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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
James 1

 

 

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Introduction

Chapter 1. The Main Essence Of The Letter.

In this chapter James introduces the main facets that he intends to deal with:

· The need for patient endurance and the maintenance of unwavering trust in God (James 1:2-8) and by keeping an eye on the goal (James 1:12)

· The dichotomy between rich and poor and its inherent dangers (James 1:9-11).

· The dangers of temptation (James 1:13-15).

· God’s remedy for temptation in the provision of His word through which He begets us on the basis of His own will and purpose (James 1:16-18), a word which grows within us and brings about our salvation (James 1:21).

· The need therefore to be quick to hear and slow to speak and to avoid the angry mind (James 1:19-20).

· The importance of not only hearing but doing (James 1:22-27).


Verse 1

Introduction.

Note here the standard formula for a letter, that is, name of the sender, name of the recipient, and greeting. This was a typical opening to a letter in ancient times.

‘James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.’

The majority evidence points to this as being James, the Lord’s brother. Through the death of Jesus he has become the heir to the throne of David, but to him that is as nothing compared with the privilege of being a servant of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

There are two ways of looking at the word ‘servant’ here. The first as indicating that he is, in privilege, in the line of the great men and prophets of old, the ‘servants of YHWH’. And the second as indicating a servant in relation to his ‘lord’.

If we see it in terms of the first the term ‘My servant’ or ‘The Servant of YHWH’ was used in various ways, with various degrees of honour. Only Moses and Joshua were actually given the title of ‘the servant of YHWH’, and in both cases it was posthumously. For Moses as the servant of the Lord (YHWH: Greek - Kurios, ‘Lord’) see Deuteronomy 34:5 Joshua 1:1 and often; 2 Kings 18:12; 2 Chronicles 1:3; 2 Chronicles 24:6. For Joshua (Greek Jesus) as the servant of the Lord (YHWH) see Joshua 24:9; Judges 2:8. Thus we have here the great Lawgiver and the great Deliverer who each had bestowed on them after their death the title ‘the servant of YHWH’. Both were types of the great Servant of YHWH (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 49:3; Isaiah 49:5; Isaiah 52:13) of Whom it was said that the coastlands would wait for His Law (Isaiah 42:4), and that He would restore Israel (Isaiah 49:6) and be a light to lighten the Gentiles in bringing them deliverance (Isaiah 42:6-7) taking YHWH’s salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6). He was to be both Lawgiver and Deliverer. It is not likely that James had this in mind.

However, Abraham was spoken of by YHWH as ‘My servant’ (Genesis 26:24; compare Psalms 105:6; Psalms 105:42) as were Jacob and his ‘descendants’ (Isaiah 41:8-9; Isaiah 44:1-2; Isaiah 44:21; Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 48:20; Jeremiah 30:10; Jeremiah 46:28; Ezekiel 28:25), and Moses (Numbers 12:7-8; Joshua 1:2; Joshua 1:7) and Caleb (Numbers 14:24).

David the king (2 Samuel 3:18; 2 Samuel 7:5; 2 Samuel 7:8; 1 Kings 11:32; 1 Kings 11:36; 1 Kings 11:38; 1 Kings 14:8; 2 Kings 19:34; 2 Kings 20:6; 1 Chronicles 17:4; 1 Chronicles 17:7; Psalms 89:3; Psalms 89:20; Ezekiel 34:24) and Zerubbabel, the ruler of ‘Israel’ after the exile (Haggai 2:23) were also spoken of by YHWH as ‘My servant’ and the prophets were described as ‘My servants the prophets’ (2 Kings 17:13; Jeremiah 25:4; Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 29:19; Ezekiel 38:17; Zechariah 1:6, compare Daniel 9:10; Amos 3:7). See also the use of ‘My servant’ of Job (Job 1:8; Job 2:3; Job 42:8); of Isaiah (Isaiah 20:3); of Eliakim (Isaiah 22:20) and of Nebuchadrezzar, in his case by ‘YHWH’ as ‘the God of Israel’ (Jeremiah 43:10; Jeremiah 46:26). But the people in general who were true to Him were also called ‘My servants’ (Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 65:8; Isaiah 65:13; compare Psalms 34:22 and often; Isaiah 56:6; Isaiah 65:15; Isaiah 66:14) and ‘the servants of YHWH (Psalms 113:1; Psalms 134:1; Psalms 135:1; Isaiah 54:17). And, of course, Isaiah spoke of the coming great Servant as ‘My Servant’ (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 49:3; Isaiah 49:5-6; Isaiah 52:13 compare Isaiah 50:10).

It will be noted how many inflections there are to the idea. With Moses and Joshua it was especially a posthumous title of great honour as the potential introducers of the Kingly Rule of God. David was unique in that YHWH paralleled him as His servant with Himself (2 Kings 19:34), He would act ‘for His own Name’s sake and for David’s sake’. Again the thought is of ensuring the maintenance of the Kingly Rule of God established by David. In other cases it indicated the privilege of serving YHWH, and the intimate concern that YHWH had for His servants. Thus if James had this in mind, and it must surely have been in the back of his mind, he was putting himself in line with all who served YHWH in the Old Testament.

On the other hand it is also probable that, while having this background in mind, it is the humbling emphasis of the title that he was mainly thinking of. He was not by it seeking to exalt himself as some great one (others did that for him). He was seeking to express his heartfelt gratitude to God and the Lord Jesus Christ for ‘His’ goodness towards him as his Master, aiming to indicate the seriousness of his purpose. He was writing as the Lord’s servant, and indicating what his attitude of mind was to his readers. He was the slave of His God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and all that he wrote had in mind pleasing Him and accomplishing His will among His people.

‘Of the God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ In the Greek the phrase is emphasised by its position in the sentence, and there are no definite articles in it, although we should bear in mind that with such nouns as ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ the article was often to be assumed. It therefore leaves it open to ambiguity. We can translate in a number of ways. But in which ever way we do it, it is impossible to avoid the fact that James is equating the two titles in such a way that they are seen as parallel. We can compare here Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 8:6, ‘we have one God, the Father -- and one Lord, Jesus Christ’. Given the fact that ‘Lord’ is the translation of YHWH’s name in the Old Testament, and that in the Greek world it was used in parallel with ‘gods’ as describing ‘gods’ this is a clear indication of deity. There is no question but that the Rabbis would have seen it as blasphemous.

It could signify:

1) God on the one hand and ‘the Lord, Jesus Christ’ on the other, but with an emphasis in the latter case on Lord (the idea of kurios = YHWH would have been one thing in mind to one who read the Scriptures in both Greek and Hebrew).

2) A deliberate contrast between ‘God and Lord’ and himself as a servant so that he has over him both One Who is his God, and One Who is his Lord, (and thus is ‘the Lord, Jesus Christ’).

3) Jesus Christ as his ‘God and Lord’. This would tie in with the parallel idea in 2 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:11, where we have ‘our God and Saviour Jesus Christ’ and ‘our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’, where the article before ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ indicates that the link with Saviour indicates the One person (compare for this usage James 3:9, ‘the Lord and Father).

Whichever way we see it there can be no doubt that taken in its natural meaning this is an indication of deity. James is recognising the great gap between himself and his ‘Lord’, and putting his Lord on the divine side of reality. (How then could he also at the same time have said ‘the brother of the Lord’? It would have been incongruous).

We should also note the significance of the other names. ‘Jesus’ means YHWH is salvation’, and was given because He would ‘save His people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21). Indeed the story of His naming was presumably regularly told in the household of Joseph and Mary, something which would have gained new significance after His death and resurrection. ‘Christ’ means literally ‘Messiah’. Thus James is also stressing His Messiahship. These inflections would be obvious to all his readers.

It is sometimes suggested that the letter is somewhat short on references to Jesus Christ who is named only here and in James 2:1. But that is to ignore a number of things. Firstly it is to ignore what we see here. For James often speaks of ‘the Lord’, and certainly in James 5:7-8, where we read of ‘the coming of the Lord’, that can only mean the Lord Jesus Christ. It is apparent that, to James, God and ‘the Lord’, Jesus Christ, can be spoken of almost in the same breath. Thus the letter could be seen as having a number of references to Him (at least James 1:1; James 2:1; James 4:15; James 5:7-8; James 5:14-15). Furthermore he also refers to ‘the worthy/honourable Name by which you are called’ (James 2:7). The idea of the Lord, Jesus Christ thus underlies the whole narrative.

James 1:1, ‘To the twelve tribes who are of the Dispersion.’

For a detailed argument indicating that ‘the twelve tribes’ means the whole church, including ex-Jews and ex-Gentiles (Galatians 3:28) as in the new ‘Israel’ in Christ, the ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:16), see the introduction. The phrase is also used in the Shepherd of Hermas to indicate the same, when Hermas (Similitudes 9. 17) explains that the twelve mountains in his vision ‘are the twelve tribes who inhabit the whole world, to whom the Son of God was preached by the apostles’. Hermas had evidently read James. Compare also its use in Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30, for which see our commentaries. There too in our view it means the whole church. James had a strong sense that the church was the true Israel (not what some call the ‘spiritual Israel’ in contradistinction to Israel, but the actual continuation of the real Israel, made holy by cutting off and engrafting as had always been the case), founded on Jesus as the new Vine (John 15:1-6), and then on the Apostles (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:20). He saw it as the ‘new nation’ of Matthew 21:43, established first in Jerusalem (Acts 1-9) but then spreading outwards to take in the Jews who became Christians, many of whom were then dispersed by persecution (Acts 8:1), which James saw as the new Dispersion, and ‘grafting in’ the huge number who turned from being Gentiles to enter the new Israel as followers of the Messiah, who were also dispersed around the world. This was Israel as God had always intended it to be, an Israel throbbing with spirituality and life.

Many scholars see it as indicating all Christian Jews but this is unlikely in view of the fact that the writer, while stressing inter-church behaviour, never deals with the question of how the Gentiles fit in. To have written just to Jews worldwide, and to totally ignore the Gentiles who shared with them the same synagogues and churches, without dealing with that question, would have been to be seriously divisive, and certainly unlike the ever considerate compromiser (in a good sense) James is revealed to be in Acts 15, 21. It would have been a separatist letter suggesting a division in the church. Some therefore, recognising this, argue that it is written to the Christian Jews in Judaea, but that is to give a totally new meaning to the term ‘the Dispersion’, which in fact regularly indicates Jews outside Palestine. Why not also then give a new meaning to ‘the twelve tribes’, one already used by Jesus?

James 1:1, ‘Greeting.’

It is noteworthy that this greeting only occurs elsewhere twice in the New Testament. The first is as used by James, the Lord’s brother and the elders in Acts 15:23, in a letter to the churches, and the second is as used in Acts 23:26 of the greeting from the Roman tribune in a letter to the Procurator about Paul. It has been seen as support for the idea that the writer was James, the Lord’s brother. On the other hand it might be seen as a common non-Biblical greeting. Either way it is an opening greeting intended to indicate oneness and love/loyalty with those to whom it is written.


Verse 2

‘Count it all joy, my brothers, whenever you find yourself involved with many kinds of temptations,’

James begins by calling on all Christians (‘my brothers’) to rejoice in trials and temptations whenever they are faced up with them, seeing all testing as a means for exercising faith and confidence in the Lord, Jesus Christ, and in His promises, whether those trials be in terms of persecution, problems of life, or inward temptations. They should thus rejoice in them, as they rise above them hand in hand with Him, with their eyes fixed on things above where Christ is seated on the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1-3), looking not at the things that are seen, but at the things which are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18). For in the light of what is unseen, the things that are seen are unimportant, and can be seen in their proper perspective. And in the process of experiencing these tests and trials they should continually rejoice because they know that their successful enduring of their trials is accomplishing much good in them.

‘Count it all joy.’ That is reckon on it as the most delightful and joyous thing in the world. ‘Reckon it as a thing of unreserved joy’, almost hilarity, because of the blessing that is going to result. We can compare Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and speak all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account, rejoice and be exceeding glad’ (Matthew 5:12). And why are we to rejoice? Because it is the evidence that we are acceptable to God, and that God is treating us as His children who need to learn the lessons of life (Hebrews 12:3-11). And it is evidence that we have got Satan worried (Luke 22:31). And it is evidence that through our Lord Jesus Christ we have been reconciled to God, and have been made at one with Him (Romans 5:11), which has resulted in men turning against us because they see us as presumptious. See also for this joy John 16:20-24; John 17:13; Acts 13:52; Acts 15:3; Acts 20:24; Romans 14:17; Romans 15:13; Philippians 2:29; 1 Peter 1:8.

‘Temptations.’ The word indicates trials of any kind whether through the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches or the desire for other things (Mark 4:19), or through physical persecution and harassment because they are Christians (see Acts 14:22; 1 Peter 1:6; 1 Peter 4:12; also Hebrews 2:18 etc). For the comparison of joy with trials compare 1 Peter 1:8 with James 1:7, but see also Luke 6:21-23 and the blessedness of the faithful as found in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-13). The point behind such temptations and trials is the activity of God in ‘proving’ His people, as the next verse reveals. Compare Sirach 2:1; Sirach 36:1 where the context similarly implies affliction on the one hand and being ‘proved’ on the other.

It was the response of Christians to trials and persecution in the early church that often resulted in many becoming Christians. They knew that men who had such joy in the midst of suffering must have something worth having. And the early church saw it as a privilege, a favour granted by God, which is why Paul could say, “it has been granted to you … to suffer for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 1:29). Thus far from being seen as a matter for discouragement, it was seen as a grounds for thanksgiving. Peter indicated the same thing, ‘if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God’ (1 Peter 4:16). That is why the early Christians went away “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). They were honoured to be dishonoured for His sake.

Note the emphasis on ‘my brothers’ which will continue. He wants them to see that they are all one family, that he loves them as a brother (later ‘my beloved brothers’), and that they are brothers to each other.


Verses 2-4

Christians Are To Rejoice When They Are Tested Because They Know That It will Teach Them How To Endure And Will Result In Their Becoming Spiritually Mature (James 1:2-4).

We should note that there is no suggestion here that Christians should seek to experience trials and tests. Indeed Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Do not lead me into testing’. What James is rather dealing with is the fact that in the course of life the Christian can expect to be tested in various ways, for it is by such testing that he can be weaned away from the world and can become strong.

Certainly such testing was true in the early days. The Jews were beginning to hate the Christians, seeing them as heretics and blasphemers. Gentiles were beginning to be suspicious of them. The net result was that they often had to face up to niggling persecution and ridicule, with it sometimes even growing more severe. We have various examples of it in the book of Acts. Certainly James knows that that is what God’s people must expect.


Verses 2-12

Those Who Face Trial for The Sake Of Their Faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ Will Be Blessed (James 1:2-12).

The letter commences by outlining the basic themes that will be dealt with later (see Analysis above), for as we have seen the whole letter is in the form of a chiasmus based on those themes. But it is also interesting that the opening verses of the letter after the greeting may also be seen as a chiasmus, coming between the two inclusios of James 1:2; James 1:12. James 1:2 commences with the overwhelming joy that they should have as they face up to trials for His sake, trials which will strengthen them and enable them to endure, while James 1:12 speaks of the blessedness of those who face up to those trials because it will result in their receiving the crown of life which God has prepared for those who love Him.

Analysis of James 1:2-12.

a Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into many kinds of temptations, knowing that the proving of your faith works patient endurance (James 1:2-3).

b And let patient endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing (James 1:4).

c But if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and does not upbraid, and it will be given him (James 1:5).

d But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting, for he who doubts is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed (James 1:6).

e For let not that man think that he will receive anything of the Lord (James 1:7).

d A doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:8).

c But let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate, and the rich, in that he is made low, because as the flower of the grass he will pass away (James 1:9-10).

b For the sun arises with the scorching wind, and withers the grass: and its flower falls, and the grace of the fashion of it perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in his goings (James 1:11).

a Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him (James 1:12).

Note that in ‘a’ they will fall into temptation and testing which will result in patient endurance and in the parallel they will be blessed by enduring temptation and testing. In ‘b’ the one who endures will have an abundance and lack nothing, while in the parallel the rich man who does not overcome his riches will be left with nothing. In ‘c’ wisdom will be given to those who ask, and in the parallel both rich and poor are to learn wisdom from their experience. In ‘d’ the believer and the doubter are compared, and the doubter is like the sea as stirred up by the wind, and in the parallel the doubleminded man is unstable in all his ways. Centrally in ‘e’ those who are lacking in faith and are doubleminded will receive nothing from the Lord.

We might also see these verses as a summary, within the wider outline shown above, of the whole letter. It commences with testing (‘a’, compare James 1:1-11), which will result in patient endurance (‘b’, compare James 1:17; James 1:25-27), which will lead on to true faith and wisdom (‘c to e’ compare James 2:14-26; James 3:13-18), which leads on to how the rich and poor are to behave in the face of that persecution (‘d to b’ compare James 4:1 to James 5:6), which finally leads on to the Lord’s final coming and judgment (‘a’, compare James 5:7 onwards).


Verse 3

‘Knowing that the proving of your faith works patient endurance,’

For this ‘testing’ will prove the genuineness of their faith and confidence in Christ and make it strong and sure, and once they are confident that they can truly trust Christ in all circumstances, it will result in continuing patient endurance in the face of all that the future will hold. We learn to trust Him as we go along, and the more we trust Him the more He is able to ‘try’ us so that we may grow more and more. The child who is protected from all that life deals out will never grow into an adult.

‘Knowing.’ That is ‘coming to the knowledge of’ the fact that once their faith is ‘proved’ they will find rest and be able to continue on in further patient endurance (compare Hebrews 3-4).

‘Proving (dokimion).’ Only found here in the New Testament and in 1 Peter 1:7. The idea is of something tested in the fire and coming out refined.


Verse 4

‘And let patient endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.’

And the final result of enduring these testings and trials with patient endurance, and of rejoicing in the privilege of suffering for Him, will be the sanctification (making holy, setting apart to God) and building up of their lives that will result in their coming to maturity of faith and love. It will accomplish a ‘perfect work’. They will become ‘perfect even as their Father in Heaven is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48), loving their enemies (Matthew 5:44) and behaving towards them in ways that are right and good (Matthew 5:44-48; Matthew 7:12). In view of the close connection with riches (James 1:9) James may well have in mind the rich young man who was called on to be ‘perfect’ by yielding up all his worldly goods and following Christ (Matthew 19:21). It is a ‘perfection’ that is the result of being released from the grip of the world and from the grip of riches. Compare James 1:10; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17.

‘Patient endurance.’ The word hupomone expresses the active courage and firm resolution that is to be found in Christians, as they are indwelt by Christ and go forward with Him (Galatians 2:20). Compare for its use Luke 21:19; Romans 2:7; Romans 5:3-4; Romans 15:4-5; 2 Corinthians 6:4.

‘Entire (holokleroi).’ The word came to mean ‘total and complete, without defect’. They will become whole and without blemish, so that their lights will shine in the world bringing glory to God (Matthew 5:16).

‘Lacking in nothing.’ They will not ‘lose the race’ through lack of training. They will be undefeated in whatever they face. They will triumph. For it is God Who will give them the victory. And though those who are like this may lack physical riches which will eventually fade away (James 1:9-11), they will enjoy the riches of faith and will be heirs of the Kingly Rule of God (James 2:5). They will not lack anything that is worthwhile, both in the quality of their lives and with regard to what is truly important. They will not fall short in any way. If they wait patiently they will have everything that is truly worthwhile, all that they have waited for, and will have it in abundance when their Lord comes (James 1:12; James 5:7-8).

Towards the end of his letter James will illustrate this again, this time from men’s past experience, declaring, ‘Behold we call happy those who were steadfast’ and illustrating it in the person of Job who knew what suffering really meant. He too learned through his suffering and ended up fully restored and perfected (James 5:11).


Verse 5

‘But if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and does not upbraid, and it will be given him.’

In the face of many trials and temptations they may often be brought to a standstill. They may wonder what they should do in the light of them, and may need wisdom and guidance along the way. God therefore tells them that if they need wisdom in the light of trials they should ask it of Him and He promises that He will give it to them, for He is the One Who gives to all men liberally. As Jewish tradition (Sirach 1:1) declares, "All Wisdom comes from the Lord and is with him for ever". If we are to have true wisdom it must come from Him, and especially so when that wisdom comes through the Holy Spirit as ‘wisdom from God’ which is found in Christ resulting in His becoming to us righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Nor will He will upbraid them for asking for what is good for them. No one is so unimportant that God will begrudge enlightening his heart and life. Indeed in matters like needing spiritual wisdom He declares, ‘ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you -- how much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him’ (Matthew 7:7-11). And His promise is that He will bring home to them the truths that will enable them to overcome. ‘For the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of testings’ (2 Peter 2:9). And He does it by giving spiritual discernment in the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:5-16).

James is often accused of not mentioning the Holy Spirit, but it is the Holy Spirit, the giver of wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:8-10), the Spirit of truth (1 Corinthians 14:17; 1 Corinthians 14:26; 1 Corinthians 15:28; 1 Corinthians 16:13), Whom he has in mind here. See for this idea of wisdom Jesus’ words in Luke 11:49. ‘The wisdom of God says --’, in comparison with ‘the Spirit says --’ (Matthew 24:23; Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 2:29; Revelation 3:6). Compare also 1 Corinthians 2:4 where the wisdom of men is contrasted with the power of God, and with the demonstration of the Spirit and power, the latter indicating the powerfully effective true wisdom which is greater than that of men. Wisdom is thus found in the word of God illuminated and applied by the Holy Spirit (James 1:18; James 1:21; James 4:5; James 4:11) which has to be lived out in life (James 1:22), and is revealed in true goodness of life (James 3:13).

‘Lack wisdom.’ This has little to do with gaining worldly knowledge. To the Jews wisdom was found in knowing the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 3:7). The man who thus finds wisdom and gets understanding will truly be able to rejoice, for it will be better for him than a multitude of riches (Proverbs 3:13-18). That is why the wise man builds his house on a rock by hearing Jesus’ words and doing them, then he knows that the storms and tempests cannot move him (James 1:6; Matthew 7:24-25). He responds to the Spirit and His wisdom.

There have been many times in history when religious leaders have sought to prevent common people from seeking wisdom on the grounds that any wisdom must be seen as coming through them. Perhaps James knew of some Rabbis and Pharisees who were doing precisely that, men such as the Judaisers who were travelling around trying to imprison men’s minds in rites and ceremonies, and bringing them into subjection to their own ideas and ultimately to themselves. But he wants God’s people to know that God will freely give His true wisdom to those who ask Him and will enlighten them with spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 2:11-16) so that they will be delivered from such perversions. This wisdom is found through ‘the implanted word which is able to save your souls’ (James 1:21). It is ‘from above’ (James 3:17), and is real and genuine, resulting in hearts that are at peace (James 3:18).


Verses 5-8

In The Face Of Temptation And Testing Christians Are To Seek Wisdom From God Without Doubting, For Then They Will Know That They Will Receive It And Thus Be Able To Overcome In His Strength And Wisdom (James 1:5-8).


Verse 6

‘But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting, for he who doubts is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and troubled.’

But those who would receive God’s wisdom must come to God with full confidence in His willingness to respond. They must ‘ask in faith, nothing doubting’. And as the writer in Proverbs tells us, they must do it by ‘choosing the fear of the Lord’ (Proverbs 1:29). In other words it requires a single eye (Matthew 6:22). For ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and of true knowledge’ (Proverbs 1:7; Job 28:28), and results in riches beyond imagining (Proverbs 3:13-18). They must thus set their minds to experience this wisdom with hearts full of faith. For if they doubt (revealing it by the course they choose in their thinking and in their lives) they will be tossed to and fro like the waves in the wind, swirling this way and that, never at rest (Isaiah 57:20). They must therefore rather look to God with a single eye and a full assurance of faith, and not with one that turns this way and that, for they cannot serve God and Mammon (Matthew 6:22-24).


Verse 7

‘For let not that man think that he will receive anything of the Lord.’

And this constancy of heart and mind is required for any who would receive God’s wisdom, and indeed anything from God. The one who is tossed this way and that by doubt and inconstancy will receive nothing from the Lord. Such things come only to those whose eyes are set on God. Let them then go into their inner chamber and pray to the Lord in secret, and the Lord Who sees in secret will reward them openly (Matthew 6:6).


Verse 8

‘A doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways.’

For the man who is looking both ways at once will be prone to accidents. He will not know whether to do this or that. He will be ‘unstable (disordered) in all his ways’, first moving one way and then another, never quite sure what to do next. And the only way in which to avoid such double-mindedness is to draw near to God, to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts, and to mourn over our sin, humbling ourselves before God (James 4:8-10). It is as we do this that we will learn true wisdom, and become fixed in our minds.

The letter will end with a similar requirement for steadfast faith and an expression of confidence in God’s willingness to answer prayer as we see in James 5:13-18.


Verses 9-11

Trials Combined With Wisdom Are Intended To Bring Home To Men What Is Important To Them.

‘But let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate, and the rich, in that he is made low, because as the flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun arises with the scorching wind, and withers the grass: and its flower falls, and the grace of the fashion of it perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in his goings.’

James now first introduces what is to be one of his themes, the contrast between rich and poor. The majority of Christians were poor, often made even poorer by becoming Christians, but there were inevitably rich people among them. And James could see that these people both often had a wrong attitude which was unhelpful, and were also in most danger of wandering from the truth, because their eyes and thoughts were fixed on other things which were in danger of taking possession of their lives. He thus makes it apparent that he is especially concerned about the way that the wealthy see life (see James 2:2-7; James 2:14-16; James 5:1-6) because it is clear that they do not recognise how temporary life and its riches are. This foolish attitude of men towards wealth was a constant theme of Jesus (Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:13-21; Luke 12:32-33; Luke 16:19-31), and James clearly saw it as affecting many in the churches. It was an ever present danger, and had been so from the beginning (Acts 5:1-11), for the problem is that possessions possess men, and if not controlled can absorb their whole attention. Later his concern will expand to treating the question of their attitude towards the poor. But here his concern is that if they are not wary they will fade away and die without having had proper regard for God’s ways because they are so tied up in their wealth. So his hope is that by such people being brought low by testings and trials they will be made aware of their transience.

The Christian brother who is poor, he says, can glory in his happy position. (Note the emphasis on ‘brother’. Both rich and poor are to remember that they are brothers in Christ). He is in a state which should be envied. For it is the poor in spirit who will receive the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 5:3). And he can glory in trials, for he has little to lose, and through them he is gaining a great reward (Matthew 5:12). He is thus in line to receive the crown of life, that is, to inherit eternal life (James 1:12). For the believing poor all is gain. His way can only be upwards. James does not feel that the danger of backsliding is quite as great for him. All he must do is keep his eye on the goal.

But how different it is for the rich, for they can so easily be dragged down by their riches. They have so many things that may attract them away from Christ. They should indeed rejoice therefore when trials bring them low, for it will make them aware of the transience of riches, and remind them not to allow their riches to control their lives. For if they do not beware their riches will take over their souls, and will induce them to live accordingly, only for them to discover in the end that those riches are perishing and that they themselves will ‘fade away’ in their pursuit of them, rather than like the believing poor entering in triumph into the everlasting glory. So the rich who are wise will glory in their being made humble and being brought low, for in that lies their hope of escaping from the control and snare of their riches into the arms of Christ, and as a consequence receiving the crown of life. The detail provided demonstrates the fears that James has about the rich. He is fearful that their faith might not prove to be genuine and able to stand up to the snares of wealth. It is they whom he sees as in the greatest danger of being insincere.

‘In that he is made low.’ The rich man rejoices in being brought low because it reminds him of his transience. It reminds him that like ‘the flower of the grass’ he will pass away (compare Psalms 103:15; Isaiah 40:6). For the sun arises with the scorching wind, and withers the grass, and its flower falls, and ‘the grace of the fashion of it’ (its blooming beauty) perishes. Instead of continuing to bloom, it withers and dies. ‘So also will the rich man fade away in his goings.’ He too will ‘fade away and wither and die as he goes about his business’, that is he will if he fails to heed the message brought to him by his trials. His riches will not enable him to prevent it.

By "the flower of the grass" may be meant the blaze of gorgeous blossoms which accompany the first shooting of the grass in spring in Palestine, which soon dies away in the hot summer. Or it may simply signify the blooming of the grass itself, only for it to wither in the summer heat and die leaving nothing behind but the barren earth.

A similar picture of the vulnerability of the rich is found in James 4:13 to James 5:6, although there it inveighs against their behaviour towards the poor. So the believing poor rejoice in the blessings that are to be theirs, and the believing rich rejoice that God is keeping their eyes in the right direction by constantly bringing them low.


Verse 12

‘Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him.’

The passage then ends with a description of the blessedness of the one who endures temptation, whether rich or poor, and who as a result of it is ‘approved’ because he has allowed it to be effective in his life. Such a man or woman will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. That is in the end why they face testing with such joy. It is because they know what its result will be. And that is why the believing poor will be able to boast in their anticipated exaltation, while the rich are to ensure that they prove ‘worthy’ of it by their responsiveness to God. This idea of receiving future reward will be dealt with in more detail in James 5:7-11.

‘Blessed.’ Literally ‘A blessed one by God is he who (successfully) endures testings.’ Compare Matthew 5:3-10. They are those who have been blessed by God.

‘Approved.’ Found to be pure after testing. Revealed as pure gold with the dross removed.

‘The crown of life.’ In Proverbs 4:9 it is said of wisdom that ‘she will place on your head a fair crown, she will bestow on you a beautiful crown’. For true wisdom brings men to God. In the same way here the reception of the crown results from having received wisdom (James 1:5), and having responded to it. And this wisdom has produced in them true life which is eternal (James 1:18) so that they receive the crown ‘of life’. This crown is probably to be seen as a crown of honour rather than an athlete’s crown, for James would probably have looked on the latter with disfavour. They are to inherit eternal life through the resurrection, and that is to be their crown. They are ‘crowned with eternal life’. In Revelation 2:10 ‘the crown of life’ is the martyr’s crown, which guarantees to him resurrection life following death. In both cases it is their ‘reward’ for faithfulness. So all who have endured trials for His sake, and have thereby been shown to be approved, will receive from Him the crown of eternal life.

‘To those who love him.’ See Psalms 145:20, ‘YHWH preserves all who love Him.’ And compare Deuteronomy 6:5-6. The idea is thus firmly rooted in the Old Testament. God will never fail those who love Him, but will preserve them to the end. This love was, of course, what was commanded of all Jews (Deuteronomy 6:5) but sadly in most it had become mere outward recognition of God and a remote reverence which did not affect their daily way of life. But such true love was being revealed by those who suffered for His Name’s sake (James 1:2).

The theme of Jesus’ coming is further expanded on towards the end of the letter in James 5:7-10, as His people await the fruits of their labours, and are to do it without grumbling in the light of the coming judgment.


Verse 13

‘Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no man.’

There is a play on the meaning of temptation here. James has been speaking about testings and trials, and he may well have heard some blame them on God. And he has indeed made clear that that is partly true, for God allows His people to be tested for their good. But Now he wants to make clear that while God may test men He does not subject them to temptation to sin. Where temptation to sin occurs it is not God Who is doing it.

One reason why that is so is because sin is foreign to God as He is by nature. Thus He cannot be tempted with evil. He is above and beyond it as ‘the Holy One’. Thus temptation to sin would be outside the sphere of His holiness. It is something which He could not conceivably do. But that then brings out another remarkable fact, and that is that in becoming man in Jesus God did subject Himself to temptation. ‘He was tempted in all points as we are, and yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15, compare also James 2:18). But that does not apply to God as Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.

‘And He Himself tempts no man.’ James categorically denies that God tempts men. It would be foreign to what He is. Thus we can never seek to blame our sinfulness on God. It is all of man. Jewish tradition concurs with this conclusion, ‘Do not say, “it is through the Lord that I fell away -- it is He Who caused me to err” (Sirach 15:11-12). For if someone did they would be putting the blame in the wrong place.


Verses 13-15

There Is One Kind Of Testing That Is Not To Be Seen As Of God And That Is The Temptation To Sin. That Springs From The Lusts Of The Human Heart And Leads To Death (James 1:13-15).

James now moves from the trials of life to the idea of a particular trial, that of temptation to sin. It would seem that some were blaming their temptations to sin, and even their sinfulness, on God, so he assures them that it is not God Who tempts men to sin, but men who are tempted because of what they are. They are led astray by their own sinful desires. And they are to be aware that this kind of testing does not lead to the crown of life, but to the dust of death (James 1:15).

Analysis.

A Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no man (James 1:13).

B But each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed (James 1:14).

C Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin (James 1:15 a).

D And the sin, when it is fullgrown (‘has come to completeness’), brings forth death (James 1:15 b).

Note how this is presented in the form of a sequence. First what is not the cause of temptation (it is not God who causes man to be tempted), then what is the cause of temptation (temptation is caused by man’s own desires and lusts), then the consequence of temptation, (man’s lust ‘conceives’ and like a pregnant woman ‘bears’ sin), then the consequences of that sin (sin comes to completeness and, again like a pregnant woman, ‘brings forth’ death).


Verse 14

‘But each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed.’

What then is it that causes men to be tempted? And the answer is that it is as a result of his own fallen desires. It is the result of his lustful nature. He is tempted, he is drawn by the temptation, he is then enticed into sin. He sees something, or hears something or becomes aware of something and then his desires take over and he seeks to make it his own, especially if it is something forbidden. This was what happened in Eden. The woman saw and desired. She wanted the fruit with all her heart and was tempted. And as she continued to gaze at it she was enticed. She saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food, was a delight to the eyes, and was to be desired to give her greater wisdom (Genesis 3:6). And that is why she fell. In the end her failure was due simply to her failure to resist temptation by running away, followed by a period when she allowed enticement. Had her heart been filled with love for God she would have turned away immediately, but as it was she lingered, considering the temptation and weighing it up, and as a result she was enticed and fell (see 2 Timothy 2:22 for what she should have done, ‘flee from youthful desires’).

There are three main types of sin, the sin of the flesh (Ephesians 2:3; 1 John 2:16), the sin of the mind (Ephesians 2:3; 1 John 2:16), and the sin of seeking worldly status (‘the pride of life’, 1 John 2:16). The first is to be fought by running (2 Timothy 2:22), the second by setting the mind on things above (Colossians 3:2), and the third by humble submission to God (James 4:7).


Verse 15

‘Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin, and the sin, when it is fullgrown (‘has come to completeness’), brings forth death.’

But sin does not stop there. Once lust has conceived and produced sin, that sin will grow within men and produce death. For once we have let sin in, it remains within and produces its own effect and we are never rid of it. So while response to testings and trials (‘peirasmoi’) might lead to receiving the crown of life, yielding to temptation (‘peirasmos’) to sin can only produce death. This is the story of sin. And it is one that can be laid at no other door than our own. Whatever the interference of others, even of Satan, man is thus ultimately responsible for his own sin.


Verse 16

‘Be not deceived, my beloved brothers.’

He is concerned that his readers as ‘my beloved brothers’ are not ‘deceived’. The expression of deep affection stresses the importance of what he is saying. It is something that he really wants them to appreciate. He wants them to recognise that while riches are but temporary and fleeting (James 1:11), God’s gifts are what are truly true and permanent. And apart from wisdom as described in James 1:5, and the crown of life in James 1:12, this includes His begetting of His own people through the word of truth, which is a personal ‘begetting’ by the Father of the glorious created lights, something which contrasts powerfully with the temptations ‘born of’ Madame Desire, and the sin ‘born of’ Madame Temptation (James 1:15).


Verses 16-18

All Things Come To Men Through The Unchanging Creator Including Our Begetting Through The Word of Truth. Thus Men Should Be Silent Before Him And, Rather Than Speaking Angrily And Unbefittingly, Receive The Implanted Word With Meekness. (James 1:16-18).

But while temptation may not come from God (James 1:13), all good giving and every perfect gift certainly do so, something which they must not be deceived about. And this in context includes the gift of wisdom (James 1:5). And it also includes the gift of His word through which He has begotten us (James 1:18), and the gift of the sun which causes the flower of the grass to wither (James 1:11), and shines on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45), for He is the Father of lights. In the light of this we should be silent before Him, listening rather than speaking, and eschewing anger which is not consonant with His working, receiving meekly His implanted word which is able to save our souls.

Analysis.

a A Be not deceived, my beloved brothers. All good (beneficial) giving and every perfect gift is from above (James 1:16-17 a).

b B Coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning (James 1:17 b).

c C Of his own will he begat us (‘brought us forth’) by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures (James 1:18).

c A or a You know this, my beloved brothers. And let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).

b B For which reason, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, (James 1:21 a).

a C Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls (James 1:21 b).

We may see this either as a chiasmus or as comparative successive verses. Treating it as a chiasmus we see that in ‘a’ all good giving and every perfect gift comes from above, and in the parallel that they are to be received meekly to the saving of the soul. In ‘b’ God is the benevolent and unchanging Father in His splendour and glory, and therefore in the parallel all that is unworthy of Him must be put away. In ‘c’ He has acted sovereignly to beget us through His word of truth, and in the parallel we should therefore listen in awe rather than mouthing off and displaying human temper, neither of which assist the word of truth.

If we see it as comparative successive verses we have references to his beloved brothers in each A together with a warning to take heed because His perfect gifts sit ill with our sinfulness. In B God is the benevolent and unchanging Father in His splendour and glory, and therefore in the parallel all that is unworthy of Him must be put away. In C He has begotten us sovereignly through His word of truth, and in the parallel we are meekly to receive that implanted word to the saving of our souls.


Verse 17

‘All good (beneficial) giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning.’

For the source of all truly beneficial giving is God, and the source of every gift which is perfect in its entirety, is God. And these are gifts that come ‘from above’. (Compare James 1:18 that follows with John 3:3, ‘You must be born from above’). They are heavenly in origin, and therefore outweigh all else. And the Giver of all such good and perfect gifts is no unreliable and ever changing man, but is the Creator, the Father of lights, the One Who created the great and the lesser lights and created the stars also (Genesis 1:14-16), the One Who is so unchanging that unlike sun and moon He does not vary in form and shape, nor does He cast an everchanging shadow as a result of His movement, but rather He remains constant and ever the same (compare Malachi 3:6). He is totally dependable and His spiritual provision ever sure. The sun and the rain produce the harvests and bring life to the earth (Matthew 5:45), but far, far better are the giving and gifts from above which are totally reliable, and this especially includes the word of truth which produces a spiritual harvest in the hearts of men (James 1:18, see Isaiah 55:10-13), for this is to truly to receive the true wisdom of God (James 1:5), that will result in their endowment with the crown of life (James 1:12). Thus the gift that he is about to describe must be seen as the gift beyond all gifts.

We must not undervalue the phrase ‘the Father of lights’. The sun was the most glorious and splendid thing known to man, and the moon brought light to earth at times of darkness such that men rejoiced at the new moon (compare Job 31:26). And thus the Father of lights was to be seen as both glorious in splendour and a bringer of light in the darkness. He is the One Who is better than sun and moon and Whose light outshines them both (compare Isaiah 60:19-20). He is the One Who ‘alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, Whom no man has ever seen or can see’ (1 Timothy 6:16). And nothing was more splendid and more enlightening than His word of truth brought by the Sun of Righteousness Who has come from above with His healing and restoring power (Malachi 4:2).

(With regard to the heavenly lights, men regularly saw the moon change its shape, and experienced the loss of its light through the days, before it began to grow brighter again, seemingly waxing and waning, while the shadows cast by the sun regularly moved, even if according to a pattern. Nor was the sun always there, for it deserted them at night, and could be hidden behind the clouds. So while both were glorious they were subject to constant change and not fully reliable).


Verse 18

‘Of his own will he begat us (‘brought us forth’) by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.’

For while the sustaining of Creation was left to the glorious heavenly lights and the sustaining seasons, the begetting of His own people occurred directly through His own determined will and purpose, a begetting which took place through the word of truth. And He brought it about by His own divine action at the time of His own planning (Galatians 4:4-7). Behind this statement is the thought of the One Who has recently walked the earth and brought God’s truth to men. Here was God’s will very much in action, manifesting His glory (John 1:14), a glory greater far than that of sun or moon, and producing His new creation (Galatians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Here is the essence of what James is telling us. The Almighty, the great Creator, has acted in the world of His own will and has given His sustaining and divine life (2 Peter 1:4) to all who have received the word of truth through His Son. That is why these people that he is writing to are as they are. It is because He has chosen to beget them by planting His word in them (James 1:21).

And this begetting was in order that they might be the firstfruits of His creatures. This may indicate that then the full harvest of His creatures will also be redeemed (Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 65:25), so that full restoration has taken place, or simply that His people are seen as ‘the firstfruits’ out of all creation, as those who are especially set aside for Him. Or it may indicate that His people stand out from all men (His creatures) as those who are separated to God and belong to Him, just as was true of the firstfruits. We thus have here an emphasis on His sovereign act of redemption and salvation resulting in the new birth for His own.

For ‘the word of truth’ compare Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5. It is ‘the good news of their salvation’.

(Those who would see the begetting here as referring to the creation of man by a word overlook the fact that that is never called a begetting. Nor could man who came last in creation, be seen as a firstfruits of it).


Verse 19

‘You know this, my beloved brothers. And let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,’

And his beloved brothers are aware of this, or are told to be aware of it (the verb could be imperative) and therefore they should be silent in awe before Him, listening and taking heed to His word. For ‘God is in Heaven and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few’ (Ecclesiastes 5:2). This is no time for self-opinionation and humanly expressed anger, but a time for hearing and teaching and putting into practise the righteousness of God. Compare Proverbs 13:3, ‘he who guards his mouth preserves his life. He who opens wide his lips comes to ruin’ (see also Proverbs 10:19; Proverbs 29:20).

God is at work and so they should be swift to hear. God is at work and so they should think before they speak. God is at work and so they should put aside human anger. Who are they so to express God? Here all this is seen in the light of God at work, but the false and angry use of words will be expanded on in James 3:1-12, when his readers will be strongly warned against such misuse. For by their words they will be justified, and by their words they will be condemned (Matthew 12:37).


Verse 20

‘For the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.’

‘The anger of man.’ Note the emphasis on ‘of man’ or ‘of a man’ (andros is used rather than anthrowpos) . It is of course different with God. But the point is that His anger is always rightly directed and has behind it a continuing underlying compassion. In His case it is always a just anger against sin coming from One Who is without sin. But man is to be more wary, ‘be you angry and sin not, do not let the sun go down on your wrath’ (Ephesians 4:26). In man’s case it is to be both righteous and brief.


Verse 21

‘For which reason, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.’

‘For which reason’ may apply to the previous verse, with the emphasis being on the fact that rather than behaving angrily they are to receive the implanted word with a meek and gentle spirit, or it may look back to the whole passage and the fact that they are dealing with heavenly and glorious Creator. In this case the emphasis is on the need to do away with sin and all that offends God, and this would fit well with James 1:13-15.

But either way it is important that filthiness and overflowing of wickedness should be ‘put away’. It is a call to repentance in the light of the new revelation (compare ‘repent and believe in the good news’ - Mark 1:16). They are to ‘take off, as they would a garment, all that is wrong and impure, all that defiles, including their false words, responding rather to the implanted word of truth, and putting it on in the way that they live their lives. Compare Paul’s ‘put off the old man -- which is corrupt through deceitful lusts -- and put on the new which is created after the likeness of God in righteousness and true holiness’ (Ephesians 4:22-24).

‘Overflowing (excess) of wickedness.’ This may refer to the wickedness that still remains even after their first reception of the word of truth which has now also to be put off (as he will go on to demonstrate), or it may refer to the way in which wickedness can flow up from our lives, something which must be fully dealt with.

‘The implanted word.’ And instead of these things they are to delight in God’s word, the powerful word that He has implanted within them (James 1:18), receiving it and responding to it, for it is able to save their souls. It is like a seed planted in their hearts which grows and flourishes (Matthew 13:18-23). It will bring them to eternal life (James 1:12), to the eternal Kingly Rule (Matthew 13:43). This ‘saving of souls’ is important to James, for he will close off his letter with the idea (James 5:20). It is what all their trials are intended to achieve. The idea here of ‘saving’ is not of once for all salvation, that occurred when they were begotten of God by the word of truth, but of the constant need to experience God’s saving power so that His end might be achieved. They are undergoing a process of spiritual healing, of ‘sanctification’. They are being made like Him as a result of the carrying out of His will (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:4; 1 John 3:2-3). They are being changed from glory into glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). God is at work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). And they are to take heed and receive the implanted word, which, like healing medicine, will restore them and make them whole.

‘Receive with meekness (that is, with ‘a teachable spirit’).’ The word here is describing the quality of the man whose feelings and emotions are under perfect control and who is ready to learn. There will be no harsh words.


Verse 22

‘But be you doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves.’

James is very conscious of the danger of hearing and not doing. He had previously been like this himself, and he had seen among the Jews how easy it was to be a hearer in the synagogues every Sabbath and yet not be a doer. He had seen it also among the Pharisees. He does not want this repeated among the new Israel. So he calls on them not only to be hearers of the word which is proclaimed to them, as those who have received the truth, but also to be doers of it. They must be like the wise man who built his house on a rock, who heard and did the word of Jesus, and not the foolish man who built his house on sand and heard but did not do (Matthew 7:24-27). For they must recognise that if they hear but do not do they are deluding themselves about being a Christian. The message is a very important one. The New Testament as a whole has no place for those who hear but do not do. As Jesus Himself said, ‘Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do the things which I say?’ (Luke 6:46, compare Luke 11:28).


Verses 22-27

It Is Not Sufficient Only To Be A Hearer, It Is Necessary Also To Be A Doer (James 1:22-27).

Having laid a careful foundation in demonstrating that God’s People are those whom He has sovereignly begotten, in whose hearts his word of truth has been received and implanted, and is to grow, (their side has been through the response of faith both to His word and to His begetting), James now emphasises that that truth must be carried out into practise. It was very necessary that they hear His word, and receive it with due solemnity (James 1:19), but now they must also ensure that they carry it through into action.

Analysis.

a But be you doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves (James 1:22).

b For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like to a man beholding his natural face in a mirror, for he beholds himself, and goes away, and immediately forgets what manner of man he was (James 1:23-24).

c But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continues, being not a hearer who forgets but a doer who works, this man will be blessed in his doing (James 1:25).

b If any man thinks himself to be religious, while he does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain (James 1:26).

a Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).

Note that in ‘a’ we have the command to be a doer and a picture of the deluded religionist, and in the parallel we have the description of what is true religion which results in doing. In ‘b’ we have the picture of the man who looks into his mirror in vain because he does not act on what he sees, and in the parallel we have the picture of the man who thinks himself fine but in fact his religion is in vain, because he does not bridle his tongue. Both are self-deceived. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the man who looks in the perfect law of liberty who acts on what he sees and is thereby blessed.


Verse 23-24

‘For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like to a man beholding his natural face in a mirror, for he beholds himself, and goes away, and immediately forgets what manner of man he was.’

He then illustrates his argument by the picture of a man who goes and glances in a mirror. He sees himself, but does not weigh himself up, and he then goes away and forgets what little he has observed and what he is supposed to be, and does nothing about what he has seen. It has not affected his actions. And this is like a man who hears the word, and then conveniently forgets what he is supposed to be and does not do it. It does not affect his actions. It is supreme folly.


Verse 25

‘But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continues, being not a hearer who forgets but a doer who works, this man will be blessed in his doing.’

But then in contrast James describes the one who is true at heart. He looks into the perfect Law, which is the Law of liberty and then goes on his way. He does not forget what he has ‘heard’ in the perfect law of liberty. He does not forget what he is supposed to be. But he does what the law of liberty requires. And he will be blessed in his doing.

The perfect law of liberty is the Law of God (Psalms 19:7, and consider Psalms 1:2 and Psalms 119) as released from its unnecessary restraints by Jesus, and expanded in the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31 ff; Hebrews 8:8-13). It is the Sermon on the Mount and its equivalents (see Matthew 5:48), properly interpreted, being worked in their hearts by God. It has given men freedom from the restrictions of the Law laid down by the Elders, which have bound men with burdens grievous to be borne, and has brought out the deeper significance of that Law, bringing them into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21). Thus their righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees because they hear His words and do them. As Paul regularly does in the second half of his letters, James is insisting that faith and response to God must result in love and response to man. Faith must result in works. Their light is to so shine before men that they see their good works and glorify their Father Who is in Heaven (Matthew 5:16).

‘And he will be blessed in his doing.’ It was always the insistence of the Torah that the man who did what was required in it would live a full life as a result of it (Leviticus 18:5). And it is not just a coincidence that the Law ends in blessings on those who obey it (Deuteronomy 28:1-14, compare Luke 11:28). In Christ the religious ordinance of the Law have been fulfilled and no longer apply, but the heart of the Law continues to throb and be valid. That was why Paul was concerned that men fulfil the Law (Galatians 5:13-14) as Jesus Himself had taught.


Verse 26

‘If any man thinks himself to be religious, while he does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain.’

It again becomes clear that there was much distress in the churches because of the way that people were speaking to each other or of each other (compare James 1:19) for James now declares that those who do not bridle their tongues (backbiters, boasters, slanderers, tale-tellers, liars, gossips) and all who misuse their tongues must recognise that it is an indication that their religious practise is not genuine (Leviticus 19:16; Psalms 15:3; Romans 1:30; Galatians 5:15; etc). He is saying that what we say demonstrates what we really are.

By ‘religious’ James means practising their faith with its binding stipulations. But a man who does not bridle his tongue is not practising the Christian faith in any genuine way. Thus he is deceiving himself about his true spiritual position, and if he is not careful he will discover that his religion and his profession is vain. The seriousness of the problem in the churches is found in that he goes further into details on this in James 3:1-12. Note how here his whole emphasis is on the failure of the tongue, reminding us again of Jesus’ similar words, ‘for every idle word that a man will speak he will give account of it in the Day of Judgment, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned’ (Matthew 12:36-37). It was clearly a major problem in the churches known to James. Perhaps the initial differences between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians were partly responsible for it which would suggest a fairly early date for James’ letter.


Verse 27

‘Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.’

James is here giving his own meaning to the Greek word translated ‘religion’ which elsewhere indicated ‘following ceremonial requirements’. It is not intended to indicate the formation of a new religion. It is to be read in a similar light to Isaiah 58:5-14. Thus he is rather saying that in the eyes of One Who is both our God and Father such ceremonial requirements fall into the background besides our concern for the widows and fatherless and our being morally pure. That is true religion in God’s eyes. In other words our main concern in what we do should not be the observance of religious ceremonial but the caring for those who are close to the Father’s heart, the fatherless who have no other father and the widows who are their mothers. See Psalms 68:5 - ‘Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in His holy habitation’. Note that they are to be visited, not just tossed a few coins. It requires personal inconvenience. See Deuteronomy 27:19; Isaiah 1:17; and contrast Mark 12:40 which describes the way in which the Scribes visited widows.

‘Pure religion and undefiled.’ There is a dig here against those who considered that they could keep themselves pure and undefiled through religious rites. But the problem there is that they are concerned with external purity. But God’s people are to be concerned with the purity of the heart as revealed by God-likeness in their behaviour. That is how they will keep pure and undefiled.

‘To keep oneself unspotted from the world.’ There is in fact only one way to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, and that is to set our minds on things above and look to the Lord of glory (James 2:1). But it is not recommending withdrawal from the world, only from its aims. For we are to go out into the world to help the widows and fatherless. This is thus simply turning us again to the perfect Law of liberty, and to the One Who can enable us to fulfil it. It is calling on us to be perfect as our Father in Heaven in perfect (Matthew 5:48) by showing love to the unlovely, by loving God with all our hearts, and by loving our neighbour as ourselves. It is to avoid the attitudes and aims of the world. See 1 John 2:15-17. For the need to be ‘unspotted’ see 2 Peter 3:14.

And one of the things that is very characteristic of the world is respect of persons. We give great respect to the rich, to the powerful, and to the aristocratic. But James will now go on to point out that this respect of persons is heartily disapproved of by God Who requires that all be treated with the same love and respect.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on James 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/james-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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