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You can read the Book of James HERE
So James begins chapter 1 when he says, “count it all joy when trials come” (verse 2) I get great encouragement from that statement. He also mentions he is a servant of Christ Jesus. Isn’t it interesting the first thing he says is to “count it all joy” when hardship comes on you? He can only mean this in light of the fact that faith in Jesus means trials. Trials are where we are empowered to grow in character. The idea is that without faith in God and the associated trials we would grow less or not at all.
It’s odd to me how some folks seem to think faith removes hardship like taking a shower… faith just washes trouble away. What James talks about here is the quality of faith because it has been tested. It is completely true that faith placed in God does save us, but James is speaking to a living faith that passes the test by perseverance. The result is we act in love for God. Understand, James speaks of a faith that is dead (without action) and faith that is living (acts through love).
James says we need “wisdom” (verse 5). Living faith is found when we persevere which is an exercise of wisdom (that is how I read it) because God is generous and will provide. This must be asked for without doubt… doubt in God’s willingness to feed faithfulness. It should be God’s wisdom that we pray for in trials. Wisdom is the vital thing to pray for because the goal is to reflect God’s likeness, not merely a way out of pain and troubles. Wisdom is beyond the healing, money, or fix of our issue. James points out we are tempted out of what we desire from our hearts. Unrighteousness is the real issue and should not be ignored in trials. James clearly says a living faith overcomes selfishness and through hardships produces character and in that way comes deliverance.
Whether out of innocence (because we’ve not yet built up the moral muscle) or lack of integrity (due to carnal tendencies of taking the easier path rather than the road less traveled), we need wisdom and the Bible tells us, Christ on the cross is the wisdom of God on display for us. It is of that wisdom that Christ does possess that we should request in prayer.
James is speaking to people who are already believers in Jesus Christ and he is talking about how we are sanctified in our lives by getting rid of this and that, listening to this command, and having freedom. In the middle of talking about sanctification, James uses a simile about two people who look into a mirror (verse 23). He is comparing and contrasting them. Jesus often did that when teaching… He taught about the Wise and Foolish Builders (Matthew 7:26-29), Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-31), The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14), and the Parable of the Two Servants (Matthew 24:45-51, Mark 13:34-37, Luke 12:35-48). Comparing things lets us see the truth. Contrasting two items allows us to understand the point of what is being taught. James wants to explain why sanctification is so important and he does it by comparing two people who look into a mirror.
The metaphor that James presents, about a mirror, is about the Bible. The mirror is the teachings of Jesus. The mirror is God’s way of living. The mirror is God’s will. The mirror is Christianity. The overall purpose of a mirror is examination. I think James uses a mirror in his simile between the two people because it is easy to read God’s Word or hear a message and see where someone else needs to change. It is a whole other matter to read God’s Word or hear a message, examine ourselves truthfully, and apply it right to us.
We are to Persevere in Faith, 1:2-5; Deal with Temptation, 1:13-15; Have Proper Anger, 1:19-20; Get rid of moral filth (verse 21); Humbly accept the Word of God as it is planted in us (verse 22); Do what God commands and live His way (verse 22); Watch what we say (verse 26); Look after orphans and widows (verse 27), and Keep ourselves from being polluted by the world (verse 27). That’s pretty deep.
James says do not show partiality in verse 1 of chapter 2. Partiality equals self-interest and worldly values looking to our own strength over faith in God. Faith equals trust in God thus covering over self-interest. James teaches us to be impartial to everyone understanding that we are the vessels of God’s grace. We should show others the kindness we would want which means we “love our neighbor” (verse 8). James also says that when we don’t do the good we know we should do, we sin.
James says faith works. This means having belief in Christ produces an action (living faith) that rebukes sinful behavior that arises from our hearts; hence our faith is tested (see chapter 1). As James states, God does not tempt us, but rather He leads the way for us to follow out of temptation. We learn to grow up into His character having the aim of completeness.
Therefore, even in long-suffering, we should keep in mind what God is up to counting it “all joy” because God counts such faith as righteousness. What God counts as righteousness we indeed can count as joy.
James says to speak and act as those under the law of liberty (people in touch with God’s mercy through Christ). Does not the law derive from the nature of God Himself? It does! So, the law of liberty is the reality over those who embrace God’s grace. God wants His whole law manifest in human beings and so we must connect to the source of grace (Christ) to live out under liberty. The Son is Lord over the law and so able to by mercy offer liberty. He is Lord and fulfills the requirements and can out of a new birth in us in light of this law of liberty.
I think there is much packed into the phrase “the law of liberty” for those who manifest faith that works (those in Christ). We are to live in accordance with the message received (Gospel) under the lordship of King Jesus, which is what it means to be under grace.
Jesus taught us so much: Compassion, Turning the Other Cheek, Speaking Truth in Love, Forgiveness, Loving our Neighbors, Being Committed to Holiness, Humble Hearts, Kind Speech, Living Rightly, Praying Often, Complete Trust in God the Father, Guarding our Hearts, Faithfulness in Marriage, Being Salt and Light, and so much more!
These types of actions must accompany the pronouncement of faith. James would say, in verse 19, that if we say we believe in Jesus, but don’t do anything about it then our faith is as good as a demon’s faith. Let that sink in a little. A demon knows God exists, but has chosen to go Satan’s way or even its own self-interested way. This may sound weird, but I want to have more character than a demon. I want to have better faith than an angel that has turned its back on God. I want to treat God better than an evil spirit. I want to have faith that leads me to salvation and that leads me to be more like Christ.
The Need for Spiritual Mature Speech is where chapter 3 begins.
James pens direct words with a simple explanation and examples that illustrate well our condition and our need for spiritual maturity. Yes, these are humbling words that expose our need for Christ and encourage conformity to the nature of Lord Jesus. I just love it. One example he targets is our tongues.
This passage describes the tongue as a powerful muscle that steers who we are. I like that The Message describes the mouth as a possible mud hole. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they talk and the words they use. You can tell how a person will react based on words they have used in the past. Chapter 3 describes words as a fire, restless evil, poison, and saltwater.
Surely you have heard the saying do not judge a book by its cover. Similar is the poetic suggestion that the “eyes are the window to the soul” which speaks of the person beneath the exterior body. James in the 3 chapters of his letter wisely writes that it is the tongue that manifests what is in the heart of a person. It is not the eyes. He states our tongues reveal the soul and speak to the reality of our strength or lack of control. Our tongue speaks to our level of spiritual maturity. Pun intended.
James says that negative speech and positive speech can come from the same fountain. He said this should not be so. It should not be the normal flow of language that both good and bad flow from the same mouth. We should not curse God and bless Him with the same mouth. We should not build up others and tear them down with the same tongue. Yet we do and it is a sin.
This passage from James shares with us that you and I are not stuck in our sinful nature that we all have. All of us deal with the sinful nature because we are human beings. All people deal with temptations and desires and sin. Our world is sinful and yet we do not have to be tied to this world. Many times we see characteristics and actions in the people around us and we conclude because everyone acts that way, talks that way, or spends their money that way that we must have to be that way too. We do not have to be bitter or angry or selfish or full of lies or unspiritual or envious or chaotic… even though the world tells us that being that way is ‘normal.’ We who are believers in Jesus Christ, we are not trapped by our sinful nature. We don’t have to be like the world says we have to be, but we are free in Christ to pursue Him. We can pursue God. Free to pursue God becomes our new ‘normal.’
What are we free to do? Who are we free to be?
Bearing Good Fruit
Dangerous Desires is where James begins this chapter.
James first talks about dangerous desires in this chapter. He uses words like “battle” and “kill” and “covet.” None of those are good words. James gives us the picture that a battle is going on inside us because we want what we want and we can’t have what we want. We want to be right. We want to be heard. We want the other person to agree with us. We want the other person to act like us. We can also want what other people have… which is what James is highlighting in particular. We want the same house, car, or clothes. We want friends like them. We want the job they have. We ‘want’ and because of that desire, a quarrel begins.
We have anger because we don’t have what we want and it causes an argument.
We have frustration because we can’t be like someone else and it causes a struggle.
We lack patience with another person and it comes out because they aren’t doing what we want.
Dangerous desires cause quarrels and arguments because they are feelings that get out of control and spiral into something else. I started feeling one way and then as a result acted in another way several steps down the road. James says to watch out for dangerous desires.
You ask wrongly (verse 3) James tells his readers (and us). It is true we ask God for many things, but in the asking how much do we consider our intentions and our desires? Do we think of our double-mindedness or our aggression for simply meeting our personal desires? If we do not consider such things, we will not have real relational peace with God.
James reminds his readers that fellowship with the world is a terrible friendship. Those that chase after their desires rather than God’s Will is in fact enmity with God. This is the reason God does not answer many prayers… because of the human disposition for self. Knowing this, James says we should be cleansing ourselves of enmity-potential behavior because the only proper response to being loved is love. God loves us. We should want to love Him in return.
James’ words are so practical. He says with authority, “there is only one lawgiver and judge.” James here teaches it is only truly effective to do what God says. Doing what God says leads to blessings and life, whereas, judging even based on God’s law leads to punishments and death. James makes it clear everyone transgresses the law. See also Romans 3:23 and also Ecclesiastes 7:20.
God gives instructions (law) not simply to judge others or ourselves, but to make way to forgive and live. Paul speaks of this in Romans chapter 2 when pointing to those Gentiles who do God’s law because it is written on their hearts. With such people, the Prophets predict God would make a covenant.
God leads. We follow. God leads. We follow. We are to commit ourselves to practically living out what God has written on our hearts and leading others in the right direction. God is in command, not man. God is in command, not us. Yet, He does lead through His children… Jesus is the first fruit. The Godman Jesus Christ leads the way for humanity to part take in God’s Will. James says don’t just hear Jesus, but do. Likewise, do not just enforce the word of God on others, but lovingly live it out. That is what really helps others. Without love, we are just making noise.
A Word on Greed and Prayer is where James finishes.
James concludes with words of distress for the greedy rich. They are to weep and howl for without repentance… misery is coming on them. He states this as a fact that is actively coming to them as a proclamation against their ill-gotten lifestyle. This is true for all who reject God’s offer of the New Covenant through Christ Jesus.
So, it is for us a warning to flee from worldly (selfish) contentment because it is better to be patient in suffering than rich without God.
James says we should always be about prayer. If we are cheerful, we should sing. The followers of Christ are to be patient in suffering because such testing reveals faith and brings forth the character that overcomes the world’s ungodly selfish ways. I have been taught and echo it here that complaining and victimhood are not Christ’s way. Jesus was a victim of wickedness and His response was to embrace all our sufferings and trials as a human being and overcome them by prayer and faithfulness. Thus, we must do the same. We must turn from grumbling (as James states) and pray instead. Our faith should be placed in the faithfulness of Christ. He will intervene and/or see us through.
James says the sick should ask for help. His words seem to point to the spiritually sick. It would also include those sick in body and mind. We are to ask for the Elders’ help. The sick are to be anointed with oil and prayed for in the Name of the Lord. To call on the Elders is to submit to the orderly exercise of authority. I don’t think this means others can’t pray, but leaders are to lead in looking to Christ Himself (not men) in trying times.
God can heal spiritual apathy.
God can heal a broken heart.
God can heal cancer.
God can heal depression, emotional distress, and grief.
God can change greed and selfishness.
God can change hatred and unforgiveness.
God can change injustice to justice.
God can change a loveless marriage into a love-filled marriage.
God can bless us with material wealth.
God can bless us with healthy parents and supportive siblings.
God can bless us with quiet times to rest.
God can bless us with spiritual support in the worst of times.
James also says that the prayer of faith will bring healing to a person. By saying, “prayer of faith will save him,” James seems to have an understanding of a “whole person” being a “soul.” This makes the idea of physical healing and the deeper soul healing for salvation confusing to our modern western mind. Is James talking about the body being healed? Spiritual healing? Both? I ask these questions because of how James speaks to the need of confessing sins one to another. He also speaks of leading people back to faith who have wandered from the faith. He says this will “save their soul from death.”
A LONG NOTE: A bit more about “saving the soul from death.”
Soul and death are topics from the opening pages of Genesis. This is the result of sin. Hopefully, you have heard the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). James has this in mind as he states, “will save that person’s soul [breath of life (spirit), animating force] from death. The death of souls comes by God alone (Matthew 10:28). Thus, this is total destruction unless you take the death of the soul to mean separation of body and soul… leaving the person disembodied without God in miseries that arise from their sins. Death does not mean disembodied misery since that idea would strip death of its absolute meaning. You must bring the assumption the soul cannot die to the text for that to make sense. James says the outcome (death) should be escaped (be saved from). Understand the word transliterated psoo-khay (breath or spirit) is stated to be saved from death. Let me note Matthew 10:28 where Jesus uses the same word and states that only God can destroy the psoo-kay (breath, the breath of life, animating force or spirit) soul. Moreover, Jesus includes the body in the destruction only God can render. Jesus also calls this destruction the second death in Revelation 2:11 which is something Jesus said would take place at His coming (see Matthew 25:31-46). Also, in Matthew 16:26, Jesus states, “For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life.” That same Greek word is used here for “life” is the same word that James uses for “soul.” All the examples I have given are to take place on Judgment Day. Again, the same Greek word for life/soul is used. In connection with the words/terms death, eternal fire, cast into the lake of fire/second death, destroyed… all happen at the same time… Judgment Day.
When all these words are harmonized with historical context and grammar, it means James plainly spoke about the death of the soul. We should note that even the translators of the NIV use the word “them”/”him” when translating psoo-khay to denote “the whole person.” I think this is what James manes by writing “will be saved from death.” We should be careful not to assume James’ perspective is our own. I urge you to think about his words for yourself thoroughly.