Mirrors have a purpose. We use them to get ready for work, for an evening out, to make sure clothes fit right, straighten up our hair a little, or just to make sure we don’t have cilantro stuck in our teeth after eating at a Mexican restaurant. When we take a moment to look into a mirror, it is to see a picture of ourselves and make necessary changes. It would be completely pointless to gaze into a mirror, notice our shirt is buttoned incorrectly, then just leave it and continue with our day. That would completely negate the purpose of the mirror.
James uses a mirror analogy to explain the purpose of God’s Scripture. According to James, just like we use a mirror to correct our disheveled appearance, we are to use the teachings of Jesus for the same purpose: to see ourselves as we are, and then to act. James 1:19-27 (NRSV) summarizes how we are supposed to use the Word of God.
19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
James writes that we are to not only receive the word for salvation, but to act as well. This echoes the teachings of Paul found in Ephesians 2:8-10 (NRSV): 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Paul reveals that the purpose of our salvation is not only for our own benefit, but for the good works that God has prepared for the benefit of humanity.
It seems like there is no shortage of issues about which to be angry this year. 2020 will be the butt of many jokes for years to come. Folks are angry about wearing facemasks, meeting in churches, racial inequality, environmental concerns, and the upcoming presidential election. James tells us what our response should be to the injustices resulting from our imperfect humanity: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. Orphans and widows would have been those in the community who had no means of defending themselves and no hope for a better future. Our lifting their oppressive burden is what James says is the practice of our faith that results in the righteousness of God.
What James and Paul both affirm in the above verses is that salvation will lead to us impacting our world. We get a glimpse of God’s righteousness, then we go about giving others a glimpse of this “rightness” of God. It is summarized in the Gospels by Jesus as loving God and loving others in every way we are capable of doing… and we are to begin setting things right by standing up for those who have no hope and no voice.
All of these world-shaking scenarios that seem to be materializing almost daily can produce two outcomes in us, we can either get angry or we can act. I believe this season of change that we are in as a world, nation, and society gives us a good opportunity to look in the mirror of God’s Word and ask if the image we see reflects what God has asked of us. We are to be about the business of impacting the world in a way that sets things right in order to demonstrate God’s love for humanity and all of creation. Otherwise, we are wasting that mirror – our salvation.
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