The Epistle of James
Wherefore My Beloved Brethren… Be Swift to Hear (vv. 17-20)
The Lord does not tempt, but in the very opposite attitude He manifests His benevolence.
The Spirit of God here gives a remarkable moral portrait of our heavenly Father:
1. He is “the Father of lights.” God is the paternal source of all light. He is the Creator of the heavenly illuminators: “God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: He made the stars also” (Genesis 1:16).
“God,” remarks Bishop Wordsworth, “is the Father of all lights —the light of the natural world the sun, the moon and the stars shining in the heavens; the light of reason and conscience; the light of His Law; the light of prophecy shining in a dark place; the light of the gospel shining throughout the world; the light of apostles, confessors, martyrs,… preaching the gospel to all nations; the light of the Holy Spirit shining in our hearts; the light of the heavenly city; God is Father of them all. He is the everlasting Father of the everlasting Son, who is the light of the world.”
“With Him is no variableness”: Both the sun and the moon are variable, according to their position in the heavens and the condition of the atmosphere. The strength and the influence of these great lights change, but Jehovah knows no change. There is no variation in the person of God nor in His attributes.
Here the Spirit of God puts even greater emphasis upon the immutability of God. In Him there is no shadow cast by turning. James here uses an astronomical idea, a parallax. Heavenly bodies to man on earth seem to change. The sun and the moon eclipse one another, but they do not change their position. Man’s position is constantly changing as the earth revolves. “God is alike incapable of change in His own nature and incapable of being changed by the action of others” (Mayor).
What a heavenly Father we have! Mighty in His creation and ever changeless in Himself.
We are now given to understand the relationship of the divine family. The Lord has begotten us again according to His own will and by His own instrument, the Word of Truth. As the old creation was brought into existence by the Word of God (John 1:3-10), even so, is the new creation. We are born again, “not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (1 Peter 1:23).
Furthermore, the new birth results in our being as firstfruits to God. In Israel all firstborn of man and of beast were to be wholly for God. Under the Law Israel had to “set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hest, the males shall be the Lord’s. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck; and all firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem” (Exodus 13:12-13).
Every believer, as a firstborn one who is written in heaven (Hebrews 12:13), should dedicate all his personality, time, wealth, etc. to God. All are the firstfruits of the Spirit (Romans 8:23).
To the casual reader verse 19 may seem to have little or no connection with the assertions regarding the new birth, but most will understand its relationship to “the Word of Truth.” If we have been saved by the power of the divine Word, we certainly should be ready to hear. If we initially received life through the power of the Word of God, we should know that the out-living of that life depends upon the self-same Word. We should be attentive to hear, and to hear in silence. Calvin said, “No one can be a true disciple of God, except he hear Him in silence.”
“The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God”. In this there is a great contrast between God and man. Through the indwelling Spirit God imparts to His own the strength to reproduce the practical righteousness that God demands (Romans 8:4). May we learn to walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
There may be times when we feel like Jonah, “I do well to be angry” (Jonah 4:9). We may even call our anger “righteous indignation.” Even when we feel justified in our wrath, we need to remember the exhortation, “Be ye angry and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).
All anger is not sin, for the Lord Jesus manifested this strong emotion (Mark 3:5). He was angry because of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Yet we need to realize that anger is a dangerous and harmful attitude which does not result in the righteousness of God.
The Spirit of God pursues the contention that the Word of God has a real bearing upon the life of the child of God. He presents here a picture taken from the activities of daily life. He exhorts that all must lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness. The believer is to strip himself of the deeds of the old man. In writing to the Colossians the Apostle Paul reminds them that they had put off the old man (Colossians 3:9); that is, that they had broken relationship with the old Adamic nature. He, therefore, exhorts that now they are to put off the deeds and tendencies of the old nature: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, etc. (Colossians 3:8).
The believer has entered into an entirely new life; therefore, he no longer is to appear as he once did, but to strip off these things, as a soiled and undesirable garment. Filthiness is, of course, dirt in its worse form and the superfluity of naughtiness indicates the excess of malice and evil intentions that may be in the heart against others. This action is to prepare the Christian to receive with humility the implanted Word.
It seems more understandable to speak of the implanted Word rather than the engrafted Word. The inspired Word is planted in the heart by the divine Spirit. It is deeply rooted as seed that will germinate and develop.
The implanted Word may not only reach and save the unregenerate, but it is the constant means of deliverance for the Christian from the traps and gins that in his pathway are set by Satan.
The Word of God (vv. 21-25).
Even a cursory survey of the Epistle of James reveals that the author was a very practical person. We are not only to receive the Word of God and let it be deeply rooted in our personalities, but we ourselves are to be doers of that very Word. It is possible to be self-deceived and to place more importance upon the hearing than upon the doing. Christianity is very practical; it demands a reflection of its purity and power in the life of the child of God.
There are many similes of the Word of God in the Bible, each one emphasizing some feature of the Holy Scriptures. The Bible is as a fire and a hammer, for it has power to crush (Jeremiah 23:29). As a sword it possesses a mighty defence (Ephesians 6:17). As incorruptible seed, it possesses life (1 Peter 1:23). For our guidance it is as a lamp (Psalm 119: 105). It is sweet like honey and like milk it nourishes (Ezekiel 1:1-3; 1 Peter 2:1). Moreover, the Word of God is likened to a mirror into which we may look.
In 2 Corinthians 3:18 we are told that through this divine mirror we see the perfections and the glory of the Lord Jesus, and the more we look at that reflection of His beauty, the more we become like Him.
In contrast, James tells us that through the same mirror we may see our own imperfections. A passing glance may reveal the need of cleansing, but it may result in negligence (vv. 23-24). A more intensive look with obedience results in a blessing upon such a person (w. 25).
In the mirror of the Word we see what we are, the imparted preciousness of Christ as well as all the moral deficiencies. In the same mirror we see the glories of the Risen Christ, the image which the Lord would have us share, as His influence changes us from glory to glory.
Pure Religion (vv. 26-27).
James had exhorted all men to be swift to hear and slow to speak (19). He had expanded this element in his word of caution, “be swift to hear,” to hear the Word of God particularly. Now he would attempt to restrain that unruly member, the tongue. He will have more to say about this later, but here he would curb all religious talk and pride. Obviously, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
These words of admonition are not for the hypocrite but for the self-deceived. Conformity to outward services and church formalities is not necessarily the indication of deep spirituality. One has written, “A better sign of true religion is gentleness of the tongue.”
Pure religion is benevolent, it considers the loneliness and the material needs of fatherless children and the anxiety and poverty of widows. Pure religion seeks to understand those in affliction. With an understanding of these, the truly religious man is positive; he becomes a doer of the Word.
Another proof of a truly religious man may seem negative; it is a refraining to become involved in the godlessness and gracelessness of the world. A spiritual person seeks to live blamelessly before God. He realizes that God is constantly appraising the behavior of His children. The Apostle Peter writes, “If ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear,” that is, reverential fear. (1 Peter 1:17).
to be continued