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The first chapter of James contains three major themes: the proper attitude toward trials (verses 1-12), the source of temptation (verses 13-18), and the proper use of the word of God (verses 19-27). All three themes are immediately helpful and relevant to those trying to serve God in a godless world. As a Christian wrestles with his trials, the question continually arises, "Why must I endure these hardships?" The problem of trials is age-old. James does not attempt to explain the reasons that trials occur, nor does he discuss their source; rather he discusses the benefits of such trials. Even though the suffering Christian does not always understand the good in trials, they strengthen his character by producing patience and maturity (verses 2-4). James responds to this difficulty by encouraging his readers to pray with the proper motives for wisdom from above to help in troubled times (verses 5-8). The world constantly tries to confuse the Christian during trials to look only at the present suffering. James encourages Christians never to lose sight of the greatest benefit of suffering: receiving eternal life.
Who is responsible when we are tempted? Some may want to point a finger at God, but James points out God is not to blame (verses 13-15). God is perfect and holy; therefore, He cannot tempt man to sin. Because man possesses the freedom of choice, he is accountable for his own actions. When he yields to temptation, he can blame no one but himself. God does not grant harmful gifts, such as temptations; rather, He gives good and perfect gifts. The greatest gift that God bestows is the new birth (verse 18).
Overcoming trials, growing spiritually, and pleasing God all depend on our attitude toward His word. The proper use of God’s word is essential in successfully living the Christian life. The Christian must be willing with meekness to welcome the word into his heart as an honored guest (verses 19-21). Hearing and receiving the word are not enough: the Christian must also obey the word. Messages that are heard and not obeyed are as fleeting as the individual who merely glances into the mirror. Our service to God must be pure and faultless.
The epistle of James was originally written in the Greek, which is a very precise language. A basic understanding of the tenses of Greek verbs will prove beneficial. Tense is the quality of the verb that expresses action. Action involves two elements: kind of action and time of action, with the kind of action being the most important. Action occurs in three ways: it is continuous, it is completed, and it is punctiliar, which is viewed from a single perspective. While there are other tenses, the three most fundamental are the present tense, the aorist tense, and the perfect tense.
1. The present tense. The fundamental significance of this tense is the idea of progress. Its most common use is that of linear action. Please note the following examples of the present tense:
"The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining" (1 John 2:8 NASB).
"Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out" (Matthew 25:8 NASB).
2. The aorist tense. This tense is the most prevalent and important of the Greek tenses. It denotes action as occurring, without referring to its progress. It indicates past time only in the indicative mood. The following are examples of the aorist tense:
"Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses" (Romans 5:14 NASB).
"All these died in faith, without receiving the promises" (Hebrews 11:13 NASB).
The difference between the present and aorist tense may be seen in these phrases: "He is walking" (present) and "he walked" (aorist). The present is a "movie" while the aorist is a "snapshot."
3. The perfect tense. This is the tense of completed action with a resulting state of being. This tense is illustrated in these examples:
"Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day" (Luke 24:46 NASB).
"You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching" (Acts 5:28 NASB).
English does not have a corresponding tense adequate to express the Greek perfect tense. It combines features from the English past and present tense. The present state is a continuing state; the past action is a completed action. "Is written" (gegraptai) in the above example is a perfect passive verb, literally meaning "It has been written and stands written." (Dana and Mantey 176-204; Brooks and Winberry 75-98; Summers 11, 65-67, 103).
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Arndt, William F., and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: the University of Chicago Press, 1979.
Barclay, William. The Letters of James and Peter. Rev. Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976.
Bradfield, W.A., ed. "Abraham, the Friend of God." The Bible Versus Liberalism. Ralph Steury. Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 1972.
Brents, T.W. The Gospel Plan of Salvation. Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 1977.
Brooks, James A., and Charles L. Winberry. Syntax of New Testament Greek. New York: University Press of America, 1979.
Brown, Colin, ed. Vol. 1. "Envy." International Dictionary of the New Testament Theology. D.H. Field. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co., 1975. 3 vols.
Caldwell, Grant B. "Is Any Sick Among Your?" The Preceptor 30:8 June 1981: 16-25.
Cottrell, Jack. What the Bible Says About God the Ruler. Joplin: College Press Publishing Co., 1984.
Dana, H.E., and Julius R. Mantey. A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. 1927. Reprint. New York: Macmillan, 1955.
Dobson, James C. Hide or Seek. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Russell Co., 1979.
Eaves, Thomas F., ed. "Materialism." Moral Issues Confronting the Kingdom. Clifford Reel. Delight, Ark.: Gospel Light Publishing Co., 1978.
Goad, Steven Clark. "Some Sins of the Tongue." Gospel Advocate 123:12 June 18, 1981: 367, 373.
Gundry, Robert H. A Survey of the New Testament. Rev. Ed. Grand Rapids: Academic Books, 1981.
Hester, H.I. The Heart of the New Testament. Liberty, Missouri: The Quality Press, Inc., 1963.
Hiebert D. Edmond. Vol. 3. An Introduction to the New Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1977. 3 vols.
Hiebert, D. Edmond. The Epistle of James. Chicago: Moody Press, 1979.
Kistemaker, Simon J. James , 1 -3 John. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986.
Kittel, Gerhard, and Gerhard Friedrich. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Abridged in one volume. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985.
Kugelman, Richard. James and Jude, New Testament Message. A Biblical Theological Commentary. Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1980.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and The Epistle of James. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966.
MacGorman, J.W. "An Exposition of James 3." Southwestern Journal of Theology 29:1 Fall 1986: 31-36.
McGarvey, J.W. A Commentary on Matthew and Mark. Delight, Arkansas: Gospel Light Publishing Com., n.d.
Melton, Tony. "How to Get Results in Prayer." The Christian Expositor 1:4 Dec. 87: 217-218.
Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary On The Greek New Testament. London: United Bible Societies, 1971.
Orr, James, ed. Vol. 2. "Gehenna." The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Geerhardus Vos. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. 5 vols.
Roberts, J.W. A Commentary on the General Epistle of James. Austin, Texas: R.B. Sweet Co., 1963.
Robertson, A.T. Vol. 6. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933. 6 vols.
Summers, Ray. Essentials of New Testament Greek. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1950.
Tasker, R.V.G. The General Epistle of James. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Com., 1960.
Thayer, Joseph Henry. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977.
Trench, Richard Chenevix. Synonyms of the New Testament. 1880. Reprint. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1948.
Vincent, Marvin R. Vol. 1 Word Studies in the New Testament. McLean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Company, n.d. 2 vols.
Vine, W.E. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Reprint (4 vols. in 1). Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1966.
Whiteside, Robertson L. Paul’s Letter to the Saints at Rome. Fort Worth: The Manney Co., 1976.
Wigram, George V. The Englishman’s Greek Concordance of the New Testament. 1839. Reprint. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981.
Woods, Guy N. A Commentary on The Epistle of James. Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1964.
Wuest, Kenneth S. Vol. 3. "Treasures From the Greek New Testament." Word Studies in the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973. 3 vols.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
James: For the identity of James and the twelve tribes, see the introduction.
a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: James identifies himself as a servant (doulos), which carries with it the idea of being a slave or a bondman. The institution of slavery was very prominent throughout the Roman Empire, with there being more slaves than free men. It was not unusual for a rich landowner to own thousands of slaves. During this age, slaves were considered personal property of their owners, without rights, and used and disposed of in whatever manner the owners wished. Slaves were expected to be honest, obedient, trustworthy, loyal, hardworking, and self-denying. The vast majority of slaves did not choose this way of life but were acquired through capture by enemies, by purchase, by birth from slave parents, as restitution, and by default on loans.
It is to this picture of the slave that James appeals when he introduces himself to his readers. When he admits to being a slave of Christ, he simply indicates that he had surrendered his will to that of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. He now recognizes their authority in his life, and he submits to it. An examination of the writings of Paul, Peter, and Jude will reveal that they, too, acknowledge themselves as servants. The major difference between a physical slave and a slave to Christ is that service to Christ is voluntary since no one is forced to serve Christ against his will.
The stigma of being a servant to anyone does not appeal to many people. The Jews express their disdain for slavery when they tell Jesus, "We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: How sayest thou, ye shall be made free?" (John 8:33). These words have a modern ring to them as the contemporary American greatly values his freedom. The thought of servanthood is too humiliating and distasteful.
Those who are appalled at the thought of servanthood should take a closer look at Jesus during His public ministry. Paul describes His ministry, saying, "But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7). On the night of His betrayal, the Lord of Glory displays a servant’s spirit when He washes the twelve "lords’" feet. His words to these men still ring true, "for I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15). If the all-powerful Son of God can find room in His heart to be a servant, then no Christian should be ashamed to be a servant.
A Christian should have no difficulty in accepting his role as a servant because he realizes he has been bought with a price. As Paul writes, "He that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant" (1 Corinthians 7:22). The Christian realizes that in voluntarily becoming a slave to Christ, true freedom is found. He is freed from sin, worry, despair, and even fear of death.
The characteristics of the first century slave are also important for a servant of God today:
1. The servant of Christ is honest. Paul writes, "Provide things honest in the sight of all men" (Romans 12:17). In his dealings with his neighbor, the Christian is fair and honorable. His reputation is respected by his peers and not maligned. He does not take advantage of the unfortunate or deceive his fellowmen.
2. The servant of Christ is obedient. In this age of religious lip service, the Christian sincerely obeys his master. Paul encourages the Corinthians with these words, "For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things" (2 Corinthians 2:9). For Paul, the Christian’s response to God’s grace and love is unwavering compliance to His will. Being a slave to obedience brings righteousness (Romans 6:16).
3. The servant of Christ is trustworthy. Paul declares, "Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:2). The Christian realizes that he has been entrusted with Heaven’s true gift, the gospel, and he does not want to fail his master. He does not want to betray the confidence of his Lord.
4. The servant of Christ is loyal. He remembers the words of Jesus, "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). Dividing allegiance between two owners can prove confusing, unfruitful, and even harmful. The Christian understands there is a war being waged for his soul (Ephesians 6:12), and he fiercely determines to remain loyal to his Captain (Hebrews 2:10).
5. The servant of Christ is hardworking. Because of the appreciation for his salvation through grace, the Christian realizes he must be busy at work for the King. Paul adds, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58). The hardworking Christian eagerly desires to share the gospel with the lost, to help the unfortunate, and to grow spiritually himself.
6. The servant of Christ is self-denying. As the Christian follows Jesus, he learns to say, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39). The human will is one of the strongest forces the servant of Christ must overcome. It must be conquered and replaced with God’s will before one can truly be free. Jesus challenges His servants with these words, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).
In addition to these characteristics, the servant of Christ--unlike servants in the flesh--is a volunteer. He surrenders his will to God with joy and willingly leads a life of spiritual servitude.
It is significant that James begins this epistle acknowledging that he is a servant of the Lord rather than saying, "I am James, the brother of the Lord." While such an identification might have been impressive to the readers, it is contrary to the spirit of Christianity, which emphasizes humility (Philippians 2:5-8). He might have emphasized in the beginning of this epistle that he was a leader in the church at Jerusalem, but he chooses not to do so. God’s men do not have to throw their weight around in order to lead. James, in spite of his close relation to the Lord, is content to be considered merely a slave to Christ.
greeting: James salutes his readers with the word "greeting," which is the ordinary Greek salutation indicating "welcome." The term (chairein), present active infinitive, is used only three times in the New Testament: here, Acts 15:23, and Acts 23:26. The Acts 15 usage is found in the letter written to the Gentiles with the findings of the Jerusalem meeting. Incidentally, many scholars believe James was the writer of that document as well as this epistle. The third usage was by a Roman commander to Governor Felix in Acts 23. It is interesting that Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, does not use this greeting but, rather, uses "grace and peace unto you." If James were writing to Jewish Christians, why would he use a Greek salutation? The answer lies in the fact that he intended this epistle to go beyond Palestine. Greek was the common language of the day.
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
At the beginning of his epistle, James wants to encourage Christians to have the proper attitude toward trials because he knows they are currently suffering and he knows the potential danger that comes from trials. The word "temptations" (peirasmois) is defined as "an experiment, attempt, trial, proving" by Thayer (498). In the English usage, the word "temptation" generally suggests the inward temptation to commit sin. In its broadest sense, however, it refers to either an outward trial or an inward temptation to do wrong. The context determines which way it is used. It is possible for that which begins as an outward trial to turn into a temptation to do wrong. Such a situation occurs when a Christian reacts improperly to a trial and, as a result, finds that he is tempted to sin. Instead of growing spiritually, the Christian yields to his own lusts (James 1:14). In this immediate text, James refers to outward trials while in James 1:13-16 he refers to the inward desire to do evil.
William Barclay has this observation regarding the term:
Peirasmos is trial or testing directed towards an end, and the end is that he who is tested should emerge stronger and purer from the testing. The corresponding verb peirazein, which the Authorized Version usually translates to tempt, has the same meaning. The idea is not that of seduction into sin but of strengthening and purifying. For instance, a young bird is said to test (peirazein) its wings. The Queen of Sheba was said to come to test (peirazein) the wisdom of Solomon. God was said to test (peirazein) Abraham, when he appeared to be demanding the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1) (42).
count: "Count" (hegesasthe) is an aorist imperative, carrying with it the meaning of "to consider." Since James uses the imperative mood so often (more than 50 times in 108 verses) and since it is such an important feature in his writing, it is important to understand the working of that mood. The imperative is used to express various kinds of commands. It involves the attempt of one person to exert the force of his will upon the will of another person. The basic tenses of the imperative are the present (continuous action) and the aorist (punctiliar action, contemplated as a single perspective). They will be found in the second and third persons. Time is not important; rather the kind of action is what is important. The present imperative has to do with action that is now in progress. The aorist imperative has to do with action that has not started. The basic uses of the imperative are commands, prohibitions, entreaties or requests, and the granting of permission (Dana and Mantey 174-176, and Brooks and Winberry 115-117).
The term "count" being an aorist imperative, then, refers to action that has not started. The trials were already present, but the proper attitude toward them was not. James’ words are a request to "start viewing your trials with all joy." This instruction has special meaning in the life of the Christian today. Success in almost every activity involves preparation. Generals know before their troops go to battle they must first prepare through basic training for the challenges they are going to face. In sports, coaches prepare their teams to play before the actual game begins. Likewise, before trials and afflictions come, we should already have prepared our minds so that we can react in the proper way.
all joy: The reaction of Christians to trials should be "all joy" (pasan charan), meaning "whole joy or unmixed joy" (Robertson 11). In saying that, James is merely repeating what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:10-12). The apostles, in keeping with Jesus’ teaching, rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41). Christians may react to their trials in one of two ways. They may feel sorry for themselves, lash out at others, or blame others for their problems. Some may be filled with bitterness and resentment as to what they perceive to be the unfairness of their trials--some may even blame God for their misfortunes. These attitudes will lead invariably to the defeat of the Christian. On the other hand, Christians may view trials as opportunities for growth. James encourages us to view trials in such a positive way and to look at them with "all joy." Trials allow Christians to see their weaknesses, correct them, and grow spiritually. A "joyful" attitude toward trials does not mean one necessarily takes pleasure in or enjoys them but, rather, that he knows the proper way to benefit from them.
There are two levels of life that an individual may choose to live. He may walk according to the flesh, seeking the enjoyment of this world as much as possible. This is the path the majority of people throughout history have chosen. He also may choose to walk after the Spirit, a walk that involves following the path God has chosen. That walk involves loving the ways of God more than the ways of the world. When the Christian chooses to walk after the Spirit, he is able to view life from a different perspective. His citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), and anything--whether trial or chastisement--that helps him obtain his heavenly home should be looked upon as profitable.
James is in complete harmony with other inspired writers on this theme of the benefits of trials. The psalmist says, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes" (Psalms 119:71). Paul certainly understood this principle: "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities," he says, "in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). Peter confirms this attitude by saying, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV).
fall: "Fall" (peripesete) is a compound verb coming from peri, meaning around, and pipto, meaning to fall, thus indicating a falling into something that surrounds. Thayer defines the word as "so to fall into as to be encompassed by" (504). It implies being surrounded by trials that are large, serious, and hard to handle.
divers temptation: The trials are said to be "divers," meaning they were to be of different kinds. The word does not necessarily indicate great numbers of trials but various kinds. Trials come in different ways to different people. Some deal with personal or family health problems, some experience financial problems, some have relationship problems, and still others taste disappointments and unexpected difficulties. These trials are unpredictable in their coming as suggested by the adding of "when ye fall," which is an indefinite temporal clause (hotan with the subjunctive). This clause simply means they tend to come at an undetermined time (Hiebert, The Epistle of James 72-73).
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
Knowing this: James begins this passage with the words "knowing this" (ginoskontes), which is a present active participle. The Greeks had two words for knowledge: oida, which refers to innate knowledge, and ginosko, which refers to knowledge through observation. James chooses ginosko, indicating that the understanding needed for coping with trials would come through observation or experience. The understanding that trials may bring benefits is not innate. Man’s natural reaction is to avoid trials at all costs. He must be educated through the scriptures on the value of trials. The scriptures promise to help the Christian with "all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). The present tense indicates that it would be a continual observing, meaning that each trial would bring new understanding and strengthening to the Christian.
that the trying of your faith: When trials occur, it is important for the Christian to understand that something good can come from them. Here, James tells us that patience is the result. The word "trying" (dokimion) means "testing" or "a means of testing" (Arndt and Gingrich 203). It refers to the act of testing something (or someone) for the purpose of approving it. This word and its verbal form dokimazo are used generally of God but never of Satan because Satan never puts to the test so that he may approve (Wuest 126-127). It is often used of the process of separating the pure ore from dross by means of fire. "Trials become a furnace through which the Christian passes, and thus demonstrates the genuineness of his faith" (Woods 36).
worketh: The Greek word (katergazetai) is in the present tense, indicating a continuing process. It is another compound verb combining kata, meaning down through, with ergozomai, meaning to work, hence to work through, indicating accomplishment. The work is continued until it reaches a successful conclusion, producing patience (Hiebert, The Epistle of James 75).
patience: The word "patience" (hupomonen) refers to steadfastness or perseverance. It also is a compound word from hupo, meaning under, and meno, meaning to stay or abide, so it basically means to stay under or to abide under. It is the picture of a man being under a heavy load and determining to stay there. It is not to be understood as a mere passive acceptance of one’s lot in life brought on by a broken spirit; rather, it is a quality of courage that accepts the trials and endures them and, in fact, contends with them.
While impatience may be the great motivating force for business and technology, it is not healthy for Christians. Impatience shown toward others can cause hurt feelings, producing damage that can never be healed. The Bible places great emphasis on patience, giving it an important position in the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul writes, "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men" (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Husbands should be more patient with their wives and wives with their husbands; parents should be more patient with their children and children with their parents. All Christians, in fact, in every relationship, should be more patient with one another because all are on different levels of growth.
The greatest example of patience is seen in the behavior of Jesus Christ. After Israel and her leaders rejected Him and desired to kill Him, He continued patiently to long for Jerusalem’s salvation (Matthew 23:37). Even with His disciples, Jesus showed great patience. They were often slow in understanding His teachings and selfish in their desire for personal gain, yet the Lord patiently continued with them. On the night of His betrayal, Jesus exhibited His patience with Judas by offering Him the morsel of honor (John 13:26). As the sun set in Judas’ heart, there was still opportunity for forgiveness. Such examples show how very important patience is in the Christian character.
The thought of James, then, is that trials produce patience or "staying power" in the life of a Christian. Paul agrees with this concept, saying, "and not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience" (Romans 5:3). These trials, unpleasant as they may be, work to make a Christian’s faith stronger and more steadfast. What would happen if we never had trials? The result would be that the faith of a Christian would not grow stronger, leaving him susceptible to failure. James Dobson writes,
A tree which is planted in a rain forest is never forced to extend its roots downward in search of water; consequently, it remains poorly anchored and can be toppled by a moderate wind storm. By contrast, a mesquite tree planted in a dry desert is threatened by its hostile environment. It can only survive by sending its roots more than thirty feet deep into the earth, seeking cool water. But through its adaptation to the arid land, something else happens. The well-rooted tree becomes strong and steady against all assailants (80).
If our faith is never tested, it may be like the tree in the rain forest in that it is very weak, leaving it vulnerable when a severe trial does come. Tested faith is like the mesquite tree in that it has the ability to withstand the great storms.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
We reap a two-fold reward in overcoming trials. The first reward is described in this verse and deals with the development of the proper character of the Christian in this world. The second reward of trials is described in verse 12 and is dealt with there. "Let have" (echeto) is a present active imperative, indicating that what he is saying here is a command. It is present tense, signifying that it was their continuing duty to let patience have her perfect work.
perfect work: "Perfect" is translated from teleios, which is defined as "brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness, perfect" (Thayer 618). This perfection comes as a result of steadfastness.
that ye may be: This Greek word (hina ete) is a conditional clause indicating the purpose or goal of patience. The goal is outlined in the words that follow.
"May be" is a present subjunctive that implies the goal can be obtained now and is not merely a future reality.
perfect: James uses two adjectives to describe the goal of a Christian. The first is "perfect" (teleioi), which was also used in the first phrase to describe "work." Concerning that word, Hiebert has this observation:
The term does not imply absolute perfection (James 3:2), but rather the ethical character of the mature believer. It denotes that which has attained its proper goal. In connection with animals or people, it indicates adult growth and maturity--the opposite of babyhood. Thus James is thinking of a personality that has reached full development (The Epistle of James 77).
entire: The second adjective is "entire" (holokleroi), which indicates something "complete in all its parts, in no part wanting or unsound, complete" (Thayer 443). It is a word that attests that the goal of a Christian is to be equipped completely for life. He will possess all of the virtues that distinguish maturity. Charles Williams, in his translation The New Testament: A Translation in the Language of the People, renders the two adjectives as "fully developed and perfectly equipped."
wanting nothing: James then adds "wanting nothing" (medeni leipomenoi), which is a present participle with a negative pronoun. "Wanting" is a word used of failure and losing concerning such events as races and battles. It merely signifies that those who are perfect and entire will not be deficient or lagging behind others in anything. They are fully prepared for the battle of life.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Some see no connection between James’ teaching about trials and the need for wisdom. The need for wisdom during these trials, however, would be paramount. It is difficult for us to see the initial good that comes from trials. The obvious question that comes to the mind of a Christian during trials is, "How can this trial or affliction be of any benefit to me when it is so painful?" Where does the Christian find the answer for this and similar questions? The ability to understand and mature from trials is not innate, so James answers that he finds assistance by asking God for wisdom.
If any of you lack wisdom: This is a conditional phrase (a first class condition) that affirms the reality of the condition--that is, it is assumed as being true. It is a fact, then, that there are some who lack the wisdom to deal with trials. James is telling his readers that in order to overcome these trials they must first turn to God. Yet how often do we try to solve our own problems without asking for God’s help? We should ask God for wisdom that He may grant us a practical use of knowledge. There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is the obtaining of facts through study; wisdom is the proper use of that knowledge. That comes from God.
let him ask: This expression (aiteito) is a present imperative, indicating that the asking in faith is required of the Christian and is not optional. Because of the present tense, it is something the Christian is continually to do. "Let him keep on asking" is the thought here. A Christian does not receive a huge helping of wisdom in one batch, never needing it again. He must ask for wisdom continually as he struggles with his trials. "Of God" (para theou) indicates the source of the wisdom. This wisdom is "by the side of" (para) God, indicating that it comes from Him and is given to those who ask.
that giveth: "That giveth" (tou didontos) is a present participle, pointing out that God continually gives to His children. He is to be understood as a generous, benevolent provider and not as a harsh, critical tyrant. These words are to be seen as an encouragement to those who face constant trials. No matter how many trials one has to suffer through, God continually gives help. Since the creation, God has constantly blessed this world with physical blessings and His people with spiritual blessings. His blessings are available "to all" (pasin).
liberally: God gives to all men "liberally" (aplos). That adverb has two possible meanings. It can mean "generously" or "liberally" as in the KJV. It also can mean "openly," showing that God gives with a single motive: to help his children. He has no hidden motives and does not give with the sole thought of receiving something in return. Obviously both meanings of the word are true with reference to God.
upbraideth not: He also "upbraideth not" (me oneidizontos). Upbraid carries with it the idea of reviling or insulting. He does not attack his children with stinging, insulting words. The phrase is a present participle with a negative, meaning that God does not make it a practice to revile His people. He permanently abstains from such a thing. As we humbly approach Him for help in the face of trials, He does not assault us with harsh words or accusations. He does not continually remind us of our past failures and of our good fortune of having Him take the time to listen to our needs.
shall be given: The result of our pleas for wisdom is found in "it shall be given him." "Shall be given" (dothesetai) is a future passive indicative verb. The future indicative indicates that this promise is a future reality. God really will give wisdom as He has promised. The passive voice tells us that this gift of wisdom does not come from our own selves, but rather is given by God.
Wisdom, as stated earlier, involves the practical use of knowledge. It is not something that miraculously falls upon us from heaven every time we request it. Wisdom is the product of properly applying God’s word to one’s life. Lenski says, "Wisdom does not come down out of the sky. God’s Spirit instructs, enlightens, makes us wise by means of his Word" (529). Cottrell goes a step further. Wisdom, he says, is not specific answers to specific questions but rather a quality of the heart and mind, an ability to discern the best from the better and apply the general to the specific. It is a skill, not a bit of information. As a skill, it grows and increases with study and exercise and experience, and with God’s help. By applying it we become more and more confident that our decisions are good ones, but we should not expect it to guarantee infallibility. Even a skilled basketball player sometimes misses a shot, and a skilled typist sometimes hits the wrong key. And even a wise person sometimes makes a bad decision. But we continue to develop and sharpen the skill of wisdom, trusting that God is helping us to become better at the craft of decision making (324-325).
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Prayer is a very important part of a Christian’s life. The Lord emphasized it in His daily life and told His followers to ask continually for God’s blessings (Matthew 7:7-8). God answers all of our prayers, though not always in the way we expect and not always as soon as we expect. Sometimes He delays His answer. When the answer comes, it may be yes and it may be no; no is still an answer.
The one praying also plays an important role in the success of the prayer. He must pray with the proper spirit or else his prayers may be hindered. James, at this point, reminds his readers that they play a part in the answer to their prayers. God has promised that He will give wisdom to help when trials come, but man plays a role in receiving that wisdom. He must pray in faith, without doubting.
let him ask: "Let him ask" (aiteito) is another present imperative James uses often to impress on the minds of the readers their duties. This phrase is an imperative of command indicating the prayer must be conducted in the manner he is going to set forth. It also is present tense, suggesting that Christians must continually or habitually pray in this manner.
in faith: The prayer is to be "in faith" (en pistei), a term that points to the trust and confidence that Christians have in the promises of God. For James, faith was the key ingredient to a successful spiritual life. He knew that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
nothing wavering: "Nothing wavering" (diakrinomenos) is a present middle participle defined as "be at odds with oneself, doubt, waver" (Arndt and Gingrich 185). It suggests the picture of a doubter, one of a divided mind being torn in two directions. The present tense again indicates this doubting is continual or habitual. The middle voice, which refers to the subject in some way acting upon himself, indicates the conflict is within himself. This doubter wants the blessings from God; but, at the same time, a part of him wants something else. James implies that the struggle is between the desire to please God and to enjoy the world. Praying with divided desires does not please God. God gives to His people with no ulterior motives, and He expects His children to pray in the same way.
he that wavereth: "He that wavereth" is the same participle as above with the definite article added, being used here in the sense of a subject. The doubter is compared to the tossing and churning waves of the sea. James, in an effective way, uses many illustrations from both nature and human life. No doubt he had often viewed the waves of the Sea of Galilee or perhaps even the Mediterranean Sea. In this instance, he paints a graphic picture of the constant instability of the doubting man.
driven with the wind: Two present passive participles in the Greek are used to describe the action of the wave. This is the only place in the New Testament where this construction is used. The first is "driven with the wind" (anemizomeno), a vivid picture of the sea being whipped into churning whitecaps by the wind. The present tense and passive voice indicate the wind is constantly working upon the wave.
tossed: The second participle is "tossed" (ripizomeno), which is also present tense and passive voice, carrying with it the idea of continually being thrown back and forth by some other force.
The doubting man is like this wave in that he is completely unstable and unable to withstand other forces. There is no unswerving and unyielding determination within him to do what is right. He cannot prevent others from influencing him, just as the wave cannot stop the wind from blowing it. Just like the wave, he shifts one way or the other, depending upon the mood of the moment. He is not able to settle on the straight path but constantly turns to the left or right. Jesus demands of us perfect allegiance (Luke 14:26-27), and such a demand does not allow room for bending back and forth between the world and Him. This man should not expect God’s wisdom to dwell within him because of his doubting, unstable ways. How can he partake of this wisdom when part of the time he has cast his affections upon this world? One of the reasons our prayers are answered in a negative way, no doubt, is that we are like this doubting man.
For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
that man: "That man" refers to the doubting man of verse 6. The Greek construction of "man" (ho anthropos) with the demonstrative pronoun "that" (ekeinos) shows that it is emphatic. With his doubting, unstable ways, he should not expect the Lord to answer his prayers in a positive fashion.
let not think: "Let not think" (me oiestho) is a present imperative with a negative. The present imperative with not (me) is used to stop an action already in progress. These doubting individuals were already expecting God to answer their prayers. It may be translated with the word "stop" in order to obtain the full meaning. In effect, James is telling these individuals, "stop thinking that you will receive anything from the Lord." This prohibition refers to specific answers to prayers and not to general blessings, as Jesus indicated that God would send "rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45).
The New Testament points to several factors that hinder prayer. Doubt, as considered in verse 6, is one major hindrance. Praying contrary to God’s will can cause a prayer to be answered in a negative way. John emphasizes that Christians must pray according to God’s will (1 John 5:14). Likewise, he points out we must keep God’s commandments if we expect him to answer us (1 John 3:22). A life of disobedience hinders prayer. Peter teaches that when proper relationships are not honored, prayer can be hindered (1 Peter 3:7). Jesus points out that persistence is important in prayer (Luke 11:2-10; Luke 18:1-8). A lack of persistence results in unanswered prayers (Melton 217).
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
doubled minded: This passage is a continued description of "that man" from verse 7. He is said to be "double minded" (dipsuchos), a compound word combining dis, twice, with psuche, soul. Its literal meaning would be "two-souled." It occurs only twice in the New Testament, with both occurrences in James (here and James 4:8). Many believe James originated this word since it is not found in secular Greek works before his time. It is used often in early Christian writings, perhaps indicating an early date for this epistle (Robertson 15). The term is a fitting portrayal of a man who attempts to serve God while trying to enjoy the world. He is drawn one direction for a while and then the other.
unstable in all his ways: This two-souled man is "unstable in all his ways." The word "unstable" (akatastatos) refers to an individual who is unsteady, uncertain, or fickle. It brings to mind a drunken man staggering and weaving. This doubting man, then, is portrayed as one who staggers back and forth between the Spirit and the flesh. That type of lifestyle will not work because of the open conflict between the two. Jesus warned his followers that they cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). Later in his epistle, James himself emphasizes that friendship with the world makes one an enemy of God (James 4:4).
ways: James uses "ways" (hodois) to represent this man’s daily life. He is so unstable that he cannot be trusted in any area of life.
Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:
Let the brother of low degree: The following contrast between the poor brother and the rich one should also be considered within the context of the proper use of trials. A Christian, whether needy or affluent, must master his concern for material possessions if he is going to overcome trials and benefit from them. If either has the wrong outlook concerning his financial condition, the chances are he will have great difficulties in overcoming his trials.
low degree: "Low degree" (tapeinos) refers either to one who is poor financially or one who is poor spiritually, indicating humility. In this case James is discussing the man who is poor financially.
rejoice: He is told to "rejoice" (kauchastho), meaning to boast or take pride in. Boasting can be good or bad, depending upon its use in the context. In this case, the boasting is good and is allowed. This word is another present imperative, used here as giving permission. The present tense signifies that he should continue his boasting and should adopt it as an habitual characteristic of his life.
exalted: He is to rejoice because he is "exalted" (hupsei), signifying a high position or rank. That high position is a result of his being a Christian. In spite of his poor economic condition, he must rejoice in what he is: a child of God and a member of the Lord’s church. There are no greater privileges or blessings to be found than those in the kingdom of heaven. In the eyes of the rich, he may seem unimportant and insignificant, but in God’s eyes he is special. Later in this epistle, James grants more honor to the poor Christian by saying he is "rich in faith" (James 2:5).
How does this rejoicing by the poor over his high position relate to overcoming trials? What is the connection between rejoicing and overcoming? If the poor brother will constantly rejoice that he is a Christian and a recipient of heaven’s true riches and not dwell on his earthly misfortune, then he will not allow trials to impede his journey toward heaven. However, if he constantly reminds himself of his own poverty and gazes with envious eyes toward the wealthy, there is the strong possibility that he can become bitter or self-pitying. In a weakened condition, he is susceptible to being overwhelmed by trials. Keeping one’s priorities straight is essential in coping with trials.
But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.
As James points out, the rich also have a responsibility to maintain the proper outlook on their wealth. The question that arises here is this: Who is the rich one? Is he a rich Christian or a rich non-Christian? The context seems to favor that he is a Christian. The contrast seems to be between brothers, and the imperative (rejoice) goes with both.
But the rich, in that he is made low: The rich brother rejoices or boasts in that he is made "low." He is made low in the sense that he does not treasure his material wealth as more important than his spiritual condition. He becomes humble and realizes that wealth is not the most important possession a man may have, a viewpoint not commonly seen in the world. There is a tendency in some to become proud and to overestimate their importance when they possess wealth. Jesus has many warnings for those who trusted in their riches more than in God. He does not say that the rich could not go to heaven, but He does say that it would be hard for him to do so (Matthew 19:23-24). He also warns His followers not to make all of their investments in material possessions because moth and rust corrupt and thieves steal (Matthew 6:19). The one who wisely invests for the future yet leaves God out of his plans is still a fool (Luke 12:20-21).
Just as with the poor brother, the rich man’s outlook on wealth will determine how he will be able to handle trials when they do come. If the rich one is infatuated with his wealth, he may consider it more important to keep his wealth than his Christianity when trials come and perhaps threaten to take it away. His view of the importance of wealth may cloud his thinking and cause him to misplace his priorities. Make no mistake about it: wealth has the ability to deceive (Matthew 13:22). If the rich man will "set his affections on things above" and not allow his wealth to control him, he will be able to overcome his trials. If he remains lowly and humble, he will also be able to make heaven his home. Lenski adds, "As the poor brother forgets all his earthly poverty, so the rich brother forgets all his earthly riches. The two are equal by faith in Christ" (535).
because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away: In a simple, yet picturesque figure, which he will expand upon in the next verse, James compares the rich man to a "flower of the grass," literally referring to a wild flower. The point he is making is just as the existence of the wild flower is temporary and fleeting, so will the life of the rich man be short-lived and transitory. Life is too short and unpre- dictable for one to place his complete trust in wealth. There are too many factors, such as poor health, accidents, unfortunate timing, and even death, over which one has no control. The same point is also true of the poor man, but he is not under consideration in this verse.
"Shall pass away" (pareleusetai), a future tense verb, describes the fate that awaits him.
For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
James continues with his comparison of the fleeting life of the rich man with the temporary existence of the wild flower. In Palestine, it was common for the rains to bring life to these beautiful wild flowers. For a short time, they could be seen throughout the countryside. But Palestine is a dry and arid place; and as soon as the rains cease, the incessant heat returns and causes the wild flowers to wither and fall. What at one time was so beautiful quickly is ruined. This figure of the shortness of the life of a flower becomes a common symbol of the brevity of life for man (Job 14:1-2; Isaiah 40:6-8; Psalms 103:15-16).
The four verbs, "risen," "withereth," "falleth," and "perisheth," picture the rapid succession of events. All are in the aorist tense, which generally presents the action as a definite historical event; but here the aorists are gnomic, portraying the successive events as characteristic of what always happens in such cases (Hiebert, The Epistle of James 94). This gnomic aorist is usually translated into the present tense in English.
grace of the fashion of it perisheth: The "grace of the fashion of it" (euprepeia tou prosopou autou) literally means "the beauty of its face" as if James were trying to picture each flower with a face.
By using the adverb "so" (houtos), which means "in this manner," James makes the parallel between a flower’s fate and man’s.
shall the rich man fade away: "Shall fade away" (maranthesetai) is a future tense verb meaning to quench or fade away. It has been used in the sense of extinguishing a flame. So just as the flame of a candle may suddenly be snuffed out, so, too, can the life of the rich man be quenched. This truth, as in verse 10, is relevant to all men, not just the rich. The poor life can be just as fleeting. But James emphasizes it for the rich because of the ever present danger of their trusting in their wealth and deceiving themselves into thinking it will be theirs to enjoy for years to come.
in his ways: "Ways" (poreiais) means a journey or a trip and refers to his manner of life. He will be busy with his daily routine of relying on his wealth when the end comes.
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
Blessed is the man: This verse marks the conclusion to the theme of overcoming the outward trials that will come upon the Christian, a theme James begins in verse two. It points to the future reward, eternal life, that awaits the steadfast Christian. This crown of life is the second and most important reward, with the first being spiritual maturity as James discusses in verse 4.
that endureth temptation: The "temptation" referred to here is that of outward trials that come upon Christians and not the inward desire to sin. Man is to endure these temptations (trials) and not avoid them as we would expect if they were sinful desires.
endureth: Endureth (hupomenei) refers to standing one’s ground or bearing difficulties bravely and calmly. It is present tense, and indicates the Christian must continually and habitually endure these trials and not give up. James refers to the man who endures as "blessed" (makarios), which also means happy or perhaps fortunate. Jesus often uses this same word when referring to the spiritual man in the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12). This happiness is a different type from what the world offers. It is a joy that is, in fact, untouchable by the world. If an individual were caught out on the ocean during a storm, he would discover that the waves would be high, the winds would blow fiercely, and his boat would rock. Yet if this same individual would go down under the water just a few feet, he would find it to be perfectly calm and undisturbed. This calmness in the midst of the storm describes the condition of the soul of the person whom both Jesus and James describe as "blessed."
when he is tried: "When he is tried" (dokismos genomenas) literally means having been tried or having been approved. Genomenas is an aorist participle, with the aorist tense usually denoting an antecedent action relative to the main verb (Dana and Mantey 230). The main verb in this phrase is the future tense "shall receive" (lempsetai), which means this trying occurs before the crown of life is given.
The verse could well be translated, "after being tried, he will receive the crown of life." There are many who believe that eternal life is given when an individual believes in Christ; and if he possesses eternal life now, it would be impossible for him to sin so as to be lost forever in hell. Yet both James, in this passage, and Jesus (Matthew 25:46) indicate that eternal life is a reward that still awaits the Christian. The "once-saved always-saved" philosophy, then, is unbiblical.
tried: "Tried" means approved or genuine and brings to mind the using of fire to separate the impurities in metals. The ore is melted and the impurity is removed from it, leaving a pure metal. In like manner the Christian is tried, with the weaknesses being removed, and a more spiritually mature person being left.
he shall receive the crown of life: The reward that awaits the steadfast Christian is "the crown of life" (ton stephanon tes zoes). "Of life" is a genitive of apposition, indicating the crown that is life, a reference to eternal life. Paul describes a similar crown that will be awarded at the second coming of Christ: the "crown of righteousness" (2 Timothy 4:8). Peter calls it a "crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:4). A crown is merely a symbol of royalty, honor, or victory, all terms that aptly describe the future gift of eternal life. Eternal life is pictured as a state in which one is never separated from God or faithful loved ones again (Revelation 21:1). In eternal life there will be no more death, sorrow, or pain (Revelation 21:4). It will be a wonderful eternal existence without the problem of sin (Revelation 22:3) and will include constant sweet fellowship with the loving God (Revelation 21:3).
which the Lord hath promised to them that love him: This wonderful gift is something the Lord "hath promised" (epengeilato, aorist tense) to "them that love" him (tois agaposin, a present participle). The use of the aorist and present tenses in these words creates an interesting contrast. The present tense indicates continuous action, so the believers must keep on or continuously love the Lord. The Christian can never stop loving his Lord with a love that he demonstrates by obedience to His commands (John 14:15; 2 John 1:6). The aorist tense, on the other hand, indicates punctiliar or definite action; and in the indicative mood, as is the case here, refers to the past (Dana and Mantey 193). The promise the Lord made is a fact and does not have to be repeated continually to remain valid.
The words of James, up to this point, may be briefly summarized as follows: If a Christian can constantly keep before him the hope of eternal life, he can endure the hardest of trials.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
The type of temptation now changes from that of outward trials to that of the dangerous inward desire to sin because the temptation leads to sin rather than steadfastness. The trials come from without and surround the Christian (verse 2) while this temptation comes from within the Christian (verse 14). These kinds of temptations are to be avoided. Jesus taught us to pray for deliverance from these temptations (Matthew 6:13). The devil is called "the tempter" (Matthew 4:3), indicating that he has his evil hand involved in this process. In the next few verses, James proceeds to explain how temptation originates, how it develops, and what it finally produces.
Let no man say when he is tempted: "Let no man say" (legeto) is a present imperative with a negative (medeis), which suggests prohibition of an act already in progress; that is, some were already blaming God for their temptations. These words indicate that they should stop such accusations against God. It seems amazing that individuals would want to blame God for their temptations, yet man constantly looks to lay blame at the feet of others rather than admit his own mistakes.
I am tempted of God: "I am tempted" (peirazomai) is present tense, suggesting a continual tempting. "Of God" uses the preposition "of" (apo), which is an indication of source. These individuals were not necessarily charging that God was the direct cause of temptation, for if they had been charging Him with direct cause the preposition "by" (hupo), indicating agency, would have been used. The charge still remains serious, however, because they are saying that while God might not have actually caused it, He remains behind the situation that caused it. In their eyes, God was responsible for bringing them into a situation where they were tempted. Such a charge is not unusual because even in the beginning when Adam and Eve sin, and God asks for an explanation, Adam says, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat" (Genesis 3:12).
for God cannot be tempted with evil: James answers the charge that God is indirectly responsible for temptations by saying, first of all, "God cannot be tempted with evil." He does not delight in evil, neither does He practice it in any form. There is no desire on His part to have anything to do with evil. He is able to view sin as the disgusting thing that it is.
neither tempts he any man: One who is so completely removed from evil would not in turn wish it upon others, so James adds, "neither tempteth he any man." "Tempteth" (peirazei) is present tense, indicating that "continually" He does not tempt man. The Greek uses the pronoun (autos) for emphasis, so the passage could say, "He Himself never tempts man." James emphasizes this point strongly. In order to understand how temptation works, it must first be comprehended that God does not tempt man to do evil, either directly or indirectly.
If God does not tempt man, how could it be said that he "tempted" Abraham (Genesis 22:1)? God may test men in order to strengthen them, but he never tempts them to make them sin. In Abraham’s case, God tested him to make his faith stronger. He did not tempt him with the intention of making him sin.
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
But every man is tempted: "Every man" (hekastos) is a singular adjective in Greek used as if it were a noun, literally meaning "each one." What James wants us to know is that temptation attacks every individual. "Is tempted" (peirazetai) is again in the present tense, showing that the problem is continual. Temptation does not occur only once in the lifetime of a Christian, but it is an enemy that will stalk him continually.
when he is drawn away of his own lust: James now uses two present passive participles to show the manner in which each one is tempted. They both illustrate how lust works on each individual. Both are used in the sense of fishing or trapping.
The first one--"drawn away" (exelkomenos)--simply pictures the fish being drawn out of its place of safety. As long as the fish remains in his safe retreat under the water, whether among rocks or stumps, he is usually safe from the fisherman. It will take something alluring in order for him to take the hook.
enticed: The second participle, "enticed" (deleazomenos), means to catch by bait. The fish leaves its place of safety and swims toward the delicious meal, only to find that he is caught by the deadly hook hidden within. In the same way, we are "lured and hooked" by our own lusts.
of his own lust: "Of his own lust" is an important prepositional phrase pointing to the real culprit that is responsible for our temptations. "Of" is from hupo, a Greek preposition that expresses agency. It may well be translated "by." Man’s lust--epithumia, which refers to a strong desire--is the agent that causes temptation. The context dictates whether this desire is good or evil. In this case it is an evil desire. "His own" (idias) shows that the desire belongs to each individual and does not belong to someone else. The blame for falling to temptation, then, cannot be shifted to others. James has already said that God cannot be blamed. He has not even placed the blame on the devil, the source of temptation, nor can he blame someone else. As far as James is concerned, each individual must account for his own actions.
This verse reveals an important principle dealing with the fact that each individual is responsible for his own actions. God’s word and man’s practice often conflict on this point. Man’s history is one long series of making excuses and blaming others for his mistakes. In Eden, the man blames the woman for his sin, and the woman blames the serpent for her wrong (Genesis 3:9-13). When Samuel confronts Saul for not utterly destroying the Amalekites as God had ordered, Saul says, "They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed" (1 Samuel 15:15). Note that Saul blames others for the disobedience but includes himself with the obedient. Modern man continues his denial of the truth with such statements as, "Many are not accountable for their deeds because of their upbringing and environment."
The scriptures abound with warnings that each man is responsible for his own actions. Each man is to work out his "own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Every individual must "bear his own burden" (Galatians 6:5). Ezekiel adds, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son" (Ezekiel 18:20). The many judgment passages also emphasize man’s being judged for his own actions, not for those of others. Paul stresses this point in 2 Corinthians 5:10, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." The scriptures teach that every individual is responsible to God for his own actions.
Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
Then when lust hath conceived: Leaving the familiar figure of fishing, James now uses the equally familiar figure of childbirth to describe further the progressive nature of lust. Lust--personified as a harlot--excites and seduces the human will. In moments of weakness, the will yields and allows lust to have its way. "Hath conceived" (sullabousa) refers to the result of this union between lust and the human will.
it bringeth forth sin: This lust, after conception, "bringeth forth" (tiktei) sin. This word, which means to bear or produce, is used metaphorically for childbirth. It is present tense, suggesting that this lust continues to bring forth sin. Lust, just as a mother gives birth to her child, gives birth to its offspring, which is sin. It is a biological and spiritual fact that like produces like. A human being gives birth to another human, and one form of evil gives birth to another form of evil. The mother of sin is lust. "Sin" (hamartia) simply refers to a missing of the mark, to points in our lives when we do not live up to the expectations of God.
sin, when it is finished: Sin is said to be "finished" (apotelestheisa) before it gives birth. This word basically means to complete or to finish. Hiebert comments on this word, saying, "As an aorist passive participle, the term suggests the thought of something having been effectively brought to its goal, brought to completion" (The Epistle of James 108). The NIV translates the word "when it is full-grown." Here, James is describing the development of sin in the picture of a child growing into manhood. Sin is conceived and born and then becomes full grown. The reference is to the fact that sin has become an habitual practice.
bringeth forth death: When sin is allowed to grow, develop, and mature within us, it can bring disastrous results. James points out that sin "bringeth forth" (apokuei) death. This word is used of the normal and abnormal births (abortions) of both animals and humans, although here it is used in the normal sense. The "death" (thanaton) described here is that of spiritual death. The basic meaning of death in the scriptures is that of separation and not annihilation. Paul warns "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). Of course, this spiritual death will result in the second death, which is eternal punishment in hell (Revelation 20:14). Yet sin does not have to result in death. It can be repented of and confessed (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9-10). In that manner, death can be avoided (1 John 5:16-17).
In these simple words, James profoundly discusses the genealogy of death. He concludes that there are three generations involved. Uncontrolled lust is the grandmother, sin is the mother, and death is the child. This very graphic passage details for the Christian how sin originates in his life, how it develops, and what it will finally bring. The journey toward hell may begin with one uncontrolled thought.
James 1:14-15 is also a powerful denial of the denomi- national doctrine of "total hereditary depravity" or, as it is commonly called, "original sin." Many believe that every individual is born into this world with the stain of Adam’s sin. The following quote from the Presbyterian Confession of Faith states this position:
By this sin (eating the forbidden fruit) they (our first parents) fell from their original rightousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin and wholly defiled in all faculties and parts of soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation (Brents 88).
A careful study of the Bible reveals this doctrine of "original sin" to be incorrect. As James points out, sin is an act of disobedience performed by the individual. It comes from the individual’s lust, not through inheritance (James 1:14-15). Babies are pure and sinless when they are born. Man is described as being "created in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27) and also as being the "offspring of God" (Acts 17:29). The Hebrew writer pictures God as the "father of spirits" (Hebrews 12:9). How could these statements be true if man is born depraved? Furthermore, Jesus says, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). Why would Jesus emphasize the need of becoming like little children in conversion if little children were born depraved?
The Bible plainly describes how sin enters a man’s life. He willingly chooses to engage in it. The devil may tempt man to sin, but it is the individual who chooses to commit it.
Do not err, my beloved brethren.
Do not err: "Err" (planasthe) is a present imperative meaning to lead astray or to deceive. It is an imperative of prohibition and, as in verse 7, refers to stopping an action that is already in progress. This leading away or deception was already taking place. It is possible to translate this prohibition with the word "stop." The imperative may be either passive or middle. If it is considered passive, then it would literally mean, "stop being deceived." If it is in the middle voice, then it could be translated, "stop deceiving yourselves." In this case, the middle voice is probably the best. In what way were they deceiving themselves? Should they continue to believe that God in any sense was tempting them to sin, they would be in danger of leading themselves from the truth. It is a very serious mistake to cast a reflection on the holy nature of God. A misunderstanding of the character of God in one area can possibly lead to another misunderstanding of God in a different area. We must be careful not to misrepresent God.
my beloved brethren: James designates his readers as "beloved brethren." They are brothers, of course, because they are children of God and, consequently, of the same spiritual family. But just as importantly, they were "beloved" because they were esteemed and dear to him. This idea indicates that there should be a very special and intimate relationship among Christians. The love that Christians have for one another is proof of the validity of their spiritual claim (John 13:34-35). When Christians fight and devour one another, gossip against each other, and hate one another, they are actually displaying an absence of love in their hearts for God (1 John 4:20).
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Every good gift and every perfect gift: James continues his description of the character of God. Instead of being the one who brings temptation into the Christian’s life, He should be seen, rather, as the One who brings gifts. This verse actually continues the thought that God is the giving God as described in verse 5. He generously supplies good and perfect gifts (verse 17) and the new birth (verse 18).
There is a slight difference between a "good gift" and a "perfect gift." "Good gift" (dosis agathe) refers to the act of giving. It is a good giving because it is helpful and beneficial to man. Sometimes people give with the intentions of only helping themselves. Such is not true with God. Rather than hurt man through temptations, God gives gifts to help him. "Perfect gift" (dorema teleion) refers to the actual gift itself. It is perfect because it is complete and cannot be made better. God knows exactly what man needs so His gifts are perfect for the occasion. The distinction between the gifts is seen in this translation, "All good giving and every perfect gift comes from above" (NEB).
from above: "From above" (anothen) is adverbial and merely suggests the heavenly origin of these blessings. They do not come from other men or from within, but rather from God.
and cometh down: This thought is expanded in the words "cometh down" (katabainon), a present active participle. It is another compound word with kata, down, and baino, to go, hence to go down or descend. It is present tense indicating a continual or habitual coming down. God does not just give blessings to man in just one setting but continually sends His blessings down.
from the Father of lights: "From the Father" indicates the actual source of these blessings. He cannot be guilty of sending His people temptations to sin when He is constantly sending these gifts. We should always remember that the most important gifts are those that come from heaven and not those from earth.
God is described here as being the "Father of lights" (patros ton photon). The construction has the definite article with it, so He is the Father of "the lights," a reference to the sun, moon, and stars. He is the Father of those heavenly bodies because He is their creator and caretaker.
with whom is no variableness: James wants his readers to know that God never changes but remains constant, so he chooses two expressions that deal with changes produced by these lights (heavenly bodies) to contrast with God. First, there is no "variableness" (parallage) with God, a word referring to a change or variation in light that comes from the sun or moon. The light is much brighter at noon than at dawn or midnight. While God created these bodies that vary, He remains constant.
neither shadow of turning: The second expression, "neither shadow of turning" (e tropes aposkiasma), alludes to the change in shadows as the day goes on. The shadow is much longer at sunset than at noon. So when one observes the pattern of day and night around him, he sees constant change. There is light, and there is dark. Shadows never remain still but are constantly shifting. Although there is this constant variation with these heavenly bodies, there is no such change with God. He remains constant and unchanging.
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth: The greatest gift supplied by God to man was the opportunity for his salvation. Such an opportunity occurred because "of his own will" (bouletheis). This term is an aorist participle defined as "to will deliberately, have a purpose, be minded" (Thayer 105). The salvation of man was something God purposed and planned, showing His compassionate and forgiving nature when man was worthy of death. The aorist tense indicates this completed fact.
begat: "Begat" (apekuesen) is the same word as "bringeth forth" in verse 15, where sin brings forth death. Here it is used of God bringing forth new life. There is an obvious contrast between sin bringing forth death and God bringing forth new life. The aorist tense of this verb points to a definite act, which in this case is the conversion of the individual. The "us" refers to the Christians to whom James was writing.
Woods explains that "Under the figure of birth, we are begotten and born, and so become children of God. We are begotten when we believe; and the birth process is completed when we have been baptized in water" (71). This begetting or bringing forth was accomplished "with the word of truth" (logoi aletheias), which is the gospel and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). "With the word" indicates this conversion was brought about by means of the word of truth. "Of truth" is genitive, meaning "the word which is truth" or "the word which produces truth." Obviously both are true concerning this word. Peter describes this same process with these words, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23). John said that whoever believes in Jesus is "born of God" (1 John 5:1). Paul told the Corinthians, "I have begotten you through the gospel" (1 Corinthians 4:15). Jesus said a man must "be born of the water and of the Spirit" to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:5).
that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures: "That we should be" (eis to einai hemas) is a purpose clause indicating the purpose of the new birth. Its purpose is to produce "a kind of firstfruits of his creatures."
The term "firstfruits" (aparchen) is a figure taken from the Old Testament practice of dedicating to God the first part of the harvest before the rest was used by man (Leviticus 23:9-11; Deuteronomy 18:4). In a special way, the firstfruits of the field and the firstborn belonged to Him. It is a common New Testament figure (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Corinthians 15:23; Revelation 14:4). Paul used it to refer to the first converts of an area with the hope of more to come (1 Corinthians 16:15). It may be that James is using this word in the same sense with reference to the Jewish Christians being the firstfruits with the hope of more (Gentile Christians) to come. Another possibility is that James is referring to all Christians as being dedicated in a special way to God.
"Creatures" (ktismaton) refers to that which is created by God. It could refer to every man or every created thing. Christians are special to God and are dedicated to Him in a way as no other part of His creation is.
Thus James, in these last two verses, has magnified the character of God. He is constantly supplying His children with perfect gifts rather than causing them to be tempted to sin. His nature is good, and it is constant and invariable in contrast to the lights and the shadows that change. Unlike sin that brings forth death, God begets life. James, in a very powerful and eloquent way, has emphasized the giving nature of this wonderful God.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
Wherefore: There is a textual problem with the word "wherefore" (hoste). The King James translators used the Textus Receptus in making their translation and did not have the advantage of using many of the older manuscripts that are currently available. Many of the older manuscripts use the word "knowing" (iste), a conclusion "strongly supported by both Alexandrian and Western witnesses" (Metzger 680). Either the word could be indicative, a simple statement, "you know this"; or it could be imperative, "know ye," used in the sense of a command, so as to call attention to what will follow it. The context, then, must decide whether it is used as an indicative or an imperative. The newer translations seem divided on how to translate iste. Some, like the ASV and NASB, translate it as an indicative; and others, like the RSV and NIV, translate it as an imperative. With James using the imperative so often, there is a good chance it should be taken as a command to heed what follows.
my beloved brethren: "My beloved brethren" repeats his concern for his readers as he has previously mentioned in verse 16. Although the words of this epistle are authoritative, James does not act as if he were some spiritual dictator. He simply views himself as a part of God’s family and his fellow Christians as his brothers. As a recognized leader in the church, he does not throw his weight around and act as if he were more important than the rest of the Christians.
let every man be: "Let every man be" (esto pas anthropos) contains the present imperative esto, used as a command. The following words are not optional in the life of the Christian but are necessities. The present tense shows they must habitually practice or continue in these commands. It is not for just a select few but for "every" Christian.
swift to hear: James requests that every Christian be "swift to hear" (tachus eis to akousai), with "swift" referring to being eager or anxious. "To hear" is one of two aorist infinitives used in an expressive way to mean "the whole business of talking" (Lenski 549). James is telling his readers of the proper attitudes they should possess as they receive the word of God. This word will be presented to them now in three figures, an implanted seed (verse 21), a mirror (verse 24), and a law of liberty (verse 25). Christians should be eager and anxious to hear this word.
The Lord emphasizes the importance of hearing when he says, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 11:15). Jesus also adds at the close of each of the letters to the churches of Asia, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the spirit saith unto the churches (Revelation 2:7). Almost everyone has physical ears, but not everyone has the desire to listen to others. Too many times we are our own worst enemies when it comes to hearing. As others are talking, sometimes we do not listen because we are busy preparing our next statement. Likewise, it frustrates us to have information we consider important ignored because the ones we are talking with are not listening. Similarly, we should see that God feels frustration when we do not listen to His word.
slow to speak: The readers are then told to be "slow to speak" (bradus eis to lalesai), slow to begin talking and not slow while speaking. "To speak" (lalesai) is another aorist infinitive, referring to the whole business of speaking. Our speech is to be seasoned with restraint and self-control. While hearing the word of God, we should learn to listen and weigh carefully the message. Too often man speaks his beliefs and ideas instead of just considering and meditating upon God’s word. The attitude of the Christian should be that of Samuel, who was told by Eli to say, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth" (1 Samuel 3:9). In our dealings with our fellow man, we should learn not to speak with rash and wreckless words, later regretting our hasty replies. The adage of "counting to ten" before speaking is certainly a wise and beneficial one.
slow to wrath: "Slow to wrath" (bradus eis orgen) is another important characteristic of the Christian. It is inevitable that there will be disagreements among different people and even among Christians. Sometimes people are swift to speak and slow to hear. This attitude enjoins upon the Christian the spirit of peaceful reactions to disagreements rather than anger and indignation.
The Greeks basically used two different words to express the idea of wrath or anger. The first, used here (orge), suggests a more settled, long-lasting condition, which frequently planned revenge. The second (thumos) suggested an emotional outburst that rises suddenly. It is one that may come quickly and then leave quickly. Orge, on the other hand, rises less suddenly but may last much longer. Orge is more of active emotion, while thumos is more of the inward feeling (Vine I 55-56). Certainly, if not corrected, this wrath can do great damage to the one experiencing it and his hearers. Anger, when controlled, is not necessarily wrong. Jesus experienced it (Mark 3:5) and displayed it through righteous indignation (Mark 11:15-17). Paul says it is possible to be angry and not sin (Ephesians 4:26). Yet anger, when not controlled, quickly explodes into sin. That is the anger or wrath that James is prohibiting.
For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
For the wrath of man: Man’s wrath (orge), or human wrath, does not accomplish anything as far as God is concerned. When a man is a slave to wrath, he cannot "work" or produce the righteousness of God. His "master" will not allow him to serve God peacefully. In fact, man’s wrath and God’s righteousness cannot co-exist in the life of the faithful Christian.
worketh not: "Worketh" (ergazetai) is a present indicative verb; and when used with the negative "not" (ouk), it presents an habitual lifestyle that is not pleasing to God. As long as a man serves wrath, he continually will fail to produce the righteousness of God.
righteousness of God: "Righteousness" (dikaiosunen) refers to the proper conduct that God expects of man. Righteousness is "doing right." Human wrath will not produce the right standard of integrity, virtue, and purity of life that God requires. It is important to see that this righteousness is what the Christian must do to be right with God, and it is not something that is merely transferred upon the believer. John says, "he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous" (1 John 3:7). Peter adds, "he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:35). (See James 2:23 for more about the doctrine of "imputed righteousness.")
Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
God, in His wisdom, reveals the proper way to develop the Christian character. The practice of sin must be stopped and replaced with Godly behavior. The negative is to be replaced with the positive. It is not merely the case of "stop doing that" but also "start doing this." This method is precisely the one James introduces in this verse.
Wherefore lay apart: In the first half of this verse, James deals with the negative practice that must be stopped. "Lay apart" (apothemenoi) is an aorist participle literally meaning "to put off from one’s self" (Thayer 69). The aorist tense indicates a definite break with these evil practices. It is used metaphorically here in the sense of taking off or removing one’s clothing and is used in other scriptures in this same sense (Romans 13:12; Colossians 3:8; 1 Peter 2:1).
all filthiness: "Filthiness" (ruparian) is a word that literally means dirt or filth but is also used metaphorically to mean wickedness or moral filth. Barclay has an interesting comment on this word:
It can be used for the filth which soils clothes or soils the body. But it has one very interesting connection. It is a derivative of rupos, a word that when used in a medical sense refers to wax in the ear. It is just possible that it still retains the meaning here, and that James is telling his readers to get rid of everything that would stop their ears to the true word of God. When wax gathers in the ear, it can make a man deaf; and a man’s sins can make him deaf to God (57).
and superfluity of naughtiness: "Superfluity of naughtiness" (perisseian kakias) is rendered by the NIV as "evil that is so prevalent." Superfluity is translated from the word perisseia, which means a surplus or abundance. "Naughtiness" is from kakia, which means malice or ill will. So this term means an abundance of wickedness. We often use naughtiness today in a light manner, such as when referring to the mischievous tricks of children. As we have seen, though, it is a much stronger word. James, with these words, is pointing out that just as a man takes off his dirty clothes, he must also remove sin from his life. Sin and God’s word cannot co-exist as peaceful neighbors in the Christian’s heart.
and receive: James now directs our attention to the godly behavior that is expected of the Christian. James changes his figure from that of removing dirty clothing to that of planting a seed. "Receive" (dexasthe) is an aorist imperative, involving the idea of a command. The faithful Christian’s receiving the word of God is not an option but a requirement. This word carries with it the idea of receiving favorably or embracing, so it is not a forced receiving but a desired reception. Christians should be like the noble Bereans of old who "received" the word with great eagerness and searched the scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). The scriptures will "make thee wise unto salvation" (2 Timothy 3:15) and are "sweeter than honey to my mouth" (Psalms 119:103). Like a welcomed guest, God’s word should be warmly received into our lives.
with meekness: "With meekness" (en prauteti) describes a condition of having one’s strength under control. It means to be able to control that which would keep a man from obeying the truth acceptably. Just as the ground must be prepared for seed, so the heart of man must be prepared with meekness to receive this word. The desires, prejudices, and misconceptions that would destroy the implanted seed must be harnessed.
Meekness is often misunderstood and confused with weakness. The world pictures the weak individual as a coward who easily compromises and will not stand up for his rights. Surely no one would want a word bearing such a connotation used in his obituary. He would not want it said of him that he was a weak man. Yet, as we have seen from the definition of meekness, these two terms are not synonymous. The scriptures describe Moses as "the meekest man in the earth" (Numbers 12:3), yet no one would mistake this fiery, powerful leader as weak. Jesus portrays himself as meek (Matthew 11:29), yet the victory over death and sin was not accomplished through "weakness." There is no shame in being considered meek because the meek man actually possesses the strength to control his passions. Meekness is important enough to be considered a part of the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The spiritual man, as described by Jesus in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:5), exemplifies the meek spirit. Paul encourages the servant of the Lord to be meek in his teaching of others (2 Timothy 2:25).
engrafted word: Engrafted (emphuton) means "implanted by others’ instructions" (Thayer 209). The word is better translated "implanted" than engrafted as in the KJV. It is not like a branch that is grafted into man but rather like a seed planted in his heart. Jesus uses this illustration of the word of God being like a seed in His parable of the sower (Luke 8:11).
The importance of this implanted word in the Christian’s heart is seen in its ability to assist the Christian in his daily walk. The implanted word helps bear fruit in his life. Jesus teaches that those with good and honest hearts "having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience" (Luke 8:15). The implanted word also helps the Christian in his struggle with sin. The Psalmist says, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee" (Psalms 119:11). The obedience to this word will keep the Christian from continuing in sin (1 John 3:9). The implanted word helps the Christian overcome temptations. While all temptations cannot be avoided, they can be overcome. When Jesus was tempted by the devil, He met each temptation with the words "it is written" (Matthew 4:1-11). By storing the word of God in His heart, He was able to wield the Sword of the Spirit effectively in the hour of temptation. The word in our hearts will have the same effect.
which is able to save your souls: This implanted word is able "to save" the soul. The gospel, Paul says, is "the power of God unto salvation" (Romans 1:16). It is that "by which also ye are saved" (1 Corinthians 15:2) that he adds to the Corinthians. Because of the gospel’s tremendous saving power, it cannot be changed or watered down in any way.
For centuries, man has tampered with the gospel of Christ in order to change its stipulations. This tampering has produced the attitude, "It doesn’t matter what one believes as long as he is honest and sincere." As a result, one finds conflicting doctrines being practiced in different religious organizations. Some emphasize that doctrine is not important. This laxness of doctrinal purity, however, does not come from the New Testament. Paul encourages the preacher Titus, "But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). His emphasis on "sound doctrine" indicates there is such a thing as "unsound doctrine." Such a doctrine is to be avoided. To the young preacher Timothy, Paul writes, "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou has heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 1:13). He also says, "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearer" (1 Timothy 4:16 NIV). The New Testament additionally contains several warnings against false teachers (Matthew 7:15-20; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1). To those who maintain the Lord’s church is too strict in her emphasis upon sound doctrine, we would ask this question: "How can there be false teachers if doctrinal purity is not important?" Or, "How can one be teaching something false if it doesn’t matter what one believes?"
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
But be ye doers of the word: The receiving of the word by the Christian is not passive but active. "Be ye" (ginesthe) is a present imperative indicating the following is a duty. The present tense points out that it is a continuing duty, not a one-time or limited effort. "Doers" (poietai) is a word that means performer. The word occurs six times in the New Testament, with James using it four times (James 1:22-23; James 1:25; James 4:11). Being "doers" is contrasted with being "hearers only."
not hearers only: An individual may hear the truth many times but for different reasons not do or perform its stipulations. It is not enough just to hear the word of truth; we must incorporate its teachings into our lives. The Lord describes the one who hears his words and obeys them as a wise man who builds his house on a rock, and it is able to withstand the storm. The one who only hears but does not then obey these words is pictured as a foolish man who builds his house on the sand. Such a house is destroyed by the storm (Matthew 7:24-27). Even the powerful, life-giving word of God is unable to help the individual who will not obey it.
deceiving your own selves: By adding this phrase, James sounds a warning for his readers to be on the guard for self-deception. One of the greatest dangers facing the Christian is supposing within himself that he has obeyed God, when, in reality, he has not; consequently, he has only deceived himself. "Deceiving" (paralogizomenoi) is a present middle participle. It is a compound word from para, beside, and logizomai, to reckon, hence meaning to conclude by reasoning. It refers to a false reasoning, a reasoning beside the truth, by which one deceives or deludes himself (Vincent 349). It is middle voice, indicating the subject is acting upon himself. It is self-deception. It is also present tense, suggesting that the one who only hears and does not obey continues in this state of self-deception. This type of individual may seem like a strong Christian in his own mind; in reality, though, he is deceiving himself. "Your own selves" (heautous) is a reflexive pronoun added for emphasis in their self-deception. They certainly are not deceiving God, just themselves.
The danger of self-deception can never be ignored or treated lightly in the life of a Christian. The words "be not deceived" are used three times in the New Testament and, in each case, precede a warning of danger. We should not be deceived into thinking that sinners will inherit the kingdom of God and escape the punishment of hell (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Self-deception is involved when an individual thinks bad company will not corrupt good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33). The person who thinks he can mock God and sow a life of wickedness and reap righteousness is guilty of self-deception (Galatians 6:7). Churches can even fall prey to self-deception. The church in Laodicea considered herself spiritually strong, yet Jesus plainly informed her, "Knowest not thou are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17).
How can one guard against this self-deception? The Christian must continually inspect his life. As Paul says, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Do I live my life to please myself, others, or God? Is my heart honest and sincere, wanting to obey God even if I do not personally like the commandment? Am I willing to remove from my life those qualities that are ungodly (verse 21)? Do I pursue the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)? Do I have works to show for my faith (James 2:17)? An honest answer to those and similar probing questions will help guard the Christian from this self-deception.
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer: The initial receiving of the word of God is not all there is to Christianity. There also must be obedience. This verse is a conditional sentence, being what is called a condition of the first class, which assumes the reality of the situation. In other words, the conditional statement that there are hearers of the word and not doers indicates this type of hearing is actually happening and that it is not a hypothetical situation. This problem always seems to trouble the church.
he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: In order to make his point clearer concerning the man who hears but does not obey, James uses the illustration of a man looking at himself in a mirror.
beholding: Beholding (katanoounti) is a compound verb consisting of kata, down, and noeo, to consider, hence to consider attentively. Thayer defines the word as "to consider attentively, fix one’s eyes or mind upon" (334). A mere glance into a mirror is not what James is considering but, rather, a careful look. It is a present tense verb indicating a continual characteristic of this type of individual.
his natural face: "Natural face" (to prosopon tes geneseos) literally means "the face of his birth," indicating his present outward appearance.
glass: "Glass" (esoptroi) refers to a mirror. We must remember that the mirrors in New Testament times were not made of glass but of polished metals such as brass, silver, or copper. These mirrors were not as good as the ones we have today, but they were good enough for an individual to see a good image of himself.
For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way: The illustration continues with the man turning away from the mirror and forgetting how he looks. This passage is unique because it involves a perfect tense verb (goeth) surrounded by two aorist tense verbs (beholdeth, forgetteth). This change in tenses is not noticeable in English, but it describes the plight of one who negligently hears the word. "Beholdeth" is from the same Greek word as the one in verse 23 except it is used in the aorist tense. "Goeth his way" (apeleluthen) is a perfect tense verb, indicating action completed in the past yet with continuing results. It may be translated in this case "has gone away," meaning that he has left and remains gone.
and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was: Straightway means immediately. "Forgetteth" (epelatheto) also is in the aorist tense. The picture is of a man who looks at himself in a mirror; yet he does not stay and continue to look but goes away and immediately forgets how he looks. The reason he forgets is that the busy activities of life begin to occupy his thoughts.
We must remember that the purpose of James is actually to describe the hearer of the word who does not obey. The hearer of the word is like this man who looks at himself in the mirror. He goes away as will the hearer who departs from what is right if he does not allow the word to make an impression on him. The cares of this life cause him to forget immediately how he looks, and they will cause him to forget the importance of the word if he does not use it in his life. This illustration emphasizes the Christian’s tremendous responsibility in properly using the word of God. He must make constant and careful use of this message in his daily living. It is not "to go in one ear and out the other." Jesus cautions us to "take heed what you hear" (Mark 4:24) and also to "take heed how you hear" (Luke 8:18). The Christian hears this good news with the attitude of acceptance, remembrance, and obedience. A fitting summary of this verse is in this statement: "Lessons merely listened to, and not allowed to sink deeply into the heart, are quickly forgotten and they influence the life no more than a glance into a mirror" (Woods 88).
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty: James now discusses qualities of the doer and his future reward. The object of his vision is "the perfect law of liberty" (nomon teleion ton tes eleutherias). This law corresponds to the "word of truth" (verse 18) and the "implanted word" (verse 21) and is a reference to the gospel of Christ, as found in the New Testament. Notice that it is a law that is perfect and that brings liberty. Some argue that "we are living under grace and not under law," obviously bothered by the reference to the gospel as "law" (nomon). But "law" is exactly what James calls it. It is a law because it includes commands and regulates the lives of its hearers. The reason many become confused over law is they do not understand the distinction between the law of Christ (the gospel) and the law of Moses. The gospel is a law (Galatians 6:2; Romans 8:2) because it has commandments to be obeyed (1 John 5:3). Many scriptures indicate that the law of Moses has been taken away and is no longer binding upon the Christian (Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:14-15). So when Paul says that we are justified by faith without the deeds of the law (Romans 3:28) and that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God (Galatians 3:11), he is referring to the law of Moses and not the law of Christ. To misunderstand this point is to make a serious mistake.
perfect: This law is said to be "perfect" (teleion), which means that it is complete. The gospel is the last revelation from God to man, so God has made sure that it is complete, lacking nothing. Jesus promises the apostles will be guided into "all" truth (John 16:13). If they received all truth, then no more new truth could be given; what was given would be all that man needed. Peter indicates that Christians have been given "all things that pertain unto life and godliness" through the gospel (2 Peter 1:3). God in His wisdom and benevolence has given us a law that is perfect and cannot be added to or improved upon.
law of liberty: This law is one "of liberty" (tes eleutherias), which indicates freedom and independence. Instead of producing slavery and bondage, this law produces freedom. As Jesus says, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). This gospel is the "Great Emancipator" that frees one from sin, from worry, from fear of death. It also frees from selfishness, pride, and despair. True freedom, true escape from this world and all of its problems, comes only through the gospel. The world often has a distorted view of life. Some often say such things as "I don’t want to have anything to do with Christianity. There are too many laws that you have to obey, too many do’s and don’ts. I want the opportunity to enjoy life and do the things I take pleasure in. I don’t want to be tied down. I want to be free." The problem with this philosophy is that the one involved actually becomes a slave to sin. Jesus says, "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin" (John 8:34). Peter wisely observes, "While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage" (2 Peter 2:19). Man becomes free only when he chooses to do what is right.
whoso looketh: James uses two aorist participles, looketh and continueth, at this point to describe the reaction to this perfect law. "Looketh" (parakupsas) is from a compound word para, meaning beside, and kupto, meaning to bend down. Thayer defines it as, "to look carefully into, inspect curiously" (484). The verb is then used of one who examines carefully rather than one who just gives a casual glance. The illustration of the mirror seems to be brought over, picturing the man bending over and very carefully looking into the mirror. In like manner, the doer, or obedient man, carefully examines and inspects the gospel.
and continueth therein: "Continueth" (parameinas) is also a compound word from para, beside, and meno, to remain; hence it means to remain beside or continue. It would be expected that these participles would be present tense, indicating habitual action, but they are not. They are, instead, gnomic aorists, suggesting "the events that characteristically take place whenever there is active obedience to the Word" (Hiebert, The Epistle of James 135).
he being not a forgetful hearer: This individual is not "a forgetful hearer" (akroates epilesmones), literally a hearer of forgetfulness, as pictured in verse 24. Rather, he is a "doer" or performer of this perfect law.
but a doer of the work: James is actually contrasting two types of individuals. The first may hear the truth, but it does not soak in and change his life. He does not retain the life-giving word because he is a "forgetful hearer." The second individual is a "doer." This person is an asset to the church in that he makes a sincere effort to fulfill his Christian duties.
Critics often make out Christianity to be a negative religion. They are quick to point out that it is full of negative commands, such as "Don’t do this" or Don’t do that." While there are negative commands, Christianity is more positive than many may think. "Doing" that which is good and right is perhaps the greater part of the gospel. In what man calls "the Golden Rule," Jesus says, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matthew 7:12). Paul also writes, "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you" (Philippians 4:9). The blessings of God lie upon those who are the "doers." Likewise, James emphasizes this positive aspect of Christianity by encouraging Christians to become active in the cause of Christ.
this man shall be blessed in his deed: He "shall be" (estai) blessed is a future tense verb indicating a future reward (heaven) awaits the obedient. It may look to the Christian as if there is no current reward for obedience, but he must continually remind himself that the reward has been promised. "Deed" (poiesai) refers to a performing or doing. The Christian’s entire life consists of doing as God wants him to do. It is a life of continual service and not isolated acts of obedience.
The disciples of Jesus must obey Him. Jesus says, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). John repeats the same thought (1 John 5:3 and 2 John 1:6). We live in an age when many accept obedience only as long as it is convenient. The religious world, in general, pays lip service to the concept of obedience, saying "we must obey." The reality is they really do not accept it (Matthew 7:21-23). When a Christian emphasizes that complete obedience to the word is required to please God, he is often charged with being a "legalist." Attaching such a label does not mean that the charge is true. Legalism is not law keeping; rather, legalism is an attempt to earn salvation through a perfect performance in keeping the law. An individual may depend upon God’s grace and, at the same time, strive for complete obedience and not be guilty of legalism. God’s people depend on His grace, of course, and also determine to live a life of habitual obedience to His commands. Obedience is the theme of James 1:19-26. Christians are doers and not hearers only.
If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
If any man among you seem to be religious: In the next two verses, James contrasts vain religion with scriptural religion. The sentence in verse 26 is conditional, being assumed as true. What James is about to discuss is not hypothetical but is a valid problem.
seem to be: "Seem" (dokei) is a present tense verb meaning to think or suppose. The emphasis is upon the way the man views himself and not the way others view him. He is discussing the theme of self-deception again, a prominent theme thus far in his letter (James 1:16; James 1:22).
religious: "Religious" (threskos) is an adjective found only here in the New Testament, while the noun form, "religion," (threskeia) is found only four times (James 1:26-27; Acts 26:5; Colossians 2:18 where it is translated "worshiping"). The adjective here refers to a zealous and diligent performance of a religious service (Vincent 350). It also refers to the external observances of public worship (Robertson 24). So as this individual goes around performing his religious service, he is actually deceiving himself into thinking that he is a very religious fellow and that he is pleasing God.
and bridleth not his tongue: James then uses two present participles, bridleth (chalinagogon) and deceiveth (apaton), to explain the actual behavior of this man who thinks he is religious. The first is used in the phrase "and bridleth not his tongue." The figure comes from the practice of putting a bridle on a horse so as to control him. It is used metaphorically of controlling one’s speech. The tongue, like a wild horse, cannot be controlled unless it is bridled. The same figure will appear in James 3:2, and it appears to be a continuation of thought from being "slow to speak" (verse 19). The present tense with the negative indicates an habitual practice of uncontrolled speech.
but deceiveth his own heart: The second participle is used in "but deceiveth his own heart," and it refers to one cheating himself or playing a trick on himself. It also is present tense, indicating a continual deception that he is playing on himself. This individual has formed a very high estimate of himself and his religious service; but because of his attitude, lack of discipline with his tongue, and self-deception, he falls short.
this man’s religion is vain: "This man’s religion is vain" describes the product of his efforts. The word for "religion" describes religious worship in its external form. "Vain" (mataios) means idle, empty, or unsuccessful. He worships without success and does not receive the good that comes from true worship. Sometimes people misunderstand James and other Bible writers when they warn about insincere or hypocritical public worship. They conclude that God is not concerned about the external forms of worship but only the internal heart of man. To argue in such a manner is to misunderstand and misapply James’ teaching. He does not say, "outward forms of religious worship are vain"; rather, he says, "an insincere or hypocritical form of external worship is vain." Jesus tells us that our worship must be "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24), indicating that not only must the heart be right but also the outward form as well. The word "vain" is used in the Septuagint to refer to the worship of pagan idols, so an individual who emphasizes the external while neglecting the spiritual importance will find that his worship is no more acceptable than idol worship.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: James now turns his attention to correct and proper religion, and he points out that it has certain characteristics that distinguish it from vain religion. The word "religion" again refers to the external forms of worship. This religion is "pure" (kathara), meaning that which is free from corrupt desires, and "undefiled" (amiantos), signifying that which is unsoiled and unstained by evil. God requires a proper ethical behavior in external forms of worship. This worship takes place "before" (para) God. This preposition means by the side of, thus indicating it is from God’s view or His standpoint. In other words, this is the kind of religion that meets God’s approval and is in harmony with His standard. He is called both "God and Father" because as God, He is omniscient and omnipotent, and as a Father, He is loving and generous.
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction: This pure religion is then viewed in two ways: first as an active, benevolent practice, and then as the dedication of a clean and moral life to God. Both are necessary, and one without the other makes it incomplete. The outward service of religion is "to visit the widows and orphans in their affliction." This work, of course, is not the only active work of a Christian but is used as an illustration of the type of service that a Christian is to perform. "To visit" (episkeptesthai) is a present infinitive meaning "to look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes" (Thayer 242). It is not just an occasional social call or friendly visit that he is discussing here. The present tense indicates it is an habitual checking on the condition of these needy people. Perhaps a good commentary on these words is found in Matthew 25:35-40 where the Lord encourages Christians to see to the needs of His people.
"Widows and orphans" were two of the most neglected groups among the needy in the first century. It would appear that God has a special place in His heart for these individuals (Psalms 68:5). "Afflictions" (thlipsei) is from a word that means pressure and is used metaphorically to refer to tribulations and oppression. Because the social relief programs of our day were not practiced in the first century, widows and orphans suffered and were often mistreated by others. They lived under difficult circumstances of poverty and loneliness and were susceptible to being taken advantage of by evil people. James is saying that as Christians we should have tender hearts and be ready to help those who legitimately cannot help themselves. Pure religion is not passive, ignoring the physical and spiritual needs of the truly needy; rather it is an active helping.
and to keep himself unspotted from the world: Pure religion also involves the Christian using self-control to lead a clean and moral life.
to keep: "To keep" (terein) is another present infinitive meaning to guard, hence to guard continually. Self-control must not be practiced only at isolated times but must become an habitual practice.
unspotted: Unspotted (aspilon) is an adjective meaning spotless and is used metaphorically to mean to be free from sin. He must control himself from the "world," referring to the evil practices of men, the realm where sin is loved and practiced. Personal purity from worldliness is an essential of Christianity.
The danger that arises from the seduction of the world is a prominent theme in the New Testament. Jesus warns a man cannot love God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). John warns Christians not to love the world or anything in it (1 John 2:15-17). James himself warns that friendship with the world causes one to become an enemy of God (James 4:4). The world stands ready, eager, and anxious to maneuver the Christian from his safe moorings. While we live in the world and cannot completely escape it, we must be mindful of the intellectual emphasis, excitement, and sensuality offered by the world. Not only does the world entice the Christian through obvious ways, but it also tempts through subtle means. An "innocent" compromise of principles or a long engagement with lukewarmness will many times accomplish the same results as a denial of the faith.
Hiebert summarizes this section well:
"These verses must not be misread as teaching a religion of good works that assures acceptance with God and makes faith in the gospel unnecessary. Rather, James is insisting upon right conduct from a right relationship with God through the transforming Word of God. Sympathy with suffering and separation from sin demonstrates the operation of a living faith in the heart" (The Epistle of James 141-142).
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on James 1". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany