we knew how to obey God's bidding.
A little barefoot, hungry, half-naked boy was crying pathetically. "I am cold, I am hungry!" he shouted at the top of his voice. A stranger approached him and asked, "Do you believe that God can take care of you?" "Yes," replied the starving little boy with assurance. "Why, then, does He not ask someone to bring you warm clothing and some food?" "I know, sir, that He asked someone to do it, but apparently this somebody whom He asked has forgotten it." The little boy was right.To hear the voice of God commanding us to do something and then to do all we can to forget that voice is the most deplorable calamity that could ever befall a Christian. Let us remember the joy that came to us the last time we did something for the Lord, and not turn away from His will as revealed to us in the mirror of His Word.
Spiros Zodhiates (1922-2009) served as president of AMG International for over 40 years, was the founding editor of Pulpit Helps Magazine (Disciple's predecessor), and authored dozens of exegetical books.