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Bible Commentaries
James 1

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-27

This chapter has a very close relationship to the Old Testament, for all is seen in connection with God; and Christ is not yet spoken of as the center and essence of all blessing and of all direction for the people of God. Chapter 2 introduces this.

James writes simply as a bondservant, not as an apostle communicating the mind of God. For he emphasizes conduct, not doctrine. It may be questioned as to how all twelve tribes might be contacted for the distribution of this message (specially since it is not known where they are scattered); but whether they hear it or not, yet none are to be excluded from its message, which is for all Israel, all of them certainly responsible to bow to and exemplify "the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ."

They were afflicted by temptations, both from being exposed to persecution by Gentiles simply because they were Jews; and from exposure to persecution for Christ's sake, if they were Christians. Yet such trials they were to count "all joy," as the Lord Himself had said. Matthew 5:11-12. These would beget patient endurance. Yet such a result could be hindered by a resentful or discouraged attitude, and they are urged to allow patience to develop a mature, full work in their souls. It is God's way of bringing us to full growth, with no lack remaining. Let us then be willing to allow His work to prosper. Faith is the power for this.

Closely linked with this is the need of wisdom, one of the proper fruits of the new birth. Any lack in this should move us to pray earnestly and believingly, in thorough confidence that our God will give wisdom, for He delights to give liberally, without censure. He desires our unquestioning faith, as that of a child who implicitly trusts his parent. Our wavering as to this is an insult to a faithful loving Creator, for we show ourselves unstable as a wave of the sea, driven by every conflicting wind of circumstance, which winds are intended only as a test of our faith. One with this attitude receives what he expects -- nothing --, but God remains stable and faithful, in how great contrast to a double-minded man, all of whose ways will declare his instability.

Now those low in the social scale (the poor) and the rich are addressed, in order that both should find themselves virtually on the same level. The poor may rejoice because he is exalted. No doubt James is not speaking of the exalted place of his acceptance in Christ, which Paul emphasizes, but of God's exalting him in practical experience of God's blessing spiritually.

On the other hand, the rich God knows how to bring low by His wise governmental dealings, oftentimes by persecution. It may not be so easy to rejoice in this, but many have done so who have found the resulting spiritual blessing to far outweigh all temporal loss. How well for a rich man to remember that, though the flower of the grass is beautiful, yet it is only come and gone: such is the boasted prosperity of man. The burning sun (the heat of trial in the world) both withers the grass (mankind generally), and reduces the lovely flower (the rich and noble) to an unsightly death.

Verse 12 shows there is true happiness in enduring temptation. Of course the tendency of temptation is to prompt one to succumb, not to endure. It is called temptation whether one is inclined to give in or not. In the Lord Jesus of course there was never any such inclination, and no possibility of giving in. The trial proved this. The new nature in the believer also "cannot sin." (1 John 3:9) If we do succumb to temptation, this is the old nature in operation. In the main, true believers will endure, for this is the character of the new life; and those who endure will receive the crown of life, life known in its full, pure flow, above all circumstances of trial. It is the Lord's promise to those who love Him, which certainly means all true believers.

But some would dare to blame God for putting temptation in their way, that is sinful allurements. In verse 1 it had been a question, not of such allurements, but of tribulations, which should be endured in patience and joy. In such trials, God has a direct hand, no doubt, as in the case of Abraham (Genesis 22:1); but it is not God who puts moral evil in a man's way, by which to tempt him. Satan of course did this in the garden of Eden; yet verse 14 is clear that it is a person's own lust that leads him to be drawn away. Whether Satan or men tempt him, he himself is responsible for yielding to this. And once lust is indulged, it conceives and brings forth sin; then of course sin results in death. Therefore, to judge the root of self-in-diligence is the one way for the child of God to meet this: the temptation is to be refused.

It is an urgent matter here that, as beloved brethren, we do not err. On the one side, the temptation to evil proceeds from our own fleshly lusts: on the other side, all that is good and wholesome comes from above, not from ourselves, but is the gracious gift of the Father of lights. Surely this involves every various ray of the spectrum; for every color of the light is a beautiful symbolization of some precious attribute of God and Father, who deals with us in perfection of wisdom and goodness. And in Him is no variableness, but absolute, undeviating consistency; and no shadow of turning, no suggestion of change in His character of pure goodness.

By the sovereign will of such a Father -- faithful and dependable -- we who are saved have been begotten of Him. Of course this is new birth, so that we are blessed with the same marvelous life that in the Father is sublime perfection. It is "the Word of truth" that is the direct agent in such birth, that which has vital, transforming power. This bears fruit of most precious character, and in the present day believers are a kind of first fruits of God's creatures, manifest as His children before the day when Christ is manifested in His millennia glory, and Israel born again as children of God. This will of course be the full fruition of God's ways with that nation, but in many Jewish believers He had already wrought, as a kind of first fruits.

On this ground we may well be admonished (again as beloved brethren) to be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. If all good comes from the Father, by His own will, and through His own Word, certainly it is our wisdom to be learners, our ears open, our tongues restrained, and our tempers kept in control. For the tongue and the temper are a revealing index to the state of a soul.

Men may sometimes feel their wrath is because of God's glory; but this is very questionable in the light of v.20; the righteousness of God is not wrought out by the wrath of man. Rather, man's wrath is linked with filthiness and overflow of wickedness in v.21, as that which is to be laid aside. The losing of one's temper is manifestly the overflow of wickedness.

On the positive side, we are to receive with meekness the engrafted word, a quiet, receptive spirit being in contrast to wrath. The word is spoken of as engrafted here because a graft produces a different fruit than did the old stock: so the word brings forth fruit of a new kind, having in itself power to save souls.

But it brings responsibility too. Certainly it is received by hearing; but that word is no dormant thing, to be merely stored up and forgotten. Rightly received, it produces actions otherwise one is deceiving himself. Do we fill a vessel with water merely to let it stagnate? Does one learn gardening with the object of merely looking out the window at his overgrown yard?

A mere hearer and not a doer of the Word is likened now to a man looking into a mirror, but with such a fleeting impression that he forgets the sight of his own face. No doubt the word is a mirror, revealing precisely what we are. That word should have a lasting impression, so that our exposed faults would be corrected, not forgotten.

Verse 25 further interprets the mirror as "the perfect law of liberty." This refers to the word of God that has produced a new nature in the believer, not a law of bondage, but of a new life, spontaneous, vital, free; a law without legality. This word shows us what we truly are as begotten of God by grace, and, continuing in this blessed liberty of grace, one is not forgetful, but responsive in doing the work consistent with his new nature: he is blessed in his doing. Others may wrongly emphasize doing as though it was the means of eternal blessing from God: he rather delights in the perfect law of liberty, and he is presently blessed in his doing, which is a result of his enjoyment of the grace of God.

The reality of this is tested in v.26. One might seem religious, for many there are who put on such a cloak; but if he does not keep his tongue under proper control, his religion is void of value. Judaism was called "the Jews' religion," for religion is that which "binds" one to a certain course of action. Christianity is rather a setting free from bondage. Verse 27 does not describe Christianity, but it does describe pure religion, and certainly Christianity has this in common with "pure religion," though Christianity is much more. The positive side of pure religion is genuine care for those in trial, the fatherless and widows. The negative side is keeping oneself from contamination by a world of evil. These things are certainly an elementary part of Christianity, which gives motives of faith and love to act upon, rather than merely a sense of responsibility, as is the case with religion. Yet, whatever our motives may be, responsibility does not change.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on James 1". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/james-1.html. 1897-1910.
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