The book of James is one of the strongest pleas for vital Christianity of the New Testament
With the possible exception of Mark it was the first New Testament book written.
The date of writing falls somewhere between A.D. 45 and A.D. 50, approximately 15 to 20 years after the ascension of Jesus.
It is generally agreed that James the Lord’s brother wrote the letter.
Being written so early in the Christian era, there is no mention of the great fundamental of the faith, or developed by Paul in later years.
The incarnation and resurrections are not mentioned.
The name of Christ is only mentioned twice Ch1:1, Ch 2:1.
To explore or confirm the fundamentals was not the purpose of James. His theme rather is the trial of our faith.
Within the five chapters of his book James put our faith to the test. He wants to know whether it is genuine or a cheap imitation.
James draws heavily on the teachings of the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. 34 references.
In some ways this letter of James is the most authoritarian in the New Testament.
James issues instructions more profusely than any other N.T. writer. In the short space of 108 years there are 54 directives.
In v. 1 we are introduced to the writer. He describes himself as “James, the bond servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
James, the Lord’s brother, did not believe in Him.
John 7:5 “For neither did His brethren believe in Him.”
He probably shared the view that Jesus was out of His mind.
His friends said, “He is beside Himself.” Mark 3:21
The death and resurrection of Jesus had convinced James that Christ, his brother, was indeed the Savior.
After the ascension of Jesus, a group of believers are found “continuing with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren.” Acts 1:14.
James in all probability would be in this group. He was a transformed, remarkable man.
In the space of a few years (15 or 20) he became the leader of the first church. He was a man of great authority in the early church. Acts 12:17; 15:13-29.
Notice how quickly he grew spiritually in v. 1 he puts God and the Lord Jesus Christ on the same level. It is important to recognize the divine truth that God the Father and God the Son are co-equal.
He wrote to “the twelve tribes scattered abroad.”
The original dispersion took place in 721 B.C. The ten northern tribes were taken into captivity by the Assyrians. In 586 B.C. the remaining two tribes were taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. The third dispersion took place because of the persecution of Saul. Acts 8. The Jewish Christians were scattered abroad. To these dispersed Christian Jews, James addressed this letter.
The first problem James discusses is that of the Christian facing temptations. There are two meanings of this word. In v. 2 through 12 the temptations are really trials and testings which are sent by God to test the reality of our faith and in the end produces Christ likeness in us if we are exercised by the trials. Hebrews 12:11.
In verses 13-15 the subject is temptation which comes from within and is an allurement to commit sin:
The Christian life is filled with problems. They come uninvited and unexpected.
These tests come in the form of ill health – of disappointed friendships – of sorrow due to the loss of loved ones – of financial reverses – and of failure on the part of family members.
James makes the amazing assertion that Christians are to “count it all joy” when faced with these various testings. Don’t rebel – Don’t faint – Rejoice
These trials are not sent to destroy us – they are sent to develop our Christian character. God is trying to produce Christ in us – this process suffering – frustration – perplexity.
Trials as such are never pleasant but we should consider the end – the afterward of Heb 12:11 – the peaceable fruits of righteousness. Examples: The Savior endured the Cross for the joy that was set before Him. Heb 12:2 – Consider Job, “The Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” Job 42:10.
v. 3 In this verse James talks about “the testing of one faith.”
He depicts our faith as a precious metal being tested by God in the fire of persecution – sickness – suffering and sorrow. Cp 1 Pt 1:7
James says that this testing of our faith produces patience, steadfastness, fortitude.
Each test and each victory will help us to meet problems sill to come.
v. 4 In this verse James urges his persecuted and scattered brethren to allow their suffering and sorrow to mature them spiritually. That they may be able to worship, work and witness for God.
Those who are exercised and submissive, and put themselves as clay in the hands of the divine potter, will be made a new, made complete. Those who stand the testing of the fires will receive.
1. A crown of life – This signified Joy-Victory-Honor
2. As soon as the Great Refiner sees His reflection in the molten metal, He will turn off the heat.
v. 5 This verse introduces us to the subject of wisdom. This is a most desirable attribute
It is rare and scarce – precious and priceless – inestimable and invaluable.
Wisdom is the quality of being wise.
There is a vast difference between knowledge and wisdom.
There are many knowledgeable persons … but few wise who are able to rightly use their knowledge.
There is a great need for wisdom today.
James says, “If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask God for it.”
There is only one place where wisdom can be found.
The source of wisdom is Almighty God – the true and living God.
The patriarch Job cries out, “But where can wisdom be found?”
His answers is that wisdom is not found among the living of earth, it is not found in the depth of the sea.
It cannot be purchased with gold, and it cannot be bought with precious stones.
Finally, he declares that true wisdom is found in the presence of God.
To obtain this wisdom there are certain conditions to be met.
We must approach God in faith, with no doubts.
We must believe He loves and cares and that nothing is impossible with Him.
If we doubt His goodness and power, we will have no steadfastness in the hour of trial.
One minute we will be resting calmly on His promises.
The next we will feel that God has forgotten us, and despair of hope.
If we act like this, James says we are like the waves of the sea missing to great heights, then falling back into the trough of despondency, troubled and tossed.
Those who act like this cannot expect anything from God.
In this verse James uses an interesting word to describe believers with the aforementioned characteristics. He says they say they are “double-minded”, which literally means a man with two souls. One soul believes, the other disbelieves. Such a one is unstable in all his ways.
The summary of verses 5 through 8
The source of wisdom is God. It is obtained by prayer. It is available to all men. He gives it willingly and generously. The crucial condition is that we ask in faith, without doubting.
In verses 9-11 James continues with the subject of holy testings by giving specific illustrations.
The poor brothers may become discouraged by his poverty.
But he should always rejoice in the Lord. He is “an heir of God, and a joint heir of Jesus Christ.”
He is blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus.
Next James turns to the rich man.
The poor man is to rejoice that he is exaltation.
The rich man is to rejoice on his humiliation.
Should a rich man suffers reverses he should take the spoiling of his goods joyfully, knowing he was in heaven a better and more enduring substance. Heb 10:34.
Riches, like many other tings are transient, sometimes they fade overnight. Just like the grass which appears for a little time then vanishes away.
In concluding his discussion on holy trials or testings James pronounces that “happy is the man who stands up under the testings.”
Because when he is tried or approved” he will receive the crown of life.
This is God’s standard for us. How do we react when testings and trials come?
In verses 13-17 the subject shifts to unholy temptations.
Testings from God are designed to bring out the best in us.
Temptation from Satan are designed to bring out evil in us.
Temptation to sin comes from Satan, not God.
God does not tempt man to sin. James says that: “He himself is incapable of being tempted by evil, but He tempts no man.”
Man is tempted in two spheres.
He is tempted from within by his own evil desires.
He is enticed and dragged away from without. David and Bathsheba – 2 Sam 11
When evil desire has conceived it gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full grown gives birth to death.
To be out of fellowship with God is for the Christian a form of living death.
Verses 13-14 is the cause, v. 15 is the consequences.
Sometimes those who fall into sin blame God.
James says, “Do not err, in this fashion”, this is a form of self-deception.
Only good gifts come from God. He is the source of every good and perfect gift.
He is pure light – He is perfect – therefore only good and perfect gifts come from Him.
In verse 17 James has been describing the character of our Father God.
In verse 18 he reminds us that we are sons of God, we are in His family and as His children we must be an example and representation of His purity.
Verses 19-21 gives us some specifics on how we can do this:
1. We should be swift to hear. The Word of God … the Holy Spirit … counsel and admonitions from others.
2. We should be slow to speak. James says a lot about our speech. He cautions us to be guarded in our conversation. Nature teaches us these valuable lessons in that we have one tongue, but two ears, we should hear twice as much as we speak.
3. We should be slow to anger. To be quick tempered or to loose one’s temper is not a good example of the God of all patience. See Proverbs 16:32
4. To be a good representative of God we should rid ourselves of all moral filth and all evil that is foreign to the holy character of God. Every form of impurity must go. To receive the truth of God in all its fullness we must be morally clean.
5. We must receive the Word of God in meekness. We must receive it in humility … we must bow to its authority. Only those who are submissive and humble can expect to receive the maximum benefit from the Scriptures.
6. It is not enough to receive the engrafted Word, we must obey it. We must translate the Bible into action. It must change our lives.
The person who ready this Word but does not allow it to change his life is like a man who looks in the mirror which tells him to wash-shave-brush-or comb, but does nothing about it.
On the other hand, those who read, study, meditate and obey the Word will be set free from sin and experiences incalculable blessing to his soul.
In verses 26-27, vain religion and true religion are contrasted. If anyone prefers to be a Christian, but cannot control his tongue, he impresses nobody, and deceives himself.
On the other hand, the expression of our faith, which God our Father accepts, is in love to look after orphans and widows.
And also to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
The first 13 verses of this chapters deal with one of the most prevalent and obnoxious sins in the church today, “showing respect of persons.” Favoritism is utterly foreign to the example of the Lord or to the teachings of the New Testament.
There is no place in Christianity for snobbishness or discrimination.
“My brethren as believes in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ don’t show favoritism.” Jesus is addressing believers and admonishing them that under no circumstances must they show favor because of birth, race, sex or poverty.
In verses 2 through 4 James gives a vivid example of what he is teaching here. The scene is a local assembly of Christians. A distinguished looking gentleman, with fashionable clothes and expensive rings has just arrived. The impressed usher leads this notable visitor to a prominent seat in the front.
On returning to the door he finds that another visitor has arrived. This time it is a poor man, he is dressed accordingly, in keeping with his humble circumstances. To save the congregation embarrassment, he offers this visitor standing room at the rear, or a place on the floor, in front of his own seat.
This glaring sin has been perpetuated despite this strong admonition. Black believers have been made to feel unwelcome. Jews have not bee accepted cordially. Oriental Christians have tasted discrimination in varying degrees. James strongly declares that such a practice is wrong.
In verses 5-18 James gives four strong reasons why such a practice is wrong.
1. v. 5 and 6a. We dishonor a man when God honors. God has chosen the poor of this world. He has called the foolish the weak, the base the despaired – the insignificant poor in this world, but rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom. Therefore it is wrong to discriminate against these brethren or sisters.
2. The second reason is found in v. 6b. The rich have oppressed the people of God. The rich here are not doubt unbelievers (See v. 7). James is saying: Why show favoritism to people just because they are rich. If you do, you are honoring those who are usually the first to exploit you and drag you into court. Calvin captured the argument tensely when he said, “Why honor your executioners.”
Furthermore, the same people blaspheme the worthy name of Jesus, the name by which you are called into abundant blessings. v.7
James’ final argument (v. 8) is that showing deference to the rich violates the law of love. The law of love is, “thou shalt love thy neighbors as thyself.” Therefore as Christians we must not show preference or contempt.
v. 9 In this verse those who continue to show partiality, despite this warning, are branded as sinners. “ye commit sin”
But more serious still the law convicts vs being transgressors. Sin is a failure to meet God’s standards. Transgression is the breaking of a known law, and is much more serious.
One of the most common practices today is that of cataloging sin. The scale is set up that the worst possible sin is murder and next to it is adultery followed by stealing and lying. James says that God does not view sin in this way. Sin in God’s eyes is sin. The individual who breaks one of God’s laws is guilty of breaking the whole law. He stands before God as a lawbreaker.
“So speak ye and so do”, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged.”
The Christians speech has to be savored with salt. His words must be commensurate with his actions.
The believer’s speech and activities must be backed up with love.
One day every believer will give an account of both his words and works when he appears before the judgment seat of Christ. If he has been harsh and critical in his dealings with others ignoring the royal law of love by showing no mercy then he can expect Christ to judge him on the same basis. Note also present judgment aspect. Those who ignore the royal law must face the judgment with apprehension.
On the other hand there are those who live by the “royal law” can look forward with joyful anticipation to the judgment seat of Christ.
From v.14 to the end of the chapter the subject is Faith and Works. These verses are perhaps the most controversial in the epistle. Luther saw in these verses an irreconcilable conflict between James’ teaching on justification by works and Paul’s teaching on justification by faith. These verses are used to support the heresy that we are saved by faith plus works.
The Biblical concept of justification is that:
1. We are justified by grace – Rom 3:24
2. We are justified by faith – Rom 5:1
3. We are justified by blood – Rom 5:9
4. We are justified by God – Rom 8:33
5. We are justified by works – James 2:24
These statements present different aspects of the same truth.
Grace is the principle upon which God justifies. Faith is the means by which man receives it. Blood is the price which the Savior had to pay.
God is the active Agent in justification. Works are the result of justification.
In this verse James brings before us a man who says he has faith, but has no works to substantiate his claim. He says, “What good is this kind of faith.” This man is a professor. Then asks, “Can this faith save him?”
James insists that a faith that does not result in good works cannot save. In this verse James is describing a professing Christian who says he has faith, but there is nothing about his life that indicates it. This kind of faith cannot save – it is worthless – it is all words.
This verse contains an illustration of how such a one would act in a given situation. He is visited by one who has neither adequate food nor clothing and is almost destitute.
Although he has both in abundance he is not willing to share them. Professing great generosity he exudes empty platitudes and says to his poor brother, “Go and put on some clothing and eat a good meal.”
Having said this he makes no effort to make this possible. James asks what good does that do? Words and attitudes like this are positively worthless.
Then comes the classic statement in James, “Faith without works is dead.” Faith that does not have actions of obedience to back it up is destitute of power … dead.
There is a widespread movement within Protestantism today that advocates that all that is necessary for salvation is a verbal commitment to Jesus Christ.
This is foreign to the Word of God, but fills the church with professors who say they have faith but live selfish, carnal lives.
True faith and good works are inseparable. James shows this by giving us part of a discussion between two men.
The first man who is genuinely saved is the speaker. The second, professes to have faith, but does not back it up with good works. In essence the first man says, “that it is impossible for anyone to have genuine faith in Christ and not demonstrate appropriate works. The true believer in Christ should demonstrate his faith by his good works.
Many who claim to be Christian today give as their reason for this claim a belief in God.
James says that it takes more than a belief in God for salvation. For instance, he says that demons believe in the existence of God and they shudder in terror and horror. Demons believe but they are not saved.
When a person really believes on the Lord, it involves a complete commitment – spirit, soul, and body.
This commitment in turn brings about a changed life. This kind of faith produces good works.
In verses 21 thru 25 we have two examples of the faith that works. Abraham was a Jew and Rahab was a Gentile.
James says that Abraham was justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son. To see the truth in its proper perspective read Gen 15:6. “Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” At this point in life Abraham was justified by faith. But it is not until we come to Gen 22 where Abraham offered up Isaac, that he was justified by his works. Abraham’s faith was tested and it was proved genuine by his works. For this demonstrating of faith and works Abraham was made righteous and he was called the friend of God.
The second illustration is that of Rahab, v. 25
Rahab was not saved by good character because she was a harlot. But James says that she was justified by works because she received the spies, then sent them out another way.
Rahab was a Canaanite living in the city of Jericho. She heard reports of the advancing Israelite army. She concluded that the God of the Hebrews was the true God and decided to identify herself with this God, whatever the cost might be.
When the spies entered the city she befriended them. In doing so she proved the genuineness of her faith in the true and living God. She was not saved by hiding the spies, but this act proved that she was a genuine believer.
The passage ends with the statement, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
James sums up his argument briefly. He compares faith to the human body. He likens works to the spirit. The body without the spirit is lifeless, useless, valueless. So faith without works is dead, ineffective, worthless.
In these verses James tests our faith. As true believers are we willing to share our clothing and food with those in want? Am I willing like Abraham to offer the dearest things in life to God? Am I willing, like Rahab, to turn traitor to the world in order to be loyal to Christ?
In the previous chapter James has unmercifully castigated those who profess faith with their lips, but deny it in their lives. In the first 12 verses of this chapter he summarizes the biblical teaching concerning the use of the tongue. The old fashioned doctor examined a patients tongue to assist in diagnosis. James tests a person’s spiritual health by what use he makes of his tongues.
Many people today would not think of committing the more heinous sins of murder, stealing, adultery or drunkenness. But the same people would not hesitate to assassinate with their tongues the character of their follow-believers.
Many problems would disappear in many assemblies if believers practiced the teachings of James 3:1-12. “Be not many of you teachers, my brothers” ASB; “My brothers, not many of you should become teachers” NEB.
The subject of the tongue is introduced by a warning against hasty desire to become a teacher of the Word of God.
James says that a teacher has a great responsibility toward his audience and will be held accountable by God in a greater degree than non-teachers. The ministry of the Word of God should not be taken lightly.
The teacher must be prepared to obey and practice what he learns in the Word. He can never hope to lead others beyond what he himself has practiced and experienced.
James now moves from the specific ministry of teaching to the general area of “conversation”. All people have a problem of keeping the tongue under control. The best among us stumble at one time or another. The true sign of Christian maturity is the ability to control one’s tongue. James also says that the one who can control his tongue, can control his body.
James now proceeds to give us five pictures of the tongue.
1. It is compared to the bit in a horse’s mouth. (v.3) The bit is very small – yet the behavior of the horse is controlled by it. So the tongue can direct the life for good or evil.
2. The second picture is that of a rudder. (v. 4) Compared with the ship the rudder is very small. Example: Queen Elizabeth weighted 83,673 gross tons. The rudder weighed 140 tons, less than 3/10 of one percent. Yet this small rudder could direct and control this huge vessel. The warning here is that we should not underestimate the power of the tongue.
3. The third picture is that of a fire. (v. 5) A lighted match carelessly thrown down can stand a brush fire and leave huge areas of forests charred masses of ruins. What possibilities a small match holds a destruction and devastation. The great fire of Chicago was started when you O’Learys cow kicked over the lantern. This fire killed 250 people made 100,000 homeless and destroyed property valued at $750,000. The tongue is like a moth or a turned over lantern. The potentialities for wickedness are almost infinite stains. James of it as a vastness of immorality. (v.6) It pollutes – contaminates.
An evil tongue can pollute a man’s personal life and contaminates his other activities as well: slander – abuse – lie – blaspheme – and swear. A wicked tongue is set on fire by hell. All evil speech has its source there. The word used here for Hell is gehenna – the place where all wickedness will be confined – apart from the Lord, this is the only place where it is mentioned.
1. The fourth picture to which the tongue is likened to is a wild untamable creature. (v. 7-8a) All kinds of beasts, birds, serpents and marine life can be tamed. Describe some of the animals that have been tamed.
2. Man’s success in taming wild animals does not extend to the area of his own tongue. It is a small piece of flesh, untamable, only God can bring it under control.
3. James next characterizes the tongue as an unruly evil. (v. 8) It is full of deadly poison. The writer has in mind here the deadly serpent or snake with exceedingly poisonous venom. A drop or two is sometimes fatal.
The tongue can poison minds and assassinate character. The tongue, uncontrolled can belittle and downgrade others, the extent of the harm done can be measured by the tears that have flowed. The hearts that have been broken. The reputations that have been ruined.
The tongue can be the most hypocritical thing in the world. It can be the most inconsistent member of our body. The things it can do are completely unnatural. There is nothing like it in nature.
One minute a man blesses God with his tongue, the next he curses those who are made in His image. (v.9)
It is unbelievable that the same source can produce such opposite results.
v. 10 James says that such a thing should not exist.
In vs 11-12 James sets before us three impossibilities in nature.
1. It is impossible for a fountain to produce salt and fresh water, at the same time.
2. It is impossible for a fig tree to bear olives.
3. It is impossible for a grapevine to bear figs.
These lessons from nature are intended to teach us that our tongue should be under control and our speech should be consistently good.
Psalm 141:3 “Set a watch before one’s lips.”
Psalm 19:14 “Let the words of my mouth … be acceptable unto thee.”
In these verses James discusses the difference between true wisdom and false. We have outlined here the character of the truly wise man. We are also given a picture of the worldly wise ma.
If a man is wise and understanding, he will demonstrate it by his good works in a spirit of meekness.
He will emulate His Lord who is the embodiment of wisdom, in meekness and lowliness of heart. Matt 11:29
vs. 14-16 give us a picture of the worldly wise man This type of man is characterized by bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, one who is ruthless in dealing with all competitors.
Even in Christian service it is possible to act in a worldly-wise way. James says that this attitude is earthly – sensual – devilish. These three adjectives eloquently describe a downward course. “Earthly” means that this wisdom is not from heaven but from the earth. “Sensual” means that it is not the fruit of the Holy Spirit, but of man’s lower nature. “Devilish” means that it stoops to actions that resemble the behavior of demons rather than men. Wherever you find jealousy and strife you will also find disorder, disharmony and kinds of evil practices.
1. Consider the unrest in the world today.
2. Consider the unrest in some assemblies of God’s people today.
v. 17 and 18 give us the true characteristics of true wisdom (heavenly) There are seven of them:
4. Easy to be entreated
5. Full of mercy and good works
6. Without partiality
7. It is without hypocrisy = sincere, genuine
James closes the chapter with the words, “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by them that make peace.”
This verse is a connecting link between what we have been discussing and what is to follow. We have just learned that true wisdom is peace-loving. In the next chapter we find conflict among God’s people.
Those who want to reap a harvest of righteousness must sow the seeds under peaceful conditions. It must be done by those of a peaceful disposition.