The Growth of the Implanted Word

James 1:21


From Faith, Love & Hope: An Exposition of the Epistle of James, AMG Publishers, 1997.

"Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21).

One of the hardest things for the Christian of our day is to recognize the presence of sin in his own life and all around him. We often try to minimize the presence of sin and to make light of its effects upon us.

J. Wilbur Chapman told of a distinguished Methodist minister of Australia who preached on sin. One of his church officers came afterward to talk with him in his study. He said to the minister: "Dr. Howard, we don't want you to talk so plainly as you do about sin, because if our boys and girls hear you talking so much about sin, they will more easily become sinners. Call it a mistake if you will, but do not speak so plainly about sin." The minister took down a small bottle of strychnine that was marked "Poison." He said, "I see what you want me to do. You want me to change the label. Suppose I take off this label of Poison' and put on some mild label, such as Essence of Peppermint.' Do you not see what would happen? The milder you make the label, the more dangerous you make the poison."

The Apostle James was one preacher at least who never hesitated to call sin by the blackest name he could find in the Greek language. That is what we have in verse 21. What is he trying to describe here? Remember what he spoke about in the previous verse? It was the wrath, the anger, and the hot temper of man which cannot work the righteousness of God. Now make no mistake; he does not call it by a mild name such as "human weakness" or a "psychological complex." It is sin, a filthy and wicked sin at that. There is no dillydallying with this preacher. He hits the nail on the head.

Let us not deceive ourselves into believing that, since we have been re-created by the Word of truth, there is no more sanctification to be accomplished. There are a great number of things which we must get rid of. There is much extra luggage which we drag with us into the kingdom of God from our previous sinful lives and we have the audacity to pretend that we are as light as a feather. We are like that flippant youth who, as he heard an Indian evangelist preach, interrupted him by saying: "You tell me about the burden of sin. I feel none. How heavy is it? Eighty pounds? Ten pounds?" The preacher answered: "Tell me, if you laid four hundred pounds weight on a corpse, would it feel the load?" "No, because it is dead," replied the youth. The preacher said: "That spirit, too, is dead which feels no load of sin."

If you do not feel the great burden of your temper as sin, it may be that you are still spiritually dead and do not realize it. When you are self-satisfied, fully believing in your sinless perfection in spite of the anger which exists in your heart, it is difficult to accept the Word of God for your own heart and life. You may like to hear it, but you apply it to someone else.

The actual command of the verse under study today is, "Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." But James is speaking to people who are already brothers in Christ, to those who have been re-created through the Word of truth. How can they be saved over again? The word "saving" or "salvation" does not always refer to that initial act of God whereby we are brought from darkness into light, but often to the day-by-day salvation from the power of sin, and especially this sin of temper. In fact, the Greek verb sōzō used here means also "to preserve, to keep safe."

If you do not want to be muddled up and confused as you read the Scriptures, do not for one moment think that every time you see the word "salvation" or "save" it necessarily means that original act of re-creation or new birth. It does not mean that here, but rather "to keep safe, to keep alive, to preserve." Do you not see how wonderful the meaning of the whole sentence is? If you want to keep your soul safe, you had better accept the Word of God in your heart and keep a cool head.

I believe that the word "souls" here refers to that part of your personality whence spring all the sentiments and impulses, such as that of anger, which the divinely inspired author has been discussing in such a masterly way. God always wants to deal with the root rather than with the actual manifestation of sin. Your soul is what He sent His Son to save and it is that which He wants to keep safe to the very end. Remember the Master's words: "And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake, but he that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matt. 10:22).

In order to keep our souls safe, James tells us, we should accept or receive "the implanted word." What does He mean by that expression? In the original Greek the word "implanted" (émphutos)commonly means "innate," but here it is necessary to see the etymology of the word and from it derive its exact meaning in this context. It comes from the preposition en, which means "in," and the verb phuteō which means "to plant." In other words, it means "to plant in." In this connection James speaks of the Word, of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been planted once and for all in our hearts, as we saw in verse 18.

The planting of the seed has already taken place, but of what benefit isit if it remains in that stage, as far as others are concerned? You have often heard the expression, "saved to serve." That is exactly it. The Word planted in your heart and mine must grow, must bear fruit, and the fruit seen by others will bring glory to our heavenly Father. It is significant that the tense in which this main verb of the sentence, déxasthe, "receive" is written. It is in the aorist imperative, which refers to that once-and-for-all, at some time in the past accepted Word of truth. What this new acceptance actually resembles is the watering and fertilizing of the ground in which the seed was planted. How we need to be under the constant teaching and acceptance of this Word, this Christ who must grow to His full stature within us.

The worst thing that can happen to a Christian is to allow the Word of truth to remain in the seed stage in his life. God demands growth. Yet how many of us are satisfied to remain at the seed stage.

Spiros Zodhiates (1922-2009) served as president of AMG International for over 40 years, was the founding editor of Pulpit Helps Magazine (Disciple's predecessor), and authored dozens of exegetical books.

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