There are 7 men called James in the New Testament so it is possible that one of six wrote this epistle. It could not have been James the brother of John because he had been put to death very early on by Herod. The other apostle James was known as the son of Alphaeus but most scholars are agreed that it is unlikely that he was its author. The general consensus today is that the author was James the brother of the Lord. (Galatians 1:19).
This James is included as an Apostle by Paul and was one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. Like Peter James was an Apostle to the Jews.
It is believed that he died as a martyr in between 62 and 69 AD.
- James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
Unlike Paul James does not describe himself as “James an Apostle of Jesus Christ” but simply as “a servant of God”. Being the Lord’s brother he was witness to the resurrection of Christ as spoken by Paul (1 Corinthians 15: 3-7).
Initially James had been a disbeliever, as were all the Lord’s siblings (John 7:3-5), however he became a believer after meeting his elder brother. He soon became a leading Apostle to the Church in Jerusalem, and was instrumental in instructing the Jewish believers in all the churches as to the requirements for gentile converts.
It is probable that he, like Paul, felt humbled by being chosen by Christ and for this reason described himself as being a mere servant. Paul, on the other hand, was constantly having his apostolic authority challenged so he had to constantly remind everyone of his calling.
It is a fact that all who are in positions of leadership in the churches are but servants and ministers to the body; ministers and not masters (James 3:1).
It would have been easy for James to boast of his being close family to Jesus and allowing others to view him as someone extra special in the church. He did not see himself as being worthy of greater reverence because he was a near relative of Jesus.
He sees himself as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Nobody can be a servant of God unless he or she is also a servant of the Lord Jesus. God will have everyone honour the Son as they honour the Father; they are both due the same level of honour (John 5:23).
Like the author of the previous epistle James is writing to the Jewish believers; the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad! Even though mainly Jews and Israelites inhabited Palestine at this time many were still scattered throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. It is interesting that this is the case even today, most Jews living scattered across the world.
In much the same way that the unbelieving Jews at the start of the Church persecuted Jewish believers, so today Jewish believers are also persecuted by Jewish zealots; such as the Haredim.
The Jews were largely scattered throughout their history as a judgement from God for their disobedience and idolatry, even so God still cares for them and upholds His covenant with them (Ezekiel 11:16). They are still beloved of God and God has not cast them off forever (Romans 11:25-27).
James show them great respect by sending them greetings desiring them Peace and salvation. No believer should be looked down upon because they suffer many hardships. It is part of our calling to suffer hardship and persecutions (Philippians 1:29). The greatest example of the faith is that we can rejoice in our sufferings, this is what makes us stand out before the crowds. It undoubtedly causes people to take note and wonder how it is that we can react positively to such negative circumstance. How is it that we can love our enemies and do good to those that persecute us, even praying for those that abuse us.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
Like the Levites of old the Children of God only have one lot in this world, the Lord Himself (Deuteronomy 10:14). Apart from this they may only expect troubles, trials and to endure very grievous afflictions. These outward afflictions and troubles are temptations that the devil uses to draw people to sin and to deter them from fulfilling their duty.
However, although the devil uses them, they are in God’s hand intended for the trial and improvements of our Graces (that is, our character as believers). Just as Gold that is purified in the furnace.
These temptations are numerous and different: as James says, “Divers Temptation”. This is why we must put on the whole armour of God (Ephesians 6:11). We must be armed on every side because temptations lie on all sides.
We do not create such trials to ourselves, nor do we sinfully pull them on to ourselves but are things that we fall into.
James lists the graces that we are to be exercised in; one is Joy. We are told to count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations. The fallen human nature succumbs easily to fear and depression when confronted with trials.
Human philosophy instructs men to be calm, new age therapies point us to serenity and a sense of well-being, however the believer is instructed to be joyful, because this form of discipline proceeds from love and not the fury of God.
By suffering in the way of righteousness we are serving the interests of God’s Kingdom amongst men, and the edification of God’s people. Trials serve to polish us and make us shine as lights in the world.
This is not a New Testament principal, as many might think, it is also revealed in the Old Testament (Job 5:17-18).
When we are tried it is not we but our faith that is being proven. Trials are necessary for faith in order to produce good fruit in us. Trials should cause us to exercise our faith in the power, the word and promise of the Lord so that we remain faithful and in constancy with Christ.
The trying of one grace produces another.; and the more they are tried through suffering the stronger they become.
The trial of faith produces patience. This is also borne out by Paul (Romans 5:3).
To exercise patience we must allow it to do its work. It is not stupid but active. Godly patience is far different than stoicism. In the one people become insensitive to their afflictions, they grin and bear it; by the other they become triumphant in them and over them.
In times of trial we can easily give in to passion where tempers flare and confusion reigns, and this hinders the operation and effects of patience. Thus we must allow Patience to have its perfect work.
Like the muscles of the body, if patience is not exercised in us through the trying of our faith then we will remain weak and unable to overcome.
We must bear with all manner of affliction, even if God appoints multiple trials to come upon us (Psalm 34:19). Thus, when we do not only bear troubles but rejoice in them as well, than patience has its perfect work.
When the work of patience is complete, then the believer is whole wanting of nothing. We will be furnished with all that we need to run this race and fight the good fight, enabling us to endure to the end. Then the work will be completed and we will be crowned in glory (Hebrews 10:36).
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. 7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. 8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
The thing that suffering believers require most is wisdom. There is always the natural instinct to ask God to remove trials and afflictions, however we need wisdom as how to make a right use of the trial. We need to make a correct assessment of things in order to govern our own spirits and temper. To be wise in a time of trial is something that we must seek.
We are not instructed to run to others, but to run to the Lord, “let him ask of God”! God is fully aware of everything, he knows the origin of the trial, our natural reactions to the trial and the outcome, in fact he knew it even before it happened (Matthew 6:6-8). In and of ourselves we do not have the wisdom necessary to confront such trials and withstand them and go through them. Thus we must ask God daily.
The promise is that God gives to all men liberally and does not upbraid. We need not fear that God will deny us wisdom, in fact He is more than willing to grant us as much wisdom as we need and will never reprove us for it. An admission of our need takes humility and this only pleases God (2 Chronicles 1:7-12).
The one thing necessary whenever we ask something of the Lord is that we do it with a believing, steady mind. “Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” We must believe that God will grant us everything we ask (Mark 11:24, Hebrews 11:6). Christ often posed a question to those who came to him for healing (Matthew 9:28). There must be no wavering, no staggering at the promise of God through unbelief or a sense of suffering unfairly on our behalf.
Faith is a constant, it never wavers, being moved by feelings. The waverer is like the troubled sea, driven and tossed about like the waves on the ocean. To disbelieve is sheer wickedness (Isaiah 57:20-21).
A heart of unbelief cannot expect to be rewarded by God; it spoils our prayers. They that are distrustful, shifting and unsettled and do not value any favour shown by God. They are ungrateful and take everything for granted. Wisdom is to be prized above all things (Job 28:12-14).
The doubter is unstable in ALL his ways! He is not just a bit unstable, or unstable in some ways, but in ALL his ways. His ability to make correct choices and decisions are put into question. His foundation is not firm but like quicksand. His walk is not steady, but like one that is walking on the deck of a ship on a troubled sea. Try carrying a tray of drinks or writing one’s name in those circumstance.
9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: 10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. 11 For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways. 12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
Both poor and rich are directed on what grounds to build their joy and comfort. Contrary to the prevailing mindset the poor are to be given equal status as the rich in the churches. It is common to see the wealthier brethren, and those that contribute more in terms of finances, as being worthy of greater status within churches.
It is also true that the poor often feel envious and despise those that have material riches.
Christ spoke often about both issues (Luke 18:9-12 & Matthew 19:23-25).
When persecution arises the rich believer can quickly lose their wealth and their lives. They are to rejoice in that they are made poor for the cause of Christ, their poverty is their exaltation. All who are made destitute for the cause of Christ can rejoice in the prospect of their exaltation at the end in heaven.
The rich should not trust in their wealth because both they and their riches are passing away. Worldly wealth is a withering thing, riches are too uncertain.
We are not to rejoice so much in the providence of God that makes us rich as we should in the grace of God that keeps us humble!. We should rejoice in those trials and exercises that teach us to seek our joy and fulfilment in and from God, and not from these perishing enjoyments.
It is not simply the person who suffers with trials but the one that endures and with patience and constancy goes through all sorts of difficulties whilst following Christ.
Afflictions are not meant to make us miserable. Blessings often arise because of them, and we may be blessed in them.
Sufferings and temptations adorn the path to eternal blessedness. When we are tried, we shall receive the crown of life. Our faith, like Gold, only shines brighter when put through the fires of trials. It is the tried believer that will be crowned. We will only bear the cross momentarily; the crown will be worn for eternity.
Our future rewards do not come as a debt, but by a gracious promise. The Lord has promised this to them that love Him. A man may die in the cause of a religion and yet not be pleasing to God, nor be regarded by Him, because he is wanting of charity, or a prevailing love to God and man (1 Corinthians 13:3).
The crown is not solely for great and eminent saints, but to all those that those who have the love of God reigning in their hearts. Every soul that truly loves God will have its trials in this world fully recompensed in the world to come.
13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. 16 Do not err, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. 18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
God is not the author of any man’s sin. Whoever raises persecutions against others, whatever injustice and sin they may be guilty of in proceeding against them, it is not God’s doing. Also, whatever sins good men are provoked to by their exercises and afflictions, God is not the cause of them. The blame for any form of misconduct lies firmly with the person that acts.
We cannot justify our misdeeds upon the Devil nor upon God. True the Devil may try to persuade us to sin but he cannot make us sin. A moral evil is owing to some disorder within the individual, some lack of wisdom, or of power or of good behaviour and purity of the will. Simply put, we sin because we want to, because it is in our hearts to do it.
We are motivated by the thoughts and intents of the heart. We sin because of fleshly lusts that are in us. This is not God’s doing and God cannot be blamed for, “making us this way!” A fire is a small thing, it is the fuel that is added to it that causes a conflagration!
In the beginning man was created innocent, pure and guiltless. When faced with temptation the serpent appealed to Eve through the very thing that John warns us about in 1 John 2:16.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
The tree was good for food (the lust of the flesh). Note that it was not sexual lust but something even more basic, the stomach. What some people are capable of when faced with hunger! They will steal, sneak, lie and even commit murder when faced with hunger. This was the first of the temptations the Devil used to tempt Christ with after He had spent 40 days and nights fasting in the wilderness. It is also the reason that Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob.
It was pleasant to the eyes. It looked nice, looked desirable, looked good. How often can people be deceived because something appears to be good. God warns us not to be deceived by the outward appearance of a thing when inwardly it is bad (Matthew 23:27).
A tree to be desired to make one wise! It appeals to the pride of life. How often men are deceived by the thought of having a special understanding or a special insight and knowledge that others do not have. Cults make people feel special, that they have a relationship with God that is closer than anyone else. It is always a source of pride to think that we are part of God’s inner circle of disciples; the ultimate blasphemy of all being that we are as God Himself.
The problem with eating the fruit of that tree is that when it takes root and grows in our hearts it brings forth death, the death of one’s soul!
We are told not to err! To err is to deviate from the truth, to apostatise. We should not stray into erroneous opinions and go off the standard of truth. The quickest route into corruption is the way of Gnosticism. Gnostics are led about by all kinds of false notions, every wind of doctrine, every flight of fancy, every new fad of teaching. People become quickly bored with the plain truth, they lust after something that appears to guarantee that they will gain more knowledge and thus become especially pleasing to God and admired by others. Today many Christians seek mystical experiences, direct words from God and higher levels of spirituality.
These errors are nothing new and were combatted by Irenaeus in his first book against heresies.
The plain truth is that God is not, and cannot be, the author and patron of anything that is evil; but must be acknowledged to be the cause and fountain of everything that is good and perfect.
God is the Father of lights; the visible light and the invisible light of the Spirit. God is unchangeable and there is no shadow of turning in Him. Ordinary light produces shadows that move and change as the day progresses. With God’s light there are no shadows (Colossians 2:16-17).
Every good gift is of God. We have nothing good but what comes from Him and no evil or sin that does not come from within us or is done by us. The renovation of our natures, our regeneration and all the consequences of it must be accredited to Him. The genuine believer becomes a different person from what he or she was before the influence of divine grace causes a person to be born anew.
It is of His will and not our own, not by our skill or power; not because God foresaw any good in us or done by us, but purely from the good-will and grace of God. This came about as the result of the Word of Truth, which came to us by the preaching of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 4:15). The design of which is to make us a kind of first-fruits of His creatures. The first fruits are God’s portion and a more peculiar property to Him, that we should become holy to the Lord, as the first-fruits consecrated to Him.
19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. 21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
This portion of chapter 1 is a warning against jumping to conclusions or being rash. Paul warned Timothy concerning the time when men would be “heady” or precipitous. We see evidence of this today as people act emotionally and are dominated by passions.
There are numerous example of this I the scriptures where people have spoken or have acted in haste. Elijah thought that he was the only one left that was for God, Jonah thought that he was justified in being angry at God for not judging Nineveh. Instead of censuring God under our trials, let us open our ears and hearts to hear what He will say to us.
Amongst brethren, whenever there are differences each side should be willing to hear the other. Sometimes things end up being blow out of all proportion and people fall out and divide over something that is pointless. Winning a senseless argument is not as important if it means losing a friend.
We must always have a hold of our tempers. Another of Paul’s warnings to Timothy was concerning the implacable. The implacable cannot be placated, anger is easily stirred up in them and they remain angry for so long.
In the world anger often overflows into rage and violence, and when it’s a group they quickly become a mob and mobs often vandalise property, assault others and begin to plunder and pillage! This is not God’s way. To peacefully demonstrate is fine; to riot is not of God.
Religious piety is often a mask for a pretend zeal for God. This is what the enemies of Christ used to stir up the crowds to clamour for Christ’s crucifixion. As we have seen in the rise of modern terrorism, the worse thing that we can bring to a religious controversy is fleshly anger. The pretence of concern for what is right and just is not to be trusted.
Wrath is a human emotion and the wrath of man is opposed to the righteousness of God. Thus, all those that pretend to serve the cause of God show that they know neither God nor His cause!
Other corrupt affections must be resisted also, as well as rash anger; all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness. The word translated “Filthiness” is ῥυπαρίαν (rhypariai) which means defiled or dishonoured, befouled. This equates to someone smearing things with dung, or menstrual blood, thus being made especially vile. This is used mas a metaphor of wickedness as a moral defilement or sordidness. A superfluity is synonymous with an overflowing, for that is what superfluity literally means. So the wrath of man comes as the result of the flesh and accompanies other works of the flesh.
Setting aside these things we should receive with meekness the engrafted word. The word can be engrafted, or implanted, either by nature or by the instruction of others, and this can save our souls.
We are to be doers of the word and not just hearers. Many are willing to receive instruction from others. They will listen eagerly to all types of preachers and teachers, they will travel from conference to conference yet fail to obey the word of God.
When we do this we are only deceiving ourselves. We fool ourselves into thinking that we have light when, in reality, we walk in darkness (Matthew 6:23). We are rendered like people who are partially sighted who can see shadows and shapes but cannot see clearly.
James states that we become like people that glance at themselves in a mirror only to forget what they saw. However the Law of Liberty gives a perfect reflection of our face. Some mirrors flatter but God’s mirror gives a true reflection, showing us any and all the imperfections on our faces. Thus we can see clearly any and all blemishes so that we might deal with them.
When we attend to the word of God in order to see ourselves in our true state and condition, to rectify that which is amiss then we are making correct use of the scriptures. When we listen to the word and fail to apply it to ourselves, we may feel stirred in some way but not enough to come under the Spirit’s conviction and change. How quickly the conviction is forgotten, good affections vanish and pass away like a vapour that quickly evaporates. Too often we fail to apply the words of Christ to the Scribes and Pharisees to ourselves and take it for granted that we are walking in His ways.
We are not simply to look into the Gospel but we are to continue in it. For the Jew this meant that the Gospel is one of liberation, deliverance from Levitical Laws, from sin and from guilt, from wrath and from death. Moses brought bondage; the Gospel of Christ brings liberty.
It is perfect; nothing can be added to it.
We are to keep it in our hearts, set it always before our eyes so that we will fully follow its instruction (Psalm 1:1-3).
in other words it is not by hearing and talking, but it is by hearing and walking that we follow the path to Heaven.
26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Here we see that there is only one form of religion that is acceptable to God. This religion has no name, it is not called Christianity, Islam, Judaism, whatever, it is simply to look after widows and orphans and keep yourself from the corruption that is in the world through lust.
All other forms of religion are vain and unprofitable and are not acceptable to God. Vain religion is based upon appearances, and persuading others of our “spirituality”. If all we have is a show of religion and piety we have a form of godliness but deny its power.
Vain religion censures and condemns; it reviles and diminishes others. As Matthew Henry puts it:
When we hear people ready to speak of the faults of others, or to censure them as holding scandalous errors, or to lessen the wisdom and piety of those about them, that they themselves may seem the wiser and better, this is a sign that they have but a vain religion. The man who has a detracting tongue cannot have a truly humble gracious heart. He who delights to injure his neighbour in vain pretends to love God; therefore a reviling tongue will prove a man a hypocrite. Censuring is a pleasing sin, extremely complaint with nature, and therefore evinces a man’s being in a natural state.
(Note: To evince means to reveal or show evidence of)
Godly religion is not adorned with ceremonies, but with purity and charitableness. Christ explained this to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well. They were having a discussion as to what constituted the true religion. She spoke concerning their religious differences; that the Samaritans worshiped at Sichar and the Jews in Jerusalem. The Samaritans had no Temple but did have priesthood and kept a sacrificial system. The Jews, however, had the temple at the heart of their religion with all its accompanying rituals and ceremonies. Yet Christ declares that this is not what God desired and that the old system of worship would be replaced by worship that was in spirit and in truth.
This means to follow the teachings of Christ because Christ declared that His teachings ARE Spirit and Life (John 6:63). It is they that give life to the scriptures and, if they abide in us, then they will come alive in us (John 15:6-8). This is not evidenced by a person’s level of engagement in a variety of activities within the confines of the walls of a church building our outside of those walls, such as social programs, music performances, the exhibiting of (or appearance of having) spiritual manifestations, good works etc. None of these things are the sign of a genuine believing heart.
People in many cults and religions pray, sing praises to God and do charitable works, so these things are not at the heart of the Christian Faith. As Paul explains:
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Compassion and charity to the poor and distressed is not a part of the Christian life it is the heart of the Christian life (Matthew 22:37-40), but we must also keep ourselves clear of the corruption that is in the world (2 Peter 1:4). The world will quickly taint our spirits; but the sins and lusts of the world deface and defile. The three things; the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life are the very things that we are to keep ourselves unspotted from.
How are we to achieve this? ……Only by the Grace of God (Romans 7:24-25).