There are at least three men referred to in the Bible by the name of James. James, the son of Alphaeus, sometimes called James, the less, (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13 and others); James, the (half) brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3 and others), and James the brother of John and the son of Zebedee (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19; 5:37; Luke 5:10 and others).
The name James is a Hellenized form of the Hebrew "Jacob" (Iakobos). James calls himself "a servant (doulos) or bond slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." To be a bond slave meant that the person was a chattel of his master, without status, without possessions, without prerogatives - legally, a thing rather than a person. This man, however, was a man of great stature in the first church and in the propagation of the gospel in the first century. When Paul wrote in the book of Galatians (1:19) about his conversion in A.D. 37 and his three years in Arabia; he says that he went to Jerusalem and conferred with James - this James.
James became a Christian and a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13). He served as moderator of the conference at Jerusalem and voiced the decision concerning the circumcision of Gentile believers. Paul called him a pillar of the church alluding to his determined and solid stance for the truth (Galatians 2:9). He had a vigorous, strong, immovable personality; he was a man of volcanic energy and a preacher who sounds like a prophet.
2. Who Wrote the Book of James?
The consensus seems to indicate that the author of this book is James was the (half) brother of the Lord. When the people heard Jesus speak with such power and understanding of the Scriptures, they asked questions about Jesus, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of JAMES, and Joseph, and of Judas and Simeon? And are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him" (Mark 6:3). The brothers and sisters referred to in this passage must have been children of Mary and her husband, Joseph. Some scholars think that they may have been children of Joseph from a previous marriage, but this is mere conjecture.
The brothers of Jesus were not believers in Him at first (John 7:5), but only after His resurrection did they believe that their brother was the Messiah. What an assurance it must have been to James when he saw the Lord Jesus after His resurrection, "(Jesus) was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve,...after that, he was seen of JAMES; then, of all the apostles" (I Corinthians 15:5 - 7).
J. Stuart Holden says of this passage, "I like to think it was in the workshop, as he was busy on a job for one of the villagers, with the sweet smell of wood shavings and sawdust in the air, and the tools scattered round in the orderly confusion the good workman delights in, that James was arrested by hearing his name called in the old, familiar way. And that, looking up, he saw his brother, and recognized Him as his Lord. And that, there and then the confession was made, the vows were registered, and promises spoken, and the assurance given that changed life for ever for James, and wrote another name in the Lamb's book of life."
Alexander Whyte says of James, "The first thirty years of James's life fascinate me and enthrall me far more than all the rest of human life and human history taken together. Who, indeed, would not be absolutely captivated, fascinated, and enthralled, both in imagination and in heart, at the thought of holding James's relationship to Jesus Christ! For thirty years eating every meal at the same table with Him; working six days of the week in the same workshop with Him; going up on the seventh day to the same synagogue with Him; and once every year going up to Jerusalem to the same Passover with Him. For James was, actually, the Lord's brother. Jesus was Mary's first-born son, and James was her second son. And the child James would be the daily delight of his elder Brother; he would be His continual charge and joy; just as you see two such brothers in your own family life at home."
3. Where Does James Stand in the Biblical Canon?
The book that is named for James has been known as a "catholic" or "general" epistle along with I and II Peter, I, II, III John and Jude. The word "catholic" here meaning universal. The book can be more properly called a homily or a sermon, possibly two sermons. It is structured as a loosely connected collection of sayings or thoughts. Goodspeed describes the book as "just a handful of pearls, dropped one by one into the hearer's mind." It has been called "a dozen sermonic themes," "eight homiletic-didactic discourses" and "four brief homilies or messages." The book is "pastoral" - deeply concerned with the average Christian's daily struggle against the pressures of the world, the tug of temptation and the subtle suggestion of compromise.
The book of James is the most practical and down-to-earth of all the New Testament epistles. One expositor has called it "Christianity in Shoe Leather." It is a delightful "do-it-yourself" handbook on the Christian life. It is a "how-to" book on Christian living: confrontation, challenge, and commitment, coupled with practical advice for living the Christian life. James understood the importance of balancing right belief with right living. The writing is very graphic referring to shifting shadows (1:17), a mirror (1:22 - 24), a bit in the mouth of a horse (3:3), a rudder steering a ship (3:4), and water from the spring and fruit from the tree (3:9 - 12).
4. Where and To Whom Was It Written?
Internal evidence seems to point to the land of Palestine as the place where it was written. It was written to "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" (diaspora) (1:1). The Jews began to be scattered or dispersed into various countries after the stoning of Stephen. At Stephen's death "a great persecution (arose) against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria" (Acts 8:1). The Jews who had embraced Christianity suffered at the hands of the orthodox Jews. Possibly by the time the epistle was written the Jews were dispersed throughout the countries making up the entire Roman Empire.
The recipients were James's Christian brothers, but they did not act like it sometimes. They were snobbish, factious, quarrelsome, impractical, careless and unscrupulous in their Language, lovers of pleasure, lovers of money, covetous, idolatrous and full of other faults. James wrote to them to encourage and exhort the saints to be triumphant in their trials, steadfast in their faith, practical in their love, careful in their speech, prayerful over their problems and victorious in every circumstance. The readers were expected to "put legs or feet" to their prayers. The book is "a high-voltage book," determined to tell it like it is.
5. When Was the Book Written?
The epistle could have been written as early as the fifth decade of the first century (A.D. 40 - 49); tradition states that James was martyred in the year A. D. 62. It was written soon after the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). The absence of doctrine, its Palestinian atmosphere and its Old Testament flavor substantiate the view that it was an early epistle, possibly the first epistle written after the death of the Lord Jesus.
6. What is the Structure of the Book?
It is very difficult to outline the book. It is a composition devoted to ethical instructions of varied subjects. Its overall theme may be "it is not enough to 'be' a Christian, if this fact does not 'show' in one's conduct." Some scholars see the theme as "a faith that works." In fact, some see James's doctrine of faith and Paul's doctrine of faith as contradictory. Each, however, view faith from two different perspectives. James views faith subjectively in the sense of trust or confidence in the Lord (1:2; 2:14; 5:15), while Paul speaks of faith objectively - a faith that justifies a believer before God (Romans 3:25, 28, 30; 5:1; Galatians 2:16; Philippians 3:9). James seems to challenge the reader to test the validity of our faith.
The book has a Hebraic coloring (1:9, 15, 17, 19 - 20, 22 - 23; 2:22; 4:7, 10). It has been called the most Jewish book in the New Testament. The Christians were still meeting in the synagogues of the Jews for James refers to the assembly (synagogue) in 2:2. It contains fifty-four imperatives and there are numerous comparisons from nature and human life. The writer refers to the law (2:10), the prophets (5:10) and the wisdom literature (5:11). Old Testament characters mentioned are Abraham, Isaac, Rahab, Job and Elijah. Notable parallels to the gospel of Matthew, especially the Sermon on the Mount are James 1:2 (Matthew 5:10 - 12); James 1:4 (Matthew 5:48); 1:5; 5:15 (Matthew 7:7 - 12); 1:9 (Matthew 5:3); 1:20 (Matthew 5:22); 2:13 (Matthew 5:7; 6:14, 15); 2:14 - 16 (Matthew 7:21 - 23); 3:17, 18 (Matthew 5:9); 4:4 (Matthew 6:24); 4:10 (Matthew 5:3, 4); 4:11 (Matthew 7:1, 2); 5:2 (Matthew 6:19); 5:10 (Matthew 5:12); and 5:12 (Matthew 5:33 - 37).
The writer was acquainted with the storms of life - he lived in the STORM CENTER of Christianity. Whenever a person is saved, Satan seeks to destroy his influence, his testimony and his ability to do good. Testing and trials are permitted by God to make us strong in the Lord.
1. Trials Develop Christian Character - 1 - 4
Trials reveal whether our joy is in the Lord or in our circumstances. In the midst of circumstances the Christian is to look on the bright side; he is to be optimistic. If we look toward the future, the glooms of the present will fade away. God can turn the endurance of the trial into our highest good. The Lord is displeased when we grumble and when we are discouraged. The readers of the book of James had been driven from their homes by persecutors; they were surrounded by trials and testings. Yet they were told to look upon these misfortunes as grounds for joy. Since James writes later (1:13) that temptations do not come from God, what is their source? God never does tempt His children to do evil. He may, for our own good, permit the Devil to tempt us. Or we may be tempted because we are still in the flesh.
The word translated temptations (perirasmois) can also mean "to put to a test," or "to examine by trial" for the purpose of determining ability, quality, knowledge, moral stamina or whatever else the context may present. "Divers" (poikilois) or manifold trials may come upon the Christian to try his metal, to see that of which he is made. Temptations come in different color clothes. To "fall" (peripesete) means "to fall into such a place as to be surrounded." Life itself brings with it varied temptations because we are still in the flesh. Although the soul has been redeemed, the body has not.
Circumstances prove whether our faith is a "force" or a "farce." They prove to us whether our faith is genuine and real. Someone has said, "Life is like a grindstone; it will sharpen you up or wear you down." It all depends upon the kind of metal of which you are made! Peter compares the "trials of your faith" as being more precious than gold tried in the fire (I Peter 1:7).
Surely the dispersion of the Christians from their homes in the first century must have tested their faith. James writes literally "you know that your test of the faith generates patience" (upomonen). These people had a sound faith, that was why they were being tested. Such tests generate patience. A parallel passage can be found in Romans 5:3 - 5 in which Paul shows a "chain reaction," the sequence is tribulation, patience, experience and hope. Tribulation works, accomplishes or achieves patience.
"Patience" here means "to endure," "to stay under the load or burden" rather than trying to escape. Just as a blacksmith works with iron, firing it, pounding it on the anvil with his hammer to make the iron pliable, so God may put us under pressure in order to bring out the best in us. In one's relationship to God, he is to wait on God and to cleave to Him. In his relationship to the world, he is to endure or stand fast, bear up patiently. The Christian should be ready to resist steadfastly the hostile attacks of serious persecution from the enemy.
In verse 4 James may seem to be redundant, but to be perfect (teleion) means to be fully developed, holistic and lacking nothing. Patience which is the fruit of trial has a function to perform; it cannot perform its total function if we do not learn to "stay under" the load. When we submit, God's purpose is accomplished. He permits trials that we may be perfected or come to full age. When patience is endured, the final result is that the Christian will become mature and complete. God wants the Christian to mature intellectually, emotionally and physically. He wants us to be holistically healthy.
It is supposed that a "dwarf Christian" is as much a tragedy to God as is a grown man's "baby" characteristics difficult for us to accept in everyday life. How often we observe someone who has been saved for many, many years, but one who acts like a "babe in Christ." Trials that are not endured with grace expose our defects to others and to God.
2. Trials Deepen Our Prayer Life - 5 - 8
Trials drive us to God for wisdom (sophias) when we stand at our wit's end. Knowledge may be attained from school or even from experience, but wisdom comes from God. Many have knowledge, but fewer have wisdom. Wisdom comes from God Who helps us deal with our trials in a constructive way.
Furthermore, our God is a giving God and a non-scolding God. "(He) giveth to all men liberally (aplos) or generously, and upbraideth not (oneidizontos) or reviling not" (5b). If God permitted the trial, certainly He knows how to assist us in bearing up under the circumstances. God in His wisdom permitted the events or circumstances, so in His Divine wisdom He can work it out to our good and His glory. God's hand is always stretched out to give. His bounties are spread out before us; His reserves are unlimited; His provisions are boundless. It is God's nature to give, we force ourselves to give; not so with God. He gives gently and generously; He does not reproach us for our lack or need.
Faith (pistei) or belief is most important and probably the most difficult whenever God's children seek wisdom in dealing with circumstances. The Apostle Paul must have had this in mind when he wrote, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). Although in this passage Paul may have meant things working together for our salvation and finally our glorification; he could have meant that circumstances that come our way have a way of turning out for our own good in this life and for God's glory. Paul stated furthermore, "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (I Thessalonians 5:18).
We are to ask God in absolute confidence and trust; believe that God is able (for He is); expect the supernatural. The word "waver" (diakrinomenos) or stagger is taken from two Greek words which mean to judge thoroughly or to examine facts and make a decision. The wavering person might be called a skeptic. To waver in faith or to become rebellious is to be like a wave of the sea that is buffeted and tossed about indiscriminately by the wind (anemizomeno). Faith in God will help us to endure trials and tribulations. We know that God loves us too much to inflict any injury upon us. He is too intelligent to make a mistake; He is great enough to bring about the full realization of what He has decreed for us.
In verse 7 the man who wavers in his faith should not expect anything from God. Usually when prayers are unanswered, we take two attitudes: (1) we blame God; (2) we question whether it in God's will. Our will needs to be lost in God's will.
"A double-minded (dipsuchos from dis and psuche) or doubting man is unstable (akatastatos) or restless in all his ways" (verse 8). He has a divided interest between God and the world (James 4:8). Just as the sea is restless so is the skeptic or the wavering man. The word double-minded means two-souled; he is a person who behaves inexpediently. This person is never able to settle down; he can't make up his mind.
3. Trials Detach Us From This Present, Passing World - 9 - 12
In verse 9 James admonishes the brother who is cast down (tapeinos) or humbled to rejoice when he is exalted (ipsei) or raised by God; the high position of the believer in Christ is opposed to his low (tapeinos) or humble social status. In verse 10 he shows the wealth and prestige of the rich as opposed to his humility before God. Poverty may be a trial to the poor, but as they are patient there will soon be rejoicing for his lofty position as a member of the body of Christ. Neither the lack of or the abundance of material things make for happiness. "Take heed, and beware of covetousness; for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15).
In verse 10 one thing is for sure, the wealth of this world is only temporary (pareleusetai); it will pass away. In fact, riches can be a curse as well as a blessing. James was truly acquainted with Jeremiah 9:23, 24, "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth (God), that I am the Lord which exerciseth lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth: for in these things I delight saith the Lord."
Worldly goods and worldly glory soon perish. The rich man may take refuge in his wealth, but only when he becomes humble like a small child and repents of his sins and accepts Christ as Savior can he have eternal life. The source of his happiness is not his wealth, but rather his faith. Wealth passes away, but the soul lives forever.
What the world and society gives, it can take away, but what God gives the repentant sinner can never be taken away. God's gifts to the believer are everlasting; they do not fade away. Both James and Peter (I Peter 1:24) quote from Isaiah 40:6 - 8. There is a wise saying, "Worldly riches are like nuts: many clothes are torn in getting them, many a tooth broken in cracking them; and never a belly filled with eating them."
Rewards are forthcoming to those who endure temptations without yielding. Trials make us candidates for the crown of life. To remain steadfast under pressure, to stand the test is to be blessed of the Heavenly Father. Carbon undergoes pressure in order to make a diamond; gold must undergo smelting before it can be pure and useful. John's message to the church at Smyrna was, "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer,...ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). If the Christian endures the trials and tribulations of life, he will be victorious.
Are you experiencing heavy seas, do you see troubled waters up ahead? Cheer up! Christ, our Captain is in complete control. He charted the course before us; He has gone on ahead. Trust Him, Trust His wisdom, His strength, His will for your life.
1. The Source of Man's Temptation 13, 14
In verse 13a James repudiates the fact that temptations have a divine source. He states, "Stop claiming (legeto) or saying that God tempts anyone to do evil." Man should never say "from God I am being tempted." No! No! God is not responsible for bringing a person into such a situation. Don't blame God as did Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:12, 13). The individual is responsible, not his heredity, nor his environment, not even his circumstances. God wants to make a way of escape. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (I Corinthians 10:13).
Trials may be ordered by God; however, temptation to do evil stems from ourselves. God sometimes tests us to demonstrate our faith and love; He permits this testing to develop the spiritual maturity described in James 1:2 - 8. In the midst of this testing. He stands by, not to TRIP us up, but to LIFT us up. No one should ever blame God for putting into his heart the propensity to sin. Man has a moral freedom, therein lies the responsibility of man. The origin of evil cannot even be traced back to God. The possibility of evil is necessary so that we may appreciate and make actual the experience of good. God is untemptable and untempted. He is not tempted of evil; God cannot possess the moral quality of being base or degrading. He is the very opposite; He is morally good, wholesome and beneficent. God is unsusceptible to evil; evil never has any appeal for Him. Jehovah God is far above the pagan's concept of a god; the pagan's god is always conceived both as liable to temptation to moral evil, and they themselves are tempters. Our God does not Himself tempt His creation.
Furthermore, He is immune from trial and testing. This affirms the holiness of God. The character of God is impregnable; He can never yield to temptation. The word translated "entice" (deleazomenos from delear) or seduce comes from a word meaning bait or lure. Temptation in reality has a human source; it is an individual matter. Temptation results "by his own (man's) lust." The trouble lies in the combustible material - that which is in every man. Temptation has as its source not the outer lure but the inner lust. Lust has to do with strong desires or cravings. Sin is traced back to desire; evil is the product of desire. Each one is drawn away into sin by something that is within him. "Drawn away" implies movement.
Lust draws man, like a fish, from his retreat; he forsakes his former position and is allured by a definite bait. This bait is depicted as a juicy worm being dangled before the fish, and his inner craving to appropriate it for himself prompts him to bite. But he is deceived and caught. Instead of enjoying the anticipated pleasure, he is caught by the hook concealed within. Nothing from without man is able to bring sin into man's will. Sin is something that begins with the desire of the heart. The primary factor in the desire to sin is not God, not the outer temptation or trial but the inner disposition of the soul. Man is "hooked" when he is drawn away by lust. First man has the habit; then the habit has the man.
2. The Consequences of Yielding to Temptation - 15
The inner craving within man demands action. It must either be acted on or be resolutely repulsed. When indulged in, a chain of results surely follow - lust brings forth sin and sin brings forth death. The depraved nature gives birth to evil desires and ideas. Lust plays the part of Potiphar's wife. Sin takes place when the will is united with lust. Spiritual death leads ultimately to eternal death unless repentance and faith occur. Satan and the individual work together.
The word "conceived" here comes from two words meaning "to take," and "together" or a clasping. In a sexual sense it results in a woman's impregnation. Impregnated lust bears sin. "Sin" is "a falling short of the target" or "a missing the mark." Sin, unless repented of, results in death. Sometimes it results in physical death, but always eternal death or separation from God forever. Lust is the mother of sin, and sin is the mother of death. Or put another way it is the story of three generations: the grandmother is lust, the mother is sin, and the daughter is death.
What is the answer to temptation for the child of God? There must be a moment by moment yielding to the Holy Spirit. "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (I Corinthians 6:19, 20).
3. A Warning Against Being Deceived - 16
James admonishes his hearers to, "Stop being deceived." He is saying - don't be led astray; don't let yourself be misled, or don't go on deceiving yourself. Verse 16 is a bridge between verses 13 - 15 and verses 17, 18. Verses 13 - 15 give a warning not to be deceived about the source and consequences of sin, while verses 17 and 18 are a call to beware of casting suspicion on God and His beneficent activities.
4. The Activity of God in Human Affairs - 17, 18
God is the Giver of every good gift; never tempting us to evil. Nothing but good can come from God. Every act of God is good, useful and beneficial. "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (Luke 11:13). Every one of His gifts are perfect; that is, they are complete, lacking nothing to meet the needs of the recipient.
God is the Father of lights. The lights of the universe - the sun, the moon and the stars reflect the glory of their Creator (Psalm 19:1; 136:7). Although the luminous celestial bodies are not to be worshiped, their glory and dignity declare the nature and essence of God. Truly, He is the God of light (I John 1:5). Moreover, God is the Father of all our spiritual illumination (II Corinthians 4:6).
With God there is no variation (parallage) or change; that is, there is no change or variation from an established course or pattern. He is always in the parallax. His goodness of character knows no change. A sundial casts a shadow with the movement of the sun; thus man can tell time by the sundial. The light from God, however, is constant and unvarying; He is immutable. God is the Creator of all of the heavenly bodies, but unlike those bodies which revolve and rotate so they cast shadows. Not so with God, He is the Father of Lights Who casts no shadow by inconstancy and inconsistent turning.
It is so easy to be tempted to become nature worshipers, forgetting that behind the sun, the moon and the stars there is One Who created them all. He is Light Himself. This great Creator Who is Giver of good gifts, and unchangeable in His holiness is the One Who is the Author of the believer's regeneration. If the sun, moon and stars are good gifts from God, a better gift is the new birth by means of the word of truth. God's children are His by token of His creation and His re-creation. God begot us; we are born (begotten) through Jesus Christ. Man's salvation is out of the goodness of God; it is a gift from God. Just as lust and sin brings forth death; God's good gift brings eternal life. " (God) predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will" (Ephesians 1:5).
He has made us a sort of firstfruits among all of God's creation; we are His peculiar possession. The firstfruits were the first portion of the harvest; that is, a specimen or pledge of the full harvest. Especially the Jews who have embraced Christianity are His firstfruits (Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 23:9 - 11; Deuteronomy 18:4), and we Gentiles are recipients because the majority of the Jews have rejected God's gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. God made us and then He bought us by the precious blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.
A little boy constructed for himself a home-made boat. Upon taking the boat to the river, the boat got away from him and floated down the river. Later, he saw that someone had found his boat and placed a "for sale" sign on it in the store window. Whereupon the boy went into the store and purchased his own boat. The boat was his in a two-fold way. It belonged to him because he had made it; now it belonged to him because he had bought it. That is what God has done for us, his children; He made us initially, and then He purchased us with the blood of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The nature and function of the word appears under three figures: (1) seed, in verse 21; (2) the mirror, in verse 23, and (3) the law of liberty, in verse 25. Hiebert divides the passage concerned with developing this test of faith into three sections: (1) the writer calls for the proper reaction to the word (verses 19, 20), (2) he notes the condition for effective reception of the word (verse 21), and (3) he discusses the nature and importance of obedience to the word (verses 22 - 27).
1. The Reactions to the Word - 19, 20.
Here is one of the imperatives of James. He writes, "Now hear this." As recipients of God's grace and the gospel of Christ, what should man do? First of all, he should listen more, and speak and be angry less. To soften the harshness of the imperative and to show his affection for members of the same spiritual family, James addresses his hearers as "my beloved brethren." His exhortation is affectionate and shows equality with his readers; he is not superior to them.
In daily practice the Christian should exercise swiftness (tachus) or quickness in hearing, but slowness (bradus) or dilatory in speech and wrath. Was James recalling passages from the wise sayings of the Bible? "He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life; but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction" (Proverbs 13:3). Another passage is apropos, "Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry; for anger resteth in the bosom of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Every believer can and should identify with these passages. Regardless of one's spiritual maturity or knowledge of the word of God, everyone needs this admonition. To listen eagerly and with attentiveness to the word as it is read or preached is the first duty of discipleship.
Furthermore, as one restrains himself from hasty and ill-considered responses when he has heard the word, it offers a safe-guard against shallow, immature and immoderate reactions. Sometimes one's zeal can lead the individual to rash assertions and overstatements which often tend to obscure the truth. The wrath of which James writes is that strong and persistent feeling of indignation and active anger. The word "wrath" denotes a deliberate attitude of hostility.
There is a righteous wrath, but there is also a wild, uncontrolled wrath which works much mischief; that wrath fails to advance the best interests of the cause of God. The feeling of anger is not always wrong; however, when it leads to persistent harboring of the feeling of resentment (Matthew 5:22) it is an abomination to God. So James is saying, "Listen more, speak less, and lose you temper, not at all!"
Why? "Because the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." Promoting the righteousness of God can never be accomplished by wrath in the habits of man. Human anger is not the appropriate means of producing righteousness in oneself or others.
2. The Reception of the Word - 21
Before the word can be received into one's life, any hindering sins must be dealt with. The Christian is to "put off" (apothemenoi) or "lay aside" some things as he would unclothe himself. He is to remove all "filthiness (ruparian) or moral sordidness and overflowing of wickedness or evil excesses." Frank Gaebelein says, "God is never satisfied with partial purity, partial goodness, partial righteousness." "Filthiness" means dirt, or that which is morally sordid. "Wickedness" has to do with evil excesses. Only as one rejects all moral filth and other excesses of evil can he expect to receive the sown gospel seed which is able to save his soul. The figure of sown (emphuton) or ungrafted seed of the gospel reminds one of Matthew 13:3 - 9; 18 - 23 in which thorns, thistles and briars and even the birds of the air can prevent the sown seed from taking root and bringing forth successful fruit.
On the positive side, James states that we are to receive with meekness the engrafted (implanted) word of God. "Meekness" is juxtaposed to wrathfulness; it is that inner disposition of gentleness and considerateness as opposed to self-assertiveness. Thank God, this implanted word of God is able to save the soul and to make the Christian influential as a citizen of God's kingdom.
3. The Obedience to the Word - 22 - 27
Whenever a person wholeheartedly accepts the word of God, it will result in obedience to all that God has to say to the individual. Obedience to the word portrays the true nature of Christianity. Just receiving the word of God is not enough, there must be an obedience as well, "Be ye doers (poietai) or performers of the word, and not hearers only." The one who hears only but does not practice Christianity is deluding himself. James wants his readers to be individuals who habitually submit to and comply with the requirements of the word of God. To "delude" oneself is to deceive or beguile oneself; it can mean to reason or "reckon aside from the truth." How? What the person sees does him no good if he does not obey. Why listen to God's word if the individual does not heed or obey?
Furthermore, the writer draws a vivid negative illustration (verses 23, 24) and a positive one (verse 25) of obedience to the word. First, the negative - a man looks at himself in a polished silver or gold mirror, but he forgets how he looked. What the man saw in the mirror required some action on his part; he did not, however, react and went on his merry way. He saw his disheveled hair and soiled face, but he did not comb his hair nor wash his dirty face; of what good was the mirror? He goes his way and forgets about his disheveled hair and dirty face. Such is the man who fails to obey God's word.
Now, look at the positive illustration - a man looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty. This law seems to be that authoritative body of truth; that is, the foundation of the Christian faith. Since the close of the apostolic age that foundation of truth has been embodied in the New Testament. James's use of the law is characterized by "perfect." This law is final (teleion) and complete, embodying the full and effective revelation of God in Christ Jesus. The man who is a doer of the work of God according to the law "shall be blessed in his deed." What assurance! Not only will he have blessings in the future life, but he will enjoy the blessings of God here on the earth as well.
Surely the perfect law of liberty makes a person shudder to contemplate the depth of his depravity before God saved him and mindful of the pit from which he has been rescued by divine grace, and he is in a position to appreciate the liberty in thought and action. Yeager says, "Christian liberty (John 8:32, 36) regenerates the unsaved man, installs the Holy Spirit as a permanent resident in his body (I Corinthians 6:19, 20), makes his life an orchard and garden for the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23), begins in him a work of fulfillment of the perfect will of God (Philippians 1:6; Ephesians 2:10), enlists him as a soldier in the army of the Lord in the fight for righteousness, enters him in the race for perfection and gives to him the faith, which correlates his world (II Timothy 4:6 - 8) and thus it brings his will into conformity with the will of God (Romans 12:1, 2)" (Volume XVI, p 521).
In verses 22 - 25 James rebuked the "hearing" of the word that did not lead to "doing." Herein he rebukes a religious doing that leaves the inner life unchanged. Verse 26 portrays religious activity without inner control, while verse 27 pictures obedience as involving outward service as well as self-control. True religion causes an individual to bridle (chalenagogon) or suppress his tongue. If one does not bridle his tongue, he is a self-deceived religionist; he is not devoted to Jehovah God. A man's tongue is like a wild horse that he does not hold in check. If a man fails to govern his tongue, that man's religion is vain because it fails to bring into operation the power of the gospel upon the whole man. "Religion" here has to do with zealous and diligent performance of the outward and ceremonial aspects of worship; that is, being in awe of God. James is not opposed to such performance to the external expressions of worship, but he knew that there is a valid distinction between the inner religious disposition and its outer expression in worship.
What, then, is true or "pure religion?" Religion to be true must unite the inner and outward effects of the gospel. Pure religion must be in harmony with the divine standard - "before God and the Father." True religion manifests itself in the believer's social and personal ethics. What is that positive social concern - "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction." To visit (episkeptesthai) means "to look in on, go see." The visit is with the aim of caring for and supplying the needs of those visited (Matthew 25:36, 43). The fatherless and widows were the most needy classes in ancient society and rightly viewed as claiming the believer's sympathetic action.
An additional aspect of religion was to "keep oneself unspotted from the world." "Unspotted" means to maintain a condition of personal purity that remains unblemished from contact with surrounding pollution. Constant vigilance is required for one to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Pure religion demands a life style that merits no reproach from the unsaved world. Hiebert says of these verses, "(they) must not be misread as teaching a religion of good works that assures acceptance with God and makes faith in the gospel unnecessary. Rather, James is insisting upon right conduct that results from a right relationship with God through the transforming Word of God. Sympathy with suffering and separation from sin demonstrate the operation of a living faith in the heart" (page 114).
We only have to look at the life of Jesus to see how He respected and sympathized with the poor. He was poor Himself; of course. He took upon Himself poverty in order that we might be made rich (II Corinthians 8:9). "Jesus said unto (the rich, young man) 'If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me" (Matthew 19:21).
1. Partiality Rebuked 1 - 4
Of what significance is James's reference to "our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory?" Is not he implying that when men, rich or poor, are compared with the Lord Jesus Christ, all men are poor indeed? He Whom we worship is the Lord of Glory, with Whom in comparison, none of us can compete, whether he is rich or poor. Even the man with the gold ring and the costly clothing of verse 2 rates far below the Lord of Glory. In fact, he may be much lower that the poor man in rags. So why should anyone show greater respect to the rich man than to the poor? In Mary's magnificat, she says of the Lord God of heaven, "He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away" (Luke 1:52, 53).
Apparently James thought that one of the evidences of a living faith was how an individual treated the poor and needy. Yeager translates this verse, "My brothers, stop being discriminatory in the exercise of the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory." The word translated "respect" or "discriminatory" means to show deference to outward circumstances of prestige rather than to intrinsic merit. The Apostle Paul uses this term in Romans 2: 11, "For there is no respect of persons with God." In other words, with God every case is decided strictly on its merits.
It is evil to judge a man on his outward appearance. When Samuel had the responsibility of choosing a king for Israel, he learned this lesson when God told him, "...for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (I Samuel 16: 7). Prejudice toward any one with regard to race, color, national origin or economic status can lead to partiality.
James proceeds to give an illustration of how some judged a man by his clothes and his adorning jewelry. A rich man and a poor man, probably both were strangers, arrived at the sanctuary to worship the same God. One is adorned with jewelry - a gold ring (chrusodaktulios) which was a sign of great wealth and fine and gorgeous apparel, and he is given a choice seat in the synagogue. The poor man who is dressed in dirty, shabby, and unkempt clothing or maybe even rags is told to set afar off, or at the usher's feet.
The question, "Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?" must have penetrated the heart and conscience of his hearers. In their hearts and thoughts, they are no better than the two-souled man of 1:8; they make obvious distinctions. They were making distinctions between the rich and the poor; they expressed a doubt concerning the faith which they professed. James challenges them to admit that they are guilty of social discrimination.
2.The Results of Partiality - 5 - 11
James seeks to affectionately address his hearers, "Hearken, my beloved brethren..." (verse 5). His admonition although scathing is motivated by love, seeking the welfare of the Christian brotherhood. They are guilty of a double inconsistency. God has chosen the poor, and the rich are the ones who are hostile toward Christianity.
They were being snobbish. In fact, Phillips translates verses 1 and 9, "Don't ever attempt, my brothers, to combine snobbery with faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ! But once you allow any invidious distinction to creep in, you are sinning." The dictionary defines a snob as "a person who attaches great importance to wealth, social position, education, etc., having contempt for and keeping aloof from those he considers his inferiors, often admiring, imitating, and seeking to associate with those whom he considers his superiors. "
In his book entitled JAMES, A PRACTICAL FAITH, Downey implies that the people were being downright snobbish. He says that a man's clothing may not be an index to his character. The man makes the clothes; clothes do not make the man. When the character is right, the outward appearance will adjust accordingly. The gospel is a great leveler. God exalts the poor of this world, rich in faith, and gives them a place in His royal family. Snobbery is a transgression of the law of love. Love is the rule that governs conduct in the royal family. The practice of snobbery is inconsistent with faith in Christ because it is unchristian, not being combined with faith in Christ, and it is associated with ungodliness.
In verse 6 James asks the question, "Do not rich men oppress you (katadunasteuousin from kata and dunamai) or put you down, and draw (elkousin) or drag you before the judgment seats or court?" It is a common thing in most societies for the rich to judge the poor, and they sometimes judge the Christian. The rich as a class often exercise their power over those under their control in a hurtful and oppressive manner. The rich influential Jews exploited the poor, and they were exercising power to drag the poor and needy Christian Jews into court to malign them. They used the courts to exploit the poor. Furthermore, "Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?" This fact reveals bitter hostility on the part of the rich. They were blaspheming, slandering, reviling, or defaming the beautiful, noble, and excellent name of the Lord Jesus Christ. This passage indicates that the rich were wealthy Christ-rejecting Jews.
3. Partiality is a Breach of God's Law - 8 - 11
Those who show partiality are transgressing God's law, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." James quotes from Leviticus 19:18, "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, I am the Lord." Of course, our Lord summed up the last six of the ten commandments in this same phrase (Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27). Although Leviticus may confine the law to treatment of the children of Israel, our Lord enlarged it to include all races and nationalities. James understood what Jesus, his half-brother, taught about love being the fulfillment of the law. Partiality is a breaking of God's (royal) law and the law of love; therefore it is a sin.
Anyone who breaks one of God's commandments is a law-breaker. If one offends (ptaise) or stumbles; that is, if he fails to keep all parts of the law, he trips over the boundary which clearly marks the way to obedience. James does not mean that the breaking of one commandment makes the transgressor guilty of every one of the laws, but he is brought under the condemning power of the whole. Our obedience to God's will cannot be on a selective basis; we cannot choose the part which is to our liking and disregard the rest. God's will is not fragmentary; the entire Law is the expression of His will for His people; it constitutes a grand unity.
The same God who gave the Ten Commandments also gave the law of love. It is folly to think that one of the commandments can be violated with impunity. One breach of the law makes one a transgressor of the law. The law requires TOTAL obedience. One broken link ruins the entire chain; one leak in a boat may ruin all. One need not touch an electric wire at a thousand points, you get the full shock of the current by touching one point. Harmony is spoiled when one voice in the choir or one instrument in the orchestra is out of tune.
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In verses 12 and 13 James appeals to his hearers to be consistent; he wants them to make their speech and their actions to be constant and compatible. Oh, consistency, thou art a jewel! God will one day judge our deeds and actions according to His royal law. "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). To those who show no mercy (a privative plus eleos) to their fellowmen, no mercy will be shown them by the great Judge. The practice of mercy or the lack thereof will boomerang in the Day of Judgment.
1. Faith Without Deeds - 14 - 17
In these verses James illustrates a brother refusing to aid a brother or sister in desperate physical or material need. Hiebert states that faith and works are mentioned together ten times in the thirteen verses (14 - 26) of this paragraph, but the stress throughout is on their interrelationship (page 173). James begins with a question, "What doth it profit (ophelos) or what is gained, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?" A man's faith will authenticate itself in good deeds; there is no antagonism between faith and works. The two are not totally distinct concepts, but rather inseparable elements in salvation.
The second question of this passage is, "can (the) faith save him?" Of course, that faith can save a man, and that nothing else can, is written throughout the Scriptures as with a pencil of light.
Most theologians would agree that this passage has been one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible. Because of James's emphasis upon works Martin Luther called the epistle of James "a right strawy epistle." In later years, however, Luther realized the importance of the book. Alexander Ross says of the seeming conflict between James and Paul, "They are not antagonists facing each other with crossed swords, they stand back to back, confronting different foes of the Gospel."
Paul seeks to combat a Jewish legalism which insisted upon the need for works to be justified; he insists that no man can ever win justification through his own efforts. Moreover, man must accept by faith the forgiveness that God offers him in Christ Jesus. James insists upon the need for works in the lives of those who have been justified by faith. He demands that the man who already claims to stand in right relationship with God through faith must by a life of good works demonstrate that he has become a new creature in Christ Jesus.
In verses 15 and 16 James paints a vivid picture of a faith that does not prompt an individual to action. The need is twofold - hungry and naked, ill-clad, or in rags. If the brother says to his needy brother or sister, "Go in peace," a kindly expression of farewell among the Jews, and does not supply the need, that person's faith in vain. The implication here is, "Let some one else feed and warm you." What a hollow response to a brother or sister; it even smacks of mockery!! Again, James asks, "What doth it profit?" The kind of faith that does not produce works is not saving faith.
If the kind words to a pauper are sincere, they will be accompanied by the food he needs and the clothing without which he will freeze. Kind speeches to cold, hungry people that are not accompanied by kind deeds of mercy are of no value. The inescapable verdict of that kind of faith "is dead, being alone." It is dead and from it no eternal life can arise.
2. Faith, Deeds and Creeds - 18, 19
Who is the man to whom James refers? Probably any objector to James's philosophy. This man says or someone will say for the sake of argument - "Thou hast (You have) faith, and I have works: show me thy (your) faith without thy (your) works, and I will show thee (you) my faith by my works." Works prove that a person has faith, for without that faith he could not do good works. "James has no quarrel with those who insist upon the centrality of faith in the Christian life, but he is controverting the validity of a professed "faith that produces no outward results in conduct" (Hiebert, p. 186).
A misplaced faith or an immature faith produces no works. Furthermore, just to believe there is a God is insufficient to save the soul. James uses a bit of sarcasm here. Even the devils or demons believe and tremble (phrissousin), seized with fear or shudder at the prospect of a judgment. Orthodox Jews believed and recited the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5); they were monotheists. Both Jews and Christians profess a monotheistic faith. In fact, there are many who believe "about" Christ, but they do not believe "on" Him. They do not put their faith and trust in Him for salvation.
Do you want proof of a living, vibrant faith? This proof is given in verses 21 through 26. James points out the hollowness or hypocrisy of a dead faith in verse 20, "Vain, empty, or hollow one, (the) faith without (the) works is dead or barren." He emphasizes the subjective side of faith while Paul majored on the objective side insisting upon the victorious Spirit-filled life and practical Christian ethics (Galatians 5:22, 23; I Corinthians 6:19, 20; Romans 6:11).
3. The Faith of Abraham - 21 - 24
Now James answers the statement put forth by the man of verse 18. James turns to establish from the Scriptures the positive truth that a saving faith manifests itself in works. Father Abraham's faith was a working faith. Since the epistle was written to the "twelve tribes scattered abroad," Abraham was their father in the flesh; to the converted Jews Abraham was their father in the faith. The Jews recognized him as the illustrious progenitor in flesh as well as faith, incidentally the words "by works" stands emphatically before the verb, denoting the source or reason, not the means of Abraham's justification. Abraham proves his faith in action, willing to offer his son Isaac upon the altar (Genesis 22). Hebrews 11:17 - 19 also refers to Abraham's faith in action, citing the fact that Isaac was the seed through which God would bless the nation and the world. A descendant of Isaac would be the Messiah.
Hiebert states, "An apparent verbal contradiction exists between James's statement that Abraham "was justified by works" (2:21) and Paul's statement that Abraham "believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness" (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6). But the comparison of their statements in context at once reveals that they refer to different events in Abraham's life. Paul refers to the initial justification of Abraham in Genesis 15, when he believed God's promise in the face of apparent impossibility; James refers to the divine pronouncement in connection with Abraham's act of faith in Genesis 22, thus sealing Abraham's consciousness of his approval before God. In both instances the justification was in response to Abraham's living faith." James cites the event in Genesis 22 because it is a clear illustration of his position that true faith and resultant works are inseparable" (p. 192, 3). Abraham demonstrated the reality of his faith, by his obedience to God in this acid test. He was convinced of God's integrity; what God promised He would do.
By his works Abraham's faith is make perfect or mature. James insists that it is idle to speak of either faith or works without mentioning the other. They are inverse and obverse sides of the same coin. God took Abraham's faith and regarded it as sufficient ground for receiving him into His favor, as having the value of "righteousness" which he did not yet have in the absolute sense, being a sinner. James quoted Genesis 15:6 to prove his point, just as Paul quoted it four times (Romans 4:3, 9, 22; Galatians 3:6) to prove his. Abraham, because of his living faith, was called the friend of God; that is, Abraham had the great privilege of having God accept him as His friend, as the recipient of His love and intimacy.
4. The Faith of Rahab - 25, 26
Likewise or "in like manner" James begins verse 25 with a second illustration of faith. Again he uses the negative with the question implying that the opponent must admit that it confirms his position. Why would James introduce Rahab - a Gentile, a woman and a harlot? Faith in God knows no boundaries. Although Rahab had an immoral past, she recognized that Jehovah God was different from the pagan gods of her day. The writer of Hebrews had no scruples about mentioning her (11:31) saying, "By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace." By so doing neither James nor the writer of Hebrews were adding dignity to her infamous trade but only to single her out as a brand snatched from the burning by the power of God. Her position, as a believer, is evident from the fact that her name appears in our Lord's genealogy (Matthew 1:5). Rahab risked her life when she received the spies and entertained them as guests in her home. She received the spies as "messengers from God" to her and her family. Although her work was different from Abraham's, both of them prove that a living faith is a working faith.
Rahab's faith was demonstrated to be genuine when she hid Joshua's spies on her roof and later sent them out of Jericho on a road not guarded by the police (Joshua 2:1 - 14; 6:1 - 25). Divine faith led Rahab to cast her lot with the ultimate winner. Rahab's faith did two things: (1) it justified her before God, and (2) it produced in her life the behavior that one has every right to expect from a regenerated child of God. The two, faith and works, are inseparably linked, as cause and effect, root and fruit. The faith that saves works.
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The chapter closes with a striking analogy, "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (verse 26). The body has no independent life apart from the indwelling spirit; without the spirit it is a useless corpse.
Is your faith dead or alive? Is it only in your head or in your heart as well? Does your faith work? Are you correct in your doctrine but corrupt in your practice?
The reason why the modern church is so inefficient in this century is that it has had too many pretenders in its pews, too many preachers and pastors who care more about pleasing men than God, too many phonies!
The law condemns sins of the tongue such as: talebearing, lying, bearing false witness. James had already warned his readers, "Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (1:19).
There is an abundance of parables and proverbs in the Bible concerning the use of the tongue. "A soft answer turneth away wrath, the grievous words stir up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). "An ungodly man diggeth up evil, and in his lips there is as a burning fire" (Proverbs 16:27). The great Puritan preacher Thomas Burke wrote, "We know metals by their tinkling and men by their talking." James insists that living faith must demonstrate its vitality by exercising control over the tongue. He mentioned the use of the tongue in previous verses (1:19, 26; 2:12). The power to communicate is one of God's greatest gifts to mankind. The believer must be on constant guard against the misuse of this mighty gift. Admonitions about the tongue are so relevant to everyone, of every race, station in life, age group and disposition. "We all offend."
1. The Power of the Tongue - 1 - 6
A man's speech is the revelation of his inner character. Someone has said, "I can listen to a person speak only a few minutes, and I can know what is on that person's mind and in his heart." "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh...A good man...bringeth forth good things,...an evil man...bringeth forth evil things," said the Master Teacher (Matthew 12:34, 35). James warns those who teach others that they will be held accountable for things said in their teaching. The word "masters" in verse one is really teachers (didaskaloi). James indicates that teachers will be judged by the highest of standards or greater judgment (meizon krima).
In fact, teachers and preachers will be judged by far stricter standards then other Christians. An accounting will be taken of what we teach and how we teach. The scribe, teacher and rabbi were highly esteemed during James's day. Some reached high social rank, received great rewards and enjoyed an elevated status. He states, however, the teacher has a great responsibility. Those who are led astray by false teachings will spend eternity in hell. The rabbis of Jesus's day were condemned by His teaching (Matthew 23:2ff). All teachers and preachers are admonished not to speak EX CATHREDA (by virtue of one's office). We are not infallible. Isaiah's prayer should be ours, "I am a man of UNCLEAN lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of UNCLEAN lips" (Isaiah 6:5).
Unless divinely called, the teacher should not teach and the preacher should not preach. Those who are called, however, should be aware of their grave responsibility. It has been said that the doctor's mistakes end up in the cemetery, the lawyer's mistakes end up in the prison house, but the teacher's and preacher's mistakes end up in hell. All humans make mistakes; we all sin often. We should be very careful how we instruct and teach others. The tongue can offend and lead astray. The mature person is able to bridle (suppress) his tongue. Just as bits are placed in horses' mouths to turn them about, so the mouths and lips of the teacher and preacher must be reined in and governed by the heart.
As the bit (chalinous) in the mouth of the horse and the rudder (pedaliou) or helm of a ship are very small, yet they can turn about (metagomen) or guide the horse and the ship about at will, so the tongue is a very small member, but it needs to be controlled by the heart. With the touch of the hand, horses are reined in and the ships are governed on their course. Even though the tongue is a small organ, it is very powerful to the tearing down of reputations and bringing reproach upon many. Hiebert quotes Moffat saying, "James is seeking to curb 'the abusive talkativeness of reckless statements, of frothy rhetoric, of abusive language, of misleading assertions'" (p. 205)
The tongue although a small (mikron) or little member can be a dynamo for good or evil. "The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life, but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked" (Proverbs 10:11). The tongue can break marriages, divide families, wreck churches, destroy reputations, breed distrust and motivate violence. Crimes of the tongue consist of dishonesty, unkindness, flattery, impurity, blasphemy, pride, criticism, exaggeration, temper, greed, slander and boasting. On the other hand, the tongue can produce good.
Blanchard tells a remarkable story of a New England farmer by the name of Luke Short. He reached a hundred years of age fit and well and was sitting in his field meditating one day when he suddenly remembered a sermon that John Flavel had preached eighty-five years earlier in Dartmouth, England, before Luke Short had left for America. As he turned Flavel's words over in his mind, they came to him with such power that he was converted on the spot! How powerful the tongue can be for good!
James likens the tongue to a fire. A spark of fire in a forest (hulen) can bring tragic results. Great forest fires can be the result of a very small discarded match or cigarette. The great Chicago fire was caused by a very small blaze in a lantern. At 9:00 one Sunday evening, October 8, 1871, poor Mrs. O'Leary cow kicked over the lantern as she was being milked, starting the great Chicago fire, which blackened three and one half miles of the city, destroying over 17,000 buildings before it was checked by gunpowder explosions on the south line of the fire. The fire lasted two days and cost over 250 lives.
One unkind word from an unguarded tongue can cause a social chain reaction that could destroy society. The tongue, like a fire, when under control is a very useful agent, but when uncontrolled, how great the havoc. Literally this verse reads, "Behold, what sized fire what sized forest kindles." The NEB reads, "What an immense stack of timber can be set ablaze by the tiniest spark!" The uncontrolled tongue can initiate forces and movements that are just as destructive.
Furthermore, the tongue is a world of iniquity; that is, a well-known force of unrighteousness and evil. It even sets on fire the course of nature. From birth to death, in daily life even wild, passionate words of national hatred can stir international conflicts. "It is set on fire of hell" (phlogizousa) gives the tongue a deep spiritual dimension. In the thinking of the Jews, "Gehenna" was a valley filled with dead bodies of animals and unburied criminals who had been executed. It also came to mean the place of final punishment for the wicked. Lenski says of this phrase, "Nothing stronger was ever said about the tongue." It is possible for the tongue to become a tool of Satan and his hosts in spreading the fire of hell. No other member of our body has comparable power and range of influence for evil.
2. The Untamableness of the Tongue - 7, 8
Wild animals (therion) have been tamed, subdued, curbed or subjugated; they are taught to respond on command, but not the tongue. James draws a contrast between animal nature and human nature; the latter dominates the former. He refers to four classes of animals that have been tamed by man: beasts of the field, birds of the air, creeping things and beasts of the sea. All of them have been made subject to man as God had commanded (Genesis 1:28).
The tongue, however, no man can or is able to tame (damasai) . He cannot control his own tongue, nor can he control the tongues of his fellowmen. It is unruly, restless, and treacherous; it is unstable, notoriously unreliable, constantly prone to break out in vicious words. It is poisonous like a serpent; it contains a death-dealing (thanatephoroi or fatal) poison. "The tongue combines the ferocity of the tiger, the mockery of the ape with the subtilty of a serpent" (Plummer) The tongue can play havoc in the members of the human body and also the church body. Maclaren says that the tongue is like "some caged but unsubdued wild animal, ever pacing uneasily up and down its den."
3. The Inconsistency of the Tongue - 9 - 12
To bless (eulogoumen) God means to speak a good word about Him; to praise Him. To curse (katarometha) or pronounce doom upon man means to personally abuse him with language, evil speaking, lying and slandering. There is a natural inconsistency here; out of the same mouth it is possible to bless God and curse man, the crown of God's creation. To curse man is to insult the God Whose likeness man still bears. An evil tongue is a sign of an evil nature (Matthew 12:34b). The tongue is like a "bucket" bringing up that which is in the heart. The tongue is the telltale or tattletale of the soul. The praises to God lose their noble character and become tainted with the bitterness of cursing. No man can acceptably praise and bless God while feeling bitterness and hatred toward his fellowmen who bear the image of God (I John 4:20).
In verses 11 and 12 James asks rhetorical questions expecting negative answers. In nature does a fountain (pege) or spring bring forth at the same time sweet (gluku) and bitter (pikron) or brackish water? Does a fig tree bear olives? Does a vine bear figs? Does the same spring yield both salt or undrinkable water and fresh water?
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Obviously nature is in complete harmony. Man, animals, trees and plants bring forth according to kind; like begets like. Nature is consistent, but there are many human inconsistencies. One of them is the heart and tongue of mankind. Only as man is governed by the Holy Spirit and divine wisdom can he subdue and manage the tongue. The subject of wisdom is expounded in the remaining verses of Chapter 3.
A wise man is humble, for he realizes how little he knows in terms of all there is to known. You can listen to the talk, the language of an individual and you will soon know whether he is wise or not. Listen to his TONE of voice as well as his talk. A wise man is often identified by his silence. Much good or much damage comes by an individual's speech.
1. The Test of True Wisdom - 13
James begins this division of Scripture with a question. "Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you?" Then he answers his own question, "Let him show out of a good conversation (anastrophes) or life his works with meekness of wisdom. Wisdom's product is righteousness. Jesus said, "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20). A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, nor can a good tree bring forth evil fruit. Nature produces after its kind.
Wisdom and understanding are graces that should mark all believers. When the new generation of the children of Israel were getting ready to enter the land of Canaan, they were told, "Keep, therefore, and do (the ordinances); for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, who shall hear all these statutes and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people'" (Deuteronomy 4:6). The first of these two terms used in this passage translated wisdom means the possession of moral insight and skill in deciding practical issues of conduct. The second translated understanding, means having the - knowledge of an expert, a specialist, one who is able to apply his fuller knowledge to practical situations. One can readily recognize that these two words are very closely related. The individual who has the practical, moral and spiritual insight needed to characterize wisdom and knowledge from above is referred to here.
Now James writes, "Let (the wise and knowledgeable man) show out of a good life (conversation) his works with meekness of wisdom." The writer calls for an effectual demonstration of good (noble, beautiful, and attractive) works. In other words, works, not words, are the acid test of wisdom. Meekness here is the exact opposite of arrogant self-assertiveness in 1:21b; it is power under control. Meekness can also mean grace that is opposite of wrath, rudeness, harshness and resentment. It is an inwrought grace of the soul; that temper of soul that accepts God's dealings with us as good without disputing or resisting. Meekness is not a sign of weakness; meekness is might harnessed for service. Moses was a good example in Old Testament (Numbers 12:3). Jesus was best example in the New Testament. "(The Lord) will beautify the meek with salvation" (Psalm 145:4).
2. The Lack of True Wisdom - 14 - 16
James contrasts the true wisdom against false wisdom in these verses. "BUT if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth (verse 14). False wisdom provokes the wrong attitude. "Bitter" here is the same word used in verse 11 identifying the bitter water. It has to do with factions, divisions (evil rivalry) or a party spirit. It is a self seeking pursuit by unfair and unethical means. Saul was jealous over David. His subjects were giving honor to David because he had slain his ten thousands while Saul had slain only in his thousands (I Samuel 29:5).
The readers were not to glory (boast or exult) in their wisdom. By their actions the Christians were repudiating "the truth" of the gospel which they professed to accept and promote. Their wisdom was not one of the "perfect gifts" that comes down from the Father of lights (1:17); it proceeded from the wrong source. Its origin was not from above. Three terms were used here - "earthly" (epigeios) earth bound or worldly; sensual (psuchike) from the natural world, animal like or unspiritual; devilish (daimoniodes) demoniacal or that which proceeds from an evil spirit. The Apostle Paul writes of earthly wisdom: "Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (I Corinthians 1:20). He, furthermore, speaks of the wisdom of God in I Corinthians 1:24; 2:5 - 7. The wisdom of this world can only produce the works of the flesh, "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery (witchcraft), hatred, strife (variance), jealousy, (emulations), wrath, factions (strife), seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings and the like" (Galatians 5:18 - 21).
The wisdom of this world produces the wrong results, "For where envying (zelos) or jealousy and strife (eritheia) or contention are, there is confusion (akatastasia) or commotion and every evil work." In the church at Corinth, Paul said, I fear your "...debates, envying, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, conceit (swellings), disorders (tumults)" (II Corinthians 12:20). There was much confusion in the church at Corinth; these were the chaotic effects of false wisdom. It caused disruption and unruliness rather than creating closer fellowship among the members; this kind of wisdom destroys fellowship. The adversary hates a united, happy, witnessing church.
3. The Essence of True Wisdom - 17, 18
The nature of true wisdom is that it is "from above." Its origin is from an all holy God. Its product is "pure," that which is clean, undefiled, free from all vices, such as jealousy and party factions. It is peaceable, ready for peace; it hungers for peace. There is peace between God and man, and between man and man. Another grace is gentleness or sweet reasonableness; one who has it is easily approached. He is considerate, forbearing, courteous, reasonable, and kindly. Furthermore, this true wisdom makes one full of mercy, pity or compassion. He is characterized as being easily entreated (eupeithes) or open to reason; he is without partiality, (adiakritos) undivided, without division, and without discord. There is no hypocrisy; that person is free from pretense; he has nothing to hide.
"And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by them that make peace" (verse 18). The fruit of righteousness (justice) is not only sown by the peacemakers, but they also enjoy the results of their work. Plummer says, "The whole process begins, progresses and ends in peace." "Them that make peace" identifies the sowers by their characteristic activity; no official status is required to engage in the activity" (Hiebert, p. 238).
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Christ is the Acme of wisdom. Let His meekness, His purity, His gentleness, His congeniality, His impartiality, His grace, and His greatness shine out through YOU. Be transformed! Stop keeping Christ imprisoned; stop keeping Him locked up behind the bars of carnality. LET JESUS SHINE THROUGH YOU.
1. What is Worldliness? - 1 - 3
Although there is a chapter break between 3:18 and 4:1, there is a direct link between the two verses. Verse 18 speaks of peace and making peace, while chapter four begins with, "Where do fightings (machai) or strife and wars (polemoi) or battles among you come? Do they not come as a result of conflicting desires (edonon) or lusts struggling within you?" There must have been a great deal of worldliness among the Christians to whom James wrote. There existed a chronic condition of wars and fightings even in the land.
There was an abundance of factional bickering; people were wrangling with one another which embittered church life. James emphasizes that the fightings are "among you" or "in you." The bitterness within the church must have resulted in agitated community relations. Whenever everyone wants his own way, there can be nothing but chaos whether it is community life or church life.
Then he answers his question. " (Don't they come from) your lusts (epithumeite) or desires that war in your members?" It must be remembered that the frustrated Christian has two natures. The soul has been redeemed, but the body has not. The old nature is a result of the Adamic birth, and the new nature is born from above. The Christian is a walking civil war. "The human personality has...been invaded by an alien army which is always campaigning within it," as R. V. G. Tasker stated. There is the depraved will set against the regenerated will; the darkened intellect struggles against the new light; the corrupt emotions fight against the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Not only was there a warfare in each Christian but there was a warfare going on between the church members. James indicates that there was too much tension. Blanchard gives this parable. "There was trouble in the carpenter's shop, and
the tools were having a row. One of them said, 'It's the hammer's fault. He is much too noisy,' 'Nonsense,' the hammer protested, 'I think the blame lies with the saw. He keeps going backwards and forwards all the time.' The saw shouted, 'I'm not to blame. I think it's the plane's fault. His work is so shallow, he does nothing but just skim the surface.' The plane objected loudly: 'I think the real trouble lies with the screwdriver, always going round in circles.' 'That's ridiculous,' the screwdriver said, 'the whole trouble began with the ruler, because he is always measuring other people by his own standards.' The ruler was furious, 'Then what about the sandpaper? Surely he is always rubbing people up the wrong way?' 'Why pick on me?' said the sandpaper, 'I think you ought to blame the drill for being so boring.' Just as the drill was about to protest, the carpenter came in and began to work. Using every one of those tools, he eventually built a beautiful pulpit, from which the gospel of peace was eventually preached to thousands of people" (p. 235). Although this may be a children's story, adults can benefit from the message.
Wars and conflicts come from lustful actions. Lust can also mean "pleasure" (Luke 8:14; Titus 3:3; II Peter 2:13). The people of James's day were seeking fleshly gratification for themselves; they were dominated by the flesh. Peter writes of these sinful desires that war against the soul, "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as sojourners (strangers) and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts that war against the soul" (I Peter 2:11).
In verse 2 James writes that a life devoted to pleasure can only lead to lusting, killing and coveting. The ASV translates this verse:
"ye lust, and have not:
And ye covet and cannot obtain:
ye fight and war."
Lust here means to long for, to strongly desire or to crave for something. It can mean to long for something good or bad. "You have not" reminds us of their self-seeking which was often frustrated. The methods used did not bring the desired results. When one looks at what David did (II Samuel 11) and what Ahab did (I Kings 21), the word kill is not too strong a term. Some translations may soften the term kill, to "destroy," and it may mean, on occasions, to destroy one's reputation, influence, harmony in the home, harmony in the church and progress in Christian work.
James now writes, "Yet ye have not, because ye ask (aiteisthai) or desire not." Instead of turning to God, James says you attempt to satisfy your gnawing wants through your own efforts. He condemns his readers for failing to pray. And it could be that they cannot ask God to bless what they want. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Now it is true that there is a difference between our desires and our needs.
Furthermore, the one who prays may "ask amiss (kakos) or incorrectly;" that is in an evil manner, or badly. We may ask with wrong motives in mind. Petitions are sometimes motivated by a mean and unacceptable desire. It is possible to ask for good things for a bad reason; that we might spend freely on ourselves. Sometimes God's children ask for things in order that they may consume (dapanesete) or spend it to gratify the flesh.
2. A Rebuke Against Worldliness 4 - 6
In verse 4 James uses the term "Adulteresses," referring to his readers. When we remember that God refers to Himself on occasions as the Husband and His people as His espoused wife, we are reminded that any inconsistent living would be looked upon as adultery. "For thy Maker is thine husband; he Lord of Hosts is his name" (Isaiah 54:5). "Turn, 0 backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you" (Jeremiah 3:14). In the New Testament, Paul refers to Christ as the Husband and the church as His bride (Ephesians 5:23).
The world referred to in verse 4 means the egocentric world system; this world had become the object of people's affection. After all, the aim of this world is self aggrandizement; an attitude of open hostility toward God. "Enmity" (echthros) or hatred here means the very opposite of friendship; it is the attitude of personal hostility. The first use of the word "enmity" is found in Luke 23:12 where it is stated that between Herod and Pilate there had been enmity (ill-feeling or hatred) prior to their joining together to condemn Jesus. Whoever makes a decision to be a friend of the world is "an enemy" of God.
Verse 5 is a difficult verse to interpret. To what Scripture did James refer? He is probably saying that the spirit of his words appear throughout Scripture. After all, his readers were acquainted with the Old Testament. Does the entire Old Testament mean no more than empty works? Why, this is sheer audacity. Now, to what spirit is James referring here, "The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?" The spirit is not the Holy Spirit. The NIV reads thus, "Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us tends toward envy (jealously), but he giveth more grace." The Holy Spirit within each of the saved unceasingly longs for the saved person's welfare. God wants the best for all of His people. Our God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Zechariah 8:2). Furthermore, God does not wish that His people be consumed with envy and jealously of this world and its possessions.
To withstand the temptations of this world and its alluring magnets, God gives us additional grace. He gives greater grace; greater than what? He gives us grace greater than the strength of depravity, greater than the power of the spirit of darkness. James quotes Proverbs 3:34, "Surely he scorneth the scorners; but he giveth grace unto the lowly." God is the active Antagonist of the proud and self-sufficient. He sets Himself in battle array against such an individual or resists him. God hates the proud (huperephanois) or haughty because it sets itself most against Him.
Blanchard states that God resists the proud in at least four ways: (1) by refusing to speak (or answer) (Luke 23:8, 9; (2) by ridiculing their schemes (Psalm 2:1 - 4; (3) by ruining their successes (II Chronicles 26; Numbers 18:7; and (4) by removing their status (Daniel 5:20) (pages 269 - 271).
The battle is ongoing from the time that a person is saved until he draws his last breath. Thank God, we have a power that far exceeds the powers of the underworld! That power is God's Spirit within us; His power is omnipotent!
1. Commands That Combat Worldliness - 7 - 10
There are ten imperatives in these verses. They are: (1) be subject to God; (2) resist the devil; (3) draw near to God; (4) cleanse your hands; (5) purify your hearts; (6) be afflicted; (7) mourn; (8) weep; (9) let your laughter be turned to mourning; and (10) humble yourselves. Imperatives are like curt military commands; they demand decisive action.
First, "submit yourselves therefore to God." The Christian is to let God be the Captain; we are to accept our proper place. The word means to place oneself in order, under the command of others; (hupotagete) or to be obedient. Not only should we submit to God in the spiritual realm, but also we should obey civil laws, church rules and Scriptures which govern family life and business life.
The next imperative is: "resist (antistete) or withstand the devil." This is a military metaphor; a defensive command. We are to take a stand against the Slanderer; to face him in opposition or oppose him. A promised victory is based upon active resistance of the devil. When we stand against the devil in God's power, he will flee from us.
We are to "draw nigh to (eggisate) or approach God, and he will draw nigh to (us)." The idea here is that of the worshiper entering into communion with God, when we have the proper attitude and are cleansed, God will accept our worship. God is like the father of the prodigal who received him with open arms. In fact, as we INCH toward God, He will STEP toward us. As we STEP toward God. He will SPRINT toward us. As we SPRINT toward God, He will FLY to us!!
A fourth imperative is: "cleanse (katharisate) or purge your hands, ye sinners." Subjects are to have clean hands as did the priests in the ceremonial cleansing of hands and feet in the Old Testament (Exodus 30:19 - 21; Leviticus 16:4). Paul had the same idea in II Corinthians 7:1. Why did James call them sinners? They were Christians living sub-standard lives. They were saved by grace, but sinners by disgrace.
"And purify (agnisate) your hearts, ye double minded," is the next imperative. There must be an inner cleansing of their divided hearts. Jesus said of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, "In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). The wise man wrote, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23).
"Be afflicted" (talaiporesate), be wretched, be ashamed or be miserable for sins committed. "To mourn" (penthesate) or weep means to show outward demeanor of a grief stricken heart. This imperative, along with the next one, is an emotional expression of a penitent heart. We should mourn because of our sins like a person showing outward sorrow because of the death of a loved one. This emotion is first referred to in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said, "Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). "To weep" (klausate) includes the over flow of tears; weeping and wailing like Rachel did for her children (Matthew 2:18). James continues, "let your laughter be turned to mourning," or let your loud, unseemly gaiety be turned to mourning. "(Let) your joy (be turned) to heaviness;" from joy to gloom or dejection; a downcast look expressing sorrow.
The tenth imperative is: "humble (tapeinothete) or abase yourselves in the sight the Lord." There is involved here a voluntary self-abasement. This verb is in the passive voice meaning to let God bring you low. "And (the Lord) shall lift you up." God will exalt anyone who is willingly humble before God (Matthew 23:12). Humility is a gift of God, the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. When we practice the presence of the Lord, humility will be easier (Psalm 139:7 - 10). To be lifted up means to be raised up to a position of dignity and blessing.
2. Do Not Judge a Brother - 11 - 12
Just as verses 7 - 10 look Godward and show responsibilities to God, so verses 11 and 12 look manward and show our responsibilities to our fellowman. We are to "stop criticizing (katalaleite) or speaking evil one another." The word here means to speak against, or to condemn verbally; it means to slander with the intention of putting them down. James says, "Stop it!" If you bring judgment or use unkind criticism against another you speak in opposition to the law, and you are criticizing the law.
A good example of this form of slander is found in Luke 18:11 where, "the Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers or even as this publican'." Some substitute the word back-biting for the word slander which is an injury caused when a person's back is turned or in his absence. We are to remove from circulation, a juicy rumor or a tantalizing tid-bit of gossip, as we would a counterfeit coin. You would not pass it on to someone else and transfer its uselessness to them, would you? "Whoso privily slandereth his neighbor, him will (God) cut off" (Psalm 101:5).
There is only one Lawgiver, Judge and Executive. As Lawgiver He declares His will for His creatures, as Judge he upholds His will and as Executive He enforces His revealed wiII. All of God's laws are harmonious and all judgment is in perfect accord with righteousness and truth. Furthermore, God is also Executioner of the lost (II Thessalonians 1:7), and Evaluator of the works of the saved (II Corinthians 5:20). To save and destroy summarizes God's sovereign power. Who are we to usurp God's right as a Judge? NIV translates the latter part of this verse - "But YOU - who are YOU to judge your neighbor?" James demands of the self-appointed judge, "Who do you think you are?" If you have no power to make a man better you have no right to condemn him for what he is.
Yeager says, "No one but our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave us a standard of morals that no fallen man can achieve, is able to judge, and no one but the Judge, Who died for our sins is morally able to condemn. We are indebted to Jesus Christ, the Lawgiver, for the standard. He will judge by the standard which He set. But He can also save, since, having demonstrated with His life the nobility and perfection of His own standard (Matthew 5:17) He died in our place as though our transgressions were His (Isaiah 53:5, 6; II Corinthians 5:21). Hence He alone has the moral right to judge" (Vol. XVII, p.17).
Zodhiates says of this passage, however, in the preceding verses James has shown man's disregard of God in his preference for the world and its pleasures. In these verses he has shown man's disregard of the providence of God. Man in his pride does not want to acknowledge that he cannot determine his own fate and make his own plans. Proud man forgets God when he plans his life and his business for the future (Part III, p.13).
1. The Rebuke of a Self-sufficient Attitude - 13, 14
What about our attitude of self-sufficiency? Do we include God in our business planning and our daily activities or are we presumptuous? An urgent appeal is given here, "Come, now!" Are you so presumptuous to say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into this city, and spend a year there, and trade, and get gain" (verse 13). The men to whom James wrote must have had whole things planned down to the detail of the profits expected from the year's trade. They did not depend upon God, nor did they take into account the uncertainty of life.
The traveling traders planned to journey from city to city spending a certain amount of time there - buying, selling and trading (emporeusometha). They presume they will have a whole year at their disposal to use as they desire. Such buying, selling and getting gain (kerdesomen) is not condemned but rather the presumption of the whole matter. Will they live long enough to attain their goal? Only if God permits.
In Noah's day, God had no place in people's lives. They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark (Matthew 24:38, 39; Luke 17:26 - 29). Apparently there was no regard for God; life was going on as usual without including God in their plans.
The Christian who "dies daily" to Christ trusts Him to put him into the divine plan in the event that he goes astray from it. The men of James's day were making an unholy attempt to run ahead of God. The appeal of James was for the merchants to bring God into their human affairs, present and future.
The word translated "gain" may have the connotation of not only making money but the love of making it - they may have been experts in greed (II Peter 2:14). Gain had too big a place in their lives; God had no place at all.
No one knows what tomorrow holds. The wise man said, "Boast not thyself of tomorrow: for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth" (Proverbs 27:1). Mans disregard of God leads to worldliness. God's creatures are very dependent upon Him. He wants us to trust Him; a living faith is necessary to please Him.
What is your life? It is like a vapor (atmis) or a puff of smoke; it appears and is soon gone. Life is so unstable and transitory. The Bible is replete with references to the brevity of life - "a shadow that declineth" (Psalm 102:11); "a breath" (Job 7:7); "the cloud" (Job 7:9); "grass" which sprouts, greens, withers and is gone; (Psalm 103:15); "swifter than a post" (runner) (Job 9:25); "like smoke" (Psalm 102:3). Since life is so short, it is proper for man "to number our days, that we may apply (our) hearts unto wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). When we think of our lives, we are prone to ask the question - "Why is man on earth anyway?" When the wise man had just about finished Ecclesiastes he thinks and concludes, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14). Perhaps the Westminster Shorter Catechism summed it up, "What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever." A line from Thomas Gray's famous elegy says, "The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
James's statement recalls Macbeth's soliloquy:
out, out, brief candle
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more.
Macbeth, V, 5, 23
2. The Proper Attitude Toward Life - 15
"For that ye ought to say..." looks back at verse 13. instead of an arrogant attitude the merchants should say, "If the Lord will, we shall both live, and do this or that." To recognize the Lord's will means He is the One Who has absolute authority over our lives and that He effectively controls all of life and life's activities. God alone can make our plans prosperous. Our lives, our plans and our activities depend on God's will. James's readers were making plans for the future, but they were doing so without God's blessings and co-operation.
The early Puritans delighted in filling their speech with DEO VOLENTE which is Latin for "God willing." They would place D.V. before and after everything in life presupposing a life of dependent prayer in which all is taken before God. Although we do not need any more Christian cliches, this idea puts into practice what Jesus taught - God is sovereign in our lives. There are no accidents with God, no unseen circumstances, no surprises. God has a plan for the world in general and for individual lives in particular.
Perhaps W.F. Lloyd's hymn expresses the confidence and conviction that every Christian should possess:
My times are in thy hand,
My God, I wish them there;
My life, my friends, my soul I leave
Entirely to thy care.My times are in thy hand,
Whatever they may be,
Pleasing or painful, dark or bright,
As best may seem to thee.
My times are in thy hand,
Why should I doubt or fear?
A Father's hand will never cause
His child a needless tear.
My times are in thy hand,
Jesus the crucified;
The hand my cruel sins had pierced
Is not my guard and guide.
My times are in thy hand;
I'll always trust in thee,
And after death at thy right hand
I shall for ever be.
Verse 13 reflects the willful ambition of the egotistic child of God, who is playing God and calling it "positive thinking." Verse 15 reflects the yielded Christian who has taken his proper place as a faithful servant. Since God's will is always "good, acceptable, and certain to be realized' (Romans 12:1, 2), and since we delight to do His will if Christ is enthroned in our lives (Psalm 40:8), the submission to God's will of verse 15 contributes only to our happiness and eager anticipation of new experience every day. God is the only safe "booking agent" for us and when we accept this and trust in Him alone to guide our lives, we discover that His compassions fail not. They are new every morning' (Lamentations 3:22, 23). This is a powerful ingredient for mental health" (Yeager, Vol. XVII, pp. 21, 22).
3. The Evil of their Attitude - 16, 17
The merchants of James's time were glorying in their presumptuous boastings (alazoneiais) or pride. It is in sharp contrast to a proper submission to and confidence in God. "Vaunting" means pretensions, braggings and hollow pretentious in work or deed; an ostentatious display that goes beyond that which reality justifies. Man cannot dispose of the future as he desires. The future is in God's hands.
"As it is you boast about your pretensions. All such boasting is evil," (Moffat and Williams translations). The same word is used in I John 2:16 of "boastful pride of life" (NASB) It is as if they were saying, "Look what I have done on my own. Sure, God gave me life, but it is MY brains, MY plans, MY energy." James says, "All such boasting is evil."
Nebuchadnezzar found this out the hard way. "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?" Nebuchadnezzar said, (Daniel 4:30). In just a matter of time, he found himself with the mind of an ox, eating grass and living out under God's sky, his hair growing like eagles' feathers and his fingernails and toenails growing like birds' claws. When God lifted His ban on Nebuchadnezzar, he was heard to say, "I blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him. What doest thou?" (Daniel 4:34, 35).
Yeager translates this verse, "But now you are boasting because of your arrogant pretense; all such swagger is evil." His comments follow: "Even if our plans appear to be those that would glorify God, the fact that we announce that we, and not someone else will do them, indicates that we believe ourselves to be indispensable to God's program. Whereas, the truth is that God doesn't need any one of us" (Vol XVII, pp. 21, 22).
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In verse 17, James seems to generally sum up what has been written in previous verses. The reader is admonished to understand what is good, morally excellent and praiseworthy and to put those qualities into practice. Their boasting of independence of God was nothing less than sin. They were "falling short of the mark," one of the meanings of sin.
James's readers were not intellectual atheists; they were practical atheists. They behaved as though God didn't exist. The Christian may be guilty of more sins of omission than sins of commission.
There have been social injustices as long as man has existed. One of the clarion cries of the prophets of the Old Testament was the denunciation of social injustices. "Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters. Bring, and let us drink. ..0 ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail" (Amos 4:l; 8:4). "They covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away; so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage" (Micah 2:2).
One of Isaiah's concerns was for the poor and needy. "Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; to turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!" (Isaiah 10:1, 2). The prophet also looked forward to the day when Messiah would rule in righteousness, "And (he) shall make him of quick understanding in the ear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth:" (Isaiah 11:3, 4).
1. Judgment Upon the Rich Oppressors - 1 - 6
James sends out a sharp call, "Go to now," literally, "Come now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you." He uses a rhetorical figure (an apostrophe), that is; a sudden shift to direct address, either to an absent person or to an abstract or inanimate entity. Probably the rich would never read the admonition of James, but it would be an encouragement to the oppressed. The rich were probably non-Christian Jews, the owners of large estates.
It should be noted here that James does not condemn wealth itself as sinful; rather the evil practices of the rich. He addresses those who have made their money in crooked and deceitful ways, and almost invariably have oppressed the poor and taken advantage of the poor Christian of their day. He does not even exhort the rich to repentance; he simply announces that judgment awaits them. He says to them, "Weep," (klausate) bewail, howl, sob aloud or lament bitterly; and "howl" (ololuzontes - usually voicing agony). Their miseries (talaiporiais) or troubles are approaching and about to strike each personally. Riches cannot prevent misery; earthly riches do not endure nor do earthly riches save the soul. Herein is a warning against materialism; a warning against ignoring God. The day of wrath is forthcoming!
"Your riches are corrupted (sesepen), destroyed, rotten or worthless; your garments are moth eaten (setobrota)." In New Testament times much of a person's riches consisted of foodstuffs (grain stored up for the future), and richly embroidered and decorated robes. The garments especially were heirlooms passed down from one generation to another. In the hot, dry climates of the Orient and the lack of pesticides, foodstuffs and garments were susceptible to destruction by insects. Isaiah looks forward to the day when the oppressed will be delivered and the oppressor will be punished, "Lift up your eyes to the heavens and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment...for the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat (the oppressor) like wool" (Isaiah 51:6, 8).
It is God's business how we get what we possess. This is a MORAL universe; right will at last triumph. Nor does God always settle His accounts in October. The day of reckoning will come in His appointed time. Worms for the body after death; moths for what adorns the body in life. Time has a grudge against garments. Clothes that are not used invite destruction. This destruction may come silently, unnoticed and seemingly harmless.
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:19 - 21).
James is still scoring the rich. In the day of judgment the treasures (gold and silver) will canker (katiotai) or deteriorate, and they will witness as the prosecution to their folly. You can visualize the coffers of the rich opened up and the gold and silver in their vaults as being worthless. Hoarded treasures will eat away flesh like fire burns wood. The "last days" are the days since the incarnation of the Christ until His coming again.
Another sin of the wealthy was the oppressing of the (farm) laborers by withholding their just wages (aphusteremenos) or keeping wages back by fraud. The wage earners sowed the fields, harvested the grain and gathered it into the barns. Laborers were customarily paid at the end of each day (Leviticus 19:13; Matthew 20:1 - 10). The employee is entitled to a day's pay for a day's work. The rich man's coffers cried out in an appeal for justice. These cries came up to the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth (Hosts), the Supreme High Command of the Heavenly Hosts. As Creator the Lord Jehovah God is Commander of the hosts of heaven. He has the power to execute judgment against such injustices (Isaiah 11:4, 5).
James uses three aorist indicative verbs to describe further the rich. "Ye have lived in pleasure (etruphesate) or delicately, soft, pampered lives...ye have been wanton or lived luxuriously...ye have nourished (ethrespsate) or fed your hearts like animals that are gorged for the slaughter." See Jeremiah 46:21. The rich had lived sumptuously and were like fattened cattle ready for the slaughter house.
Furthermore, the rich had condemned and killed the just. They had controlled the Jewish courts or used their influence with pagan judges to secure an adverse verdict against the righteous poor. The innocent had paid with their lives; the fact that they were righteous aroused the hatred of the unjust rich (James 2:6). And it would be useless for the poor to retaliate; in fact, they were admonished not to do so (Matthew 5:39).
2. Exhortations to the Afflicted - 7 - 11
James appeals to his hearers now, for steadfast endurance in view of the Lord's return. They are to be patient, long-tempered, or have an attitude of self-restraint. They are to refrain from retaliation (Proverbs 14:29; 15:18; 19:11). God is long suffering; so as a child of God, they should be also. At the Lord's coming, all oppression and injustice will terminate. Just as the farmer tills the soil, plants his grain; however, then he waits depending upon the forces from without; the rains then fall and the grain matures; so the poor is to patiently wait for the Lord's coming. "The victorious Christian understands exploitation and looks forward with whatever patience he can command to the great day of reckoning when he will be royally reimbursed" (Yeager, Vol. XVII, p. 35).
The poor are to stablish or set steadfastly their hearts. Their hearts are to be strengthened and made firm by their inner faith, for the coming of the Lord is near. Just as we look for the imminent coming of the Lord, so they of the first century did also. If He does not come during our life time, we shall rest from our labors and when He does come He will judge the world in righteousness. When we think of the nearness of the Lord's coming, we are encouraged to face our trials with patience, as James has just said. God has a designed plan of the ages; He is not in trouble. Everything is under His control. Our disappointments may turn out to be HIS appointments if we exercise our faith in Him.
Verse 9 says, "Stop complaining (stenazete) or sighing, groaning, expressing discontent about each other, brothers, lest you be judged." If they do not stop judging one another, they will be judged (Matthew 7:1, 2). A servant is to be judged by his owner, not a fellow servant. "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be held up; for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4).
It is as though James says, "You have enough to encounter, with the outside enemies. Maintain unity in the (church) family, for in unity there is strength to fight the outside enemy." The Lord stands facing the outward swinging doors ready to push them open as He enters the judgment hall; His arrival is imminent; He seems ready to make His appearance.
Then James reminds his readers that God's saints, His most eminent servants of the past experienced suffering and trials. They suffered misfortune and endured (Hebrews 11:32 - 38). Their example (pattern, mold) is an encouragement to us. "For (the enemy) shed the blood of saints and prophets...and in (the harlot, Babylon) was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth" (Revelation 16:6; 18:24).
Honey is collected by the beekeeper if he is passive, does not thresh around and fight off the bees, but moves deliberately, making no effort to protect himself. So our troubles in life compass us about like bees. If we fret and fume, we shall feel the sting and miss the honey.
The prophets and saints of old were admired for their patience and brave attitude. A blessing is pronounced upon the faithful who are unswervingly loyal to God. Job is a shining example of patience (1:21; 2:10). The Lord's end purpose was to refute Satan's slander and to vindicate and strengthen Job's faith. Job endured much physical suffering, mental anguish and economic loss. He lost his livestock, his health, his children and the respect of his wife. In the midst of the turmoil he did not understand why, but his faith did not fail (Job 13:15). If the saints referred to by James remain loyal to God amid their trials, they also will come to personal realization of the kindly nature of God. He is full of pity, very compassionate (polusplagchnos) and merciful.
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Verse 12 seems to be a summing up of the preceding verses. Swearing is a form of worldliness, either profanity or the flippant use of oaths. The Christian is to show honesty in speech.
1. The Avenue of Prayer - 13
Prayer is the remedy to which every true Christian should resort when he is suffering. "He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart: who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation...Cast thy burden upon the lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved" (Psalm 24:4, 5; 55:22). We should never doubt that our sovereign God can do anything He chooses to do and that sometimes includes the miraculous healing of the body as well as the soul. Every good thing that God does for man, He does as a result of the atonement. But God has His own schedule for the delivery of benefits to those whom He has redeemed.
Afflicted (kakopathei) or enduring suffering here seems to be not so much pain as the hardships man endure; it means to experience misfortune or calamity. To pray in this affliction means to turn to God for refuge and strength. When distress or emotional tensions assail us seek God intervention.
If a person is happy he should praise the Lord with a song. To be merry (euthumei) or good cheer is the direct opposite of hardship, misfortune and calamity. It is that inner attitude of cheerfulness and elation. Psalms were sometimes sung in private with some kind of a musical instrument. God wants to be with us in the gloomy valley of affliction and on the sunny height of rejoicing. It is strengthening for the believer to have a conscious relationship with God in times of sorrow and in times of happiness.
2. The Benefits of Prayer - 14
"Is any sick among you?" To be sick (asthenei) means to be without strength, undergoing a debilitating effect on the body or weakness. It sometimes means an incapacitating ability to work or bodily, mental, moral or spiritual weakness. When such a condition exists, the sick and afflicted one should call for the elders of the church. It is interesting to note that James calls the spiritual body "the church" here when he used the word "synagogue" in 2:2. The church is that called out assembly of believers who have entered a covenant together to carry out the commands of the gospel. Note the order of events that should take place: (1) the illness, (2) the summon of the elders by the one who is sick, (3) the elders arrive, (4) they anoint the sick one in the name of the Lord, and (5) they pray for the sick one. In the first century, the elders of the church were church officers; ones who had reached the age of maturity. They were to make a "house call," and in the privacy of the sick one's home they were to anoint him with oil and pray for his recovery.
If it was in the will of the Lord, he will be healed, either with or without a physician. He may even be healed with the use of the oil, which had a medicinal function (Mark 6:13). When the Samaritan sought to aid the wounded traveler, he poured oil and wine into his wounds implying that there was medicinal value in both the oil and the wine (Luke 10:30ff). The elders were to use the oil acting in trustful dependence upon Christ and His authority and power.
The question may be asked - "What heals, the prayer or the oil?" Of course, the ultimate healing is in the hands of God, the Creator and the Preserver of our bodies. He heals according to His will, which is many times unknown and unknowable to us. What heals, then? For the outward healing, the oil applied is very relaxing to the tired and weak body and assists in healing open wounds; for inward healing, God applies the healing, for He alone can heal inwardly. James refers to a good rubdown with olive oil. So both medicine and prayer should be used wisely. Whatever is done, it should be done in the name of the Lord. In His name means we invoke the totality of His revelation to us, all His attributes and all His omnipotence. We call upon Him as our Priest, our Mediator, our Prophet, our Redeemer our Savior, our All in all.
A faith is exercised by the elders and the sick person; God may choose to raise him up from his sick bed to good health. True faith includes, "not as I will, but as Thou wilt." Faith is not demanding from God what we want, but rather responding to the will of God and what He wants. Sometimes we are too bold before God; our boldness turns to arrogance and a demanding nature, a desire to have our way. After all, we do not give our children everything they want; some of their wants may not be good for them. Can not God do the same?
"Save" here means that the sick person's physical health is completely restored; he is healed bodily. Of course, God can choose to take His loved ones home when He wishes? After all, death is the door to the presence of the Lord and heaven. Some may have the gift of healing, and some may not (I Corinthians 12:9). The Apostle Paul had this gift and used it on some occasions, but he did not use it on himself (II Corinthians 12:7 - 9), nor did he use the gift when Trophimus was sick (II Timothy 4:20), nor did he heal Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:27).
The sick one's affliction may or may not be the result of his personal sins. Of course, sickness and affliction are the results of original sin inherited from Adam; however, one's sickness and affliction may not be the result of the person's own sins. Whenever we become ill, we should examine ourselves daily and ask for cleansing. Only the person who is ill can know whether it is the result of his own personal sins.
"Confess" (exomologeisthe) means to say the same thing; agree to identify sin, admit it by name. We may need to bear our own soul, reveal the innermost recesses of our heart and speak out publicly about it. An acknowledgement of a wrong, submission to the Holy Spirit, and a seeking for forgiveness must take place. It should be noted that one is to confess his sins to another brother, not to some superior (such as a priest). The inescapable meaning here is that as Christians we are all on an equal footing as far as our susceptibility to sin is concerned. Confession of sin should be made by one to the other without distinction of rank, even between laity and clergy. No apostle ever invited anyone to come and confess his sins to them.
Of course, there are two kinds of confession: (1) to God, for all sins are committed against Him, and (2) to our fellow human beings for affronts committed against them. We commit sin against God daily, and we need daily cleansing. God forgives when we confess (I John 1:9). Man, when confronted with one's confession, may say, "Forget it; it's perfectly alright with me." Then our conscience is cleared, and fellowship is restored. Purkiser says, "The area of the commission should be the area of confession" (Hiebert, p. 325). In other words, public sins should be confessed publicly; private sins should be confessed privately. Sins against our fellowman should be confessed to our fellowman. We are not commanded to "air all our dirty laundry" to the public if we have not sinned publicly.
"An upright man's prayer, when it keeps at work, is very powerful," so says Williams translation of the latter part of verse 16. Scripture provides numerous examples of the power of prayer. Here are a few chosen at random: (1) Joshua prayed and the sun stood still (Joshua 10:12 - 13); (2) Elijah prayed and the widow's son came back to life (I Kings 17:19 - 22); (3) Elisha prayed and the Shunammite's son was restored to life (II Kings 4:32 - 35); (4) Hezekiah prayed and 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were slain (Isaiah 37:21, 36); and (5) the Jerusalem church prayed and Peter was released from prison (Acts 12:5 - 10) (Kistemaker, p. 180).
3. The Power of Prayer, 17,18
Elijah is referred to here as a human being subject to like passions of the human race. He held a prominent place in later Judaism; he was human but he had his weaknesses. At times he acted under the sway of his feelings. He prayed fervently; that is, earnestly and with intensity, and he received amazing results from his prayers. Elijah was a man who through prayer possessed God and who was heard by God (I Kings 18). What he accomplished, we can, too. His accomplishments are our possibilities. He could not only bring a drought but also a flood.
Elijah's prayers were based upon the promises of God. He did not initiate the punishment of the drought, but he consented to the foreknown action of God. The prayer of faith must be one which makes a request for something that is within the sovereign will of God to grant. The formula for victorious prayer is in I John 5:14, 15. Sensible Christians do not ask God to do irrational things. This is what Jesus meant in Matthew 17:20. Even to ask amiss is to wish for that which the sovereign God does not wish. Why should anyone, unless he is confused, wish that the will of God not be done?
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In verses 19, 20 James closes his epistle somewhat abruptly. "If" is the red light James flashes before all Christians to warn them never to underestimate the power of vigilance on the enemies of their souls. James is asking other Christians to admonish the erring one and to help him return to the right way. He is not thinking of any one in particular, but whenever the situation does arise apply verse 20. Here is the hypothetical picture of an erring brother in their midst. If he errs (planethe) or wanders meaning an outside influence leads the wandering individual astray from the doctrines of Christ or from His practice, what should be done? The metaphor here is that of a sheep wandering astray (Matthew 18:12). To convert (epistrepse) one is to turn him around, to turn him back from the error of his way (Luke 22:32).
James, in this letter, invites his brethren to be triumphant in trial, practical in faith, sweet in their disposition, humble in attitude, patient under oppression, and ready to remove any barrier to revival, just as the disciples had to take away the stone before Lazarus could come forth from the grave.
The defecting Christian is not lost, for what would be the use of trying to bring him back to the truth? What should be the attitude of the healthy Christian, who enjoys such close fellowship with the Lord, toward the defecting Christian? He is not to pronounce anathemas, nor excommunicate him from the fellowship, but rather encourage him and pray for his erring brother. The saving of a soul may be occasionally attributed to human instrumentality. Certainly the soul of man is saved by the grace of God, but sometimes man is used of God to draw sinners back from the error of their ways.
"With these beautiful words the book of James comes to an abrupt close. It has none of the usual closing features of a letter. That its ending was felt to be undesirably abrupt is evident from the fact that in various late manuscripts the scribes appended a concluding "Amen".
"The abrupt ending is in keeping with the nature and purpose of the work of James. In applying his searching tests of a living faith to the lives of his readers, James has found it necessary to rebuke them for various inadequacies. But his motive has been not to condemn but to restore. In spite of their failures, he holds up before them the assurance that a living faith is vitally concerned for the welfare of those who have failed in life to measure up to the demands of such a faith (Hiebert, pp. 337, 338).
We are saved by faith, yet faith is one
With life, like daylight and the sun.
Unless they flower in our deeds,
Dead, empty husks are all the creeds.
To call Christ Lord, but strive not to obey,
Belies the homage that with words I pay.
Maud Frazier Jackson