One of the benefits of our 21st century information age can be found in the abundance of resources that are available to help accomplish virtually any task imaginable. Regardless of the project we may wish to undertake, the chances are good that someone has already posted a “how-to” set of instructions that often feature step-by-step directions, illustrations, potential problems to avoid, and perhaps even a video demonstration.
In like manner, the Biblical book of James should appeal to anyone who is truly interested in seeking the “how-to” of an authentic Christian life. In some respects, the New Testament book of James functions much like the Old Testament book of Proverbs for it contains a number of short, axiomatic teachings that can help us apply Godly wisdom in the practical, everyday matters of daily life.
However, the book of James does not only tell us what to do, it tells us why such behaviors are good and appropriate. One such example can be found near the end of James chapter one where we’re told, “…be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). Since it is often easier to identify the inconsistencies found in others rather than ourselves, this passage provides us with an valuable means of self-assessment. So anyone who truly seeks to live as God intended can easily determine if he or she is a victim of self-deception simply by applying the test found in James 1:22.
The Biblical book of James has also been subject to some degree of controversy over the centuries due to its perceived conflict with the Apostle Paul’s Scriptural teaching concerning the relationship of faith to good works (see Romans 3:28 and compare with James 2:24). We’ll consider that controversy (and seek to illustrate why no such conflict exists when each teaching is examined in context) later on in James chapter two.
The book of James (along with the New Testament books of 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude) is classified as a “General Epistle,” so-called because it was written to be shared among many Christians. As one source observes, “…(this) letter was probably intended to be a circular letter that would be read by many congregations in many places, and as such, it treats issues and problems that would have been common to all of the recipients, problems that impacted Christian congregations wherever they were located.” (1)
While the author identifies himself in the first verse of chapter one, we’ll consider which “James” among the several mentioned in the New Testament is the likely author of this Epistle next.
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2223). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings” (James 1:1).
Even though the Biblical book of James is found near the end of the New Testament, this letter was probably among the first New Testament books to be written. But which “James” was responsible for authoring this Biblical book? On the surface, this may seem to be a relatively easy question to answer. However, the New Testament Scriptures provide us with a number of individuals with the name “James”…
- James the Apostle, the brother of John (Matthew 4:21-22).
- James the son of Alphaeus, another of the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:3).
- James, the father of Judas (not Judas Iscariot but the other disciple named Judas [Luke 6:16]).
- James, who is identified as “the Lord’s brother” in Galatians 1:19.
The authority of this letter seems to rule out James the son of Alphaeus (also known to history as “James the Less”) and James, the father of Judas. So of these four men, there are only two who seem to be realistic candidates.
The first would be James, the brother of John. As one of the “inner circle” of Jesus’ disciples, this James would certainly be capable of authoring such a definitive work. The problem is that James was murdered around 44 A.D. (Acts 12:2), an act that almost certainly took place before this letter was written.
So of all the possibilities, there is only one who seems to best fit the authorship of this book- that would be James, the half-brother of Jesus and the brother of Jude according to Jude chapter one.
While James, the Epistle speaks with great spiritual authority, that was not always true of James, the person. You see, while Mark 6:3 identifies James as a member of Jesus’ family, John 7:2-5 also tells us that Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in Him. However, 1 Corinthians 15:7 goes on to say that Jesus subsequently appeared to James following His resurrection- and it appears that things began to change for James from that point forward.
James went on to become a pillar of the first-century church and a central figure at the Jerusalem Council mentioned in Acts 15. There are also legendary stories regarding James stating that he spent so much time kneeling in prayer that his knees became as callused and thick as camel’s knees. Such was the reputation of the man that God used to author the Biblical book of James.
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings” (James 1:1 ESV).
While most writers customarily place their names at the end of a letter today, first-century authors generally took the opposite approach and placed their names at the beginning of their message. So in keeping with that first-century tradition, James identified himself as the author of this epistle right at the very beginning of his opening sentence.
As for his credentials, James offered the following: “…a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” While James might have mentioned his status as Jesus’ half-brother or his position as a leader in the church at Jerusalem, he instead chose to emphasize the fact that he was “…a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (NLV).
This tells us that James primarily viewed himself as a servant, or “bondservant” as this word appears in some translations. As used in the original language, this word (doulous) denotes someone who is devoted to another person to the disregard of his or her own interests. (1) While most people probably have an idea of what this concept may entail, a “bondservant” differs from an ordinary servant in at least one important respect.
You see, a servant might ordinarily work to secure his or her freedom if provided with an opportunity. In fact, Paul the Apostle suggested that very course of action in 1 Corinthians 7:21. However, the term “bondservant” carries the idea of someone who willingly accepts a master/slave relationship.
So why would anyone voluntarily enter into such a relationship? Well the Old Testament book of Exodus provides us with some insight into that question…
“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he may serve for no more than six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom…. But the slave may declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don’t want to go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will serve his master for life” (Exodus 21:2, 5-6 NLT).
So much like the slave referenced here in Exodus chapter twenty-one, James identified himself as someone who willingly declined the option to secure his freedom in order to serve God and pursue His direction for life.
(1) G1401 doulos Thayer’s Greek Definitions
“From James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes dispersed abroad. Greetings!” (James 1:1 NET).
Following his introduction, James continued with an address to his intended audience: “To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (NIV). In the context of this letter, the use of the term “twelve tribes” represents a means of identifying Jewish Christians who were living abroad at the time this letter was written.
A look at the New Testament book of Acts tells us that the early first-century church was primarily comprised of Jewish men and women who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah. But Acts chapter eight also goes on to tell us this…
“…a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles… Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:1, 4).
So it appears that James’ primary audience was comprised of Jewish Christians in local churches who had been scattered throughout the Mediterranean region. (1) However as one commentator observes, “Since all true believers are strangers and pilgrims in this world (Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 2:11), we can apply this Letter to ourselves, even if it wasn’t written directly to us.” (2)
The following verse serves to underscore that point…
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2-3).
Trials, challenges, struggles, and difficulties are common to the human experience for every generation, a reality that James acknowledges in stating, “…when you fall into various trials” and not “if you fall into various trials.” If trials therefore are inevitable, we would do well to consider our response to them in advance.
For example, we may elect to respond to the trials of life by saying, “Why did God allow this to happen to me?” or we can say, “This represents an opportunity to exercise the kind of faith that is pleasing to God.”
You see, trials may sometimes result in feelings of bitterness, resentment, anger, and/or discouragement, especially when there seems to be little purpose in the hardships we endure. But this passage tells us that a man or woman of God can take comfort in the fact that a God-ordained purpose exists behind the trials, problems, and difficulties we encounter in life.
We’ll consider a few of those God-ordained purposes (and see how they might benefit us in terms of growth and maturity) next.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley, www.freebiblecommentary.org James 1:1 http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL11/VOL11_01.html
(2) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Salutation 1:1 pg 2218
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).
James’ counsel to “count it all joy” in the midst of a trial may seem counter-intuitive, for most people count it all joy when they escape their trials and difficulties rather than the other way around. Nevertheless, this passage identifies a few of the benefits that might be derived from the trials we experience in life- benefits such as perseverance, maturity, and completeness.
These positive personal characteristics are qualities that are respected even among those who do not accept or recognize God. So much like the tooling employed by a master craftsman, trials often represent the means by which God forges these valuable attributes within us.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
“Wisdom” refers to insight, common sense, and the use of good judgment in the application of knowledge. Perhaps the most famous display of God-given wisdom was demonstrated by King Solomon in the Old Testament book of 1 Kings.
When two women approached the king in a dispute over the parentage of two infants (one dead, the other living), the king responded to this seemingly-impossible dilemma in the following manner…
“…the king said, ‘Let’s get the facts straight. Both of you claim the living child is yours, and each says that the dead one belongs to the other. All right, bring me a sword.’ So a sword was brought to the king. Then he said, ‘Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other!’
Then the woman who was the real mother of the living child, and who loved him very much, cried out, ‘Oh no, my lord! Give her the child—please do not kill him!’ But the other woman said, ‘All right, he will be neither yours nor mine; divide him between us!’
Then the king said, ‘Do not kill the child, but give him to the woman who wants him to live, for she is his mother!’ When all Israel heard the king’s decision, the people were in awe of the king, for they saw the wisdom God had given him for rendering justice” (1 Kings 3:23-28 NLT).
Like Solomon, God can provide us with the wisdom to know what to do with the facts as we encounter the challenges and uncertainties of life.
“Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5 HCSB).
In part, the idea of “wisdom” refers to the good judgment that comes from knowing what to do with the facts in a given situation. The Old Testament book of Proverbs provides us with an important piece of insight in this regard when it tells us, “…the reverence and fear of God are basic to all wisdom. Knowing God results in every other kind of understanding” (Proverbs 9:10 TLB).
This means that the person who acknowledges God with an attitude of honor and respect begins from a foundation that is essential for making wise choices. However, those who choose to live as if God does not exist start from a position that is sure to eventually lead to bad decisions for as we’re told in Psalm 14:1,“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’…”
But wisdom means more than simply making good decisions. Wisdom is important because it forms the basis of our philosophies about life. In this context, the word “philosophy” refers to “a system of principles for guidance in practical affairs.” (1) These philosophies help establish the principles that influence the choices we make.
The problem is that any philosophy can be good or bad depending on the wisdom upon which it is based- and the New Testament book of Colossians contains the following warning concerning the various philosophies we encounter in life…
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8 NIV).
One example of a hollow and deceptive philosophy can be found in the mindset that says, “if it feels good, do it” or, “if it feels right, it can’t be wrong.” The issue is that these philosophies are based on some unjustified assumptions. For example, they each imply that “feelings” are the ultimate arbiter of what is good or right. They also grow out of a kind of “wisdom” that assumes that people will never have to give an ultimate account for their actions.
So the need for wisdom is critically important. This is why James 1:5 has served as a source of great encouragement down through the centuries: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (ESV).
(1) philosophy. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/philosophy (accessed: October 14, 2015).
“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” (James 1:5 NIV).
While God graciously agrees to grant wisdom to all who ask, there is one caveat…
“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-7).
The qualification is that we must approach God in faith without doubt. You see, it’s one thing to simply believe that a “higher power” or “greater intelligence” exists but its something very different to place our personal trust and faith in God as an actual Person. As one commentator observes, “The doubter is here at variance with himself, unable to decide whether or not, or to what extent, he should put personal confidence in God.” (1)
But what does it really mean to “ask in faith“? Well, the Biblical book of Hebrews addresses this question in a manner that the Amplified version goes on to clarify in detail…
“Now faith is the assurance (title deed, confirmation) of things hoped for (divinely guaranteed), and the evidence of things not seen [the conviction of their reality—faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses].” (Hebrews 11:1-3 AMP).
One Bible dictionary defines faith as “A belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to His will for one’s life.” (2) Faith involves the confident expectation that God is trustworthy and that He will fulfill His promises even if external appearances seem to suggest otherwise.
Jesus served to illustrate this concept of genuine, Biblical faith when He told His followers, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). This kind of faith becomes possible when we possess complete trust and confidence in the Person who can answer our prayers.
But there are even greater implications behind this idea of faith for Romans 1:17 goes on to tell us, “…it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith'” (NIV). This makes faith both something we possess and a lifestyle that characterizes the attitude of a God-honoring man or woman.
We should never mistake genuine faith for “blind faith” or a faith that has no basis in reality. Real Biblical faith involves a belief in a God who has already proven Himself faithful through the Scriptures and in the lives of those who sincerely follow Him.
(1) Ruben Ratzlaff and Paul T. Butler, James 1:2-15, College Press Bible Study Textbook Series © 1979, College Press
(2) “Faith” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8)
This visual image of a sea driven and tossed by the wind found within this passage brings to mind one of Jesus’ parables from the Gospel of Matthew…
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-29 NIV).
The two homes mentioned within Jesus’ parable may have been similar in appearance but they were not the same. The difference was found in the substructure that underpinned each of these buildings. It was not until identical storms began to lash against each of these homes that the difference in their underlying foundations became apparent.
In a similar manner, many of us may appear to be alike in our external beliefs and practices yet still possess different internal foundations from one another. It is only when the storms of life or the challenges and difficulties of everyday living begin to press in upon us that we may truly begin to discover if we really possess genuine, Biblical faith or if we are more like “…a wave that is blown by the wind and tossed by the sea” (James 1:6 GW).
Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (NIV). Therefore, the person who allows God to use the trials and difficulties of life to build and strengthen the foundation of his or her faith is someone who will be well positioned to “…learn to endure everything, so that you will be completely mature and not lacking in anything” (James 1:4 CEV).
“Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits” (James 1:9-11).
This passage features a comparison between two groups of Christians who occupy vastly different positions on the socio-economic ladder. The first group consists of “Believers in humble circumstances…” (NET), or those who possess relatively little in the way of financial resources, living arrangements, or material possessions.
A believer who falls into this category can take personal satisfaction in his or her honored position as a child of God in Christ. And while such a person may be poor in terms of material wealth here on earth, he or she can also glory in the opportunity to “…lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21).
This can enable a man or woman of God to maintain a sense of value and dignity despite the financial and material restrictions of life. In the words of one commentator, “The poor believer is to glory… in the fact that God has exalted him by allowing him to experience difficult circumstances, for these will only perfect his character and faith…” (1)
But while this passage addresses those of modest means, our author actually chose to devote the majority of his counsel in these verses to those with considerably greater resources. This section represents the first of three admonitions within the book of James concerning those who are rich in material possessions or financial holdings. (2) Notice that it is not the possessions or the various activities of the rich that will fade away- it is the person of wealth himself who “…will wither away while pursuing his activities” (HCSB).
You see, the person whose life is centered around the pursuit of his or her personal interests is someone who is much like the proverbial “dead man walking.” The pursuits, activities, and possessions of life only serve to camouflage the fact that time is rapidly slipping away, thus embodying the message of Psalm 39:6…
“In truth, each of us journeys through life like a shadow. We busy ourselves accomplishing nothing, piling up assets we can never keep; We can’t even know who will end up with those things” (Voice).
(1) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Jas 1:9–11). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
“For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits” (James 1:11 ESV).
Jesus once offered a parable that clearly depicts the kind of mindset described here in James 1:11…
“…A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. In fact, his barns were full to overflowing– he couldn’t get everything in.
He thought about his problem, and finally exclaimed, ‘I know– I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones! Then I’ll have room enough. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “‘Friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Wine, women, and song for you!'”
But God said to him, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. Then who will get it all?’ Yes, every man is a fool who gets rich on earth but not in heaven” (Luke 12:16-21 TLB).
This person referenced within this parable certainly did not expect to die. On the contrary, he was looking forward to many years of leisure and prosperity. But much like a withered plant under the relentless heat of the sun, this man’s life quickly came to a close, thus serving to illustrate the cautionary message of James 1:11: “That is how the rich will disappear, as they go about their business” (CEV).
For such people, life may sometimes represent little more than an opportunity to pursue their business, personal, or recreational interests, often to the exclusion of anything else. But instead of gearing our lives towards the pursuit of our own personal goals and agendas, what if we were to view life as an investment on our Creator’s behalf? What if we were to view the use of our God-given time, talents, and resources with an eternal return in mind?
Those who elect to do so can escape the hopeless scenario of James 1:11 by infusing such temporal resources with eternal value and thus fulfilling the mandate of 1 Timothy 6:17-19…
“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
James 1:12 begins a brief, four-verse section that deals with the subject of temptation. Before we begin our consideration of this portion of Scripture, it might be helpful to first examine the difference between a trial and a temptation. While these two words may be used interchangeably to some degree, they are not necessarily one and the same.
In general, a “trial” is something that takes place externally. When used in this context, a trial refers to the act of putting someone to the test in a manner that will serve to demonstrate the existence of things like virtue, integrity, the validity of one’s faith, or other, similar character elements. Such trials may take place in the form of health issues, financial concerns, interpersonal difficulties, or any number of other areas.
On the other hand, a “temptation” is usually internal in nature- in fact, one definition of the word “tempted” as used later on within James 1:13 is “to try whether a thing can be done.” (1) In this regard, a temptation can be associated with a solicitation to evil and represents an attempt to see if someone can be made to respond in an ungodly manner.
While God may sometimes permit us to undergo trials in order to reveal and refine that which is good, a temptation represents an enticement to sin and never originates with God. For the person who rejects such temptation, James 1:12 goes on to tell us that he or she “…will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (NIV).
Unlike the type of crown that might be worn by a monarch, the crown referenced here in James 1:12 is one that would be awarded to a victorious athlete. This crown is promised to those who love the Lord and tells us that our primary motivation for overcoming temptation should be our love for God through Christ. It also brings to mind Jesus’ words from John 14:23: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”
So if a temptation represents a solicitation to evil, then who or what dispatches that solicitor in an attempt to entice us to buy? Well, James will answer that question by first identifying where such a solicitation does not come from next.
(1) G3985 peirazo Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13).
It seems that human beings possess an uncanny ability to shift responsibility for our choices and actions to someone or something else whenever it appears to be within our best interest to do so.
For instance, let’s take the hypothetical example that James presents to us in the passage quoted above. How might someone benefit by holding God responsible as the source of his or her temptation? Well, that would effectively absolve someone of any guilt associated with the act of giving in to such a temptation. It would also make God responsible for any subsequent sin as well.
Of course, this is nothing new for human beings have had extensive experience in the art of “blame-shifting” right from the very beginning…
“(And God said) ‘…Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat? Then the man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate'” (Genesis 3:11-12).
Instead of accepting responsibility for his actions in the Garden of Eden, this passage tells us that Adam clearly attempted to shift the blame for his disobedience to his wife. He then continued by saying, “The woman you put here with me…” (NIV, emphasis added). The implication behind this statement was that God was also responsible for Adam’s wrongdoing since He had chosen to provide him with a wife.
The issue with any such attempt to blame to God for our wrongdoing can be found in the fact that God is holy, a word that carries the idea of something that is “set apart.” “Holiness” also means that God is absolutely and completely separate from anything that may be wrong, dirty, or impure, and thus incapable of tempting anyone to do wrong.
This is an important distinction that bears repeating: while God may allow tests to come into our lives, a temptation or a solicitation to evil never comes from God. When it comes to such things, the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians reveals God’s true attitude towards the temptations we endure in life…
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
As mentioned earlier, trials generally take place externally while temptations generally take place internally. This is based in part on what we read in the passage quoted above: “…each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (NIV).
The phrase translated “evil desire” within this passage refers to an internal longing or desire for something that is wrong or forbidden. (1) So in this respect, temptation can be compared to a dangling fish hook while evil desire represents the internal urge to take a bite.
While some might facetiously claim that “the devil made me do it” to excuse such actions, the reality is that we must take personal responsibility whenever we elect to respond to such temptations. As one commentator points out, “Any attempt at self-excuse is based on ignorance both of God and of the nature of temptation.” (2)
You see, we are rarely forced to act in a manner that is wrong or inappropriate. The truth is that we sin because we want what we want more than what God wants for us in each particular instance. James tells us that this is a multi-step process: once we act on an evil desire, we are subsequently dragged away and enticed, much like a tow truck that hooks up and hauls off a disabled vehicle.
The next step is found in James 1:15: “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (NIV). This serves to illustrate the progressive nature of sin: an evil desire is acted upon which then leads to sin which ultimately results in death.
One way to avoid this type of downfall is follow the simple but effective advice contained within the following adage: “If you feed it, it grows; if you starve it, it dies.” In other words, we should prayerfully refrain from feeding those areas of vulnerability to sin that may exist in our lives. If we neglect to do so, those vulnerabilities will surely grow and become more difficult to overcome and ultimately result in death.
(1) G1939 epithumia Thayer’s Greek Definitions
(2) Ryrie Study Notes James 1:13, Ryrie Study Notes © 1986, 1995 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp.
“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:16-17).
If we could rephrase James’ admonition in this passage, we might do so by saying, don’t get fooled. In other words, we should not be led into error on this subject of temptation.
Having already established that God does not tempt anyone to do wrong (James 1:13), our author now goes on to provide us with the logical underpinning for that statement. The idea is that God is absolutely and perfectly good. Therefore, any temptation to do wrong would be contrary to His holy nature. Such temptation would be synonymous with the idea of darkness, an act that would be impossible for “…the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change” (NET).
The little New Testament epistle of 1 John also expands on this idea when it tells us, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:5-6).
Unlike the celestial lights (or even the light from our own sun), there are no variations in God’s character that might lead to any type of darkness, even in the form of a shadow. This has led one source to make this poignant observation…
“Man is so easily deceived about the true source of good. False reasoning, vain philosophies, poor logic, and inadequate science all lead man to think he has found the source of good in something other than the Father of lights.
Thus, parents will encourage their children to prepare themselves to make money, as if money were the source of that which is good for the children. The children themselves will train themselves in the sciences of man, as if man’s poor observations of things created will equip man to prepare for himself that which is good for him…
Then in a few short years the fading body and inevitable death reveal the futility of science to answer the really important questions of life. With a wasted life, empty of good things, the disillusioned children come to the close of life empty handed of anything of permanent value.” (1)
(1) Donald Fream, James 1:16-18, College Press Bible Study Textbook Series © 1979, College Press
“Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:18-20).
Among the numerous practical elements that characterize the book of James, this passage provides us with some useful advice in dealing with the subject of anger.
In general, people usually become angry when they perceive that an injustice has been committed against them. Yet the New Testament book of Ephesians tells us that all anger -even justifiable anger- must be handled in a healthy, God-honoring manner…
“‘When you are angry, don’t let that anger make you sin,’ and don’t stay angry all day. Don’t give the devil a way to defeat you” (Ephesians 4:26-27 ERV).
A God-honoring person knows that it’s not wrong to become angry when an injustice has occurred (especially when an injustice has been committed against someone else) but he or she should also recognize that anger can turn into sin if not dealt with properly.
The proper way to handle anger is to prayerfully deal with it as soon as possible. People who neglect this important piece of Biblical counsel may allow a small injustice to simmer and grow until another offense triggers an explosive outburst of uncontrolled anger.
James 1:19 provides us with another good piece of advice: “…let every person be quick to listen but slow to speak…” (CJB). An angry person is often someone who is difficult to reason with, so anyone who employs this counsel should have an opportunity to diffuse a potentially confrontational situation. Once those feelings of anger have had a chance to subside, it may then be possible to have a dialog concerning any issues that may exist.
When the opportunity to “replay” a confrontational situation presents itself, ask God to help you to utilize that time in a constructive manner. Instead of simply rehearsing the actions taken by others, try using that time to “debrief” and examine your own response. Did you react in a God-honoring manner when provoked? If so, thank God for the ability to represent Him well and ask Him to continue to help you do so. If not, then prayerfully consider how you might respond more appropriately in the future.
Remember that human wrath does nothing to bring people into a right standing with God, and as Proverbs 14:29 tells us, “A wise man controls his temper. He knows that anger causes mistakes” (TLB).
“Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).
Whenever the word “therefore” (or “wherefore” as it appears in some translations) is found within the Scriptures, it should serve as a signal to pay close attention. You see, this word indicates that the author is about to summarize a thought or idea from a previous section and provide us with a list of action items based on the concept he has already established.
In this instance, James is building on his earlier declaration from verse eighteen: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” In the days of the Old Testament, the “firstfruits” represented the earliest and best portion of a flock or harvest that was dedicated to God (Exodus 23:19). God’s people continue to recognize this general principle today whenever we give the first and best of our time, talent, and financial resources to God in recognition and appreciation for the blessings that He has provided for us.
So the idea is that God has graciously given us eternal life by His own volition. In light of this, there should be a discernible difference in the character of a God-honoring man or woman that sets him or her apart from those who do not know Him. James graphically illustrates this difference by encouraging his readers to “get rid of” (NIV) all filthiness (a term that refers to anything that defiles or dishonors) and overflow of wickedness (or “the wickedness remaining over in a Christian from his state prior to conversion“(1))
He then goes on to identify the means of accomplishing this by encouraging his readers to “…humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls” (NLT). This brings to mind the message of Hebrews 4:12, a passage of Scripture that tells us, “…the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
A person who takes the time to prayerfully internalize God’s Word on a daily basis is someone who will best be able to apply the teachings found within these passages and follow the counsel of Psalm 119:11: “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.”
(1) G4050 perisseia Thayer’s Greek Definitions
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).
James 1:22 represents an important portion of Scripture for those who are truly serious about living the kind of life that reflects a Biblical worldview.
For instance, notice that this passage makes reference to hearers and doers of the “the word,” a phrase that refers to the Scriptures when used within this context. To illustrate the challenge associated with being a hearer and doer of the word, let’s take the example of a person who rarely reads the Bible outside of a weekly church service. In this instance, a person who neglects to read the Scriptures outside a church setting is someone who will certainly experience difficultly in applying God’s Word on a consistent basis.
You see, it is virtually impossible to act upon God’s Word without a knowledge of what it says- and if our understanding of the Scriptures is gained solely through listening to a message in church on a weekly basis, then our knowledge will surely be more limited than it could be. However, if we “hear” God’s Word by reading the Scriptures each day, we should then have a greater opportunity to internalize those Biblical truths and put them into practice.
Therefore, those who are committed to prayerfully reading the Scriptures on a daily basis are those who are most likely to be “…doers of the word, and not only hearers of it…” (BBE). This should not be understood to minimize the importance of regular church attendance but it does serve to remind us of our personal responsibility to know what God’s Word says and the importance of applying those truths on a daily basis.
Nevertheless, James 1:22 should also direct our attention to an important consideration in regard to church attendance: if a person is regularly attending religious services and listening to sermons that produce little or no Biblical impact in his or her life, then something is likely to be seriously wrong.
Ideally, a sermon from the pulpit should seek to communicate the Scriptures in a way that the members of a congregation can understand, remember, and apply in daily life. A church that is committed to doing so is one that can help the members of a congregation best apply the message of Romans 2:13: “…just because a person hears the law read or recited does not mean he is right before the one True God; it is following the law that makes one right, not just hearing it” (Voice).
“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.
But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:23-25).
The word-picture employed by James within this passage is one that should be familiar to virtually everyone. You see, James 1:23-25 tells us that the impact of the Word of God can be compared to someone who observes his or her image in a mirror. Although the Biblical concept of a “mirror” represented something that was quite different from our modern-day concept of a mirror, the issue really revolves around who is doing the observing.
You see, first-century mirrors were often little more than highly polished pieces of metal. Unlike the high quality mirrors used today, a New-Testament era mirror was often limited in the reflection that it was able to produce. In fact, the Apostle Paul referred to the poor reflective quality of first-century mirrors in his message to the church at Corinth when he said, “What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror…” (1 Corinthians 13:12 GNB).
Nevertheless, those who had an opportunity to consider their reflections during that time still had a choice. For those who were careless, indifferent, or unconcerned, the image displayed within a mirror might carry little impact. On the other hand, a conscientious person would surely look into his or her reflection and act upon whatever that mirror was capable of revealing.
While an ordinary mirror and the Scriptures both carry reflective qualities, there is one significant difference between the two. While a standard mirror displays the reality of our external appearance with varying degrees of accuracy, the Scriptures capture our internal reflection with perfect clarity. Because of this, we can benefit from continuously looking into the Word of God just as intently as we might look into a regular mirror to check our personal appearance.
Just a mirror serves to confirm the reality of our external image, the same can be said for the Word of God in regard to our character, internal attitude, and spiritual life. As we read the Scriptures and prayerfully seek to apply them in our daily lives, we serve to confirm if we are truly reflecting the image of Christ or if we are reflecting something else.
“If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:26-27).
As used here within the book of James, the word “religious” carries the idea of someone who is active in the external service of his or her faith. It involves those kinds of visible actions that others might customarily associate with spiritual beliefs and/or practices. This may include such things as regular attendance in a house of worship, prayer, financial giving, and other, similar activities. In short, this word identifies someone who is devoted to the external exercise of his or her spiritual beliefs, especially those that involve the ritual or ceremonial aspects of a particular faith.
With this in mind, James provides us with a handy means of self-assessment in this passage: a person who claims to be “religious” but cannot restrain the words that come out of his or her mouth is someone who is self-deceived. For instance, let’s take the example of a person who feels the need to speak whatever may be on his or her mind without much regard for the feelings or concerns of others. While such a person might be active in the external exercise of his or her religious belief, the reality is that he or she is actually violating a Biblical principle found in Ephesians 4:15…
“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of His body, the church” (NLT).
This further serves to illustrate the need to read the Scriptures regularly, a concept that James established within the preceding verses. A person who “…continues to study God’s perfect teachings that make people free…” (James 1:25 GW), is someone who can prayerfully identify such shortcomings and take action with the enablement of the Holy Spirit. In this respect, the Word of God is internally corrective as the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to build people into the men and women He wants them to be.
However, those who prefer to continue with the external trappings of religion with no corresponding spiritual growth would do well to consider the following observation: “When men take more pains to seem religious than really to be so, it is a sign their religion is in vain.” (1)
(1) Matthew Henry, James 1:26-27 Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:26-27 NLT).
While there may be any number of factors that might cause someone to associate another person with the term “religious,” James 1:26 tells us that a better indicator of genuine, Biblical spirituality can be found in the ability to keep a tight reign on the things we say.
One version of this passage expresses this idea in the following manner: “If you… (think) you have become a role model in all things religious, but you can’t control your mouth, then think again. Your mouth exposes your heart, and your religion is useless” (Voice).
Much like a detective who examines a piece of evidence in an effort to reveal the truth, this passage enables us to examine the external evidence of an unbridled tongue and use it to reveal the existence of a useless religious belief. In this respect, Jesus’ observation from the Gospel of Luke carries some important implications…
“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:43-45).
When used in this context, the word “heart” refers to someone’s innermost being in a physical, emotional, or spiritual sense. Therefore, a person who cannot control the things that he or she says (or posts, or texts, or “tweets”), is someone who is primarily dealing with a spiritual issue regardless of how religious that person may outwardly appear to be.
A better gauge of genuine, God-honoring spiritual beliefs can be found in a desire to assist others who are less fortunate and in refusing to become entangled in the priorities, beliefs, and values of a world that has no interest in following its Creator.
While some may seek to fulfill their sense of religious obligation by simply tending to the modern-day equivalent of “orphans and widows in their distress,” it is far more challenging to do so while “…(keeping) oneself uncontaminated by the [secular] world” (AMP).