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How to Hear the Word That Saves Your Life (James 1:21)
Sermon Notes
Sunday, 02 March 2014 00:00

James is concerned for the Christians to whom he is writing. They are facing trials and being tempted to react in the wrong way. James writes to encourage and instruct these Christians to cultivate the necessary behavior so that they will triumph through the trials.

(A) If I am to triumph in times of trial, I must learn to listen. I must prepare myself by quieting my mouth (slow to speak) and calming my spirit (slow to wrath) and be swift to hear.
That is what 1:19-20 is telling me.

A trial comes into my life.
How easily I might claim, “Of course I’m quick to hear God’s Word!”
But James now puts my claim to the test.

In the first two phrases of James 1:21, we see two more ways that a believer must prepare himself in order to be a victor instead of a victim amidst the trials of life with their accompanying temptations:
(B) On the negative side, I should lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness.
(C) On the positive side, I should receive (ie, “welcome”) that word with the proper attitude – that is, with meekness the implanted word.

James is talking here about our PREPARATION for hearing God’s voice through His Word.
(B) In the first part of 1:21 we find the second step of preparation:
21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness,
The word James used here, which is translated lay aside (apotithemi) was often used of removing clothing. We usually give some thought about what we are going to wear when we go somewhere, and when we go to church, it is no different.
So here in this verse, James is telling us about some “clothes” we shouldn’t wear to church, or anywhere else, for that matter!

The word for filthiness here is especially illustrative.
It is a word that literally means wax in your ears. In this context it points to the dirt in our lives, in our souls, in our hearts.
James’ imagery makes it clear that it is not until we clean the wax out of our ears (that is, get the dirt out of our lives) that we will be able to hear distinctly the small voice of God.

21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, (abundance of evil)
The evil James is talking about, he here describes as all filthiness (everything dirty) and as an overflow of wickedness.
In other words, James calls evil (kakias), translated here as wickedness, an excess (perisseia) or, as it is translated here, an overflow.
The picture James paints for us is rather gross and graphic!
Wickedness (or evil) in a Christian’s life is like an unwanted enlargement, or abnormal, useless outgrowth (think of looking in the mirror and seeing that dreaded ripe zit right on your nose!).

Any and all sin in a Christian’s life is an ugly superfluity, and unwelcome excrescence similar to an unsightly tumor (or zit) growing out of a person’s skin.
James is telling us to deal with any wrong, sinful attitudes in our lives, much like we would put on clean clothes and wash our faces before coming out in public, like coming to church.
To get the maximum impact, all human evil should be renounced by the believer before he hears God’s Word.
Now, I wonder if you had ever thought of your sin – whether the sin be in your attitude or involving some action – as being as ugly and unwelcome as a gross, juicy pimple – as obvious and plain as the nose on your face?
Have you ever thought of the sin in your life as being as inappropriate as wearing some filthy, smelly, dirty clothes when going out to a nice restaurant to eat?


21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, since this is totally inappropriate for those whom God has brought forth … by the Word of truth (1:18).

So then, the second step of PREPARATION for hearing God’s Word is to clean up my heart and life, primarily through confessing any filthy, evil thoughts, or any known sin in my life.
Whether it is in my private devotional time, or at an hour of worship, I can never expect to hear God’s voice if I have wax in my ears (if my life is dirty, with unconfessed sin).
No wonder my prayer communication can seem so unproductive!
No wonder Bible reading can be so dull!
No wonder church is so boring!
We will never hear what God is saying to us in His Word without proper preparation

(C) There is a third step in preparing for God’s message. It’s found in the second phrase of v 21.
21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness,
and receive with meekness the implanted word,
The word, translated as receive, doesn’t match the strength of the original word, which is actually a word for hospitality. It means to, “Welcome the Word with open arms!”

The next word to notice is meekness. This lovely word that speaks of gentleness and humility; it’s talking about a teachable person.
A teachable, humble attitude listens for God’s voice. He puts out the welcome mat at the door of his heart so that he can receive, or welcome God’s Word with open arms and heart!

A teachable, humble attitude listens for God’s voice. It may come through the Scripture reading. It may come through a song. It may come in the middle of the message. It may come at the end. But it will never come if we are simply listening to the voice of a man.

Now LOOK! That word, which is to be received (or welcomed) with meekness, is implanted.
The word translated here as implanted is (emphytos: literally meaning, “inborn”).
So in the context, where has James just talked about something or someone as being born (from above) or brought forth?
Yes! It is reasonable in light of the context to take this as being a reference to the reader’s new birth (1:18), which was effected by the word of truth.

Like a seed implanted within them, the Word had imparted new life to them.
It was thus an “inborn” Word which was natural and innate to them as those who had now received the ultimate good and perfect gift from above, and were thus born-again people.

Note that Peter also uses seed imagery for describing the new birth in 1 Peter 1:23-25 ~
23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 24 because
“All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.” [Isaiah 40:6-8]
Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.

Jesus had used that imagery also, for example, in the Parable of the Soils: “The seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11).”

So now James is telling his Christian readers that they should receive the instruction of God’s Word. and receive with meekness the implanted word,
They should do so, recognizing it as the very thing which had been implanted in them at that very moment in time when they believed that Word.

Do you realize that at the very moment you were persuaded that God’s Word regarding His gift of eternal life was true, at that moment you received God’s good and perfect gift from above?
At that moment in time, God’s Word was implanted into the soil of your life.
Just as a little seed of grain contains within itself all of the potential from which a fully developed plant may grow, so too does the Word concerning the Good News of everlasting life.
Simple though the message of life is, the seed of life which is implanted when we believe this message contains enormous potential which only Christian obedience can fully develop.
We are born freely – of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth (1:18).
Once we’re born into God’s family, born from above, we now have family responsibility.
In the next verse (1:22), James will speak more about hearing the Word.
What we need to grasp and understand is that the word of God, which we hear (in 1:22) in Christian instruction (discipleship) is nothing less than that which has already been implanted or “inborn,” with all its potentialities, within every believer at the moment we first believed!

James tells us that without adequate PREPARATION, we will not hear God’s voice.

(A) We may be talking when we should be listening.
(B) We may be listening, but have wax in our ears, so we miss the message.
(C) We may be listening, but not like the sound of what we hear.
These things need to be corrected in order to become good listeners.

So James has just educated us on the PREPARATION for receiving God’s Word.
We PREPARE to welcome God’s Word into our lives with open arms by being a good listener, changing our dirty clothes and washing our faces by confessing our sins, and hearing God’s implanted Word with a teachable heart.

2. Now James notes that the implanted word has POTENTIAL to produce tremendous benefit.
Look at verse 21 again, and let’s focus on the last half of the verse.
which is able to save your souls.
It is able to save your souls. Now that’s POTENTIAL!
If we listen well to God’s voice, it can “save our souls.”
There is more to that expression than getting to heaven some day.
In fact that is not what the phrase, “save your souls,” is talking about at all!
If it is, then we get to heaven by works. Why? Because we have just been told that we have to clean up our act and be teachable, humble Bible students in order to “get our souls saved.”

A. If “save your souls” means salvation from hell, then salvation is by the works in 1:21 a,b.
21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But that would contradict the very clear statement about salvation in Ephesians 2 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
We must look for a way to harmonize the unclear passage with the clear passage.

Remember! James is addressing people who are already born from above, who have received that greatest good and perfect gift. (us in 1:18 have received gift from above in 1:17)
They are people whom God, of His own will, has brought forth by the word of truth.
It would be gratuitous for James to tell people who are already born again how to be born again.

B. When Jesus used the phrase, “save your soul,” He was teaching about kingdom rewards for disciples.
James’ half-brother, Jesus, taught this same concept to His disciples in Matthew 16, and guess what? That the passage in Matthew is not a “go-to-heaven” passage is clear from verse 27, where Jesus says He will come back some day and reward each man according to his works. Jesus is talking to His disciples (11 of 12 who were believers in Him for eternal life) about rewards, not about getting into heaven. When Jesus used this phrase, He was teaching about kingdom rewards for disciples.
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. (Matthew 16:24-27) The translators would have done us a favor if they had been consistent in how they translated the word psyche in vv 25 (translated “life”) and 26 (translated “soul.”

C. Our “soul” refers to our “life.” It refers to the time we have left before death or the Rapture.

It is true that many people today have an automatic reaction to the phrase “save your souls” in English, which leads them to understand it as referring automatically to salvation from hell.
But do you realize that NONE of James’ first century readers would have been likely to draw such a meaning from that phrase here in this text?
The Greek phrase (sosai tas psychas humon) was in common use at that time in the sense of “to save the life.”
It is used in both the Greek Old Testament (LXX) and New Testaments in exactly that sense:
- Genesis 19:17 ~ “Escape for your life!” is literally, “Save your soul!”
- Genesis 32:20 ~ Jacob’s statement, “… my life is preserved” is literally, “my soul is saved.”
- 1 Samuel 19:11 ~ Michal warns David to escape her father Saul’s hit men by saying, “If you do not save your life (lit, soul) tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.”
- Jeremiah 48:6 ~ “Flee, save your lives (lit, souls) is the prophet’s counsel.
- In Mark 3:4//Luke 6:9, Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life (a soul) or to kill?”
That is also the plain and obvious meaning in James 5:20, which refers to the physical preservation of a life from death in the context of physical healing which James had just been talking about in James 5:13-18. 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
Zane Hodges noted that it may be accurately stated that there is not one single place in the entire Greek Bible (the LXX and the NT) where this phrase is used to signify deliverance from hell! Not even once!
Therefore, the commonly used meaning, understood as “to save the life” is precisely the meaning most suited to this context. The readers are already born-again people and are in no need of being saved (delivered) from hell.
And in context James has just talked about the death-dealing consequences of sin (in 1:14-15).
The meaning here in 1:21is clear: although sin can culminate in physical death, the Word of God, properly received, can preserve physical life.
This thought is a common theme in the book of Proverbs:
10:27 ~ The fear of the Lord prolongs days, But the years of the wicked will be shortened.
11:19 ~ As righteousness leads to life, So he who pursues evil pursues it to his own death.
12:28 ~ In the way of righteousness is life, And in its pathway there is no death.
13:14 ~ The law of the wise is a fountain of life, To turn one away from the snares of death.
19:16 ~ He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul, But he who is careless of [Literally despises, figurative of recklessness or carelessness] is careless of his ways will die.
So from both a linguistic and contextual point of view, as well as from the perspective of the common historical understanding of the phrase and its usage in Old Testament wisdom literature (eg, in Proverbs), there can be no doubt about James’ meaning in this verse.
To take James’ words (to save your souls) as a reference to salvation from hell would be to commit an obvious error of reading one’s own ideas into the text. If someone does this, he will misunderstand the entire epistle of James, including James 2:14-26.

James 1:21 is talking about the salvation (deliverance) of believers from temporal judgment.
The issue for James’ readers is to save their lives for eternal purposes. It is deliverance from harm. Believers need:
* To be saved from the loss of happiness//blessedness because of the discipline of Father God.
* To be saved from the loss of quality of life because of the effects of the death-dealing consequences of sin. Sin always leads to some form of death!
* To be saved from the loss of eternal rewards – if they save their lives for eternal purposes, they will thereby increase their rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

This is James’ great concern and understanding that will help solve a number of the difficult passages later in his letter.
The book of John is about the WAY to become a Christian.
The other New Testament books are about the WALK of the Christian.
From James 1:2-4, we know this book is about how a Christian can benefit from trials in his life – how a child of God can triumph through trials.
James wants the believers to whom he writes to “save their lives” from the trials they are experiencing today. James is not talking about being delivered from the flames of the Lake of Fire tomorrow.
The issue of their eternal tomorrow – of their eternal destiny – has already been settled.
The issue for them is what portion of their remaining time on earth, before death or the Rapture, will be considered by God to be (dokimos – approved by God), and thus rewardable at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
This is the potential benefit of being a good listener. In the midst of trials, God’s wisdom could deliver them from the devastation of trials and thus save their lives (their time on earth) for eternal purposes.





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