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The Book Of James
1. Greeting: 1:1
2. Rejoicing Under Pressure: 1:2-4
3. Wisdom For Trials: 1:5
4. Confidence In Prayer: 1:6-8
5. Poverty And Wealth In Perspective: 1:9-11
6. The Root Of Temptation: 1:12-15
7. What God Does Send: 1:16-18
8. Anger And Humility: 1:19-21
9. Doers Of The Word: 1:22-25
10. Pure Religion: 1:26-27
1. Introductory Comments:
'Because the Christian faith is not just an organization to join or a few abstract doctrines to hold, a letter like James's is immediately relevant to every Christian….The Christian faith requires each believer to bring every thought and action into conformity to the Word of God. It proclaims a Christian philosophy of life in stark contrast to the self-seeking, unfocused, and often tumultuous existence that frequently characterizes those outside the faith….A matter worth pondering is the fact that the very first topic James discussed involved the difficulties encountered in the Christian life. Totally foreign to him was the curious modern notion that becoming a Christian will make life easier, that all problems will disappear…' (Kent p. 33)
1:1 'James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings.'
'James, a bond-servant of God' -Some have contended that if the brother of Jesus had written this letter, then it is strange that James didn't mention that relationship. But Roberts notes, 'Notice that there is a complete lack of claim to special prestige or attention as a brother of Jesus. Some have thought this unnatural, but it is a mark of modesty.' (p. 36) The name James in the Greek is pronounced ee-ack'o-bos and is the equivalent of the Old Testament name Jacob, it was a common name among the Jewish people.
Points To Note:
1. Notice the humility of James, even though being a brother of Jesus in the flesh, he simply calls himself a bond-servant. In the end, physical ties with Jesus meant nothing. 2. One writer notes, 'It must have been a hard pill to swallow to see his brother grow up to be the Messiah.' It must have been quite a shock for James and the other brothers to realize that their older brother was God! Think of the ramifications that went through their minds (like what they had said to Jesus while growing up with Him!) Concerning the word "bond-servant", Barclay notes, 'It implies absolute obedience. The slave knows no law but his master's word….The slave is the absolute possession of his master, and is bound to give his master an absolute and unquestioning obedience. It implies absolute humility. It is the word of a man who thinks not of his privileges but of his duties; not of his rights but of his obligations. It is the word of the man who has lost his self in the service of God. It implies absolute loyalty. It is the word of the man who has no interests of his own, because he is utterly pledged to God. What he does, he does for God. His own profit and his own preference do not enter into his calculations. His loyalty is to God.' The prophets in the Old Testament were called 'servants' ( 1Ki_8:53 ; Dan_9:11 ; Mal_4:4 ; Jos_2:8 ). 'By taking the title "doulos' James sets himself in the great succession of those who found their freedom and their peace and their glory in perfect submission to the will of God.' (Barclay p. 42)
Unfortunately, it seems that some Christians have lost sight of what it means to be a servant of God. And the freedom that is found in completely giving ourselves to God ( Gal_2:20 ; 2Co_5:14-16 ).
'of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ' -This clearly points out that there are at least two beings Who have the qualities of Deity. Be impressed that James describes himself as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only does James give absolute obedience to God, but also to Jesus. 'By designating himself as a bondservant of "God and the Lord Jesus Christ", James has put Jesus and God the Father on the same plane, surely a remarkable statement for a half-brother to make.' (Kent pp. 34-35)
'to the twelve tribes' -as noted in the introduction on James, it is obvious that James isn't addressing this letter to unbelieving Jews. Concerning the next statement the only remaining question would be, is James writing to an audience of predominately Jewish Christians in Palestine or does the expression, 'to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad', refer to Christians everywhere?
Points To Note:
1. Christians constitute spiritual Israel ( Gal_6:16 ; Gal_3:28 ). 2. The statement "twelve tribes" indicates that the Church constitutes the entire people of God! Under the new covenant, God doesn't have a spiritual Israel and a physical Israel which are both in His favor. 3. The statement "twelve tribes" is used to describe the people of God in the new covenant ( Rev_7:4-8 ).
'who are dispersed abroad' -Initially the "Diaspora" referred to the Jews who lived outside of Palestine. In New Testament times it is estimated that three to five million Jews lived in other parts of the Roman Empire. The "Diaspora" contained about four groups: 1. Those who lived in Babylonian and were the descendants of those removed from Palestine by the Assyrians and Chaldeans in 722 and 586 B.C. 2. Those who lived in Syria, dating from the Greek conquests. 3. Those who lived in Egypt, especially in Alexandria, established by Alexander the Great and Ptolemy I. 4. The Jews who lived in Rome, dating from around 63 B.C. The great importance of the literal "Diaspora", is that they converted many people to Judaism, produced a Greek translation of the Old Testament, which was the Old Testament used by the early church. In addition, the presence of Jewish synagogues in almost every major city outside of Palestine, made it easier for Christian preachers to spread the gospel ( Act_17:1-2 ). 'This Dispersion is witnessed in the book of Acts as the reader sees Paul visiting the synagogues for his first contacts with the community. Along with these, there were large numbers of devout Greeks…who were already attracted to the religion of the Old Testament by the teaching and lives of their Jewish neighbors.' (Roberts pp. 38-39)
While some writers believe that James wrote primarily to Jewish Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire, I am more inclined to believe that the statement, 'to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad', refers to all Christians who are scattered throughout the Empire. 1. The expression 'twelve tribes' was used to refer to the totality of the people of God. In a literal sense, it meant the same thing as the entire nation of Israel. Christians of a Jewish background do not make up the entire Church. 2. The letter doesn't deal with strictly Jewish issues, in fact many Jewish hot-topics are never mentioned, i.e. circumcision and the relation of the Law of Moses to the New Covenant. 3. The letter does mentioned a few Old Testament quotations and examples (2:8,10-11; 21-26; 5:11-17), but these examples are relevant for all Christians.
The Christian's Attitude Toward Trials
Jam_1:2 'Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,'
'Consider it' -to consider, deem, account, think (Thayer p. 276); 'regard, "deem it pure joy, when" (Arndt p. 343); 'first aorist middle imperative, "Do it now and once for all" (Robertson p. 11). 'James wasted no time in coming to an unpleasant subject and ordering a most difficult response….To "consider it all joy" means to respond with a deliberate intelligent appraisal, not an emotional reaction.' (Kent p. 36) Notice the choice and freewill in this verse. A simple change of attitude or perspective on our part can make all the difference in the world. Attitude isn't something that is inherently fixed from birth and God isn't going to come along and miraculously change our attitude.
'all joy' -And not merely "some" joy. 'unmixed joy, not just some joy along with much grief' (Robertson p. 11). 'The sufferer is to be glad that he can suffer. He is not to dwell on the unpleasantness of the experience. There should be no such thing as a complaining, grumbling disciple of Jesus ( Heb_12:2 ).' (Roberts p. 40)
Points To Note:
1. The joy in this passage is an intelligent joy. This isn't a mindless and superficial kind of joy. Rather, it is born in the realization that such trials will only result in much good for my spiritual life and the lives of others ( Rom_5:3-4 ). 2. It is the joy that one is experiencing a time of tremendous personal growth and maturity. Joy that one is being allowed to do something for God, to suffered for His cause ( Php_1:29 ). 3. The joy that one is making an impact upon the world, that the world is feeling the sting of some godly salt ( Mat_5:10-12 ). 'A Christian is to look at the experience from God's perspective and recognize the trial not as a happy experience in itself but as the means of producing something most valuable ( Psa_119:71 ; 1Pe_1:6-8…The trial itself is not called a joy, but the encounter is.' (Kent p. 36) 4. And we have the choice! We can either profit from trials or be destroyed by them, we can allow them to improve our spiritual lives, line up our priorities, bring about greater virtues, or we can allow such trials to make us bitter, resentful and angry. Paul realized that trials constitute a path to true happiness ( Php_4:11 ). In other words, true happiness, true joy cannot be realized without personal growth, maturity and experience in handling hardships and difficult situations.
'when' -'whenever, it implies that temptation may be expected all along the Christian course.' (Vincent p. 724) ( Act_14:22 ; 2Ti_3:12 )
'you encounter' -the word "encounter", is the same word as used in the parable of the Good Samaritan, when the man "fell among the robbers" ( Luk_10:30 ). It means, "to fall into as to be encompassed by" (Thayer p. 504). It is the picture of being surrounded by trials. ' Notice that James says "when" and not "if". 'We cannot choose whether or not we will fall into testing. We will be tested…..If we think for a minute that when we get "spiritual", we will stop being tested, we are mistaken.' (Draper p. 14) We cannot anticipate and avoid every possible trial in life. For many trials, all we can do is prepare.
'various trials' -1. The word "various" suggests that trials come in many forms, and we will face of variety of hardships ( 1Co_10:13 ; Heb_10:32 ff). Various trials are mentioned in this letter (2:6-7; 5:1,6,13). 2. "trials"-'adversity, affliction, trouble' (Thayer p. 498).
Point To Note:
James makes it clear that God doesn't seduce anyone to sin (1:13), and yet God allows His people to undergo hardships and periods of testing. The word here 'trial' is usually understood to be a testing from without, such as some sort of hardship or persecution. And yet I believe most of us realize that a trial can very quickly become an excuse to sin, if our attitude isn't right. An outward trial can quickly shift to an inward temptation. For example, many people handle stress by drinking, yielding to selfish anger and engaging in immorality.
1:3 'knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.'
'knowing that' -'recognize that, accept the fact that' (Roberts p. 42) The above "joy" is based on knowledge of certain truths. During trials, the Christian needs to remain calm and have their mind focused on the promises of God. The Christian needs to remember that when they encounter a trial, they immediately know what the end result will be if they remain faithful to God! If our attitude is right, we can't lose (5:11).
'the testing' -'James was making the point that the presence of trials in the lives of believers refines their faith so that what is false can be stripped away and the genuine part that continues to trust God will develop victorious positive endurance.' (Kent p. 37) Barclay notes, 'This is an interesting word ("testing"). It is the word for sterling coinage, for money which is genuine and unalloyed. The aim of testing is to purge us of all impurity….to leave us cleansed and purified.' (pp. 50-51) The same idea is found in 1Pe_1:6-7 ; Job_23:10 'When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold'; Psa_66:10 . Be impressed that the Holy Spirit doesn't miraculously remove evil desires and bad habits, for if He did, then trials would serve no useful purpose.
'of your faith' -Trials test your faith and they also determine whether your faith is genuine or not. The result is either that you gain a stronger faith, a greater conviction in God or such faith is destroyed or seriously weakened to where you become ineffective. Our faith needs to be tested and analyzed because hype and arrogance can often pass for faith.
'produces endurance' -brings about or results in, Rom_5:3 "knowing that tribulation worketh steadfastness". The word "endurance" means steadfastness, perseverance, fortitude.
Points To Note:
1. Patience isn't a mere passive virtue, rather 'It describes the person who bravely remains upright and firm under adverse circumstances, without collapse or cowardice.' (Kent p. 37) 2. 'it is not simply the ability to bear things; it is the ability to turn them to greatness and glory…the quality which makes a man able, not simply to suffer things, but to welcome them and to vanquish them.' (Barclay p. 51) 3. 'It denotes the ability to exhibit steadfastness and constancy in the face of the most formidable difficulty.' (Woods p. 37) See Rom_2:7 ; 2Co_6:4 ; Heb_10:36 ; Heb_12:1 ; Luke 21:19. 4 . Which means that trials don't have to put the Christian out of commission, and neither does hardship mean that we must slack off. Which means that I can keep on teaching people, keep on encouraging others, keep on encouraging my family, keep on reaching out of non-Christians, even though I am going through tremendous hardships.
1:4 'And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.'
'let endurance' -The language of choice, 'present active imperative, let it keep on having' (Robertson p. 12). 'But wait a moment----we have all known people who have grown impatient under testing. Is James saying that testing always works patience? Yes…Patience is always the result when our faith is tested if we let the test run its course .' (Draper p. 16) The word "let" reminds us that we have the choice whether testing brings about improvement or disaster in our lives. Trials do not inherently bring improvement, they only bring improvement when we allow growth to happen.
'Never accuse God of not knowing what it happening. Nothing comes to us that does not come by his permissive will. He knows every disappointment, every point of pressure. James is saying, "I know what it is like to have heartaches, to face pressure….let God have his way with you. When the testing is finished, it will have produced in you a pure faith that is strong and sturdy…Testing, trials, troubles are God's pruning shears, his purging fire, his carpenter's bench in order to make us what we need to be.' (Draper p. 16) (See Joh_15:2 and Heb_12:9-11 ; Heb_12:5-6 ).
'have its perfect result' -'present active imperative, let it keep on having' (Robertson p. 12). The word "perfect" means: 'brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness' (Thayer p. 618); 'having attained the end or purpose, complete' (Arndt p. 809). Concerning the phrase "perfect result", Arndt says, 'let endurance show itself perfectly in practice' (p. 308). "Result" means practical result, thus patience during trials must be put to actual work; it must be allowed to work in our lives during trials.
'that you may be perfect complete, lacking in nothing' -The word "perfect" here means: 'fully developed in a moral sense' (Arndt p. 809) ( Col_1:28 ; Heb_5:14 ; 1Co_14:20 ). A mature, tried and proven character is in view ( Rom_5:3-4 ). The words do not mean sinless perfection. Therefore, the Christian who starts to doubt or complain in the midst of trials is lacking in such spiritual maturity. A great test of spirituality is how we react during trials. As long as we lack patience, as long as we have a short level of endurance, we are spiritually immature ( Heb_6:11-12 ; Heb_10:35-36 ). Barclay notes, 'Bit by bit this unswerving constancy removes the weaknesses and the imperfections from a man's character. Daily it enables him to conquer old sins, to shed old blemishes and to gain new virtues.' (p. 52)
Other Scriptures on suffering ( Psa_94:12 ; Psa_119:67-71 ; Pro_3:11-12 ; Heb_12:5 ; Ecc_7:2-3 ; Ecc_7:14 ; Mat_5:11-12 ; Luk_6:23 ; Rom_5:3 ; 1Pe_1:6 ).
Wisdom In Trials
The connection between the following verses 1:5-8 and the previous verses appears to be: 'James has just told his readers that, if they use all the testing experiences of life in the right way, they will emerge from them with that unswerving constancy which is the basis of all the virtues. But immediately the question arises, "How can I so use these testing experiences to use them in the right way?" James answer is, "If any man feels that he has not the wisdom to use aright the experiences of this life---and no man in himself possesses that wisdom-let him ask if from God.' (Barclay p. 52)
1:5 'But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.'
'lacks wisdom' -'wisdom is a practical thing. Wisdom is not philosophic speculation…Wisdom is wisdom for life.' (Barclay p. 53) In addition, "wisdom" is inherently connected with a right attitude towards God and His word ( Pro_1:7 ; Pro_9:10 ; Pro_15:33 ). 'The wisdom he speaks of here is not merely information, or simply education…The wisdom spoken of here is the ability to judge and evaluate sorrow and joy from God's standpoint, to view from God's perspective what comfort and pain mean, understanding wealth and poverty on a divine level.' (Draper p. 17) Wisdom is the ability to put into practice the principles and instructions given us in the revelation of God's word.' (Roberts p. 46) ( Col_4:5 )
'let him ask of God' -And yet many people, even some Christians insist on believing that there is a better "wisdom" outside of the will of God. But such is not the case, a higher wisdom than that which is found in the Bible does not exist ( 1Co_2:9 ). 'It is quite significant that James did not say, "But if any of you lacketh wisdom, let him study philosophy, or, let him meditate, or, let him consult the wise."' (Woods p. 40) "Let him ask"-"present active imperative, 'let him keep on asking' (Robertson p. 13)
'who gives to all men generously' -"Generously"-'openly, frankly, sincerely' (Thayer p. 57); 'Simply giving, and adding nothing afterwards which may take off from the graciousness of the gift.' (Alford p. 1592)
'without reproach' -'to heap insults upon…a special kind of reproach is the manifestation of displeasure or regret which too often accompanies the giving of a gift' (Arndt p. 570) ( Mat_7:7-11 )
Points To Note:
1. 'There is a kind of giver who gives only with a view to getting more than he has given; who gives only to gratify his vanity and his sense of power by putting the recipient under an obligation which he will never be allowed to forget; who gives and who then continuously casts up the gift that he has given.' (Barclay p. 54) God gives generously and God gives without parading His liberality.
1. Draper notes, 'If we view the success of our families or friendships simply by whether or not everyone is content and cooperative, then the moment one person steps out of line or one misunderstanding arises, it destroys the whole relationship. We will find our lives fenced in, with every little circumstance transforming what could be a happy life into absolute misery. But if we have the wisdom James is talking about…..Every pressure becomes an opportunity….We need God's wisdom. An exasperated man will do unwise things. A person who is distraught will not make good choices. A man who is upset will make foolish decisions.' (p. 19) ( 1Sa_18:14-15 )
'and it will be given to him.' -Wisdom will be given him or her, but the following verses let the reader know that this wisdom isn't given unconditionally. And such wisdom is not available for the person who is outside of Jesus Christ, not to mention the Christian who can't trust God or who always seems to find an excuse for why they aren't growing spiritually.
1:6 'But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.'
'But let him ask in faith' -( Mat_21:21 ; Jam_5:15 ). God has a ready answer for the Christian who complains that God hasn't answered their prayer, or that they have been trying to live the Christian life and yet they are still confused. Faith, trust, confidence in God is essential ( Heb_11:6 ).
'without any doubting' -Notice the word "any". How many us think we are pleasing to God as long as we don't voice our complaints? 'Arguing with God, complaining about circumstances, or hesitancy to be open to His answer are human attitudes that will prevent God from responding.' (Kent p. 39) Vine says concerning the word "doubting", 'the verb suggests, not so much weakness of faith, as lack of it' (Vine p. 335)
Point To Note:
We should note that "doubting" includes any manifestation of unbelief. Complaining about our circumstances, questioning God, blaming others, trying to punish God (because He didn't respond in the way we had requested) by withholding our contribution, or prayers, are all forms of unbelief. ( Rom_4:20-21 'yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform.' ) (See 1Co_10:1-13 ).
'for the one who doubts is like' -This is God's view of the person who can't trust Him. And the reader should note that this doubter is a professed Christian.
'the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind' -Like Jesus, James had grown up in Galilee. Violent storms would hit the sea of Galilee. 'the constant churning of the water suggested the agitation in a doubter's heart. Such persons are encouraged one moment, discouraged the next.' (Kent p. 40) Paul spoke of people who were carried about by every wind of doctrine ( Eph_4:14 ). Often we see professed Christians who are hot and then cold, high and then low. 'Every pressure that is brought to bear upon his life will bear fruits of confusion and despair.' (Draper p. 23) This is the type of person who has just enough religion to make them miserable. Such a person is often rash in their decisions, impatient, can't wait for God to act, and subject to extreme mood swings. Like waves blown by the wind, the mood and spirit of this individual is determined by the external happenings in life.
1:7 'For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord',
'let not that man expect' -Don't even entertain the thought that God will answer any of your prayers if this is your spiritual condition. The only encouragement that should be given to such an individual is to change their ways, to be no longer faithless, but believing! ( Joh_20:27 ) Unfortunately, sometimes we tend to pamper this sort of individual. Often such a person looks for sympathy, wants others to hear their complaints. This man doesn't need sympathy, he needs faith!
1:8 'being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways'
'double-minded' -lit., having two souls. 'double-headed people who stagger helplessly here and there in their thinking, doubting, hesitating.' (Arndt p. 201) We often talk about the person who has one foot in the world and one foot in the Church. Those who are trying to please God and at the same time be a friend of the world ( Jam_4:8 ). People who act as if they have two minds, directing them in contradictory directions, so that they make no lasting stand for anything.
'unstable in all his ways' -"Unstable"-'restless' (Thayer p. 22); 'unsettled, fickle, and hence unreliable. The man who cannot trust God cannot be trusted by others.' (Roberts p. 50); 'uncertain about everything he does' (Gspd)
Points To Note:
1. The doubter is the person who is trying to serve two masters ( Mat_6:24 ). 2. Notice the statement, "in all his ways", unbelief will affect every area of your life! One cannot limit unbelief to merely one area of our relationship with God. 3. 'Doubt to him was no evidence of superior learning or unusual intellectual attainment; it was, instead, a mark of mental instability, evidence of confused intellectual processes.' (Woods p. 45) 4. Sadly, such a doubter often argues that he or she has been the victim of circumstances.
In keeping with what has been previously said about trials and wisdom, James passes to the subject of poverty and wealth. Both circumstances can bring their own temptations, and wisdom is needed to live godly in both situations. 'The last chapter (section of verses) talked about the double-minded man who was unstable in everything. Such a man has the wrong view of life. He thinks that if he is poor, he is forsaken of God and if he is wealthy, he is blessed of God.' (Draper p. 25) 'The trials that believers encounter often cause a reassessment of life's real values. They frequently affect economic conditions and social standing. Rich believers can become poor, and the poor can become poorer. The occasion is offered for some careful evaluation of what is really important.' (Kent p. 42)
1:9 'But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position;'
'brother of humble circumstances' -'of position, power, and esteem, of low position, poor, lowly, undistinguished of no account' (Arndt p. 804) That is, someone who is "undistinguished" in the eyes of the world, someone who is poor and seems from a worldly point of view to have no apparent value in the community.
'glory in his high position' -'rejoice in his exalted station as a Christian' (Wms).
Points To Note:
1. God doesn't bestow material blessings as an inherent reward for faithfulness. There existed many poor Christians in the first century ( 1Co_1:26 ). 2. The poor Christian, instead of resenting his social status, blaming God, wallowing in self-pity and thus giving into various temptations, needs to realize how highly God has exalted him. Every Christian has been raised up with Christ and placed in a heavenly place ( Eph_2:6 ), and has been given access to every spiritual blessing ( Eph_1:3 ). 3. The poor man also needs to glory in the fact that he possesses wealth which cannot be touched by external circumstances ( Mat_6:19-21 ). Barclay notes, 'Christianity brings to every man what every man needs. As Mayor put it "As the despised poor earns self-respect, so the proud rich learns self-abasement." (p. 55)
'glory' -Which means to take pride in and boast. The Christian should never suffer from a lack of purpose or lack of self esteem. We need to take pride in the status which God has given to us. The poor man should not be intimidated or ashamed of his humble position, rather, in reality he is extremely wealthy. Let us spend more time boasting in our blessings from God ( Rom_5:11 ; Rom_15:17 ; 1Co_1:31 ; Php_3:3 ; Gal_6:14 ; Rom_5:2 ; 2Th_1:4 ).
1:10 'and let the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.'
'rich man' -It would seem very clear that the rich man under consideration is a Christian. There were wealthy Christians in various congregations ( 1Ti_6:17 ).
'glory in his humiliation' -'The man who is wealthy in the things of the world should rejoice that his personal value is more permanent than his wealth' (Draper p. 26) 'He (the rich), too, could find reason to glory in his Christian faith, even in persecution. To be the object of ridicule and scorn because he had adopted Christian values would have been an humiliating experience for a rich man, perhaps even more so than for a poor one. To relegate material things to a lesser plane because the wealthy person had put his concentration on spiritual concerns would lower him in the eyes of many of his pagan neighbors. James said to him that this should be no cause of shame, but rather an opportunity for proper exultation that his values had now been straightened out .' (Kent p. 43)
The rich Christian needs to rejoice, because God has shown him his true spiritual poverty and the temporal nature of his wealth ( Luk_12:15-21 ). 'The great peril of riches is that they tend to bring to a man a false sense of security. He feels that he is safe; he feels that he has the resources to cope with anything; he feels that he can buy anything he wants, and buy himself out of any situation which he may wish to escape or to avoid.' (Barclay p. 55)
'because like flowering grass he will pass away' -Life is fleeting for both poor and rich alike, but the rich man has the greater tendency to trust in the uncertainty of riches, and think that he and his life will last forever ( 1Ti_6:17 ; Jam_4:13-14 ; Luk_12:15-21 ). In addition, the rich man could lose his wealth overnight, and cease to be a rich man ( Heb_10:34 ; Php_3:5-8 ).
'flowering grass' -( 1Pe_1:24-25 ). 'James's description of the wealthy man and the comparative shortness of human life reminds him of the wild flowers that carpeted the hillsides of his native land. They were dazzlingly beautiful for a few brief weeks in the spring after the rains had come, but their beauty was always short-lived.' (Kent p. 44)
Points To Note:
1. Temptations exist for both the poor man and the rich man ( Pro_30:7-9 ). 'Poverty is not an unmixed blessing, nor are riches an unadulterated evil.' (Woods p. 47). 2. 'The greatest temptation the poor face is coveteousness. We would think that the rich would be the most coveteous, but it is easy for those who do not have all the things they would like to have to view themselves as deprived ( Mar_4:19 )….James is saying, "Don't become bitter and depressed by dwelling on your poverty, but recognize from a new perspective that you are exalted in the eyes of God and in the face of eternity." There is no room in the Christian's life for bitterness because we don't have what we want. We would then saying that God has given us less than we need.' (Draper p. 27) 3. Clearly, we have the tendency to rejoice about the wrong things. 4. 'When asked how much money it takes to make a man happy, John D. Rockefeller answered, "Just a little more".' (Draper p. 30)
1:11 'For the sun rises with a scorching wind, and withers the grass; and its flower falls off, and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.'
'scorching' -'burning heat' (Thayer p. 342) In the land of Palestine, there were times when a hot wind coming off the deserts from the east would hit the land like 'a blast of hot air when an oven is opened' (Barclay p. 56). As quickly as the sun or a hot wind can destroy vegetation, just as quickly a rich man can die or lose everything ( Luk_12:20 'This very night…')
'rich man in the midst of his pursuits' -that is, in his busy pursuits, his undertakings. It is amazing that we spend so much time pursuing things that don't last. In the midst of all his great plans, activities and endeavors, the rich man can either die or lose everything. So much for the idea that as long as I am working hard, as long as I am busy and trying to stay ahead I am safe ( Jam_4:13 ff). Great passages concerning the short-comings of wealth are found in Ecc_2:8-11 ; Ecc_2:18-21 ; Ecc_4:8 ; Ecc_5:10-14 ; Ecc_6:2 .
1:12 'Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.'
'Blessed' -'Fortunate, happy, usually in the sense, privileged recipient of divine favor' (Arndt p. 486) 'Happiness is not a normal response to temptation and testing. We would say, "Blessed is the man who is never under pressure. Blessed is the one who never has his faith tested. Blessed is the individual who always gets his way, who is prosperous, who never experiences sorrow, who never knows sickness, who always succeeds.' (Draper p. 32)
Carefully note that the blessing isn't upon the man who is tested-for everyone experiences hardship ( 1Co_10:13 ). Rather, the blessing is upon the individual who endures. 'Happy is the man who doesn't just simply go through testing, but endures it. His endurance has the capacity to take something that could devastate him, turn it around and make it into a blessing' (Draper p. 33)
'perseveres' -'bear bravely and calmly' (Thayer p. 644); 'stand one's ground, hold out, endure in trouble, affliction' (Arndt p. 845); 'present active indicative' (Robertson p. 16) ( Mat_10:22 ; Mat_24:13 ; Mar_13:13 ; Rom_12:12 ; 1Co_13:7 ).
'under trial' -The trials under consideration are typically viewed as outward trials which need to be endured, such as persecution, poverty, hardship, etc….and not inward spiritual temptations which need to be resisted. And yet, an outward trial can quickly lead to spiritual problems if our attitude isn't right. Persevering under trial would include resisting the temptation to blame God, seek relief in sinful activities, compromise and so on.
'for once he has been approved' -'approved, tried and true, genuine' (Arndt p. 203). Side reference NASV, 'passed the test'. 'For once his testing is complete' (Phi); 'for when he has stood the test' (Wey). ( Rom_16:10 ; 2Ti_2:15 ). Concerning the word "approved", 'It is the Greek word meaning to test metal to see if it is pure, to purge out the impurities and leave only the purest metal. The word speaks of heating a piece of metal in the furnace in order to scrape off the impurities that rise to the top. What is left is pure and valuable.' (Draper p. 34) ( 1Pe_4:12 )
'he will receive the crown of life' -'STEPHANOS-the victors crown, the symbol of triumph in the games or some such contest…a reward or prize.' (Vine p. 258) ( 2Ti_4:8 ; 1Pe_5:4 ; Rev_2:10 ). "of life"-the crown which consists of eternal life.
Points To Note:
1. This crown of life isn't given after the first 'trial' the Christian overcomes, for eternal life for the Christian, is still future ( Tit_1:2 ; Mar_10:30 ), in the sense of having it permanently. 2. In addition, the Christian will encounter many trials ( Act_14:22 ). 3. Unfortunately, even for some Christians, overcoming trials isn't viewed as a great victory! We tend to place more importance on losing weight, finding that ideal piece of property, getting a raise, climbing the company ladder, or if our favorite team makes it into the playoffs. Let us remember that this is a crown that doesn't fade! 'Everything in this life loses its value to us. Everything the world gives wears out…Every human acclaim, every human achievement, every human blessing goes downhill.' (Draper p. 36)
'which the Lord has promised to those who love Him' -One more verse which clearly teaches that love for God is shown by a definite pattern of conduct and attitude ( Joh_14:15 ). This also infers that to overcome trials, one must have a great love for Jesus. Too many people think that sheer human determination will enable them to overcome every hardship, such thinking is nothing more than declaring that man himself is God. ( Mat_5:10-12 ). The Bible is full of promises to those who love God ( Exo_20:6 ; Deu_7:7-11 ; 1Co_2:9 ).
The Truth About Temptation
In Jewish thought there were many ideas concerning the source of temptation. Some said it started with Satan, or fallen angels were responsible. Some even argued that since God was the Creator of all things, that God must be responsible for evil. Draper notes, 'Testing and temptation are not necessarily the same thing. A trial is not necessarily an enticement to do evil. And yet we need to recognize that in every test of our faith, in every trial of our lives, in every pressure that we experience, there is an element of temptation. It contains, for example, an opportunity to become bitter or resentful, or to let animosity and hatred build.' (p. 39)
'The Christian life is not always the tranquil experience that is commonly expected. Believers are not less subject to trouble and calamity than are other people. They are often part of a minority, and this can provide special pressures. Their physical bodies are just as susceptible to disease or injury as their neighbors'. Their houses catch fire, their possessions are stolen, their jobs are lost, and their families are threatened….Another kind of trouble, however, is more subtle and is often more difficult to handle. This is the problem of evil thoughts, tendencies to sin, feelings of guilt and discouragement….Every person has such temptations, and Christians are not immune. Some have tried to escape the problem by associating only with other Christians, or even by withdrawing totally from the world into some monastic setting, however, those who are perceptive and honest will admit their sinful thoughts went right along with them.' (Kent pp. 47-48)
1:13 'Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.'
'Let no one say when' -Which infers that all Christians will be tempted ( 1Co_10:13 ). The question is not "if" you will be tempted, but rather, "when" temptation will happen. The verse also infers that there is the tendency to shift blame during temptation.
"I am being tempted by God" -'Even though God is not usually blamed directly….there are subtle ways in which the blame is shifted elsewhere, often to God…The frequent heard defense, "I'm only human," implies that the sinner could not help himself, and thus the blame is shifted to the Creator." (Kent p. 49) The Greek word rendered here "by", is usually translated "from" in other passages. 'He meant that it is not enough merely to avoid blaming God for being the direct instigator of some temptation. We must not even imply that He is remotely responsible.' (Kent p. 49)
Points To Note:
1. The word "tempted" here means being enticed or solicited to yield to evil. 2. Not only does God have nothing to do with enticing us to sin, God actually helps us during temptation ( 1Co_10:13 ). 3. But it is so easy to shift blame ( Gen_3:12 "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me…"). It is so easy to blame others, the circumstances, the short-comings of others, and so on. And many of our complaints are veiled accusations against God. 'I wouldn't sin, if God hadn't allowed sin to happen in the first place', 'I was born into a sin cursed world', 'I'm only human', 'It's unfair to demand perfection of imperfect beings', 'the problem is the body that God gave me.'
'for God cannot be tempted by evil' -God cannot be enticed to sin. Which means that there is nothing in God which responds to evil. 'God is perfect; he needs nothing else. He is complete within himself. There is nothing within God that needs fulfillment, satisfaction, or gratification. God is whole. His happiness is perfect. He needs nothing else.' (Draper p. 40) There is no desire for evil within God, in fact, God never even toys with the idea of doing something evil. God is never tempted to misuse His absolute power and authority. Rather, God is totally pure ( 1Jn_1:5 ; Tit_1:2 ; 1Pe_1:15 ).
'and He Himself does not tempt anyone' -Since God is untemptable, then how could He ever tempt others? God does allow people to be tested ( Gen_22:1 ; Deu_4:34 ; Deu_7:19 ; Deu_29:2 ; Psa_95:8 ) to strengthen their faith ( Jam_1:2-4 ; Rom_5:3-5 ). But God never entices people to sin. What this means is that the trials which God allows were never meant to destroy our faith. We can therefore have confidence that God is always pulling for us, that every hardship or setback can be used for our improvement. 'Tempting others to evil would require a delight in evil, of which he is himself incapable.' (Adamson p. 70)
Point To Note:
In view of the above statement, certain conclusions must be made. Since Jesus is God ( Joh_1:1 ), it is also clear that Jesus never tempts anyone and there is nothing in Jesus which would respond to evil. Which means that when the Bible says that Jesus was tempted, it doesn't mean that there was something in Jesus which would respond to sin. It doesn't mean that Jesus was often on the verge of yielding to sin ( Heb_2:18 ; Heb_4:14-16 ). When the text says that Jesus was tempted, it is clear that all the various trials which come upon all men generally, fell upon Jesus, but there was nothing in the nature of Jesus which responded to any of those temptations. Some seem to think that since Jesus had a physical body that such made Him more vulnerable to evil. But there is nothing evil about our physical bodies, and temptation arises in the mind, not the body ( Mar_7:20-23 ). In addition, I would think that absolute and unlimited power would be a greater "temptation" to someone who could be enticed to sin-then a physical body.
1:14 'But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.'
'is tempted' -Obviously, the word "tempted" here means to be enticed to sin. Carefully note that the idea of entire sanctification wherein one rises above the possibilities of sin by the eradication of evil tendency in himself is false. In this life, the Christian never rises above the possibility of being tempted ( 1Co_9:27 ; 1Jn_1:8 ).
'carried away' -'to lure forth' (Thayer p. 222); 'as in hunting or fishing game is lured from its haunt' (Vine p. 337); 'drag away, taken in two by his own desires' (Arndt p. 274)
'and enticed' -'to lure by a bait' (Vine p. 36). 'Temptation is the pull of man's own evil thoughts and wishes' (Draper p. 41) These two words "carried away", "and enticed" are hunting and fishing terms. 'one can visualize the fish being first aroused from its original place of safety and repose, and then being lured to the bait that hides the fatal hook.' (Kent p. 51)
'by his own lust' -Man is not enticed by Adam's sin or the sin of his parents, but rather, his own lusts. Man does not sin due to circumstances, determinism, fate, predestination, natural forces beyond his control, inherited factors or the whim of various deities.
Points To Note:
1. But someone may argue, 'How can God blame me for yielding to lusts which God created in me?' 2. The truth of the matter is that God made us with desires, pure and noble, but we are the ones who take those wholesome desires and turn them into selfish demands. God didn't create us with evil desires, rather whatever evil desires are presently within us are of our own making, the result of twisting legitimate desires, of creating false needs. Carefully note that our body isn't the source of sin, but rather, the origin is found in our own evil thoughts ( Mar_7:20-23 ).
Barclay aptly describes how the wholesome can become twisted into the sinful: 'Immorality, impurity, licentiousness are perversions of the sexual instinct which is in itself a lovely thing and a part of love. Idolatry is a perversion of worship, and was begun as an aid to worship. Sorcery is a perversion of the use of healing drugs in medicine. Envy, jealousy and strife are perversions of that noble ambition and desire to do well which can be a spur to greatness……anger…. a perversion of that righteous indignation without which the passion for goodness cannot exist. Dissension and the party spirit are a perversion of the devotion to principle which can produce the martyr.' (Flesh and Spirit, p. 39)
Often we talk about the "power of sin". We need to remember that the power of sin is what happens when we become selfish, when we become convinced that God and His ways cannot be trusted for our happiness. Selfishness and unbelief can take the most wholesome desires and completely twist them into something which is tremendously evil.
1:15 'Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.'
'when lust has conceived' -'The will yields to lust and conception takes place' (Robertson p. 18). 'sin occurs following the arousing of sinful desires and the attraction to some tempting lure.' (Kent p. 51)
Point To Note:
Various writers have noted that James seems to place a gap between lust and sin, that the moment an evil thought enters your mind, doesn't mean that you have right then and there sinned. Woods notes, 'James does not affirm that sin sprang into life at the moment desire was experienced…it is impossible to purge our minds of fleeting desires, improper thoughts, and questionable ideas….We must, when such occur, rigidly exclude them, and never harbor and entertain them.' (p. 61) Some have said that while you can't stop evil thoughts from entering your mind, you do have control as to whether or not you will dwell upon those thoughts. Such things must be resisted ( 2Ti_2:22 ), we must work on having our minds and thoughts in subjection to Christ ( 2Co_10:5 ; Php_4:8 ). A good illustration is that while you can't stop the birds from flying over your head you can certainly prevent them from building a nest in your hair. All of these are good thoughts. But, we need to warn people that God doesn't tell us what the "time frame" is between lust and sin. In certain situations, it may be very short! And the line between the evil desire and the point of sin might be thin. Jesus pointed out that evil deeds are the result of evil desires ( Mar_7:20-23 ). And He rebuked people for having or dwelling upon sinful desires ( Mat_5:28 ; Mat_5:22 ). In view of these last two passages I think most would agree that while the initial evil thought might not be viewed as sin, a lust upon which one dwells is sin.
'when sin is accomplished' -'when it has run its course' (Arndt p. 101); 'to perfect, to bring to maturity, to become "full-grown", the full development of sin.' (Vine p. 101) James is not saying that a some sins or sin at a certain level doesn't result in spiritual death. Rather, sin does develop, and again, this process can be very rapid and quick. In Mat_5:28 we see sin at a certain stage, still within the mind. There is a warning here and that is that sin will grow. Unchecked, lusts will break out into action and evil deeds.
'bringeth forth death' -( Rom_6:16 ; Rom_6:21 ; Rom_6:23 ; 2Co_7:10 ; 1Jn_5:16 ; 1Jn_5:20 ). 1. If sin is not repented of, if lustful thoughts are not checked, such will always result in spiritual death! 2. Sin, uncontrolled and unrestrained and allowed to run its natural course will always result in separation from God, and if one dies in that condition, eternal separation from God. Carefully note that this warning was given to Christians! Christians can sin and they can so sin as to forfeit their salvation ( Jam_5:19-20 ). James is not teaching that sin separates us from God only when it has done all the damage it can accomplish. Because even evil thoughts can defile a man ( Mar_7:20-23 ). There is a warning here. If we refuse to check an evil thought which enters our mind---we already know the outcome! We will always pay a high price for being spiritually slack. Carefully note, that people end up separated from God, not because of the sins of others, but because of their own choice in yielding to sin. The good news is that since sin is our fault, it also means that we can do something about it! We can short-circuit the process! ( Php_4:8 )
1:16 'Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren'.
'Do not be deceived' -'make no mistake' (Arndt p. 665). It includes the idea of deceiving yourself. Christians are often warned against being deceived ( 1Co_6:9 ; 1Co_15:33 ; Gal_6:7 ). 'Make no mistake about this' (Mof).
'my beloved brethren' -Notice the combination of pointed teaching, of warning and admonition, with an intense love for these people ( 2Ti_2:24-25 ).
Points To Note:
1. Verse 16 is a transition verse between 1:13-15 and 1:17. 'God cannot be the author of temptation, which thus leads to sin and death, because all good and perfect gifts, and these only, come from Him.' (P.P. Comm. p. 4) 2. Anyone who allows themselves to be convinced that somehow someone or something else is to blame for their sins, is walking right into a falsehood. 3. 'Only good comes from God; all good originates with God. Don't be deceived into thinking there can be anything fulfilling, anything worthwhile, anything good or proper anywhere else but with God.' (Draper p. 45) 4. But the verse infers that even Christians can be deceived. The Calvinistic idea that God makes sure that the predestined always make the right choices, runs counter to this verse. 'This command is no less valid for every modern reader. Our efforts to blame environment, poverty, bad luck, circumstances, or our humanness (which comes from God) have not enabled us to solve our sin problem. The reason is told to us by James: we have deceived ourselves by looking in the wrong direction.' (Kent p.54)
1:17 'Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.'
'Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift' -'Every beneficent gift and every perfect present' (Ber). "Good"-useful, being good in its character or constitution, beneficial in its effect. 'Fit, capable, useful' (Arndt p. 2)
'perfect' -complete or without defect. In addition, this also could mean that what God gives us, is perfectly suited for us and the stage in our life when it is given. 'appropriately suited to the person or the occasion. It is all that the gift should be.' (Kent p. 55)
Point To Note:
But do we really believe this assertion? How many Christians are still convinced that there is "good" outside of what God allows or gives? How many think that God and His way of doing things actually prevents us from receiving good things? In view of such a statement how can any of us ever claim that we don't have everything we need to live happy and productive lives? Do you believe that God is taking good care of you, do you believe that every good thing you enjoy, comes ultimately from God?
'coming down from' -present tense, a continual stream of blessings coming from God.
'the Father of lights' -apparently, the "lights" in this verse refer to the heavenly bodies in the solar system ( Gen_1:3 ; Gen_1:14-16 ; Amo_5:8 ). In addition, to being the source of all physical light, God is also the source of all spiritual light ( Joh_8:12 ). The idea seems to be, how could the Creator of all light ever abide in the darkness?
'with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow' -"Variation"-'who is himself never subject to change' (TCNT); 'change in the degree or intensity of light, such as is manifested by the heavenly bodies' (Vincent p. 732). "Shifting shadow"-as with changes seen in the stars, moon and planets.
Points To Note:
1. God is unchangeable (Hebrew 13:8). God doesn't have 'bad' days in which He tempts people, rather, He consistently gives good gifts. 2. God gives good things on a constant basis ( Jam_1:5 ; Mat_7:7-11 ). 3. 'As constant as the heavenly bodies are, they do exhibit changes as man perceives them. Seasonal variations, eclipses, phases of the moon, clouded skies, and the shifting shadows seen hourly on the sundial…But God's character and nature are unchanging. He does not shift from good given to occasional evil giving.' (Kent p. 56) 4. Do we ever thank God for not being moody? Are we thankful that God is always the same, that He is consistent and that He doesn't keep changing the rules on us? 'For one thing, this means that God is always approachable. We can always find him.' (Draper p. 47) It also tells us that God always loves us and is always wishing for the sinner to come to repentance ( 2Pe_3:9 ). That God will always forgive us-if we seek forgiveness.
Speaking Of Gifts: Our Salvation
1:18 'In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures.'
'In the exercise of His will' -'Of his set purpose' (NEB); 'Voluntarily' (Ber); literally, having willed. Let the reader be impressed that man's salvation was a deliberate choice on the part of God. It wasn't a forced choice or a regretted choice. Rather, God freely chose to have Jesus die for our sins ( Joh_3:16 ; Rom_5:8 ). Note, that is wasn't God's fault that we sin, for God gives only good things (1:17). God gives every incentive as to why we shouldn't sin.
'brought us forth' -'to produce' (Thayer p. 64); 'bear young' (Vine p. 153). This is the language of the new birth ( Joh_3:5 ; 1Co_4:15 ; 1Pe_1:23 ).
'by the word of truth' -God didn't cause us to be born again in some miraculously or mysterious manner. Rather, it was through the Gospel message that we came to believe ( Rom_10:17 ), our hearts were pricked ( Act_2:38 ), and this message also told us to repent of our sins ( Act_2:38 ), confess Christ ( Rom_10:9-10 ) and submit to water baptism for the remission of our sins ( Act_2:38 ). Compare with 1Co_4:15 ; 1Pe_1:23 ; Luk_8:8 ; Luk_8:15 . The statement "word of truth" contradicts the idea that the Bible is a mixture of truth and error. The "word of truth" is simply another way of saying the gospel message ( Col_1:5 ), or the word of God ( Joh_17:17 ).
Point To Note:
Seeing that the preaching of the Word of God and the acceptance of that Word brings about the new birth. And that the gospel message is to preached to all ( Mar_16:15 ). It is clear that God hasn't predestined who will be lost and who will be saved. In saying that the exercise of the will of God resulted in our salvation is not to say that His will was exercised arbitrarily or that the choice was made independently of human choice. The Lord calls men and women by the gospel message ( 2Th_2:14 ); but all are called ( Mar_16:15 ). Remember, whenever we talk about the new birth, we need to remember that the writer is addressing people who have been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.
'so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures' -the phrase, "as it were" is also translated, "a kind of" (KJV); "in a sense" (Bas); "so to speak" (Phi). Which means, not literal first fruits. In the Old Testament, the first fruit was the first portion of the produce or livestock. It belonged to God and was to be offered to Him before the rest could be used by man. It was to be the choicest part of the harvest ( Deu_18:4 ; Num_18:12 ; Exo_13:11-16 ).
Points To Note:
1. This generation of Christians constituted the first-fruits of a larger harvest to follow in the succeeding ages. 2. As first fruits, these Christians are also to see themselves as dedicated to God and to the purposes of God ( Eph_2:10 ). 3. The word "creatures" may either mean mankind ( Mar_16:15 ), or all created things. Here it probably means 'mankind'. 4. The word first fruits, should also remind us, 'God did not want the gospel to stop with us. God wants us to be a vehicle through which other people may hear the Good News.' (Draper p. 49) 5. The term first fruits is also used of the first converts in a region ( 1Co_16:15 ).
Our Attitude Towards The Word of Truth
James now makes a quick shift from God's word, to our words. This is something which people in every generation need to heed. For we often rely upon our own human wisdom rather than the wisdom available to us in the Scriptures. In addition, seeing that we live in a world which will contain many trials (1:2-4); in which we need wisdom to survive (1:5), and in which we can turn the wholesome into the perverted by being selfish (1:14), it is essential to recognize that we don't have the answers to life within ourselves!
1:19 'This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;'
'This you know' -Side reference NASV, 'Or, "Know this". We all have the problem of not putting into practice what we already know. Reminding people of what they already know is a constant need among Christians ( 2Pe_1:12 ). See also Eph_5:5 and Heb_12:17 .
'let everyone' -all Christians need this teaching. One never reaches a point in their relationship with God that they don't need to be 'quick to hear', etc…It is easy to become arrogant and think that you have progressed to a point that you know it all and that you don't need to listen to what others have to say.
'quick to hear' -as in a quick and attentive ear. We can often listen rather carelessly, we can also listen to what only sounds good to our ears ( 2Ti_4:3 ). In the context, attentive hearing is especially needed in reference to the word of truth (1:18). ( Mat_13:19 ; Luk_8:18 'Therefore take care how you listen'; Heb_3:7 ; Heb_4:2 ; Pro_15:31-32 ; Pro_18:13 .
Points To Note:
1. This applies to every Christian, we can never grow beyond our need for truth or good advice from others ( Pro_9:9 ). 2. One cannot become a doer of the Word (1:22ff), if one is not paying close attention to what God is saying. 3. Quick to hear, also means that we are EAGER and anxious to hear what God has said. 'the really good man will be much more anxious to listen to God than arrogantly, garrulously (talkative) and stridently to shout his own opinions' (Barclay p. 65). 'a fast and attentive mind…a ready disposition to listen.' (Woods p. 74) We must be eager to hear the Word of God, rather than listen to our own ideas. In addition, attentive hearing was especially important to these Christians, for most of them they did not possess their own personal copy of the Scriptures. Most of them were dependent upon hearing it read (see Neh_8:1-8 ; 1Ti_4:13 ).
'slow to speak' -The Bible places a tremendous importance upon the ability to control what you say ( Pro_13:3 ; Pro_15:28 ; Pro_17:27-28 ; Pro_21:23 ; Ecc_3:7 ; Jam_1:26 ; Jam_3:1 ff).
Points To Note:
1. Often people will say, 'The first response you usually think of is the right response'. God questions this conviction. In fact, the verse infers that man doesn't have some inner light which guides him inherently into the truth and neither is the Holy Spirit controlling our lives so that we make all the right decisions. 2. Often, the first thing we say is the wrong thing. We need to let the word of God determine our response ( 1Pe_4:11 ), we need to ask ourselves, 'What would be a response that would please God?' 3. Too often we excuse our rash words and careless speech. God views what we say as a tremendous indicator of our character ( Mat_12:36-37 ). 'The Rabbis had a saying that we have two ears and one tongue, and our tongue was put behind a wall of teeth to control it.' (Draper p. 52) 'The tribute was once paid to a great linguist that he could be silent in seven different languages.' (Barclay p. 65)
'and slow to anger' -Rash speaking is often the result of anger and can add more fuel to the fire ( Pro_10:14 ; Pro_15:1 ).
Points To Note:
1. God believes that anger can be controlled! ( Pro_14:29 ) That we can keep righteous indignation from degenerating into a selfish form of anger ( Eph_4:26 ). 2. Often people are angry because the Bible says something that they don't want to hear, especially something about themselves ( Gal_4:16 ). 3. For most people, anger doesn't result in killing someone, or even hitting them, but in saying untrue, harsh, and cruel things about them. Gossip, slander, lying, are all forms of verbal anger. 4. Preachers need to be very careful that they don't take out their frustrations on the congregation. 'Those who are so certain they are right must be cautioned against wrathful argument.' (Kent p. 63)
1:20 'for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.'
'anger of man' -as opposed to righteous opposition to sin ( Rom_12:9 ; Psa_119:104 ).
'does not achieve the righteousness of God' -'does not further the righteous purpose of God' (Mon); 'does not produce the uprightness God wishes' (Gspd); 'an angry man doesn't do what is right before God' (Beck).
Points To Note:
1. Far from God's will being done, the angry individual will find him or herself involved in sin ( Pro_14:17 ). 2. 'Defenders of God's truth do not further His cause by resorting to wrath, for man's wrath is usually mixed with other motives---ambition, revenge, jealousy, egotism, to name a few. Furthermore, men engaged in wrathful debate are rarely in possession of all the facts.' (Kent p. 64) 3. The 'righteousness of God', involves the righteousness which God demands ( Mat_6:33 ), arriving at a state of being right with God, and seeing that righteousness is done or furthered ( Act_10:35 ). 4. Selfish anger doesn't bring about the will of God and it keeps one from being right with God. Anger results in a misuse of the tongue, a misuse of your brethren ( Jam_3:8-12 ), a twisting of God's justice ( Rom_12:19 ), and many other things. 'God does not condemn all anger. There is a godly anger, a righteous indignation. But we must be careful because when we are angry, sin is at the door ready to come in. When things upset us and make us angry, we should ask why. Its it because it is an affront to us personally? Is it because it goes against something we want for ourselves?' (Draper p. 53)
1:21 'Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.'
'Therefore' -In light of the trials and pressures of life (1:2-4), our own lusts (1:14), and the fact that the wrath of man doesn't achieve God's purposes (1:20). We need all the help we can get and in addition we can't afford to tamper and dabble in even one sin.
'putting aside' -'lay aside, rid oneself' (Arndt p. 101) ( Eph_4:22 ; Col_3:8 ; 1Pe_1:21 ). Sinful attitudes are not impossible to remove. This is not an impossible task! 'the middle voice emphasizes that the putting away is something we must do for ourselves.' (Woods p. 81) '"Get rid of" is one word in the original language, meaning to strip away, to take off. It pictures taking off that which is unnecessary for our lives or that which is contrary to God's purposes. It is a word used of a snake's shedding his skin and leaving it behind. We are to strip off that which is harmful to us.' (Draper p. 54) See Heb_12:1 'let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us'.
'all' -and not just some. Many try to justify a certain sin by saying, 'Well, everyone has some bad habits'. We are fooling ourselves if we think that we can successfully live the Christian life-and yet hold on to some sin at the same time ( Mat_6:24 ). 'The force of "all" in such cases is "each instance of" or "every trace of", or perhaps "every kind of".' (Roberts p. 71) The language is that of complete submission to the will of God. Are we so in love with God that we want to remove everything that is offensive to Him? ( 1Pe_1:14-15 )
'filthiness' -'denotes dirt, filth' (Vine p. 99); 'moral uncleanness, vulgarity' (Arndt p. 738) 'There is, in the word, a suggestion of loathsomeness , and it seems likely that in his use of this term it was the writer's design to create in his readers a deep sense of abhorrence of sin, all sin, any sin…..We should be impressed with the fact that James did not seek to soften the character of sin or to obscure God's unwavering opposition to it. There is the disposition today to dally with sin, to excuse it, to resort to euphemisms in referring to it, to speak of "inhibitions", psychological weaknesses, reversions, environmental influences, hereditary factors, etc.,…' (Woods p. 80)
We need to have a greater abhorrence of sin ( Rom_12:9 ; Rom_6:21 ).
'and all that remains of wickedness' -'whatever wickedness still remains' (TCNT). 'residue, remains' (Thayer p. 505). 'surplus, abundance, "all the evil prevailing around you" (Arndt p. 650). The word "remains" suggests that which is left over ( Mar_8:8 ). Remember, James is speaking to people who are already Christians. But even after one is converted, there are sinful attitudes that the Christian needs to remove ( Act_8:20-23 ). This expression contradicts various denominational ideas that the Holy Spirit simply overwhelms the individual and purges them automatically of all sin and even the desire to sin.
'wickedness' -'malignity, malice, ill-will, desire to injure' (Thayer p. 320); 'depravity, wickedness, vice' (Arndt p. 397); 'ill will" or "evil feeling". Can mean evil in general or especially ill-will, such as malice. 'Christians must not become comfortable with their sinfulness but must face up to the fact that their Christian commitment allows no toleration of impurity in their lives.' (Kent p. 64)
Points To Note:
1. The word "remains" can also mean to "overflow". We must realize that we can't keep a sin to ourselves. A sinful attitude will eventually spill over and touch the lives of those around us. 2. Christians need to get rid of the ill-will in their hearts, if they don't, such malice will eventually be unleashed against family members, loved ones and even their own brethren. 3. The verse admits that there is a lot of work that needs to be done after a person becomes a Christian ( Heb_13:14 ).
'in humility' -or "meekness"; 'gentleness, mildness' (Thayer p. 535), a humble, teachable disposition. The person who is humble enough to admit their own ignorance. Barclay notes, 'the teachable spirit is without resentment and without anger, and is, therefore, able to face the truth, even when the truth hurts and condemns. The teachable spirit is not blinded by its own overmastering prejudices, but is clear-eyed to the truth. The teachable spirit is not seduced by laziness, but is so self-controlled that it can willingly and faithfully accept the discipline of learning.' (p. 68) 'It is a spirit of controlled dedication' (Draper p. 55)
Vine notes, 'it is that temper of spirit in which we accept His (God's) dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting…which, as such, does not fight against God and more or less struggle and contend with Him…Described negatively, meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest.'
The "meek" or "humble" person isn't weak or cowardly, rather they are very strong. Such an individual might be extremely intelligent, far beyond their peers, but before God, the meek man or woman realizes that they are but children ( Mat_18:3-5 ); and very imperfect ( Luk_18:9-14 ; Luk_17:10 ). This is the individual who has a proper view of themselves, they aren't worthless, but at the same time, they aren't the center of the universe either ( Rom_12:3 ).
'receive' -Which infers that it is difficult to accept what the Bible says if one refuses to humble themselves. This is the honest and good heart ( Luk_8:15 ). The word "receive" places the obligation upon us. God isn't going to force us to receive His word ( Act_2:40-41 ). The word "receive" means that we must be willing to give God a fair hearing (1:19), and to do our best to understand what He is saying. If we are to "receive" the word, then we must understand it, and see its great value and the wisdom of its teaching (See Act_17:11 ; 2Th_2:10 ).
'the word implanted' -'inborn, implanted by other's instruction' (Thayer p. 209); 'implanted or rooted-a word whose property it is to root itself like a seed in the heart' (Vine p. 250).
Points To Note:
1. The Word of God isn't inborn in the heart, for such would make teaching and preaching unnecessary. In addition, in himself, man doesn't inherently know the truth ( Jer_10:23 ; Pro_16:25 ; 1Co_2:9 ). 2. The word "implanted" must therefore refer to the process of teaching ( 1Co_3:6 ; Mar_4:14 ; Mat_13:19 'that which hath been sown in his heart'). Everyone who has become a Christian, has had the word implanted or sown in their hearts through the process of being taught. 'Here again is the positive proof of the absolute necessity of preaching and teaching the truth fully, firmly, and plainly, in order that it may be understood, received without reservation, and thus permitted to have its full influence in the heart.' (Woods p. 83) 3. Carefully note that the 'word' being implanted was the revelation being given through inspired men, either orally or in written form. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation ( Rom_1:16 ); the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword ( Heb_4:12 )---in written form also! ( 2Ti_3:16-17 ).
'which is able to save your souls' -Remember, this was said to people who had already become Christians. The Christian needs to continually receive with meekness the teaching found in the Word, the Christian continually needs to purge their life from any sinful attitude that would arise ( 2Co_7:1 ). Even Christians can allow the impact of the Word to become weak in their lives ( Luk_8:14 ).
Points To Note:
1. James didn't believe in once-saved-always-saved, or a salvation in which we have no obligations or responsibilities. 2. To obtain eternal life, we must remain receptive to the gospel. We must allow the word to have free reign in our lives ( Joh_8:37 ; 1Th_2:13 'which also performs its work in you who believe.'). ' It is our responsibility to face our need before God and commit it to him. God is not going to barge into our lives and take these evils away from us. He is not going to force his way into our lives and take away that which spills over in wickedness and disrupts those about us. We must come and confess our sins to him. We must come and claim what he offers to us.' (Draper p. 56)
Doers Of The Word
Far from the idea of 'let go and let God'. James wants us to realize that the word is God's communication to us. Merely listening and waiting for something to happen, merely listening and waiting for some influence to overwhelm us---doesn't accomplish anything. We must cooperate with the message, conform to the message and submit to the message. We have a very active role to play in the purposes of God and our own salvation.
1:22 'But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.'
'But' -It is so easy to think that we are doing some great thing by merely reading the Bible or by merely listening to a sermon. Draper notes, 'The greatest tragedy in this century is people who gather information, but never get that information into their lives….There are people like that in church. They enjoy the singing, the preaching, the Bible study. They like to come and receive blessings, but they never do anything. Some people drive miles and miles to get blessed. We do not need people who want to get blessed, but people who want to be a blessing.' (pp. 57-58)
'prove yourselves' -'observe, not only "do", but be doers: the substantive means more than the verb; it carries an enduring, a sort of official force with it; "let this be your occupation"' (Alford p. 1599) 'go on being or becoming', 'show yourselves more and more' ( 1Co_14:20 ; Eph_5:1 ). 'It is a subtle distinction, but well worth noting, that James wrote "be ye doers of the word" (KJV), rather than merely "do the word". This way of stating it places emphasis upon the kind of person the Christian is to be, not just some act he is to perform.' (Kent p. 65) Again, note where the responsibility is placed-upon the individual Christian. Some people "do" portions of what the word teaches, but they don't enjoy or love the message itself, and especially the God who gave it. Jesus pointed out that if we love God with our whole being, we will naturally want to do our very best in carrying out every command He has given ( Mat_22:37-40 ).
'doers of the word' -the tense denotes continuous action, "keep on demonstrating yourselves". Jesus wasn't impressed by those who "say and do not" ( Mat_23:3 ; Mat_7:21 ; Mat_7:24-27 ; Luk_6:46 ). Jesus believed in doing what God said ( Joh_8:31-32 ). Christianity was never meant to be merely a theory. Christianity is not for those looking for just a mental exercise. See also Joh_3:21 ; 1Jn_1:6 ; 1Jn_2:3-5 .
'not merely hearers' -'It would be well for us to take notice of the fact that the hearer only of which James speaks is not a person who listens with little or no interest; on the contrary…denotes those who listen avidly and feel great interest in the things being presented, but who think that the blessing therein derives from the listening..' (Woods p. 86) Christians need to be reminded that they are "disciples", followers, adherents! Mere listeners are not disciples.
'who delude themselves' -The Bible often warns us against being deceived and deceiving ourselves ( Col_2:4 ; 1Co_6:9 ). God doesn't miraculously protect the Christian from believing what is false.
Points To Note:
1. And often we are the only one who is deceived when we aren't practicing the truth---others can see our hypocrisy. 2. Too many professed Christians come and study their Bibles, say spiritual things in class or in their prayers, who are very unspiritual at home or at work. 'If his conduct does not match his Christian profession, his hypocrisy rarely fools his friends and neighbors, and it never deceives God.' (Kent p. 66)
1:23 'For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror;'
'if anyone' -This isn't a hypothetical situation. This really could and does happen among some professed Christians ( Mat_7:24-27 ). This can happen to "anyone". And there is never a time in your Christian life when you can say, 'I have reached a level of spirituality in which I don't have to be a "doer of the word." There isn't a level of spirituality that transcends our need to obey what God has said.
'he is like' -God is doing all He can to help us get the point and see how ridiculous a mere hearer of the word looks. We often try to rationalize our failure to obey, 'Well, in just coming to services, I am doing more than most', 'I am ahead of most people by just reading the Bible', 'Maybe if I listen long enough, obeying the word will just come naturally, or without much effort.' We also tend to blame the word, or who might be presenting the word-as why we can't seem to obey. 'If only the sermon was more exciting, if only the speaker was more entertaining.'
'a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror' -'his natural face'-is the face of his birth, i.e. his physical appearance. 'His face as it is by nature' (Macknight p. 351) 'looks'-The contrast here is not between a hasty glance in a mirror verses a more studied look. For the word rendered "looks" in this verse means to consider attentively, to look at with reflection, to consider or contemplate. 'So the contrast is not between a hasty look and a careful contemplation. It is not mere careless hearing of the word which James rebukes, but the neglect to carry into practice what is heard, one may be an attentive and critical hearer of the word, yet not a doer' (Vincent p. 734)
The world is filled with many 'students' of the bible, many 'biblical scholars' who fit into the above category. People who love to spend time in the Scriptures, but never seem to make the application to their personal lives. People to love the bible as literature, archaeology, history, poetry, philosophy, mental stimulation and so on, but they don't love it as a lifestyle.
'in a mirror' -the mirrors of this time period were often made of polished metal.
1:24 'for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.'
'has immediately forgotten' -'The departure from the mirror resulted in an immediate forgetfulness of what the mirror revealed. Since the look into the mirror produced no results, the episode was a complete waste of time and effort…To James, the person who hears God's Word but does not heed it is just as ludicrous' (Kent p. 67)
'what kind of person he was' -There are many people who remember what the Scriptures say, that is they could quote many verses. But they fail the recognize that their life isn't in harmony with what they had just read or heard.
1:25 'But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does.'
'But' -in contrast to the above mere listener, this is the type of person all of us can become.
'looks intently' -'to stoop to a thing in order to look at it, to look at with head bowed forwards; to look into with the body bent---metaph., to look carefully into, inspect curiously (Thayer p. 484) Compare with Joh_20:5 ; Joh_20:11 ; 1Pe_1:12 . This suggests that careful study of the Word of God is necessary so that one knows what to "do" ( 2Ti_2:15 ).
'perfect' -'having reached its end, finished' (Vine p. 173). 'brought to its end, finished, wanting in nothing necessary to completeness' (Thayer p. 618); 'having attained the end or purpose, complete' (Arndt p. 809). In other places the Word of God, the New Testament revelation is called "perfect" ( Rom_12:2 ; 1Co_13:10 ).
Points To Note:
1. First of all it needs to be noted that God calls the New Testament, a "law" ( Heb_8:10 ; Heb_7:12 ; Gal_6:2 ). We must reject the idea that the New Covenant is all "grace" with no rules. 2. The New Testament is called a "perfect" law, because: A. It is the final revelation of God to mankind ( Heb_1:1-2 ; Jud_1:3 ). It is complete, needing no further revelation to finish what it started. B. It makes man "complete" ( 2Ti_3:16-17 ), it enables a man or woman to stand before God and be all they need to be. C. It is the fulfillment of the Mosaic law. D. It gives mankind all that man needs to have a relationship with God and his fellowman ( 2Pe_1:3 ). E. It prepares us perfectly for eternal life.
'the law of liberty' -to many people this phrase sounds like a contradiction, because many people have been deceived into thinking that true liberty or freedom means a complete absence of rules. But as many of us grow up and mature we realize that such is very naïve. Take away the rules and we would lose our rights, instead of gaining more rights. Freedom is not the result when all the moral standards are torn down-but the result is anarchy, oppression and fear. The New Testament is called law because it does contain commands that must be obeyed ( Joh_14:15 ). 'To speak of God's Word as "law" is not to pit James against Paul, for Paul often used this sort of terminology…( Gal_6:2 ; Rom_3:27 ; Rom_8:2 ).' (Kent p. 68).
Points To Note:
The New Testament is called a law of liberty because: A. Enables us to be freed from sin ( Joh_8:31-32 ). B. Freedom from the law of Moses ( Gal_5:1 ). C. The teaching in this law frees us from prejudice, superstition, the fear of death ( Heb_2:15 ), worry, anxiety, stress and so on ( Mat_6:25 ). As we will read the rest of this letter, it is clear that James was not arguing that the Christian is freed is do whatever they like (3:1; 4:4,8; 5:13,20). "Men are free when they want to do what they ought to do" (Kent p. 69). D. It also frees us from human opinion, endless speculation, old wives fables, myths, false science and philosophy ( Col_2:4 ; 2Ti_4:3 ; 1Ti_6:20 ). In obeying Christ, I find true liberty, especially liberty from my own selfish desires ( Gal_2:20 ; 2Co_5:14 ). In addition, in view of the great love which God manifested towards me ( Joh_3:16 ), bringing myself into conformity with this His law is not a burden, but a pleasure ( 1Jn_5:3 ).
'and abides by it' -which infers that the gospel is a message that all can understand alike and what is requires is not impossible. I can abide by the will of God-what an encouraging thought! The word "abides" means: 'to remain beside, continue always near'(Thayer p. 485). It is not enough to admire this law or sing its praises, one must obey it. We must also reject the idea that God does the abiding for us. The whole thrust of this section is the responsibility and choice that rests with the individual Christian. To abide in this word also involves not adding our own opinions to the message and not editing what we might not like ( 2Jn_1:9 ; Rev_22:18-19 ). Abiding in the word means that we need to find what God says to be pleasant and sweet ( Psa_19:10 ). We need to develop a 'taste' for the truth, even truth that requires us to change.
'not having become a forgetful hearer' -'not listening to it and then forgetting it' (TCNT). Notice the word "become". We can through carelessness "become" a person who fails to apply what God has said.
'but an effectual doer' -That is, we "do" something with the message, we apply it, we live it, we share it with others.
'this man' -this man, and this man alone is the individual that God will bless. God never promises blessings to the disobedient ( Mat_7:24-27 ).
'shall be blessed in what he does' -'in his practice' (Ber). The word "blessed" means: 'fortunate, usually in the sense of privileged recipient of divine favor' (Arndt p. 486). Jesus stated the same truth, 'blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it' ( Luk_11:28 ; see also Luk_12:43 ; Joh_13:17 ). Carefully note that Jesus and James do not make fun of those who think that obedience is necessary. Check out the following passages ( Psa_19:9-11 ; Psa_106:3 ; Psa_119:2 ; Rev_22:7 ). We know that future blessings exist for the obedient, but this verse also seems to imply that blessings come upon the obedient even in this life, that God will open doors for the person who is trying to do His will ( Rev_3:8 ).
Point To Note:
Sadly, I believe that many Christians have convinced themselves that obedience to the Word of God actually prevents them from being blessed. That "doctrine" so often comes between a person and being successful or having success in teaching others. God doesn't agree.
1:26 'If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless.'
'If anyone' -God is no respector of persons ( Rom_2:11 ). And yet in the world people often will excuse the profanity of someone who is successful. We tend to believe that such coarseness was necessary for them to get ahead. Unfortunately, even Christians can start admiring the brash, arrogant and bold of this world, and think it is almost a virtue to have an unrestrained tongue.
'thinks himself to be religious' -The word "religious" means: 'fearing or worshipping God' (Thayer p. 292). Nothing as changed, there are many people in the world who consider themselves to be very religious or extremely spiritual. Carefully note that our opinion of ourselves can be completely wrong. Just because one claims to be spiritual, doesn't mean that God recognizes their "brand" or definition of spirituality. One may be worshipping God in vain ( Mat_23:23 ; Mat_7:21-23 ).
'yet does not bridle his tongue' -"bridle"-'to hold in check, restrain' (Thayer p. 664) (See Psa_39:1 ; Job_2:10 ; Mat_12:36-37 ; Mat_15:18 ; Mat_4:25-25 ). Note that the responsibility for controlling our tongue rests with us. 'Satan can use the tongue to destroy lives. With a word a heart is lifted or cast down. With a word our spirits are dashed or they are encouraged….If we find ourselves always being critical and condemning, if that is the first thing that comes to our minds, if we are always finding something to be unhappy about, then we have deceived ourselves and do not have the religion of the New Testament.' (Draper p. 68)
'but deceives his own heart' -(1:22). Many people convince themselves that they are right with God-while at the same time they are gossiping, lying, making false accusations, spreading rumors, hurting their spouse or children with angry words and profanity, etc…Note that he deceives his own heart, but many other people who witness his words are not deceived.
Points To Note:
1. The reader should be impressed that godly words are just as important as sound doctrine. 2. This man who doesn't bride his tongue, could be a very active member in a local congregation. He could be present at very class and worship service. He could even be a teacher, preacher or elder. The person in the above verse considers himself to be very religious-he isn't someone who has fallen away, attends infrequently, or never studies their bible. The person in this verse obviously doesn't consider themselves to be a weak or marginal Christian.
'this man's religion is worthless' -"Worthless"-'devoid of force, truth, success or result' (Thayer p. 393); 'of no value' (Bas); 'futile' (Mof). The reader should note that the above man can and could be a Christian. Various things can make our service to God to be completely worthless ( Mat_15:9 ; Mar_7:7 ). God made similar points to His people in the Old Testament ( Mic_6:6-8 ; Zec_7:6-10 ; Isa_1:10-18 ; 1Sa_15:22-23 ).
1:27 'This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.'
'This is' -In contrast to a religion that is worthless. But let the reader note that a pure religion is possible for even imperfect people to manifest and follow. Contrary to the claims of those who are critical, there are many Christians who are not hypocritical, who do obey God and do so from pure motives.
'pure and undefiled religion' -"Pure"-'genuine' (Thayer p. 312). "Undefiled"-'free from contamination' (Vine p. 168).
'in the sight of our God and Father' -What is pure religion in the estimation of God, pure religion from God's viewpoint. Which is the only viewpoint which matters ( 1Ti_2:3 ). "Father"-If we worship God, who is our Father, while we ourselves are heartless and merciless to those that need us…we should be able to see there is something wrong in our worship.
'to visit' -'primarily to inspect (to look upon, care for, exercise oversight)' (Vine p. 190); to go see, visit someone, also with the connotation of care: look after widows and orphans in their distress.' (Arndt p. 298). In the present tense for having the habit of going to see. 'James strikes a downright blow here at ministry by proxy, or by mere gifts of money. Pure and undefiled religion demands "personal contact" with the world's sorrows: to visit the afflicted, and to visit them in their affliction.' (Vincent p. 736)
'orphans' -bereft of father or parents. In the O.T., God stressed caring for the fatherless and the widows ( Exo_22:22 ; Deu_14:29 ; Deu_16:11 ; Deu_24:17 ; Deu_24:19-21 ; Deu_26:12-13 ; Deu_28:19 ). God also portrayed Himself as the protector and defender of those who are vulnerable ( Deu_10:18 ; Psa_68:5 'a father of the fatherless and a judge of the widows' ; 146:9. A sign of repentance was to help the fatherless ( Isa_1:17 ; Zec_7:10 ).
'in their distress' -'difficult circumstances' (Arndt p. 362). That is, we are to help them when they "need" the help and not wait until it is too late. Carefully note that true religion does have an outward expression. Some try to argue that there is no outward expression, rather, what matters is the faith within the heart. God here picks out two categories, this isn't an exhaustive list or definition of pure religion ( Gal_5:19-23 ), rather they are practical examples.
'and to keep oneself' -'watch over, preserve, keep' (Vine p. 287); 'present active infinitive, "to keep on keeping oneself" (Robertson p. 26). What an encouraging statement! I don't have to be in bondage to my own selfish desires, I don't have to be a slave to the world's values! ( 1Ti_5:22 ; 1Ti_6:14 ; 2Ti_4:17 ; 1Jn_5:18 ; Jud_1:21 'keep yourselves in the love of God').
'unstained' -'free from vice, unsullied' (Thayer p. 81)
'by the world' -society which is in opposition to God ( Joh_15:19 ; Jam_4:4 ; 1Jn_2:15 ; 1Jn_5:19 ).
Points To Note:
1. Even non-Christians can see that the "world" can stain and corrupt people. History is filled with examples of where people with such promise and ideals ended up to be corrupt and no different from the "world" they were trying to reform. 2. In the context one of the best ways to stop being "worldly" is to start thinking about the needs of someone besides yourself. Too many Christians try to avoid being worldly by living in isolation, or by a purely negative form of Christianity (I'm not doing this, I'm not doing that).
Jam_1:27 has been at the heart of the institutional debate, as to whether the local congregation can build and maintain human institutions, such as orphan homes and old folks homes.
1. First of all, I believe that most can see that the command is to the individual Christian. The same person who is to keep himself unspotted from the world is the same person who is to visit the orphans and widows. The verse also suggests personal involvement and not merely a religion by proxy or check. The work of the individual Christian isn't identical with the work of the local congregation ( Mat_18:15-17 ; 1Ti_5:16 ).
2. The local congregation could and did support Christian widows ( Act_6:1 ; 1Ti_5:16 ), but we never find the local congregation assisting or caring for the physical needs of non-Christians.
3. There is a difference between a congregation buying a service and owning or operating a secular enterprise. The local congregation can pay the bills for a widow, or buy food for a Christian family in need, but neither would authorize the local church owning and operating a grocery store, etc…
4. Orphan homes are well as any other brotherhood human organizational usually ends up violating congregational autonomy, even those overseen by a single eldership. For they often appeal for funds outside of that local congregation. In the New Testament, one congregation could give funds to another congregation, only when that congregation had more need that it could take care of ( 2Co_8:12-14 ). To solicit funds from other congregations, when the congregation professing "need" has plenty of money for other projects, would be a violation of Scripture.
5. The Eldership of a local congregation is authorized to shepherd that congregation ( 1Pe_5:2 ). It is quite a stretch to have this same eldership shepherding an organization in addition to the local congregation, an organization that may contain many non-Christians.
6. Many orphan homes actually hinder the Christian from fulfilling Jam_1:27 , in that they hinder such orphans from being adopted into real homes. It is sad that such an issue split many congregations, when the "need" could have been completely cared for in a Scriptural manner. With all the couples wanting to adopt children, such a institution finds itself actually hindering God's purposes.
7. Arguing that Jam_1:27 authorizes the local congregation to build and establish or contribute to a human agency established by "brethren", would mean that the local congregation is also authorized to build a Missionary Society ( Mat_28:19 ); hospitals, clothing and grocery stores, and so on ( Mat_25:36 ).
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Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on James 1". "Dunagan's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent