James 1

The Reality of Faith Proved in Trials and Temptations
James 1
James 1. In the first chapter of James we have the reality of the believer’s faith “proved” (v.3) in trials and temptations. First of all, note that James uses the word translated “temptations” in two different ways in this chapter. In vv.1-12 it refers to trials from without (the Greek word is peirasmos’, can be used either way), such as persecution, sickness, poverty, etc. In vv.13-18 it refers to temptations from within; the lusts of the fallen sinful nature that lead us to sin (the Greek word is peirazō , frequently used for temptation to sin). The believer needs to respond to both of these challenges – and can do so successfully by faith – but there is a key difference. The trials from without are from God, but temptation from within is not from God. The Lord Jesus can sympathize with us in the first aspect, being tempted in all points like as we are, yet apart from sin (Hebrews 4:15). But temptation from the flesh is something that we have to contend with, but we can have deliverance if we walk in faith and walk in the Spirit. At the end of the chapter we have the need for the believer to receive the Word of God and respond in obedience. In fact, the overall relationship between the believer and the Word of God is described.

Trials from Without (1:2-12)

1 James, bondman of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are in the dispersion, greeting. v.1 Greeting. James writes to the twelve tribes of Israel dispersed among the nations (John 7:35), but with believers especially in view. Faith recognized the entire nation (all twelve tribes), even though they have been divided for hundreds of years (e.g. 1 Kings 18:31). Notice that James writes, not as an apostle, but as a “bondman of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”. This is even more striking if indeed James was the brother of the Lord. He doesn’t consider himself greater than any other servant, and addresses his audience humbly as “my brethren” (v.2).
Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into various temptations, 3 knowing that the proving of your faith works endurance.
vv.2-3 Faith Proved by Temptations. The first exhortation that James gives us its to accept trials with joy. These trials could be persecution for the name of Christ (as the Jewish converts knew all too well), suffering with Christ as we pass through a world under the effects of sin, or the chastening of the Lord. Joy is an unnatural response to trying circumstances. But the reason we can “count it all joy” is given in v.3; we know that trials are leading to our own spiritual growth. Does this mean that the normal experience of a believer is joy at all times? In Peter we find the other side of things; we are “in heaviness through manifold temptations”. There is a normal sadness that accompanies trials. It’s not that the believer pretends to be happy, but instead that he sees God’s hand in the trial, and thus find joy. The believer still sheds tears, but he can smile through the tears, and “count it all joy”. Having a cheerful attitude will cause is to profit from the trial. If we bear a trial with complaints, self-pity, and vexation, we will not benefit. The challenging circumstances that God sends into our lives prove the reality of our faith, and that display of faith is beautiful to God. Just as a horse trainer places a hurdle in the horse’s track to demonstrate the animal’s ability, so God gives us trials to demonstrate our faith. Peter uses the metaphor of a refiner’s fire; “the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7). James tells us that trials produce “endurance”, the same message that Paul gives in Rom. 5:3. Tribulation or passing through trials teaches us endurance; the ability to carry on in the face of opposition, even for extended periods of time. We know how physical exercise produces physical endurance. Spiritual exercise works the same way! There are no shortcuts in the process of spiritual growth.
But let endurance have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
v.4 Surrender and Its Results. For God to achieve His aim, and for us to get the blessing He intends, we have to “let it”. This means we must surrender our will to God’s. Our will can get in the way. We don’t always have the the patience to “let endurance have its perfect work”. We often interfere in God’s work in us, and spoil the fruit of it. An impatient child pulls the carrot out of the ground prematurely, not willing to allow time for fruitful growth. If we submit to God’s will, things will go much better. Rather than desperately seek to escape the trial, we should seek to learn from it. We must remember that God is more interested in the work He is doing in us than the work He is doing through us. Sometimes we think the trials are slowing us down, even slowing us down in service to the Lord. But God has His highest priority: to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:28-29)! The confession of faith is, “As for God, his way is perfect” (Psa. 18:30). He is behind all the scenes in our lives, and moving those scenes for our good (Romans 8:28). The result of enduring trials is now given: full growth in our Christian character. Do we want to be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”? Then we must surrender our will to God’s, and say “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
But if any one of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all freely and reproaches not, and it shall be given to him:
v.5 Asking God for Wisdom. The provision of asking God for wisdom applies anytime we need wisdom, but it especially applies to the need for wisdom in a trial. Trials have a way of bringing us to a decision point, and this makes us feel our need of dependence. Think of making a medical decision on behalf of your young child. Rather than turn to human support for aid, we should turn first to God in trial. A wonderful truth about our God is explained. He gives wisdom to all who ask, without cost and He doesn’t scold. Even in small things, God wants us to ask Him. There are no stupid questions to God, if our attitude is right (v.6). Asking God for wisdom doesn’t make Him angry (e.g. on the contrary, Isa. 7:11-13). God’s heart is toward us (Luke 18:1-8). He is a giving God! How does this wisdom come to us when we ask? Answers to prayer can come to us via the light of scripture, changing circumstances, a prophetic word from someone, or the inner witness of the Spirit. But we can be assured that “it shall be given to him” that asks, according to God’s perfect time and in His perfect way.
6 but let him ask in faith, nothing doubting. For he that doubts is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and tossed about; 7 for let not that man think that he shall receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. vv.6-8 Faith vs. Double Minded. Our attitude in prayer is very important; “but let him ask in faith, nothing doubting”. When we go to God for wisdom it must be in an attitude of faith, with confidence in His strength and His love (the shoulders and breastplate of the ephod). A child will not jump into his father’s arms if he does not believe his father can catch him. To ask God for wisdom while saying inside, “I’ll hear what God says, but I reserve the final decision” is to have a double mind. It isn’t true dependence. To be double minded is to have mixed motives; to pretend to turn to God, but with our own will already set in a direction (e.g. Jeremiah 42, especially v.20). It isn’t wrong to have a desired outcome when we pray. We may want things to turn out a certain way, but we need to confess our desires to the Lord, and say “nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done”. We need to accept when we pray that God is able to answer, and be resolved to hear whatever He has to say. Why should God answer the prayers of people who do not trust Him? A person without faith will be unstable in every area of their life – “like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and tossed about” – because they have no solid foundation. Dependence and confidence go hand in hand. Many times the Lord would say to us, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26). Our faith is often weak, but God is gracious.
9 But let the brother of low degree glory in his elevation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because as the grass’s flower he will pass away. 11 For the sun has risen with its burning heat, and has withered the grass, and its flower has fallen, and the comeliness of its look has perished: thus the rich also shall wither in his goings. vv.9-11 A Parenthesis. All the social circumstances in which the believers found themselves at the time of their conversion are in one sense left behind. All believers enter the school of God and pass through trials, and this sets aside the values of the world for the believer. The poor might naturally tend to trust himself, but finds that he can depend on God in trial. The rich might tend to trust in his riches, but learns to depend on God. The poor man finds himself in fellowship with the rich, and the rich in fellowship with the poor. It is a promotion for the brother of low degree, because he finds himself elevated. It is a humiliation for the rich brother because he no longer lives an exalted life, but now sees that riches are perishing, and considers his money as no longer his own, and rejoices together with the poor man, enjoying together that which is really life. Grace takes us out of this world, and therefore in a certain sense frees us from the social constructs of the world.1
12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for, having been proved, he shall receive the crown of life, which He has promised to them that love him. v.12 The Crown of Life. In a summary statement James concludes the whole matter of enduring trials. Far from being miserable, the believer who endures trails is “blessed” or happy. There are many examples of individuals in the Old Testament who endured trials and were blessed; Hebrews 11 is full of them! Not only does the believer know that God is using the trial for his spiritual growth and development, but there is a reward at the end of the pathway; “having been proved, he shall receive the crown of life”. Why is this crown called a crown of life? The crown of life is promised to the martyrs in Smyrna; “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). It is a reward for the ultimate sacrifice; to lay down our life for the Lord. Why then is the crown of life promised to those who endure trials? To endure a trial requires us to deny ourselves, and in that sense we are laying down our life. “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25). It is connected here with loving God; “the crown of life, which He has promised to them that love him”. To deny ourselves is to love God more than we love ourselves. How touching, that God would grant the privilege of demonstrating sacrificial love for Him, and the reward for it at the judgment seat, to every believer!
Crowns as Rewards in Scripture. There are a number of metaphorical crowns is the New Testament: the "crown of life" for total self-sacrifice (Jam. 1:12; Rev. 2:10), the "crown of glory" for caring for the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:4), the "crown of righteousness" for faithfulness in service (2 Tim. 4:8), the "crown of rejoicing" for those who evangelize and edify souls (Phil. 4:1), the "crown of incorruptibility" for those who maintain self-control (1 Cor. 9:25), the Philadelphian "crown" for not giving up the truth (Rev. 3:11), and the "crown of gold" for every redeemed saint of God (Rev. 4:4). These crowns will be awarded to the believer at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).

Temptations from Within (1:13-18)

13 Let no man, being tempted, say, I am tempted of God. For God cannot be tempted by evil things, and himself tempts no one. 14 But every one is tempted, drawn away, and enticed by his own lust; 15 then lust, having conceived, gives birth to sin; but sin fully completed brings forth death. vv.13-15 Where Temptations Come From. We now come to another class of temptations. James could say “count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into various temptations” when it referred to trials from without. He does not say to rejoice when it comes to the temptation to sin, which is a temptation from within. The Lord Jesus was tempted by the devil, but we was not tempted by his own lusts. He was without sin from the womb (Luke 1:35), not merely the actions (sins) but the nature itself (sin). There was nothing in the Lord Jesus that the Devil could have for an ally in the temptation; “the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me” (John 14:30). But for fallen humanity, it is our experience to be tempted to sin by the desires of the fallen sinful nature within us. If we do not come to understand the truth of deliverance as we have in the book of Romans we will struggle with the temptations of the flesh all our days. There is a danger that we might, in seeking to avoid responsibility for our own lusts, blame God for the temptation. God does allow circumstances which, if not approached with faith, can become an opportunity for the flesh to act. But the temptation to sin comes from within; “every one is tempted, drawn away, and enticed by his own lust”. God cannot be blamed for sin in any form. This issue touches on the impeccability of the Divine nature; “God cannot be tempted by evil things”. Further, God doesn’t lead anyone to sin; “and himself tempts no one”. How important this issue is to be settled in the heart and conscience of every believer, that God is not capable of sin, nor is He the author of it. In v.15 we have the fruits of lust; lust conceives in the heart, and gives birth to sin, and the outcome of sin in death. James views this in a practical sense; every sin begins with a desire, and every sin leads toward death. Paul gives us the deeper principle that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). How could someone blame God for that in themselves which leads to sin and death?
16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.17 Every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, with whom is no variation nor shadow of turning.
vv.16-17 Where Good Gifts Come From. The error that is warned of is of thinking that giving in to lust will bring satisfaction. No, says James, only what comes to us from the hand of God is for our good and blessing. The devil is constantly seeking to get us to lose our confidence in the goodness of God (e.g. Gen. 3:1), and if we do this we will fall into temptation. To reach out in self will and fulfill our lusts will only bring us destruction and death. Man does not have the wisdom or power to make himself happy. The knowledge that “every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from above” ought to make us content to remain in dependence on God, and this fact kept before our souls will preserve us in times of temptation. He is called “the Father of lights, with whom is no variation nor shadow of turning”. This name communicates the idea of unchanging goodness, and perfect consistency with Himself. God is light, there is no darkness at all in Him (1 John 1:5). How could the Father of Lights tempt us with evil? Even the sun, as steady as it is, experiences variations (eclipses) and casts shadows as the earth turns. Not so with our God. His goodness is perfect, His knowledge is perfect, and He is unchanging in His character. There is no need that we might have that God cannot meet according to His own goodness (Phil. 4:19).
According to his own will begat he us by the word of truth, that we should be a certain first-fruits of “his” creatures.
v.18 God’s Will In New Birth. As an example of the perfect goodness of God James points to the truth of new birth. At the very beginning, it wasn’t by man’s will or strength that we were given new birth, but “according to his own will begat he us”. It was an act of pure goodness and grace. We have a similar thought in John 1:12-13. Further, the “word of truth” is involved in new birth (Jn. 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:23). It is a sovereign action of God, using a power altogether outside of man. The word He used to beget us is “of truth”; consistent with who He is. God’s purpose in quickening us or causing us to be born again is to have us for a special possession, like the first-fruits that Israel would offer to Jehovah. We as the first-fruits are to be the display to this world of God’s character. Of all His creatures, we are to represent Him. In vv.19-20 we have a description of what the first-fruits ought to be like. But here we find that what God has done for us at the very start, to give us life, it characteristic of His heart and ways with us throughout our pathway.
New Birth.

New birth or quickening refers to the sovereign action of God to impart spiritual life to a person where there was none before. The expression "born anew" does not merely mean "a fresh start". Nicodemus contemplated entering into his mother’s womb to be born a second time (John 3:4). If that were possible, the rebirth would only result in another fallen human life, no different than the one he had. Rather, new birth is "new" in that it comes from a wholly new and different origin. It is life from God. The new life has a new nature with new desires. A person without new birth has one nature: a fallen human nature. A person with new birth has two natures: the old nature and a new nature (Romans 7). There is nothing but spiritual death apart from the life God gives (Eph. 2:1). The new nature has the capacity for “faith". Faith and life come together. You cannot have life without faith, and you cannot have faith without life. If someone has faith, it is because they are born again. New birth or quickening takes place by the water of the Word and the Spirit of God (John 3:5; Jam. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23). New birth is not accomplished through human will or effort (John 1:13). It is the sovereign grace of God to quicken a dead sinner!

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Receiving and Responding to the Word of God (1:19-27)

19 So that, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for man’s wrath does not work God’s righteousness. vv.19-20 Responding in the Flesh. As a contrast, James warns the believers not to respond in the flesh. Some translations of v.19 render the first phrase “knowing this” or “you know this”, showing that the brethren know what behavior becomes them as “first-fruits of his creatures”. The new nature that we have as begotten of God desires to do these things, but the exhortation is given as a directive for that new nature. What we have in v.19 is the opposite of acting on our lusts. When we gratify our sinful nature we only doing what we want: characterized by speaking and not listening. The new nature is dependent on God: characterized by hearing rather than speaking. When we act in the flesh, tend to not listen to others’ points of view, speak rashly, and lose our temper. The Old Testament is full of such wisdom; “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19 NKJV). In Acts 15 we have a wonderful example of this in James himself. He takes his own advice! First, there was “much dispute” (v.7), then Peter spoke (vv.7-11), then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul (v.12), and finally “after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me” (v.13). What James had to say resulted in much blessing, and worked “the righteousness of God”. This is the practical sense of the righteousness of God (Matt. 6:33) as opposed to the judicial sense, as we have in Romans. Man acting in the flesh will never result in conduct that is suitable to the character of God. Read more…
21 Wherefore, laying aside all filthiness and abounding of wickedness, accept with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. v.21 Receiving the Word of God. Here James gives the way to the practical salvation of our souls. There is an eternal, judicial sense of the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:9), but then there is a practical, ongoing salvation (1 Pet. 2:2; 11). It is helpful to see that the words “laying aside” and “accept” are in the aorist tense, meaning this is a once-for-all action that we are to take.2 The first thing is really preparatory, but vitally important. The believer must exercise self-judgment; “laying aside all filthiness and abounding of wickedness”. We need to lay aside the sin that we have allowed in our lives, and take God’s side against it. But that void must be filled with something positive, and if we do not do the next thing, we will ultimately go back to our former sins. The next thing is to “accept with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls”. The Word of God is needed for the salvation of our souls in the eternal sense, but also in the present, practical sense. The “the word of truth” that God uses to quicken us (v.18) is here called “the implanted word”. This description makes a distinction between how the Jews might have interacted with scripture before their conversion. Before coming to Christ, these Jews were familiar with the rules and regulations of the old covenant. It was external to them, imposing on them against their will. But under grace, when we receive the Word of God with an attitude of “meekness”, He implants the Word in our hearts, such that we desire to do His will. We have a nature that wants to please God, and we have His Word that gives us a directive for how to live.3 This is what leads to the practical salvation of our soul; God’s Word implanted in our hearts! Read more… Notice that the implanted word “is able” to save us, but there is still the matter of obedience that is required (vv.22-25).
22 But be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, beguiling yourselves. 23 For if any man be a hearer of the word and not a doer, “he” is like to a man considering his natural face in a mirror: 24 for he has considered himself and is gone away, and straightway he has forgotten what he was like. vv.22-24 Doers of the Word vs. Hearers Only. The great danger for the believer, having received the Word of God, is to hear it but not obey it. To fail in applying the Word of God to ourselves is a very serious thing, and we are actually “beguiling” ourselves, because it is only by applying the Word of God in our lives that we gain spiritual discernment. To be a “hearer only” is to listen to the Word of God and consider it as theory only, or for someone else, or as optional. There was a contingent of false professors among the Jewish Christians that we making their state evident by hearing the Word but not obeying it. Obedience to the Word of God manifests the reality of faith. James gives an illustration of what a “hearer only” is like in vv.23-24. Hearing the word of God is like looking at our face in a mirror. The mirror exposes our natural condition, just as the Word of God exposes our moral and spiritual condition. If we go away from the mirror without addressing the condition of ourselves, it manifests that we are unconcerned about what we saw in the mirror; “he has considered himself and is gone away, and straightway he has forgotten what he was like”. So with a man who hears the Word but doesn’t act on it. God wants the believer to take His Word seriously and obey it. God wants reality in our lives; “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts” (Psa. 51:6). If we carry on with hypocrisy long enough, we can become self-deceived; i.e. our conscience will be seared to the point where we think our condition is actually acceptable. When the Word of God ceases to have its power with us, a hypocritical religious profession emerges in our lives.
25 But “he” that fixes his view on the perfect law, that of liberty, and abides in it, being not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, “he” shall be blessed in his doing. v.25 The Perfect Law of Liberty. In contrast to a “hearer only”, James describes one who takes the Word of God seriously as one who “fixes his view on the perfect law of liberty”. Rather than glance at the mirror and walk away, this man fixed his view, and does not walk away unchanged. It pictures the soul brought into the presence of God by the Word of God, abiding in His presence where all is in the light. The Word of God is called “the perfect law of liberty” in contrast with law of Moses. The Mosaic law was full of prohibitions that ran contrary to man’s nature; “thou shalt not covet”, etc. But not so with the perfect law of liberty. The idea is that the Word of God gives the believer directives that his new nature delights to obey! Bruce Anstey gave the illustration of a horse and a dog; “to ask a horse to eat hay is, to a horse, perfect liberty—it’s exactly what it wants to do! However, to ask a dog to eat hay is another thing—it’s pure bondage to him.”4 God’s Word implanted in the soul finds an ally in the believer’s new nature, and thus the soul is at perfectly liberty in the path of obedience. We will not find it a drudgery to obey God; “his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). That man will be “blessed in his doing”, because walking in perfect liberty he will have joy (John 13:17). Christ is our perfect example in this; “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psa. 40:8).
26 If any one think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, to keep oneself unspotted from the world. vv.26-27 Vain Religion and Pure Religion. To hear the word and not do it leads to an outward religious form, where people think they are religious, but there is no living reality of faith in their life, manifested by an uncontrolled tongue. Later James will expand on it (ch.3), but an uncontrolled tongue reveals what is on the inside. This man’s religion, says James, is vain or empty. The word for religion here refers to the outward form, and could also be translated “ritual” (only used elsewhere in Acts 26:5; Col. 2:18). James goes on to show what true religion is – not that Christianity is a ritual, but that faith has its evidences in our actions. Pure and undefiled religion is “before God and the Father”, rather than before the world, and it consists of practical kindness and personal holiness in our life. When we receive the Word of God and not only hear it but obey it, there will be these evidences of faith. Visiting orphans and widows to show them selfless kindness, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world is a total contrast to what the religious leaders under Judaism patterned (Matt. 23). They focused on cleaning the outside of the cup, not were not concerned about defilement on the inside. The world is a defiling place, and those begotten of God need to be careful of spots. The Lord is the perfect example: “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). His holiness made Him morally separate, but His kindness made Him active in the world.
  1. Verses 9-11 are parenthetical; The new man belongs to the new creation; he is its first-fruits, but he nevertheless finds himself down here in a world, the glory of which passes away as the flower of the grass. Thus the brother of low degree is exalted to have fellowship with Christ, and to share His glory. However humble he may be, he becomes, even in this world, the companion of all the brethren. “God hath chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him.” The rich own them as brethren, and they meet together at the Lord’s table, as possessors of the same privileges. On the other hand the rich man, if he is faithful, cannot walk in worldly grandeur, in the pride and vanity of a world which has rejected the Lord. He makes himself – God has made him – the brother of the poor man who loves the Lord. They enjoy the communion of the Spirit together, and share the most precious and intimate things of life. They rejoice together; the poor man in his exaltation – Christ is not ashamed to call such ‘brethren’ – and the rich man glories in that title much more than in all those that belong to him in the world. That title is despised in the world, and counted for nothing; but he knows that the glory of this world passes away as the flower of the grass, and he rejoices in being the companion of those whom the Lord of glory owns as His. The world will pass away, and the spirit of the world is already passed from the heart of the spiritual Christian. He who takes the lowest place shall be great in the kingdom of God. – Darby, J.N. A Brief Exposition of the Epistle of James.
  2. “…we are told to receive as an accomplished act…” – Kelly, W. The Epistle of James.
  3. “It is in contrast with a merely external rule that could only condemn what was opposed to itself. It works inwardly in that life which the believer has, being perfectly akin to it and congenial with it, as both are of God.” – Kelly, W. The Epistle of James.
  4. Anstey, B. The Epistle of James.