1:1 From James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes dispersed abroad. Greetings!
James does not claim apostolic authority (but see Gal 1:19), but calls himself ‘a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ He regards his position to be one of humble service, and yet there is also dignity and authority in serving so exalted a Master (cf. OT refs to ‘servant of God’ and ‘servant of the Lord’, Deut 34:5; Dan 9:11; Isa 41:8; Jer 33:21; Eze 37:25).
The twelve tribes – The 12 tribes of Israel no longer existed physically, this term being used to describe the renewed and regathered Israel of the last days, Eze 47:13; Mt 19:28; Rev 7:4-8; 21:12.
Scattered among the nations – The ‘Diaspora’ (the term used here) described the Jewish community that lived outside Palestine, Jn 7:35. James may be using the term literally, in which case his letter is addressed principally to Jewish Christians, or figuratively, in which case he is addressing Gentile Christians living as exiles from their true, heavenly home. It is likely that Peter uses the term figuratively, (1 Pet 1:1) but a literal use is more likely here, given the many other indications of a Jewish readership, cf. Jas 2:1 5:7. Indeed, Acts 11:19 refers to those who had been scattered by persecution and were preaching the gospel to Jews in places as far afield as Pheonicia, Cyprus and Antioch. James may well have these same Jewish exiles in mind.
Joy in Trials, 2-18
1:2 My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, 1:3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 1:4 And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything. 1:5 But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. 1:6 But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. 1:7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, 1:8 since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.
‘James hails his readers as brothers, because he and they are bound together by a tie which is both racial and religious. The frequent recurrence of this affectionate form of address, as Farrar says, “shows that the wounds which James inflicts are meant to be the faithful wounds of a friend.”‘ (Ross)
We should expect to meet various kinds of trials
These ‘trials of many kinds’ are afflictions (rather than temptations), and include those that are common to all people, such as sickness, Jas 5:14, and material loss, Jas 1:9, as well as those more peculiar to Christians, such as persecution, Jas 2:6.
We should consider it ‘pure joy’ when we face these trials
James issues a categorical command, as though we should make a definite decision to be joyful. Not, of course, that these afflictions are good in themselves, but that the Lord will bring much good out of them. See Joseph’s experience, Gen 50:20. As Christians we often confirm the truth of Spurgeon’s remark, ‘Trials drive us to the realities of religion’. And so they do, by making us despair of our own pathetic resources and sending us back to our God, who is able to supply our every need.
‘Although temptations are to be resisted, trials are to be welcomed. The Greek word for “temptation” and “trial” is the same, but the meaning is different. A temptation is an enticement to sin which arises from within. A trial is a testing of faith which comes from some external circumstance such as persecution. The value of such trials is that they develop Christian character and “produce steadfastness”, v3f.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 215)
‘James does not say, “Rejoice in the trials you are facing,” but rather “Count it pure joy when you face trials. . . .” The difference in wording is significant. One celebrates the fact of pain; the other celebrates the opportunity for growth introduced by pain. We rejoice not in the fact that we are suffering, but in our confidence that the pain can be transformed. The value lies not in the pain itself, but in what we can make of it. The pain need not be meaningless, and therefore we rejoice in the object of our faith, a God who can effect that transformation.’ (Yancey, Philip. Where Is God When It Hurts?)
The great outcome of ‘trial by affliction’ is perseverance
This corresponds exactly with the teaching of Paul, Rom 5:3-4. The underlying picture here is of precious metal being refined by fire. Similarly, as muscles grow stronger by being worked and stretched, so does faith. As the body, when exposed to various infections, develops resistance, so faith when faced with different trials develops perseverance. Can you testify to this?
‘Endurance is that “staying power” which enables a man to persevere steadfastly through the most adverse circumstances. The Greek word does not denote such a passive quality as the English word “patience” often denotes; “it is a noble word,” says Trench in his New Testament Synonyms; “it does not mark merely passive endurance but the brave patience with which the Christian contends against various hindrances, persecutions and temptations that befall him in his conflict with the outward and inward world.” The word occurs again in 5:11, and the corresponding verb occurs in v12 of this chapter, in 5:11, in Mt 10:22, etc. Our Lord manifested this quality in its fulness.’ (2 Thess 3:5) (Ross)
A young man, a Christian, went to an older believer to ask for prayer. “Will you please pray that I may be more patient?” he asked. The aged saint agreed. They knelt together and the man began to pray, “Lord, send this young man tribulation in the morning; send this young man tribulation in the afternoon; send this young man-” At that point the young Christian blurted out, “No, no, I didn’t ask you to pray for tribulation. I wanted you to pray for patience.” “Ah,” responded the wise Christian, “it’s through tribulation that we learn patience.”
‘Nothing worthwhile is achieved without patience, labor, and disappointment.’
In the Christian life we may acquire some wisdom in times of prosperity, but oh, the deeper lessons we can learn in the school of tribulation and sorrow! A.B. Simpson declared. “You will have no test of faith that will not fit you to be a blessing if you are obedient to the Lord. I never had a trial but when I got out of the deep river I found some poor pilgrim on the bank that I was able to help by that very experience.” See: Rom 5:3-5; 2 Cor 1:3-7
v4 ‘(I know of a man) who during the depression lost a job, a fortune, a wife, and a home. But he tenaciously held to his faith-the only thing he had left. One day he stopped to watch some men doing stonework on a huge church. One of them was chiseling a triangular piece of stone. “What are you going to do with that?” asked my friend. The workman said, “See that little opening away up there near the spire? Well, I’m shaping this down here so it will fit up there.” Tears filled his eyes as he walked away, for it seemed that God had through the workman to explain his ordeal through which he was passing, “I’m shaping you down here so you’ll fit up there.”‘ ‘Billy Graham, The Secret Of Happiness, pp. 169-70.’
Those who lack wisdom should ask God
Not all of us understand the ways of God in bringing good out of (apparent) evil. We still have much to learn. But God gives generously to those who ask, Jas 4:2-3; Mt 7:7. He does not grow impatient with our asking; nor does he ask embarrassing questions questions about whether we deserve his help. Note the characteristics of this wisdom, Jas 3:17.
‘This wisdom, which James describes so fully and richly in Jas 3:17, we may regard as the inward attitude of a soul that has found a better Teacher than any of the Jewish Rabbis, who had their Wisdom Literature, or any of the Greek philosophers. This wisdom is the “principal thing.” (Pr 4:7) It is more than knowledge. “If any man lack knowledge, let him go to College,” but, if any man lack wisdom, that is an entirely different matter. For it he must go to the ternal Fountain of wisdom, and, if he goes there, he will not be disappointed.’ (Ross)
Our God is a generous God
He never grows impatient with our asking. He does not ask embarrassing questions about whether or not we deserve his help.
Faith is essential to effective prayer
Such faith is simply taking God at his word.
The doubter is unstable, v6 (like the restless surging of the waves), empty-handed, v7, and doubleminded, v8 (cf Ps 12:2; cf Ps 119:2).
1:9 Now the believer of humble means should take pride in his high position. 1:10 But the rich person’s pride should be in his humiliation, because he will pass away like a wildflower in the meadow. 1:11 For the sun rises with its heat and dries up the meadow; the petal of the flower falls off and its beauty is lost forever. So also the rich person in the midst of his pursuits will wither away. 1:12 Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him. 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. 1:15 Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death. 1:16 Do not be led astray, my dear brothers and sisters. 1:17 All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change. 1:18 By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
We should be content in whatever condition we find ourselves
The lowly person should rejoice in his exaltation
Rom 8:17; Lk 6:20.
‘Whatever the character of our outward circumstances, we can find reasons for exultation in them. When a brother of low degree, a poor man such as is described in James 2:2, receives saving faith, he is exalted spiritually, his “high estate” carrying with it both a present and a future dignity, all that is involved in being rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom (James 2:5).’ (Ross)
The rich person should rejoice in his lowliness
He knows that his riches have no lasting value, and so he does not set his heart on them. He has experienced a poverty of spirit which has led him to seek spiritual riches, Mt 5:3; 6:19-20. See also Php 4:11.
The rich should recall the fleeting nature of life
This leads to wisdom, Ps 90:12. ‘Live each day as if ‘twere they last.’
‘James thinks of what he had often witnessed in Galilee, when the sirocco or the scorching wind that blows from the desert and the blazing sun of summer so swiftly withered the fair flowers that they fell.’ (Ross)
Troubled Christians are blessed
The afflicted believer who perseveres will receive the victory-garland of eternal life.
The blessing will be out of all proportion to the suffering. ‘We only bear the cross for a while, but we shall wear the crown to eternity’ (Matthew Henry).
This endurance springs from love for God, 1 Cor 13:7.
‘Having stood a test which was far more severe than the test of fire that is applied to fire, (1 Pet 1:7) and having shown that, by the grace of God, he has the pure gold of heaven in his character, he is crowned with the crown of life, the crown which consists of life in all its range and fulness.’ (Ross)
God never tempts us
Trials, we have been taught, can be welcomed as a source of blessing and as a means of growth. But they can also be the occasion of falling into sin, as when poverty leads to crime, or when disappointment leads to bitterness. James asserts, then, that temptation comes, not from God, but from our own evil hearts.
‘James repudiates with horror the idea that God can ever incite anyone to sin…(He) is thinking of some who might argue that, because trials come from God, then from God comes also the temptation to sin which is so often aroused by the outward trial.’ (Ross)
Testing and Temptation. Jas 1:2-4 , 12-15. Alexander MacLaren, in a sermon entitled Faith Tested and Crowned, distinguished between being tempted and being tested or tried. He said that “the former word conveys the idea of appealing to the worst part of man, with the wish that he may yield and do the wrong. The latter means an appeal to the better part of man, with the desire that he should stand. Temptation says,”Do this pleasant thing; do not be hindered by the fact that it is wrong.”Trial or proving says,”Do this right and noble thing; do not be hindered by the fact that it is painful.”The one is a sweet, beguiling melody, breathing soft indulgence and relaxation over the soul; the other is a peeling trumpet-call to high achievements.”
Temptation is rooted in our own hearts
We readily blame others – even God – for our own faults. But nothing, and no-one, least of all God, ever compels us to sin. And nothing is more clearly revealed than that God hates sin, and holds man responsible for his own moral actions.
Of course, temptation is not sinful itself. But it does form part of a deadly chain: seeing, desiring, sinning, dying. See Gen 3:6; 2 Sam 11:2.
‘There is something in the corrupt heart of man, “his own desire,” which corresponds to the bait which has been so cunningly placed in the trap of temptation by the arch-enemy of our souls. He is beguiled and allured by his own desire, attracted by the bait. Moffat describes this illicit desire as “the imagination toying with a forbidden idea, and then issuing in a decision of the will.”‘ (Ross)
‘A man is first startled by sin; then it becomes pleasing, then easy, then delightful, then frequent, then habitual, then confirmed. The man is impenitent, then obstinate, and then he is damned.’ Jeremy Taylor
God’s goodness is perfect
Far from being the author of temptation, God is the source of nothing but good. Compare the words of Jesus, Mt 7:11; Lk 11:13.
God’s goodness is a reason for thankfulness, and also humility.
Every good and perfect gift is from above – ‘Nothing but good can come from God. He is the Father of lights, first, no doubt, as the Creator of the heavenly bodies, but also, and most of all, as the Source of all moral and spiritual light.’ (Alexander Ross)
It has been said that ‘God’s giving deserves our thanksgiving.’
God is the Father of the heavenly lights – he is the source of all light, whether physical, moral or spiritual. It has been said that light, in Scripture, represents all that best in learning, love and laughter, Psa 119:105; Eph 5:8f; Psa 97:11f.
Heiser (The Bible Unfiltered) points out the meaning and significance of ‘the Father of lights’ (a phrase unique in the Bible). It refers to God as the creator of the heavenly bodies. It is these same celestial bodies that mark out the times and seasons (Gen 1:14-18). The word translated ‘change’ is used elsewhere in Greek literature to describe the movement of the stars and the seasonal changes experience on earth. The point is this: the celestial bodies change, but God does not. They are created, he alone is uncreated. They move at his command, he himself remains constant. Their light may fail, his will never.
Who does not change – God is unchangeable. His light is entirely without fluctuation, eclipse, or shadow. See 1 Jn 1:5.
“There may be many Christians like young sailors, who think the shore and the whole land move when their ship sails and actually they themselves are moved. Just so not a few imagine that God moves, and sails, and changes places, because their giddy souls are under sail, and subject to alteration, to ebbing and flowing. But the foundation of the Lord abides sure.” (Samuel Rutherford) See Mal 3:6n.
God’s unchangeableness is part of his wholeness. ‘Ideal human wholeness must be understood in light of the infinite God, who is imaged in his finite human creation. (Ge 1:26-31) The one and only God (Deut 6:4; 1 Tim 2:5) is a triune being. (Mt 28:19) God is consistent. (Jas 1:17) his perfections are expressed coherently, never antagonistically. (Jn 3:16; Rom 3:25-26; 1 Cor 2:6-14; Tit 2:11) Although God experiences various emotions, such as satisfaction, (Ge 1:31) compassion, (Ge 4:6-7,15) grief, (Ge 6:6-7) jealousy, (Ex 20:5) delight, (Jer 9:24) anger, (Nu 14:12,18) joy (Jn 15:12) and peace, (Rom 16:20) he is never unbalanced or controlled by irrational emotions as humans can be. (Nu 14:18; Pr 25:28) The triune God is the embodiment of self-sufficient (Ac 17:25) wholeness. His actions express perfect balance, the infinite beauty and symmetry of his person.’ (DBI)
The best of God’s gifts is a new heart
This is all part of James’ argument: ‘If God has given us the seed of holiness, how can we say it is he who incites us to sin?’
Concerning the new birth, note its:-
source – the will of God.
means – the word of truth.
purpose – a new season of ingathering of souls. See how Paul expands this thought, Rom 8:19ff.
Living Out the Message, 19-27
1:19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. 1:20 For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 1:21 So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls. 1:22 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 1:23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. 1:24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 1:25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does. 1:26 If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile. 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
His words were few,
And never formed to glisten.
But he was a joy
To all his friends —
You should have heard him listen!
People who have a talent for speaking tend to be highly regarded. They will find acceptance in the worlds of entertainment, teaching, politics, and so on. But James values listening above speaking, and so should we. ‘Listening is an art that is difficult to master, for it means to take an intense interest in the person who is speaking. Listening is the art of closing one’s mouth and opening one’s ears and heart. Listening is loving the neighbor as oneself; his concerns and problems are sufficiently important to be heard.’ (Kistemaker)
The principal sin of those to whom James wrote appears to have been love of the world, James 4:4. This lead to other evils, such as, (a) presumptuous hopes of worldly gain, James 4:13; (b) hoarding of wealth, James 5:3; (c) withholding the pay of labourers, James 5:4; envious hatred, James 4:1f; favouring the rich over the poor, James 2:2f; unprofitable hearing of the word, James 1:22. They heard the word, but it did them no good; their riches choked it, Lk 8:14.
Guilty of such moral vices, their doctrine was likewise erroneous: they held an empty and ineffective faith which could not save them, James 2:14. James asserts that the faith which saves is always fruitful.
Not surprising then, that they responded badly to the word which was preached, for it challenged and contradicted their sins and errors.
Moral filth – sin is a filthy, polluted thing. We are bidden to cleanse ourselves from it, Isa 1:16; 2 Cor 7:1.
The evil that is so prevalent – sin was overflowing even amongst these professing Christians.
Get rid of all this, cf. Col 3:8; Eph 4:22; 1 Pet 2:1.
Humbly accept – do not shut it out by an angry, resentful spirit, but welcome it with calmness and submission.
The word planted in you – by Christ’s messengers. cf. Mk 4:15.
Which can save you – from hell and damnation, cf. Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:21.
God’s word must be obeyed, and not merely heard
Hearing the word is good (v19). But on its own it serves no purpose. We might imagine that it will do us good to hear a good sermon or Bible study. But it not the hearing, but the doing which bring blessing to ourselves and others, and honour to God.
Thomas Watson: “Be not only attentive in hearing, but retentive after hearing.”
‘Ignorance of God and ourselves is the great principle and cause of all our disquietude; and this arises mostly not from want of light and instruction, but for want of consideration and application.’ (John Owen)
God’s word is like a mirror; scrutiny should lead to reflection and action.
We should prepare the soil of the heart for the seed of the word.
His own evil desire – ‘There is a secret disposition in the heart of all, to all sin…Mark! ‘Tis Satan tempts, but our own lust draws us.’ (William Gurnall)
There is no way to kill a man’s righteousness but by his own consent.’ (John Bunyan)
The law of Christ is called ‘perfect’ because it is final and complete; it is called ‘the law of liberty’ because it has been given by a loving Father, ‘whose service is perfect freedom’.
‘Here…is another man who seems to be described as bending over the mirror, as peering into it, in order to examine more minutely what it reveals to him. He gazes intently into it and continues gazing…The man who continues looking into the mirror of God’s Word sees in it things far more wonderful than his own face. He sees not only his filthy garments, not only the spots and stains on his life; he sees in it Christ, the Christ of the thorn-crowned brow, the Christ of the Cross, his Saviour, whose blood cleanses him from all sin.’ (Ross)
‘This man regards the Law of Christ as perfect, because it is final and complete, as contrasted with the Law of Moses which was not that; he regards it as the law of liberty, because he finds in it the expression of a Father’s love for his children, and not the announcement of the stern precepts of a despot. While the Law of Christ in no way relaxes the stern demands of the law of unchangeable righteousness, it speaks in the heart as a Law of a Father whose service is perfect freedom, and that makes the yoke easy and the burden light.’
A bridled tongue is the measure of true Christian faith
Is what we say really important? See Prov 18:21.
Note the particular sins of the tongue that are mentioned in this passage.
A number of ‘sentries’ might be put on guard around our mouths (see Psa 141:3). For example: Is is true? Is it necessary? Is it loving?
True religious observance involves caring for others
Without a doubt, the inner aspects of the Christian life are vitally important, but James’ particular concern her is the outward manifestation of the spiritual life.
As ever, James gives high priority to practical Christianity. What modern versions of the faith would he be critical of?
Caring for others involves being with them: hence James warns against moral and spiritual pollution.