James 1

James 1:1

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.

(a) A bond-servant of God; see Rom. 1:1.

(b) To the twelve tribes of Israel. James was the leader of the most Jewish church in the world – the church in Jerusalem – and he wrote for a predominantly Jewish audience. He wrote about grace (Jas. 4:6) to people who considered themselves religious (Jas. 1:26).

James 1:2

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,

(a) Consider it all joy. It is not a joyful thing to go through trials and hardships; the joy comes in discovering through the trial that the faith God has put within you is more precious than gold (1 Pet. 1:7).

(b) Various trials. The trials of life are not to see whether we can manufacture the Right Stuff for Jesus, for we can’t manufacture faith at all. Faith that endure is a gift from God. Life’s trials show us that God’s gifts are awesome.

In Christ you lack nothing but you won’t know you lack nothing until you’ve been tested by the trials of life. It is only when you have gone past the point of your own strength and found your heavenly Father, strong and smiling, that you begin to realize that when you are weak, you can be strong indeed (2 Cor. 12:10).

James 1:3

knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

(a) The testing of your faith. The original word for testing (dokimion) is a noun not a verb. It’s the same word Peter uses when he refers to the testing or proof of your faith (1 Pet. 1:7). Just as some materials get stronger when compressed, your God-given faith reveals its supernatural qualities when you go through trials (Jas. 1:2).

(b) Produces endurance. The trials of life aren’t from the Lord but he uses these opportunities to reveal himself to you in new ways giving you the strength to endure.

Paul and his companions were tested “far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8). But the outcome of their trials was a greater revelation of God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:9). You may feel like your trials will be the end of you, but God is greater than whatever you are facing. God will use your trial to help you see that and when you do you will endure.

Further reading: “The testing of your faith

James 1:12

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

(a) Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial. Study the words in this verse – blessed, received, promised – and you will see that James’ intention is to encourage us. It is not his aim to frighten us by putting price tags on grace.

Remove life’s hardships and challenges, and we would have little need to draw on the abundant provision of God’s grace. The trials of life teach us to rely on God (Jas. 1:3) and when we do grace comes and we are blessed.

(b) For once he has been approved. The original word for approved (dokimos) is the adjectival version of the noun testing from verse 3. The trials of life reveal that our faith is more precious than gold (1 Pet. 1:7). They prove or demonstrate that we are in Christ with access to aid such as the world does not know.

We are approved in Christ (see Rom. 16:10). We are not approved and put into Christ because we pass the endurance test. He whom the Lord approves has nothing to prove.

(c) The crown of life is the eternal life the believer has in union with Jesus the King.

(d) To those who love him. The crown of life is given to those who love the Lord, regardless of what trials we face and how well we face them.

Further reading: “Is the Christian race a marathon?

James 1:13

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.

(a) Let no one say. Our heavenly Father only gives good gifts (Jas. 1:17). If something evil comes into your life, you can be sure it is not from him. The Lord is not the author of sin and he will never lead you down the path of destruction.

(b) He Himself does not tempt anyone. Those who tempt you to sin are doing the work of the Tempter (i.e., the devil, see entry for Matt. 4:3).

James 1:14

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.

(a) Each one is tempted. It is not wrong to be tempted. Jesus was tempted in every way yet remained without sin (Heb. 4:15). Problems come when we allow ourselves to succumb to whatever is tempting us.

(b) Enticed by his own lust. Your desires cannot tempt me and my desires cannot tempt you. The battleground for sin is within our own minds and bodies (see entry for Rom. 7:24).

How do we win the battle? By reckoning ourselves dead to sin and remembering that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts” (Gal. 5:24). You are not a powerless victim; you are a new creation with new desires. When the devil comes fishing and the lure is before you, count yourself dead to it and alive to Christ.

James 1:15

Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

It brings forth death. The wage of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

Grace is free but sin has a high price tag. When we sow to the flesh we reap destruction – in our relationships, our work, our health. Sinning is unequivocally a bad idea. But while your sin may destroy you and everything you love, it will never cause God to kick you out of his family. Nothing can separate you from his love (Rom. 8:38-39).

James 1:16

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

(a) Do not be deceived. You are not a powerless prisoner of sin (Rom. 6:22). There are many healthy things you can do to deal with temptation. Chief of these is to look to Jesus our High Priest who was tempted in every way and is able to help you when you are tempted (Heb. 2:18).

When we are struggling, our inclination is to run and hide from God. This is the worst thing you can do. God gives grace to those who humble themselves under his mighty hand (Jas. 4:6). Come boldly to his throne of grace asking for help and you shall have it.

James addresses three lies we might believe about sin and temptation: (1) God tempts you, perhaps to train you. (He doesn’t; see Jas. 1:13). (2) Satan or bad people can force you to sin. (They can’t; the inclination to sin comes from within; see Jas. 1:14). (3) Sin is not that bad. (Sin is destructive; see Jas. 1:15).

(b) My beloved. All the epistle writers referred to believers as the beloved or dearly-loved children of God (see entry for Rom. 1:7).

James 1:17

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift. Your heavenly Father is a Giver who gives and gives and he never takes back his good gifts (Rom. 11:29). His giving nature testifies to the surpassing riches of his extreme and measureless grace (see entry for Jas. 4:6).

James 1:19

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;

(a) Beloved. All the epistle writers referred to believers as the beloved or dearly-loved children of God (see entry for Rom. 1:7).

(b) Brethren. In the New Testament, the word brethren typically refers to Christian brothers and sisters (see entry for Heb. 2:11).

James 1:20

for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

(a) The anger of man. Angry preachers portray an angry God who is angry at you and your sin, but the God Jesus revealed is nothing like that. “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). It was the love of God that caused him to reach out to a world enslaved to sin, and it is a revelation of his kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).

(b) The righteousness of God. Most of us are familiar with the righteousness that comes from right-living and keeping the rules, but Jesus introduced us to another kind of righteousness that comes from God (see entry for Matt. 6:33). Our righteousness will never qualify us for the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20), but anyone can receive the gift of God’s righteousness (see entry for Rom 5:17).

James 1:21

Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.

(a) To receive the word is to believe the good news about Jesus.

In the New Testament, there are more than 200 imperative statements linked with faith. Some of these statements exhort us to: receive Jesus (John 1:11-12, 5:43), receive the message of Jesus (John 17:8), obey or heed the message or good news of Jesus (John 17:6) and turn to God in repentance (Acts 26:20).

Other scriptures encourage us to accept the word (Mark 4:20), confess Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9), call on the name of the Lord (Act 2:21), eat the bread of life (John 6:50-51), be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20), submit to God’s righteousness (Rom. 10:3), and be born again (John 3:3, 7).

But the one imperative that appears far more than any other, is the instruction to believe. We are to believe in Jesus (see entry for John 3:16).

(b) The … which is able to save your souls is not the Bible but the word of God or the word of Christ or the word of his grace. It’s the good news of Jesus revealed in the gospel of grace. See entry for Acts 4:31.

James 1:22

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.

Not merely hearers. Don’t just listen but do what the word says. Put your faith in Jesus and allow the Spirit of Christ to convince you that Jesus is your redemption and righteousness from God.

James 1:25

But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

(a) The law of liberty is another name for the implanted word that can save you (Jas 1:21). It is Jesus, the Living Word of God who sets us free. The law of liberty describes what Jesus has done (perfectly fulfilled or completed the law) and the fruit he will bear in our lives (liberty) if we trust him.

(b) This man will be blessed. The perfect law that gives freedom, can be contrasted with the law of Moses that binds (Rom 7:6, Jas. 1:25). Look into the mirror of Moses’ law and you will be miserable, for it exposes all your faults. But look into the perfect law which is Jesus and you will be blessed, for it reveals his righteousness.

James 1:26

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

Religious. James was writing to an audience who considered themselves religious – Jews (see Jas. 1:1). James wrote to tell religious people about the grace of a good God who gives generously and who provides us with every good gift (Jas. 1:5, 17). He wrote so that they might receive the gospel they had heard and be saved (Jas. 1:21).

James 1:27

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

(a) Pure and undefiled religion. If you consider yourselves religious, take care of widows and orphans.

James was not trying to balance grace with works. He was trying to secure aid for those who were dying. Jerusalem was in a severe famine (see entry for Acts 11:28). A famine meant a slow and painful death and the first to die would be those without breadwinners, namely, the fatherless and the widows. Paul collected money from the Gentile churches for the starving saints in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1–4; 2 Cor. 8:1–9:15; Rom. 15:14–32), while James challenged religious Jews to contribute as well.

Further reading: “Pure religion

Our God and Father. Jesus came to reveal a God who loves us like a Father and the epistle writers echoed this theme. See entry for John 17:23.

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