James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.
(a) James, Several men named James are mentioned in the New Testament, but it is traditionally believed that this James was James the Just, the step-brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55, Mark 6:3, Gal. 1:19). As a younger man, James did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah (John 7:5). However, after the risen Lord appeared to him (1 Cor. 15:7), James became a new man. Later he became the letter-writing leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13, 21:18, 25, Gal. 2:9). According to Josephus, James was martyred for his faith in AD62 (Antiquities, 20.9.1).
(b) A bond-servant of God. James’ humility is astonishing. Although he was an apostle (Gal. 1:19), he introduces himself as a servant (see entry for Rom. 1:1). Although he grew up in the same household as Jesus, he says nothing about his pedigree. His performance and reputation do not matter. What matters is Jesus our Lord and Christ.
(c) Lord Jesus Christ; see entry for Jas. 2:1.
(d) To the twelve tribes of Israel. The Jews were known as the twelve tribes because Israel had twelve sons (Rev. 21:12). James does not address his letter to a specific church but to the scattered Jews. He writes about subjects that were well-known to the Jews, including Abraham (Jas. 2:21–23), the law (e.g., Jas. 2:9–11), and faith in the one true God (Jas. 2:19). Yet it would be a mistake to dismiss James’ letter as irrelevant to our modern age. The themes James expounds on – faith, salvation, and wisdom – are timeless and universal. We all need to hear the gospel according to James.
(e) Dispersed abroad. In New Testament times, there were Jews living all over the world, and many of them visited Jerusalem during the major festivals. On the Day of Pentecost, there were Jews “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Jews who came to Jerusalem encountered Jewish Christians and heard about the Messiah who had risen from the dead. Some became believers who carried the good news back to their homes. These new believers needed training, so James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, wrote a letter that they could take with them. This letter would have been copied and circulated among the expatriate Jewish communities.
James expected that his letter would be read out in the assemblies or synagogues (see Jas. 2:2) because that’s where Jews met. For this reason, James wrote for two audiences; (1) those who had received the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ and are known as God’s friends (Jas. 2:1, 23), and (2) those foolish fellows (Jas. 2:20) and sinners (Jas. 4:8) who lack saving faith (Jas. 2:14) and remain enemies of God (Jas. 4:4). So one letter, two messages. Failure to distinguish between these two audiences and messages has led some to wrongly conclude that James was confused about grace or that he preached a message of grace plus works. Some have even suggested his letter should not be in the Bible!
What we take from James’ letter depends on which message we hear. Those who love the Lord are encouraged to rejoice and persevere in trials (Jas. 1:2–3), and patiently await the Lord’s return (Jas. 5:7–8) knowing that we will receive a crown of life (Jas. 1:12). In contrast, those who are relying on their own righteousness hear that their faith is dead and useless (Jas. 2:17, 4:4), and that they need to humble themselves, submit to God, and receive the word that can save their souls (Jas. 1:21, 4:7, 10).
(f) Greetings. This customary salutation (Acts 15:23, 23:26) can be contrasted with the “grace and peace” greetings of the church epistles (see entry for Rom. 1:7). Paul, Peter and Jude greeted fellow believers with warm affirmations of grace and peace. In contrast, those New Testament letters which were written for wider audiences (Hebrews, James, 1 John), lacked these affectionate greetings.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,
(a) Consider it all joy. It is not a joyful thing to suffer through trials; the joy comes in discovering new things about the love and goodness of God in the midst of our trials.
From time to time, we all experience trials that test our faith. An immature believer sees only the trial, but a mature believer has learned to views trials as opportunities to grow in grace. They rejoice because they know that what the enemy intends for evil, God will repurpose for good (Gen. 50:20, Rom. 8:28).
(b) Brethren; see entry for Jas. 1:16.
(c) Various trials, tests or ordeals. A trial is a crisis that will tempt you to question God’s promises, protection, and provision.
A trial is Abraham wondering whether God told him to offer up his son (Jas. 2:21). Did God really say that? It’s Rahab taking in the spies of Israel (Jas. 2:25). Will God save me? It’s Job losing everything (Jas. 5:11). Where is God? The circumstances may differ, but any trial is a crisis of faith if it causes us to ask, can I trust God?
knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
(a) Knowing. Under the old covenant, the emphasis was on doing, but in the new covenant the emphasis is on knowing. Knowing Christ in your daily life is the essence of wisdom (1 Pet. 1:5).
(b) The testing of your faith. When you go through trials, the awesome qualities of your God-given faith are revealed.
The trials of life are not to see whether we are made of the right stuff or whether we can manufacture iron-clad faith, for we can’t manufacture faith at all. Faith is something to receive (2 Pet. 1:1). Faith that endures is a gift from God, and we get it from hearing the good news of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8). Because Christ endured, you will endure.
(c) Testing. The original word (dokimion) means proving in the way an assayer tests and approves gold.
God’s gifts are flawless and perfect (Jas. 1:17), but you won’t know how good God’s gifts are until their qualities have been revealed in the fire of life’s trials and hardships. It is only in the furnace of your afflictions that you discover your God-given faith is more precious than gold (1 Pet. 1:7).
(d) Produces endurance. Jesus is the Living and Enduring Word who gives you the strength to endure (1 Pet. 1:23). When you allow the word of the Lord to take root in your heart, you will endure.
Leading a church in the world’s most religious city must have been difficult for James. Although he was persecuted and ultimately murdered by the corrupt religious leaders, he endured and kept the faith. James did not endure because he had great strength, but because he had learned to rely on God’s great grace (see entry for Jas. 4:6).
The apostle Paul had a similar testimony. He and his companions were tested far beyond their ability to endure. At times, their trials were so severe that they thought they were going to die (2 Cor. 1:8). Yet they endured because they had a revelation of the God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:9).
Further reading: “The testing of your faith”
And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(a) Endurance is not a result to strive for but a fruit we bear as we rest in the never-giving-up love of our Father.
The love of God endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7). As we abide in his love we endure too.
We don’t endure to become Christians; we endure because we are the dearly-loved children of God and we know that nothing can separate us from our Father’s love.
(b) Its perfect result. When you have learned to trust God in your trials, you will be fully mature.
It’s easy to trust God in the good times, but our Redeemer will use the trials of life to reveal his love and grace to us in new and deeper ways. It doesn’t just happen. There’s a process involved and it starts with having the right attitude (consider it all joy; verse 2), and the right mindset (knowing that the testing of your faith leads to good things; verse 3). Ideally we will come to a place of rest in our Father’s love. It is a revelation of God’s great love for us that empowers us to grow and endure.
(c) Perfect and complete. The original word for perfect (teleios) is an adjective that means complete, so this could be read as “completely complete and lacking in nothing.” When you patiently go through life’s trials trusting in the Lord, you are fully developed and mature.
(d) Lacking nothing. You are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10). In him, you lack nothing, but you may not realize you lack nothing until you’ve been tested by the trials of life. Sometimes we have to exhaust all our resources and strength before we realize just how strong we are in him (see 2 Cor. 12:10).
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
(a) Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions and sound judgments. Wisdom is knowing how to walk in the favor and will of God.
Wisdom is only as good as the knowledge on which it is based which is why we can distinguish between earthly and heavenly wisdom (Jas. 3:15–17). Wisdom that comes from above is informed by the supernatural insight and revelation of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).
When we go through trials, it is easy to get disoriented and lose our way. The temptation is to take matters into our own hands and do what seems right in our own eyes, but in that way lie death and disaster (Pro. 14:12). A better option is to ask the Father for the wisdom that comes from above. His wisdom releases the righteousness and favor of heaven into our lives (1 Cor. 1:30).
(b) Ask God. Asking is how we receive (Matt. 7:7).
Manmade religion says, “You do not have because you are not good enough.” To this wisdom replies, “You do not have because you do not ask” (Jas. 4:2). Religion says you need to get cleaned up before you approach the Lord. But grace replies, do not hesitate to come to the throne of grace in your hour of need (Heb. 4:16).
(c) God, who gives. The devil wants you to think that God is a taker, but Jesus revealed a Father who loves to give us good things (John 3:16). Every good gift comes from him (Jas. 1:17). The only thing he’ll take from you is your sin, guilt and shame.
(d) Generously. The One who gave us his Son will freely give you an abundance of what you need (Rom. 8:32).
Religion portrays God as mean and stingy, but our Father’s generosity has no limits. He who provides you with everything you need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), has abundantly supplied you with an entrance into his kingdom (2 Pet 1:11).
(e) Without reproach. God will never judge you or condemn you. He will never withdraw his presence or withhold his favor from you. How can he when he has already blessed us with every blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3)? The issue is not will God give? but will you receive?
Sometimes you may feel like you have failed so badly that you dare not approach the Lord. “I messed up. I need to make this right.” Resist that temptation! Your priority is not to act but to ask. Before you do anything, ask the Lord for wisdom. Lean into the Holy Spirit and allow him to guide you back onto the life-giving path.
(f) Will be given. There are no ifs, buts, and maybes when it comes to the super-abounding grace of God. Your Father does not expect you to jump through hoops or make sacrifices to earn his favor. He gives because it is in his nature to give.
But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.
(a) Ask in faith. The only condition for receiving is believing (Matt. 21:22, Mark 11:24). Faith is not wishful thinking, and asking in faith does not mean saying the right words or praying a special prayer or confessing your sins. Asking in faith is being confident of your Father’s goodness towards you (1 John 5:14). It is resting in his love knowing that your heavenly Father has great dreams and good gifts for you (Jer. 29:11, Jas. 1:17). See also the entry for Faith.
(b) Without any doubting. Doubt is a faith-killer. We feed our faith and starve our doubts by reminding ourselves of God’s precious promises. (see entry for 2 Pet. 1:4).
(c) The surf of the sea. The one who doubts and wavers in uncertainty has a mind like a storm-tossed sea.
For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,
(a) That man. The one who doubts (see previous verse).
(b) Receive. It’s not that God withholds his grace from doubters, for our Father is a generous giver who freely gives to all who ask in faith. But when we doubt his goodness, we have trouble receiving or enjoying what he provides. An example: The gospel declares that everything you need for life and godliness comes to you by grace through your knowledge of him who called us (2 Pet. 1:3). But if you doubt this good news, perhaps because you think you need to pray or confess more before God will bless you, then you will have trouble receiving the grace that has already been provided. The remedy is to abandon your dead works, renew your doubting mind, and receive in faith.
being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
(a) Double-minded. To be in two minds is to be uncertain, and when you are uncertain you cannot walk in faith.
When describing faith, the epistle writers use words like certain, sure, persuaded, and convinced (see Rom. 4:21, Heb. 11:1). But those who are trusting in their own goodness or religious performance are seldom certain or convinced about the grace of God. They may have a partial grasp. “I’ve been saved by grace.” But their dead works testify to their uncertainty and unbelief. “Now it’s up to me to maintain my salvation.” See also (see entry for Jas. 4:8).
(b) Unstable. The original word (akatastatos) is sometimes translated as restless (e.g., Jas. 3:8). Those who have not learned to abide in the love of God are restless and unstable. They are tossed and turned by every wind of teaching (Eph. 4:14). One day they’re thanking God for his grace; the next they’re back under law. Because they have not entered the rest of the Lord, they drift through life bearing little fruit.
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.
(a) The brother of humble circumstances. The person with nothing – no money, no reputation, no status.
(b) Glory. The original word (kauchaomai) means to boast. We boast in the Lord who elevates the lowly and gives grace to the humble.
(c) His high position. We boast because God has chosen the poor nobodies to shame the rich somebodies (1 Cor. 1:27–28, Jas. 2:5).
In the eyes of the world, the rich are winners and the poor are losers. But in the kingdom of grace, the losers have the advantage. “Blessed are you who are poor and woe to you who are rich” said Jesus (Luke 6:20, 24). It’s not that God has anything against the rich, but the rich are often too invested in the fleeting pleasures of this world to give much thought for the better life that Christ offers. “It is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:23).
(d) The rich. Those who are winners in the eyes of the world. See entry for Jas. 5:1.
(e) Glory in his humiliation. Being brought low is not the end of the world. Bankruptcy, scandal, and the trials of life can lead to good outcomes if they bring you to an end of your resources and cause you to cry out to God. The worst things that happen to us can become glorious turning points if they lead us to rely on the Lord.
(f) Pass away. Life is short (Jas. 4:14). Don’t invest in treasure that rusts, but live with eternity in mind.
For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
(a) The sun brings heat and hardship (Jon. 4:8). Money and power offer no real security against life’s trials. Just as the sun withers the grass, the hardships of life undo us all.
(b) Withers the grass. The rich man fades away because his heart is bound to the transitory treasures of this earth. In contrast, those whose hearts have embraced the word of the Lord endure forever (Is. 40:7–8).
(c) The rich; see entry for Jas. 5:1.
(d) In the midst of his pursuits. While the rich are busy pursuing wealth and influence, death will come (Luke 12:20–21).
(e) Will fade away. Will get old and die and be forgotten.
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. The trials of life teach us to rely on God (Jas. 1:3), and the more we rely on God the more we experience his peace, joy, and all his blessings.
Christian endurance has nothing to do with being stoic in the face of hardship. Christian faith is active; it considers (verse 2), it knows (verse 3), it asks (verse 5). Faith leans on the Lord, receives his grace and prospers. See also the entry for Jas. 5:11.
(b) Approved. The original word (dokimos) is the adjectival version of the noun testing (dokimion) from verse 3. It means proving in the way an assayer tests and approves gold. Just as life’s trials prove that your faith is good-as-gold (Jas. 1:3), they also prove that you are as good-as-gold and safe in the Lord’s mighty hands (John 10:28–29, 1 Cor. 1:8, 2 Cor. 1:21). Nothing life throws at you can separate you from your Father’s great love (Rom. 8:38–39).
(c) The crown of life is the eternal life you have in union with King Jesus. In contrast with the fading wreath of worldly wealth, those who love the Lord are crowned with everlasting life.
If you’ve been raised with a religious mindset, you might read this passage as some sort of salvation test. “If I stumble I won’t receive a crown of life.” In other words, you have to perform and prevail to win the crown. But in the new covenant we stand on Christ’s performance. We are tested and approved in Christ. We are made right with God because of what Christ has done. Your performance does not come into it. Your part is to receive with gratitude the crown that has been offered.
(d) To those who love him. The crown of eternal 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?”
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) Tempted. The original word (peirazo) is sometimes translated as tested (e.g., Rev. 2:10).
(b) “I am being tempted by God.” Don’t blame God for your troubles.
When we suffer loss, we may think, “God is testing me.” He isn’t. God is a Giver, not a thief (see entry for Jas. 1:5).
(c) He himself does not tempt anyone. If something evil comes your way, you can be sure it is not from the Lord. Those who tempt or test you are doing the work of the Tempter (i.e., the devil, see entry for Matt. 4:3).
Further reading: “Is God the author of evil?”
But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.
(a) Each one is tempted. We are all tempted from time to time. Even Jesus was tempted in all things yet remained without sin (Heb. 4:15). It is not a sin to be tempted, but when we yield to temptation it can lead to sin.
(b) Carried away. The original word (exelko) can mean dragged away. Our desires can lure us into trouble until we are dragged away like a hooked fish.
(c) Enticed. The original word (deleazo) means entrap. It is the desires of our flesh that ensnare us. This is why we are exhorted to present our bodies as slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:19), and as holy and living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). Your “body of sin” is not evil, but it is the battleground where you engage with sin (see entry for Rom. 6:6). By the grace of God, it is a battle you can win (see Tit. 2:11–12).
(d) Enticed by his own lust. Your desires cannot tempt me and my desires cannot tempt you. When we fall into sin, we can’t blame anyone but ourselves and our own desires.
Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
(a) Gives birth to sin. Sin doesn’t spring out of thin air but is conceived and birthed within. The best way to avoid giving birth to sin is not to get pregnant in the first place. When your flesh remembers old desires that you once had, remind yourself that you are a new creation with new desires (2 Cor. 5:17). Reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ (Rom. 6:11). Remind yourself that you are done with that inferior way of life (Gal. 5:24, 1 Pet. 1:14), and you are righteous in him (2 Cor. 5:21).
(b) It brings forth death. Sin comes with a price tag (Rom. 6:23).
When we sow to the flesh we reap destruction. Cheat on your spouse and you may destroy your marriage. Cheat your suppliers and you may destroy your business. These consequences are entirely self-inflicted and have nothing to do with divine punishment.
While sin may destroy you and everything you love, it will never cause God to kick you out of his family. Since you were not qualified by your good works, you cannot be disqualified by your bad works. The Holy Spirit within you is God’s pledge or guarantee that he will bring to completion the good work he has begun in you (2 Cor. 1:22, Php. 1:6).
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
(a) Do not be deceived. Don’t be fooled. Don’t buy into the lie that says “God is making me suffer.” Don’t be like Job who blamed God for his suffering (see entry for Jas. 1:19).
(b) Beloved brethren. James writes from a place of love.
Although James says some hard things in his letter, occasionally referring to people as foolish, adulterers, and enemies of God (Jas. 2:20, 4:4), his words are motivated by love. He cares deeply for his readers, and his tone reminds us of Jesus.
(c) Brethren. In the New Testament epistles, the word brethren often implies Christian brothers and sisters, but not always (e.g., Heb. 2:17, 7:5). When James is commending his brethren for holding to the faith of Christ (Jas. 2:1), he is speaking to his Christian brothers. But when he is challenging his brethren for their lack of faith or their inability to keep the Law of Moses, he is speaking to his unsaved Jewish brothers (Jas. 2:14, 4:11). As usual, context matters (see entry for Jas. 1:1).
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.
(a) Every good thing given. God is the Giver behind every good gift. He is the ultimate Source of life and love, peace and joy, rest and fulfilment, comfort and pleasure, hope and security, families and friends, stars and sunsets. All good things bear his fingerprints.
(b) Every perfect gift. God gives you perfect love, perfect forgiveness, and perfect holiness. And God gives you his perfect righteousness that cannot be improved upon. Any works or sacrifices that you might add to his gifts will only detract from their perfection. But if you receive his perfect gifts you will be perfect in Christ, complete in every way
(c) The Father of lights. God is our Father (Jas. 3:9), and his children shine like lights in a dark world (Matt. 5:14, Php. 2:15).
(d) No variation. God never changes (Heb. 13:8). “For I, the Lord, do not change” (Mal. 3:6). God does not bless you one day and curse you the next. He does not give good gifts only to take them away again (Rom. 11:29). He is good all the time.
In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.
(a) He brought us forth. You have been sired or born into new life by God the Father.
Just as sin gives birth to death (Jas. 1:15), God gives birth to new life. You are not a Christian because you attend Sunday School or prayed a prayer. You are a Christian because you opened your heart to the Lord and he gave you his life-giving Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 2 Cor. 1:22). You have been born again of the imperishable word (1 Pet. 1:23).
(b) The word of truth is the Living Word or Jesus Christ.
The word of truth is synonymous with the word of the kingdom (Matt. 13:19) or the word of God (Luke 8:11) or the word of life (1 John 1:1). The word of truth is not the Bible or even the gospel, although those things reveal the word. Jesus is the Truth that comes from God and saves us (John 1:14, 14:6, Jas. 1:21).
(c) First fruits. All creation will be redeemed starting with us.
God is making all things new, and the outcome will be new heavens and a new earth (Rev. 21:5). In the present age, the church is a prophetic picture of what is to come. See entry for 2 Pet. 3:13.
This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;
(a) Beloved brethren; see entry for James 1:16.
(b) Quick to hear. Listen before talking. Several Old Testament proverbs make a similar exhortation (e.g., Pro. 10:19, 13:3, 15:2, 17:27).
(c) Slow to speak. When we are hurting or going through trials, the temptation is to complain and give voice to anger and bitterness. But when we do that we are articulating unbelief in the Redeemer. We are essentially saying, “I don’t trust God to bring good out of my situation.” We are speaking like Job when he voiced his fears (Job 3:25), expressed self-pity (Job 10:1), and wished himself dead (Job 7:15, 17:13–16). Like others who have gone through intense pain, Job blamed God for his suffering (Job 2:10, 6:4, 7:20, 27:2).
Job later came to regret his words. “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand” (Job 42:3). Like Job, we do not have the full picture. In the midst of our trials, we can’t see all the good things God has planned. This is why we should be slow to speak and quick to hear what the Lord says.
Further reading: “Ten little known facts about Job”
(d) Slow to anger. Anger is a lit stick of dynamite that can hurt us if we cling to it and hurt others if we let it loose (see Job 5:2, Pro. 16:32). Anger is a powerful emotion that needs to be handled with care (Eph. 4:26). When we allow anger to dictate our actions, it is easy to stumble and give place to the devil (Eph. 4:27).
There are injustices in the world that deserve a passionate response, but whenever we react with our emotions, we are responding in the old way of the flesh. To be spirit-led is to be slow to anger and not easily provoked.
for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
(a) The anger of man. When we’re angry we make bad decisions, say dumb things, and make other people angry. Anger is a legitimate emotion, but it is not a tool that God uses. The kingdom of God is built on peace and righteousness, not anger and wrath.
Yet some think anger is useful for getting people to repent. For this reason, angry preachers portray an angry God who is angry at you and your sin. But the God Jesus revealed is not like this. God reaches out to us in love, not anger. It is his kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
(b) The righteousness of God can be contrasted with manmade righteousness (see entry for Matt. 6:33). Our righteousness will never qualify us for the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20), but anyone, even the worst sinner, can receive the gift of God’s righteousness (see entry for Rom 5:17).
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) Putting aside all filthiness. We put aside the old life, and put on the new self which has been created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:22–24).
(b) Filthiness… wickedness. We lay aside anger, rage, malice, deceit, hypocrisy, enmity, hatred, drunkenness, immorality, bitterness, jealousy, envy, covetousness, slander, profanity, tantrums, etc. (e.g., Gal. 5:19–21, Eph. 4:31, Col. 3:8, 1 Pet. 2:1). All these things proceed from a selfish and unregenerate heart (Mark 7:20–23).
(c) Humility is the only attitude that can receive the grace of God (see entry for Jas. 4:6).
(d) To receive the word of truth is to believe in your heart the good news about Jesus (Rom. 10:9). It is not merely hearing about the grace of God, but receiving it by faith (2 Cor. 6:1, Heb. 4:2). It is working out, in your circumstances, the grace and power which God has provided (2 Pet. 1:3).
(e) The word implanted is analogous to the “seed sown” or the “message preached.” It’s the good news of Jesus Christ.
(f) Save your souls. The word which saves is not the Bible but the word of truth or the word of Christ (Jas. 1:18). It is Jesus, the Living Word revealed in the gospel of grace. See entry for Acts 4:31.
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
(a) Doers of the word. Do the work of God and believe in the One he sent (John 6:29).
To prove yourself a doer of the word is to live in total dependence on the grace of God. It’s refusing to rely on yourself and your righteousness and leaning wholly on Jesus, the word of truth (Jas. 1:18).
(b) 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.
(c) Delude themselves. Those who dismiss the gospel as irrelevant or unnecessary deceive themselves.
Many people consider themselves good or godly, but if they reject the word of truth they are living under a lie. They may believe in God, as the Jews did, and they may even have some kind of faith. But if their faith is unaccompanied by the “work” of believing in the One he sent, theirs is a dead and useless faith (Jas. 2:14).
Why do some harden their hearts to the word of truth? Sometimes it’s because they cannot accept that their good works and sacrifices count for nothing in the economy of grace. To hear that God justifies sinners makes them angry. When Paul proclaimed the gospel of grace in the synagogues, the religious Jews often turned on him (e.g., Acts 17:1–5, 18:4–6, 19:8–9). They were hearers of the word but not doers. They refused to accept his message.
To those who have heard the gospel but not responded to it in faith, James presents a clear call to action: Receive the word (see previous verse). In other words, draw near and submit to God (Jas. 4:8, 10). Humble yourself and receive his grace (Jas. 4:6).
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.
(a) Not a doer. They are not doing what the Lord asks. They are refusing to believe in the One he sent.
To be a doer of the word is to heed the call of God. The Lord says “Come” and we come (Matt. 11:28). The Lord says “Repent and believe the good news” and we repent and believe (Mark 1:15). The Lord says, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him” and we listen (Matt. 17:5).
(b) Mirror. To look in the mirror is to see your true state. When Jesus told the self-righteous Laodiceans that they were “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,” he was showing them their true condition (Rev. 3:17). In our natural state, we are all wretched and miserable, stained with sin and without hope. We all need grace.
(c) Forgotten. To look and forget is to take no action. It’s hearing the good news but doing nothing about it.
(d) What kind of person he was. Unless the Lord cleans us we remain dirty sinners (Jas. 4:8). Unless we make up our minds about God and receive from his abundant supply, we remain graceless and double-minded (Jas. 1:8, 4:8).
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 perfect law. The flawless and perfecting rule of Jesus Christ.
Look into the mirror of the old covenant law, and you will see all your flaws and imperfections. Use this mirror to make yourself clean, and you will not succeed, for the law makes nothing perfect (Heb. 7:19). But when you see what Christ has done – by one offering he has perfected those who are sanctified (Heb. 10:14) – you will discover that you are complete in him (Col. 2:10).
(b) The law of liberty is another name for the word of truth (Jas. 1:18) or the implanted word that can save you (Jas. 1:21). It is the Lord Jesus, the Living Word of God whose rule 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) when we yield to him.
Under the old covenant, people looked into the mirror of the law and saw their faults. But in the new covenant, we look to Jesus and see his glory. The old law demanded perfection but the law of liberty is perfect on your behalf. The Law of Moses bound people with heavy demands (Acts 15:10), but the law of liberty makes us free (John 8:36, Gal. 5:1).
(c) Abides by it. To abide means to dwell or rest in Jesus.
Under the old covenant, to abide by the law meant keeping all the rules. But in the new covenant, to abide in the law of liberty is to abide or dwell in Christ (1 John 4:15).
To abide in Christ is to rest in his love (John 15:9). It’s living with the complete dependence that a branch has for a vine and realizing that apart from him we can do nothing. The opposite of abiding is trusting in yourself, relying on your own efforts, and trying to make things happen. It’s striving in your own strength instead of looking to the Lord as your source and supply.
See entry for Abiding.
(d) An effectual doer is someone who puts their faith in Christ and draws divine life from their spiritual union with him (see entry for Jas. 1:22).
(e) Blessed. Those who trust in the Lord are blessed and fruitful, while those who rely on themselves are cursed and barren (Jer. 17:5–8).
One of the great lies of religion is that you will be blessed if you keep the rules. But those who rely on their law-keeping curse themselves (Gal. 3:10), because to live under the law is to live under a ministry of condemnation and death (2 Cor. 3:7, 9). Those who look into the law of liberty are blessed because their sins have been forgiven and all demands against them have been fully satisfied in Christ (Rom. 4:7–8). Those who abide in Christ are blessed with the blessings of Abraham (Gal. 3:9). Indeed, all the blessings of heaven are theirs (Eph. 1:3).
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.
(a) Religious. To be religious is to be in bondage. When Paul told the Athenians, “I see you are very religious,” he meant “I see that you are superstitious and worship a lot of idols” (see entry for Acts 17:22). He was saying they were in bondage. The Jews to whom this letter was addressed were not idol-worshippers, but they were the most religious people on earth. They were bound by the Law of Moses, the traditions of the elders, and their fear of divine punishment.
Further reading: “10 ways religion is bad for you”
(b) Does not bridle his tongue. Since no one can tame the tongue (Jas. 3:8), an untamed tongue proves that our attempts at self-improvement are futile.
(c) Deceives his own heart. He’s fooling himself.
(d) Religion, whether based on idols or rules, is no substitute for faith in the Risen Christ. Paul used the word “religion” to describe the ritualized worship of the Jews (Acts 26:5), and that is the same meaning that is implied here.
(e) Religion is worthless because it lacks the power to change the heart. The tongue is the proof. No religious person, no matter how well-intentioned, ever managed to tame their tongue. See entry for Jas. 3:8.
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 the poor and downtrodden. Don’t get so hung up on minor issues of ritual and ceremony that you neglect larger issues of mercy and justice (Matt. 23:23).
James is not trying to balance grace with works; he’s raising funds for starving widows and orphans. When James led the church in Jerusalem, Judea experienced a severe famine (see entry for Acts 11:28). Paul collected money from the Gentile churches for the starving saints in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1–4; 2 Cor. 8:1–7, 9:1–15; Rom. 15:14–32), while James challenged the scattered Jews to contribute as well.
Further reading: “Pure religion”
(b) Father. Like Jesus before him, James refers to God as our heavenly Father (Jas. 3:9).
Religious people tend to view God as a lawgiver and judge (Jas. 4:12). James writes so that we might know that God is our Father who delights to give us good gifts (Jas. 1:17). All the New Testament writers referred to God as Father (See entry for Matt. 5:16).
(c) Orphans. An orphan is someone who doesn’t know their father.
We are all lost orphans in need of a Father, and Jesus shows us the way (John 14:6). When Jesus told the disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18), he was referring to the revelation of God the Father that comes to us via the Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:6).
(d) Widows in distress. The religious Jews were obliged to help widows and orphans, but they exploited them. In doing so, they revealed their religion to be a worthless sham.
Under the old covenant, there were strong laws protecting widows (e.g., Ex. 22:22, Deu. 14:28–29, 16:10–11, 24:19–21, 26:12–13). These laws had teeth. If you neglected to care for widows, you could be punished with death making your wife a widow (Ex. 22:22–24). Yet instead of protecting widows, the law teachers of Jesus’ day exploited them (Luke 20:46–47). Instead of giving to widows, the religious leaders took money from them (Mark 12:41–42).
Then Jesus came along and made a point of helping widows. The first time he met a widow, he raised her son from the dead (Luke 7:12–14). He told a story about a widow who got no justice (Luke 18:2–8). Jesus championed widows and the church he built did likewise (e.g., Acts 6:1, 1 Tim. 5:3). The contrast was clear: the best religion in the world failed to help widows and orphans, but those who had been arrested by the love and grace of God became their defenders.
Further reading: “Is grace a license to be lazy?”
(e) Unstained. Unblemished and uncorrupted by the world.
James’ call for pure and undefiled religion should not be interpreted as a challenge to make yourself holy. Just as no one can tame the tongue (Jas. 3:8), no one can live unstained by the world. Only the blood of Jesus can wash us white as snow (1 John 1:7, Rev. 7:14).
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- James 1:1
- James 1:2
- James 1:3
- James 1:4
- James 1:5
- James 1:6
- James 1:7
- James 1:8
- James 1:9-10
- James 1:11
- James 1:12
- James 1:13
- James 1:14
- James 1:15
- James 1:16
- James 1:17
- James 1:18
- James 1:19
- James 1:20
- James 1:21
- James 1:22
- James 1:23-24
- James 1:25
- James 1:26
- James 1:27