In the first installment of this series on James 1:19-27, we saw that vv19-20 call us to be hearers of the Word. This involves more than mere auditory function, but is a call to pay attention to the Word and to seek to understand it.
V21 calls us to be receivers of the Word:
Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21).
This verse like numerous others in the New Testament calls us to remove one thing from our lives and to replace it with something else. We call it the “put off, put on principle.” Get rid of that and replace it with this. And according to v21, what should we put off? All the sin exposed by the Word. When we spend time in the Scriptures, whether that is in our personal devotions, in a small group study, or in a sermon, the Holy Spirit uses the Sword to lay us open (Heb 4:12-13). It exposes our sin that we might put it off.
And what is the corresponding “put on”? Receiving with meekness the implanted Word. But what does it mean to receive the Word? We might think “receive” is just a synonym for being quick to hear, which was mentioned in v19. But there is more action involved in receiving than in hearing. One Greek lexicon defines the underlying verb this way: to indicate approval or conviction by accepting. So to receive something in this sense is not a passive action like getting something in the mail. To receive the implanted Word is to accept it by conviction or approval. You grab hold of it, knowing that it is true and right, knowing its value. When we put off all filthiness and rampant wickedness and put on the implanted Word, we are rejecting one way of thinking and living and we are adopting another.
Notice that the text tells us to receive the implanted Word with meekness. Other translations say to receive it with humility. What does that mean? It’s the state of not being overly impressed with ones own importance. It’s the opposite of the disposition pictured in v19 of arguing with the Word or rejecting the Word. To receive the Word with meekness is to get out of ourselves and align ourselves with God’s objective, grasping with conviction the claim that it makes on our lives. It involves recognizing that God’s way, prescribed in His Word, is better than the way we have been doing things. In it we disavow our own way and take up His.
There is an interesting adjective describing the Word in this verse. He calls it the implanted Word. I think this reflects the character of the Word in the life of a believer as opposed to an unbeliever. In the New Covenant, the Father puts His law inside of us, writing it on our hearts (Jer 31:31-33). V18 indicates that our regeneration is prompted by the hearing of the Word. V21 echoes this by noting that this implanted Word is "able to save your souls."
Do you see how being a receiver of the Word is a step beyond being a hearer of the Word? Hearing is being open to the Word. Receiving the Word is being eager for it, hungry for it no matter what it holds, willing to jettison anything in our lives that is not consistent with it.
So would you consider yourself a receiver of the Word? Are you eager to embrace what it says even if it calls you to radical things? Are you prepared to put off whatever violates Scripture that you might put on what it prescribes? Many people in the church are hearers of the Word, but perhaps not many are receivers. What will you be?