Looking in the Mirror
Robert Wurtz II
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like (James 1:23-24 ESV).
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted (Galatians 6:1).
James reminds us that there are people in the world who have a very short memory when it comes to seeing themselves as they are. Dealing with them can be almost impossible because they are irrational. Not only do they look in the mirror and forget, but they also look in the mirror and “at once” forget. The phrase “at once” is translated from the Greek word eutheos from a root that means straight. Hence, the KJV (AV) typically translates it as “straightway” or “immediately.” In some cases, it can be translated “instantly.”
James is explaining that hearing or reading the word of God is like looking into a mirror. Clearly, the people who forget immediately are not your Narcissus types who fall in love with their own image. He couldn’t get himself off of his own mind. Indeed they may be like Narcissus and admire their own physical beauty looking into a glass mirror, but they abhor what they “see” when faced with the light of God’s word. Therefore, they deliberately and immediately “forget” what sort of person they are (in the eyes of God).
Instantly forgetting what kind of person we are can mean only one thing; we are in denial. I recall over thirty years ago being called to testify against a person who had insurmountable evidence against them going to trial. I asked one of the investigators, “Why doesn’t this person just admit what they did?” The investigator responded, “Robert, it’s an ancient problem known as denial.” Clearly, people who are in denial are only fooling themselves. Self-deception is perhaps the worst deception of all.
When a person is in denial regarding their own shortcomings, they are likely to focus on other peoples’ faults and sins rather than their own. This is gross carnality. Understand that we all have regrets. Don’t we? We all have done things that we wish we could erase. Haven’t we? When we are conscious of our own faults, the natural tendency is to “give some slack” (show mercy or empathy) to others. On the other hand, if we are obsessively in denial we create a mental diversion by torching other people who we know have failed. Under this delusion, we can divert our minds from our own shortcomings and focus our minds on others.
Clearly, nobody who works hard at “forgetting the type of person they are” will ever repent, acknowledge their own sin, and turn from it. Their outlook is all about focusing on others rather than themselves. My experience is that these types of people most frequently focus on Christians who they know are imperfect or who have failed in some ways in the past. This is why it can be dangerous to recycle the failures of others because it gives the “straightway forgetters” grain for their mill (so to speak).
Paul turns things around and explains what the spiritual type of person does. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted (Galatians 6:1). If we start at the end of this verse and work backward, we see that a spiritual person keeps a watch on themselves. What does that mean?
My late father, Robert Sr., used a couple of statements when I was growing up that I think are helpful. He would sometimes say when he heard people criticizing others, “They need to look in the mirror!” Or if I was meddling in other peoples’ affairs he would say, “Worry about yourself!” Both of these statements agree with the Greek word skopeo that the ESV translates as “keep watch on yourself.” In other words, make sure you are watching closely your own life before focusing on or criticizing others. Recognize that without God’s grace we would fall just as surely. God resists the proud but He gives grace to the humble.
Jesus took it another step and called the people (who try to take the splinter from their brother or sister’s eye while having a plank in their own eye) hypocrites. Ironically, the people who focus on others’ faults often view those people as hypocrites. This means that God’s estimate of forgetting our own faults and then criticizing others is hypocrisy in the true sense. What a turn of events! Young people call this type of thing, “Flipping the script.” It’s a way of saying that the whole scenario turned on the person and they become the victim of their own devices.
The spiritual person always has an eye on their own past and present life when dealing with the fallen. They don’t take a condescending attitude, “What’s the matter with these sinners?” They consider (skopeo) their own past life of sin. Paul writes to Titus, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Notice he uses the personal plural pronoun “we” or “ourselves” (plural of Greek ego) to include himself as opposed to saying “you” (Greek humeis).
Having a right view of ourselves, based upon the revelation of God’s word (mirror), we can both get and keep ourselves right with God while humbly and lovingly helping others to do the same. We can see clearly to gently help others remove the splinter from their own eye because we know the pain of removing it from our own.