Online Bible Commentary
James 1: 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. 19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (NKJV)
In this passage, James gives us the story of our own personal salvation. God chose every Christian for salvation. He chose us out of His own free will. He was not convinced by anyone, nor was he swayed by our good works (v. 18a). He chose us strictly because of His great love for us. In fact, he chose everyone, but only a few accept Him back.
“He brought us forth” (v. 18b), brought us to be born again. God, the Holy Spirit, convicts us of our sin and converts us to this new birth. He does this through the use of the “word of truth” (v. 18c), the Bible, either through our reading it or it being spoken to us. He helps us to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and then the Holy Spirit indwells us.
Every Christian is born again. Jesus told Nicodemus “You must be born again” (Jn. 3:7). Jesus said “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit’ (Jn. 3:6). So there are two births for the Christian. First he is born by natural birth, of a woman. Next, his human spirit is given new birth by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Until that happens we are living life by our human spirit, which is our sinful nature.
When we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, our human spirit is changed forever. We are “a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). We “are controlled not by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit” (Ro. 8:9). The Holy Spirit controls our behavior, if we yield to Him.
God’s purpose in this is that “we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creeatures” (v. 18d). “Firstfruits” are the only acceptable sacrifice to God. Cain found this out the hard way when God rejected his sacrifice (Gen. 4: 3-5). Christians are the firstfruits of God, the acceptable sacrifices. We are called to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God---this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Ro. 12:1-2).
So, we are changed forever when we become a Christian. But what does this change look like? James gives us a few characteristics of this new creation. We should “be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (v. 19). God gave us two ears and one mouth for a purpose. We should be good listeners. Not only should we be quick to listen to Scripture, but we also should be quick to listen to others.
We should speak less than we listen, always guarding the words that come out of our mouths. It is not true that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt. A negative word said in haste can scar someone forever. We should be slow to speak.
We also are to be slow to become angry. Anger is destructive to us, and to our relationships. A word said in anger can never be taken back. In summary, we should be slow to anger “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (v. 20).
In conclusion, James summarizes the characteristics of this new creation. He writes to “lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (v. 21). The Greek words used here give us a picture of taking off our old filthy rags and putting on new clothes.
When we become Christians, we join a new team. We are no longer on the same team, the world’s team. We are now on a new team, God’s team. We have a new uniform. We should take off the old uniform and put on the new. We should not act like those on the world’s team who are caught up in worldly affairs. Instead we should act like the word that is firmly “implanted” in us, the word of God, the Bible. It is our new book of team rules. We are no longer to conform to the world. We should now conform to the rules of God.
These new team rules can “save our souls”. When followed they lead to salvation, eternal life in Heaven. There we are on God’s team forever. We are there because we have allowed ourselves to be controlled by the Holy Spirit and not by our human spirit, our sinful nature. We are there because we are born again. We are there because we accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.