In our study, we look at how our lives are changed by our faith in Jesus Christ. It is a practical manual for applying our faith to our daily lives. He was the head of the body of believers in Jerusalem which were mostly Jews. He continued to observe the Mosaic Law not to be saved but because he was saved and as a testimony to other Jews.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
We are introduced to the author here and the way he introduces himself has a great lesson in it. You see, he was the brother of Jesus and so he would have grown up in the same house with him yet that is not how James introduces himself. Instead, he introduces himself as a "servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ". To be more precise, he is a bondslave which has a deeper meaning. A bondslave is one whose sole purpose is to carry out the will of his master. He is bound until death; where other servants could be bought/sold a bondslave could not. A bondslave has only the will of the master in mind and does not even belong to himself or have any rights. That is hard for us to imagine today where it seems that all we hear about is some new kind of right. This letter is addressed to Jewish Christians who were living outside the area of Palestine. Many had left Jerusalem because of persecution and were experiencing the same thing in their new homes.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
What a hard teaching right out of the box! He tells us that we are to consider our struggles "pure joy" but he goes on to explain why and how. All of the trials and testing we go through in this life, as Christians, help us to grow to rely on God more and even to praise Him when times are tough. At first, it is really difficult but, the more you see how God gets you through things and how He even uses them to grow you, the easier it gets. That is growing and maturing in the faith and the goal is to become a bondslave just as James described himself. When we do, we will not lack anything because it is up to the master to provide for the needs of the bondslave. There is truly freedom in being a bondslave to God as we do not have to worry about anything anymore. One of the Hebrew names for God is El Hanne'eman which means "Faithful" and He always keeps His promises and will never forsake us.
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
Now, James refers to wisdom which is the knowledge of how to follow Christ in our daily lives. He reminds us that this wisdom comes from God through prayer and is not something that we can do on our own. The good news is that God "gives generously" when we ask for this wisdom.
But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
James goes on to explain that we are not to make a half-hearted plea to God for this wisdom (or anything else). We must believe that god is our Father and, as the perfect Father, He will provide all that is good for us if we ask.
That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
James is talking about the man who asks with doubt in his heart. We must understand that doubt is not from or of God but is a remnant of sin and the devil. All doubt is against God and either His love and willingness to take care of us or His power and ability to do so. Sometimes, we may doubt because we do not think that we deserve what we ask for but once again this is doubting God. In that case, we doubt His ability to forgive and forget our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. We have been given a gift to help us with this struggle and that gift is the Holy Spirit.
The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.
This passage may seem tough on those who have been blessed with money here on earth but there is a reason for it. James tells us what seems to be opposite of our world today where the rich are exalted as a big success story. Here, he tells us that the one in "humble circumstances" has a higher position and the reason is really simple. When you have less of riches, you look to God more and grow closer to Him. The rich are usually more reliant on themselves and their own efforts and their relationship with God tends to suffer. They, like the wild flower, tend to fade as they rely on God less and less.
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
Trials and testing will either drive you closer to the Lord or away from Him. Those who persevere (are driven closer) will be rewarded with a crown. Many have tried to claim that James is mixing works with salvation and our "earning our way to heaven" but he is not talking here of salvation as a reward. He is talking about the judgment of saints as we are told about in Revelation and that is a judgment of rewards (crowns) and not of salvation.
When tempted, no one should say 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
We have all probably tried to blame someone else for our sins at some point but, here, James gives us a clear picture of the truth about sin and temptation. We cannot blame God or anyone else for our sins because the "evil desire" is our own and the devil uses that desire to draw us away from God. But, the good news is that God is in control of all things and, if we draw close to God, He will help us to overcome.
Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
We are reminded here that God is the ultimate Father and He only wants what is good for us. Every good thing is from Him as He is the creator of all things. God does not change like "shifting shadows". A shadow changes based on the time of day and the position of the sun but God is the same in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and in us as Christians today. His love for us endures forever.
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
God gave us a new life through the word of truth that is Jesus Christ. (You may want to read the first verses of the Gospel of John as a reminder of just who Jesus is and how He is the Word.) Firstfruits were the first and best part of a crop. They were offered to God with thanksgiving and with an expectation of a great harvest. We, as Christians, are a kind of firstfruits and we are expecting the great harvest and the renewal of all of the earth.
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
Now, James gives us an example of faith in action and he wants us to remember this as he says "take note of this". We are to always listen and that means listening to others and what they are saying but it also is a reminder for us to slow down and listen to the Holy Spirit which lives inside of us. That will help us to do the other two (slow to speak and slow to anger). James reminds us that anger does not reflect the life that God wants for us. We must keep in mind though that this slow to anger does not mean that we sacrifice the truth of the Word of God. He says "slow to speak" which does not mean that you do not speak up when directed by the Holy Spirit. It simply means that we wait on the direction of our speech which comes from God.
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
This may seem that James is telling us to work for our salvation but, once again, that is not what he is saying. He is telling us that the word makes us aware of all of the moral filth and tells us how to overcome it. He is telling us to repent of our sins and turn to the Lord which is how we are saved.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
The Word of God is like a mirror to us; as we read it, the Holy Spirit shows us what it means and compares our lives to God's standards. When necessary, the Spirit will convict us of a need to change our attitudes or actions. Disobeying that prompting is as silly as a man walking away from a mirror and forgetting what he looks like.
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does.
Freedom given by the "perfect law"? Yes, that is true as the law of God is perfect and its purpose is to point us to the need for a savior. We are pointed to the freedom that is found through Jesus Christ and, through Him, we have salvation as He kept the law for us. But, James is telling us that, if we put God's law into practice in our lives (not for salvation but for the glory of God), we will be blessed in what we do. God is happy with obedience to His word!
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
The words religious and religion do not occur very much in the Bible. Most dictionaries will define it as a belief or practice so, in this context, the terms would mean that because of our belief in Jesus Christ we practice certain things. In short, we try to do as Jesus did and follow His example not to be saved from our sins but because He saved us from those sins. Here, James tells us that, if we profess to follow Jesus but let all kinds of talk come out of our mouths, we are deceiving ourselves. The good news is that we do not have to control the tongue on our own because Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit. If we listen to and obey the Spirit, we will have a tight rein on our tongues.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Faith itself is a gift of God but putting your faith into practice (religion) requires action on our part. Here, James reminds us that God has a special place in His heart for widows and orphans. Comforting them and helping with their physical needs is pure faith in action. The second part of that demonstration of faith is being in the world and caring for people (because all people are created in the image of God) but not being polluted by that same world. We are to let the love and light of Jesus that is in us out to change the world but we are to keep the ungodly things of this world out of our lives. Do you have a personal story of how someone has been that true reflection of Jesus in your life and helped you to get to know the Savior? You can share that story and help to build up the body of believers.