James 1 - Outline of James (MENU page)
WRITER: James, called "the Just," mentioned by Paul with Cephas and John as "pillars" in the church at Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). He seems to have been, as a religious man, austere, legal, ceremonial (Acts 21:18-24).
Very few men named James are mentioned in the NT.
  1. James the son of Zebedee, an apostle (Mat 10:2), who was killed by Herod (Acts 12:1,2, c. 42AD).
  2. James 'the less' (ie., of shorter stature than the son of Zebedee, above), the son of Alphaeus and Mary (sister of Mary the mother of Jesus), and brother of Joses (Mark 15:40; cp. Joh 19:25, where Cleopas is another name for Alphaeus). This James was a cousin of Jesus, and also an apostle. (See Mat 10:3. It has been conjectured that "Lebbaeus whose surname was Thaddaeus" is the "Judas brother of James" in Luk 6:16).
    'James the less' is traditionally considered the author of the epistle by his name.
  3. James, a 'brother' of Jesus, Joses, Juda and Simon (Mat 13:55; Mark 6:3; cp. Gal 1:19). This James could be a brother to Jesus, or the above mentioned cousin of Jesus. (According to Hebrew custom, a cousin could be called a brother.)
DATE: Tradition fixes the martyrdom of James in the year 62 AD, but his Epistle shows no trace of the larger revelations concerning the church and the distinctive doctrines of grace made through the Apostle Paul, nor even of the discussion concerning the relation of Gentile converts to the law of Moses, which culminated in the first church council, over which James presided (Acts 15:13-21). This presumes the very early date of James, which may confidently be set down as "the first Epistle to Christians."--Weston.
THEME: By "the twelve tribes scattered abroad" we are to understand, not Jews, but Christian Jews of the historic Diaspora (Deu 4:23-27; Acts 2:5-11) and, also, of the dispersion due to persecution (Acts 8:3,4, c. 34 AD). The church began with such Christian Jews, and James, who seems not to have left Jerusalem, would feel a particular pastoral responsibility for these scattered sheep. They still resorted to the synagogues, or called their own assemblies by that name (James 2:2, where "assembly" is "synagogue" in the Greek.). It appears, from James 2:1-8, that they still held the synagogue courts for the trial of causes arising amongst themselves. The Epistle, then, is elementary in the extreme. To suppose that James 2:14-26 is an argument against Paul's doctrine of "justification by faith" is absurd. Neither Galatians nor Romans was yet written.
James' theme, then, is "religion" (Gr., threskeia, "outward religious service") as the expression and proof of faith. He does not exalt works as against faith, but faith as producing works. His style is that of the Wisdom-books of the O.T.
The divisions are five:
I. The testing of faith, 1:1-2:26.
II. The reality of faith tested by the tongue, 3:1-18.
III. The rebuke of worldliness, 4:1-17.
IV. The rich warned, 5:1-6.
V. Hortatory (exhortative), 5:7-20.
[The above Introduction was adapted from the Scofield Reference Bible, pub. 1917.]
I. The Testings of Faith (1:1- 2:26)
1. The purpose of testings. 1:1-12
1. James, a servant {GK=doulos, bond-slave} of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
2. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers
{various} temptations;
3 Knowing [this], that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
4 But let patience have [her] perfect work,
that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
In addressing 'my brethren,' James is thinking, first, of his Jewish 'kinsmen according to the flesh' (v.1; cp. Rom 9:3,4), who, like him, have come to faith in Christ.
However, his letter applies to everyone who holds "the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jam 2:1).
He writes concerning the temptations {GK=peirasmos, a putting to proof, testing, trial},
which his readers were experiencing, primarily through various forms of persecution (cp. Acts 8:3,4; Heb 11:36-38; 2Pet 2:9). But recognizing that such trials would be the continuing experience of believers, he anticipates future testings. His counsel concerning persecution was applicable, not 'if...', but 'when ye...' (eg., 2Tim 3:12).
...count it all joy when ye 'fall into' {GK=peripipto, to fall into and be surrounded by} divers temptations...
Believers, in the midst of persecution, not only can know the comfort of the Lord's presence (2Cor 1:3,4), but also should consider their trials to be "all joy" (eg., v.12; Mat 5:10-12; Rom 8:17,18; 1Pet 1:6-8; 4:13,14). However, our joy, in trials, is not only in anticipation of future glory, but also in the realization of present spiritual growth.
...knowing... that the trying {GK=dokimion, proof testing} of your faith worketh patience {ie., endurance}.
Through the stress and heat of our trials, God forms His characteristics within His children (eg., Rom 5:3-5; 2Cor 12:9,10). His work will eventually be finished.
But let patience have [her] perfect work...
It is not for us to rush the process. cp. Jam 5:7-11; Psa 37:7
that ye may be perfect {GK=teleios, complete}
and entire {GK=holokleros, whole, complete in every part} , wanting {lacking} nothing.
cp. 2Pet 1:9 and context (2Pet 1:3-9)
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God,
that giveth to all [men] liberally
{generously}, and upbraideth not;
and it shall be given him.
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.
For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
8 A double minded man [is] unstable in all his ways.
If any of you lack wisdom {GK=sophia}, let him ask of God...
The unbeliever lacks true wisdom, because he does not know God (Prov 9:10).
     The believer, having entered into "the beginning of wisdom," will lack the fulness of God's wisdom, until he is made complete (v.4). Though believers are no longer 'of this world,' we remain 'in the world' and our minds have been steeped in the 'wisdom of the world,' which is contrary to God and His ways (1Cor 1:18-25; cf. Jam 3:13-17). The wisdom which is from God, is found in knowing our Lord Jesus Christ (1Cor 1:30), through the knowledge of His Word as progressively opened to us by the Holy Spirit (1Cor 2:12-16).
     If you truly ask God for His wisdom, which is "the mind of Christ" on any matter, He will not rebuke or reproach you for asking. v.17; Mat 7:7-11; 1Joh 5:14,15
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering... (Mark 11:24)
For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Similar words are applied, elsewhere, to those who are susceptible to unbelief and false doctrine. eg., Eph 4:14; Jude 1:12,13
...let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. (cp. Jam 4:3)
A double minded {GK=dipsuchos, lit., two-souled, vacillating} man [is] unstable in all his ways.
God does not give His wisdom to individuals who will not follow His way. cp. 1Kin 18:21; Prov 3:5,6; Mat 6:22-24; Joh 7:17
9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:
10 But the rich, in that he is made low:
because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.
11 For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat,
but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth,
and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth:
so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
12 Blessed [is] the man that endureth temptation:
for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life,
which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
As someone has said: "The ground is level at the foot of the cross."
Regardless of their background, brothers in Christ enter God's family on the same basis (Joh 1:12,13; 1Cor 12:13), and enjoy the same inheritance which belongs to all of God's children, as heirs together with Christ (Rom 8:16,17).
  • The brother of low degree {lit., in humiliation} is elevated to sonship.
    While the humble person may possess little of worldly goods, it is his sense of humiliation before God which leads to true treasure. cp. Mat 5:3,6; 1Joh 3:1-3
  • The brother with riches must also know humiliation (before he can be elevated to sonship).
    The rich person may abound with money, possessions, or religious merit. However, the realization, that before God, he is and has nothing, causes a man to humble himself and plead for mercy. cp. Psa 49:2,6-14; Luke 12:21; 18:10-14; Php 3:7-9
...because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away... (v.10,11)
The things of earth are temporary and of passing value. Psa 103:15,16; 1Pet 1:23-25
Both the poor brother and the rich brother can rejoice {make their boast} in Christ, for though their earthly life and possessions will soon pass away, the Lord has humbled them both before the Savior, in order to lift them up into His glory (Eph 2:4-6).
Blessed [is] the man that endureth temptation... he shall receive the crown of life... (v.12)
Trials of every kind can be beneficial blessings to enhance the believer's spiritual growth, for they cause us to draw nearer to the Lord. cp. Rom 5:2-5; 8:28; 1Cor 2:9
     Persecution affects believers regardless of their station in life. When driven from their homes and lands, wealthy brothers may suffer greater loss than poor brothers. The threat of martyrdom may affect great and small equally. The Lord rewards His own according to their faithfulness to Him.
     "The crown of Life" is for believers who remain faithful under persecution, because they love the Lord more than life (a characteristic of all true believers). Rev 2:10; Mark 8:34-38; 10:29,30
I. The Testings of Faith (1:1- 2:26)
2. Solicitation to do evil is not of God. 1:13-21
13. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God:
for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin:
and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God...
While the primary sense of the GK word for 'tempt' is 'to put to a test, to prove' (as in the discussion about the trials of persecution, in v.1-12 above), a secondary sense is 'to entice (or, to solicit) sinful activity.'
     The holiness of God sets Him apart from all that is evil or defiling. All who are in fellowship with Him must also be holy. Because wickedness is the antithesis of His very nature, He cannot and will not entice anyone to defile themselves or others. 1Pet 1:15,16
     Note: "James 1:13-15 seems to contradict other statements of Scripture in two respects, saying (a) that 'God cannot be tempted with evil,' and (b) that 'He Himself tempteth no man.' But God tempted, or tried, Abraham, Heb 11:17, and the Israelites tempted, or tried, God, 1Cor 10:9. However, Jam 1:14 makes it plain that, whereas in these cases the temptation or trial, came from without, James refers to temptation, or trial, arising within, from uncontrolled appetites and from evil passions, cp. Mark 7:20-23. But though such temptation does not proceed from God, yet does God regard His people while they endure it, and by it tests and approves them."
[in quotes: from Notes on Thessalonians, by Hogg and Vine, p. 97, as quoted in Vine's Dictionary]
...every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
Temptation to sin arises from our own fleshly desires (Mark 7:21-23), which Satan seductively seeks to arouse and enflame (eg., Gen 3:1-6; Mat 4:1). Notice the process:
...when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth {gives birth to} sin:
and sin, when it is finished {full grown, complete}, bringeth forth death.
Death is the separation of the living from the dead. Sin separates the sinner from the Giver of Life. But Christ has conquered sin and death, for those who are in Him (Rom 6:23). He also enables His own to escape from the process, by which misdirected desire produces sinful actions (1Cor 10:13).
     The believer, who falls into sin, remains a child of God, but his sin separates him from fellowship with his heavenly Father. The Lord has graciously provided the way to deal with incidental sin, so that fellowship with the Father can be restored (1Joh 1:3-10).
16 Do not err {Do not be led astray}, my beloved brethren.
Do not follow fleshly lusts and satanic deceptions, in pursuit of poison fruit (v.14,15).
17 Every good gift {lit., all beneficial giving} and every perfect gift is from above,
and cometh down from the Father of lights,
with whom is no variableness
{GK=parallage, change of position},
God's gifts are always good, because He is always good (Mat 7:11; 2Cor 4:6).
As the Creator, He set the planets in motion in their orbits. But He, being outside of His creation, is changeless (Heb 1:10-13; 13:8), and His Word is constant and sure (Mat 24:35).
neither shadow of turning {a shadow cast by a moving object}.
Furthermore, God's purposes can never be obscured or darkened, by any created entity (though it moves with violent intent). (eg., Isa 14:12-14,24).
18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, {Joh 1:12,13; 1Pet 1:23}
that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
{Rom 8:22,23}
Can there be any greater gift than this? v.17
Having been born-again through faith in God's Word, and having confident expectation of future glory in the new creation, as promised in His Word, we should give full attention to that Word.
19. Wherefore, my beloved brethren,
let every man be swift to hear
{Acts 17:11; 1The 2:13},
slow to speak,
{Prov 10:19; 15:2; 18:13}
slow to wrath
{GK=orge, anger}:
20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
The word for 'wrath' {GK=orge} "originally [meaning] any 'natural impulse, or desire, or disposition,' came to signify 'anger,' as the strongest of all passions" [Vine]. Considering the context, James may be using this word in the original sense, to refer to any 'intense desire' of the flesh (cp. v.14,15).
     Even the most intense desires of the flesh cannot fulfill the righteousness of God (Rom 7:18; 8:5-8). God reveals Himself through His children, not in our anger, but rather by the love and righteousness which His Spirit produces within us (Eph 4:26-32; Col 3:8,15).
21 Wherefore lay apart {set aside} all filthiness
and superfluity of naughtiness
{over-abundance of wickedness}, {cp. 1Pet 2:1-2,11}
and receive with meekness the engrafted
{implanted} word,
which is able to save your souls.
The word 'engrafted' {GK=emphuton, implanted} refers, not to a 'graft' of two distinct plants, but rather, to the growth of a planted seed.
     Believers have been born-again, through the seed of the Word, which God has planted in our hearts (v.18). Now, as God's children, we are to 'receive' {GK=dechomai, "to receive by deliberate and ready reception of that which is offered" [Vine]} His Word, in such a way that we willingly allow its roots and shoots to permeate our beings. 1Pet 1:22-25; cp. Eph 3:17-19; Col 3:16
     The implanted Word of God is "able {GK=dunamai, powerful} to save your souls" for it is essential to all three tenses of salvation (eg., 2Tim 3:15-17; Titus 2:11-15):
  1. The believer has been saved from sin's guilt and penalty,
    by being born again through faith in God's Word (the Gospel of Christ, Rom 1:16,17).
  2. The believer is being progressively delivered from the dominion of sin,
    as the Holy Spirit applies the Word to the believer's life.
  3. The believer will be delivered from the presence of sin at the Lord's return for His own,
    which is the 'blessed hope' anticipated by those who believe the promises of God's Word.
I. The Testings of Faith (1:1- 2:26)
3. The test of obedience. 1:22-25
22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only,
deceiving your own selves.
{Mat 7:21-27}
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer,
he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass
{a mirror}:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way,
and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty
and continueth [therein],
he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work,
this man shall be blessed in his deed.
{Joh 13:17}
...the perfect law of liberty {ie., the perfect law, that of liberty}...
This 'law' is the entirety of God's Word, the Bible. At the time when James wrote, the Scriptures included the OT and some of the Gospels (much of the NT was not yet written). However, the Scriptures, which were then available, were sufficient to lead the reader to Jesus, the Christ (Joh 5:39).
     The Old Testament Law condemns all men as sinners, and shows that we are in bondage to sin and death (Rom 3:19,20). The OT prophecies of the coming Redeemer were fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Joh 1:17). He alone fulfilled the OT Law (in His personal life), and satisfied its demands against us (by His death for our sins, and resurrection for our justification, Rom 4:25). Through faith in Him, believers are set free from the Law of sin and death. Joh 8:31-36; Rom 8:2-4,14-15; Heb 2:14,15
     Therefore, for all who are in Christ, the Word of God (the Bible) is the perfect Law of Liberty, which speaks to all phases of our salvation (see note at v.21 above). God's Word applies to:
  1. our Regeneration (v.18; 2Cor 5:17)
  2. our Sanctification, for it reflects our fleshly defects (v.23; 1Joh 1:9),
    and reveals God's will for our lives (v.25; Jam 2:8).
  3. the Standard of our judgment at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Jam 2:12; 2Cor 5:10)
...whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth [therein]... shall be blessed in his deed.
There is grave danger in hearing, reading, and even studying the Bible, if you do not take it to heart, and apply it personally (v.23,24; Luk 6:46-49).
     There is great blessing for those who give full attention to God's Word, not only to know the words, but to know Him and to live for His glory. For the believer, God's Word is his necessary food and his heart's delight (Jer 15:16; Psa 119:35, 45, 97; 2Cor 3:6,17-18).
I. The Testings of Faith (1:1- 2:26)
4. The test of true religion. 1:26-27
26 If any man among you seem to be religious,
and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart,
this man's religion [is] vain.
27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,
[and] to keep himself unspotted from the world.
...if any man... seem to be religious...
The words 'religious' and 'religion,' in v.26,27, are from GK=threskeia, which refers to "outward religious service." The ceremonial display of religious ritual may be very impressive to the on-looker, even though it is devoid of spiritual reality, because hearts are far from God. Those who perform such empty activities deceive themselves, in thinking that they are pleasing God. cp. Isa 1:13-17; Mat 15:9
     Worship, which is acceptable before God, must be in Spirit and in Truth (Joh 4:24). The Lord alone knows the truly worshipping heart, which seeks to keep His Word (v.22; Jer 17:9,10).
...if any man... bridleth not his tongue... this man's religion is vain.
While true worship, within a man's heart, cannot be seen by others, the reality of his 'religion' is tested by the external expressions of his heart. v.19; Mat 15:18,19
     While this external expression of the heart may take many forms, James uses the example of the tongue, which is difficult to 'bridle' {GK=chalinagogeo, to control with bit and bridle (as one leads a horse)}. Psa 34:13; Jam 3:2-6; 1Pet 3:10
...pure {clear, clean, real} religion and 'undefiled' {unsoiled}... is this...
Hearts, aligned with the heart of God, will express speech and action consistent with His character and will.
     To 'visit' the fatherless and widows implies more than going to see them occasionally. The word {GK=episkeptomai} means to 'inspect' in order to discern and meet their needs (cp. this word in Luk 1:68,78). Psa 68:5; 1Joh 3:17-19
     Also, those whose hearts are right with God through the new-birth, will seek to maintain purity of life, for His sake, though we live in a fallen world. eg., 1Joh 2:15-17; 3:1-3

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