Our passage this time is James 1:19-21. Once again we are not only examining the text, but displaying simple Bible notes that any readers might write for themselves after personal Bible study. To produce such notes increases understanding and aids meditation.
James is pithy and concise in his writing, and at times even cryptic. For this reason alone, a careful study of his words repays the reader amply, for there is a great deal that lies beneath the surface of his epistle.
1:19: Therefore, my beloved brethren …
Notes: James writes to ‘beloved brethren’. In 1:1 he calls them ‘the twelve tribes of Israel scattered abroad’. He is writing primarily to believing Jews, scattered from Jerusalem by persecution (Acts 11:19). Along with Gentile believers, these were the true ‘seed of Abraham’ because they shared the faith of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9, 29).
Theme: Have faith in Christ.
1:19: Be swift to hear …
Notes: James doesn’t just mean ‘be a good listener’, but rather ‘be eager to hear the Word of God and the gospel it reveals’ (see 1:21 below). Take every opportunity to hear preached ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’. And check up on the preacher to be sure that his teaching accords with the Word! Be like the Bereans who ‘received the word with all readiness and searched the Scriptures daily whether these things were so’ (Acts 17:11).
Theme: Hunger for God’s word.
1:19-20: [Be] slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Notes: Again, ‘slow to speak’ has a specific meaning; be slow to speak evil, unclean, unkind or angry words. Words, written or spoken, are powerful: ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ Words can bless or can corrupt; heal or hurt; build or destroy. Be careful what you say, and how you say it! Let our speech ‘impart grace to the hearers and [thus] do not grieve the Holy Spirit’ (Ephesians 4:29-30).
Why? Because angry words do not ‘produce the righteousness of God’. Here ‘righteousness’ refers to righteous acts, those ‘good works that God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them’ (Ephesians 2:10). These works are the necessary fruit of salvation by grace through faith and the imputed righteousness of Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Theme: Bear fruit to God.
1:21: Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflowing wickedness …
Notes: Remember he is writing to Christians! Believers still have the old nature alongside the ‘new man’. They are therefore still capable of sin. ‘Overflowing’ suggests that James is still referring to speech, which flows out, affecting all around us. How to deal with the ‘sin that dwells in me’ (Romans 7:20)? ‘Lay it aside’ directs James. The natural man has no power over sin, for he is its slave; but the believer is no longer under its sway and can reject it by the obedience of faith (Romans 6:15-23; 2 Corinthians 10:5).
Theme: Lay sin aside.
1:21: and receive with meekness the implanted word …
Notes: It is not enough to hear the Word; we must also receive it. The Israelites who died in the wilderness had the gospel preached to them, but it ‘did not profit them not being mixed with faith’ (Hebrews 4:2). The Word must be received ‘with meekness’, as we humbly recognize our dependence on the grace of God for salvation and every other thing. God looks to those who ‘tremble’ at his Word (Isaiah 66:1-2). How may we receive the Word? The natural man cannot do so (1 Corinthians 2:14) but believers have the Word ‘implanted’ in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, that they may obey it from the heart (see Hebrews 8:10).
Theme: Receive the Word.
1:21: which is able to save your souls …
Notes: The received Word can save our souls because, and only because, it presents Christ to us as the object of our faith. The Spirit implants both that Word and the faith to see Christ in it (Ephesians 2:8), so that we might believe on him.
Theme: See Christ in the Word.