19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. 21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. — KJV
19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 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. — NIV
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. — ESV
Greek Transliteration of James 1:21 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
dio  therefore apotithemi  put away, cast off, put aside pas  all, any, every rhuparia  moral dirtiness, turpitude kai  and, also, even, so then, too perisseia  surplus, abundance, superfluity kakia  badness, depravity, wickedness en  preposition denoting place: such as in, at, of, through… prautes  mildness, humility, meekness dechomai  receive, accept, take ho  the (article or indefinite pronoun) emphutos  implanted, engrafted logos  word, something said, communication, divine expression of Christ ho  the (article or indefinite pronoun) dunamai  be able, can, could, may, might, possible sozo  save, deliver, protect, heal, preserve, make whole ho  the (article or indefinite pronoun) psuche  breath, spirit, heart, life, mind, soul humon  you, your, yourselves
1.21.0 Introduction to James 1:21
The implied tone of James in this verse seems almost out of place. It sounds like the audience is behaving badly and James is calling them out on it. Beyond that, it sounds like James is speaking to non-believers in this verse and warning them to start believing. We know from the beginning of the chapter James wrote this to believers scattered out away from the city of Jerusalem. So is there a disconnect? I don’t think so. This verse is tied to verses 19 and 20 based on grammatical implication, but it also seems to be a lead in to the hard hitting directives in the remainder of the chapter. It wouldn’t be the first time I saw a translation to English seem to misplace the paragraph breaks. Regardless, James isn’t speaking specifically or directly to non-believers. Rather, I believe James is providing guidance as a father would his children (ref. 1 Pe 2:2). The instruction is really preventative.
1.21.1 How do we put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness?
1 Cor 5:17-18 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old [creature] has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation The question assumes you can. James’ instruction in verse 21 implies you can. Paul describes the believer as a new creation. Jesus spoke of being born again (Jn 3). The reference verse here indicates that being a new creation requires us to be “in Christ” and that “all of this is from God.” Throughout the bible, including the New Testament, we are given clear instructions regarding our behavior. While our spiritual being is regenerated solely through the work of Holy Spirit as the free gift of Jesus by his sacrifice, our behavior is a function of our flesh. Our flesh is controlled by us. We can yield to the direction of the Spirit, as we ought, as James describes when he says “receive with meekness the implanted word,” or not. If we choose to continue in our filth and live in rampant wickedness, this is when we grieve the Holy Spirit and we face losing our eternal hope.
2 Cor 9:7-8 Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. Since we have control of our own minds we have control of our attitudes. We need to start by choosing to be joyful and giving. Many people regard this passage as an instruction toward tithing. The fact is, we give much more than tithes to God. We give up our “old man” (2 Cor 5:17) and our burdens (Mt 11:27-30) to Christ. Those need to be given cheerfully as well. When we sacrifice our selfish self-will we give what God wants most and in so doing we necessarily give up our filthiness and wickedness.
Gal 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. The act we need to cheerfully perform is to give ourselves fully to Christ. In so doing the filthiness and wickedness is crucified. We are present and we are participants, but ultimately it is the Lord’s will and the Lord’s work which makes it possible to put away the filthiness.
1.21.2 What does filthiness and rampant wickedness look like in today’s society?
Turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper. It is everywhere. Immorality comes in forms too numerous to name. Sex in the living room, homosexuality in high school hallways, lies from our highest officials, brutal beats, rapes, and murder, and school fundraisers. Okay, the fundraiser thing was a joke. Sort of. The point is, not all filthiness looks filthy. For example, most conservative Christians believe abortion is wrong, but many waffle when it comes to rape or incest. We pretend apprehension toward newsstand Christianity, but how many of us quote Televangelists as if quoting God? Is the “pledge of allegiance” idolatry? What do the Joneses have we don’t? They’re in the next pew, but they’ve got a better car? What about the gift God gave that Smith fellow, but didn’t give you? Is there any dirt on your halo? We don’t need to look far to find filth. At the same time, we can’t allow our own shortcomings to keep us from obedience to our Lord. Wake up, shake it off, and get to work. Your soul is on the line (Eze 3:18-19).
1.21.3 What does it mean to receive?
The Greek word dechomai here translated as receive (except in NIV) may be translated as receive, accept, or take. The full definition includes:
1. To take with the hand, take up, take hold of
2. To receive:
a. As in a place receiving one
b. As to grant access to, not refuse intercourse or friendship
d. Something spoken
e. Into one’s family
3. To receive favorably – as to hear, embrace, approve, not reject
4. To take upon one’s self – as to sustain, bare, or endure
5. To get, as in to learn
Gen 30:28 Name your wages, and I will give it. Some things we receive we rightfully expect because we earn them.
1 Pe 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Some things we receive are things given to us as gifts, unmerited, not earned.
See also Question 1.7.2.
1.21.4 What are we to receive?
Jn 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. James said we are to “receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls.” The Greek term James uses is the same one used by John to describe Jesus in Jn 1:1.
Jn 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. When we receive, accept, lay hold of, learn, give hospitality to, grant access to, and come into the family of Jesus through adoption by willfully believing and putting our trust in him we receive eternal life.
Rev 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. With eternal life we receive a dwelling place in the presence of God.
1.21.5 What is meekness?
The Greek word prautes is defined by Strong’s as: mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, or meekness. Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the Old Testament, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time.
Mt 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. The Greek word used by Matthew is a different form of the same word used by James. According to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ words, those who rely on God rather than themselves for self defense and accepting unjust trials in order to be purified will be rewarded with the earth.
1 Pe 3:4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. In this verse the phrase “gentle and quiet spirit” comes from the same word translated meekness in James 1:24. God delights in those who accept whatever befalls them, trusting Him to use it for good whether it was intended for good or not.
Based on this information, the concept of meekness is tied very closely to the concept of receiving. Meekness, however, is a much more specific form of acceptance. It accepts in submission with faith even what it does not like at the time, trusting it all is for the best and expecting deliverance from God in the end.
1.21.6 Why are we to receive the implanted word with meekness?
Jn 3:20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. By definition the meek willingly obey God. If we willingly obey, we walk in light and we are comfortable with our deeds exposed. If we do not, we then hate the light, thus hating our very Savior.
1.21.7 How is the implanted word able to save your soul?
Titus 3:4-7 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. We must accept it is nothing we ourselves can do. God set a standard which Jesus met on our behalf. Since clearing that hurdle he then pours out his Spirit to regenerate and justify us and grant eternal life.
Jn 14:23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. The Lord will keep his word (1 Thess 5:24). For our part, we are called to trust and obey. Ultimately this is what defines love. Call it anything you like, so long as you give God the credit. He does what he does by means we cannot fathom and in our arrogance we should not claim to fully understand such mysteries. We are but to accept these mysteries and trust in Him. And while salvation is not something we can earn or accomplish through works, the command to keep his word implies that genuine faith by definition must include baring good fruit.
1.21.8 What is your soul?
The Greek word rendered soul is psuche. From this we get our English word psyche. It is the only Greek word translated soul, though it is also translated as life, mind, and heart. It corresponds directly to the Hebrew nephesh. We know this from various places where Old Testament phrases are quoted in the New Testament. It is used to reference lower life forms, a man as an individual, the life of a person which can be lost, saved, or destroyed, as a part of speech to emphasize a pronoun (such as myself), and as the intense force of one’s being. The Hebrew term provides far more references to draw meaning from out of scripture.
Soul can perhaps be summed up as the animation of life in an individual creature/being characterized by breath. This is why when a count is taken on an airline they give the census as the number of souls, referring to the living people aboard.
It is interesting to note that God’s name, rendered YHWY, means breathe. This would seem an apt name we would use for God because He breathed life into man when he was but a clay figure. Indeed, God breathed life into every living thing. Even plants breathe, albeit CO2 in and O2 out while we symbiotically do just the opposite.
1.21.9 Summary of James 1:19-21
Essentially a proverb of James, this passage gives sound advice about running one’s mouth and ears, about anger, and about the best way to approach the gospel. We need to listen to others and not be quick to jump to conclusions. Don’t dismiss someone out of hand. You never know who God will speak to, or who will speak through. Listen for messages from unexpected places. As for jumping to conclusions, that’s often how anger flares up. We get irritated and angry over things of little consequence. Its okay to get angry, but be angry about injustice and evil rather than personal dissatisfaction. James then goes on to tell us we need to quit living lifestyles we know are wrong, instead submitting to the will of Christ trusting Him to have the better way. When we live such a life, embracing Christ and rejecting sin, we then make it possible for Christ to save our souls.