Chapter One - A Victorious Faith
It is a grave mistake to infer, as some have done, that this Epistle emphasizes works rather than faith. It stresses the importance of faith throughout, but shows that real faith is never separated from a life of piety.
In verse 1 (James 1:1) we have the salutation. If we are correct in attributing the writing of this Epistle to James, the Lord’s brother, the way in which he speaks of himself becomes all the more striking, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ!” If he had known Christ after the flesh he knew Him so no more. He honors Him as Lord and Messiah, and links His name with that of God the Father. Whatever doubts James may have entertained concerning the claims of Jesus in the days of His flesh, he has none now. All have been dissipated by the resurrection of the One with whom he sustained so intimate a relationship in the Nazareth home.
He writes “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” As a Jew himself, but a Jew who knows the Lord in the fulness of resurrection life, he now speaks to all his brethren in Israel whose fathers had been for centuries dispersed among the nations, and who themselves were scattered far and wide. Many of these knew Jesus as the Christ. If any should read this letter who did not have this knowledge it was his desire to bring them to know Him who is, in Himself, the fulfilment of all Israel’s hopes.
It is not for those of us who are Gentile Christians to ignore this portion of Scripture as though, not being Israelites, it had no message for us. But just as the letters written by Paul to Gentile Christians were generally for all believers, whatever their former nationality or relationship, so this Epistle contains precious and important truth for the edification and sanctification of all who, like its writer, are slaves of God and of Christ.
In verses 3 to 5 (James 1:3-5) we have an admonition to patience in adversity, which links very intimately with what Paul has written in Romans 5:1-5.
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4).
It is no evidence of God’s displeasure when His people are called upon to pass through great trials. If one professes to have faith in the Lord he can depend upon it that his profession will be put to the test sooner or later. Alas, that we so frequently lose courage and become despondent in the hour of temptation, instead of realizing that it is the very time when we should “look up into the Father’s face with confidence, knowing that He is working out some purpose in us which could not be wrought out in any other way. We are called upon to count it all joy when we fall into many trials. The word “temptation,” as used here, does not refer to our being tempted to sin, but rather as when God did tempt Abraham, to the testing of our faith. Paul tells us that tribulation Worketh patience, and James affirms the same: “The trying of your faith worketh patience.” By nature we are inclined to be fretful and impatient. Even Christians sometimes rebel against the ways of God when these go contrary to their own desires. But he who learns to be submissive to whatever God permits glorifies Him who orders all things according to the counsel of His own will. David said his soul had quieted itself as a weaned child (Psalms 131:2). This is patience exemplified. When natural nourishment is taken from a babe, and it is fed on other food more suitable for its age, it becomes peevish and fretful. But when actually weaned all this is ended, and it accepts gratefully the proffered refreshment.
As we grow in this grace of patience until there is no longer any rebellion against the will of God a strong Christian character is developed. We become mature and whole, no longer craving for what God sees fit to withhold. This is real victory. To achieve it requires superhuman wisdom, but this God is waiting to bestow in answer to prayer.
“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. 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. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).
It was certainly grace working in his own soul that led James to write this. We all lack wisdom. Yet he does not charge us with our ignorance, but puts us on the ground of possibly needing help from God along this line. “If any of you lack wisdom!” Who does not realize this lack in his own life if at all characterized by the spirit of humility?
But knowing our need is the first step toward receiving that which will meet the need. So we are urged to ask of God-He who is infinite in wisdom, and who delights to give to us according to our need when we come to Him as children to a Father.
It is God’s pleasure to give wisdom to those who ask in faith, but if we make request in a formal manner without implicit confidence in His readiness to answer we only dishonor Him and so there is no response. To ask in faith necessitates knowing that our petition is in accordance with His will. But we may be assured it is always His desire to impart the necessary wisdom to His people that will enable them to pursue a right course through this scene.
To pray with hesitation or wavering is to fail of blessing. Such an one is as unstable as the waves of the sea driven hither and yon by contrary winds. The man pi God is not to be given to change (Proverbs 24:21). He who continuously veers from one course to another only reveals his own instability and lack of a sense of being under the divine control. Paul wrote to the Galatians (Galatians 5:8), “This persuasibleness cometh not of Him that calleth you” (literal rendering). The man who habitually looks to God for guidance will be certain of his path.
A double-minded man is never sure of anything. He goes from one calling to another and from one line of service to another, like a bee or a butterfly flitting from flower to flower, but is ever unsettled and fancies some other course might be better than the one he has taken. “The meek will He guide in judgment: and the meek will He teach His way” (Psalms 25:9). Changeableness is an evidence of an unsubdued will and generally, too, of an inflated ego, which leads one to be occupied unduly with the importance of his own affairs.
“Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: but the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. 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. 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” (James 1:9-12).
Lowliness of mind is ever becoming in those who profess to follow Him who said, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). If He gives promotion one can rejoice in His goodness, recognizing it all as pure grace, but if He permits conditions to change so that he who was well-to-do finds himself in comparative poverty, let him accept all as from the hand of Him who makes no mistakes. Man, after all, is but as grass and as the flower of the field; he soon passes from this scene, no matter how high or low his lot may be for the moment. The flower may flourish for a few days and be admired by all who behold it, but the heat of the sun soon withers it, and it fades and falls; even so men may have their hours of exaltation, reveling in their riches and the privileges that wealth can give, but soon all this must come to an end; and unless they possess eternal riches laid up in heaven they will be utterly bereft.
Verse 12 (James 1:12) has in view the tried and tested believer who is assured of blessing as he endures grief for Christ’s sake. When the temptation is over and he has remained steadfast to the end, he is promised the crown of life which the Lord will bestow upon all who have shown by their devotion to Him that they truly loved Him. This is not to be confounded with eternal life, which is the free gift of God, the portion of all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The crown of life is reward for faithful endurance out of love for the Saviour. It is the martyr’s crown, as we see in Revelation 2:10, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
Eternal life can never be forfeited. It is the common life of all the redeemed. Those who possess it shall never perish (John 10:25-29). But the crown of life may be lost; yea, will be lost if one should prove recreant to the trust committed to him. So we are warned, “Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (Revelation 3:11).
“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: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren” (James 1:13-16)
James has spoken of temptation in the sense of testing, or trial. Now he turns to speak of it as incitement to sin. It is never right to attribute such temptation to the infinitely Holy One, our God who has called us to holiness of life. He cannot be tempted with evil; it is ever abhorrent to Him. Neither does He ever tempt anyone. Rather by many means does He seek to induce us to flee from temptation and to take the path of holy subjection to His will Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” That is, do not leave us to go our own dangerous way which would expose us to grievous pressure from the enemy of our souls, which, in a moment of weakness, might cause us to fall into great sin, even as David did “when he dilly-dallied at home instead of leading Israel to battle against their enemies. We are tempted, not by God, but by the strength of our own lustful desires. Being deceived by the craving for self-gratification there is ever the danger of yielding to temptation if we do not reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God, as Paul tells us in Romans 6.
Lust dwelt upon brings forth positive sin, for as a man thinketh in his heart so is he (Proverbs 23:7). Sin indulged in leads to death, for “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).
It is the principle he is establishing here, even as in Romans 8:6 we read, “to be carnally minded (or, the minding of the flesh) is death.” We need to be careful that we make no mistake as to this. It is never safe to trifle with sin.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from die Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:17-21).
The grateful heart receives all as from God, knowing that every good and perfect gift (everything that He gives answers to this description) comes down from heaven, from the Father of lights. He knows what is in the darkness, but the light dwells with Him (Daniel 2:22), with whom is neither changeableness nor shadow cast by turning. Every blessing for time and eternity we owe to the unfailing goodness and unalterable purpose of grace.
Our pew birth, itself was the expression of His good will. He brought the Word of truth to bear upon our consciences, leading us to confess our sins and trust the Saviour He provided. So we became a new offering of firstfruits, the pledge of the great harvest to be reaped in due time. Christ Himself, in His resurrection, is called the firstfruits of them that slept, and all His redeemed in the present age of grace make up the complete presentation of the new creation offering, prior to the vast millennial ingathering.
As the objects of such matchless grace it surely becomes us to be careful to represent aright the One to whom we owe so much. Therefore we are exhorted as beloved brethren to be quick to hear and heed the Word, slow to express ourselves, unless instructed by the Spirit of God. And above all, slow to wrath, or indignation, let the provocation be what it may; for our anger leading to attempting to repay our adversaries in kind, is never in accord with the righteousness of God. This expression is not used here as by Paul in Romans and elsewhere. It does not have to do with that righteousness in which the justified soul stands before God, but rather the righteous character of God which leads Him to deal with sin according to its deserts.
It behooves us therefore, as those born of God, to judge in ourselves every tendency to uncleanness or abundance of evil (of which our natural hearts are full), and to receive in simplicity the inwrought Word of God through which we find practical deliverance from the unholy tendencies with which we find ourselves in conflict. The salvation of the soul here is not our redemption from the judgment our sins deserve, but it refers to the purification of our affections which are the expression of our soul’s activities.
“But be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of die Word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholded himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continued therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:22-25).
Having been born again by the Word, as Peter also tells us (1 Peter 1:23), we are called upon to Walk in obedience to the faith as revealed in the Holy Scriptures; not simply hearing what is there written, but making that Word the man of our counsel. To do otherwise is but to be self-deceived, imagining that an intellectual acquaintance with the truths of the Bible is all that is required.
To hear and know the will of God while not obeying it is to be like one looking at his own countenance in a mirror and then going away and forgetting his actual appearance. The Word of God is such a mirror. It was designed to show us what we are, and it thus gives us to see our need of practical cleansing!
This Word is called here the “law of liberty,” for it sets forth the principles of behavior in which the new-born man revels. He delights to do the will of God. It is not, therefore, a ministry of condemnation, as was the law to the unregenerate Israelite, but it is a rule of freedom, for he who truly knows the Lord rejoices in His service. He is therefore not merely a hearer but a doer of the Word, and finds blessing in the path of obedience.
“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. 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 die world” (James 1:26-27).
The word “religion” is found only five times in the New Testament, and “religious” but twice. In addition to the instances recorded here we find Paul using “religion” three times (Acts 26:5; Galatians 1:13-14), and Luke uses the word “religious” once (Acts 13:43). Our English word “religion” comes from the Latin and means, literally “to bind back;” that is, to rebind man to God. As commonly used, it means a system of faith and practice. There are three different Greek words thus translated, one being practically synonymous with our rendering, but when Paul speaks of the Jews’ religion he really says “Judaism,” and it should have been so rendered. Then when Luke speaks of “religious proselytes” he used a word meaning worshipful adherents.
In these verses James uses the word threskia, referring to religious faith, forms and ceremonies. To be punctilious about these while failing to bridle the tongue, thus guarding against intemperate or unwise speech, is but to deceive oneself. Such religion is mere, empty pretense.
The true religion-or practice of piety-before God and the Father is this, to manifest real concern for the needy, such as orphans and widows, and to walk in holy separation from all uncleanness, thus keeping one’s garments unspotted from the world. It is this victorious faith which James insists upon-a faith that enables one to overcome the world and to rise above its sinful follies.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on James 1". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
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