James 1:21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.
The purpose of today’s post is to explore what James means when he says: “in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” Clearly there is a manner in which we are to receive the word of God into our lives. Thus we will employ relevant insights from the original language, commentaries and the context of James’ epistle to answer the following question: “what does it mean to humbly receive the implanted word”?
Before you can receive the Word, you must get rid of some things
In order to “receive something”, you have to have your hand “empty” and not “holding onto” something else. James begins James 1:21 by first of all exhorting his readers to “put aside” something. The NASB states: “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness…..”. Whenever you read this statement in the Greek, the little particle translated “therefore” (διο = dio) follows logically from what was just stated in James 1:20, namely the inability of human anger to produce righteousness or the type of life that brings pleasure to God. It is a psychological and theological fact that ongoing anger and bitterness can only produce more of the same. (Ephesians 4:32; Hebrews 12:15). In recognizing the truth of James 1:20, we can now see why we are being told to “put aside” or quite literally “place away from us” the following things in James 1:21:
1. “Filthiness” (ῥυπαρίαν = roo-par-i-an). Any filthy habits, thoughts or behavior that result from immorality. This word can be illustrated by everything from unwashed vegetables which cannot be eaten without being sanitized to coinage that is not useful in a foreign country, requiring it to be changed over to the currency of that country. James here is telling his readers to essentially put away from them those things which have nothing to do with their new life in Christ.
2. “all that remains of wickedness” (περισσείαν κακίας = pe-ris-say-an ka-ki-as). Quite literally, get rid of whatever are the excesses of over-the-top evil, or to put it in more modern terms: “get rid of the baggage of the old life”. The first idea of “filthiness” deals with the actions or attitudes themselves, whereas the latter thought deals moreso with “associations” and the “venues” that could breed and flare up the desires to continue in a lifestyle of sin.
To illustrate what James is driving at here in the first part of 1:21, perhaps you have heard of the monkey and the coconut. A monkey was given a coconut with a hole cut out at the top just large enough for it to insert its hand. In that coconut were the delicious things all monkeys crave. Whenever the monkey put their hand in the object, it had its heart’s desires but now the hand was stuck due to holding onto the insides of the coconut with a tight fist that was too large to withdraw from the hole in the coconut. In order to be free, the monkey could only do one thing – let go of what they craved. James here is in a sense telling his readers that in order to “receive” what God has for them, they have to “let go” and “put way from themselves” the desires of the old life and find their true desire in Christ, who alone satisfies. (Psalm 73:24-25; 1 Peter 1:8)
Understanding the phrase: “in humility receive”
Whenever we get rid of whatever is hindering us in the Christian life, we need to “receive” something in its place, which is the true focal point of James 1:21. Notice what James says next, as rendered by the NASB: …”in humility receive the word implanted….”. So the question is: “what way can we humbly receive the word”? James writes in James 3:13 “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.”. The Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 uses this same word translated “humility”: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” The word translated “humility” (πραΰτητι = prau-tay-tee) speaks of receiving something with a heart inclined towards gentleness, patience, thankfulness, tenderness and voluntary submission. In James 1:21 and 3:13 we find this word being rendered “meekness”, which speaks of strength under control.
How can a person be in the position to “receive with humility the implanted word”? One suggestion would be that James may be alluding to the way in which one’s heart is made tender and humbled in prayer. Prayer and the “Word of God” fit together like hand in glove. We are undoubtedly commanded by God to study and love His words, yet we at the same time must humbly pray for such desires. Psalm 119:36 states: “Incline my heart to Your testimonies And not to dishonest gain.” Psalm 119:133 affirms: “Establish my footsteps in Your word, And do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.”
Truly when we look at James’ admonitions to “put away” the filthiness and wickedness of the old life, it is to clear away what is otherwise hindering the believer from seeking God and receiving the “word implanted”. Colossians 3:15-16 demonstrates this point: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to whichindeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdomteaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Calvin in his commentary on James gives the following insight: “But if we desire to be the living plantation of God, we must subdue our proud hearts and be humble, and labour to become like lambs, so as to suffer ourselves to be ruled and guided by our Shepherd.”
To demonstrate one more clear connection between submitting to God in prayer and the readiness to receive that comes from God, we only need to look to James 4:7-10 “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Frankly this verse appears to shed light and provide a Divinely inspired commentary of James 1:21.
The “implanted word that is able to save your soul”
James writes on in 1:21 “receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (NASB). The original language of this command unfolds some rich truths for our application. First, the verb translated “receive” is the Greek verb δέξασθε (de-xa-sthe). The verb is in the imperative mood, which is the verbal form associated with commanding certain things to be accomplished. The form of this imperative verb is what is called the “aorist”, which in this context speaks of commanding a certain thing to be done as a general part of one’s overall life. In other words, there should never be a time where we are not “receiving”. This verb corresponds with James’ earlier command of “putting away” in the first part of 1:21. As we go throughout the course of the Christian life, we are to be in the general pattern of “rejecting sin” and “receiving the Word”.
Now why is it that James describes the word of God as the “impanted word”? The Greek phrase translated “implanted word” is τὸν ἔμφυτον λόγον (ton em-fu-ton lo-gon). The adjective τὸν ἔμφυτον is describing a key trait of something that by nature is to be planted in soil. The “soil” in this case would be the human heart, and the seed in question would be of course “the word” (λόγον = lo-gon). Jesus for example tells the parable of the soils in Matthew 13:1-9, explaining the various ways in which people receive the word of God. Only a truly converted heart will gladly receive the Word and produce fruit, as Jesus essentially explains in Matthew 13:23.
Two great commentators confirm the remarks we have made thus far. First, R.C.H Lenski in his commentary on James, page 553, notes the following about receving the implanted word: “To be sure, the readers are also to hear it again and again. In this epistle James himself continues this implanting. What he means is that they shall completely accept the word which they have already heard and will continue to hear. James may, indeed, have in mind the parable of the Sower and the Seed and the good soil that produces a hundred fold.” Then secondly, the late Bible scholar A.T Robertson in his “Word Pictures of the New Testament, Volume 6”, page 22, notes the following about “the implanted word”: “It is ‘the rooted word’ (verse 18), sown in the heart as the soil or garden of God (Matthew 13:3-23; 15:13; 1 Cor 3:6)”. It is suggested that the reason James describes the scriptures by the phrase “the implanted word” is due to what he wrote of in James 1:18, namely of how God brings about the miracle of regeneration in the human heart by the Word.
The remainder of James’ description of the implanted word in 1:21 as that which “is able to save the soul” (NASB) communicates the continual ability to provide what is needed to maintain the soul of the believer. As Paul writes to young Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13 “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” Now why must this young pastor named Timothy give attention to the public reading, preaching and teaching of the scripture? Notice what Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:16 “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”
Putting together what it means to humbly receive the implanted word
As we draw this post to a close, I would like to offer three short life applications of everything we have aimed to achieve today. Our original intention was to explore what James means when he says: “in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” We probed the original language, consulted some commentaries and worked through some cross references to prayerfully arrive at the right understanding. In short: we considered what it means to humbly receive the implanted Word. Let this writer suggest the following life applications:
1. Rid yourself of the habits of the old-life
2. Reinforce a humble heart by praying to God
3. Receive the scriptures by engaging in the first two step.
Only when we take James’ admonitions to heart here in James 1:21 can we then readily receive the implanted word which saves the soul, and thus live it out!