Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5

In this epistle the writer identifies himself as, "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ," addresses his readers as "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad," and immediately begins his message. His closing is even more abrupt. His entire message seems more closely geared to the matters of practical godliness than to the deeper doctrines, as are often addressed by the Apostle Paul.

Chapter 1

(Verses 1 through 4) "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."


There are four men, named James, mentioned in the New Testament. One of these is a brother of our Lord Jesus the Christ. He is the James accepted as the author of this epistle. He identifies himself as "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." This epistle is addressed to "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad", which, of course, is the Jewish Christians who have been dispersed over many nations, unless one can assume that he is using the Jewish expression, "the twelve tribes," to mean all of the Christians, both Jews and Gentiles. James' style of writing is quite different from that of the Apostle Paul, in that he gives no prayer for those whom he addresses, but simply says, "Greeting," and immediately begins his message. The word, "temptations," is often used in the New Testament to mean "trials" or "tribulations" instead of "temptations" as we most commonly consider them. This seems to be the case in the present instance, since James says, "count it all joy when ye fall into divers [diverse, or various] temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience." This is in perfect agreement with the Apostle Paul's statement in Romans 5:3-5."And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost Which is given unto us." James says, "But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." That is, when we are faced by these tribulations, let us not become discouraged, and give up because of the hardships, but beg our Lord for strength to bear it. Then through the patience He works in us by these trials, we are made stronger and finally brought to that hope, or "confident expectation," of God's help, protection, and eternal glory, which will never let us down, or leave us ashamed. For it is the evidence of the love of God that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, Which is given unto us. When we are brought to that assurance we are "perfect and entire, wanting nothing."


(Verses 5 through 8) "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. 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. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."


No one should misunderstand what James is here telling us. The only portion of this passage that might be in question is, "If any of you lack wisdom," for every man lacks wisdom. No one among men has all wisdom; and whatever one does not have, he lacks. So, obviously, the meaning is, "If any of you feels a need for wisdom." If so, there is only One to Whom we can go with any expectation of receiving what we need. "Let him ask of God" Who gives to all liberally, and does not upbraid, or rebuke those who ask. We are then given a caution: "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering." Notice the similarity between this and Hebrews 11:6, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." James says that the one who wavers, or doubts, is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind, having no stability, and no direction, except that dictated by the wind. Such a person has no reason to expect God to give him any thing for which he asks. In short, unless we have faith in God, and believe that He can do what we ask, there is no reason for us to ask. For he who prays without faith, just as he who does anything else without faith, cannot please God, and therefore needs not to expect favorable reception at His hands. A double-minded man, one whose mind is not anchored by faith, is unstable, or undependable, in all his ways.


(Verses 9 through 11) "Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: but the rich in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. 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."


The "brother of low degree" refers not to being of low esteem in the sight of God, but to being poor in this world's goods, just as "the rich" refers to one who is wealthy in the things of the world. So the poor brother is to rejoice and take comfort in that, in spite of his poverty in worldly things, God has had compassion on him, made him rich in the love of God, and exalted him to the position of son of the living God. At the same time the rich brother is to rejoice that God has brought him down from his falsely exalted attitude and dependence upon worldly wealth, and has made him humble before God and man as he has been made to realize how fleeting are worldly riches, and how little to be depended upon. Just as the flower of the grass withers away when the blazing sun shines down upon it, worldly wealth, fame, pleasures, etc., can, and often do, melt away. So the rich can rejoice that God has brought him down from his proud dependence upon such, and caused him to look up by faith in the living God.


(Verses 12 through 15) "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. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted of evil, neither tempteth He any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."


The Greek word translated "temptation," is as versatile as the old English usage of "temptation," in that it can mean "temptation," as we commonly consider it today, and it can mean "trial," or tribulation." The same is true of that translated "tempted." It can mean "enticed to evil," "put to the test," or "tried." The only way of differentiating among the meanings is by what fits the context. It would then appear from the context that at this point we are to consider it as enticement to evil. The man who endures this, not he who yields to it, but he who firmly endures without yielding, will after the trial is finished "receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to them that love Him." How like what the Apostle Paul said, II Timothy 4:8, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them that love His appearing". None but those who love the Lord, and have been given faith by which to believe in and depend upon Him can endure such temptations without yielding; and even they sometimes stumble, witness the Apostle Paul's discussion of the matter in the seventh chapter of the Roman Epistle. Nevertheless the One, Who began the good work in them "will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ;" and by Him they will endure. When any man is tempted to commit some evil thing, he cannot say that this temptation comes from God, because God cannot be tempted to do evil, and neither does He tempt any one with evil. When we are tempted it is by our own lusts, not by the Lord. As declared above, if we faithfully endure the temptation without yielding, we are blessed of God; but when that lust conceives, that is, when we yield to it, it brings forth sin. When sin is finished, that is, when it is followed on to the end, it brings forth death. "The wages of sin is death." One who is never turned away from sin has no promise of life. Certainly one should never argue that God, should He see fit, could not save a man on his deathbed, and give Him eternal life; but He did not promise to do this.


(Verses 16 through 18) "Do not err, my beloved brethren. 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. Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures."


Whether, in study, verse 16 should be included with verses 12 through 15, or with verses 17 and 18, might be controversial with some, but it is good advice with both passages. It actually means, "Make no mistake," and that should be applied to both. In the present text, James says that every thing good or perfect is a gift of God, the Father of lights; and that He never changes, nor even shows any inclination to change, "shadow of turning." Further, it is of His will alone, not ours, that He begat us with the word of truth. The fact that there are more Greek words than one that are translated, "word," seems to be a little confusing to some. That used here is "logos," which originally did not mean "word" at all, but "a collecting," or "a collection." Through time, it, as is often true with words in a "living" language, began to take on different shades of meaning. And by New Testament times, it was allowable as "word," because it was considered as the expression of the collection of thoughts, intents, purposes, etc., which is usually done by words. The Apostle John often used it, as in John 1:1, to mean the collected Personal Essence of the wisdom and power of God, and that seems to be the meaning James places upon it here. Then by this Word of truth He has begotten us and has purposed us to "be a kind of firstfruits of all things He has created." (The word translated "creatures" literally means "created things." The Apostles Paul and Peter agree that there will be a renewal, or a restitution of all created things. Therefore as Christ has been raised from the dead, and has become "the firstfruits of them that slept," so we, having been begotten of the Father by Him, are made "a kind of firstfruits" of God's created things.


(Verses 19 through 21) "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls".


Based upon what has already been said James admonishes us to be swift to hear, which certainly does not mean that we should be swift to hear all manner of rumors that may be in circulation, nor whatever new doctrine someone may bring. Rather it means that we must be swift to hear the word of God. Let us be slow to speak. Proverbs 18:13 says, "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him;" and far too often people are too quick to answer a matter, even sometimes before they have properly heard it. Certainly we should be slow to wrath, because the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. Since it does not work righteousness, it must work unrighteousness; and that we need to avoid. Let us lay aside "all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness," literally, "all filthiness and residue of evil," that is, all those evil lusts that are still part of our old nature, "and receive with meekness the engrafted word," which is able to save our souls. Again James uses "logos," with, no doubt, the same meaning as before, since here he calls it "engrafted." It is not just something we have heard, and decided to follow, but something which has been grafted into us; and that which is grafted into anything, or anyone, is implanted not by that which receives the graft, but by an outside force, in this case, God. Since this word that has been grafted into us is "able to save" our souls, we have no reason to look elsewhere or be afraid that He will not take care of us. Keep in mind that HE IS ABLE, that is, He is mighty to save. So through Him we shall be delivered from the wrath to come. Therefore we should receive this engrafted word with meekness, remembering that it is by the grace of God, and not by any merit of our own.


(Verses 22 through 25) "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 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: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 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."


One thing that is to be noted in the writings of James is his consistency in maintaining that with the true believer there must be good works. They cannot be separated. In keeping with this, he says, Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." "Word," or "logos," as he uses it here, evidently means "the collection of God's thoughts and purposes," as expressed in the witnessing of the gospel. And he insists that those who hear it, assuming, of course, that they profess to believe it, and do not the works that are in keeping with it, are deceiving their own selves. They think they have salvation, but are mistaken. He likens one who hears but fails to do, to a man who, looking at his reflection in a mirror, turns away from the mirror and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the blessing that is in the deed, assurance, comes to the man who "looketh into the perfect law of liberty [the gospel] and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work."


(Verses 26 and 27) "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. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."


Later in this epistle, James tells us that no man can tame the tongue. This is not contrary to what he says here. When we take a wild animal, and tame it, we can turn it loose without a bridle, or leash; but so long as it has to be kept on a leash, or with a bridle, it cannot be properly considered tame. Since the tongue cannot be tamed, it must be kept bridled or leashed. Otherwise it will cause trouble. Now the man who seems to be religious, or appears outwardly religious, but does not bridle his tongue, is only deceiving his own heart. His religion is vain, worthless. There are many things that are called religion, but only two KINDS of religion. There is vain religion; and there is "pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father." The former is false, embracing many things, all of which are worthless, or even worse, detrimental. The latter can be summed up in two words, "Good Works," because James declares that it is this, "To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." To "visit someone in his affliction" means more than just to stop by, and inquire about his health. It means doing whatever one can to relieve that affliction. At the same time one must give diligence to keep himself from being spotted, or defiled with the things of the world. Proverbs 6:27-28 says, "Can a man take fire into his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?" Just so one cannot engage in sin without being spotted, or defiled thereby.

Chapter 2

(Verses 1 through 4) "My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?"


Surely this is clear enough for everyone to understand the lesson in it. But to give a little sharper contrast between the rich man and the poor man under consideration let us look at a slightly different, but fully acceptable translation of their descriptions. As translated above we have, "a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and_ _ _a poor man in vile raiment." Now a translation closer to the shade of meaning of the Greek language: "a man adorned with gold rings, in magnificent clothing, and_ _ _a beggar in dirty clothes." This is about as far apart, so far as their worldly status is concerned, as men can get. Yet if we show preference for the well-dressed man over the other, on the basis of their worldly condition, we are sinning. We have set ourselves up as judges, and that upon the foundation of evil thoughts, and not upon the truth.


(Verses 5 through 10) "Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: but if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all."


James takes up both sides of the illustration given above. First, he reminds us that God has "chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him." Yet if we have acted as noted above, we have despised the poor, the very one whom God has chosen. He further reminds us that it is the rich who oppress the Lord's people. They are the ones who historically have oppressed and persecuted the saints, even dragging them into judgment, or court, and sometimes having them condemned to death. Moreover they are the ones who have most often blasphemed the name of our Lord. Yet, under the scenario presented, we have given them preference over the Lord's poor. What a shame! He tells us, "If ye fulfill the royal law, according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well: but if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced [literally, "convicted"] of the law as transgressors." We are to show love to the rich and the poor alike, and thus fulfill the "royal law." But if we show partiality, we have only fulfilled part of that law, and violated the other. We therefore are convicted of the law as transgressors, because one who keeps the whole law except one point, and violates that is guilty of all.


(Verses 11 through 13) "For He That said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy: and mercy rejoiceth against judgment."


The first thing to be said about verse 11 is that it DOES NOT teach that if one finds that he has broken one of God's commandments, he might as well see how many of them he can break. What it does teach is that I cannot condemn a brother, and hold myself guiltless just because I have not committed the same sin he has, but have broken some other commandment, because all the law is by the same law-giver, God. If God shows through the repentance of a man and a change of the man's life that He has forgiven him, I cannot condemn him. We are to speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty; not liberty to do as we please, but liberty from the bondage that was under the law. Under that bondage every man had to answer to the penalty of each commandment he might have broken, and that without any consideration of mercy. If we are going to use that same system of judging, we shall also be judged without mercy. "Mercy rejoiceth against judgment." We who hope to receive mercy of the Lord, should rejoice in showing mercy to others.


(Verses 14 through 18) "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works; shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works."


In his letter to the Romans, Paul went to considerable length to prove that Abraham, and we also, are justified by faith without works. However his use of the phrase, "without works" means not that faith was not accompanied by works, but that faith, and not works is the basis for justification. In his usage of that phrase, James means faith, or more properly, a profession of faith, with no works to accompany it. So instead of contradicting, the two apostles complement each other. James' meaning in verses 14 through 17 is very clear. A profession of faith is totally false and worthless, if the one who makes it is so devoid of the love of God that he will not contribute to the necessity of a brother or sister who is in need. It is only a dead profession, seeing that it is not accompanied by the most basic action of Christianity. One who is thus may indeed believe that there is one God; and many would have us believe that this is proof that he is a child of God. A little later we shall see that James does not share that belief. Now he says, "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: Shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works." So the picture is that if I am claiming to have faith, but am not doing any good works, any man who is doing good works, whether or not he has ever made any profession of faith, has the right to challenge me upon those grounds. Not only can he make the challenge, but when he does, his works will uphold him, and my lack of them will bring me to shame.


(Verses 19 through 23) "Thou believest there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain [worthless] man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the friend of God."


As noted above some seem to think that if a person just believes that there is one God, this is sure evidence of salvation; but James will have none of this. He says that it is good to believe this; but it still is no more than the devils do, if it be by itself. They not only believe that there is one God. They believe it so strongly that even now they tremble in fear of the punishment He has reserved for them. Nowhere does the word of God promise any hope of salvation for any one of them. In the light of this, James says, "O worthless man, don't you know that faith without works is dead?" He then takes Abraham for an example of faith manifested by works. When God told Abraham to take Isaac, his son, and offer him for a burnt sacrifice to God, Abraham immediately started to the place of sacrifice, carrying Isaac with him. Since all are familiar with the account of this event, it is not necessary to repeat it here. The subject with which we are now concerned is that of Abraham's faith and the works that accompanied it. Hebrews 11: 17-19 gives a short account of this, and concludes by giving us the essence of Abraham's faith, in these words: "Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure". Believing this Abraham prepared to slay his own son as an offering to God, and was prevented only by the voice of God. James says that in this, "faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect," or complete. Although the scripture says, "Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness," Abraham's works proved his faith, and thus also proved him to be righteous.


(Verses 24 through 26) "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works when she had received the messengers, and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."


It would seem that his recounting of Abraham's experience should convince  anyone that it is necessary that faith be accompanied by works to have any validity; and that without works it can be nothing but an empty profession. Yet James reminds us of another example. When Israel 's spies came to Jericho , Rahab, believing that God would deliver Jericho into the hands of Israel , hid the spies from the citizens of Jericho , and sent them away in secret. For this she and her household were spared when Israel invaded Jericho . She too was justified by works. The conclusion of this matter is simple, but profound. "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."


Chapter 3

(Verses 1 through 5) "My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits into the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are turned about by a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!"


Verse 1 is somewhat more readily understood if we translate "didaskaloi" as "teachers" instead of "masters," "teachers" being the more commonly accepted meaning, sometimes with the idea of "great teachers," or those teachers who like to enlist a large group of followers. Thus we have, "My brethren, be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation." In I Corinthians 12:28 , the Apostle Paul asks, "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?" Since this question was asked concerning the "gifts" given to the church, and since the Holy Ghost gives these gifts as is pleasing to Him, we should apply this to James' statement, "Be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation." Certainly no one to whom the Holy Ghost has given the gift of teaching will receive greater condemnation for exercising that gift. The condemnation comes upon us when we heap to ourselves many teachers without regard to whether or not God has given them that gift, and without regard to what they teach. James is here giving a warning against many clamoring for the position of teacher. When such occurs it is necessary to have some test by which we can determine who is qualified for the post. So he says, "For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." There are many things that if taught, or even spoken, would offend, or be detrimental to, all. If one who brings in those things that would be detrimental is suffered to teach, we will indeed receive the greater condemnation. On the other hand, "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able to bridle the whole body." Only those who do not bring in detrimental things by the tongue (in word) are to be allowed to teach. Such can also bridle, or control, the whole body. James gives us two examples of what he plans to present, that when he does present it the groundwork will already be laid. He reminds us that, since the bits we put in the horses' mouths are part of the bridle, we are able thereby to control the whole body of the horse, although the bit is such a small thing. Also a ship, huge as it is, and driven with mighty winds, is controlled by a very small helm. Then he says, "Even so the tongue is a small member." The bit in the horse's mouth is a small member, and so is the helm of the ship. Yet he who controls them, controls the whole horse, or the whole ship. So he who can control his tongue is able also to control his whole body. The tongue, when controlled, "boasteth," (or promises) great things, that is, it gives great promise of control of the whole body. However, if uncontrolled, the tongue can cause great harm. Just consider how great a fire a single match, or even a spark, can kindle.


(Verses 6 through 10) "And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and birds, and serpents, and things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be."


Having called our attention to the power of just a small fire when not controlled, James tells us, "the tongue is a fire." This would be bad enough if it were an ordinary fire. That would be sufficient cause to make it imperative that it be controlled, but there is more. It is "a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell." Nothing can destroy the peace and fellowship of two brethren, a church, a community, or a whole country, any more quickly than an uncontrolled tongue. The reason for this is that it stirs up, and sets on fire the entire course of nature; and the fire with which it is set is that of hell. Although it cannot be tamed, it must be controlled; and those who can control their tongues are able also to control their whole bodies. All manner of birds, beasts, and even serpents, have been tamed; but the tongue is an unruly evil, which cannot be tamed. Therefore we must put forth every effort to keep it bridled, on leash, or controlled, because like an untamed beast, it cannot be let "run loose." Every time it gets loose it spreads deadly poison. We are reminded that it is with the same mouth, and tongue, that we praise God and blaspheme men who are made in the image of God. These things ought not so to be.


(Verses 11 through 13) "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? Either a vine, figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom."


Continuing with his counsel that blessing and cursing should not proceed from the same tongue, James reminds us that no fountain can produce both salt water and fresh; and neither can olive berries grow on fig trees, nor figs, on vines, as further evidence that we are by our inconsistency violating even the laws of nature. Then he sums up what this whole discussion is about. In verse 1 he says, "My brethren, be not many teachers." Here he says, "Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you?" (Certainly this is the type of persons we need for teachers.) If there is such a person, or if there are such persons, "let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom."


(Verses 14 through 16) "But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work."


If instead of being those who out of a good lifestyle show good works with meekness of wisdom, we have bitter envying and strife in our hearts, we have nothing to boast, or glory of; and there is no need to pretend that every thing is as it should be. To do so is only to lie against the truth. What causes such a condition is an evil wisdom. This wisdom is not that which God gives, but instead of coming down from above, it is from below, is earthly, arises from our lusts, and is of the devil; and this is proved by the envying and strife, because where they are found there are all manner of evil works and confusion.


(Verses 17 and 18) "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace."


No explanation can make this any clearer. One, who will not understand this, can be helped by no one other than the Lord Himself. A good companion reading for this is Gal. 5:22-23.


Chapter 4

(Verses 1 through 3) "From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts."


The first thing we notice here is that the fightings and wars mentioned are not those among nations, but "among you," that is, individual, or sometimes factional, disturbances. While it is true that wars between nations are brought about by lusts, this is not what is under consideration. Just as surely as there is disturbance in a church, it can be traced to lusts that war in our members. We see something we want, and start working, sometimes deviously, to obtain it. The expression, "ye kill, and desire to have," may not be intended literally, in the sense of physically killing a brother or sister, but in what is often called, "character assassination." Both are instigated by the same spirit, and with similar intent. James says that we do these things in order to obtain something, and still fail to get that for which we lust. We could have accomplished more by asking, or praying for it. Then sometimes we even pray for something and never receive it, because we have asked amiss. That for which we asked was neither for the glory of God, nor for the benefit of His saints, but only for the gratification of our lusts. Therefore it was withheld from us.


(Verses 4 through 7) "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But He giveth more grace. Wherefore He saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you."


Without question adulterers and adulteresses in the flesh are at enmity with God. Yet in view of the context it seems that James is more concerned at this point with what is known as "spiritual adultery." Remember that the Apostle Paul said, (II Cor. 11:2,) "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." When one who has been espoused to another turns aside, and has an affair with another, he, or she, is an adulterer, or an adulteress. If we, having been espoused to Christ, turn aside to the world, trying to cultivate its friendship, we are guilty of "spiritual adultery," because friendship with the world is enmity with God. He then asks the question, "Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?" Now "the spirit that dwelleth in us" is a reference not to the Holy Ghost, but to the human spirit, which still has the old lusts that have always led to sin. Since that spirit does lust, and always has lusted, to envy, and all other evils, it is necessary that we maintain constant vigilance against it. To help us in this, God gives more grace. So He says, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." Upon the basis of this promise, James admonishes us, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Since God has promised grace to the humble, let us submit ourselves to Him, humble ourselves before Him. In that condition, He gives us grace with which to put Satan to flight.


(Verses 8 through 10) "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of God, and He shall lift you up."


All of this is still directed at the same problem introduced in verse 1, and continued from there in one manner or another. In order to correct that condition, it is necessary to draw closer to God. When this is done He will draw closer to us, and in this fellowship alone can we come to the condition of true repentance described in these verses. True repentance entails the cleansing of our hands by the putting away of the evils in which we have been engaged, purifying our hearts by concentrating upon our Lord and His commandments instead of vacillating in our minds between His love and the friendship of the world, turning away from rejoicing in the evils we have been practicing, and mourning over all our evil works. Then, and only then, can we indeed humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, that He may lift us up.


(Verses 11 and 12) "Speak no evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, Who is able to save and destroy: who art thou that judgest another?"


Certainly this upholds a saying we have heard all of our lives, "If you can't say something good about a person, don't say anything." At the same time it does not negate what the Apostle Paul has said, (II Thess. 3:6,) "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." If a brother is known to be walking contrary to the commandments of our Lord, we are to have no part, nor fellowship, with him, because the true Lawgiver has already declared His judgment against him. What we are here warned against is saying evil against a brother because he has done something we do not like, without any consideration of whether or not it is against the commandments of our Lord. To do so is to establish our own rules, or laws, and condemn a brother for violating them. Thus we set ourselves up as both legislators and judges, neither of which is within our authority. There is only "One Lawgiver Who is able to save and destroy." He, of course, is God. We have to recognize His judgments; but we are not authorized to legislate or judge.


(Verses 13 through 17) "Go to now, ye that say, today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."


This seems a very minor thing to some, but not so with James. His first statement in verse 13 should be read, "Depart now, ye that say_ _ _," just as our Lord's sentence to the evil ones, Matthew 7:23, "_ _ _depart from Me, ye that work iniquity." This shows how detestable to him is the practice of those who rejoice in their boastings of what they propose to do, all of which is evil. Instead of boasting of what we are going to do, we ought always not only to remember, but to openly acknowledge that what we are going to do is entirely dependent upon what God sees fit to permit, thus giving Him the honor that is His rightful due. There is an old saying, "The only things that are sure are death and taxes." But James reminds us that even though death may be sure, the time of it is, so far as we are concerned, the most uncertain thing there is. It may be several years down the road, or it may be in the next minute. Our life is but a vapor that is here now, and at any moment may vanish away. "For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that." As noted above some think this a very minor thing even to be brought up. To them let us say, "If it is that little, why not do it? It will not cost you anything, and will take very little effort." We should keep in mind verse 17, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." We cannot say that we do not know to do this. We are already warned.


Chapter 5


(Verses 1 through 6) "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in the day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you."


There is, perhaps, no need of explaining the accusations, which are here made against the rich. For the greater part they seem self-explanatory. Yet a few things should be pointed out. There have been a few rich men who have been called of God, and made partakers of His salvation. Such was Joseph of Arimathaea, who buried our Lord in his own new tomb. In I Cor. 1:26, the Apostle Paul says, "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called." He did not say, "Not any." So James' warning is not against every rich man, but against rich men in general, because so few are called, and specifically against the rich who fit his description. Those who have acquired their riches by means of the evil practices he names will, in the Day of Judgment, have nothing to cover them, and hide them from the wrath of God. Their "garments are moth eaten." They cannot bribe the Judge with their cankered riches. The original meaning of "the Lord of sabaoth" is "the Lord of the armies of Israel ," as God's army for maintaining His cause in war. In James' usage of it, it appears to have more the meaning of "the Lord of the heavenly host." In either case it is the same eternal God; and His power is the same. The cries of those who have been wronged by these rich men have "entered into the ears of the "Lord of sabaoth." Their cause is before Him, and He will judge it. Verse 6 may refer to the condemnation and crucifixion of our Lord, since it was the leaders and rich men who persuaded Pilate to order the crucifixion, or it may refer to the ongoing practice of oppressing, condemning, and killing of God's saints. In either case, there is presently no resistance being offered to them; but make no mistake; the Judge is not asleep, He will not forget, and He will execute judgment at His appointed time.


(Verses 7 through 9) "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the Husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the Judge standeth before the door."


Having delivered his warning to the rich, James now turns to the brethren with the counsel to be patient, pointing out that our Lord, "the Husbandman" is patiently waiting until all the precious fruit of the earth is ripe; and this calls for waiting through the entire growing season, "until He receive the early and latter rain." Since He is waiting with "long patience," so should we. We should "stablish our hearts," that is, concentrate our thoughts and our affections upon our Lord and His coming, "for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." Some object to this, for they say, "It has been almost two thousand years since Jesus went away." Perhaps as good an answer as can be given to this is that given by the late Dr. M. R. DeHann. Several years ago, while preaching concerning the return of our Lord, he said, "I am looking for Him to come back this year. Now if He does not come this year, someone is sure to say, `Aren't you embarrassed because He didn't come this year?' But my answer will be, `No. I'll just look for Him next year.'" This is apparently the attitude, which was shared by the apostles. The Greek word translated "grudge", in verse 9, actually means "groan," "sigh," or "murmur." So the admonition is "Don't murmur against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned; behold, the Judge is standing before the door."


(Verses 10 through 13) "Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation."


There is no better example of patience in the suffering of afflictions than that of the prophets, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah. Yet the writer of Hebrews says, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." Yet we count them happy that endure. So surely with such an example before us, we too can be patient. Job is well known to all as an example of patience, and his experience shows us that in the end God is merciful and full of pity. Yet something is needed that is even more important than a lesson in patience. That is that when we say, "yes," or "no," that is sufficient, without having to add some oath to it. This is not an admonition against taking such an oath as may be required by law, but against saying, "I swear such and such," or "By heaven_ _ _," or some other oath people sometimes fall into the practice of saying, thinking that it makes what they are saying a little stronger. We are to refrain from such, lest we fall into condemnation.


(Verses 13 through 15) "Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."


These are some very simple instructions for the welfare of the church. The one who is afflicted will certainly, more than anyone else, realize his weakness and his dependence upon God. Therefore he is one who is best qualified to pray, as also he will most feel the need of prayer. The one who is merry is not instructed to be a comedian, and try to make people laugh; but he is to sing psalms. Since, by definition, a psalm is a song of praise to God, there can be no confusion about what kind of songs he is to sing. If there are sick people among the saints, they are to call the elders of the church to come and pray over them. When they do this, they are to anoint the sick with oil in the name of the Lord. Since the word, "elder," does not necessarily mean a preacher, but a leader, it has sometimes been debated as to whom James here refers. No doubt he means men who are dedicated to the service of God and are able in prayer. If they pray in faith for the sick, the Lord will not only heal the sick, but also forgive whatever sins he may have committed.


(Verses 16 through 18) "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit."


If one has wronged another, though it may be unintentionally, and though the wronged party may not know about it, he who has committed the wrong, as soon as he is aware of it, should go to the injured party, confess his fault, and ask forgiveness. Then both parties should pray together for one another. In general we should pray one for another at all times, whether or not one has injured another. In this way whatever potential problems may exist will be healed. James says "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." The question immediately arises, "What is an effectual fervent prayer?" In answer, let us first say what it is not. It is not a long literary composition of high sounding words and phrases, with, perhaps, several scriptural quotations carefully inserted therein for effect upon men. Neither is it a piece of poetry couched in old English, to sound like some think a prayer should, nor any other memorized so called "prayer" quoted for its effect upon the hearers. Now for the positive side of the matter. The first thing said about this prayer is that it is effectual. For anything to be effectual, it must accomplish the end purposed; in this case the one praying must receive that for which he prays. Otherwise it is ineffectual. In Mark 11:24-26, our Lord said, "Therefore say I unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any: that your Father also Which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father Which is in heaven forgive your trespasses." There are many other scriptures to which we can go for a definition of an "effectual prayer," but they will only support that already said. An effectual prayer is the prayer of a heart that believes that the Lord will grant the petition; and a heart that forgives and is forgiven. A fervent prayer is one not only that the petitioner believes that the Lord will grant, but one that has been laid so heavily upon his heart that it is as fire within. The dictionary gives the definition of "fervent" thus: "Hot; glowing; intensely warm; hot in temper; vehement; ardent; glowing with religious feeling; zealous." With this understanding of the matter, James says, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." In the event one may question, "Who is a righteous man?" The answer is given in our Lord's statement quoted above. He is one who forgives and is forgiven. The story of Elias (Elijah) is given in I Kings, chapters 17 through 19 and II Kings, chapters 1 and 2. James says that he was a man subject to the same passions that we are, and yet God answered his prayers in a very outstanding way. Therefore we should take courage to come boldly to the throne of grace.


(Verses 19 and 20) "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."


As long as we are in this old body of flesh, we will be subject to error. James is fully aware of this. So he encourages us to watch over one another for the good of all. When one turns away from any part of the truth of God, and begins to follow after erroneous practices, or doctrines, someone should go to him in the spirit of love and meekness, and counsel with him about this mistake. If his mission is successful, in that the erring one turns back to the truth, assure him that he has saved a soul from death, and by this action he will hide, or do away with a multitude of sins. Had the erring brother been permitted to go on without correction, it would have brought about his death; perhaps, not physical death, but surely death to his influence for good among the saints. In addition it, no doubt, would have led others, as well as himself, further into sin. By turning him back to the truth, all those sins are hidden, or avoided. As compared to the Apostle Paulís manner of closing an epistle, this seems very abrupt; but so far as we know, there was never any more to this letter.

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