Most people enjoy a good word game like crossword puzzles, word searches, jumbles, scrabble, and the like. Such games are good intellectual stimulation, they can strengthen our vocabulary, and are simply fun to do. Some people are good at them while others may struggle and take longer to complete. Yet, like anything, the more time you spend doing the games, the better you become.
The Christian faith is built around words. In the first chapter of John, the gospel writer says this about Jesus, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John1:1, 14) Jesus is described as God’s Word in flesh and bone. Through Jesus, God’s Word is made known.
We know about Jesus through the written word, the Bible. We call the scriptures, “God’s word.” From the opening pages of the book of Genesis to the closing verses of the book of Revelation we read the story of God’s redemptive work in a fallen world. In faith, we turn to the scriptures for guidance, instruction, and encouragement. The Bible plays a central role in our Christian walk.
In the letter of James in the New Testament, the writer challenges us as Christians, however, not to play word games with the scriptures. In James 1: 22-24, we read, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; or they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.” James sought to encourage the early Christians to live out God’s word in their daily lives. It was easy then, as it is now, to read and listen to God’s word, but then not take the next step of making a it a guide for living in the world. Reading and hearing God’s Word means little if it does not affect the way that we live our lives. It is as James states, like looking in a mirror, walking away, and forgetting what we look like. God’s Word must be transformative in the life of the believer. We are not simply to be “hearers” but “doers” as well, otherwise we are simply playing word games.
What then does a “doer of the word” look like? It would seem to me that a “doer of the written word” would look like Jesus, the Living Word. A doer is one who seeks to model her life after the life of Jesus. In John’s Gospel, after Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he tells them, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13: 15-17) As the living Word, Jesus calls us to a life of servanthood whereby we live out the written word by actively engaging the world in the way Jesus did with love, grace, mercy, compassion, kindness, tenderness, faithfulness, generosity, patience, and the like. Jesus has given us quite a vocabulary of words to put into practice.
Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer once wrote, “You may as well quit reading and hearing the Word of God, and give it to the devil, if you do not desire to live according to it.” For Luther, we play games with God’s word when we fail to live lives that do not reflect Jesus Christ. When we fail to use the vocabulary of Jesus, then God’s word becomes a lifeless relic for museums and library shelves but nothing more. Yet, as the Living Word, Jesus becomes the foundation of our living, shaping us and molding us after his will, and leading us to “do” the kind of life that reflects him.