Commentary by Walter Albritton


August 3, 2008


James Insists that True Disciples Are Doers of the Word


James 1:17-27


Key Verse: Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. – James 1:22


Understanding what James means by “the implanted word” in verse 1:21 is important to our study of this passage. So let us examine several different translations to see what we can learn. First, observe the NIV:

21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Notice the difference between this and the NRSV printed in the quarterly. “Moral filth” is a bit clearer than “sordidness.” “Evil” is more understandable than “rank growth of wickedness.” I prefer “humbly accept” to the NRSV phrase “welcome with meekness.” However, “the word planted” does not help us at all with the phrase, “the implanted word.” Note that both translations refuse to capitalize “word.”

Look next at the Amplified Bible:

21 So get rid of all uncleanness and the rampant outgrowth of wickedness, and in a humble (gentle, modest) spirit receive and welcome the Word which implanted and rooted [in your hearts] contains the power to save your souls.

Observe that “word” is capitalized. “The Word of God” means “the gospel” and that is true also in verse 1:18 (“word of truth”). So now we can feel comfortable defining “the implanted word” as the gospel or the “Word of God.” “Rooted” gives added meaning to the word “implanted.” Now we can see that James is saying that the gospel, once rooted in our hearts, has the power to save our souls. The gospel, after all, is “the power of God” (Romans 1:16).

We may ask how the gospel is planted in our hearts. Is this the work of the Holy Spirit? The New Living Translation gives us the answer:

21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

It is God, then, who plants the gospel in our hearts. This surely is a part of our initial experience of salvation. But since salvation is an ongoing experience of God’s forgiving and strengthening grace, we must continue to “receive” the gospel daily even as it grows within our hearts. We deceive ourselves if we imagine we can merely “mouth” the gospel without practicing it.

While The Message is not a reliable translation but one man’s paraphrase, it nonetheless can often enlighten our understanding:

19-21 Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God's righteousness doesn't grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

Eugene Peterson puts whip cream and a cherry on top of our search for insight into this passage! He turns “meekness” into “simple humility.” He invites us to let God be the gardener of our hearts as he “landscapes” our lives with “the Word” and makes us “a salvation-garden.”

Peterson also gives us a new way to think about being “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” He puts it this way: “Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.” An excellent plan!

As James reminds us, none of us can actually “control” our tongues. But we can “humbly accept” God’s willingness to plant the gospel in our hearts. Since it is virtually impossible to separate Jesus from the gospel, when the gospel lives in our hearts, Jesus lives there too. He has the power to control our tongues. The Spirit (or the living Christ) is able to produce in us the “fruit” of self-control. This is our only hope of mastering our sinful tendency to speak before listening and to give way to unrighteous anger.

The key is not to grit your teeth and strive to control your tongue. The solution is to receive Christ and the gospel into your heart and allow Him to rule your life. He alone can save us from the hypocrisy of knowing the gospel without practicing it, of being hearers and not doers of the word.

It all comes down to what is planted in the heart. Is it moral filth or the gospel? Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 15:19 when he says, in the paraphrase of The Message, “But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart.” This makes it imperative that we humbly allow God the Gardener to do his work in our hearts. Then we are able to “do” the word and not merely hear it. Then we build our lives on rock rather than sand.

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