Trials from Without (1:2-12)
v.1 Greeting. To twelve tribes of Israel dispersed through Gentile world (Acts 8:1), real and professing (Jam. 4:9; 5:1-6) but also “brethren” among (Jam. 2:1). Faith recognized entire nation, though divided (1 Ki. 18:31). Not as apostle, but as “bondman”. Striking if the Lord’s brother. Doesn’t consider himself greater than “my brethren” (v.2).
vv.2-3 Trials. May be persecution (as here), suffering with Christ, or chastening. Joy unnatural response, reason: we know trials lead to growth; produce “endurance” (Rom. 5:3), ability to carry on. Like physical exercise. Hurdle in horse’s track, God tries faith (1 Pet. 1:7). Peter gives other side; “in heaviness”, normal sadness. Smile thru tears.
v.4 Surrender & Results. We must “let it”. Surrender our will to God’s. We interfere with God’s work in us, spoils fruit (Rom. 8:28-29). Impatient child pulls the carrot. Don’t seek escape. Result: full growth in Christian character.
v.5 Asking God for Wisdom. Applies anytime we need wisdom, especially in a trial: make us dependent. Turn first to God. No stupid questions, if right attitude (v.6). Doesn’t make Him angry (c.p. Isa. 7:11-13). Heart toward us (Lk. 18:1-8). Answers to prayer: scripture, circumstances, prophetic word, or Spirit’s witness.
vv.6-8 Faith vs. Double Minded. Attitude in prayer important; in faith, with confidence in His strength and love (Ex. 28). A child jumps to his father’s arms. To ask God without faith is a double mind, not dependence. Mixed motives (e.g. Jer. 42, esp. v.20). Not wrong to have desired outcome but be resolved to hear whatever and obey. Why should God answer if we do not trust Him? Unstable in every area, “wave of the sea” – no solid foundation. Dependence and confidence go hand in hand.
vv.9-11 A Parenthesis. Social circumstances left behind. All enter the school of God, pass through trials. Sets aside the values of the world. Poor and rich learn to depend on God. The poor man in fellowship with rich, and vice versa. A promotion for the one of low degree. A humiliation for the rich brother because he sees riches are perishing, considers money as no longer his own, rejoices together with poor, enjoying together what is really life. Grace takes us out of the world and frees us from social constructs.
v.12 Crown of Life. A summary statement. Far from miserable, the believer is happy. Many OT examples; Heb. 11. Believer knows God using trial for spiritual growth, also reward at the end. Crown of life promised to martyrs (Rev. 2:10), ultimate sacrifice. Endure a trial requires denying self, laying down our life (John 12:25). Connected with loving God more than ourselves. A privilege granted to every saint! Crowns. life, glory, righteousness, rejoicing, incorruptibility, Philadelphia, of gold.
Temptations from Within (1:13-18)
vv.13-15 Whence Temptations Arise. Not now “count it all joy” in temptation to sin, from within. Jesus only man never tempted by lusts (Luke 1:35; John 14:30). A danger, to avoid responsibility, blame God. God allows circumstances, without faith, become opportunity for the flesh. But temptation to sin is from within; God cannot be blamed for sin in any form. Impeccability of the Divine nature. Must be a settled issue for us. Fruits of lust (v.15). In a practical sense; every sin begins with a desire and leads toward death. Paul gives deeper principle (Rom. 6:23).
vv.16-17 Whence Good Gifts Come. Giving in to lust will not bring satisfaction. That is the error. What comes from God is for our blessing. Devil seeks to shake our confidence in His goodness (Gen. 3:1), we fall into temptation. Reach out in self will to fulfill lusts brings destruction and death. Man incapable of making himself happy. Knowing God as giver preserves us in temptation. “Father of lights”, unchanging goodness, perfect consistency with Himself (1 Jn. 1:5). Even the sun eclipses, casts shadows in turning. God’s goodness, knowledge is perfect, and unchanging.
v.18 God’s Will In New Birth. Example of perfect goodness of God, truth of new birth. At very beginning, not man’s will or strength, but His. An act of pure grace (Jn. 1:12-13). The “word of truth” involved (Jn. 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:23). God’s purpose: a special possession, like first-fruits offered, of all creatures, we are to represent Him.
Receiving and Responding to Word of God (1:19-27)
vv.19-20 Responding in the Flesh. “knowing this” or “you know this”. New nature desires to do them, but a directive given. Acting on lusts: doing our will, speaking not listening. Dependence: hearing vs. speaking (Prov. 10:19; Acts 15). What James said resulted in “the righteousness of God” in a practical sense (Matt. 6:33).
v.21 Receiving the Word of God. The way to practical salvation, ongoing (1 Pet. 2:2; 11). (1) We must exercise self-judgment; preparatory, but vital. lay aside sin, take God’s side. Void must be filled. (2) Receive the word, called “implanted word”, not external but in our hearts. A nature that wants to please God, and His Word to direct us.
Author. Rose to prominence at Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18-19; Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18), a “pillar” (Gal. 2:9). ministry lines up with epistle. Expositors do not agree. Kelly says James the Less, Darby says the Lord’s brother, James the Just – didn’t believe (John 7:5; Matt. 13:55), converted (1 Cor. 15:7), in Gal. 1 and 1 Cor. 15 called an apostle (Acts 1:14). “Men and brethren, hearken unto me” a good title. Thought Jewish believers should keep law, had Judaizing influence on Paul in Acts 21, and Peter in Gal. 2:4. Still a matter of growth, no error in epistle. Stoned by the Jews in A.D. 62.
vv.22-24 Doers of the Word vs. Hearers Only. A great danger, having received, to hear but not obey; to consider it theory, or for someone else, as optional. We beguile ourselves. By applying the Word we gain spiritual discernment. Obedience manifests reality of faith. An illustration: looking at face in a mirror, exposes condition. To glance and go away unchanged shows no care. God wants reality (Psa. 51:6). If carry on with hypocrisy, become self-deceived; the conscience seared, and a hypocritical religious profession emerges.
v.25 The Perfect Law of Liberty. To “fix the view” is the soul brought into the presence of God by the Word, abiding where all is in the light. Perfect liberty: in contrast with law of Moses, gives us directives the new nature delights to obey! A horse eating hay. The Word finds an ally in the new nature: no drudgery (1 Jn. 5:3; Jn. 13:17; Ps. 40:8).
vv.26-27 Vain Religion and Pure Religion. To hear and not do leads to an outward religious form, no living reality, manifested by uncontrolled tongue (expand ch.3), which reveals the inside. The word refers to outward forms, could be “ritual” (Acts 26:5; Col. 2:18). True religion – not that Christianity is ritual, but faith has evidences in action – practical kindness + personal holiness. Not just the outside of the cup.