Finding himself desperately in need of money, a man went to the city zoo, hoping to find a job feeding the animals. Although no such opportunity was available, the manager, seeing the size and the strength of the applicant, suddenly got an idea. “You know,” he said, “there are few creatures who attract attention like a gorilla. Unfortunately, ours died yesterday. If we got you a special fur suit, would you be willing to imitate him for a few days?”
The hungry man agreed to try. He was quite successful as he beat his chest, bellowed, and shook the bars of the cage—much to the amusement of visitors who said they had never seen a gorilla with such intelligence.
One day, while swinging on his trapeze, he accidentally lost his grip and landed in the lion’s den. The huge beast gave a ferocious roar. Backing away, the impostor realized he couldn’t cry for assistance without revealing that he was a fake. He retreated, hoping to crawl back over the fence into his own cage. The lion, however, followed him.
Finally, in desperation, he yelled, “Help!” Immediately the lion said in an undertone, “Shut up, stupid! You’ll get us both fired!”
James writes, “…be doers of the Word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” We might add, “or others.” Faith in Jesus isn’t for putting on a show for ourselves or for others – is it? We don’t wear a Christian costume for the sake of the wage someone promised us, do we? Who are we underneath – has our faith permeated to the core? That’s what James is getting at: not just hearing, but hearing and receiving God’s Word in a life-changing way. This is the basis for Christian living.
And so James fleshes this idea out a little bit: the person who hears and then doesn’t “do” is like a person who looks at him/herself in the mirror and then goes away and forgets what s/he looked like. Are you familiar with the Alice stories by Lewis Carroll? What was the second called? Through the Looking-Glass, right. Alice has adventures through the looking-glass – things in the looking-glass, or as we would say, the mirror, are reflections of things outside of them, opposite to, or the reverse of, the things they reflect. For Alice, this means that, periodically: time works backwards, sometimes space, sometimes the laws of physics. What about for you – do you live through the looking-glass, or do you have times when you do? Does your life reflect the faith that you hold, and the truth that you know, or is your life lived through the looking-glass, where duplicity reigns and the opposite of the faith you profess has become your reality?
Collectively, Christians have been bad at this, inspiring Ambrose Bierce, in his cynical and sarcastic commentary The Devil’s Dictionary to define a Christian as “One who follows the teachings of Christ insofar as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.” A man intended to snub the parish priest at a social event. “I would attend the church, but it’s so full of hypocrites!” he said. “Why would that stop you?” suggested the priest. “One more won’t make much of a difference.” Many of us have been the one who received that comment, and we all handle it in different ways when we do. What do people mean, when they make these kinds of comments? They mean that they know Christians who live through the looking glass, instead of in front of it. We recognize it when we see it in other areas:
For instance, professionally: A professor of ethics at a leading university was attending a convention. He and another teacher of philosophy had lunch at a restaurant and were discussing deep issues of truth and morality. Before they left the table, the professor slipped the silverware into his pocket. Noticing his colleague’s puzzled look, he explained, “I just teach ethics. I need the spoons.”
And even generally: A hypocrite is someone who complains there is too much sex and violence on his DVD player.
What about religiously? Do you follow Jesus, or do you follow Jesus insofar as you don’t need to do anything differently from anyone else? James goes on – be a doer of the word, not just a hearer of it – don’t be like a person who looks in the mirror and then forgets what they look like. Instead, James talks about people who look into God’s word and don’t forget it, but do it. Notice what the difference between the two is. Notice where the end of hypocrisy lies. Notice that spot where the life of integrity and congruous living begins. Your response to the Word of God will do so much to determine the level of your life’s integrity! Is your spiritual life bland or blooming? In some very vital ways, your practise of the Word of God determines the answer. Let us pray…