Thursday, May 5, 2016

James Chapter One, part 6

1:21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

The Greek word for filthiness means literally that: dirtiness or anything that befouls, defiles or dishonors. The KJV originally translated wickedness as "naughtiness," a silly term in today's nomenclature but carried a strong connotation hundreds of years prior. Naughtiness carries its base term "naught" which is essentially nothing or worthless. To call someone naughty essentially meant their life had no value to it; they were sons of Belial or sons of worthlessness. Someone's life wasn't empty or worthless because they did nothing; it was because they excelled only at sinning. James here instructs us to lay aside our moral impurities and our overflow (an excess or overabundance) of wickedness as a prerequisite to truly appropriating something of genuine value. That is, the implanted word or the Gospel which is able to save our souls.

Verses 12 through 15 relate that we often pursue to our hurt that which we selfishly desire, even to the extent of using the excuse that it was given us by God. It does not result in spiritual growth but can in fact result in death if not repented of. We are cautioned against self-deception in verse 16 and then shown that God dispenses gifts that do not need to be repented of and do not come with temptations attached, verse 17. Verse 18 states that God uses the message of the Gospel to save and God alone saves man; we do not and cannot save ourselves. Since we are quick to chase after what is wrong, easily deceived and entirely dependent on the grace of God supplied abundantly through His Holy Spirit we are urged to practice patience and wisdom. This thought seems to culminate in verse 21 with James stating "therefore." "Therefore" he says, "lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness." We are instead to "receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save [our] souls." 

The Greek word for implanted (KJV "engrafted") is very interesting. It implies something's instrumentality either medially or constructively. In layman's terms, when something is instrumental it is indispensable; it cannot be done without it. Indeed, its presence and usage was key to achieving what needed to be accomplished. One's life in Christ is built (constructed) on the truth of the Gospel and our relation to its subject: namely Jesus, His death, burial, and resurrection. The idea of the word being implanted within us agrees entirely with Scripture. "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase," 1st Corinthians 3:5-6. We are to receive this word with meekness or humility; it is the free gift of God's grace though it cost Him His own Son, sending Christ to the cross to die the death that was meant for each of us. The very nature of the message presented ought to inspire meekness when we consider what we have been saved from, what we have been saved to, and what it cost our Creator to also become our Savior.

1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

The epistle of James is full of practical wisdom easily understood. But though it is easily understood it is not always so easily accepted. We have already been subjected to the revelation that our unbelief results in God not answering our requests; "Let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord," James 1:7. We also learned that temptation is our sin nature aroused in us; not God taunting us. We have also learned that anger tends to retard discernment and understanding. Human anger is not conducive to true righteousness; someone easily provoked may in fact be suffering from an overabundance of self righteousness and is all too willing to dispense condemnation upon others.

Now we find James separating as it were the wheat from the tares. Christians should be (should be!) doers of the word and not merely hearers. Sunday Christians, Holiday Christians, casual and carnal Christians take careful heed. Listen to those last words: hearers only are simply deceiving themselves. This is a harsh statement as much as it is an injunction from the apostle. James commands us to be doers of the word, a verb that necessitates action of some sort. In other words the implanted word we received meekly should raise up a crop of spiritual fruit that is visible to those around us and useful to others. "And let our people learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful; those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men," Titus 3:8, 14. This passage in James is instrumental in better understanding the latter portion of James chapter two.

1:23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; (24) for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

This warning is for hearers of the word. What did our Lord say about mere hearers of the word? "Behold, the sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had not depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them," Matthew 13:3-7. Now hear our Lord explaining this parable to His followers: "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who receives the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has not root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful," Matthew 13:19-22.

However you wish to consider the passage in Matthew that I cited it is not a glowing commendation by the Lord. It accentuates ore fully what James is trying presently to tell us. Reception of the word should result in fruitful obedience to it resulting in a visible manifestation of our saving faith, Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 2:13-14. A "natural" man does not forget what kind of man he is. We constantly groom ourselves to look presentable, sometimes obsessing over appearance. The mirror we look into as Christians is the word of God, the Bible. It is God-breathed, inspired truth and should compel believers of all ages to conduct our daily lives in accordance with what God instructs us is right. To read Scripture and not be transformed by it through the power of the Holy Spirit's agency tends to mean one of three things: we lack the faith to believe that what we read is truth, fear of men prevent us from living as God intends for us and so we lose His blessings, or rebellion and a desire to sin choke His word out as we attempt to emancipate ourselves from His government. These patterns do not prove one is unsaved to begin with, but Scripture is not quiet in asserting that it may well be so.

2 comments:

  1. Great post Ian.
    As you pointed out those who hear but are not transformed either do not believe so they can be saved, or they are so caught up in the things of the world they do not allow the Holy Spirit to produce fruit.

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  2. Thanks for the comment.

    Most of the time I feel very convicted about what I am writing; James especially is like a slap to the face to be more diligent, more sober about my own confession. I like that God persists and is unrelenting toward us. I also enjoy how, no matter how many times one reads through a book of the Bible it still imparts something new or different to its reader.

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"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," 2nd Timothy 3:16.

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All Scripture is taken from the King James Bible (KJV) or New King James Bible (NKJV). Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.