What are we supposed to do with the Bible once we open it? Don’t guess! Your instructions are right there in the passage. Look again;
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.”
Let’s list the verbs, the doing words. Do, listen, do, listens, do, looks, looking, looks, looks, heard, doing, does.
What’s this telling us? That when we open the Bible there are three actions to keep in mind: Look, listen, and do. There are four versions of the word look. Three versions of the word listen. And four “do” words. Drop any one of those three actions and you get… zippo. You have to listen while looking, look while listening, and put what you see and hear into practice. So the most basic Bible study course you’ll ever take is right out of scripture itself: Look, look, look, look, listen, listen, listen, do, do, do, do, do.
Yes, I’m absolutely serious. Let’s unpack these words. Because this gets even better! How are we supposed to look? Don’t guess—what does the passage tell us?
What does intently mean? Well, it means with some intensity. We’ll have to work at it. And we’ll have to focus. But there’s an even more important thought here. Intently also means to look with intent. With intent to what? To do, do, do, do, do. To put what we read into practice.
Any other words about how to look? Yup. The word continues. So God says, look with intent, and keep doing it. Do it… continually.
Any other words in there give us a hint? What about the word forget? Are we supposed to forget what we see when we look in God’s word? No! We’re supposed to remember it.
How do we remember it? Through memorization? Or meditation? Sure, but there’s an even better way described right there in our James passage… and, I’ll save it for later. To keep you on the hook! For now, let’s talk some more about the looking. What do we look for? Just for kicks, I’m going to talk about four things to look for. One for each “look” in the passage;
1. Look for what it says.
2. Look for what it means.
3. Look for yourself… in the mirror.
4. Look for what to do about it.
The first thing to look for is right there in the passage. Twice. We’re supposed to look for “What it says.” Not what it means yet. Just, what does the verse actually say? You may want to paraphrase it for yourself. Take John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It says that God loves us so much that he gave us Jesus so we could live forever. And be careful! Sometimes getting to the bottom of what a verse says is not as easy as it sounds. We’re so used to focusing on what we already think something means that we can’t actually see what it says.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a verse up on a screen during some Bible teaching and the moment I ask a question that could have been directly answered by the text, people look down, or off into space somewhere, or try to do some kind of psychic reading on my face. They’re guessing. Trying to figure out the answer based on what they already know or what they think I want to hear instead of reading the verses right in front of them.
Sigh… An example: In Ephesians 1:17-21, Paul is praying for the Christians in Ephesus. He prays “that God would enlighten the eyes of your heart, that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…” It sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Well, for years I missed a single word in there that changes everything. I assumed that because Paul is praying for us, for believers, that it was all about me. My hope in heaven, my inheritance to come. That’s what it says, doesn’t it?
No, that’s not what it says. Look again. Yes, it’s about my hope in the first line, but who’s inheritance is he referring to? God’s. His inheritance, not mine. I did a double take the first time I noticed that. God has an inheritance? Yes, a rich, glorious one, apparently—and it’s in the saints. Huh.
By the way, you should probably buy a nice prayer journal for all of this. It will help you remember things and you can always come back to what you wrote to see how you’re doing with the doing part.
In any case, James says, “Look for what it says.” And look carefully. Intently. Continually. I’ll see you tomorrow as we unpack the second LOOK.