The Latter Epistles – James 1

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
Greetings.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.  But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.  For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed.  In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.”  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

  • James 1:1-27

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

James 1:1 ‘a servant of God and of Christ’: “The character by which our author desires to be know: James, a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Though James is called by the evangelist the brother of our Lord, yet it was his glory to serve Christ in the spirit, rather than to boast of his being akin according to the flesh.  Hence let us learn to prize this title above all others in the world – the servants of God and of Christ.  We cannot acceptably serve the Father, unless we are also servants of the Son.”

  • Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Scripture quotations are not in bold/italics)

James 1:2-3 ‘When … many … troubles’: “God didn’t say, ‘If you have many kinds of troubles’ … he said, ‘When you have many kinds of troubles …’  Troubles are part of the package.  Betrayals are part of our troubles.  Don’t be surprised when betrayals come.  Don’t look for fairness here – look instead where Jesus looked.
“While going through hell, Jesus kept his eyes on heaven.  While surrounded by enemies he kept his mind on his father.  While abandoned on earth, he kept his heart on home. ‘In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God, the Powerful One, and coming on clouds in the sky’ (Matthew 26:64).
“When all of earth turns against you, all of heaven turns toward you.  To keep your balance in a crooked world … think of home.”

  • Max Lucado, And the Angels Were Silent

James 1:3 ‘testing’: “Note the essential point that is assailed by temptation.  Your faith is the target that all the arrows are shot at.  Faith is as vital to salvation as the heart is to the body.  Therefore the javelins of the enemy are mainly aimed at this essential grace.  Your faith is peculiarly obnoxious to Satan and to the world.  If you had no faith, they would not be your enemies.  Faith is that blessed grace that is most pleasing to God and, therefore, most displeasing to the devil.  By faith God is greatly glorified, and by faith Satan is greatly annoyed.  He rages at faith because he sees in it his own defeat and the victory of grace.”
James 1:4 ‘Mature’ “The most valuable thing a person can obtain in this world is that which has most to do with his truest self.  A man may acquire a good house.  But suppose he is in bad health.  What is the good of his fine mansion?  The best thing is that which will make him a better man – make him right, true, pure, and holy.  If our afflictions tend, by trying our faith, to breed endurance, and that endurance tends to make us into mature and complete people in Christ Jesus, then we may be glad of trials.
“When blessed of God, our trials ripen us.  Believers who have endured a great deal of affliction exhibit a sort of mellowness that you never see in other people.  It cannot be mistaken or imitated.  A certain measure of sunlight is needed to bring out the real flavor of fruits.  When a fruit has felt its measure of burning sun, it develops a lusciousness we delight in.  So is it in men and women.  A certain amount of trouble appears to be necessary to create a sugar of graciousness in them so that they may contain the rich, ripe juice of a gracious character.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

James 1:6 ‘courage in prayer’: “When entering the prayer chamber, we must come filled with faith and armed with courage.  Nowhere else in the whole field of religious thought and activity is courage so necessary as in prayer.  Thew successful prayer must be one without condition.  We must believe that God is love and that, being love, He cannot harm us but must ever do us good.  Then we must throw ourselves before Him and pray with boldness for whatever we know our good and His glory require, and the cost is no object!  Whatever He in His love and wisdom would assess against us, we will accept with delight because it pleased Him.  Prayers like that cannot go unanswered.  The character and reputation of God guarantee their fulfillment.
“We should always keep in mind the infinite lovingkindness of God.  No one need fear to put his life in HIs hands.  His yoke is easy; His burden is light.”

  • A. W. Tozer, We Travel an Appointed Way

James 1:13-18 ‘temptation’: “God is not the author of any man’s sin.  Some professors might fall in the hour of temptation.  The blame of their misconduct must lie entirely upon themselves.  There is nothing in the nature of God that they can lay blame upon.  There is nothing in the providential dispensations of God that the blame of any man’s sin can be laid upon (v. 13).  As God cannot be tempted with evil himself, so neither can he be a tempter of others.  It is very bad to sin; but it is much worse, when we have done amiss, to charge it upon God, and say it was owing to him.  Afflictions are designed to draw out our graces, but not our corruptions.
“… The true original of evil and temptation is in our own hearts.”

  • Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Scripture quotations are not in bold/italics)

James 1:23 ‘looking in a mirror’: “Scripture gives a truthful reflection of a person’s nature.  It lets a man see himself but not as others see him, for others make mistakes.  Nor does it show a person what he would see himself, for he is apt to be partial to his own soul.  Rather, Scripture makes him see himself as God sees him.  The Holy Book does not flatter human nature.  When conscience is awakened and a person sees himself as the revelation of God declares him to be, he can hardly think that this can be the same self with which he was on such excellent terms.”
James 1:24 ‘ignoring what we see’ “Looking in the mirror and noticing a black mark on our forehead is mere child’s play if we do not wash the spot away.  To see ourselves as God would have us see ourselves in the mirror of Scripture is something.  But we must afterwards go to Christ for washing, or our looking is superficial work.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

My Thoughts

It is odd that two books of the Bible, in a row, cause me ‘trouble.’  Hebrews spends a lot of time developing the concept of Jesus as a priest, after the order of Melchizedek.  Not growing up in the Hebrew tradition, that was off-putting until I actually studied the book.  I already know from using James for Scripture quotations that there is much more to James than “Faith without works is dead.”  I have already quoted from each chapter multiple times, all but a single quote from chapter 2.  But when you are in a “doing” church, the word “works” becomes much more important than the word “Jesus.”  Why you ask?  I have talked to many of the doers, and they “do” just to “do” and when asked about their faith, they shrug or they say that when they get to heaven, they hope they have done enough.  While we should not discourage them from doing, are we giving them a false message by allowing them to think that their doing is working toward salvation?  I think they need to study verses on “Faith without faith is dead,” but maybe that is just me talking crazy talk.  And I do not include all the doers in this assessment.  Some are genuine believers, ‘doing’ from the heart.

But before we get into chapter 2, this chapter is packed full of great teaching.  I like Matthew Henry’s comments on how James identifies himself.  James could only be humbler if he said, “Call me Jim.”

Then we are to count it Joy if we struggle, adding that we should ask God if we need wisdom.  These two thoughts are not random and disconnected.  When you hear someone say, “It is wonderful that you lost your job or that your mother just passed away,” you might punch them in the nose.  By the way, saying that to someone else is not what James is doing or suggesting you do.  I am just taking it to the extreme.  It does not feel good to suffer, but, if we are wise, we can realize that God is perfecting our faith and us, deep down.  By the time we are taken to our heavenly reward, we will be ready to go.  We should sympathize with those that grieve, but if they cannot shake that grief in good time, we should go further by raising them up.  In some cases, these friends may be fair weather believers, on fire for Jesus until the first test arises.  Some of the messages from pulpits can give you that impression.  In those cases, the pastor is not preparing you for what life is about, giving you unrealistic hopes.  But in each trial, we can realize after a bit of grief, or sometimes immediately, that God has given me the strength and I will now remain stronger.  That is true wisdom.

And I heard Rev. David Robertson say on a vlog that we should be double-minded, just not like they talk about in James.  Rev. Robertson was talking about being travelers in this world with our minds focused on the next world and being with Jesus, and in doing so, be a shining light to this world.  Yet, James seems to be talking about those who pray for something with the thought that they are unworthy to come before God or with the thought that God does not listen to them or the thought that God has better things to do or …  We must pray knowing that we are a child of God as if we were the only one.  Does that mean that we can ask for a candy bar?  Sorry, I have used the Janis Joplin Mercedes Benz too often, so I threw a curve ball.  Each time the Bible says that God grants us our heart’s desire, the Scripture points to Jesus being our heart’s desire.  That does not mean that we cannot obtain riches, but then we come to the next paragraph.

If we can take this next paragraph about the poor being at the top of the nice list and the rich not being on the nice list at all, that becomes a true test of faith indeed.  Can a rich person give it all away?  Andrew Carnegie was making money too quickly to give it all away, even though a lot of structures bear his name, for being the donor.  Some are pretending to do the Carnegie routine and may have given more money away than Carnegie, but in some cases, it is self-serving, giving money away to people who make the rich man’s product even more useful, increasing sales even more.

Not being a rich man in American terms, I have often been asked if it is wrong to be rich.  The only answer I can give is that God will sort that out.  Jesus did not say it was impossible to be rich and saved, but He came awfully close to saying it.  Yet, it is often the rich people, trying to buy their way into heaven that keep many of our churches afloat, and like my comments about the doers above, there are some exceptions, that rich person that loves everyone around him or her.

I think that Rev. Spurgeon covered the paragraph on God not tempting us quite well.  We usually get ourselves into such pickles and we wish to blame someone else, and unfortunately sometimes God.

Then James speaks of where our truth comes from, from God (above).  God is unchangeable.  The world constantly changes and encourages us to change with it.  That is where that wisdom can also be used to avoid the pitfalls of this world.

And when it comes to anger, I am the world’s leading expert in what not to do.  I do not throw things. I simply raise my voice. I only do it with family and then only after they have ignored me four or five times, or poked the bear, because they are having a bad day, one too many times. They know the warning signs, but they keep poking. The author James is right.  Nothing good comes from human anger.  But one thing in the paragraph that I find intriguing, getting rid of the moral filth.  What things in our lives do we get upset about that are not necessary to worry about one way or the other?  I recently started into an intersection, but I stopped when a car to my left made no indication that he was going to stop. At the speed he was going, it would have probably been fatal if I had not stopped. The guy slammed on his brakes past the halfway point in the intersection to turn his head around and curse me for frightening him as he was both speeding and running a stop sign.  Then he drove away.  I did not get angry.  He was either an idiot or someone in a hurry, so hurried that he failed to place his brain in gear before putting the car in gear, no anger, just observation.  I noticed that his cup of coffee was much more important to hold onto than the steering wheel as he drove away, one hand gesturing obscenities while the other firmly grasping the coffee, again going far beyond the speed limit.   I was simply glad that he missed our car and that I was going a different direction.  But then my wife can get me angry so easily.  And if her health fails any more, I will miss those opportunities of her getting my blood pressure up.  Yes, James is right.  Jettison the moral filth and things that do not matter, and remember, with kind thoughts, those people that do matter.

The rest of the chapter fits together.  It starts the talk about how your walk should match your talk, but in this case in ways like the fruits of the Spirit as opposed to reroofing someone’s house.  We discussed the concept in Sunday school recently in that other people are watching.  When they notice that you respond to stressful situations differently (yes, in public I do a much better job of controlling the temper), people know something is different about you.  At a Cub Scout Leaders’ Leaders meeting, planning the meeting where we would teach other leaders, I had a disagreement with my wife.  We amicably decided to not discuss it until we got home.  One of the other leaders in the group responded in an odd way.  Her jaw hit the floor and as she gathered that back up, she turned to her husband and said, “I have never seen them argue before!  They are human!!!”  Okay, we are all human, and we all make mistakes, but people notice that Christians handle those tense moments differently.  Or at least, they should notice.  And they do change for the better because God has made us new creations, not yet perfect, but the change is noticeable.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“1. Concerning a trial you have experienced, what pressures did it bring on your faith?  What wisdom did you gain through it?
”2. With so much wealth in society, what do verses 9-11 mean to you?  What men should you ‘take pride in?’
“3. What are the warning signs that you are being enticed by your evil desires?  What helps you break the spell?
“4. What is a ‘good and perfect gift’ for which you are thankful?
“1. Think of one failed and one successful relationship you have.  What would (or did) change if (when) verses 19-20 were applied with each regularly?
“2. What from God’s Word here will you put into action this week?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There are again two questions 1 and 2 as this chapter is split into two study sessions in the Serendipity Bible.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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