The Epistle of James
An Expository Study
Comfort for the Tried and Tempted (1:1-15)
There are only two direct references to the Lord Jesus in this Epistle, but they reveal the very high esteem in which James held the Lord.
First, it is noticeable that James refers to the Lord Jesus with His full name and title: “The Lord Jesus Christ.” James recognized that Christ was Sovereign, Saviour and Messiah-King. Perhaps there is here a rebuke of the very informal way we speak of the Lord at times.
James also implied that there is essential equality between the Father and the Son. He speaks of being a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. He thus honors and serves the Son even as he honors and serves the Father (John 5:23).
The appellation “servant,” by which James describes himself, means “a bond slave,” a voluntary bond slave. The Apostle Paul may speak of him as “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19), but James himself in humility and submission considers that he is only a “bond slave,” a voluntary bond slave of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The second direct reference that James makes to the Lord is found in chapter two, verse one. There he speaks of our all-glorious Lord. By leaving out the italics, we read the true meaning of his statement: “Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory, with respect of persons.” What a change in the heart of the author! At the Feast of Tabernacles before the crucifixion, we read, “Neither did His brethren believe on Him” (John 7:5). Now, probably years later, James cannot extol the Lord too much. To his description, we might say, “Amen, and Amen.” Perhaps the recollections of his former unbelief impelled him to elevate the Lord Jesus to the highest possible place while he himself took the lowest. What an example for all to follow!
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.”
It would seem necessary in order to understand this introductory paragraph properly that we, first of all, ascertain what is meant by the word “temptation” as it is used in verse two and also in verses 13 and 14. In Genesis 22:1, we read “that God did tempt Abraham.” Here in this paragraph, James says, “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.” We must therefore discover the meaning of both the verb and noun forms of this word, “Temptation.”
From the Dictionary of New Testament Words we learn that actually this word has a double meaning. First, it means to try, to test, to assay, and to prove. Without doubt this is the meaning in which it is used in verses two and three. Christians are tested or assayed by many different trials (“divers temptations”). This is the sense in which the word is used in Exodus 15:25, where it is translated “prove.” “There He (God) made for them (Israel) a statute and an ordinance, and there He proved them” (KJV).
In verses 13-14, James is not speaking of a test applied from the exterior; he is speaking of an inducement to do evil which, of course, arises within. It is an enticement arising in wicked and sinful appetites. As James himself says, “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (v. 14).
Brethren in Christ
It is interesting to notice how James addresses his readers: “My brethren.” How one of the older commentators can only see in this an address to his Jewish compatriots is very disappointing. There is no doubt, as has already been intimated, that James was writing primarily to Jews, most of whom were Hellenists for they were of the Dispersion. Nevertheless, the connotation of this entire epistle leads to the conclusion that the author was addressing Christian Jews, persons who had an active faith in the One who justifies (2:13-26). Could any appeal be more Christian than the verse we have been looking at: “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons” (2:1)?
Although James, from the biblical description of him, was inclined to be somewhat austere, he appreciated the spiritual and eternal relationship that existed among the people of God. He used the appellation “brethren” some fifteen times in this short epistle, and on a few occasions he used “beloved brethren.” Once he used the appellation “sister.” James rejoiced in this as did the Apostle Paul who wrote, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household (family) of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
James looked upon all his brethren in Christ as being tested by the Lord through many different circumstances. The original word says that the brethren “fall” into temptation. The verb “to fall” implies that these tests of faith and character completely surround the individual believer, and, of course, they came quite unexpected. Believers, James exhorts, are to rejoice when suddenly they find themselves surrounded by diversified trials.
There seems to be a play upon a word here. James says, “To the twelve tribes scattered abroad, greeting.” To send such greeting is to wish those to whom you send your letter all joy. In every circumstance they are to rejoice in the Lord. Now he writes, “Count it all joy.” Joy in every circumstance may be, and should be, the experience of the believer in Christ. This joy does not arise in circumstances but in the Lord. Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians covers the whole matter, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
James is not only concerned about an emotional response in trials and testings; he is anxious that the tried one mature in Christian experience. Probably out of some personal experience, he writes, “Knowing this, that the trying (the testing) of faith worketh patience. There certainly is no disagreement here between Paul and James. Paul wrote to the saints at Rome, “We glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience” (Romans 5:3); that is, endurance without complaining results from severe testing and tribulation.
The trial of faith worketh out, accomplisheth, patience. Here we have a similar idea as that expressed in Philippians 2:12, where Paul exhorts the believers saying, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” There is something to be achieved in spiritual life. In a more modern manner we might write that the testing of faith achieves power in a steady and firm endurance, and such endurance eventually accomplishes maturity. Here James pictures the believer as perfect, having received a complete allotment of all that he needs. There is an intimation here of a Christian who lacks nothing, but let us examine carefully the next paragraph.
A Frequent Deficiency
“That ye may be perfect and entire, wanting (Lacking) nothing. If any of you lack (are wanting in) wisdom, let him ask of God.”
It is while trying to achieve spiritual maturity that we become conscious of the graces and virtues we lack. Such awareness should drive us to our knees in prayer. Wisdom, so it has been said, is mental excellence in its highest and fullest sense. This is unconditionally distributed by the Lord among all who make request of Him.
It is impossible to read these words of James without thinking of Solomon and his request: “O Lord my God…Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people … that I may discern between good and bad… And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life, neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies, but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment… I have given thee a wise and understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:7-12).
The Proverbs of Solomon are full of wisdom. They form one of the proofs of God’s grace in giving liberally, and upbraiding not. Although Solomon received so generously, the divine source is not in anywise depleted.
The Lord encourages His people to make specific petitions to Him. When they come He does not reproach them. In thus getting to know God through His blessed Word, we should exercise in Him implicit confidence. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
James not only calls for a positive confidence in God, but he warns the believer against any hesitation. Dr. Alford quotes an excellent illustration of the man who wavers or “staggers” (as in the R.V.): “Sometimes he is cast on the shore of faith and hope, sometimes he is rolled back into the depth of distrust; now he is borne up into the height of worldly pride; now he is mingled with the lowest sands of desperation and trouble.” Let not such an one think that God will grant him what he may ask. He is too much like a man with two minds; he is unstable, unreliable.
The Poor and the Rich
James here introduces the extremes of social affluence, the poor and the rich. It seems obvious that both are brethren in Christ. The Christian with little material wealth is to rejoice, for in Christ he has been exalted, and in Christ God has given him richly to enjoy all things (1 Timothy 6:17).
The rich brother is to rejoice for the grace given him to humble himself under the mighty hand of God. This is the preliminary step to promotion from the Lord.
How vividly James describes human beauty, health and success. Man may boast in these, but at their best they are like the grass; they develop, flower, wither, fall and perish. Such is humanity.
James now sums up what he has said about all the poor and rich among the people of God. Furthermore, he pronounces a blessing upon all who have endured the testing permitted by the Lord and have won His approval. There is no joy in succumbing to trial or in escaping from trial. There is a stephanos crown of life promised to all approved by trial.
It must have been an encouragement to the saints of the dispersion to know that they were beloved brethren to James. While centuries separate us from those early scenes, for we are now near the end of the dispensation, the end of the Church era, we claim a place not in the heart of an apostle but in the heart of God. We are sure that we are beloved of Him. We too may enjoy the benediction of the Apostle Paul: “To all that are … beloved of God, called saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7).
May there be a definite response on our part; may we love Him who first loved us.
Beloved Brethren Err Not (vv. 13-16)
The words of James, “Do not err, my beloved brethren,” might better be rendered, “Do not be deceived.” Whether this word of caution belongs to the statement which precedes it, or to the material which follows, may be debatable, but undoubtedly no harm will be done if it were considered in connection with both. We should not be deceived about God, neither His holiness or His benevolence.
Are we correct in assuming from verse 13 that there were some in those early days who blamed God for tempting them to do evil? The idea of temptation in verses 13 to 15 is altogether different to that which is in verses 2 to 8. There we saw that it meant to prove, to test. Here it means to be induced to do wrong. It really means to entice to sin.
Certain ancient pagans believed that God created man with two spirits, one spirit to do good and another spirit to do evil. Man, therefore, was constantly in distress as he was torn between these. That ancient philosophy taught that God created evil and the desire to do evil, as well as good and the desire to do good. How contrary to Scripture such reasoning is! God created man in innocence and with a free will. The wrong use of His will brought sin and ruin upon himself and all his progency. The Word of God is clear and plain, “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.” Temptation arises within man: “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Notwithstanding, Satan does exercise an influence. He is called the tempter (Matthew 4:3). He sought to entice the Lord Jesus. Every effort he attempted against the Lord was rebuffed. These Satanic attacks demonstrated the excellencies of the Lord Jesus in His perfect humanity.
The Apostle Paul was much concerned about his children in the faith. He wrote to the Thessalonians: “For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, least by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labor been in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5). He wrote sincerely to the Corinthians: “I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
We who belong to the Lord should note well what the Word of God has to say concerning our tendency to do evil and the great external power that would through sinful impulses attempt our spiritual ruin. Down through the centuries comes the warning, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.”