James Chapter 1
James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
James is writing to the twelve tribes of Israel scattered abroad as the result of the persecution of the early church that caused many believers to leave Jerusalem.
Count it all Joy
James 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
This is probably not be the favorite verse of most folks. He says to count it all joy when you fall into various temptations. The phrase diverse temptations here means various kinds of testing and proving. He says to consider it an occasion for joy and gladness when you fall into various kinds of testing and proving. That is not exactly a warm and inviting verse. But if we look more closely, it may begin to look a little better.
First of all, notice that he said when YOU FALL into . . . various kinds of testing. He did not say, when God brings testing and proving upon you, as many tend to interpret the verse to say. In fact, in verse 13 of this same chapter James says,
James 1:13 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:
This verse teaches us that God does not test people with temptation, as many religious circles tend to believe. The notion that God brings bad things into our lives to teach us something cannot be found in the scriptures.
Jesus said to His disciples, in the world you shall have tribulation, that is, pressure, affliction and distress. Those things are common to all who live in this world, saved or unsaved. And although these things do not come from the Lord but are merely a part of living in this world, James considers them to have a potentially good purpose in the life of the believer. What could that good purpose possibly be? Let’s consider first what is being tested or proven by these temptations.
Steadfastness and Endurance
James 1:3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
It is faith in God that is being tested by our outward circumstances. And he says that it works or performs patience. And patience here means steadfastness and endurance. He is saying, you must know and understand that the testing or proving of your faith performs or accomplishes or works steadfastness and endurance. In other words, we stand steadfast in our faith toward God even when things are not going well.
Notice. It is the steadfastness and the endurance of our faith that accomplishes a good work in our lives, not the tribulation. If we forsake our faith when things go badly, then the trial of our faith does not work anything good in us at all.
James 1:4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
Allow steadfastness and endurance to complete their finished work in you, so that you may be complete, lacking nothing. We must allow ourselves to remain steadfast and enduring. He is talking about the reward of staying steadfast in our faith, despite the pressures and testing of this world that would try to distract us or turn us away. Notice that, according to this verse, steadfastness and endurance of faith ultimately produce the condition of lacking nothing.
Temptations come from living in this world, as Jesus said, "in the world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." The test of all these things is whether we will remain in a condition of trust when we are faced with the challenges that may sometimes come our way in life. Will our heart remain in a place of safety and trust in the Lord?
Many times, when undesired things happen, people will say, Lord, what are you doing this for? Or why is this happening? Why are You letting this happen? Why, Lord? Why? What did I do to deserve this? We place the blame on God though He has nothing to do with it. The Bible says that God cannot be tempted with evil, neither doe He tempt any man. God is not to blame for these things. But He is the One Who will deliver us from every situation as we stand in faith and trust.
Faith does not accept these things to be His will for us. Believers stand steadfastly in faith and trust, faith that He is on our side, and that He will deliver us. He is, according to the scriptures, our deliverer, our fortress, our strong tower, our hiding place, and a very present help in time of trouble. He is not our tempter. That title is reserved for someone else, who is also known as the devil.
The Established Heart
Psalm 112:7 He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD.
Psalm 112:8 His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he see his desire upon his enemies.
This passage speaks of the man who fears the Lord and delights greatly in His commandments, as stated in the first verse of Psalm 112. That man will not be afraid of or overly troubled by evil tidings. This is because he has learned through steadfastness of faith to trust the Lord in every situation of life, to live in a continuing place of peace and trust. He has learned to take hope and courage in the promises of God in the face of challenges and to remain in a place of trust in Him. He delights in His commandments.
It says his heart is established; he shall not be afraid. The word “established” here means leaning upon or supported by. His heart is leaning upon the Lord. In the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament the word “trust” is defined as “to feel safe.” A heart of trust feels safe in the midst of adverse circumstances. An established heart, a heart that leans upon the Lord, refuses to be afraid. There is another verse that captures this idea.
Isaiah 26:3 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.
The word “stayed” in this verse means to lean upon or be supported by. You will keep him in total and unfailing peace whose mind is leaning upon and supported by You, because that man trusts in You. The mind must be leaning upon or supported by faith in the promises of God, which brings trust, and not be focused on the current situation or circumstance, which brings fear.
You see, it’s purely a matter of focus. What do we focus on? Do we spend all our time thinking about the problem, worrying and agonizing over it, or do we push that away from our thoughts and instead think upon the unfailing nature of our God to deliver us? That’s the testing or proving of our faith. Will our faith in God's promises stand during times of difficulty, or will we let our faith fail?
And looking again at Psalm 112, it says that his heart is fixed, or that is, firm and stable, trusting in the LORD. This is the perfect work that steadfastness and endurance produce in the life of the one exercised in them. They produce a fixed, or firm and stable heart that trusts in or feels safe in the Lord, even in times of trouble. And that, my friends, is priceless.
Wisdom from God
James 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
It’s good to remember that the context of this chapter is about standing steadfast in faith during trying circumstances and situations. It is during such times that wisdom may be more greatly desired than in the seemingly normal times when things are going well. If any of you lack wisdom, or, that is, if any of you does not seem to know what he should do in a particular situation . . . let him ask of God, who gives wisdom to all men generously . . .
Notice that God’s part is in this scenario is to be the giver of wisdom. God is the provider of solutions. He is the One Who makes a way where there seems to be no way. And faith fully understands that.
A Way of Escape
1 Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation (or trial or test) taken you, but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
When testing and proving come our way, God will not allow us to be tempted above what we are able to bear. He’s the deliverer. He will always make a way of escape. The temptations that Christians go through are merely the things that are common to man. They happen to people living in this world, saved or unsaved. It is not God Who brings them upon people, though much of the religious world seems to believe that He does. God is the deliverer, the Savior, the rescuer, not the tormentor or the adversary.
James 1:6 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.
How we ask for wisdom is important. We ask in confident trust and faith in the Lord, not from a position of fear and despair resulting from the challenge facing us. Let him ask for wisdom believing that God is going to give him wisdom. Let him ask in faith that he is going to receive. God always gives wisdom when we ask. He is faithful.
But faith must be steady and unwavering. The word “wavering” here means to withdraw from one, to separate oneself in a hostile spirit, to be at variance with one's self, to hesitate, to doubt. In other words, don’t go away mad at God. Stay in faith. And the only way to keep from wavering and to stay in faith is to be at rest, at rest in the midst of the storm, like Jesus asleep in the boat as the disciples crossed the lake in the rain. He is and always will be our example of faith and trust in God.
James 1:7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
He is still talking about the man who wavers in his faith, the man who has not learned to rest in God, the man who cannot be steadfast in his faith in the face of a challenge. And he says, don’t let that man think that he shall receive anything from the Lord. So, it’s not just about receiving wisdom. It’s about anything we would receive from God. And so, learning to rest in faith is essential for anything we would receive from the covenant the Lord has given us in His kingdom.
Romans 4:16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed;
It is of faith, so that it might be by grace. You might say it cannot be by grace if it does not come from faith. It is our faith that accesses God’s grace and everything that the Lord has for us by His grace.
James 1:8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
“Double minded” here means wavering, uncertain, doubting, or restless. He is inconstant and restless. He cannot stay in the same frame of mind or condition of mind for very long. He Is double minded. He has two minds. He has a faith mind and an unbelieving mind, and he oscillates back and forth from one of them to the other. He has not learned to settle the issue by entering into rest. He is restless.
James 1:9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:
James 1:10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.
James 1:11 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.
James is referring to a passage in Isaiah chapter 40 that simply alludes to the notion that the generations of people in the earth come and go like fields of grass. A generation comes and it has great things going on during its time. But then a few decades pass, and that generation fades and another one takes its places. It says in essence that the people are like fields of grass, but the word of the Lord remains forever.
And it also says in Isaiah 40 that every valley shall be filled, and every mountain brought low. It means that what the Lord was preparing to do in Christ would level the playing field among men. And that’s what James is referring to when he says let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted, but the rich, in that he is made low.
Blessed is the Man who Endures
James 1:12 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.
We are still on the subject of standing steadfastly in faith and endurance during difficult and challenges situations in our life. It says the man who endures temptation shall receive the crown of life. The word “crown” here means a mark of exalted rank, an ornament, a garland, a prize for something achieved. The word “crown” also carries the idea of the authority that goes with it. And though it may be a little unclear as to exactly what this means, there is obviously something of great value gained in the heart of the one who endures challenging times.
Not Tempted of God
James 1:13 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:
James 1:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
James 1:15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
James 1:16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.
He says do not err. We could say it this way in modern terminology. Do not err or, that is, make no mistake about it, my beloved brothers and sisters. Make no mistake about it. He’s about to tell us something to set things straight, and to give us a clear understanding about the matter. And here it is in verse 17.
No Shadow of Turning
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
James 1:18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
We did not save ourselves. God did that in our lives by His own free will. He did it because He so loved the world. He did it because He wanted to. Of his own will he begat us with the word of truth. While we were yet sinners, while we were yet His enemies, He sent Christ to die for the ungodly. Why? Because every good and every perfect gift is from above, and it comes down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variableness, no changing, no shadow of turning.
Before clocks were invented, sundials were used to approximate what time of day it was. As the hours went by in a day, they could tell roughly what time it was by the direction the shadow was turned on a sundial. But there is no shadow of turning with God. He is always the same. He is always pointing to high noon. He does not send good and perfect gifts one day, and then send us evil things the next day. God is good . . . how often? All the time. We say that a lot, but we seem to forget it when something bad comes along. We blame God for the bad things, when He is actually the deliverer, not the tormentor. How could we ever be deceived into thinking that the Father of Lights, the one who Himself is light, could ever send darkness into our lives? That defies even mere human logic.
Receive the Word of God
James 1:19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
James 1:20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
James 1:21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
It is vitally important for us as believers that we receive the word of God planted into our hearts. It’s the very key to our spiritual growth in the understanding of the things of God.
Receive with meekness the engrafted word. Why would he say to receive the engrafted word with meekness? Because if you’re not meek and humble, if you are arrogant enough to think you already know it all, you won’t bother pursuing the word. We need to come down off our high horse and humble ourselves and start receiving the word of God into our heart. It is something we all need to do on a continuing basis. And when it comes to the knowledge of God and His word, we will never arrive. It’s always new and always full of revelation and truth. That’s the amazing thing about the word of God.
And James goes on to say that it, the word of God, is able to save our souls. But someone will say, I thought our souls were already saved. Didn’t God save our souls when we were born again? Well, our spirits have been reborn, or regenerated into a new creature in Christ. You might say, we have been saved in our spirit, or our spirit has been saved. But our soul, which contains our mind, was has not yet been delivered from its lack of knowledge concerning the things of God. That requires what Paul refers to as the renewing of the mind. And receiving the ingrafted word into our heart, or grafting the word of God into our heart, has the ability to save our souls, or, that is, to renew our thinking, to renew our mind to think the way God thinks, to think and perceive things in line with His truth.
Doers of the Word are Blessed
James 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
James 1:23 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:
James 1:24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
One who hears the word of God and fails to put it into practice in his life is like one who looks in a mirror and sees what he looks like but then turns away and immediately forgets what he looks like, or, that is, what the word showed him about himself.
James 1:25 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.
But if a man looks into the word of God, the perfect law of liberty, and continually puts it into practice, this man shall have the blessing of the Lord in his life.
James 1:26 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.
If any one of you seem to be a God-fearing person but does not restrain his tongue or, that is, hold his words in check, that person deceives his own heart, and his religion is devoid of force and useless. There is a verse in Proverbs that says that in the multitude of words there is no lack of sin. James will discuss bridling the tongue further in chapter 3.
James 1:27 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.
James simplifies what true religion in the sight of God the Father is. Clean and uncorrupted religion is simply to help the poor and needy in their struggle and to keep oneself spotless and irreproachable.