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Bible Commentaries

Bell's Commentary on the Bible

James 1

Verses 1-11

  1. INTRO:
    1. Amy Carmichael, in Candles in the Dark, The best training is to learn to accept everything as it comes, as from Him whom our soul loves. The tests are always unexpected things, not great things that can be written up, but the common little rubs of life, silly little nothings, things you are ashamed of minding (at all). Yet they can knock a strong man over and lay him very low.
    2. In ch1 an important distinction is drawn between: Trials which may have positive effects; & Temptations which is enticement to evil w/in the human heart.
    3. James is the ½ brother of Jesus; was a devout Jew; a leader in the Jerusalem Church; known as “Camel Knees” because of his prayer life.
      1. You can call him James the Challenger: as there are 54 Imperatives or commands in just 108 vs. - Wow!
    4. James gives plenty of practical advice on Christian living! (Christian Living for Dummies!)
      1. It’s the N.T.’s book of Proverbs. You’ll hear bits of the Sermon on the Mnt. And you’ll see many O.T. word pictures & references.
      2. James refers to: Abraham, Isaac, Rahab, Job, Elijah; & alludes to 21 OT books
    5. It’s main point: “True Faith, is a Faith that Works!”
      1. If we truly practice our faith it will be seen in: How we Face Trials (ch.1); How we Treat People (ch.2); What we Say (ch.3); How we Deal w/Sin in our Lives (ch.4); How we Pray (ch.5).
      2. Or, it can be organized around faith’s response to life: (Swindoll) When Faith is stretched, it doesn’t break! (ch.1) When Faith is pressed, it doesn’t fail! (ch.2)When Faith is expressed, it doesn’t explode! (ch.3,4) When Faith is distressed, it doesn’t panic! (ch.5)
    6. It deals w/the crucial relationship between faith & active works!
      1. It’s balancing right belief w/right behavior. [Practical religion]
      2. Christianity must not only be believed, it must be lived!
      3. The type of Christianity that has “no experience of a changed life”, is no Christianity at all!
      4. The proof of real faith is a changed life!
    7. “The true seed of saving faith is verified by the tangible fruit of serving faith.” (J.Ronald Blue, the Bible Knowledge Commentary. Pg.816.)
  2. TRIALS: Not “if” but “when”!
    1. INTRO! (1)
    2. When we were young we were full of bruises & scrapes on our knees; when we grow older they simply move inside!
      1. Unfaithful marriage partner, crippling accident, sudden death of someone close.
      2. We may have traded climbing trees for climbing the corporate ladder...but it still hurts when we fall!
        1. Paul, We are hard-pressed on every side...perplexed…persecuted...struck down.
        2. If you were tracing Paul’s journeys in the 1st century, it would be liking tracking the path of a wounded deer running from a hunter, leaving one bloody trail after another. (Charles Swindoll: James; pg.16.)
        3. David said, Many are the afflictions of the righteous. (Ps.34:19)
          1. Job said, Man who is born of woman Is of few days and full of trouble. (14:1)
      3. The Jewish Believers(12 tribes) were literally bruised with adversity.
        1. They were being hunted under the persecution instigated by the Roman emperor Claudius. Treated w/hostility by the Gentiles. And, by fellow Jews who hated them for being Christians.
        2. So James goes to work re-setting fractured feelings, disjointed depressions, re-aligning attitudes, & binding bruised spirits w/the Great Physicians truths about troubles!
    3. TRUTH ABOUT TROUBLES? (2-4)
    4. Story: Sergeant Kenneth E. Neu was stationed in the U.S. Airborne unit in Germany, where the parachute drop zone was located next to a Mercedes-Benz test track.

      One windy day, a gust of wind blew his parachute over the track. Knowing how hard a landing on asphalt can be, he braced himself, landed and checked for broken bones. Amazingly, he was fine. Suddenly the wind inflated Neu’s parachute and started dragging him down the track. He hit the chute’s canopy release and looked up just in time to see a car speeding toward him. Acting quickly, he grabbed his chute and ran to the edge of the track. Out of breath but uninjured, he thought, “How lucky can I be?” Relieved, he turned, stepped into a gopher hole and twisted his ankle.
    5. Troubles in a Christian’s life...Why do they exist?
      1. They are a form of punishment from God?
      2. They go away once you reach a certain level of maturity?
      3. There really is no such thing as adversity. They are a figment of our imagination, like the boogeyman.
        1. Nope, let’s hear what James has to say.
    6. They are Inevitable!
      1. Note not “if” but “when”.
      2. Peter says, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; (1 Pet.4:12)
    7. What kind of trials await us?
      1. They will be various. [ποικίλος poy·kee·los] Where we get the term polka-dot.
        1. We can expect our lives to be spotted & spattered w/trials of all sizes & shapes.
    8. They are Purposeful!
      1. Experiences that come our way are not accidents.
      2. We have a loving Heavenly Father who controls the affairs of this world.
      3. We have a loving Heavenly Father who has a purpose behind each event.
      4. Stop viewing troubles as simply bothersome offenses & start seeing them as tests.
      5. God is not interested in watching our faith get torpedoed by trails!
        1. We must understand testing!
          1. It comes form a Greek word dokimos, which means approval!
          2. It’s a word found on the underside of many ancient pieces of pottery unearthed by archeologists in the Near East.
            1. This mark meant that the piece had gone though the furnace w/o cracking; it had been approved!
            2. God’s desire is to help the clay vessels created in His image to mature in the furnace of trails w/o a crack!
      6. God’s initial purpose? Endurance (patience) - Lit. “to abide under”.
        1. Dokimos is applied only to those who persevere, or abide under, the tests He sends
      7. Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”
        1. James gave us our why(purpose).
        2. Now we can do more than just bear them but can choose to grow through them!!!
    9. Mature(perfect) & Complete!
      1. Maturity is developed only in the laboratory of life.
        1. Joseph: 13 years of testing, to raise up the Prince of Egypt.
        2. Peter: spent 3 years in the school of testing to be changed from sand to rock!
        3. Paul: went through many testings, & each one helped to mature his character.
    10. Trials can strip away everything but our attitude toward them. [3 attitudes:]
      1. 1st, Joy - not deny the pain & sorrow you feel in a trial; not think positive; not the shallow advice to grin & bear it; not don’t worry be happy!
        1. ​​​​​​​He does not say that trial is all joy, but that we are to consider it an opportunity for great joy(NLT).
      2. 2nd, Knowing (3) - knowing they’re designed by God for good, not evil.
      3. 3rd, Let (4) - meaning cooperate. Give in to the testing. Allow it to do its job in your life!
    11. WHAT IF YOU DON’T SEE HIS PURPOSE? (5-8)
    12. Ever flunk any trials? We flunk trials because of: wrong responses; resistant attitudes; & because of temper tantrums demanding instant relief.
      1. This only advances our immaturity & misery.
      2. Why do we have these attitudes because we lack wisdom & lack faith.
    13. Lack Wisdom! Ask of God
      1. ​​​​​​​When tests come, especially pop-quizzes, James says immediately pray for help.
      2. This is not prayer for wisdom in general, but for the ability to view a test from God’s perspective.
    14. Lack Faith! Ask in faith w/no doubting
      1. ​​​​​​​James is not referring to saving faith, nor to a general kind of trust. He’s advocating a sustaining faith that involves complete abandonment to God & His purposes in our trials.
      2. Opposite: double-minded man. Someone who wants his or her own will and God’s at the same time.
        1. It’s the little field mice that run out into the street, stops goes back, stops goes back the other way, then your car passes right over him.
        2. I can kill a fly every time: The key is coming at it from both directions at once. The fly’s central-nervous-system circuitry is geared to avoid approaching movement in only 1 part of its visual field at a time. 2 simultaneously approaching threats render the fly immobile, for its central nervous system now cannot compute at which angle to take off. (Fly-neuroscience. Dr. Edward Gray of England’s University College, London) [maybe Satan knows we’re wired the same way?]
    15. ARE TRIALS JUST FOR THE RICH, OR POOR! (9-11)
    16. Trials benefit both groups.
      1. Trials remind the poor they are rich in the Lord & therefore can lose nothing.
      2. Trials remind the rich they dare not live for riches or trust in them.
    17. Mary Kimbrough composed this poem based in Job 13:15, which underscores the wisdom of trusting God through trial:
      1. Though He slay me, I will trust Him, Said the sainted Job of old; Though He try me in the furnace,
        I shall then come forth as gold.
        Though the ‘worms of deep affliction’ Cause this body to decay,
        In my flesh I shall behold Him - My Redeemer - some glad day.
        Though He slay me - can I say it When I feel the searing fire,
        When my fondest dreams lie shattered - Gone my hope and fond desire?
        Though He slay me, I will trust Him, For He knows just how to mold, How to melt and shape my spirit –
        I shall then come forth as gold!

​​​​​​​Imagine a mayfly spending the entire day weighing itself down w/treasures, which must be dropped at sundown when it is no more.

Verses 12-27

  1. INTRO:
    1. Prayer: Jesus a part-time consultant or full-time Master?
    2. Mark Antony was known as the “silver-throated orator of Rome.” He was a brilliant statesman, magnificent in battle, courageous, and strong. And he was handsome. As far as personal qualities are concerned, he could have become a world ruler. But he had the very vulnerable and fatal flaw of moral weakness, so much so that on one occasion his personal tutor shouted into his face, “Oh, Marcus, oh, colossal child! Able to conquer the world, but unable to resist a temptation.”
      1. That indictment fits not only Mark Antony but also many of us today!
      2. Oscar Wilde, “I can resist everything except temptation.” (actually true in his life)
  2. REAL RELIGION!
    1. Lead Us Not Into Temptation! (12-18)
    2. (12) 1st Promise! Blessed - Happiness, genuinely happy.
      1. In OT blessed is always in the plural, signifying being happy many times over.
      2. This kind of happiness is impossible if it’s dependent on circumstances.
    3. (13) 2nd Promise! The crown of life - not only a future crown to be received, but also the crown of a rich & full life enjoyed here & now. In the ancient world crowns(stephanos) had at least 4 great associations:
      1. The crown of flowers was worn at times of joy (it was the sign of happy/festive joy).
      2. The crown was the mark of royalty (worn by kings & those in authority)
      3. The crown of laurel leaves was the victors crown in the games (athlete coveted above all)
      4. The crown was the mark of honor & of dignity.
        1. The Christian has a joy no other man can ever have. The Christian has a royalty that no man has ever realized. The Christian has a victory which others cannot win.The Christian has a dignity, for he is ever conscious that God thought him worth the life & death of J.C. William Barclay
    4. (12-15) According to Greek mythology, the crew on Odysseus’ ship escaped the lure of the Siren’s beguiling voices by stopping their ears with wax.
      1. Unfortunately, resisting real-life temptations will take more than ear plugs!
      2. James wants to fill our ears with more than wax, but with important insights & truths about temptations. Knowledge that will sail us right on by temptation’s beckonings.
    5. Lust is not just desire, it’s desire gone to seed. (cilantro)
      1. The next time you face one of your typical temptations, watch for the struggle between your desires & your reason! (Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, pg.66.)
        1. If you give into temptation, it will be because desire has overcome reason in the struggle to influence your will.
          1. Eve sinned by listening to the enemy long before she took the fruit… Victory is won in the citadel of the mind far, far from the overt act of sin!
        2. If we are to win this battle for holiness, we must recognize that the basic problem lies within us.
        3. It is our own evil desires that lead us into temptation.
        4. We may think we merely respond to outward temptations that are presented to us. But the truth is, our evil desires are constantly searching out temptations to satisfy their insatiable lusts.
    6. (15) Death - Mark Antony’s most widely known & costly temptation floated right to him on a barge. Beckoned as dazzling bait, Cleopatra sailed up the Cydnus River straight into Mark Antony’s unguarded heart. Their adulterous relationship, with its passing pleasures, cost him his wife, his place as a world leader, & ultimately his life.
    7. Sow a thought...reap a destiny! Mark Antony wouldn’t resist temptation. Will you?
    8. Remember Joseph’s story (Gen.39)
      1. Don’t be weakened by your situation (he enjoyed a secure high-paying job; his personality & accomplishments made him the object of praise! He was accountable to know one, Could have been very easy to sin!)
      2. Don’t be deceived by persuasion (Potiphar’s wife, day by day enticing)
      3. Don’t be gentle w/your emotions (we must absolutely refuse to entertain lustful thoughts) [“Resist the 1st tiny rill(small stream) of temptation, lest it widen a breach big enough to admit the ocean. Remember that no temptation can master you unless you admit it within.”] F.B.Meyer
      4. Don’t be confused by your immediate results (Joseph did the right thing. But once he got outside, he didn’t hear any angels singing his praises for saying no. What he heard instead was the scream of a woman - a scream that would hurl him from the heights as Potiphar’s overseer to the depths of an obscure jail cell)
    9. 1 John 2 made it clear, “make your aim not to sin!”
      1. Deep w/in our hearts our aim is more like, “I don’t want to sin very much!”
        1. Imagine a soldier going into battle w/the aim of, “not getting hit very much?”
    10. (17) The eternal Source of light is not like the heavenly bodies, subject to variation or eclipse.
      1. There is no such periodic variation in God like that we see in the heavenly bodies.
    11. (18) The Word gives us spiritual birth.
      1. 1 Pet.1:23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.
      2. It is the seed implanted in our heart that bears fruit. (21)
    12. Lead Us Into Being a Doer! (19-27)
    13. (19) Ever paint a house? The hardest part is preparing the surface, not the actual painting.
      1. The better the prep work the better & more lasting the results.
      2. It is the same for receiving truth into our lives.
        1. W/o prep we simply whitewash our lives w/knowledge, which will quickly peel, revealing an unchanged character underneath. (Charles Swindoll; James, pg.50)
        2. James had seen too many Christians who tried to slap on God’s truth w/o properly preparing themselves so that it would stick!
        3. HOW do we prepare ourselves? With an: Open Ear; Controlled Tongue; Calm Spirit; Clean Heart.
          1. Open Ear/swift to hear(19a) - our problem isn’t hard of hearing but hard of listening! (The Jews were big on the reading aloud of the Torah)
          2. Controlled Tongue/slow to speak(19b) - You can’t speak & learn at he same time!
            1. A young man once approached Socrates to ask if the philosopher would teach him the gift of oratory. His request was then followed by an incessant stream of words until, finally, Socrates placed his hand over the inquirer’s mouth & said, “Young man, I will have to charge you a double fee.” When the fellow asked why, Socrates said, “I will have to teach you two sciences. First, how to hold your tongue, & then, how to use it.”
          3. Calm Spirit/slow to anger(19c,20) - why because it doesn’t achieve the rt of God. The seed of God’s Word cannot take root in a heart overrun w/resentment & revenge.
          4. Clean Heart/lay aside all filthiness & wickedness(21a) - William Barclay explains, the word for filthiness root is rupos. Which when used in a medical sense means wax in the ear. If it retains the meaning here, James is telling us get rid of everything that stops our ears to the true word of God.
            1. Wickedness refers to hidden sins, motives, & attitudes that cause the corrupt outer behavior that others see.
    14. So what are the possible hinderances & dangers which may prevent God’s word from taking root & bearing fruit in our lives?
      1. Having anger; showing wrath; enjoying filthiness; abounding in wickedness; & now (in vs.22-27) hearing God’s word but not acting on it.
    15. So how do we prepare ourselves for the truth? (21)
      1. 1st, receive (or welcome) Whenever truth knocks, we’re to open the door & welcome it w/great hospitality.
      2. 2nd, receive it w/meekness(or humility) i.e. a teachable spirit.
    16. (23-25) The Word/Bible is like a mirror that helps us to examine & cleanse our lives.
      1. God’s Word is unlike a mirror, which only reflects outward appearance, the Scriptures reveal our inner character.
        1. The hearer - promptly forgets what was reflected.
        2. The doer - gives careful attention to what is reflected in the scriptures, responds positively, applies what is heard, & thus is genuinely fulfilled.
    17. (25) The blessing is in the doing!
      1. James doesn’t say, “just be doers”. God isn’t looking for activists who don’t know His Word. Nor is He interested in hearers who know the word but do nothing.
        1. Hearers - someone who audits a course at a university - someone who listens carefully & takes notes, but has no assignments, tests, or responsibilities. i.e. Someone who merely takes in information! (Charles Swindoll: James, pg.52.)
      2. “He is already half false who speculates on truth & does not do it.
        Truth is given, not to be contemplated, but to be done.” F.W. Robertson
      3. 1912 - Maiden voyage of Titanic. Received message from another ship of icebergs in area. Radio operator put message under a weight at his elbow and went on with his work. It never reached the captain, and 1500 lives were lost. Information without action can result in destruction.
    18. (25-27) The Christian gospel is a perfect law of liberty!
      1. God creates w/in the hearts of those who receive it the will & power to obey it
    19. We often hear or say, “I don’t believe in religion but a relationship”. Well, yes & no. James, inspired by the H.S. believes in religion...just the right kind, a new kind!
    20. Religion = (orig.) In the sense of life under monastic vows.
      1. Latin religio = obligation, bond, reverence, to bind.
      2. Basically, James is saying Gods laws became an inner constraint & are no longer chiefly an external restraint.
        1. The difference?
        2. Inner Constraint = when we limit or restrain ourselves.
        3. External Restraint = when one is kept under control. (a straight jacket of someone else’s restrictions)
          1. The difference? If CM says you’re not allowed to eat meat on Monday nor Tuna on tuesdays; versus you choosing to fast from either.
      3. Religion is an outward expression of faith!
        1. God loves religion that…tames its tongue; God loves religion that...visits those hurting in the midst of their troubles; God loves religion that...keeps themselves free from contamination!
        2. The picture of the bridled tongue is one who places it in his own mouth, not in the mouth of another!
      4. True religion...doesn’t slander another believer.
        True religion...doesn’t walk by on the other side of the road.
        True religion...doesn’t speak of God 1 minute & live like the devil the next.
    21. How does your religion stand up to James’ practical tests?
Copyright Statement
These files are the property of Brian Bell.
Text Courtesy of Calvary Chapel of Murrieta. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bell, Brian. "Commentary on James 1". "Bell's Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cbb/james-1.html. 2017.