Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

by Scott Brooks

James 1:21-25


Top things you do in front of the mirror:

  1. Flex
  2. Suck in your gut
  3. Make faces
  4. Sing with a mic
  5. Practice saying “hello” to that new girlfriend or boyfriend
  6. Practice your looks: the smile, the intelligent look, the laugh, the serious look
  7. Look at your teeth.
  8. In the morning it’s always, “Assess the damage”

I watched a video this past week of four or five people who did an experiment of refusing to look at a mirror for a full week. Now I realize some of us guys in the room right now are thinking, “Mirror?” Who here could go a full week without looking at a mirror? You ever think that people had far better self-esteem before mirrors? How many mirrors do you own? How often do we look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s word?

Put Away: We’ve been talking about trials and how they impact us and how God meets us in the trials. In chapter 1:21, James writes what is the equivalent of a someone waving a red flag to get our attention. It gets everyone’s attention. Therefore. This word is a big word. Not because it’s complex or it has some obscure history. It’s a big word because it’s a summary statement. It’s what James has been building toward in the previous verses. It’s the resolution of all the tension of instruction of the previous verses. So let’s see what he says.

So what is the therefore there for in light of all that James has just written? “Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness.” Filthiness is being dirty morally. Rampant wickedness – flourishing, unchecked wickedness.

Application: The problem is we are so good at self-deception. We create levels or degrees of sin. Categories of sin. At least I’m not that bad. I’m not doing that. God says, “Put away ALLLLLLLL filthiness and rampant wickedness.” In another passage he says, that in Christians there should not be a hint of immorality. Not even a Hint. All is all. Evil is evil. Filth is filth. Wickedness is wickedness. And God says, “Put it ALLLLL away.”


James again brings up “The Word.” James uses it six times in verses 18-25. It’s a major theme. A few weeks ago we talked about the Word being the gospel – essentially that Jesus is Savior of the world from sin, judgment, and hell. As Savior He also is the one in whom we find Eternal life that starts now, healing, freedom, forgiveness, and connection to Him and everything good. That life starts through believing Jesus is who He said He was and is, placing our faith in Him, and surrendering our lives to His control. The “word” also includes the moral law of God which Jesus didn’t abolish but upheld. The word also can mean several other things but this is what James is camping on right now.

Receive with Meekness: And James says in view of our trials and all that is going on, receive the word with meekness. Meekness. That’s such a descriptive word for it. The definition of meekness is “having or showing a quiet and gentle nature: not wanting to fight or argue with other people.” It means not fighting with His word. Not arguing with His word. Meekness emerges out of an awareness of who is the one with Authority, who is the one in control, who is the one with all the power. It’s not wimpy. Strength under God’s control. It is birthed from our understanding of the word. We need His word. Like we really, really need it. Meekness emerges out of the awareness that God is right…always. His word is right. His word is best. His word is wiser. I’m not going to fight it but instead be quiet and gentle and receive. It’s the best thing for me…ever.

Planted In You: This is rather an arresting phrase, “The Word planted in you.” What stands out is that the “Word”, to use an agriculture word, is NOT “native” to our hearts.  Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God being like a mustard seed. The smallest of seeds planted in us and that grows into one of the largest trees out there. It’s a radical idea because before Christ the law was external but Jesus said, “My law will be written on your hearts.” Put in here. Planted in here. It only comes in meekness. Bring your law. Plant it in me. To grow into a tree of the kingdom.

Being not just a hearer but a doer: Having laid this foundation, let’s get to James’ main point. There is no such thing as a Christian who simply hears the word but does not do it. The implication is that anyone who does this is deceived. He uses the example of a mirror. Someone who only hears but never does is like all of us who look in a mirror and then forget what we look like.

Illustration: I just heard of a 2015 survey of 1,000 people in England about mirrors. What they found was that men typically look at a mirror 23 times/day. Women however look at a mirror 16 times/day. Another survey said women looked at themselves on average 38 times/day and men 18/times a day. So go figure. Have no clue. Split the difference and women are at 27 times and men at 21 times. Get this: The men surveyed said they looked at the mirror “mainly” to admire themselves. The women surveyed said they looked at the mainly for reassurance to make sure they “looked okay.” Women also said they focus on the body parts they don’t like. Men spend the time admiring the parts of their bodies they are happy with. It’s telling what men and women do with the mirror. How many times/day do we look at this mirror, what agenda do we have when we look at this mirror?

Forget what we look like: James brilliantly pulls in the mirror, which transcends all time and cultures and says this book, The Word, is like a mirror. Only this mirror, when we look into it gives a complete reflection of our entire being and God’s being. And it reflects what is true of us physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. In fact, it’s the perfect reflection. It is the truest mirror out there and also reflects the Word and all of its truths and reality. And someone who doesn’t act on what he’s seen in his reflection is like someone who forgets what he looks like. 

Anyone here today forget what they look like? It’s a ridiculous thought. Like who here wouldn’t recognize yourself if you saw a mirror right now. That’s how bizarre it is for someone who says they have the word implanted in them not to act on it. Who does that? All of us.

Illustration: My wife and I have been raising two pigs for meat. This past week was the day to take them to the butcher. In seven months, one pig grew to 357 pounds and the other grew to 338 pounds. It’s crazy how fast they can add on the weight. One thing I learned this past week was that if a pig doesn’t want to move, it’s not going to move. Imagine me trying to move a NFL lineman that weighted 350lbs. It’s a cute thought. Now imagine that lineman with an incredibly low center of gravity. It’s not going to happen. So we had some guys out to help us get the pigs into the trailer. As soon as we started to try to force them and push them into the trailer the pigs revolted. They wanted nothing to do with it and there was no way we were going to force them into the trailer. Curt Shepler came with a bag of marshmallows and said that people at the fair use marshmallows to get the pigs to do what they want. As soon as we put the marshmallows in front of the pigs they completely changed their behavior. One guy led them right up into the trailer without any force. It was crazy. One moment the pigs saw the trailer for what it was, “The trailer of death” but as soon as we tempted them they forgot everything – the struggle, the threat, the force – and all they could think about was that sweet marshmallow. They forgot instantaneously!

Trials and the temptations we wrestle with do that to us. How often do we look at the mirror and God convicts us. Shows us our sin. And we agree, “God, You’re right. It’s evil. It’s wrong. I can’t believe I do that. I can’t believe I fall for it. I see it clearly.” And several hours later it’s like we have forgotten everything. We’re right back in the wickedness and the filth like we never looked in the mirror of the word.

The Doer: And into this struggle James calls us to something higher. Greater. The one who looks into the perfect law – the law of liberty – and does it. Those people will be blessed. James modifies the Word now with the perfect law and the law of liberty. Prior to Christ’s coming the law was external and mediated from God to spiritual leaders and then to people. All external. God said it wasn’t written on people’s hearts. Through Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension the word is now written on our hearts by the Spirit. That’s the perfect law. The law of liberty is another word for the gospel. Freedom from the power of sin and the penalty of sin and the curse of sin. Free. No more chains. No more prisons. No more being trapped or held captive.

James is sounding more like a prophet from the OT and calling God’s people to elevate the word, the gospel, the prefect law, the law of liberty. Look at it. Receive it with meekness. Therefore the path through trials, the path through wickedness and filth, the path through temptation. Is the word. Looking deep into it and living it out. It’s this call to put this word in the deepest parts of us.

Illustration: One survey had a control group and a test group that had diagnosed struggles with anxiety over their appearance. When they asked the test group to look at themselves in the mirror for 10 minutes their stress and anxiety increased dramatically. What was shocking to the researchers is that the control group also had experienced spiked levels of anxiety and stress. (https://www.quora.com/How-many-times-a-day-do-you-look-at-yourself-in-the-mirror). Their conclusion of this survey: “It’s possible that looking at yourself for long periods of time is not a good thing.” 

It’s fascinating how science confirms the Word. Gazing at ourselves is toxic. But looking into the mirror of God’s word is life-giving. It’s the very thing we need to do. The more we gaze the more receive the word the more He transforms us.

Sinned: But it’s the last thing we want to do especially if we’ve sinned, right? His call is to put away all filthiness and wickedness. We all know what it’s like to approach the mirror of God’s word having just sinned, don’t we? We don’t want to look, do we? Okay, how about we do this. I’ll show you what my experience is like and see if you resonate.

I don’t want to look. I don’t want to look. I don’t want to look. I can’t afford to look. If I look it’s going to hurt. Okay, God I’ll look. But I’m just going to open up the Bible and I need you to speak to me where I land. Ezekiel – 18 “The soul who sins will die.”

How is it we intuitively know it will hurt? It will be painful? Because darkness and light cannot co-exist. It is a conflict. It is a battle. And if we look and see God’s holiness and the reflection of our lives we have a choice. Fight, argue or with meekness receive His word and do something about it. And even once that choice is made God’s word doesn’t promise it will get easier. It may get harder. Why? Because we may have to confess to others. We may have to give up things. We may have to stop doing certain things. Who here has been avoiding reading His word because of this? I’ve done it. I avoided it for months and months when I was in sin. We can’t look into this mirror and escape the images God shows us and the call to do something about it. For a Christian it’s not possible.

But let me just say this. It’s not all negative – in fact, it’s far more positive. Let me play out what James has in mind when we look at His word.

“Okay Lord, I’m going to look at your mirror. I’m scared Lord. I’m worried. Just be kind Lord. Can you be kind. I know I’m messed up. I’m really messed up. Just be kind. I see my sin. I see it God. I see the dishonor and offense I have caused you. It’s awful. I see how evil it is. It’s just evil. There is no hiding. I see even the sinful lie I believed that says I wasn’t as bad as someone else or as bad as what I could have done. It is wicked. It is dirty. I can’t believe how much I’ve hurt myself. I can’t believe how much I’ve hurt others. It’s sin. I agree with you it is sin. I’m so sorry. So sorry…Pause. God you promise to forgive me. I am going to claim your forgiveness right now. In fact I receive your forgiveness. I see it washing over me. I see your blood cleansing me. I see it! I see it. It’s too good to be true. Your grace. Your mercy. You are kind. You are loving!” We could look into this mirror forever. And walk away living in that forgiveness and grace and freedom.

Ever had those moments? Where the mirror of God shows us our sin and then shows us forgiven, cleansed? I love the mirror then. I love being free. Let me give you one last thought of how we look at God’s mirror.

God I don’t want to look at your word. I’m trash. I’m no good. I’m beyond being help. I’m ugly. I’m used goods. I’m the reject. I’m the outcast. I’m unloveable. I can’t look because I can’t take another rejection.

And God says look at this: I came for you. I love you. I see you. You are beautiful. You are accepted. You are a new creation. I will never walk away from you. I will always be there. Look into your image I have given you. A daughter of the king. A Son of the king.

Folks the longer we gaze into His word the more it changes what we do. We don’t change what we do so we can look. We look, we receive and His word changes us. His word defines us and our path. Are you gazing into His word?