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Saturday, July 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
James 1

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

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Verse 1

Various Temptations and Their Endurance.

The address:

v. 1. James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

Unlike the salutations which characterize the opening of Paul's letters, this address is very brief, exactly in the style which was employed in those days in writing letters. The Apostle James calls himself a servant, which includes the ideas of both worshiper and minister. Of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ he is a servant, the two persons of the Godhead being altogether on the same level in divinity and authority. To the twelve tribes this letter is addressed, the expression being a synonym, not only for the entire Jewish race, but also for the true Israel, the spiritual people of the Old Testament, the sum total of those that had expected the Messiah in firm faith and had now acknowledged Christ as the promised Messiah. These believers, these Christian Jews, were scattered abroad, were living in the Dispersion, in the countries outside of Palestine, and especially outside of Judea. In many cases they formed the majority of the congregation, and the entire policy of the congregation was guided by them. To all of these James sends his greeting in the customary form of salutation.

Verses 2-7

Temptation and prayer:

v. 2. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations,

v. 3. knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

v. 4. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

v. 5. 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.

v. 6. 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.

v. 7. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.

Without any introduction or preliminary discussion, the apostle immediately plunges into his admonitions, taking up the question of temptation and prayer first: All joy consider it, my brethren, if you meet with various temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. The picture used by the writer is that of a soldier when he meets face to face an opponent against whose attack he has been warned and whose mode of fighting he has studied. The suspense of waiting for the threatened onslaught is over; the Christian may close with his enemies. Just as a form of exultation takes hold of a soldier at such a time, because he can now go into action, so the Christian should rejoice that he may become engaged in the combat which the spiritual warfare in this world demands of him. For it is not in his own strength that he is battling, but in the might of the Lord communicated to him by faith. No matter what the temptation may therefore be, this thought serves for comfort, namely, that the testing of faith through the various temptations with which the Christians have to battle teaches them patient endurance, actually accomplishes, works this state of mind in them. Every confessing Christian, therefore, that stands firm in the midst of such trials, Ephesians 6:10-16, gives proof that his faith is sound, and this evidence in itself induces him to take courage, bear patiently, and persevere.

This patience is necessary in the life of the Christians, as the apostle says: But let patience have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, deficient in nothing. The patient endurance of Christians must not be a mere pretense, but should be real, true, the finished product, bearing the name with full propriety. For it is only then that believers themselves will be as they should be, fulfilling their lot in the world, fully equal to their high calling, not deficient or lacking in any essential of Christian sanctification. If a person calling himself a Christian yields to the very first attack of his enemies or does not hold out under their repeated onslaughts, proof is given that he does not yet possess the faith which is founded on the Lord's power, a faith which overcomes the world with all its temptations.

Another thought is now introduced by the apostle concerning a factor which is just as essential in the life of the Christians: But if any one of you is lacking in wisdom, let him ask of God in sincerity and without reproach, and it will be given him. In view of man's helplessness and lack of prudence and foresight in the various situations of life, this admonition with its assurance gives a great deal of comfort. It happens so often that Christians are at their wit's end, being able to see neither what is the best policy under given circumstances nor how to attain to the end that is plainly to be reached. In every situation, however, no matter how complicated, we have the assurance of God's help, and should therefore ask for it in simple trust, knowing that God distributes His gifts with all singleness of aim, without requiring anything in return. Nor does He resent it if our prayer seems childish, unworthy of His august attention. Neither our own essential unworthiness nor the majesty of the Lord should serve to keep us from asking Him for what we need to assist us in our own sanctification and in the work of His kingdom. See Hebrews 4:16. Here, as in other passages of Scriptures, we are definitely told that God will hear the prayer of those that believe in Him. See Matthew 7:7; Mark 11:24; Luke 11:9; John 14:13.

But the apostle adds a word of warning: But let him ask in faith, doubting nothing; for he that doubts is like a billow of the sea agitated and swayed by the wind. For let that man not imagine that he will receive anything from God. Every true prayer is a fruit of faith by which the believer enters into the relation of a child toward God. As dear children ask their dear father, so should the faith of the Christians urge them to place their wants before their Father in heaven. To doubt is the very antithesis of faith, and is an insult to the kindness and goodness of the Lord. The doubter is fitly described as being like a wave, a billow of the great sea, which is driven and fanned by the wind, first in one direction and then in another, whence waves have always been used to describe instability of character and thought. The faith of a Christian has a firm foundation; the doubt of the timid, though he profess to be a Christian, has no foundation. And therefore such a person should not delude himself into thinking that he will receive anything from the Lord, for his very attitude shuts him out from the promises that have been given to faith and to the prayer of faith. Note that there is a ring of contempt in the passage at the idea of a man with halting faith expecting his prayer to be answered.

Verses 8-11

The need of humility:

v. 8. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

v. 9. Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted;

v. 10. but the rich, in that he is made low; because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.

v. 11. 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.

In connection with the rebuke administered to the doubting heart and the characterization of its instability under the picture of the wave of the sea, the apostle adds the general truth: A double-minded man he is, unreliable in all his ways. His mind is never fully made up: Shall I trust the Lord, or is it not safe to do so? At one time he wants to trust in the Lord with all his heart, at another he places his trust in men. It follows, then, that not only his prayer is a matter of chance, but he is unreliable in everything he turns to; his Christianity is not a dependable fact, but an uncertain quantity, without value.

A further admonition concerns the various stations of Christians in this life: Let the brother of low position exult in his elevation, but the rich in his being lowered, because like the flower of the grass he passes away. These words teach the right attitude toward social standing in its relation to Christianity. If a Christian brother that occupies a low position in life is exalted by being made a partaker of the riches of God in the Gospel, that is a reason for rejoicing, because it shows that there is no respect of persons with God. The rich person, on the other hand, one that is blessed with the possession of many earthly goods and is therefore in danger of placing his trust in such paltry blessings, should feel happy and exult if the teachings of Christianity bring him to the realization of the temporary character of this world and all its goods. For it is only in the measure that he denies himself and all the wealth of this world that he will understand the riches of Christ's blessings. For if he should put his trust in the things of this world, they could serve him at best only for a few years, since he is bound to pass away like the flowers of the grass) short-lived emblems of earthly glory.

This thought is carried out somewhat more fully: For the sun is no sooner risen with the east wind than it parches the grass, and its flower drops off, and the beauty of its appearance is ruined; so also the rich man in his counsels is consumed. See Isaiah 40:6-8. The east wind, which came up from the Syrian desert, was a hot and dry wind, parching the vegetation on the hills and in the valleys of Judea. With the sun assisting this wind on a day in midsummer, the very foliage of the trees was blighted, the flowers sank to the ground withered and bereft of all the beauty of their appearance. That is also the lot of the rich man, of the person blessed in an unusual degree in this world's goods. Before he is aware of the fact, the hand of death cuts him off from the land of the living and lays him into the grave, where all the riches which he has accumulated will be of no benefit to him. All the more, therefore, is the necessity laid upon him to put his trust in the Lord alone and not in any of his possessions here on earth. Note that the apostle describes this fate, which really strikes all men, as coming upon the rich man only, in order to impress upon the latter the necessity of heeding the warning.

Verses 12-15

Temptations from within:

v. 12. 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.

v. 13. 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;

v. 14. but every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.

v. 15. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

Having spoken of temptations in the very beginning, v. 2, the apostle now explains the term as he wants it understood: Blessed is the man that endures temptation; for, having stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those that love Him. In v. 2 the apostle had said that the Christians should look upon their engaging temptations that might beset them with joy, since it gave them the opportunity to try their mettle. Here he emphasizes the blessedness of every believer that is tried out in that manner, by withstanding temptations and enduring afflictions. For every an that stands the test in faith, that remains true to the Lord to the end, will receive the reward of mercy, the crown of life, Revelation 2:10. This wonderful gift of His grace the Lord has promised to all those that show their faith by their constant love toward Him. Thus not only the test of the temptation in itself, but also the merciful reward which is held out before us, should serve to encourage us in persevering in faith in spite of all temptations.

But we must not make a mistake as to the apostle's meaning when he refers to temptations: Let no man, being tempted, say, I am tempted of God; for God is untemptable of evil, and He tempts no one. The apostle is speaking of such temptations as assail the Christians by reason of their own flesh and on the part of the enemies in the world and Satan. No man may offer the excuse that he, in giving way to wrong, is doing so at the instigation of God. This evasion is used to this day by people that refer to their temper, or to their propensity for the one or the other sin as something which they cannot help, for which they cannot be held responsible. Such persons should remember a double truth: in the first place, that God is incapable of being tempted by evil, and, secondly, that He will under no circumstances tempt men to evil. He is in no sense the author of sin and can in no way be held responsible for its existence, for He is the essence of holiness and purity.

The matter, in truth, must always be represented thus: But every one is tempted, being allured and deceived by his own lust. Then lust, having conceived, bears sin, but sin, being brought to maturity, brings forth death. This agrees with the words of the Savior: Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, Matthew 15:19. The carnal part of man, his evil nature, the tendency and desire for all that is wrong which he has inherited from his parents, is continually beguiling, alluring, enticing, deceiving him, trying to lead also the Christians into various sins against all the commandments of the Lord. If this lustful condition of the heart succeeds in making an impression on the mind, in overcoming any objections which the new man or conscience may have to offer, then it will break forth in actual sins. And if this sin is not hindered in time, if it is not overcome and suppressed, if it takes possession of the body with all its members, and works its own will in the person concerned, and thus reaches its full maturity, then the end will be death, eternal death, unless such a sinner returns to the Lord in true repentance. Note that the picture of alluring to sensual sin, of attracting as with the wiles of a harlot, is maintained throughout, in order to show the insidious nastiness of sin.

Verses 16-21

God's Fatherhood and the Obligations of Sonship.

God's fatherhood and the acceptance of His Word:

v. 16. Do not err, my beloved brethren.

v. 17. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the father of Lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

v. 18. Of His own will begat He us with the Word of Truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures.

v. 19. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;

v. 20. for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

v. 21. Wherefore, lay a part all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls.

The first sentence serves as a transition between the two paragraphs: Make no mistake about this, my beloved brethren. It is a solemn and touching appeal which the apostle makes, since so much depends upon the proper understanding of these facts. To think that God can in any way be made responsible for sin is a thought which so strongly savors of blasphemy that all Christians must flee the very suggestion. Man alone is responsible for the evil which is found in his heart and which comes forth in the various transgressions of the divine will.

So far as God is concerned, we must always maintain: Every good gift and every perfect endowment is ever coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is not existing a change, nor shadow-casting of a turning. God is the Source, the Father of Lights; everything that is truly light and brings light comes from Him. There is no spiritual enlightenment nor anything that has value in a spiritual manner possible without His almighty power. The continual bestowing of good things, the ceaseless shower of spiritual endowments and blessings wherewith He blesses the hearts of men, comes down from Him. Thus He is the Author of all that is excellent and perfect. He can, therefore, not deny Himself; He cannot change His essence and properties; in His case the peculiar entering into part-shadow or loss of brilliancy as it takes place in some of the heavenly bodies is out of the question. The moon may have her phases and the sun his eclipses, but our God shines upon His spiritual children in undimmed glory, 1 John 1:5. God's merciful countenance is never hidden from His children, without change and interruption He causes His face to shine upon us.

Of the many splendid gifts of God the apostle names that which is highest and best: Because He willed it, He begot us through the Word of Truth, to be a kind of first-fruits among His creatures. God's good and gracious will, according to which He wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, we Christians have experienced. He begot us, we became His children through the Word of Truth, the Gospel, 1 Peter 1:23. When the Gospel was proclaimed to us, the merciful will of God, through this means of grace, took us out of our natural, sinful life, and placed us into a new, divine life. By faith we have been regenerated, born anew, become the children of God. And one of God's purposes in working this change in us was to have us be a kind of first-fruits among His creatures. Just as the first-fruits of every harvest in Judea were consecrated to the Lord, thus we Christians have been set apart from the sinful world to be creatures of God, in whom the image of God is being renewed, through whom God is truly honored. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, Ephesians 2:10.

In view of this grace, however, of which we have become partakers, the apostle admonishes: You know that, my beloved brethren; but let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of man does not promote the righteousness of God. The facts which the apostle had just laid before them were truths with which the Jewish Christians were familiar, and of whose soundness they should always assure themselves again, since upon this knowledge and understanding rested their whole Christianity. The fruit of such knowledge would be sure to follow, for a person realizing what he owes to the Word of Truth would certainly always be ready and eager to hear the Word, finding it impossible to learn too much of its glorious message. Just the opposite behavior, however, is expected of a Christian, so far as his neighbor is concerned. He should be reluctant to speak, he should hold back from saying anything in wrath. If he finds that anger is arising in his heart, he should control himself, lest his wrath get the better of his new spiritual nature and cause him to sin. For while there is a righteous indignation over sin which will cause persons in positions of authority to rebuke every form of trespass with all holy severity, it remains true of every form of wrath that it does not work and promote the righteousness of God; its outbursts do not meet with the approval of God, but rather with His condemnation, since they cannot be made to agree with His holy and righteous will.

Knowing the danger of unwarranted anger, the apostle adds the general warning: Wherefore, laying aside all foulness and excess of malice, receive in gentleness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. As new creatures, as children of God, the Christians have a continual battle with their old evil nature, which insists upon rearing its head and endeavoring to lead them into every form of uncleanness and sin. But foulness of every kind and manifold wickedness is incompatible with that condition of heart and mind which God expects from His children, just as is all anger and violence. The disposition of the believers rather is this, that they daily and ever again receive the implanted Word, accept anew the message of their salvation and sanctification as it is brought to them in the Gospel. The seed which has sprouted in their hearts is supposed to grow into a strong, healthy plant, and therefore it is necessary that they hear and learn the Word, which alone is able to save their souls, day after day, never growing weary of its wonderful truths. This action on the part of the believers requires meekness, gentleness, humility, because the pride of man's heart, his self-righteousness, and his general disinclination to the way of salvation will always insist upon standing in his way. But the prize held out to the believers, the everlasting bliss in the presence of God, is of a nature to inspire them with ever new thoughts of their home above and thus to enable them to combat the attacks of their carnal nature successfully.

Verses 22-27

Doers of the Word:

v. 22. But be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

v. 23. For if any be a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass;

v. 24. for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

v. 25. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

v. 26. 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.

v. 27. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

The words which introduce this paragraph may be said practically to form the topic of the entire letter, the apostle's aim being to combat the mere head Christianity which, even in those days, threatened the life of the Church: But become doers of the Word, and not only hearers, deceiving yourselves. The Jewish Christians of Judea had now heard the Gospel-message for about a generation, and they were in danger of falling away from the first love. They still came to hear the Word, but there the matter ended. There was no evidence in their lives of their possessing the fruit-bearing faith which should come by hearing, Romans 10:17. The hearing of the Gospel, of all the preaching which they were blessed with so richly, had become a mere dead custom with them, a habit without life. But hearing should be accompanied by a living faith, by a faith which gives evidence of its existence in the entire life of the believer. Sanctification is the correlate of justification. The preaching of sin and grace is not to pass through the hearing of the Christian like a dead sound, but the spiritual life which was worked in the Christians through the Gospel should find its expression in deed and in truth, should be living and powerful in good works. Unless there is such evidence of faith in the life of people professing to be Christians, unless sanctification follows upon justification, they are deceiving their own hearts, they are reasoning themselves into a state of carnal security.

The apostle explains his meaning by a comparison: For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who glances at his natural face in a mirror; for he glances at himself, and goes away, and at once forgets what he was like. A person whom this description fits, with whom the hearing of the Word has become a mere dead habit, without meaning and life, is well compared to the average person who merely glances into the mirror to see whether his face is clean, whether his clothing is arranged properly. There are very few persons that would be able to recall their own features even after using a mirror hundreds of times. Thus the mere hearers of the Word go back to their every-day lives and neither retain the Gospel-message with a believing heart, nor do they bring forth fruit with patience, Luke 8:15.

With such forgetful, vain hearers of the Word the apostle contrasts the true believer: But he that looks closely into the perfect law, that of liberty, and remains thus, proving himself not a forgetful listener, but a doer of the Word, he will be blessed in his doing. It is God's will that the believers, having been regenerated through His almighty power through faith, should grow in holiness, in perfection, according to His holy will. The perfect law or institution of liberty is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it teaches us wherein true liberty consists, namely, in serving our heavenly Father through Christ. The true believer does not merely glance at this fact in passing, but takes time to study carefully all those things which, he knows, have the approval of the Lord. It is just because he realizes the extent and the wonderful richness of his liberty in Christ Jesus that he strives to be a doer of the Word, to make progress in sanctification. And he that is thus employed in the service of his heavenly Father, for the love which he bears Him in faith, will be happy and blessed in his doing, the very fact of his being engaged in works which are well-pleasing to his Lord and Master is a satisfaction and a reward which fully repays him, not to speak of the reward of grace which the Lord will pay out to him on the last day. In doing the will of God, a Christian realizes and experiences on his part what the Word of God is able to perform in him, that it is a power of God unto salvation.

That sanctification must thus follow justification the apostle shows in conclusion: If anyone fancies himself to be a religious man, but does not control his tongue and rather deceives his own heart, his religion is vain; pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to care for orphans and widows in their tribulation, to keep oneself unspotted from the world. If Any person thinks he is, imagines himself to be, such a one as has the reverence of God in mind at all times, probably making a boast of his religion and of his zeal for God's Word, and at the same time is guilty of the threefold misuse of the tongue, slander, swearing, and impure speaking, he thereby deludes himself. His own words and actions give the lie to his protestations; he denies by his life during the week what he proudly boasts of on Sundays, and therefore his so-called religion is a futile, useless thing. The power and efficacy of the Word, as the author points out, will rather, in all true believers, give evidence of its presence in a far different way. That is pure, real, unsoiled, selfless religion, a real fruit of faith as it is active and effective in love, if Christians make the care of the fatherless, of widows, of all such as are deprived of their natural protectors, their special purpose, thus alleviating their affliction as much as lies in their power. And another way in which true religion will become evident is in this, that the believers preserve themselves unspotted from the world, that they have no communion with the unfruitful works of darkness which soil the hearts and minds and drive faith out of the heart. Thus shall the sanctification of the Christians go forward all along the line and their faith and love be exercised in accordance with the will of their heavenly Father.


After the address the apostle speaks of the temptations which beset the Christians, of the power of prayer, of the need of humility, of the real source of temptations, of the fatherhood of God, of the acceptance of His Word with meekness, and of sanctification as a fruit of justification.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on James 1". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/james-1.html. 1921-23.
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