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Bible Commentaries

Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books
James 1

 

 

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Verse 1

About the Author and His Readers

Rather than relying upon his physical kinship with our Lord to get himself a hearing, James calls himself "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." The Greek word "doulos", which is translated servant, suggests the idea of one born into slavery. We are born into Christ by baptism (Romans 6:3-4), and should be his slave since he gave his blood to buy us (Acts 20:28; Titus 2:14). Woods says the word means, "one "who gives oneself up wholly to another"s will," serving to the complete disregard of one"s own selfish interests." Paul would certainly describe himself as such an one (Philippians 1:21; Galatians 2:20), and would plead with others to join him (Romans 12:1-2).

The twelve tribes which were scattered abroad must be Christians, since James uses the word brethren nineteen times. They could be Jewish converts who were scattered throughout the world after the death of Stephen (Acts 8:1-4). However, it seems more likely James was addressing all of spiritual Israel. The kingdom was taken away from fleshly Israel (Matthew 21:43). The children of flesh were no longer recognized as the children of God (Romans 9:8). So, we conclude James must be speaking to Christians who were Gentiles as well as Jews (Galatians 6:15-16). God now looks on the inward circumcision of the heart instead of the outward circumcision of the flesh (Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:3). The children of promise are now Abraham"s seed in Christ (Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:16; Galatians 3:26-29). Christians are a holy nation, the people of God (1 Peter 2:9-10).


Verses 2-4

Reasons For Having Joy In Trials

James uses the word for "greetings" which means "joy to you." He then goes on to tell his readers they ought to be happy even in the presence of many and various kinds of outward hardships and trials (James 1:2). This is not a faked happiness, but a sincere joy because the results of overcoming trials are known. Overcoming trials will result in receiving the promise (Hebrews 10:32-39). Jesus said, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).

Robertson emphasizes the fact that one falls unwittingly into these trials. He is unexpectedly, and through no fault of his own, surrounded, much like the man who fell among thieves (Luke 10:30). Notice, James assumes trials will come. Becoming a Christian does not make one immune from life"s troubles. Jesus told his disciples, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). At the close of his first missionary journey, Paul went back to the churches and worked to strengthen the faith of the brethren. He said, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Peter also told the brethren not to be surprised when they experienced fiery trials. In fact, he urged them to rejoice because they had proven worthy to suffer for the Lord"s sake (1 Peter 4:12-14).

The reason for joy in trials is that they produce patience (James 1:3). The word "testing" here suggests raw ore going through a furnace to remove the dross (1 Peter 1:6-7). So, this is like a trial to prove the purity of one"s faith (Compare Genesis 22:1-14). Such trials produce a quality of lasting endurance, like a long distance runner must have. Furthermore, if patience is allowed to progress to its absolute end, the man of God will be full grown and whole, or possess all his parts (James 1:4). Woods says of the words "lacking nothing", "Basically, the word is a racing term, and points to the fact that those who develop into mature Christians are not out-distanced by any."


Verses 5-8

Ask God For Wisdom

Having said that patient endurance of trials will lead to spiritual maturity, James seems to anticipate his readers" thoughts. Some would probably wonder how they could approach their trials with joy. They would feel that a greater wisdom than they possessed was required to have that joy. James says they should ask God for such wisdom, because he is a generous provider who will not reproach us for asking (James 1:5). Jesus told the listeners assembled on the mount, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matthew 7:7-11). The "wisdom" for which we should ask is the ability to rightly practice God"s word in the opportunities life presents (James 3:13-18).

The request of verse 5 must be made with full expectation of receiving (Hebrews 11:6). The one who doubts would be inwardly torn between believing God would provide and believing he would not. Such doubt would cause his whole life to be unstable like a wave driven in different directions by the wind (Compare Ephesians 4:14;Mark 11:24). That kind of man has no reason to expect God to answer his prayers. James calls this man doubleminded. This appears to be the first use of these words in combination and serves as a good description of one with divided thinking (James 1:6-8).


Verses 9-12

Lessons From the Rich and Poor Brother

In demonstrating the maturity brought by patient endurance of trials, James uses the example of the poor and the rich brothers. The Christian who is poor can rejoice in his poverty because he is rich in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). The rich man in Christ should be humbled by the knowledge that all he has cannot buy an entrance to heaven. Instead of being independently wealthy, he is really dependent upon God for his wealth. This passage has much the same purpose as Paul"s message to the slave and the free man in 1 Corinthians 7:22.

All of us need to realize this life is as temporary as the grass and flowers of the field (James 1:9-11). Peter quoted from Isaiah 40:6-8, when he wrote, "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever" (1 Peter 1:24-25). Knowing wealth did not stop one from needing God and remembering the brevity of life, Paul directed Timothy to, "Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

The wise place to lay up treasures is in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). When one has laid his treasures in heaven, he will be "blessed." Christians experience an inner peace, which is their joy or blessedness. It is not merely happiness which is brought on by good events around us, but an inner calm unaffected by outward events. Those who successfully overcome those trials which fall in upon them (verse 2) will receive the crown of life (James 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:6-8). In this case, life is our victory wreath. Those who continue to endure prove by their lives that they love God (1 John 5:3).


Verse 13-14

Put The Blame On Self

In the first part of James 1:1-27, trials, or external hardships are considered. Then, as Woods notes, James changes from the noun form to a verb in his consideration of temptation. Woods tells us the verb form means "solicit to do evil" and gives the example of Satan tempting our Lord (Matthew 4:1-11). God will test men, as we have already seen and the case of Abraham shows, but he will not tempt men to sin (James 1:13). Adam, like some today, tried to blame God for his temptation and sin (Genesis 3:12). James clearly answers the challenge of Adam.

Notice the external trial becomes an internal problem when we are drawn away of our own lust. Adam tried to put the blame for his sin on Eve and Eve tried to blame the devil (Genesis 3:13-16). James does not put the blame upon Satan because ultimately it rests with us (James 1:14). The devil will receive his punishment, but so will we because we are responsible for our actions. Ezekiel recorded the Lord"s words when he said, "The soul who sins shall die" (18:4).

Similarly, Paul writes, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7-8).


Verse 15

Sin, An Unwanted Offspring of Uncontrolled Lust

Lust is natural desire out of control. It is not wrong to be hungry and want to eat, but it is wrong to steal food to satisfy one"s hunger. "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need" (Ephesians 4:28). Similarly, sexual desire is not wrong unless it is satisfied outside of marriage. For, "marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4; Galatians 5:19).

"Drawn away" and "enticed" come from fishing and hunting experiences. They picture one who is lured by the bait and hooked when he bites. God warned Cain, "And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it" (Genesis 4:7). Wiersbe reminds us that it is the bait which keeps the animal from seeing the trap or the fish the hook. The attractive nature of sin also keeps us from seeing its consequences (Genesis 13:10-13; 2 Samuel 11:2-27; 2 Samuel 12:1-14). We must learn to resist its enticement. The wise man wrote, "My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent" (Proverbs 1:10).

Lust and uncontrolled desire join and conceive an unwanted child called sin. Sin, like an unwanted child, is a direct result of our allowing our passions to run out of control. When sin grows up, it gives birth to death (James 1:15; Romans 6:23). Thus, we have sin"s lineage.


Verses 16-18

God Is The Source Of Good

Do not make the mistake of believing that God tempts us to do evil. He would not give man two such unwanted offspring. Instead, God is the source of everything that is good (James 1:16-17). "So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is God"" (Mark 10:19). He is also the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). God is light (1 John 1:5) and is the source of every light (Genesis 1:1-5; Genesis 1:14-18). Unlike the lights which he created, which vary in intensity of brightness and cast varying lights and shadows due to the earth"s turning, God is unchanging. "For I am the Lord, I do not change" (Malachi 3:6).

Our own lust yields temptation which gives birth to sin and death. God causes men to be born of the truth (James 1:18). Rather than being the source of temptation, God is the one who has begotten us unto a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). The new birth is spoken of repeatedly in the New Testament (John 1:12-13; John 3:1-8; 1 Corinthians 4:14; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7-8; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4). It does not come about because of good works we do to merit an entrance into heaven. Instead, it is produced by the washing of the new birth, as Paul told Titus.

James describes Christians as being brought forth, like a baby being born, by the word of truth, or the gospel. "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5-6). The very fact that these first century brethren were born to be "firstfruits" indicates that God expected many more to follow (Leviticus 23:10; Deuteronomy 26:2). The sacrifice of the firstfruits was made in expectation of a good harvest to follow. It was a means of consecrating all of the harvest (Romans 11:16).


Verse 19-20

Quick to Hear

Because we are born of God"s word, we ought to be quick to hear it (Matthew 11:15; Matthew 13:9). The Bereans show us how to do this (Acts 17:11) and Cornelius, with his friends and family, waited to hear the word (Acts 10:24; Acts 10:30-33). Our attitude toward God"s word ought to be the same as three of David"s men to the expressed desire of their king. They immediately carried out his expressed wishes, even to the point of jeopardizing their own lives (2 Samuel 23:14-17). We should be ready to carry out God"s wishes, especially because God"s word is truth and is able to set us free (John 17:17; John 8:32). When it is heard, it produces the faith necessary to please God (Romans 10:17; Hebrews 11:7). To fail to hear it is to endanger the soul (Matthew 13:15; Proverbs 28:9; 3 John 1:9-12).

Further, we should be "slow to speak", which Roberts suggests is in response to God"s word. Later, James is going to talk about wars among the brethren (), which may have been caused by contentions over the truth. The Corinthians all wanted to speak at once and caused confusion that prohibited learning (1 Corinthians 14:26-33).

Then, James says to be "slow to wrath" (James 1:19). Some hear the truth and become enraged by it. Those who heard Stephen ran and bit him and finally stoned him (Acts 7:54-60). When Jehoiakim heard the truth read, he began to cut out the pages and throw them in the fire (Jeremiah 36:20-23). Paul, through the power of the Holy Ghost, caused Elymus Bar-Jesus to be blind for a season for refutingGod"s word (Acts 13:4-13). He also directed that those who refused to follow his instructions, as given by inspiration, be withdrawn from (2 Thessalonians 3:12-14).

Men who are uncontrollably angry are not ready to receive God"s truth and do that which is right (Micah 6:8). Notice that James is talking about the "wrath of man", which would be a personal anger. This does not condemn righteous indignation which is actually needed at times (Mark 3:5). We must learn to control our anger so that we do not sin (James 1:20; Ephesians 4:26-27).


Verse 21

Preparing Hearts To Receive God"s Word

Instead of allowing anger to boil over uncontrolled from our hearts, we must prepare our hearts to receive God"s word. We must put aside the clothing stained with the stinking dirt of sin, or filthiness. We also need to sweep clean the heart that has been bubbling over with evil, or the overflow of wickedness (James 1:21).

Having gotten rid of the bad, we need to fill up the heart with good (Compare Matthew 12:43-45). So, James says to receive the "implanted word." The idea here is of a seed that has taken root and begun to grow. Remember that the seed is God"s word and grows best in the soil of a receptive heart (Luke 8:11-15). For it to really take root, the word of God must be received in meekness, with none of the anger in 19-20 but with a submissive spirit ready to hear of needed changes and make them. We want to receive it because it is able to save our souls (Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 3:15).


Verses 22-25

Doing What We Hear

The word is only able to save if we hear and do what we hear (Matthew 7:21-27; Romans 2:13). Woods says the verb tense here in the word "doers" is such that it denotes a continuous action. The same is true when Paul says Christ is going to take vengeance on those who "obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). We are deceived when we think all that we have to do is hear the truth. That hearing must produce a faith that acts (James 1:22; Romans 10:17; Hebrews 11:6).

James then gives a parable to illustrate the point of verse 22. A person who looks in a mirror to check his appearance and then goes away without correcting the problems he sees is like one who only hears. Woods says the verb for "looks" in verse 25 means "to stoop and look, to gaze intently". So, in contrast to the one who glances in the mirror and does nothing about the things he sees which are amiss, we have one who carefully examines himself intending to correct every flaw.

The perfect law of liberty could not be Moses" law since it was unable to offer liberty or bring imperfect man to perfection (Galatians 5:1; Hebrews 8:8). In Christ, perfection is available to man (Hebrews 7:19; Colossians 1:28). Certainly, it is Christ"s law that offers true freedom from condemnation (Romans 8:1-6). Christ"s law is the perfect law of liberty (James 1:23-25).


Verse 26-27

Things True Hearers of the Word Will Do

James" first illustration of one who truly hears the word is in the area of the tongue. Some people outwardly practice religion by regular attendance, taking the Lord"s Supper, singing, etc., yet are fooling themselves as is evidenced by their failure to control their tongue. His failure to be truly religious is clearly seen in his unbridled, or uncontrolled, tongue. His religion is empty, worthless (James 1:26).

The religion of a true hearer is displayed in one"s active concern for the needy. To be godly (God-like) one must especially care for the needs of the fatherless and widows (Psalms 68:5). The word "visit" does not refer to a social call but attention to the needs of the one visited (Compare Colossians 3:12; Galatians 6:10; 1 John 3:17; and Matthew 25:31-46). Pure religion is also demonstrated by keeping ourselves separate from the world"s vices (James 1:27).

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on James 1:4". "Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ghc/james-1.html. 2014.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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