But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does. James 1:22-25 NET

These words of James echo Jesus’ closing promise of blessing in his Sermon on the Mount. 

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because its foundation had been laid on rock.” Matthew 7:24-25 NET

This depiction presents  a warning to
listeners ready to move on to the newest influential teacher.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed—it was utterly destroyed!” Matthew 7:26-27 NET

The crowds recognized Jesus’ formidable sermon advanced an atypical perspective from other rabbis who preached sermons fortified with quotes from a host of respected religious thinkers. 

When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law. Matthew 7:28-29 NET

Because the crowds saw Jesus live a pure and powerful life of compassion in their corrupt world of politics and religiosity, they knew Jesus was no “flim-flam man”. His teaching was and remains vastly superior to all other earthly approaches to life. 

In our “information age”, gathering knowledge from many sources to fashion a unique plan  seems personally appealing. Tossing in a few of Jesus’ teachings might be advantageous but seem unnecessary to many.  A famous quote from the French philosopher Rene Descartes has been used to inadvertently bolster the idea that individuals are capable of determining what is best for them.

“I think, therefore I am.”

Evaluating various teachings and ideas to put together a unique identity is a powerful pull. What is the result of ignoring Jesus’ claim that his words are ultimate authority and must be put into practice? Will inaction on those words result in utter destruction as Jesus’ claimed? Or is his warning invalidated by advances in human philosophical thought?

What ensues when regular churchgoers like us, familiar with Jesus’ teachings, set aside our least favorites, give lip service to others, or avoid controversy around unpopular ones? 

Are you just along for the ride? 

A middle aged woman I knew who lived on the streets of Washington D.C. asked me this question 50 years ago. I laughed at first, but these words stuck with me.

Have you ever had any thoughts without thinking? – Shirley Brown


Jesus expects us to perform in accord with his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, not just give them “thought service”. Thinking, detached from action is like “having thoughts without thinking”. This week, explore the Sermon on the Mount and locate a challenging segment. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to put his words into practice.

And, just for fun…

Descartes About Not Thinkers

by Kathleen Petersen

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