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I. INTRODUCTION 1:1
The writer identified himself for the original recipients of this epistle and greeted them to introduce himself to his readers.
James (lit. Jacob) was probably the half-brother of the Lord Jesus Christ who evidently became a believer late in Jesus’ earthly ministry (cf. John 7:5; 1 Corinthians 15:7). He became the leader of the church in Jerusalem early in its history (Galatians 2:9; Acts 15:13-21).
"Apart from Paul and Peter, no figure in the church of the first days plays a more substantial part upon the historic and legendary stage than James, first Bishop of Jerusalem." [Note: G. H. Rendall, The Epistle of James and Judaic Christianity, pp. 11-12.]
James described himself simply as a bond-servant (Gr. doulos) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only he and Jude, another half-brother of the Lord, described themselves simply as bond-servants in their epistles. This probably indicates that they were so well known in the early church that they did not need to describe themselves in more detail. [Note: Mayor, p. 29.] James did not refer to himself as Jesus’ brother or the church’s leader. He evidently purposed not to know Jesus "after the flesh" (2 Corinthians 5:16) but only as his Lord and God. Being a bond-servant of God was his most important relationship (cf. Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Judges 1:1; Revelation 1:1). He placed Jesus equal with God by saying he was the bond-servant of both God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The term bond-servant did not carry the degrading connotation in the first century that it does today. In the Septuagint doulos described Israel’s great leaders who occupied positions of privilege and honor (e.g., Moses [Deuteronomy 34:5; et al.]; David [2 Samuel 7:5; et al]; and the prophets [Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 44:4; Amos 3:7]). By using this word James was proudly asserting that he belonged to God and to Jesus Christ body and soul. [Note: Burdick, p. 167.]
"It is only his servanthood to the Lord Jesus Christ that matters to him here, for this is the theme of his letter: How shall we live as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ?" [Note: Stulac, p. 30.]
The 12 tribes (cf. Matthew 19:28; Acts 26:7) scattered abroad most naturally refer to Jewish Christians of the Diaspora, those who were living outside Palestine. [Note: Hiebert, pp. 32-34. Cf. Martin, pp. 8-11.] James knew nothing of the ten so-called "lost tribes;" he regarded Israel in its unity and completeness as consisting of 12 tribes. These Jews were very likely members of the Jerusalem church who had left Jerusalem shortly after Stephen’s martyrdom (cf. Acts 8:1; Acts 8:4; Acts 11:19-20). Some scholars believed they lived within Palestine. [Note: E.g., Zane C. Hodges, The Epistle of James, p. 12.] However the location of the recipients does not affect the interpretation of the epistle significantly. What James wrote to them as a fellow Jewish Christian is normative for both Jewish and Gentile Christians since both are one in Christ. It is unnatural to take the 12 tribes as descriptive of the so-called "new Israel," the church, as some interpreters do. [Note: E.g., R. V. G. Tasker, The General Epistle of James, pp. 39-40; Motyer, p. 24; and Sidebottom, p. 26.] "Israel" can and does always refer to the physical descendants of Jacob whenever it occurs in the New Testament, just as it does in the Old Testament. Furthermore there is no other revelation that the church consists of 12 parts as the nation of Israel did.
James wrote in very good Greek; his grammar, syntax, and word choice were excellent. "Greetings" was a common Greek salutation familiar to his readers.
1. The proper attitude toward trials 1:2
What kinds of trials was James talking about? Did he mean troubles such as running out of money, or failing a test in school, or having to stay up all night with a sick child: everyday troubles? Yes. The Greek word translated "trials" (peirasmois) means a "proving," specifically, "the trial of a man’s fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy . . . also an enticement to sin, temptation." [Note: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. "peirasmos."] Various temptations to depart from the will of God are in view. The context supports this conclusion. James 1:3 restates these trials as "the testing of your faith." James was speaking of the different kinds of trials in which we experience temptation to accompany sinners rather than remaining faithful to the Savior. He was not distinguishing between internal and external temptations. [Note: James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James, p. 53; Sidebottom, p. 30.] Trials come from both sources (cf. James 1:14). Any trial can constitute a test of our faith, namely, a temptation to cease trusting and obeying God.
"Trials rightly faced are harmless, but wrongly met become temptations to evil." [Note: Robertson, 6:11.]
Note that James was speaking to Christians: "my brethren." This title for the readers occurs 15 times in this epistle (cf. James 1:16; James 1:19; James 2:1; James 2:5; James 2:14; James 3:1; James 3:10; James 3:12; James 4:11; James 5:7; James 5:9-10; James 5:12; James 5:19).
"Even a superficial reading of James 1:2-18 shows that the author regards his readers as Christians. It may be said that nowhere in the letter-not even in James 2:14-26!-does he betray the slightest doubt that those in his audience are truly his brothers or sisters in the Lord. If we do not observe this simple and obvious fact, we may fall into a quagmire of skewed interpretations, just as so many expositors of James have actually done." [Note: Hodges, p. 18. See also Hiebert, p. 56; and Thomas D. Ice, "Dispensational Hermeneutics," in Issues in Dispensationalism, p. 32.]
What follows is instruction concerning how Christians should respond when we experience temptation to sin.
James counseled his readers to view the various kinds of trials and tribulations they were encountering in their lives as opportunities for growth. He did not urge them to rejoice that they were undergoing trials. He did not advocate a masochistic attitude that unnaturally rejoices in painful experiences. Rather he commanded them to view their trials as profitable even though unpleasant. Another translation of "all joy" can be "pure joy." The opposite would be "some joy" along with much grief. The attitude James advocated can take all the bitterness out of even very uncomfortable trials. Regardless of the source of our difficulties-the world, our flesh, or the devil-we can and should be glad as we go through them. The reason follows.
A. The Value of Trials 1:2-11
The writer pointed out the value of trials to encourage his readers to adopt a positive attitude toward these experiences, to endure them, and to view them as God’s tools. God uses trials to shape believers into people that will glorify Himself.
II. TRIALS AND TRUE RELIGION 1:2-27
James began his letter, which is in many ways a lecture, by dealing with the problem of trials that all believers encounter. Jews who became Christians in the early history of the church experienced much antagonism and persecution from their unbelieving fellow Jews, as is clear in the Book of Acts. All Christians who take a stand for the Lord continue to have to deal with such trials. Thus James’ inspired advice is perennially relevant.
2. The end product of trials 1:3-4
Trials are the means God uses to make believers the kind of people that bring honor to His name, namely, mature Christians. "Testing" (Gr. dokimion) implies demonstrating the true quality of something when it undergoes a trial. The true nature of gold becomes evident when the refiner heats gold ore over a fire. Similarly the character of God within a Christian that is there because of the Holy Spirit’s presence becomes apparent through trials, if responded to properly.
These are trials of our "faith" in the sense that our trust in God and obedience to God are being stretched to the limit. Trials can result in endurance, steadfastness, and perseverance (rather than "patience" [AV]). The Greek word translated "endurance" (hypomonen) describes the quality that enables a person to stay on his or her feet when facing a storm. [Note: William Barclay, New Testament Words, pp. 144-45. Cf. Nigel Turner, Christian Words, pp. 318-19.] If we submit to them, they will eventually make us mature (fully developed, "perfect," cf. Matthew 5:48; Matthew 19:21) and complete (developed in every essential area of our lives). Consequently we should not try to escape from trials but submit to the maturing process with patient endurance and joy. We must learn patience or we will not learn much else.
God will bring every believer who endures trials, rather than running from them, to maturity as we persevere in them. James taught that in view of this fact we should rejoice in our trials rather than rebelling against them. They are God’s instruments for perfecting us.
"After over a quarter century of ministry, I am convinced that spiritual immaturity is the number one problem in our churches." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Mature, p. 13.]
The concept of living by faith that James introduced here for the first time seems to be the theme that unites all the parts of this epistle. Another writer suggested a variation of this theme, namely, "tests of a living faith." [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, "The Unifying Theme of the Epistle of James," Bibliotheca Sacra 135:529 (July-September 1978):224. See also the subtitle of the 1979 edition of his commentary on James.] The Christian who not only experienced justification by faith in the past but is presently living by faith (trusting in God and obeying Him) has what James calls a living faith. This use of live faith is very important to remember when we come to James’ discussion of faith and works in James 2:14-26.
"The root difficulty of the readers lies in a distorted conception of the nature of salvation by faith and its relation to daily life as the proving ground for the development of Christian character." [Note: Idem, James, p. 37.]
What James just explained is divine wisdom, God’s view of life. However the world, which does not have or accept this revealed wisdom, generally fails to appreciate the value of enduring trials. The Christian is apt to take the world’s view toward his or her trials rather than God’s and try to escape them at any cost. An evidence of this is that the divorce rate among Christians is about the same as the divorce rate among non-Christians, at least in the United States. Most people count it all joy when they escape trials, and they count is all grief when they have to endure them.
James used the word "wisdom" (Gr. sophia) in the sense in which the Old Testament wisdom literature used it. There it refers to what God has revealed about His will for human life. Wisdom denotes "a fixed, righteous order to which the wise man submits his life." [Note: Bruce K. Waltke, "The Book of Proverbs and Ancient Wisdom Literature," Bibliotheca Sacra 136:543 (July-September 1979):238.] The New Testament writers often regarded wisdom as the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit and sometimes identified it with the Holy Spirit. [Note: J. A. Kirk, "The Meaning of Wisdom in James: Examination of a Hypothesis," New Testament Studies 16 (1960):24-38.] Consequently the wise Christian is the one who views life in the light of God’s revelation (i.e., His written Word).
If we do not understand God’s view of life, James urged that we keep on asking (Gr. present active imperative) God to enable us to understand it. This is a first class condition in Greek that assumes a condition is true to reality for the sake of the argument. Every Christian lacks this wisdom to some extent. Wisdom is seeing life realistically from God’s perspective. The unwise Christian who repeatedly asks God to open his or her eyes and heart can count on God granting his or her request repeatedly. He will give this wisdom freely and graciously, as often as we need it (cf. Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:20). This description contrasts God with the double-minded man in James 1:8.
We must read this verse in context to understand it correctly. This is not a promise that God will give everyone who asks Him for wisdom a higher IQ. What God promises in this context is the ability to see the importance of enduring trials and persevering in them faithfully.
3. Help in adopting this attitude 1:5-8
James’ reference to "lacking" nothing (James 1:4) led him to digress briefly from his discussion of trials to explain (through James 1:8) the wisdom necessary to deal with trials appropriately.
In Scripture asking in faith always means one of two things. It means either believing God will do what He has promised or, if He has not promised, believing that He can do what the person requesting asks (cf. Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 4:35-41).
"James teaches that faith is the essential condition of prayer." [Note: Adamson, p. 57.]
The NASB translation "without any doubting, for the one who doubts" is unfortunate. The Greek word diakrinomenos, used twice in this verse, is better translated, "let him ask in faith, free from divided motives and divisive attitudes, for such a person is like an ocean wave . . ." [Note: See David DeGraaf, "Some Doubts about Doubt: The New Testament Use of Diakrino," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48:8 (December 2005):741-43. Cf. 2:4.]
Lack of confidence in God’s faithfulness or power manifests a lack of consistency in the believer’s life. James compared the instability that this inconsistency produces to the surf of the sea. Something other than itself drives it. The surf corresponds to the Christian who by not submitting consistently to the will of God is driven by forces outside himself or herself rather than by the Holy Spirit within. The surf (Gr. kludon) may refer to the tops of the waves that the wind blows off (cf. Luke 8:24). The low and high-pressure conditions of life tend to blow us around in a similar fashion.
Such a person’s problems are not only subjective, feeling circumstances are directing him or her rather than God, but they will also be objective. He or she really is at the mercy of circumstances and events beyond our control. This type of inconsistent person resists God’s work in his or her life. Rather than simply perfecting maturity in the person through his trials, God now also has to discipline (educate) him regarding his attitude toward his trials.
In the context "anything" (James 1:7) refers primarily to wisdom (James 1:5). If a person is not going to trust God ("ask in faith," James 1:6) he or she will fail to enjoy the confidence that comes from knowing that God is in control of his or her trials. In a larger sense, of course, our failure to trust God can rob us of the confidence that comes when we know that all of what God has revealed is true.
In this context the "double-minded" (dipsychos, lit. two-sided; cf. James 4:8) man is one who trusts and obeys God part of the time but not consistently. A double-minded person is one who has a divided opinion or allegiance (e.g., Lot; cf. 1 Clem. 11:2). He is unsteady, fickle, staggering, and reeling like a drunken man. [Note: Robertson, 6:15.]
". . . the man is a walking civil war in which trust and distrust of God wage a continual battle against each other." [Note: William Barclay, The Letters . . ., p. 54.]
In summary, God will help us take His view of trials, which James explained in James 1:3-4, if we ask Him to do so in prayer. We can and should be joyful while experiencing trials that constitute temptations to depart from God’s will. We can do so because we know that, if we remain faithful to God, He will use these trials to produce what is glorifying for Him and what is good for us, namely, our spiritual maturity.
Materially poor believers should derive joy from focusing their thinking on their spiritual riches.
4. The larger view of circumstances 1:9-11
James had been urging his readers to adopt God’s view of their trials (James 1:2-4). Now he returned to this subject, broadened their perspective, and encouraged them to adopt His viewpoint on all their present circumstances.
Likewise the materially wealthy should remember that riches are temporary and that one’s real condition before God is a very humble one.
"The Cross of Christ lifts up the poor and brings down the high. It is the great leveller [sic] of men." [Note: Robertson, 6:15.]
Grass in many places is not very hardy, but in some parts of Palestine it only stays green a few weeks. The term "flowering grass" evidently goes back to Isaiah 40:6-8. It is a combination of two thoughts, namely, that the grass withers and the flower fades. In Hebrew, mixing metaphors was a way of enriching the thought. [Note: Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 151.]
The commentators differ in their understanding of who the rich people were to whom James referred. Many concluded they were believers in view of James’ parallel statement in James 1:9. They take the verb kauchaomai ("glory" or "take pride in") in James 1:9 as the verb for James 1:10 also. Likewise the subject "brother" in James 1:9 seems to be the subject of James 1:10. [Note: E.g., Mayor, pp. 45-46; Adamson, p. 62; Hiebert, James, p. 78; C. Leslie Mitton, The Epistle of James, p. 33; and Blue, p. 82.] Other interpreters believe the context points to the rich being unsaved. [Note: E.g., Davids, pp. 76-77; Stulac, pp. 195, 199; and Martin, pp. 25-26.] I think the evidence favors the view that they were Christians, probably Jewish Christians (cf. James 5:1-6). But the fact that James did not make this clear suggests that he intended to state a general truth that applies to both kinds of people: riches are worthless in the face of death and judgment (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 6:17-19).
"There is no higher honor than to be the object of God’s gracious and loving concern." [Note: Hodges, p. 23.]
The flower of the grass refers to its stage of green, lush growth when it is at the peak of its vitality. Soon it withers and turns brown in the Middle East (cf. Matthew 6:30). Likewise the rich man may fade quickly (cf. James 4:13).
"Speaking of his friend, a poor Christian, a wealthy unbeliever remarked, ’When I die, I shall leave my riches. When he dies he will go to his.’" [Note: Adamson, p. 66.]
Our trials as well as our triumphs on the earth are only temporary. This fact should help us endure our trials and not become self-confident in our triumphs.
"James seems to be indicating that trials erase any superficial distinctions that may be thought to separate the rich brother from the poor one." [Note: Burdick, p. 169.]
This introduction to the book (James 1:2-11) is in balance with the conclusion (James 5:7-20). Both sections talk about the need for patience (James 1:2-4; James 5:7-12) and prayer (James 1:5-8; James 5:13-18), and both end with an emphasis on all the contrasting circumstances of life (James 1:9-11; James 5:19-20). [Note: Motyer, p. 12.]
1. The ultimate end of trials 1:12
In view of how God uses trials in our lives we should persevere in the will of God joyfully. The Christian who perseveres under trials, who does not yield to temptations to depart from the will of God, demonstrates his or her love for God. James used the same Greek word for trials here as in James 1:2, but here the negative sense of the word is in view. [Note: See Buist M. Fanning, "A Theology of James," in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, p. 419.] It is those who persevere under trials out of love for God that He will reward with the crown of life (cf. Revelation 2:10). Only the person who endures will receive the blessing. [Note: See Mayor, p. 194.]
". . . James has begun the sentence with ’blessed’ makarios, like a new beatitude recalling Matthew 5:3-10 and especially James 5:11-12, where Jesus encouraged perseverance in trials ’because great is your reward in heaven.’ . . . the crown of life would be the ultimate reward, the fulfillment of eternal life and the exaltation with Christ which will be enjoyed by those who, because of faith in Christ, have loved God enough to live faithfully, obeying him even through trials." [Note: Stulac, p. 49.]
"It is evident that this ’life that God has promised’ is more than the eternal life given to every believer at the time of his salvation (John 5:24). Since it is a reward for an accomplishment subsequent to initial faith, it must refer to a still higher quality of life." [Note: Burdick, p. 171. Cf. Curtis Vaughan, James, p. 28.]
"Many Christians are presently following the same path which Esau took (considering the birthright to be of little value), and such Christians will one day come to the end of the matter in the same position as Esau. They, although presently in line to be blessed as the firstborn (every Christian is a firstborn child of God), will have forfeited this right; and they will be rejected for the blessing." [Note: Arlen L. Chitwood, Judgment Seat of Christ, p. 157.]
"The idea that all Christians do love God is a fiction. Even our Lord felt it necessary to exhort His inner circle of eleven disciples on this point (cf. John 14:21-24). . . . In no circumstances more than in trials does the presence or absence of love for God in a Christian become more apparent." [Note: Hodges, pp. 26-27. See also Joe L. Wall, Going for the Gold, pp. 128-29, 140-51.]
For other promises to those who love God, see Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 7:9; Deuteronomy 30:16; Deuteronomy 30:20; Judges 5:31; Psalms 5:11; Isaiah 64:4; 1 Corinthians 2:9; and 2 Timothy 4:8. The other "crowns" to which the New Testament writers referred are probably also references to the fullness of the qualities mentioned in their contexts. They are probably not material crowns (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10). In other words, we should probably interpret them as metaphors rather than as literal crowns. Those who demonstrate their love for the Lord by persevering under trials will receive life to its fullest potential in the present and in the future.
|An Imperishable Crown||For leading a disciplined life||1 Corinthians 9:25|
|A Crown of Rejoicing||For evangelism and discipleship||1 Thessalonians 2:19|
|A Crown of Righteousness||For loving the Lord’s appearing||2 Timothy 4:8|
|A Crown of Life||For enduring trials||James 1:12;|
|A Crown of Glory||For shepherding God’s flock faithfully||1 Peter 5:4|
B. The Options in Trials 1:12-18
Thus far James revealed the value of trials, how God uses them to perfect the Christian, and how to obtain God’s perspective on one’s trials when this is difficult to see. Next he proceeded to explain the consequences of obedience and disobedience and the source of temptations so his readers could manage their trials effectively.
God is never the source of temptation. He does not try to get us to sin, even though some people blame God for their sins. He Himself is not even subject to temptation because He is totally separate from sin and not susceptible to evil. [Note: Mayor, p. 53. See also his extended discussion of this subject on pp. 195-97.] The only sense in which God is responsible for sin is that He permits other things to tempt us, namely, the world, the flesh, and the devil (cf. Job 1-2). James did not mention this here.
Jesus taught His disciples to pray, "Lead us not into temptation" (Matthew 6:13; Luke 11:4). Jesus used a figure of speech (i.e., litotes) in which He expressed a positive idea by negating the contrary. Other examples of litotes are "not a few" meaning many, and "no rare occurrence" meaning a frequent occurence. James did not imply that God does lead us into temptation. His point was that He can help us stay away from it. Essentially Jesus meant we should ask God to allow us to experience as little temptation as possible (cf. Mark 14:38). James was not contradicting Jesus’ teaching.
"We all know only too many people who have ceased to walk with God under the pressure of trouble or tragedy . . ." [Note: Motyer, p. 50.]
2. The source of temptation 1:13-14
James did not want us to conclude that because God permits us to experience trials He is the source of temptation. That deduction might encourage us to give in to sin.
Rather than blaming God we need to recognize that we are responsible when we yield to temptation, not God. There is nothing in God that responds positively to sin, but there is much in us that does.
"Desire (epithymia) does not always have a negative meaning (cf. Luke 22:15; Philippians 1:23), but here, as most often in the New Testament, it refers to fleshly, selfish, illicit desire. While the word often describes specifically sexual passions, the use of the singular here suggests a broader conception." [Note: Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, p. 73.]
What practical difference does it make if God tempts us or if He allows us to experience temptation from other sources? Perhaps we can better appreciate the difference if we think of God as our Father. No good earthly father would deliberately seduce his child into sin by trying to make him or her fall. However every good father will deliberately allow his child to enter situations in life in which the child must make moral choices. We realize that sending a child to school or into the community, at the proper age, is good for a child because it matures him or her. Likewise God grows us up by allowing certain experiences to assail us, though He Himself only gives good gifts to His children (James 1:18; Luke 11:13). Similarly a schoolteacher will test his students to help them grow, but he should never tempt them to do evil.
3. The progress of temptation 1:15
Lust in this context is the desire to do, have, or be something apart from the will of God. Lust is covert, but sometimes it manifests itself overtly. If we do not check lust, it will lead to sin, and if we do not confess and forsake sin, it will lead to death (Romans 6:21-23; Romans 8:6). One commentator helpfully identified seven successive stages of temptation. [Note: Mayor, p. 198.]
"Sin is the result of the surrender of the will to the soliciting of epithymia [lust] instead of the guidance of reason." [Note: Ibid., p. 55.]
Lust can lead to physical death in a believer (1 John 5:16), and it can lead to physical and spiritual death in a non-believer. James’ vivid illustration of the childbearing process graphically describes the cause and effect relationship of lust, sin, and death. God desires to lead us into the fullness of life (James 1:12), but if we respond improperly and give in to temptations we will not obtain the crown of life but death. "Death" in James 1:15 is the opposite of "life" in James 1:12. The ultimate outcome of capitulating to temptation is death (cf. Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 11:19; Proverbs 12:28; Proverbs 13:14; and Proverbs 19:16), but the ultimate outcome of resisting it is the fullness of life (cf. John 10:10).
"This attention-getting imagery is designed to stop sinners in their tracks, seeing that death is the natural and terrible end of a life of sin, not just an occasional result for some sinners." [Note: Stulac, p. 56.]
James wanted his readers to have no doubt about God’s purposes and methods in dealing with them, His children. The same "Do not be deceived" expression occurs in 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Galatians 6:7; and 1 John 3:7. God definitely is not the author of temptation.
When God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a human sacrifice (Genesis 22:2), it only appeared to Abraham that God was tempting him to commit murder. God prevented him from slaying his son (Genesis 22:12). This was a test of Abraham’s obedience, not a solicitation to sin.
James clarified God’s purposes and methods in the following two verses (cf. Galatians 4:7). James 1:15 warns against yielding to temptation by reminding us of the judgment of God, and James 1:17 warns us by reminding us of the goodness of God.
4. The goodness of God 1:16-18
James now defended God before those who doubted His goodness or reliability or who had given up hope in a time of testing and had concluded that this was their "fate." [Note: Martin, p. 39.] The theological term for a vindication of God’s character is "theodicy."
Every act of giving (better than "good thing bestowed," Gr. dosis) and every gift given (Gr. dorema) has its source in God. This does not include temptations to sin. God created the sun and moon by which we see variation in light. However there is no variation in God’s dealings with His creatures (cf. 1 John 1:5). He always does everything for His own glory and His creatures’ good.
"From above" is the translation of the same Greek word (anothen) Jesus used in John 3:7 when He told Nicodemus that he must be born "again." There the new birth is the good gift from God that is in view.
The greatest of God’s gifts for believers is the gift of new life in Christ. God’s deliberate initiative provided this gift for us, and His special revelation communicated it to us (i.e., the message marked by truth). This verse along with the preceding one shows clearly that James believed that eternal life was a gift of God’s grace. We need to keep this in mind when we read James’ discussion of faith and works that follows in chapter 2. James also agreed with Paul that our salvation springs from the sovereign volition of God (cf. Romans 4:21-22; 2 Corinthians 4:6). He initiated it.
The "first fruits" probably refer to all Christians who persevere in spite of trials. All believers will bring glory to God’s name, but believers who remain faithful to Christ will please Him greatly, as the first fruits in Israel were a special offering to God. The Greek word translated "first fruits" (aparche) refers to what is first in honor as well as to what is first in order. The biblical writers used it "of persons superior in excellence to others of the same class." [Note: A Greek-English . . ., s.v. "aparche." Cf. Revelation 14:4.]
The point of these verses (17-18) seems to be that God’s intention for all people, and believers in particular, is invariably their blessing. Rather than viewing temptations to depart from the will of God as heaven-sent, we must see them as the potential enemies of spiritual growth. Instead of caving in under their weight we must brace ourselves against them. We can do so knowing that the effort will make us better this side of the grave, and it will yield a wonderful reward the other side of the grave.
"James outlined the source of temptation, the steps in temptation, and the solution for temptation." [Note: Blue, p. 822.]
James’ readers already knew what he had just reminded them of in the preceding verses (James 1:17-18; cf. Proverbs 10:19; Proverbs 13:3; Proverbs 14:29; Proverbs 15:1; Proverbs 17:27-28; Proverbs 29:11; Proverbs 29:20; Ecclesiastes 7:9). Nevertheless they needed to act in harmony with this knowledge.
"He [James] drives home the teaching about our death-bound, sinful nature with the cry Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren (16); he drives home the teaching about the new birth with the cry Know this, my beloved brethren (19a)." [Note: Motyer, p. 61.]
We may respond to trials by complaining about them and becoming angry over them. James advised his readers to remain silent and calm and to listen submissively to the Word of God (James 1:23).
"It is possible to be unfailingly regular in Bible reading, but to achieve no more than to have moved the book-mark forward: this is reading unrelated to an attentive spirit." [Note: Ibid., p. 65.]
Many people have observed that we have two ears and one mouth, which ought to remind us to listen twice as much as we speak (cf. Proverbs 10:19; Proverbs 17:27). Apparently Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, is the oldest known source of this observation. [Note: Martin, p. 54.]
"Ceaseless talkers may easily degenerate into fierce controversialists." [Note: Alexander Ross, The Epistles of James and John, p. 38.]
"The great talker is rarely a great listener, and never is the ear more firmly closed than when anger takes over." [Note: Motyer, p. 65.]
"The tribute was once paid to a great linguist that he could be silent in seven different languages." [Note: Barclay, The Letters . . ., p. 65.]
1. The improper response 1:19-20
C. The Proper Response to Trials 1:19-27
Having explained the value of trials and our options in trials, James next exhorted his readers to respond properly to their trials. In this section he stressed the Word of God because it is the key to resisting temptations and responding to trials correctly (cf. Matthew 4:1-11).
"Receptivity to the Word, responsiveness to the Word, and resignation to the Word are essential to spiritual growth. One must accept God’s Word, act on it, and abide by it." [Note: Ibid.]
An angry response to temptations does not advance the righteousness in character and conduct that God is seeking to produce in the believer.
"The policy James condemns is one of seeking to promote the cause of freedom by politically motivated and engineered violence (an endeavor to be brought into the discussion at James 4:1-3)." [Note: Martin, p. 48.]
2. The essential response 1:21
The filthiness in view seems to be all kinds of unclean behavior that lies outside the will of God, including anger and wrath. The "remains of wickedness" are those evil habits of life we carry over from the unredeemed world (cf. Psalms 17:4; Luke 6:45). The believer should accept submissively what God has revealed and should respond cooperatively to what He commands. The Word of God will then have good soil in which to grow, and it will yield an abundant harvest of righteous conduct in the believer.
"We pray for safety instead of purity because we do not see impurity as dangerous." [Note: Stulac, p. 71.]
Some interpreters have understood the phrase "which is able to save your souls" to imply that the souls of James’ readers still needed to experience salvation from eternal damnation. However, since his readers were Christians (James 1:1-2), some interpreters believe that when a believer sins he loses his salvation and needs saving again. Yet the words James used and the context make clear that this is not what he meant. "Save your lives" or "save your selves" (Gr. psychas) is a better translation used elsewhere (cf. Matthew 16:24-27; Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9; Luke 9:56; James 5:20; 1 Peter 1:9). I counted 40 instances in the New Testament where the translators of the AV rendered the Greek word psyche "life" rather than "soul." [Note: See also Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, pp. 118-19; and Hodges, p. 41.] "Soul" does not describe a part of the individual that is different from some other part of him or her such as the body; it describes the whole person.
". . . the expression ["save your souls"] is never found in any New Testament text which describes the conversion experience!" [Note: Idem, The Gospel Under Siege, p. 24.]
By obeying God’s Word the believer can save his life, himself, from the consequences of sin. The ultimate consequence for a believer is premature physical (not eternal) death (cf. James 1:15; James 5:19-20; Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 11:19; Proverbs 12:28; Proverbs 13:14; Proverbs 19:16; Romans 8:13; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 John 5:16). [Note: See Arlen L. Chitwood, Salvation of the Soul, pp. 25-34.] James was still talking about the consequences of obeying and disobeying God: the crown of life (James 1:12) and death (James 1:15).
"It has often been observed that the Epistle of James is, of all the New Testament writings, the one which most clearly reflects the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. The theme of death as the consequence of sin is an extremely frequent one in the book of Proverbs. . . . It should be evident that this is the Old Testament concept which furnishes the background for James’ thought. A recognition of this fact clarifies a great deal." [Note: Hodges, The Gospel . . ., pp. 24-25.]
Doing the Word of God in this context means persevering in God’s will when we experience temptation to depart from it. Hearing God’s will is good as far as it goes, and it is indispensable, but obedience should follow. Some Christian disciples delude themselves by thinking that knowing God’s will is enough, but it is only foundational to doing God’s will.
"The blessing does not come in studying the Word, but in doing the Word." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 16.]
"The call to ’do what it says’ lies at the center of all that James teaches. It sums up the message of the whole book: Put into practice what you profess to believe. Indeed, James 1:22 may well be the key verse of James’s epistle." [Note: Burdick, p. 175.]
3. The complete response 1:22-25
Whereas James 1:19-21 stress the importance of listening to the Word, James 1:22-25 emphasize the necessity of putting the Word into practice, applying it.
This illustration is so clear and so common that it needs little comment. The Greek verb katanoeo refers to careful observation. It does not mean to cast a hasty superficial glance, as some have suggested.
The law to which James referred is the revelation of God’s will contained in Scripture (cf. Matthew 5:17). It is perfect because it is the perfect will of a perfect God.
"Unlike the imperfect metal mirror in the previous illustration, this law is able to give the beholder a true and undistorted revelation of himself." [Note: Hiebert, James, p. 122.]
"The law of God is perfect, first, because it perfectly expresses his nature and, secondly, because it perfectly matches ours." [Note: Motyer, p. 70.]
It is a law of liberty because by obeying it we find true liberty from sin and its consequences (i.e., real life).
"True freedom is the opportunity and the ability to give expression to what we truly are." [Note: Ibid., p. 71.]
Note James’ agreement with Paul that Christians live in comparative liberty under the "law of Christ" (Galatians 5:1; Galatians 6:2; cf. Matthew 11:30). Obedient adherence to the Word of God is the key to experiencing God’s blessing in life now as well as in the eschatological future.
". . . the letter . . . is a ’law book’ in a deeper and more pervasive sense than any other single writing in the New Testament." [Note: Ibid., p. 21.]
"Thus the passage falls into three sections, each with a distinct response to the word God speaks: hearing (James 1:19-20), receiving (James 1:21) and obeying (James 1:22-25)." [Note: Ibid., p. 63.]
"Religious" (Gr. threskos, used only here in the New Testament) describes someone who fears or worships God. In particular, it refers to the outward consequences of what one believes (i.e., piety, good works) rather than to what he believes or the fact that he believes deeply. The Jews, who were James’ original readers, typically regarded alms-giving, prayer, fasting, regular attendance at worship services, and the observance of holy days and feasts as signs of true spirituality (cf. Matthew 6:1-18). However, James said a better test of spirituality was God’s control of one’s tongue (cf. James 3:1-12).
4. The external behavior 1:26-27
James proceeded to explain in James 1:26 to James 2:13 what a doer of works (James 1:25) does.
Taking care of orphans and widows (conduct) is a duty that lies close to the heart of God (cf. Exodus 22:22-24; Deuteronomy 10:18; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 5:28; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10). Yet many who professed to love Him neglected it (Psalms 68:5; Ecclesiastes 4:1; Mark 12:40). [Note: See Richard D. Patterson, "The Widow, the Orphan, and the Poor in the Old Testament and the Extra-Biblical Literature," Bibliotheca Sacra 130:519 (July-September 1973):223-34.] Likewise personal moral purity (character) is an excellent external indicator of godliness (cf. Acts 15:20; 1 Timothy 5:22).
"When we read James’s injunction to ’keep oneself unstained from the world’ (James 1:27), we tend to interpret that in strictly moral terms-as an injunction not to sin. But it also means to keep ourselves ’unstained’ from the world’s wrong ways of thinking, its faulty worldviews. We must learn how to identify and resist the false worldviews dominant at our moment in history." [Note: Nancy R. Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 121.]
James argued for reality. He did not want us to deceive ourselves into thinking that we are spiritual if our obedience to God is only superficial.
"Like Jesus, James sees worship not in terms of external law but as an expression of inner active goodness." [Note: Adamson, p. 85.]
"To summarize, James 1:22-27 insist that a person’s religion must consist of more than superficial acts. It is not enough to listen to the statement of spiritual truth (James 1:22-25), nor is it sufficient to engage in formal religious activity (James 1:26). The person whose religious experience is genuine will put spiritual truth into practice, and his life will be marked by love for others and holiness before God." [Note: Burdick, pp. 176-77.]
In this chapter James dealt with the practical problem of trials and temptations. He used this subject to remind his readers of some very basic truths that have implications in many other areas of practical Christian living. Some of these areas are consistent commitment to God and obedience to His Word. We will demonstrate behavior that is as genuinely religious as anything anyone can do when we respond to temptations to depart from God’s will appropriately. The appropriate response involves rejecting them and rejoicing in them because we believe God is using them to mature us for His glory.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on James 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
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