James is contributed as the author of this epistle but which James, for the New Testament is plenteous with men that bear this name. The debate, however, regarding authorship of this book centers around only two: James, the son of Zebedee and James the Lords brother. There are few that hold that James, the son of Zebedee is the author. This James, was martyred in A.D. 44 and he has not been widely accepted in church history as the author of this epistle. As well, the son of Zebedee is not known to have held a high enough position in the church that would qualify him in writing a book.
On the other hand James the Lord’s brother seems to have ample evidence for authorship. First of all James held a very high position in the church as recorded in Acts 15. Secondly, it appears that the language used by James in his speech in Acts 15 is very similar to that used in the epistle of James. Lastly, virtually every scholar believes that the book has a date after 45 AD. (After the death of James the son of Zebedee)
There is something to be said for the ambiguity of the identity of James. Although he is the Lord’s earthly brother he does not use this title to gain acclaim. He dubbed himself the “servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Perhaps he does not allude to himself as the brother of Christ out of fear of pride. He lowers himself to a servant, as to identify with the rest of humanity, as he exalts Christ as Lord. Here is a man who grew up with Jesus, lived beside him all of his life and observed him as no other person. His conclusion is echoed in the first verse of the book, that he is “the Lord Jesus Christ.” As if to say he is God, the promised Messiah, and our Savior. What a statement and conclusion from such an intimate observer of the life of Christ.
The book is dubbed as a “Catholic” book or general letter because there is a lack of specific recipient of the letter. The salutation reveals it was addressed to a Jewish audience. Some scholars date the book as early as 45 A.D., whereas other place the date as late as 65 A.D.
The book of James is largely concerned with applied Christianity. The author writes to an audience of believers. As such he does not explain justification by faith or the elements of salvation, but goes on to discuss how we are to live out our faith. He gives forth practical counsels such as use of speech, relationship between rich and poor, other social relationships, good works, prayer and wisdom.
As I have said earlier, James prizes the title, “servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” over the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is also careful to guard against earthly acclaim and the pride of vanity by reducing himself to a servant status. A word to us, our rightful place in the kingdom of God is as sons and servants and this is to be prized above all fleshly and worldly fame.
James is writing to the twelve tribes of Israel that are scattered abroad at this time. They are scattered as a result of judgement. Yet in their judgement God has piety on them and gives the brother of our Lord a heart to minister to the tribes; therefore, sends the Word to encourage them. Even in God’s judgment upon the tribes, his gospel is spread through their scattering. Now his apostle is writing to encourage their heart in distant lands.
As a matter of personal application maybe, through disobedience or not, you are scattered so to speak. Maybe homes are broken, health failing, or finances in ruins. Yet in a broken and scattered state God cares. In fact, he is sending his Word right now to encourage your heart.
Now we consider who is Israel? I do not disagree with the literal meaning of the text, that the epistle is directed to the Jewish people scattered abroad. I do hold to the position that God now is fulfilling his promise through the spiritual Israel, the church. We have taken the place of natural Israel and the promises are to Abraham’s seed, that is us through faith. (Galatians 3:29) Therefore, we should hold to the promises made to Abraham because of our faith in Christ. Likewise, this book has direct significant in our life.
Verse 2, 3, 4
Encouragement in trial
The writer begins his address by appealing to the “brethren”. That is to say only the redeemed, that are placed in the family of God, have claim to the following promises.
The trying of faith is first mentioned in his epistle because the enemy knows that faith is the foundation of our religion, he therefore makes it a point to attack faith. God, likewise places premium on faith. He therefore allows faith to be tried by the enemy. The trying of faith is more appropriately named, the proving of faith. Here lies the greatest battle of mankind in the proving of our faith. We should not think it strange and wonder why we are enduring trial, the holy writer here place priority in explaining that trial is the normal lot of the brethren.
Let me quickly make a distinction here in the word “temptation”. You will notice that verse 13, 14 also speak of temptation. The latter speaks of God not being the author of temptation. The former usage urges believers to rejoice in temptation. The distinction is this: the word temptation in verse 2-4 is the word, Peirasmos: a trial with a beneficial purpose or effect; they are divinely permitted or sent. (Vine 622) It has to do with a trial that is external. A good example of this would be Job. His trial was divinely permitted and was external in nature. The word for tempt in verse 13, 14 is, Peirazo: refers to temptation, or trial, arising from within, from uncontrolled appetites and from evil passions. (Vine 621) A good example would be Christ’s statement in Mark 7:20-23 regarding evil proceeding from the heart.
With that distinction in mind, James is stating that the temptations that are befalling the saints are divinely permitted, a proving tool, and will benefit the saint. In this knowledge we should count our trials all joy. Notice that even the best saints have to endure trial, especially persecution. (This was especially true of the early church, to whom James is writing.) Temptation, in this sense, is a characteristic of serving Christ and should be rejoiced in. The word “divers” simply means different or various trials. Some have perverted the teaching and hold that trouble is ungodly and only proves lack of faith. The Holy Scripture emphatically declare that the saints are to “rejoice in temptation.”
In order to produce fruits, that is many fruit, in the believer’s life, God allows one fruit (faith) to be tested. He says “the trying of faith produces patience” or endurance. One glance at the fruitful Christian and one will see a very tested Christian. Romans 5:1-5 is a beautiful parallel of this passage.
The end result of the trying of faith is Christian perfection. The word perfection as used in verse 4 is referring to, “maturity.” (Wycliff 1431) The trying of faith is to produce endurance resulting in Christian maturity. The author goes on to say that Christian maturity is a state in which we are satisfied, “wanting nothing.”
Prayer for wisdom, Wisdom in prayer
The context of this admonition says much. We are to pray, while under trial, not that God would take away the trial but that we would have wisdom through it. Wisdom that would cause us to make best use of trial and gain the most from it. The type of wisdom mentioned here is not theoretic knowledge, but practical insight. Insight regarding how to mature as a believer while undergoing trial.
James gives us several encouraging phrases in regard to our praying. First he gives the command to “ask of God.” To support this command and add fire to our asking he goes on to say, that God “giveth to all men…” What a promise, not only does he give to some, but he gives to all. Regardless of age, race, status, etc…, God will give to a sincere seeker. He does not stop there he says he “giveth to all men liberally.”
Some scholars believe the word, liberally, as used here has two thoughts in mind: first is in a logical sense meaning in an unconditional and simple manner. The other usage is in a moral sense meaning, generously. Hort says: “Later writers comprehend under the one word the whole magnanimous and honorable type of character in which singleness of mind is the central feature.” (Vine 366)
In other words, God will unconditionally and simply give to those who ask and he gives as a result of his generous moral character. Here is married two great truths about God. The first is that he binds himself to his word, that he will give to those who ask in faith. Its a reasonable and logical action based upon covenant. This covenant being with Jesus Christ and his work of atonement as the basis. The second truth is that God’s character is generous. He gives to us because he is a loving, kind, merciful, father who gives generously. So we have access to answered prayers on two basis: God legally hearing and answering prayer because of the work of the Cross, and secondly, because God’s nature is so kind, generous and gracious that he will give unto us liberally.
The last thought is that he “upbraideth not.” This means there is no reproach, no chiding for those who pray to him. Ask as often as you will, as heartbroken as you are, in as much temptation as you can be, as simply as you can, and he will in no wise despise your prayer. His ears drink in all your hurt, frustration, anger and confusion. He will not reproach you in your sincere praying to him.
The condition of prayer
Hear the Word of the Lord as it regards answered prayer: “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering…”
How simple, yet how powerful a statement given here. If we need wisdom, ask in faith; need healing or blessing, or salvation, or a miracle…ask in faith.
The problem lies in this: how can we ask in faith and not doubt God? Do we work ourselves up into a frenzy and ask in the height of soulish emotion? Do we practice the art of positive confession, dispelling all doubt by the power of mental ability? The key of asking in faith is in the quality of the petition. In other words, is our request pleasing to God? If it is, then we know our request will be heard and answered. In light of this, our petition must be the Word of God. When we use promises in the Word of God in prayer, we know it is the will of God. We have confidence in out prayer that we want what God wants and so we can ask in complete faith, nothing doubting.
A wavering man is here compare to a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. Just as the waves are driven by the wind into a surge then collapse, dissolving into nothing, so is the vacillating man. He starts in full assurance, swelling in confidence, then when trial comes, his trust crashes back down into unbelief. He swells then staggers, believing one moment, then doubting the next. The scripture is plain in saying that man will not receive anything of the Lord.
The final admonition regarding prayer has to do with the practical effects upon a believer’s everyday life. Scripture makes it clear the double minded man is unstable in “all his ways.” I take this phrase to mean that the entire character of the man is waverly. As such he is regarded as “weak as water”.
Verse 9, 10, and 11 are a continuation of the thought of Christian trials.
Here James picks up with his thought on Christian trials from verse 4. He instructs two different classes regarding how they should posture themselves during trials. The first class are the poor Christian.
To the poor he writes: “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted.”
James encourages the poor by saying firstly that they are our, brother. This means that he has been born again and that he is joint heir with us in the family of God.
The words, of low degree, simply means he is of humble circumstance. According to the context of the statement he is most likely referring to economic status. Even today there are many, if not the majority of believers are of humble circumstance. This has almost always been a characteristic of the true believer. In a careful study of Genesis chapter 4 and 5, one can see how that Cain’s seed seemed to flourish through the earth. On the contrary, Adam’s righteous seed appeared to be humble in their circumstance. So it was with the nation of Israel in Egypt, David the lowly shepherd, and even our Lord Jesus sprang from humble circumstances. (Isaiah 53:2)
The poor Christian must not think his poverty is a reflection of his spiritual state. The scriptures clearly set forth the two have no correlation. In fact, the writer encourages the poor brother to rejoice in view that he is elevated to a state of spiritual wealth in Christ. The brother’s exaltation is a spiritual one. If it was not he would not have added the warning against the rich in the next verse. The same sentiment is echoed to the church of Smyra in Revelation 2:9, “I know…thy poverty (but thou art rich).” The nature of the exaltation is described in detail in Ephesians chapter 1 and 2. In short the wealth consist of partakers of the covenant of redemption through Christ. Also the redemption of the entire person from the grip of darkness and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that causes the person to keep the Lord’s commandments. This is riches of grace that we have in Jesus Christ.
A second possible meaning to the phrase, “he is exalted.” James may be referring to the trials the lowly brother is experiencing. The trial is actually called a place of exaltation. This is a paradox to be sure, but such is scripture. The aforementioned spiritual benefits produced by external trial is considered to be a place of exaltation. No wonder we are encouraged to rejoice in the Lord no matter our situation.
A practical word here: I understand that the economic times are taxing on everyone. I believe that God has purposely allowed the economic fall of nations to further his own cause. He is more concerned with the wealth of our spirit than the wealth in our pockets. It is during trials, specifically economic trials, that God is causing believers to trust in him like never before. His purpose is for us to turn to him in faith so he can supernaturally sustain us, thus getting multiplied glory in his provision of his people.
He now gives a word to the rich: but of the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. First, we have no reason to believe he is not referring to the wealthy Christian community. So then, there is no condemnation to the believer that is wealthy. All are welcome to partake of Christ. Secondly, the wealthy are encouraged to rejoice as well. This rejoicing is on account that he has been made to realize the deceitfulness of riches and how they are so temporal. The next verse (11) explains the temporary nature of riches.
Whenever there is a description of the truth stated, special attention should be placed upon the saying. Again the truth is that riches are fleeting. The picture goes like this: The grass is lush and green wet with dew early in the morning. Before long the sun arises and the wind blows across Palestinian plain. The grass is soon scorched, turns brown, and the flowers fall off. This event happens in the course of a day! The writer compares the riches to the glory of the grass and should not be trusted.
Attack on God’s Character
Again I must revisit a thought I have stated in verse 2 of this chapter. The word for tempted here is different than in previous verses, therefore, a different idea is discussed. The distinction is this: the word temptation in verse 2-4 is the word, Peirasmos: a trial with a beneficial purpose or effect; they are divinely permitted or sent. (Vine 622) It has to do with a trial that is external. A good example of this would be Job. His trial was divinely permitted and was external in nature. The word for tempt in verse 13, 14 is, Peirazo: refers to temptation, or trial, arising from within, from uncontrolled appetites and from evil passions. (Vine 621) A good example would be Christ’s statement in Mark 7:20-23 regarding evil proceeding from the heart. It is the latter thought we are discussing at this time.
James is talking about the evil inner passions that war against us. Some call it the sin nature, or the flesh. It is the inclinations of our heart that gravitate toward evil and disobeying the Law of God. The fall of man is so corrupting that his will is in bondage to evil desire. Some then, are saying that God must have created them with these unholy desires already in their heart. James, here states an axiom that God is, unequivocally, exonerated from the evil that resides in the heart of man and therefore evil in general. Man’s evil comes from his own passions.
Here we have a great theodicy, that is the justification of God for the presence of an imperfect universe. There have been many that have attempted to solve the problem of the origin of evil I will not take the time to consider the many Theodicies. I will say that the scripture makes certain axioms about the problem that we must take and allow the mysteries to be solved another time. The truths are that, God is Holy and does not tempt men to evil. The second is that evil is committed by the choice of men. The third is that God has provided redemption from evil, through Jesus Christ. Next, all sin will be judged, and man will be held accountable for his sin. Lastly, those in Christ will live forever in a Holy state with God.
Verse 14, 15
Here the writer explains that our temptation comes from within. “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust…” The root of the matter lies with the evilness of our own heart. The heart is carried away and enticed. Adam’s sin passed upon all of us the concept of original sin. The classic meaning of this idea (the one I support) is that humans have no power to save themselves. Our will is so fallen that we have no power to save ourselves.
Scripture goes on to say that sin is produced. Sin is a transgression of the law of God. Sin is much more than the outward breaking of the law of God, but also consists of the inward motivations and positions of the heart. It is possible for a person to go through the motions of keeping the law, yet sin in their heart through corrupt motivation. In other words their motive for doing good is out of fear, greed and self serving. The motive then nullifies the good work, resulting in sin.
The text goes on to say that “when sin is finished, bringeth forth death.” A word here: the result of sin is natural and spiritual death. Spiritual death being separation from God and his graces. Natural death being when our bodies cease to function. The scripture also mentions the “second death.” (Revelation ?) This being the final state of the unbeliever where they are in Hell separated from God, and enduring punishment for all eternity. What a terrible, hopeless, and pathetic lot for lost humanity. I want to draw attention to the phrase, “when sin is finished.” The word finished, is the word apoteleo: “to perfect, bring to maturity, to become full grown.” The connotation is that the life of sin has a maturation period before death occurs. To be sure we are all dead spiritually when we are conceived. We need the new birth of St. John 3. It is this maturation period of sin that I would like to address.
Many live in sin, and appear to prosper in this life. This is seems to be a point of righteous frustration. The Psalmsist bemoans this point when he says, “for I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Psalm 73:3) It is important to note that because the wicked may not receive swift punishment, does not mean they will not receive sure punishment. In fact, many grow numb and arrogant because God does not punish them in their sin. They feel that God’s delay of punishment is God’s absence of judgement. Blindly they carry on, heaping to themselves judgement. They add to the wrath of God, like waters are backed up at a dam. And like a weakened dam that suddenly burst forth with all the wrath of the waiting waters, so the wrath of God will be unleashed upon the wicked in a moment of time.
Rightly the author adds the admonition at the conclusion of the line of thoughts: Do not err, my beloved brethren. Do not err in God’s allowing trials, do not err in prayer, do not err in your concept of God and do not err in understanding sin.
God ‘s True Character
The author now contrast the true character of God with the false perception of God in regard to trials v. 3, and temptation v. 13. He says that “every good and perfect gift comes down from above…” Some believe that James is contrasting the result of the trials in verse 4, with the result of sin in verse 15.
What is the good and perfect gifts that the author is talking about? The answer is connected to the title the author gives to God as the Father of Lights. This a title that highlights God as the creator, specifically the creator of luminaries such as the sun, moon and stars. God is a God of light, of illumination. Without the light of the sun, moon, and stars we would live in darkness and common graces would not be seen. A spiritual illumination is view here. Henry says, ‘he gives the light of reason, the light of learning. The light of divine Revelation is more immediately from above.” (Henry. 1931) The good gifts from God is understanding, specifically an understanding of God. For when we clearly see God, we can clearly see ourselves and the world around us. We know what is important in life. We understand what is right and wrong. We know how to please God with our life. Most importantly we have an understanding or illumination of the Gospel and our response to it. These are the greatest gifts he could give us.
The phrase, “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,”has mixed interpretations. Wuest translates the verse, “with whom there can be no variableness nor shadow which is cast by the motion of turning (such as that cast by the movements of heavenly bodies)”. Nonetheless, the meaning is certain: God does not change, he is consistent in person. He is the same during our testing, and during our triumphs. He does not shine more brightly on the rich than he does the poor.
With verse 18, James sets forth his final thought on God’s character. The verse is boke into three parts: God’s will, God’s word, God’s wisdom.
The first deals with God’s will. It was God’s will that begat us into his kingdom. The fountain of all graces lies in the very heart of God. It was God’s love toward us that caused our redemption. Redemption’s plan is not because of our worth but because of God’s will. Note that the angels that fell from Heaven did not have a plan of redemption. The door of their fate slammed shut immediately after their fall. Yet glory of all glories that God would love us so, that he wanted to redeem us.
The next part deals with God’s Word. He begat he us with his word of truth. What does this mean? Let me be very clear in my statements here. I believe that the proclamation of scripture is a Means of Grace. By this I mean that God’s grace to convert the sinner lies in the Gospel. The Gospel is the message that God is redeeming the world to himself through Jesus Christ. It is the message of Justification by faith in Christ alone. Any other doctrine is not the Gospel, and does not convert the sinner. Even if a message is taken from the Bible does not make it the Gospel. Let me explain. The Bible is a book that contains moral imperatives, but its purpose it not to be a book of morals. The Bible is a book that contains prophecy, but its purpose is not purely prophetic. The Bible is a book that contains history, but is not just a history book. See where I am going. What is the Bible’s message? The Bible’s purpose is to proclaim the history of redemption through Jesus Christ. So when one simply proclaims a moral truth and does not place it in the context of redemptive history, the Gospel is not preached. A message devoid of Christ, is a powerless message and cannot begat anyone into God’s kingdom. The word of truth is the Gospel message of God’s redemption through Christ and this is the power of God that gives the new birth.
The last part of the verse deals with God’s wisdom. It is the wisdom of God in salvation. A result of God’s wisdom in redeeming us is that we may be a first fruits. This means that those early Christians that are begotten by the word of truth are the first of many to follow.
Reception of the Word and Moral Requirements
Verse 19 begins with the very important phrase, “Wherefore”. This is a connecting word that connects the previous doctrine of verses 13-18 to the moral requirements of verse 19-27. Doctrine should always preface moral requirements. The New Testament is replete in examples of this method. Notice the doctrine section of Romans chapter 1-11 followed by the practical admonitions of chapter 12-16. The power of the doctrine of Christ gives us power to keep the moralities of scripture.
Here James encourages the brethren to deal with wrath above all other vices. Wrath is a quick destructive fire that is easily ignited. The moral destruction that is done in a moment of wrath is staggering. Murder, slander, hate, and many other sins have their origin in human wrath. James preaches to avoid this work of the flesh in this manner:
Swift to hear: James instructs the believer to place priority upon listening before reacting. There is an art to listening. One should employ empathy in listening. We should listen with feeling, that is to put ourselves in the other persons place to better understand their argument. Next we should listen with completeness. That is to give our complete attention to the other person’s conversation. Many times we do not hear the person out, but formulate in our mind our response even before their statements are concluded! This leads to misconceptions about what the person is truly saying. A good technique is to repeat back to the person what you think they are trying to say for clarity sake.
Slow to speak: As mentioned above, our rebuttal often encroaches upon the person’s argument. If we were as eager to hear a point of view as we are to give a point of view, many misunderstandings would be forgone. The example would be out Lord, when he opened not his mouth in front of his accusers.
Slow to wrath: This is the result of the above interventions. The author commands us to manage our anger levels in a responsible way. The current imperative, may be directly correlated with the accusations brought against God in the previous verses. These angry believers were blaming God for inward temptations and ignorant regarding outward trials. James has very wise counsel for them, “be slow to speak, quick to hear, slow to wrath.”
Verse 20, “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God,”gives the reason why our anger is to be monitored. The angry Christian cannot produce righteous actions. Wrath is always dreadful to bring to a religious debate. Wrath produces actions contrary to the purposes of God.
Verse 21 goes on to say, “wherefore, lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness…” In addition to the wrath previously mentioned these Christians are to set aside more immoral conditions. The word, filthiness, denotes moral defilement. Moulton states that the word is often used of a counterfeit coin. (Irwin 547) The word, superfluity, means abundance. The word naughtiness means wickedness. These Christians are bringing an abundance of moral defilement and wickedness to their profession. James is commanding them to lay these works aside.
When a person is born again, there is still much inconsistency with his life as a believer. It is an ongoing process of lying down the old life and putting on the Christ-like life. One should not be discouraged if they have vices that cause them to stumble. Yet, one should not hesitate in repenting of immorality and turning every area of life to the rule of God.
The middle part of the verse, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, is difficult. We will deal with the first part. The first portion of the phrase notes how we should receive the Word of God–with meekness. This concept is completely opposite of the previously mentioned haughtiness and wickedness. Meekness, denotes humility and a repentant heart. The scriptures are clear regarding the position of the heart having an effect upon the reception of the Word. Matthew 5:8 states, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This has to do with an inclination unto moral purity that is rewarded by insight into spiritual truths. Morris says this, “Religious knowledge without moral qualification would be dangerous. It may even be impossible.” (Morris 101) This moral qualification does not arise from the will or skill of man, but is a result of spiritual renewal or the new birth of John 3:3. Actually we have a reference to spiritual/moral quickening in this verse, the engrafted word.
The engrafted word, has reference to a vineyard. The analogy is this: that the meek soul is the best ground to plant the Word of God. The word engraft has several implications for the Word of God. First, the engrafted word is living. Second, the engrafted word will bind to the host. Thirdly, the engrafted word will produce fruit. And lastly, the engrafted word produces after its nature.
Practically, this means that the Word of God is alive, and it is the vessel of God’s Grace. As such we should not view the Holy Scriptures as empty words, but words full of life and ability. The second thought is that the Word will bind to the host. That is to say the ministry of scriptures is like a seed taking root in the heart. The quickening power of the Word attaches to the person’s mind and works in connection with the will or heart of man. Lastly, the scriptures will produce fruit in a person’s life. The thought here is that there will be a definite moral change in the person’s life that has been quickened by the Word. By engrafting the Word into the soul, the subsequent fruit of the soul is not from the nature of the corrupt natural stock but of the engrafted stock. Therefore, the fruit is from the engrafted word and not from the naturally corrupt man. Man is passive in this sense of the verse.
The active part of the verse, is receiving the word. See the difficulty here. In one sense we have man as passive with the living word engrafted in him making him alive. In another sense we have man as active and told to receive this word. Dr. John Piper had an excellent analogy of this paradox. Think of oxygen. When this substance enters in, it explodes life. The heart, lungs, blood, muscles, all exhibit life upon the entrance of oxygen. The body is dormant and dead without the presence of oxygen. However, the thing that causes life (oxygen) also produces the ability to receive more of that thing. When one has oxygen and lives, they also, as an ongoing process, keep receiving oxygen. This “breathing” or continual receiving of oxygen is a result of the presence of oxygen in the body that causes it to live. Likewise, the presence of the living word that causes life to the spiritually dead, causes the spirit to have the ability to receive the word. In fact, there is a hunger to receive more of the word, just as the body hungers after oxygen.
The last part of verse 21, which is able to save your souls, has reference to the power of the Word of God as a means of his grace. I have discussed this thought in the previous paragraph.
I dare not skip over this important thought. God is offering the salvation of mankind through the presentation of Christ in the Word of God. Christ as preached in the Word of God is able to save the soul of man and this is the central message of the scripture. We should protect this great truth and always, in our proclamation of scripture, understand the message and power of the Word of God.
The flow is the text may have additional insight. That is the wrath/anger of man is result of frustrating self efforts toward righteousness. Man has natural frustrations that are universal in scope. This is the fruit of the fallen nature. So all have this anger/wrath pent up inside of them because of a lack of moral ability. The remedy is the engrafted word, which is Christ presented in the Gospel, which is able to save the soul. Saving the soul is first justification and peace through justification. Then a real ability to heal the condition and truly turn one toward righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit. This radical change in position and condition is the remedy for the wrath on man.
Doers of the Word
These next few verse give the book of James it character. The intent of the book is captured in these verses as well as in chapter 2 verse 17-26. The book concerns itself with the substance of faith or the practical outshoots of one’s belief.
In order to build upon the foundation of hearing the Word, the believer is commanded to practice what the word says. There is a twofold benefit of being a doer of the Word. First, by practicing what the Word says, we add a layer of substance to our knowledge of God. As I have stated before, moral purity is rewarded by spiritual insight. God is only half known in the head, but He must be experienced by adherence to his will. Secondly, our faith is proven. The outshoots of genuine faith is the doing of God’s will. A profession of faith is hollow, and suspect at best, if obedience to the Word is absent. This is stated in the last part of the verse that says, deceiving his own self.
Self deception is one of the most dangerous types. The believer that is only a hearer is classified as being self-deceived. Self-deception leads to no introspection. One does not realize there are any problems to correct and repentance is absent in the believer’s life.
The truth James is declaring is so important that an illustration is given so the idea is further absorbed.
Verse 23 -25 gives this illustration. The illustration of the hearer of the Word is of a man looking at his natural face in a glass or mirror. After a time he goes his way, and he thus forgets what he looked like. The mirror is the Word of God. We can look into the scripture and it will reflect our true nature just as a mirror reflects our outward appearance. If we continue to peer into the scripture we can take action and purify our heart and life. Those that don’t continue in the study of scripture forget about their faults and vices. Repentance has not taken place in their life and therefore they remain unchanged.
Verse 25 But whoso lookth into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therin, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
James continues his thought regarding the word of God. This verse is an expression of the Gospel as opposed to the law. The previous verse taught that the Word, like a mirror, revealed the faults of the outward man. This is the primary work of the law. Now we have the perfect law of Liberty, or Gospel of Jesus Christ. James calls the Gospel this because the Gospel is the perfection of the Law. The gospel is also a Law of Liberty. This means that only through the Gospel is there liberty. Liberty meaning the ability to choose righteously from the heart, not from fear. The Gospel is God’s power to liberate man from sin’s bondage. Therefore, with this premise in mind, now hear the ethical part of the verse.
The believer is urged is to continue therin. This means the believer is to eagerly and consistently be mindful of the Gospel. There is an ethical requirement to the Gospel as well. The ethical command, just like the Law, is to live righteously in this present world. The power to live out this ethic is provided by the Gospel. The motive and passion for the ethic is given by the Gospel. The blessedness that James is talking about is the spiritual state of those that live the Gospel ethic under the Gospel power with the Gospel motivation. This is true spirituality.
Important ethical commands concerning the tongue and visiting those in affliction
(True vs. False Religion)
Wycliffe gives an interesting thought to the subject. The context is that of religious ceremony compared to religious service. The service is more telling of a person’s faith that the observance to ceremony. (Wycliffe 1432) The author has moved from a very general statement of hearing compared to doing to a more specific statement in saying the worship of God in doing ethics is more important than religious ceremony. Religious ceremony being attending worship, prayers, fasting, etc.
James now gives important ethical instruction. The first has to do with the use of the tongue. If any man amoung you seem to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, but decieveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. The test of true religion is how a believer manages his conversation. If a person’s speech is habitually vulgar, angry, and full of lies, then this cast doubt on their profession of religion.
Here again we have self deception in view. James places a double warning against self deception. Finding the position of our heart is to examine the language on our lips. If our language is corrupt, it is good proof our spirituality is vain or empty. It is to note, that the habitual conversation is in view here; what a person is communicating the majority of the time. Allowance should be made for stray words that are not consistent with our character.
The idea of pure religion is defined here. Pure religion’s internal aspect was how one viewed God. Pure religion’s external aspect is how we serve God. Our service was generally thought to consist in the observance of ritual and ceremony. James is addressing the latter here (pure religions external aspect). James is saying pure religion’s external focus should be on good works, rather than ceremony. Pure religion is stated: “To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction…” The widows and orphans were not generally cared for in ancient cultures. They, therefore, represented a pressing need the church could immediately apply herself in helping. The author is only giving an example of many needs that can be addressed by the believer. The orphans and widows are not meant to represent the entire ministry of true religion.
Pure religion is also, “…to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Here adds another aspect to religion’s external requirement. True piety is found in purity from the world. The world, here is meant to represent the pagan society, bankrupt of morality and Godly knowledge. Association with the world leads to conformity. Conformity leads to practice and thus defilement.
These two aspects, charity and purity, make up pure religion that is undefiled in the sight of God.