James lets us know that his audience is the brethren, fellow believers in Christ. In this episode, we explore how this target audience affects the message of James and what it means to win in life. We are meant for community, commanded to listen to others and to lay aside wickedness. Not only receive the word of the Lord with meekness, but follow it with action. The word in us is what enables us to win.
Well, we’re in James 1, and today we start in verse 19.
Verse 19 starts with so then, and verse 21 starts with therefore. So if we’ve got so then and therefore, we ought to look and see what the therefore is there for, as they say. And we ought to ask ourselves, what’s happening here? There’s a proposition and then some sort of a conclusion that’s happening. So then, therefore.
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
That’s the first so then. And the therefore is—
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
So the ultimate thing we’re going to do here is get our souls saved. Now, it’s very important here. Probably one of the two real keys to the whole book to understand what a soul is, and what it’s being saved from. So let’s just look at these verses here and really dig into, first, what the expected result is, to have our souls saved.
Do “brethren” need their souls saved?
It starts with in verse 19—
So then, my beloved brethren—
Remember, brethren shows up 15 times in this book. We see brethren 15 times. If we’re talking to brethren, and we’re going to receive with meekness the implanted word, and the implanted word is going to save our souls, that should trigger something, right?
If we’re brethren, and we need to go to AWANA to get the scripture in us, what are we probably not talking about? What kind of salvation are we probably not talking about? To go from hell to heaven. We’re not talking about that.
And backup just one more verse. In 18,
Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
That’s a past tense.
Look just ahead at 2:1.
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.
Our Lord Jesus Christ. So we’re brethren. We have Jesus Christ as Lord. We’ve already been brought forth by the word of truth. So we’ve been brought forth as a first fruit. And we need to do something to have our souls saved. Kind of confusing.
Well, here’s the pretty easy way to “unconfuse.”
The word soul here is the Greek word psuche. We get our English word psyche from it. And that Greek word shows up in the Bible, I think it was 105 times. Something like that. And about half the time, a little bit more than, it’s translated soul. The other half, it’s translated life. And if you look at the definition, like on the Blue Letter Bible, it says, a living person, a breathing person. That’s what it means. So, it’s a person who’s alive and going and thriving.
The reason we get confused is because the phrase “save your soul” has kind of been etched in our minds as a Billy Graham event. You know, you have to have your soul saved from hell to heaven by going to a crusade and responding, or something like that.
But what we’re talking about here is having our lives—anytime you see the word soul, a real useful thing to do is insert the word life and that will help you with the context. You say, “What is my life being saved from?” Well, in this context, what does our life need to be saved from?
It tells you right there in verse 21: filthiness and overflow of wickedness.
If we have filthiness and overflow of wickedness, is that something we ought to be delivered from? Would you want to be delivered from that? Of course!
And how would you be delivered from that? It’s the implanted word that delivers us from that.
Wait a minute. Filthiness and overflow of wickedness—if we’re first fruits, if we’re new creations, new creatures, how can we have wickedness and overflow of evil? Well, of course, it’s because we’ve got a sin nature. The old nature is still there. And so we have the old nature.
We need this filthiness and overflow of wickedness—Say, well, we started with so then and therefore. Have we talked about wickedness and overflow of evil so far in this book of James? We have. Roll back just a little to verse 12.
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
This is winning, remember? This book is three ws: Winning, with a walk of faith, and the wisdom of God. That’s what this book is about. That’s what we want to do. And we overcome temptation. Oh, overcome, be delivered from.
So what do we need to be saved from, our lives? What do our lives need to be saved from, we who are brethren, who have Jesus as Lord? Temptation.
Verse 13, Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by—what? —his own desires and enticed.
Our own desires
So where are our own desires? Where are those? Are they on the porch? Are they in the house? Are they in our spouse? Are they with our friends? Are they on a billboard? Where are our own desires? Where are they? They’re inside of us, right?
And how are you going to get rid of that? Can you expunge it and say, “I’m just going to get rid of this old man now. Done with this old man. I’m just going to be done with it. I’m not going to have an old man anymore.” Is that an option? Not an option.
It’d be nice, wouldn’t it? Some day. There is a deliverance in the future. There’s this future salvation when we will be saved from the presence of sin in our body. And we’ll have a resurrected body. That’s our blessed hope that we’re looking forward to. It will be awesome when that happens. Not today.
The more common view is, “I will just perfect this flesh. I will overcome it because every day and in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
And you talk to a typical believer from anywhere around the world and ask them, “Does your sin nature get more powerful as you go along in your walk, less powerful, or stay the same?” And you’ll almost always get, in my experience, “Less powerful.” It’s just fading away. It’s becoming a little stump of itself as I grow in Christ.
That’s not my experience. My experience is just the opposite. The more I grow in Christ, the more is at stake, and the more ways that my flesh looks to push me on either side now into licentiousness or into phariseeism and legalism. It’s happy either way. Either way, it’s in control of me, which is the whole goal.
Good comes from God
So if I’m going to take something that I can’t get rid of, and I can’t reform, and I don’t want it to control me, I want to be saved from it, I want it not to rule my life, what do I do?
Well, the first thing is verse 16. Don’t think that the world has the answer. If you’ve got something that you care about that’s good, don’t be deceived and think that can come from the world. If there’s anything good, it comes from God. That’s first.
So seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything else will be added. That’s number one.
Listen to other people
Number two is So then…be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Now this, for a good long while, was very confusing to me.
“I’m tracking. I need wisdom. I want to win. I’ve got this problem; the problem is me. It’s inside of me. I need to set it aside.”
And, so, listen to other people. What, what, what, what? I was tracking, you know; I was tracking. And I knew I needed to do something really spiritual. I’m expecting to get some sort of spiritual thing; and all the sudden you want me to listen to him? You want me to listen to her? They got the same problem I do. Maybe worse!
Why do I need to listen to them? Aren’t I supposed to listen to the Bible? Aren’t I supposed to pray? Aren’t I supposed to do spiritual stuff? You want me to listen to them? Why does that make any sense at all?
Well, let’s go to the next verse and get it down and then rewind.
Lay aside filthiness
Verse 21. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness—We can’t get rid of it. We can’t reform it. We can disengage it.
You know, this is largely a mind activity. If you want to stop thinking about something, if you want to stop thinking about a song, an earwig, a song that’s running through your head and it’s driving you crazy, what do you do? Can you say, “I’m going to stop thinking about that song now. Don’t think about that song.” Will that work?
What are you going to think about if you say, “Don’t think about that song!”? You’re going to think about that song, right?
What happens if you try not to sin? “I am not going to think about that evil thought! Not thinking about that evil thought!” What are you thinking about? The evil thought, right? That doesn’t work.
But what works is you replace it with something. If you’ve got a bad earwig, you turn on the radio and get a different song running through your head. If you want to think about not pink, you don’t think about not pink. You think about blue. Right?
So, lay it aside, set it aside and do something else instead.
Receive the word
receive with meekness the implanted word— the implanted word. The word word here is prominent in this section.
Look at verse 18. Of His own will—God’s own will—He brought us forth by the word of truth—
This is really interesting to me because we know we’re made a new creation in Christ by grace through faith when we believe. But the actual mechanism that makes that happen is a new-creation event.
God spoke the world into existence, and he spoke us into existence. Isn’t that cool? Same power. And a new creation happens in us by the word of truth that we’re kind of a first fruit. Isn’t that awesome?
Then verse 19. —be swift to hear. What do we hear? When you talk about hear, what are we talking about? Words. Not here. Not word of truth here. This doesn’t say word of truth. It just said be swift to hear, including other people because the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. You hear other people speak words, right? You hear other people communicate.
receive with meekness the implanted word—and this is the word of God, of course—which is able to save your souls. So we have the word of truth that spoke us into existence. We have the word of God that can supplant our wickedness and create righteousness instead.
Be a doer
And then verse 22. The way we actually cause this to happen is to be a doer of the word. Now the word becomes flesh, and it shines a light into the world.
Verse 23. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, then he’s kind of useless.
Verse 26. If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue—what does tongue create? Words, right? So this is all about words. God’s word. My words. The word becoming flesh. And God’s word in me.
And what does God’s word in me do? Well, it takes care of this problem that I have from verse 12-16. Because I’ve got a problem that I’ve got this sin nature in me, this corrupt nature that wants me to go the wrong way all the time.
The word in us enables us to win
And what is that keeping me from? What’s the corrupt nature going to prevent me from doing? Verse 12. What’s it going to cause me to do? Sin. It’s going to cause me to trip. It’s going to cause me to fall into temptation.
And what’s that going to cause? Verse 12. What am I not going to get? Approved. And if I don’t get approved, what am I not going to get? Crown of life.
And if I’m not approved, and I don’t get the crown of life, what ultimate goal did I not get? I didn’t win. I lost.
Do you like to win? Do you like your team to win?
Yesterday, the Astros won! But when it got to bottom of the ninth, and it’s one to one, and Justin Verlander pitched a complete game, and the closer is spent from the previous game, it’s tense. And the Yankees made a mistake, and the Astros won. Yay! That was awesome! I’m glad. I spent 30 minutes last night going over it again because it was so wonderful. Because I like to win!
Well, this is the way we win. To overcome temptation. And there is something inside of us that’s wanting us to lose every step along the way. And, if we want to win, we’ve got to set that aside. And the way we win is to have God say, “You did good.”
Now, remember, that has nothing to do with whether we’re in God’s family or not. We’re brethren, and Jesus is our Lord because of what he did. Jesus died on the cross. And when we believed in that, God spoke the word of truth and created a new creation in us.
Do we think that we could unwind that? You know what that’s like? That’s like saying, “I don’t really like the way God made the world this way. I’m just going to undo it. This spinning around on an axis and going around the sun stuff, I’m just going to stop that right now. Okay, earth, just stop for a minute! All this spinning. I’m getting kind of dizzy here. Just stop it.”
How’s that going to go?
It’s ridiculous, right? It’s ridiculous for me to do that. I can’t unwind God’s creation. I can’t do that. How arrogant is that thought, even?
What I can do is I can have my dad like what I did, and I can have my dad not like what I did, right? Has anyone ever had a disapproving father? You did something, and the dad said that wasn’t a good thing. Did you like that experience? No! Why does the dad disapprove of something? It’s not good for you. He wants you to go in a different direction. It’s for your own benefit.