SOME STRAIGHT TALK FROM THE BROTHER OF JESUS
The James Ossuary
A two-thousand year old bone box with the Aramaic inscription:
Ya’akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua (Translation: “James, son of Joseph,
brother of Jesus”).
The James Ossuary discovery was announced in 2002. It was first declared authentic but continues to be challenged by other authorities up to the date of this publication. (Courtesy Wikipedia).
All scripture quotations in this publication are from the holy Bible, New International Version, except where noted (published by Zondervan Corporation, copyright, 1985).
Copyright © 2011 Jim Gerrish
When we look at the little book of James it is possible that we are getting a peek at the very earliest Christianity. A number of scholars feel that James might even be the first book of the New Testament. In James we are also getting a look at Christianity as it is described by a member of Jesus’ own family, for the author, James the Just, was likely the oldest of Jesus’ brothers. Although Jesus’ name is scarcely mentioned (perhaps due to the humility of James himself), the teaching of Jesus fills this book, especially references to his Sermon on the Mount. One author says about this that James, “more than any other New Testament writing outside the four Gospels, is permeated by the thoughts and sayings
of Jesus.” 1
Although some scholars see this book as being late and written shortly before the martyrdom of James in AD 62, there is much evidence for the early date. Some think it was written even before the Jerusalem Council in AD 49. A few hints of an early date are the use of “synagogue” to describe the church in 2:2, and there is the clear lack of church organization reflected in the epistle. Then there is the word “elder” which is used in the Jewish sense in 5:14; and the fact that James makes no mention of the great controversy over the Gentile mission (cf. Acts 15). 2
While the Book of James may have had an early date, it was nevertheless quite slow in gaining acceptance by the church. The Muratorian Canon (AD 170) gives an early listing of New Testament books but James is absent from the list. The early African church father, Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220) did not mention James although he made over seven thousand quotes from the New Testament. At last James was quoted by Hilary of Poitiers about AD 357. 3 For such reasons some, including the great Martin Luther, have doubted the authenticity of James.
Perhaps all this can be explained by the extremely turbulent times in which James may have been written. Certainly by AD 66 the land of Israel was engulfed in the great revolt against Rome. In this revolt the early Jerusalem church fled across the Jordan to Pella and was no doubt in a great state of disorganization and distress. After the revolt ended, life in Israel was greatly disrupted for many years. This may have caused a serious delay in the circulation of the James letter. It is interesting that the church father Origen (c. 185-254) made mention of James only after coming in close contact with the
Palestinian church. 4
If James was written early by the brother of Jesus it was obviously written from Jerusalem where James was the leader of the church. As we shall see in the text it was written to those believers scattered or dispersed from Jerusalem and from Israel. Even the scattered and stressed nature of the recipients would probably not bode well for the book of James being received and accepted by the church at large.
Nevertheless, regarding this little book the Canadian professor Peter Davids remarks: “The Epistle of James is one of the most exciting parts of the New Testament. It has a hard-hitting punch and a reality-oriented attitude.” He adds that this sometimes catches readers off guard and astounds them. But at the same time it offers them many practical guidelines for life. 5
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, James 1:1
James doesn’t tell us much about himself. He sees himself only as a servant (doulos) or slave of Jesus. In the New Testament there were at least five people who had the name “James,” but only two were of special prominence. There was James the son of Zebedee and brother of John, one of Jesus’ inner-circle of disciples, who was martyred in AD 44. Then there was James the brother of Jesus who was an extremely important figure. 1
What do we know about James the brother of Jesus? His name Iakobos in the Greek is taken from the Hebrew name for Jacob (Ya-a-kov). We know he was technically the half-brother of Jesus because our Lord was fathered by the Holy Spirit of God. We know James was likely a married man as suggested in 1 Corinthians 9:5. We also know that Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7). Peter Davids adds of him: “It is clear that James was the undisputed leader of the Jerusalem church and arguably the most influential Christian leader of his day.”2 Tradition says he was a man of great devotion and that his knees were as hard as those of camels, due to his long hours of prayer.
Some have tried to deny that James was the author of this book since he was reluctant to mention that he was the brother of Jesus. However, when we reflect on this we soon realize that if the book had been written pseudonymously, the author would have taken great pains to mention some family connection with the Lord. 3 James the brother of Jesus alone had the authority to write such a letter to the whole diaspora and he alone had the authority to write a letter with such a tone as this one. 4
It appears that James was too humble to claim apostolic authority for himself. However, it is of note that Paul claims such an apostolic authority for him in Galatians 1:19.
James addresses his little epistle in this manner: “To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.” (1:1). Here the New Living Translation makes plain that it is written to “Jewish Christians scattered among the nations.” These Jews, like the thousands and millions of other Jews, were a part of the dispersion (diaspora). For many centuries the Jews had been scattered over the earth. They were scattered first by the Assyrians in 722 BC and later by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Because many were traders and artisans they had often scattered themselves in an attempt to find a better life.
We see in Acts 11:19 ff., that after Stephen’s death many of the Christian Jews were also scattered from Israel and went their way preaching the word. It is interesting that Strabo (c. 63BC—AD 24), the Greek geographer and writer, says: “It is hard to find a spot in the whole world which is not occupied and dominated by Jews.”5 The popular biblical writer F.F. Bruce cites Philo of Alexandria who mentions that by AD 38 there were at least a million Jews in Egypt and in her neighboring territories. Bruce tells us that by the Christian era there were already from 40,000 to 60,000 Jews in Rome itself. 6
Many Christians are quick to blame the death of Christ exclusively on the Jews, assuming that they all lived in the land of Israel. However, William Barclay points out that were a lot more Jews scattered through Syria, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Mediterranean lands, Asia Minor and even in Babylon than there were in Palestine. 7
James in his reference to the “twelve tribes” here may not just include Jewish Christians. Obviously, the letter of James is very applicable to all Christians, both to Jews and to Gentiles. However, it is possible that due to the early era in which this letter was written, very few Gentile Christians had yet come into the church. 8
TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. James 1:2-3
We have something here that is quite against human nature. We are challenged to be joyful in tribulation, when our natural response is to be downcast and even depressed at the thought of tribulation or testing. This reminds us of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount when he exhorts those being persecuted to “Rejoice and be exceeding glad…” (Mt. 5:12). By their persecution they would be joining with the ranks of the prophets before them who were also mistreated.
Douglas Moo, the Wheaton professor, points how the word for “trials” used here (peirasmos) can have two basic New Testament meanings. As used in 1 Timothy 6:9, it can refer to an inner enticement to sin. As used in 1 Peter 4:12, it can refer to external afflictions, particularly in the form of persecutions. He notes that it is also possible that both meanings could be joined together as in the case of Matthew 26:41. 9
One reason we can rejoice in trials is that these trials make us stronger. Paul speaks of this process in Romans 5:3-4 when he says, “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” We also see this important theme developed in1 Peter 1:6-7: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith— of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Today the church is in great need of developing a proper theology of suffering because such a theology will be essential for us as we approach the last days. The church has been coddled and pampered by the false prophets who speak only of blessing and escape from suffering of any and all kinds. Peter in the above verse speaks of a suffering and refining that prepares us not only for real life on earth but also for the last days and for the revelation of Jesus Christ.
My daughter is a persistent gardener. She always grows her plants inside until the long-lingering Colorado spring finally arrives. One day as I observed her plants basking in the indoor sunshine I noticed that she had a fan turned on them. When I asked why, she assured me that the fan with its manufactured turbulence toughened the plants and caused them to be better survivors when the real winds would later blow on them outside. Without the fan they were likely to be weak and spindly. She gave me a good lesson in what testing and perseverance are all about.
We notice here that the trials are of many kinds. They are “many colored,” “varied” (poikilois), or as the word is translated in 1 Peter 4:10, they are “manifold.” But for every trial we face there is a matching grace of our Heavenly Father. 10 In the early Christian church the persecution could be subtle. A Jewish Christian laborer might be the last to be hired and the first to be fired. 11 Even today in Modern Israel there is often a subtle discrimination in the work place. Messianic Jews (those Jews who believe in Jesus) are quite frequently harassed and even forced from employment because of their beliefs. It is an ugly thing but it still persists in an otherwise benevolent and very
It seems in this section that we have a number of important Greek words and concepts that we dare not quickly pass over. The word for trying or testing (dokimion) is a term the metallurgist used for testing the genuineness of metal in the fire. 12 The next word we run into in this verse is upomonein which means steadfast endurance or perseverance. William Barclay, that prolific writer and Greek scholar, says of this word that it “is not simply the ability to bear things; it is the ability to turn them to greatness and to glory….the quality which makes a man able, not simply to suffer things, but to
Probably we should note here that this whole concept of struggling and keeping on in our faith seems at first glance opposed to the idea of our predestination and security as seen elsewhere, and especially in the writings of Paul. We need to understand that “The Bible is an eastern book. It presents truth in tension-filled, seemingly paradoxical pairs of ideas. Christians are meant to affirm both and live within the tension. The New Testament presents both the security of the believer and the demand for continuing faith and godliness.”14
“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (1:4). George Stulac of Covenant Theological Seminary remarks here, “In this first chapter of the biblical text we have found the thrust of James’s entire letter: calling upon Christians to live with moral urgency, serious holiness and unconditional obedience to the word of God.”15 The work of perseverance is to bring us to maturity and completeness or perfection.
The New American Standard Version reads: “And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The word “perfect” (teleios) is not exactly what we think. Barclay defines it: “A person is teleios if he is full grown…testing… makes a man teleios in the sense of being fit for the task he was sent into the world to do.”16 The next Greek word used here is “complete” (holokl‘ria). It is not only used for wholeness of the physical body but it is used in a metaphoric sense indicating wellbeing both in the physical and spiritual sense. 17 Of course, we know from scripture that we can only be complete and perfect as we are “in Christ.”
We may wonder sometimes why we get such stern attention from our Father, especially when he seems to let a lot of folks get by with little or no chastening. Jonathan, an early Jewish Rabbi in the Talmudic Era, remarks about this: “A potter does not examine defective vessels…What then does he examine? Only the sound vessels…Similarly, the Holy One, blessed be he, tests not the wicked but the righteous, as it says, “The Lord trieth the righteous.”18
HAVING FAITH TO RECEIVE GOD’S WISDOM
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. James 1:5
The Book of James is very much akin to the genre of biblical writing known as Wisdom Literature. Some of the wisdom books are very old like Job, parts of Psalms, and Proverbs. Later books are Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. There are a couple of wisdom books that were written in the intertestamental period (400 BC – 100AD). These works are known as Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon) and Sirach (also known as Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus). These last two are deuterocanonical books, in that they were in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) as well as still appearing in the Catholic and Orthodox
Dennis Bratcher defines Wisdom Literature in this way: “Wisdom is really an approach to life, a way of looking at the world and, for Israelites, a way of living out in very deliberate, rational ways their commitment to God.”19
Christi Goeser adds concerning Wisdom Literature: “Questions that poke at the depth of the soul are addressed and dealt with. ‘What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of man’s existence? How does one reconcile the fact that suffering and inequity can rage through the life of those who are righteous and innocent?’ These are the type of honest questions which the Hebrews posed to an Almighty God.”20
The primary Hebrew word for wisdom in the Old Testament is chokmah (wisdom or skill), and corresponds to sophia (skill, intelligence) in the New Testament. The primary word for knowledge is da-at in the Old Testament, and it corresponds to gnosis (knowledge) in the New Testament. One commentator remarked jokingly “that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together.”21 This is oversimplifying the matter considerably.
Wisdom is an important subject so we want to dwell on it a bit longer. In the Bible we see two kinds of wisdom. There is the wisdom of this world, which is often foolishness in God’s eyes (1 Cor. 1:20). Then there is the godly wisdom which is to be greatly prized and sought after. The opposite of this godly wisdom is foolishness. So in this world there are many fools. Some of them may even have doctorate degrees, yet they do not know how to live.
When we look at the fool in the Bible it might surprise us. In the scripture, fools are self-confident (Pr. 28:26); self-centered (Lk. 12:20); full of words (Ec. 10:14); they vent their anger (Pr. 29:11). They are slanderers (Pr.10:18); they rage (Pr. 14:16); and are clamorous (Pr. 9:13). Isaiah 32:6 gives us a very good description of a fool: “the fool speaks folly, his mind is busy with evil; He practices ungodliness and spreads error concerning the Lord; the hungry he leaves empty and from the thirsty he withholds water.”
We also see that fools are quick to start a quarrel (Pr. 20:3); it is a sport for them to do mischief (Pr. 10:23) and abominable iniquity (Ps. 53:1). They reproach others (Ps. 39:8); and are adulterers (Pr. 6:32). They despise instruction and have no heart for wisdom (Pr. 17:16). They say in their heart or by their lifestyle that there is no God (Ps. 14:1). They are not prepared (Mt. 25:2), and they will not stand (Ps. 5:5).
On the other hand, there are many good things in the Bible that characterize a wise man. We are told that a wise man fears God (Pr. 9:10), that he listens to advice (Pr. 12:15), and is industrious (Pr. 6:6). He has a healthy tongue (Pr. 12:18) and has learned to guard his lips (Pr. 10:19). He wins souls (Pr. 11:30), honors his parents (Pr. 13:1), and receives God’s commands and keeps his laws (Pr. 10:8 & 28:7).
We have seen in the preceding scripture that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Pr. 9:10). We continue to see in scripture that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Pr. 1:7), and that the Lord gives wisdom, understanding and knowledge (Pr. 2:6).
From all this, we can see why the believer today needs to turn to the Lord and seek his wisdom. This godly wisdom is especially needed in times of great trials. As Bob Utley says, “Believers need wisdom to live a godly life in this fallen world.” 22 We need to be like the wise man in Proverbs who watched and waited daily for wisdom at God’s doorway. (Pr. 8:34). The Bible assures that such a one will not be disappointed (cf. Psa. 25:9; Mt. 7:11).
We see in 1:5 that God “gives to all men generously and without reproach.” He does not criticize us and there is no reluctance to give. There is no complaining on his part and he never sighs, “What, you need help again?”23
James does caution us: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (1:6). We need to remember the promise, that “… with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26). When we fail to believe we become like corks on the waves and we bob up and down and we are tossed to and fro. 24 We remember the comforting words of Matthew 7:7-8, where the Lord says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
But the Lord says of the doubter: “That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (1:7-8). It is thought that the expression “that man” has a slightly contemptible feel about it. Also the expression “double-minded” (dipsychos) is unique to Greek literature and literally means “two-souled.” It is likely reflected in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in the character, “Mr. Facing Both Ways.” 25 Douglas Moo remarks here, “We should note that this ‘double-mindedness’ is the antithesis both of that ‘wholeness’ or ‘perfection’ (telior) which is the goal of Christian living.” 26
Like so many other things in scripture, the true picture of wisdom would await its completion in the Messiah. We now know that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn. 14:6). In Colossians 2:3 we read of Christ, “…in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” There has only been one perfect life, lived in beauty and glory; fulfilling all the requirements, types, patterns, and shadows of the godly and wise person.
That one life has now become the pattern for us. Not only has he become the pattern, he has also become the power within us believers to accomplish and fulfill the pattern. All we have to do is open up our hearts and receive him. As it is said in 1 Corinthians 1:30-31: “… Jesus...who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the LORD.’”
STRUGGLES OF THE POOR AND THE RICH
The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. James 1:9-10
There seems to be some irony meant in this statement of James. Christians in low positions are seen as in high positions (biblically speaking) and the rich who are in high positions are regarded as being in low ones. Jesus had essentially said as much in Matthew 23:12: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Commentators are generally agreed that the earliest Christians were often from the lowest classes of society and even from among the slaves. Douglas Moo suggests that the word lowly (tapeinos) speaks of one who is very low down on the social-economic scale and who is rather poor and powerless. 27
After all, it was to the poor that the message of Jesus was aimed as we see in Luke 4:18. Jesus says in this passage, “…he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor….” It is possible in this early day that some were living in a sort of self-imposed poverty because of their religious convictions. Others may have become poor because of persecution or of having to separate themselves from immoral financial pursuits. 28 In any case, the earliest church seems to have been made up of poor people. The great American President Abraham Lincoln once remarked that God “must love the common people because he made so many of them.” 29
While the rich man’s wealth is often considered as his fortified city (Prov. 18:11), those fortifications will be brought down. A person is not able to serve God and mammon (Mt. 6:24) and it is a difficult thing for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (Mt. 19:23-24). In a sense they can enter only on their knees. At the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem pilgrims are often shocked to see that the entryway is so low that one actually has to bend the knee to enter. So it is in the Kingdom of God.
“For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business” (1:11). James is a keen observer of nature and uses many of these natural pictures in his little book. Here he uses the picture of wildflowers that were once beautiful but are now withered by the scorching summer heat of Israel (cf. Psa. 103:15-16; Isa. 40:6-7).
For several years my wife and I directed a study center very near the Sea of Galilee and just a few miles north of Tiberias. In late January and in February there are many places in that area that are literally covered with beautiful wildflowers, particularly with bright red anemones and poppies. However, in the summer the area often heats up to well over 100 degrees (37+ C) at midday and there are no rains from May to October. To make matters worse, in the hot months there is regularly a strong afternoon wind that sweeps into the Galilee area from the Mediterranean Sea. With the combination of intense heat, extremely dry conditions and strong winds, wildfires become quite common and the once beautiful flowers are first dried and then they catch on fire, creating giant infernos in the process.
James grew up in the Galilee and may have been alluding to this very scene. It is a picture of the end-day when the winds of God will blow, and the mighty with their riches will be burned up in one final holocaust. Once, my wife and I were in Tiberias at night during one of these wildfire outbreaks. It seemed that night that the whole northern coastline of the Sea of Galilee was on fire. We stood there amazed at the awesome sight when suddenly the loud music began on one of the disco boats and the scores of young people on board began to wildly dance as the boat was launched out into the sea. We were transfixed at the sight since it seemed to be such a clear picture of the last day. The world was on fire and yet people continued uninterrupted with their music and dance.
THE ONE WHO PERSEVERES IS BLESSED
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
The picture here is of one who endures to the end, as Jesus said in Matthew 10:22, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” It is a picture of steadfast endurance of “keeping on keeping on.” It seems likely that the apostle James is using the word “temptation” or “trial” in a very general sense that could almost include anything that will try our faith. The temptation could include affliction, persecution or even the temptation to sin. 30
This reminds us of the old story of the two frogs who fell into a can of cream. It goes
Two frogs fell into a can of cream,
Or so I’ve heard it told;
The sides of the can were shiny and steep,
The cream was deep and cold.
“O, what’s the use?” croaked No. 1.
“Tis fate; no help’s around.
Goodbye, my friends! Goodbye, sad world!”
And weeping still, he drowned.
But Number 2, of sterner stuff,
Dog-paddled in surprise,
The while he wiped his creamy face
And dried his creamy eyes.
“I’ll swim awhile, at least,” he said-
Or so I’ve heard he said;
“It really wouldn’t help the world
If one more frog were dead.”
An hour or two he kicked and swam,
Not once he stopped to mutter,
But kicked and kicked and swam and kicked,
Then hopped out, via butter! 31
Many are the stories, even in the natural world around us, of people who seemed to have everything against them, but still somehow persevered and succeeded wonderfully well.
Lucille Ball was sent packing from drama school with a dismissal letter that read “You’re wasting your time.” Michael Jordan broke down crying in his room after being cut from his high school basketball team. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for failing to exhibit “imagination” and “original ideas.” Talk about defying the odds! When you fail, don’t be so quick to count yourself out…God’s not finished with you yet! “Be strong, all of you put your hope in the Lord. Never give up (Psa. 31:24).” 32
We see in this passage that there is a crown awaiting for the one who perseveres to the end. This crown (stephanos) is called by several names in scripture. Here it is called “the crown of life.” It is also called an “incorruptible crown” in 1 Corinthians 9:25; the “crown of righteousness” in 2 Timothy 4:8; and the “crown of glory” in 1 Peter 5:4. Often the “crown” was made up of laurel wreathes as in the case of Olympic victors. However, that is probably not the meaning here since the Jewish people cared little for the pagan games. 33 More than likely the reference is to the royal crown. We see in the end of Revelation that the redeemed will wear a crown on the last day (Rev. 2:10 & 3:11). Indeed, they will reign forever with Christ (Rev. 22:5).
DON’T BLAME GOD
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; James 1:13
While some people “cop out” of their moral responsibility by saying “The devil made me do it,” others cop out by saying “God made me do it.” This verse makes plain that God is not involved in tempting mortals. It is clear that God sometimes permits testing as he did with Job but the temptation to sin does not come from God’s quarter. It comes from elsewhere.
It is not unusual today to hear young people say of the illicit relationships in which they are involved, “God just brought us together.” How can God bring together something he hates and despises? God will judge all sexual immorality (Heb. 13:4). Or, how can God break up a marriage when the truth is that he hates divorce? (Mal. 2:16).
James tells us where the temptation comes from: “but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (1:14). The words used here are hunting and fishing metaphors, like a bait with a hook attached, first lures and then drags away the fish. 34 We see that the real problem is the sinful human desire (epithumias) that leads the soul astray. The Jews refer to it as the yet-ser ha-ra, or the evil impulse.
James gives the process by which all this transpires. “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (1:15). It is a dangerous thing to have sin around at any stage or any size. According to an MSNBC news report from Florida on July 7, 2009, an eight-foot-long pet Burmese python got out of its cage in the night and strangled a two year child to death. The frantic 911 caller screamed and sobbed “The baby’s dead! Our stupid snake got out in the middle of the night and strangled the baby!” 35 Probably there was a time when the python was small and posed no threat at all to the family but gradually the snake grew to the size that it could kill humans. So it is with sin – any sin – all sin.
For such reasons the scripture says in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death….” The scripture also assures us in Ezekiel 18:20, “The soul who sins is the one who will die….” Unfortunately, we are living in a time when sin is no longer taken seriously. Probably a large percentage of people today would not even believe that there is such a thing as sin. Because of this blindness and misunderstanding sin becomes doubly dangerous.
GOOD AND PERFECT GIFTS
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:16-17
We live in an age where most people firmly and enthusiastically believe that the best gifts are from earth. They spend most of their time chasing after these earthly things. Thus they are deceived already. For instance, most people today would jump at the chance to win mega-millions in the lottery. The truth is that after five years, one out of three mega-winners is in serious financial trouble or actually bankrupt. 36 If we look up the stories of mega-winners we will find that all kinds of problems have pursued them, such as poverty, thefts, murders, extortion, prison sentences, and harassment of all kinds.
We are assured here that the best gifts always come down. They come down from our Heavenly Father. While the earthly gifts can be deceptive the heavenly gifts continue to be good and perfect like our Father. The Bible says in Proverbs 10:22: “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.”
Blessed is the person or persons who have learned to treat wealth properly. Some years ago we met a lovely couple and their young daughter in Israel. They were very poor but seemed happy. The couple had been millionaires in the US but due to the real estate crash they had lost it all. Through their tribulation they had learned what is important in life and were apparently determined to spend the remainder of their lives serving God in Israel.
Satan doesn’t give gifts but he gives trouble. God will never give us something that is not good for us. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matt. 7:9-11).
The fourth stanza of the wonderful old hymn Amazing Grace reads like this:
The Lord has promised good to me…
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be…
as long as life endures.
The expression “Father of the heavenly lights” used in this verse is an unusual one. There is an interesting parallel found in the Qumran Manual of Discipline. In this work God is “Prince of the Luminaries.” 37 The “Father of Lights” is an appropriate title for our God. Through the agency of his Son he made all the heavenly bodies. We see in scripture that Jesus not only spoke them into existence but that he daily sustains them by his powerful word (Heb. 1:3).
We are told that God is immutable, that he does not change (cf. Mal. 3:6). In this age of change it is good to know that there is no variableness with him. We cannot help note that in the heavenly bodies there is constant change. Sometimes certain heavenly bodies are obscured by other heavenly bodies or by clouds.
“He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (1:18). Not only did God make the heavens and the earth but he made us. He made us to be special because we were made in his own image. Despite the fall in the Garden of Eden it is God’s purpose to re-create us in Christ and cause us to be a sort of firstfruits in the earth. In fact, the Bible assures us that the whole created order is now groaning and waiting for the sons of God to be revealed (Rom. 8:19, 22). We are also told in the next verse of Romans that we are also groaning too, we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit (cf. Rev. 14:4). We are groaning to find our completeness in Christ.
THE RIGHTEOUS LIFE
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20
From ancient times people have been cautioned about the dangers of poor speech. Some ancient proverbs read: “Men have two ears, and but one tongue, that they should hear more than they speak;” “The ears are always open, ever ready to receive instruction; but the tongue is surrounded with a double row of teeth, to hedge it in, and to keep it within proper bounds.” 38
The Bible has many exhortations concerning the tongue. In Proverbs 10:19 we read “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” In Proverbs 13:3 it is said, “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” Proverbs 29:20 states: “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Then in Ecclesiastes 5:2 we are warned: “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” To these things Jesus adds the warning of Matthew 12:37: “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
It appears that the later rabbis of the Mishnah uttered similar sayings. In Perkey Aboth it is said: “Talk little, and work much.” Then, in Baba Metzia we read: “The righteous speak little, and do much; the wicked speak much, and do nothing.” 39
Without a doubt abuses of the tongue and particularly the abuse of anger would become more prevalent in a time when Christians were persecuted and when life had become difficult. That seems to be the very situation to which James was writing.
It is difficult for us to be angry and righteous at the same time. There are some extremely limited times in our lives when we can express righteous anger. Jesus did so when he drove the money changers out of the Temple. As a general rule we need to leave righteous indignation to Jesus. As we are told in Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
The British scholar Peter Pett speaks of God saying: “His anger is always rightly directed and has behind it a continuing underlying compassion. In his case it is always a just anger against sin coming from One who is without sin.” 40
“Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (1:21). Today we probably live in a time when the moral filth is once more as great as it was in the Roman Empire in the day of James. The word “filth” (rhyparia) is only used here in biblical Greek. The picture is that we should remove filthy clothing. 41 Along with the filth we must also get rid of the evil in our lives (kakias). When we allow the filth and evil to be removed God will clothe us with garments of righteousness and holiness (cf. Zech. 3:4).
When we allow our filth and filthy garments to be removed then the implanted word of God can begin to produce its holy fruit within us. This is very similar to having the word of God planted within us or having the law of God placed within our hearts as Jeremiah 31:33 states. 42 This is surely the same thing that Paul speaks of in Colossians 3:16 where he says: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly….”
HEARING AND DOING
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22
Throughout the Bible, God insists that people not only hear but do his commands. The Prophet Jeremiah charged Israel: “…Listen to the terms of this covenant and follow them” (Jer. 11:6). Ezekiel complained about Israel saying, “My people… sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain” (Ezek. 33:31).
One day when Jesus was teaching, his own family came near and sought to take him away. Jesus at that point made this strange and interesting statement about his true spiritual family: “…My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Lk. 8:21). At the close of his great Sermon on the Mount Jesus compared those who only hear his word without doing it with those who build their houses upon the sand. Of course, such structures would soon be washed away by the storms of life (Mt. 7:24-27). Jesus once asked his followers a very blunt but searching question: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk. 6:46).
In this postmodern era we have many excuses for not doing the word. The pervasive cultural relativity is one big obstacle, sometimes even for faithful church people. Although the scripture claims to transcend culture, people today are prone to have such lame objections as this: “It may be right for you, but not for me.” 43 How did we ever come up with such nonsense? If something is right, it is right. If something is true, it is true. To say otherwise is not only to disagree with scripture but with common sense and with the laws of logic as well. Of course, relativism may have permeated the field of logic too.
For the most part, the Jews have been a very practical-minded people. Even today they seem to have little use for something that doesn’t work. The Greeks were interested in form and beauty but the Jews were interested in utility. If it didn’t work, what good was it?
Years ago when our Christian organization began ministering to the Jews, one of the first questions they would ask was “What do you do?” In the early years we sometimes had a difficult time answering this question and our answers never seemed to fully satisfy the Jews. In time we began to establish some rather large projects to help Jewish immigrants as they returned home to Israel from the former USSR, from Ethiopia and many other areas. Once these projects were in place the Jews seemed happy and they never again had to ask the question “What do you do?”
It seems that the command of James helps save us from a merely theoretical religion and a theoretical use of the word of God. Sometimes scholars and seminarians study the word in painful and exhaustive detail with the idea of using it for philosophical and theological debate. 44 It is also easy to get a theological burnout when our study of God’s word gets disconnected from the reality of life going on around us. James is telling us that what we hear in the holy place must be lived in the market place. 45
“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (1:23-24). Estee Lauder, the cosmetics magnate insists that “a good mirror is the most important accessory in a woman’s life.” 46 Perhaps she is right about some women but not all. We see in Exodus 38:8 that the ministering women at the Tabernacle apparently offered up their brass mirrors in order that the brazen laver could be built. Apparently they had found a better way to make themselves beautiful by serving the Lord.
Whether it is women or men looking into mirrors, the idea conveyed in the verb katanoeo (look or observe) is more than just a hasty and cursory glance. It denotes rather a careful scrutiny or a thoughtful and attentive look. 47
“But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it— he will be blessed in what he does.” (1:25). We still have the idea here of a thoughtful and intent look. The Greek word used in this verse is parakuqav and it even has the meaning of stooping down to get a closer look. 48 It means to look very intently at the law of liberty or the liberating word of the gospel (cf. Rom. 8:2). The picture is that we not just look intently into the word of God but that we get up and do what we are instructed to do.
“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (1:26). It was probably used first as an advertising jingle for Firestone tires, but the expression “where the rubber meets the road” was later popularized by the radio preacher J. Vernon McGee shortly after the middle of last century. This verse and the next one really illustrate “where the rubber meets the road” in the realm of religion. We can’t be truly religious unless we first get our tongues under control.
Tongue abuses are many and sometimes quite sophisticated. There is lying and deceitfulness (Psa. 34:12-13); sowing discord (Prov. 6:19); foul speech, cursing, false swearing and dirty stories; gossip and slander (Lev. 19:16); and the opposite of slander which is flattery (Prov. 28:23). There are the sins of complaining, murmuring, “poor mouthing,” and negative talking. Such sins as these got Israel an extra forty years of wandering in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:10). There are threats, outbursts of anger, malicious and abusive language, all which abound in transgression (Prov. 29:22).
It seems like the list of tongue abuses could go on and on. We cannot omit arguing, proud boasting, foolish talking and coarse joking (Eph. 5:4). The Bible tells us: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Prov. 10:19). In 1 Thessalonians 4:11, the scripture even exhorts us to be quiet.
In the scripture we read that God created the world by his spoken word. Unfortunately it is possible for us to tear down the world with our spoken words.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (1:27). We see that faith is a verb and religion also is a verb. It does something since it patterns itself after the Heavenly Father (Psa. 146:7-9). The NIV rightly translates “visit” (episkeptesthai) as “look after.” 49 In Matthew 25:43, 45 Jesus does say to the people: “…I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me… I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
There were generally four types of poor and vulnerable people in Jesus day. They were the widows, orphans, sojourners and day laborers. 50 The early church (Acts 6:1-6) was careful to look out for these groups, even appointing seven outstanding deacons to supervise distribution to the needy.
But true religion doesn’t just end here. It keeps itself unpolluted by the world and the present evil age. Today we live in a time so polluted that the believer is almost required to swim through a sewer at work and in daily relations. We must take care that while we are in the world the world does not get in us. For this victory the thanks goes to Jesus, “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy….” (Jude 1:24).
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. James 2:1
This passage gives us great insight into the earliest Christian meetings. They were open to people of all classes and conditions. 1 James points out that favoritism should not be shown to any group. Of course, this was the teaching of the Old Testament in Leviticus 19:15 where it says, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” As the New Testament books were written they too made plain that there can be no partiality in the Christian church (cf. Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 2:11; Eph. 6:9).
Favoritism is something deep in sinful human nature and something about which we still must continue to struggle. Donald A. McGavran in his thesis on today’s missionary work says: “Missions from the wealthy West usually overlook the Bible at this point. Missionaries customarily place a high value on the educated, the wealthy, the cultured— in a word, the middle and upper classes.” 2 I can remember in my own younger years when our denomination made great strides to reach the lost people of Africa, but at the same time would not allow blacks into their churches at home.
The expression “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” seems placed here to diminish the supposed glory of humanity and to put it in its place. John Calvin says “For so great is the brightness of Christ, that it easily extinguishes all the glories of the world.” 3
“Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in” (2:2). It is interesting in this verse that the Greek word sunagowgos (synagogue) is used here for the Christian assembly. The English scholar Peter Pett remarks that “The use of the term suggests an early date when the church and the synagogue were closely related.” 4 Apparently in ancient times small synagogues were scattered all over Jerusalem and other cities just as they are today. The reason for this was that Jewish custom forbids Jews using transportation on the Sabbath, and thus synagogues must be within walking distance to everyone.
We see here that the rich man comes into the assembly wearing gold rings and fine clothes. Marvin R. Vincent in his Word Studies in the Greek New Testament notes that it was customary for the Romans to wear gold and even jeweled rings in profusion. These were worn on the left hand since wearing rings on the right hand was considered a mark of effeminacy. He adds that the wearing of rings was indispensable to the Hebrew’s
attire as well. 5
In addition to the gold rings the rich would also be clothed in expensive and colorful garments. The rich wore fine and “brightly shining” (lampros) clothes while the poor were shabbily dressed (rhyparos). 6 The poor who were often poorly clothed may have also been without an outer garment (Exo. 22:26-27; Job 22:6; 24:7). Just a few decades later the famous Jewish Rabbi Akiva and his wife shared a single outer garment between them. When one went out the other had to stay home. At night they had to bury themselves in straw to keep warm. 7 In our affluent age we really do not realize how poor some people were in the early centuries.
“If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’
have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (2:3-4). The Reformer John Calvin says regarding the rich: “For he does not simply disapprove of honor being paid to the rich, but that this should not be done in a way so as to despise or reproach the poor.” 8 We know from scripture that God does not see as we humans see. We look on outward things but God looks on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). Too often the way in which we look toward poor people tells what we believe about God. 9
Peter Pett shares this about the great English General, the Duke of Wellington, when he once went to partake of communion. “A private soldier was awaiting his turn, and as he began to move forward he saw the Duke coming and immediately stepped back. But the Duke said to him, ‘No, you go first. We are all equal here.’ And that is how it should be in the assembly of God’s people.” 10
THE CHOSEN POOR
Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? James 2:5
It is an indisputable fact of scripture that God has chosen the poor to receive the riches of his kingdom. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, “…Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth…He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things— and the things that are not— to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
One of the facts meant to authenticate the ministry of Jesus was that he preached the gospel to the poor (Matt. 11:5). It is more difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom (Matt. 6:19-24; 19:24) and it just seems that the poor have more opportunities to trust God than the rich. Throughout church history more of the poor have responded to the gospel. 11 James Burton Coffman, the preacher, teacher and commentator remarks that “the poor visitor at church is a hundred times more likely to become a Christian than the wealthy visitor; and it is a sin against the growth of the church to exhibit the kind of partiality that would tend to discourage the poor.” 12 The kingdom of God is a topsy-turvy thing in this sense because the rich become poor and the poor become rich in faith (2 Cor. 8:9).
Commentator George Stulak bemoans the perversion and distortion of the good news today in what has come to be called the “Prosperity Gospel” or the “name it and claim it” philosophy. 13 This gospel aberration teaches that God wants everyone rich in the natural sense and that the gospel is the ticket whereby the poor of this world can quickly become rich. It is no wonder that much of this type theology is found in the affluent United States and it seems that such thinking is essentially nothing but “materialism masquerading
as theology.” 14
“But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?” (2:6-7). Commentators have remarked here that verses 1-13 offer some of the strongest opposition and condemnation of the rich and some of the strongest castigation of class discrimination found in the New Testament. 15
The word “dragging” (elkousin) is a strong word and implies some violence as a person is dragged off to the magistrates or to prison. 16 This picture may sound strange in the West where debtors are seldom threatened with incarceration. This was not the case in the ancient world, nor is it the case in some countries today. I can remember one time in Israel when our organization helped rescue a poor woman who was behind on her grocery bill. Because of this, the police were coming after her that very day to drag her off to jail.
THE ROYAL LAW
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” James 2:8-9
Jesus was once asked by an expert in the law: “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:36-40). Jesus speaks of this second law in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (cf. 1 Jn. 3:23).
There is really nothing in our worship and service to God that is not summed up in the first commandment. In a similar sense there is nothing in our relationship with people that is not summed up in the second. If we really love people as ourselves we would never consider lying to them, cheating them, stealing from them or murdering them.
For this second commandment Jesus was going far back in the law to Leviticus 19:18. This is the first occasion where God gave this command, “…love your neighbor as yourself.” James defines this as the Royal Law (basilikos nomos). Possibly he defines it in this way because this law is given by the King. Also, perhaps it is called the Royal Law because it rules over other laws. 17
Some try to say that this Royal Law is connected with the whole of the Torah of Moses or the Ten Commandments. Coffman points out the impossibility of this view since Moses was never called a king. 18 This law has to do with the kingdom of God and with Jesus who is the King.
The Royal Law of Jesus has several other names in scripture. In James 1:25, it is called “the perfect law that gives freedom” (cf. 2:12). In Romans 8:2 it is called “the law of the Spirit of life.” In Galatians 6:2 it is called “the law of Christ.” It is clear that this law has a connection with what is called the “Golden Rule” in Luke 6:31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
BREAKING THE ROYAL LAW
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. James 2:10
Obviously, if we show favoritism in any way we break the Royal Law of love. In our everyday-lives if we get a speeding ticket for going just a couple of miles over the speed limit we are considered by the courts as law-breakers. We may be perfect citizens in all other respects but it has no bearing on the fact that we are lawbreakers.
The completeness of the law is illustrated in other ways. For instance, if a great mirror is broken in only one place, the whole mirror is broken. If a chain of a thousand links has but one broken link, the whole chain is broken. Or if a fence is down in only one place the whole fence is considered down. 19 This applies equally well to the breaking of the Royal Law or the breaking of the Torah.
“For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker” (2:11). It appears here that James is trying to guard us from the selective obedience that is so much in vogue today. 20 With our postmodern ideas a lot of young people choose what they consider is “true” for them and disregard all the rest. When we break a law of God, be it great or small we make ourselves lawbreakers.
Moo says, “The individual commandments are all components of one indivisible whole, because they reflect the will of the one Lawgiver. To violate a commandment is to disobey God himself and render a person guilty before him.” 21 Perhaps the ancient rabbis had it right when they felt that any one sin had within it the seeds of all the others. 22 As it is said in Deuteronomy 27:26, “‘Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.’ Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’”
We are reminded once again how impossible it is to live by the law in our own strength. The scripture shows us clearly that the law was given to prove us sinners. Whether it is the law of Moses or the Royal Law of Christ we are still not able to keep it in our own strength. It is Christ in us who is our hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Philippians 2:13 sums it up beautifully, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his
James continues: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (2:12-13). In the New Testament we never get too far from the idea of judgment. “Every orthodox statement of faith ends with a statement about the return of Jesus Christ and the final judgment.” 23
As Christians we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). This is a judgment of both the good things and the bad things we have done. It is also clear in scripture that we can escape the difficulty of this judgment if we judge ourselves properly as we live from day to day (1 Cor. 11:31). We remember that this is a judgment according to the law of liberty. For the obedient ones it is also a judgment of mercy.
One thing that will be very important for us who have received so much mercy is whether or not we have shown mercy. The scripture advises us to wear mercy as a necklace: “Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart….” (Pro. 3:3 NKJ). Once again we are reminded of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown
mercy” (Matt. 5:7).
We see that mercy will triumph over judgment. Coffman says: “The most wonderful truth revealed in all of the word of God is that mercy stands higher than the law as the guiding principle of God’s relationship with men. This was symbolized in the Old Testament by the Mercy Seat which was placed above and on top of the Ark of the Covenant.” 24 We remember that the ark contained the tablets of the law. Also, Jesus illustrated in his ministry how important mercy is. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus chides the teachers and Pharisees saying: “…But you have neglected the more important matters of the law— justice, mercy and faithfulness…”
FAITH VERSUS DEEDS
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? James 2:14
This passage of scripture has been a difficult one for commentators. It has been called “the most disputed and misunderstood passage in the New Testament.” 25 When we first look at this section it seems to fly in the face of Paul’s great theology of “justification by faith.” Some have even thought that James is actually disputing the theology of Paul. However, many modern commentators have now discounted this idea.
We should be reminded here that James is not contrasting faith and works. He is rather contrasting two different kinds of faith. Paul also in his writings deals with the starting point of faith, how a person can be saved and enter into a relationship with God. James does not concern himself with the starting point of faith but how a person continues on
as a believer.
James does not speak of meritorious deeds designed to win the approval of God but rather he focuses on the fruit of the Christian life. 26
“The distinguished preacher Ernest Campbell captures the difference between Paul and James with a helpful analogy: Paul is dealing with obstetrics, with how new life begins; James, however, is dealing with pediatrics and geriatrics, with how Christian life grows and matures and ages.” 27
It is also possible in this early period of Christian history that James is addressing some current misrepresentations of Pauline theology. Nevertheless, “there is no indication of any disputation with Paul or his disciples.” 28 We remember that in the very early days just before the Jerusalem Conference in AD 49 there were some problem with the Judaizers and their understanding of Paul’s teaching in Antioch (Acts 15:1-2).
It cannot be denied that the gospel stresses the importance of works that accompany our faith. When John the Baptist announced the Messiah, he stressed that people’s works would prove the reality of their repentance (Lk. 3:8). Jesus in his teaching rebuked those who called him “Lord” but who did not do what he taught (Lk. 6:46; cf. Matt. 25:31-46).
Even in Paul’s own ministry there was not a separation of faith and works (Eph. 2:9-10). Paul summed it all up in his address to Titus: “This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good….” (Tit. 3:8). Calvin, the theologian, once stated it this way: “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone.” 29
It is sad indeed that Martin Luther the great reformer seems to have misunderstood these things. Luther, supposing that James taught a justification by works condemned the little Book, calling it an epistola straminea, or an epistle of straw. 30
“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (2:15-16). Orthodoxy and orthopraxy were never designed to be separated. Religion cannot be some cold distraction unaccompanied by the lack of concern for the needs of humanity (1 Jn. 3:18). We remember how Jesus our example spent a big part of his ministry just caring for the poor and needy. He may have spent as much as a fourth of his ministry time in healing the sick and freeing the demonized. His good works certainly appear to have far exceeded the times of his formal teaching.
The Jewish people seem to better understand the importance of caring for the needy than we Christians. Traditionally the Jewish home has been open to the wayfarer and the needy (hakhnasat orhim). 31 A place is usually found at the Jewish Shabbat table for hungry guests and the same is true during the great festivals. The Jews have been careful to visit the sick (bikkur holim) and to provide for the needy. The notable Jewish sage, R. Hiyya, once said: “He who turns his eyes away from almsgiving is as if he
worshipped idols.” 32
“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (2:17). We should note here that the contrast James is making is not a contrast between faith and works. It is rather a contrast between a faith that has works and a faith that has none. 33
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do’” (2:18). Faith is an invisible thing. We have no way of seeing faith apart from its works. As Coffman remarks, faith has an inherent flaw. It is predicated upon something which is un-demonstrable to others. 34
“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that— and shudder” (2:19). The beginning statement here may well be part of the ancient Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) which is still repeated at least twice daily by all devout Jews. It begins, “Shema Israel Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad” (Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one). This statement may be regarded as the very cornerstone of Jewish belief.
We have a surprising fact here and it is that demons believe in God. We see this demonstrated often in the ministry of Jesus. Demons knew he was the Son of God (Mk. 5:7) and they respected his power (Lk. 8:31). They had a clear knowledge about who he was but it was impossible for them to follow him or serve him. We do learn that demons tremble (frissousin) when they think of him. This Greek work is used only here in the New Testament and conveys the idea of a horror which makes one bristle or having one’s hair stand up on end. 35
Canadian professor Peter Davids notes that “the demons frequently give fuller confessions of Christ than the apostles” (Mk. 1:24; 5:7; Acts 16:17). 36 How sad it is that demons can fully confess that Jesus is the Son of God when many liberal churchmen today are not willing to make such a confession.
We might conclude these verses by saying that in all references to the end of the age, we see people being judged based upon their works (Mt. 25:31-46; Rev. 14:13; 20:12). After all, their works are the only real evidence of their faith.
FATHER ABRAHAM AND HIS WORKING FAITH
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? James 2:20
Clearly, someone who does not believe that faith without deeds is useless is a fool according to James. The word “foolish” used here (kene) means vain, empty or without spiritual life. Also the word “useless” (ajrgh), means idle as in money that earns no interest or in land that is lying fallow. 37
“Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?” (2:21). The author quickly turns to Abraham as an example of one whose faith really worked. Warren Wiersbe, well-known pastor and writer says of Abraham that he “was not saved by faith plus works, but by a faith that works.” He cites D.L. Moody who often said, “Every Bible should be bound in shoe leather.” 38
James seems to be talking directly to 21st century western Christians. Many today fulfill the words of Titus 1:16 which says, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” Unfortunately, for many Christians their “faith” is a useless head-knowledge and is very similar to the kind of faith expressed by demons.
How different all this is from the life of Abraham whose faith was always working. How different it is from the life of Jesus who always “went around doing good” (Acts 10:38).
The offering of Isaac by Abraham must have been one of the most heart-rending trials that any person has ever had to bear. He was called upon to offer up the child of promise, his only hope of an heir. Yet, Abraham did it immediately with no hesitation. In the ancient Hebrew pseudepigraphic book of Jubilees it is said that Abraham had a total of ten such trials.39 He passed all these tests with flying colors which proved beyond any doubt that his faith really worked. It was then evident to all that Abraham’s unseen faith was real.
In this verse we see once more what seems to be a clash between the ideas of James and Paul on the subject of faith. James says that Abraham was “considered righteous for what he did.” It is likely that Paul would never make such a statement. However, upon closer examination, the two are not so far apart. Moo says of them: “Paul wants to make clear that one ‘gets into’ God’s kingdom only by faith; James insists that God requires works from those who are ‘in.’” 40
“You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did” (2:22). Abraham’s faith “worked with” (synergei) Abraham’s works (ergois). Thus, his faith worked. His works completed (telioo) his faith and brought it to perfection and maturity. 41 We can see from this how fitting the exhortation in Philippians 2:12 really is: “…continue to work out your salvation with fear
“And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend” (2:23). Abraham made a great spiritual “discovery” important to all succeeding generations. That discovery or revelation of God is called “credited righteousness” (cf. Rom. 4:3 ff: Gal. 3:6). Abraham was credited with righteousness by faith before he actually did anything (Rom. 4:11). The works would surely follow. As Pett says, “he is seen to have been already accounted as righteous and that his works now prove that he is so.” 42
We are told that Abraham was called God’s friend (2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8). Interestingly, that description of Abraham still comes across in the Arabic language portraying Abraham as “the friend” (El Halil). We cannot miss the fact that Abraham had a relationship with God and it was a right relationship. How we have managed to lose the significance of relationship over these last twenty centuries. This is what real religion is all about. Jesus will say to many on that last day: “…I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:23).
“You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (2:24). “With this statement we reach the climax of the tension between James and Paul. For does not Paul say almost exactly the opposite? ‘We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law (Rom. 3:28).’” 43 Here we need to recall what we have said before in verse 14, that James and Paul are dealing with two different aspects of salvation. Paul is dealing with salvation at the starting point and James is dealing with how a person continues and matures in the faith. There is really no conflict. We will note that James makes it clear here that faith is part of this process. Also Paul in Romans 1:5 speaks of “…the obedience that comes from faith.”
THE WORKING FAITH OF RAHAB
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? James 2:25
Here we come to a woman who was highly esteemed by the early church, although she was a prostitute.44 She was esteemed because of her faith. By that faith she hid the Israelite spies, cared for them and helped in their escape from Jericho (Josh. 2:4). This has got to be one of the most incredible stories in the Bible.
In the Book of Hebrews (11:31) it is said of her: “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” When Joshua took Jericho the whole population perished with the exception of Rahab the harlot and her family. Earlier she had made a great statement of faith to the spies saying, “…I know that the Lord has given this land to you…” (Josh. 2:9). What a strange statement for a woman living in an ancient fortified city threatened only by a band of desert wanderers. Barclay remarks, “At the moment when she was speaking, there seemed not one chance in a million that the children of Israel could capture Jericho.” 45
Because of her faith Rahab the prostitute escaped the utter destruction of her city. She not only joined with the people of Israel but she went on to gain a place in the Messiah’s line. We read about her in Matthew 1:5-6: “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David….” It is amazing what faith in God can do! But we also must notice that the person of faith had to do something and this is the key. Rahab didn’t just think good thoughts about God and his plan and wish the spies well. She joined in that plan at the risk of her life.
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (2:26). Albert Barnes, the early American theologian, says of this verse: “There is as much necessity that faith and works should be united to constitute true religion, as there is that the body and soul should be united to constitute a living man.” 46
Moo helps us end this chapter with an amazing insight from none other than Martin Luther, the great antagonist of James. “Somewhat ironically, no-one has captured the basic message of James 2:14-26 more forcefully than Luther (from his preface to Romans): ‘O it is a living, busy active mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good things incessantly…Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever.’” 47
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. James 3:1
The word for “teachers” used here is the Greek didaskaloi. The word can mean either “teachers” or “masters.” 1 In the King James Version it was translated “masters” but the more literal and better translation is “teachers” as seen here in the NIV.
The role of teacher was a critical role in the early New Testament period. In those days there was no New Testament to which people could refer. The teacher, who was ranked in a position directly after the apostles and prophets (1 Cor. 12:28), was the one who was largely responsible for maintaining correct doctrine and practice in the church.
One of the greatest dangers for the early church was found in teachers who taught heresy. Two of the most notable of these teachers were Marcion and Arius. Other false teachers taught by their poor examples and loose morals and of course the ancients had nothing on us today in this area.
It was Trapp, one of the old divines, who said, “If a teacher sins he teaches sin.” 2 C.W. Slemming points out that in Israel, “The offerings required by God for the priest and the whole congregation were equal, or, in the sight of God the sin of a priest was as large as the sin of a whole congregation, because if a man in an official capacity sins, he can lead a whole nation astray.” 3 So it is with the teacher.
In the Jewish world the title “Rabbi” was a name of honor given to the teachers or masters of the Torah. This office was held in very high esteem by the Jews and still is today. It is clear that Jesus was often called “Rabbi” or teacher by his disciples and others (Mk. 9:5; Jn. 4:31; Mk. 10:51). It is also clear that he warned his disciples about calling themselves by this title (Matt. 23:8). The Jews like the early Christians seem to have cautioned those who were aspiring to the office of master or teacher. In the Mishnah tractate Aboth 1:10 we read this instruction: “Love labor and hate mastery.” Shammai, the great Jewish leader of Jesus’ era also said, “say little and do much” (Aboth 1:15).
It appears that the modern and postmodern church has given little heed to what James says in this verse. Today there are multitudes of teachers and growing numbers of false teachers. Some years ago the Barna Research Group did a survey of spiritual gifts in the church. They discovered that the most popular gift was that of teaching, with 12 percent of Christians claiming that gift. Next in line was the gift of helps or service with 9 percent claiming that one. Interestingly, only 3 percent claimed the gift of giving. 4 Obviously, folks today are not the least intimidated by seeking and taking on the teaching role.
“We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check” (3:2). The big problem with teaching is in controlling the tongue. It seems that James is almost thinking that the teacher is the tongue of the whole congregation, just like the small rudder is the ruler of the ship. The one who best controls the tongue has the best chance of coming to maturity or perfection according to James.
When the Bible speaks of our perfection it is not speaking of being sinless but of gaining maturity and wholeness in the Christian life. It is speaking of reaching that goal for which Christ has designed us and called us. We cannot help but be amazed that a very large portion of this small letter of James concerns the tongue. 5
James sees the control of our tongues as a very important part of gaining maturity. He has already warned us about the tongue abuses in 1:19 and now he will continue.
CONTROLLING THE TONGUE
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. James 3:3
One of the most frightening memories of my early childhood was the run-away team that had been spooked and was running wildly at top speed with a wagon in tow and sometimes a very frightened driver hanging on for dear life. This seemed to happen quite often as I remember. The run-away made an awful noise on the gravel roads of those days. My mother, when she heard a run-away coming down the road, would rush out in great alarm to gather my sister and me to safety.
Horses out of control can be dangerous things, but on the other hand horses in control can be graceful additions to any show. For many centuries horses were also the mainstays of most work done throughout the world.
The secret to having horses in control was the bit placed in the horse’s mouth. The bit was usually made of metal and allowed the rider to exert pressure and leverage, turning the horse’s head in the direction he wished to go. Thus with a small bit a large horse could be turned and controlled. So it is with the tongue.
“Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go” (3:4). The size of the rudder on ships seems all out of proportion to the size of the whole vessel. Yet, although it is very small it exerts great influence on the direction of the ship. Again, so it is with the tongue. “His point is that the church too is large, and faces fierce storms, but if those who exercise authority in teaching do so wisely the whole church will move forward in the direction in which God wants it to go.” 6
“Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (3:5). Wiersbe recounts how “A fire reportedly started in the O’Leary barn in Chicago at 8:30 p.m., October 8, 1871; and because that fire spread, over 100,000 people were left homeless, 17,500 buildings were destroyed, and 300 people died. It cost the city over $400 million.” 7
James, who lived his life in Israel, was no doubt familiar with Israel’s wildfires as we have described previously. In Israel there are at least five or six months each year when there is absolutely no rain. During these hot and dry months wildfires are a constant threat. I once remember a wildfire starting at the western foothills and burning its way almost to the outskirts of Jerusalem, some 34 miles (55 km.) away.
On a dry early December day in 2010 some young Druze boys were trying to secretly smoke a nargila pipe near their home on Mt. Carmel. One of the coals started a fire which quickly became the most deadly fire in Israel’s history. More than 17,000 people had to be evacuated from the area and the fire eventually claimed 44 lives. Much of Israel’s beautiful Carmel forest was destroyed. 8 James is insistent that the tongue, although a little and seemingly insignificant thing, can work an even worse havoc.
“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (3:6). We see that the tongue is a terribly corrupting and destroying thing. It can quickly defile the whole person. To counteract this great evil we are told in Colossians 4:6: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
When we lose control of the tongue it affects the whole course of life and sets it aflame. The expression used here (trochos geneseos) or “course of life” is a difficult one that does not appear elsewhere in scripture. It seems to picture for us the wheel of being, the repetition of life, and likely refers to the whole matter of life and living. 9
Some have thought that this might be a picture of an overheated chariot wheel and axle that eventually catches the whole wheel on fire. We might think here of the fiery words of Adolph Hitler. Someone has calculated that for every word written in Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, 125 lives were lost in World War II. 10
Clearly the wrong use of the tongue and a tongue out of control eventually can set one’s whole being on fire in hell. The word here is Gehenna which is usually translated “hell.” Jesus used this term on several occasions (Mt. 5:22-30; 18:9; Mk. 9:43-47 & Lk. 12:5). It is interesting that only Jesus and his brother James use this same word. This is just another of the many proofs of this book’s authenticity.
The book of James is filled with vivid pictures and obviously James was a keen observer of nature. No doubt James often looked out over the large Hinnom Valley (ge-hinnom) that surrounded Jerusalem on its west and south sides. In Israel’s early history this valley became the place where Israelite children were sacrificed to the pagan god Molech (2 Ki. 16:3; 17:17 & 23:10). Gehenna was eventually made into a garbage dump, with fire, smoke, worms and stench. 11 What an appropriate picture this valley became of the eternal suffering, loss and destruction of hell.
In order to counteract the inherent evil of the tongue the Bible gives us many admonitions. Proverbs 10:19 says: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Proverbs 15:1-2 advises us: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” In Proverbs 18:21 we read: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Also, Proverbs 26:20 says: “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.”
Finally, in Matthew 12:36 Jesus says, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”
On the very practical side Peter Davids charges us: “Keep speech pure, and the rest will be ‘a snap;’ that is the mark of a mature Christian.” 12
CAN THE TONGUE BE TAMED?
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, James 3:7
When God created man he gave him dominion over every living thing on the earth (Gen. 1:28). Much of that dominion has now been lost through the fall but there is still a great fear and respect of man that is seen in most living creatures. Man has been able to use his inherent dominion to tame many formerly wild creatures. In fact, most all domesticated animals have at some point been tamed by man. Barnes says that the only animal man has not been able to tame is the hyena. 13 However, by 2004 Seyyid Abdishakur of eastern Ethiopia had taken a wild hyena and trained it to look after his goats. 14
Man is not so fortunate when it comes to taming his own tongue. James says: “but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3:8). James seems to have the picture of a deadly serpent here, perhaps even a cobra (Psa. 58:4). Also in Psalm 140:3, we read of some people who “…make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s; the poison of vipers is on their lips” (cf. Rom. 3:13). Perhaps this is a picture of the viper whose tongue continually darts back and forth. As human beings we must learn to keep our tongues in our mouths where they belong.
A woman once came up to the great evangelist John Wesley telling him that she had discovered her talent. She said to him, “I think my talent from God is to speak my mind.” Wesley replied to her, “I don’t think God would mind if you buried that talent.” 15
There is also the story coming from the 1930-40s of the noted Texas and Oklahoma evangelist Cowboy Crimm. Once he preached a rousing sermon under a large tent. The subject of his sermon was “The Tongue.” At the close of his sermon, the town’s most notorious gossip, who was also a religious leader, came forward in repentance. She said “Oh Brother Crimm, I have come forward to lay my tongue on the altar of God.” The evangelist replied: “I apologize, Sister, our altar is only ten feet long; but whatever part of it you can get on there, go right ahead!” 16
Paul says in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Well, it is clear that while humans are not able to tame their tongues God is able to tame them. In Psalm 141:3 we hear the psalmist pleading with God: “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” The good news is that we Christians now have the Holy Spirit of God living in us and if we will let him, the Holy Spirit will help us tame our tongues. It is a very important aspect of the continuing work of sanctification going on in godly lives. A controlled tongue will also keep us out of a
lot of trouble.
Someone has said that we should lead our lives in such a way that we will not be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip. When Chris Taylor’s girlfriend answered her cell phone the parrot trilled flirtatiously “Hiya Gary!” But Taylor didn’t know anyone by the name of Gary. His girlfriend Suzy swore that she didn’t know anyone by that name either. She continued sticking to her story even when the parrot Ziggy began making lovey-dovey, smooching noises when it heard the name Gary on television. Later, when Ziggy blurted out “I love you Gary,” it was too much. The red-faced Suzy had to confess that she was a two-timer. 17
SPEECH THAT IS TRUE AND WITHOUT MIXTURE
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. James 3:9
There are some things that cannot go together. We cannot praise God and curse men at the same time. People are made in God’s image and likeness, as we see in Genesis 1:26-27. When humans remember this all-important fact, life goes along a lot better for everyone. Unfortunately, in our modern and postmodern worlds people have been taught that they simply sprang from slime through the process of evolution and therefore it is not surprising that relationships are becoming more and more “slimy.” If we evolved like a lowly frog it should not be surprising that we croak a lot with our mouths and it should also not be unexpected that we would devour each other with our tongues just as a frog devours a bug.
What a difference between the cursing tongue of the wicked and the blessing tongue of the righteous! In Proverbs 10:11 we read: “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.” In Proverbs 12:18 we also read: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
James goes on to say, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (3:10). We note from our life experiences that good things can sometimes become bad things if they are not properly controlled. The great Johnstown Flood of Pennsylvania happened in 1889 and took 2,200 lives while destroying some $10 million in property. 18 While water is a good thing, water uncontrolled can cause an
“Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” (3:11). It is possible here that James has in mind the area around the Dead Sea where there are many salt springs. It is impossible to drink from these brackish waters. Obviously a spring cannot contain sweet water and brackish water at the same time. It must become one or the other.
“My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (3:12). Here James seems to be going to the root of the problem which is seen in the very nature of a fruit tree. Trees bear fruit according to their nature. Jesus said in Matthew 7:17-20, “Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
In one sense the mouth is the fruit of the tree. A righteous person is thus a “tree of life” (Prov. 11:30; cf. 15:4) to those who hear him. Jesus once said: “…For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34). The mouth speaks what is in the heart. The only hope for humanity is that the heart itself can be changed. This comes about by the new birth wherein God gives us a new heart as well as a new mind. As Moo says: “James sees a person’s speech as a barometer of his spirituality; it reveals what is in the heart.” 19
From the wicked tongue can come guile, deceit, discord, foul speech, gossip, slander, flattery, complaining, murmuring, “poor mouthing,” negative talking, threats, outbursts of anger, malicious and abusive language, lying, arguing, proud boasting, foolish talking and jesting or just talking too much. James has told us earlier in 1:26 that if we lose the battle of the tongue we lose everything and our religion is worthless. However, as he tells us in 3:2 if we control the tongue we have virtually gained everything and have
come to maturity.
O the blessings of a tamed tongue! Such a tongue is a witness for Christ; it bears witness to God’s truth, brings cheer, consolation, encouragement, hope, love, and blessing. It brings forth gracious words “…like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Prov. 25:11). The tongue sings and praises God. It intercedes for others. It prays and talks with God. This is no doubt the highest use of the mortal tongue.
O for a tongue of wisdom – a disciplined tongue, one that can converse freely with the Father and praise him continually! It is such a tongue that is a tree of life to all those within hearing (Prov. 15:4). Could we say with Psalm 17:3: “Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.”
May our mouths be filled with such gracious words as “Bless you,” “Please,” “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” “I’m praying for you,” “I love you.” 20
TWO TYPES OF WISDOM
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. James 3:13
When we read James and compare it with the other wisdom books of the Old Testament we must realize that we have lost a whole biblical way of life. Perhaps we have been overly swayed by postmodern media of all types, especially by television. Today the “good life” is constantly portrayed before us as prosperous, pleasurable, selfish, adulterous, proud and godless. There are probably several other adjectives we could include here in describing it. The simple, humble, but extremely happy biblical lifestyle has all but been forsaken by our age. It appears also that it has almost been forsaken by multitudes of Christians.
What is doubly sad is that we seem to think that those who pursue such a worldly lifestyle are “wise.” We also consider all its many “educated” advocates as “wise” men and women. Adam Clarke that British Methodist scholar and commentator of yesteryear says, “Those proud, overbearing, and disdainful men, who pass for great scholars and eminent critics, may have learning, but they have not wisdom.” 21 Coffman adds here: “There is a moral foundation in all true wisdom, there being an utter impossibility of any wicked person being, in any sense, wise.” 22
It might greatly surprise us to hear that God labels all this so-called wisdom as “foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:20). No doubt one reason he calls it foolishness is that the world’s wisdom doesn’t work. It never did and it never will. It results in great hordes of broken people everywhere.
For instance, adultery and fornication, which seem to be so highly prized by our age, have never worked in all the chronicles and annals of human history. God says that a person who seeks after these things lacks judgment, or is a fool (Pro. 6:32). We are literally swamped today with records of broken homes, ruined lives, bulging prisons, murdered babies, venereal diseases and hundreds of other things attesting that such a lifestyle is an abysmal failure.
So there are two types of wisdom. There is the wisdom of this world or the wisdom of this present evil age and there is the wisdom of God. Millions are seeking the first kind of wisdom but not so many are standing at God’s gate seeking his wisdom (Prov. 8:34). Let us look at some of the characteristics of this godly wisdom.
This wisdom produces a good life crowned with lots of good deeds. All this is clothed in humility. Some may be frowning already but really, what is so bad about good conduct (kales anastrophes) or good behavior? 23 It seems like our world could use a lot of this right now. In our society of narcissism it would also be refreshing to see a little humility once in a while.
Unfortunately many today would consider humility and its twin of meekness as forms of weakness. We all are familiar with the rules of “success” in this age that require our stepping on the heads of those below us and achieving prominence at their expense.
Humility or meekness (prautes) produces good work that will be a blessing to humanity. Far from being weak, meekness is strength under control. Wiersbe says of it, “Meekness is the right use of power, and wisdom is the right use of knowledge.” 24 Clark adds here: “That learning is not only of little worth, but despicable, that does not teach a man to govern his own spirit, and to be humble in his conduct towards others.” 25
James became a perfect example of his teaching. During the great Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 there was much stress over Gentiles coming into the faith and tempers were flaring. It is amazing how James the leader of the Jerusalem church and perhaps the most outstanding believer in Israel humbled himself and in his wisdom he preserved the truth of the gospel and closed the great council in peace.
The Bible would challenge us to follow his example. Peter says: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11-12). Paul advises us in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth” (3:14). Envy and selfish ambition seem to be most prized sentiments in our dog-eat-dog world, but in the spiritual world they are condemned. Why are they condemned? They only work jealousy, selfishness, anger, bitterness, enmity and a host of other evil, debilitating and deadly emotions.
Years ago even in the secular world there was a great deal of teamwork, pride in the organization, and support of the group. Somewhere in the latter part of the twentieth century the emphasis shifted to the individual or “super-star” mentality. Some people began to feel that they could succeed solely by themselves without help from anyone. This was a deceptive and destructive idea that has no doubt cost the business world a lot of money and success. The truth is that we all must work together as a group. A few sports stars have been wise enough to say “I couldn’t have done it without the team!”
We need to take care that the sentiments of the world do not creep into the church. The Bible makes clear in 1 Corinthians 12:14-27 that we cannot function or succeed without the help of everyone else. We are a body and we must all work together, cry together, pray together and rejoice together. There is no room for envy, selfish ambition or boasting in the assembly. When a person is exalted God is robbed of praise. However, when God’s wisdom is at work in the body there is humility, submission and God gets all the glory. 26 How different this wisdom is from the world’s so-called wisdom.
“Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil” (3:15). James gives us the source of the world’s wisdom that is so highly prized today. It comes from the earth, from the devil and from hell itself. This wisdom is daimoniodes or demon-like. We might ask ourselves why so many Christians today are being caught up in worldly wisdom, with all its pride and arrogance.
The Bible declares that these worldly wise men do not possess real wisdom. It comes only from God who is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Prov. 1:7; 9:10). Proverbs 2:6 tells us: “For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge
James proceeds with his argument: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (3:16). “Rivalry and party spirit destroy the cohesiveness of the Christian community, which is built on unity and love.” 27 We read in 1 Corinthians 14:33, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…” As Barnes says, “The Spirit, like a peaceful dove, flies from the realms of noise and strife.” 28
HALLMARKS OF THE HEAVENLY WISDOM
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. James 3:17
Barclay says: “The true wisdom produces right relationships. There is a kind of clever and arrogant wisdom which separates man from man, and which makes a man look with superior contempt on his fellows. There is a kind of cruel wisdom which takes a delight in hurting others with clever, but cutting, words. There is a kind of depraved wisdom which seduces men away from their loyalty to God. But the true wisdom at all times brings men closer to one another and to God.” 29
There are many characteristics of this heavenly or celestial wisdom. It is said to be pure (agne). Not too many things are pure in our age but God’s wisdom is pure, flowing down from heaven like a clear mountain stream. Then it is peace-loving or peaceable (eirenike).
Jesus blessed the peace makers (Mt. 5:9) and called them true sons of God. Later, Paul listed peace as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Barclay adds that “nothing good can ever grow in an atmosphere where men are at variance with one another.” 30
The heavenly wisdom is also characterized by being considerate (epieikes). How the grace of consideration is needed in the boorish age in which we live. This wisdom is also submissive, compliant or ready to obey (eupeithes). This must surely stand out in an age given over to self-assertion and narcissism. It is full of mercy (eleos). Just as God has had pity for us and sent his Son to save us, we must also have pity and mercy on our fellow humans. The wisdom from above is also full of good fruit (karpon agathon). This is the proof of faith and the proof of the other good graces we have mentioned.
Last of all the heavenly wisdom is impartial (adiakritos), sincere and genuine (amupokritos). It is unwavering and not hypocritical. If Christians could abound with all these qualities they might become the most popular and sought after people on earth!
“Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (3:18). Long ago God said to Moses: “Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants” (Deut. 32:2). God wants his word to come in gentleness and settle upon the human race like refreshing dew.
It seems that James is singling out for special emphasis the aspect of being peaceable and peace loving. No doubt James was very intent upon rooting out the many bitter and contentious disputes that were prone to rend the early church.
We see here that the gospel is really sown in peace, not in war or turmoil. Clarke says: “When the peace of God rules the heart, all these virtues and graces grow and flourish abundantly.” 31 When peace rules in the heart people are attracted to Christ and the good seed of the gospel is sown.
In closing, Coffman remarks about this whole section saying: “The most outstanding thing in this chapter is the profusion of the spirit and teaching of Jesus Christ which dominates every line of it. In the introduction [of Coffman’s book], it was noted that James is the most Christian of all the New Testament writings, in the sense of being based absolutely upon the declarations of the Master himself; and this chapter affords the most remarkable demonstration of that fact.” 32
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? James 4:1
This verse is a little puzzling by the immediate usage of two Greek words, polemoi (wars) and machai (fights). Later in the verse he also uses the Greek word strateuomenon (make war, do battle). These are all military terms and it shocks us a little to see them used of the church. In the next verse he even uses the word “kill” (phoneuete) and that shocks us even further. 1 Is it possible that such evil and cruel things could be going on in the body of Christ, especially in the first century?
Obviously, since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden there have been wars and murders in abundance. So there are wars of all kinds raging around us every day. Even as Christians we are in a constant war between our flesh and the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us (Rom. 7:23). So, perhaps it should not be surprising that wars of differing kinds rage even in the church. Paul in his ministry does speak of “conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Cor. 7:5).
Still, the ideas of battle and even killing within the church itself have been too much for some commentators. The early Greek scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536), even felt the verb “murder” (phoneuete) in verse 2 was a textual error and should be replaced by “envy” (phthoneite). However, modern scholars have discounted this idea since there is no manuscript evidence for such a change. Rather it may be likely that James is thinking once more of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:1 ff.) where the sins of hatred and insult are regarded as the same as murder (cf. 1 Jn. 3:15). 2 The web commentator David Guzik in citing Hiebert in the following verse says: “The word kill [murder] is startling and meant to startle; James sought to force his readers to realize the depth of the evil in their bitter hatred toward others.” 3
We don’t have to look far in scripture to see that wrong thoughts and feelings have caused great division and warfare among God’s people. We see how Lot caused a quarrel and later a division between himself and Father Abraham (Gen. 13). Absalom by his wrong thoughts caused a great division and war with his father David (2 Sam. Chs. 13-18). The disciples of Jesus caused problems and difficulties when they got into an argument about who would be greatest in the kingdom (Lk. 9:46-48). The Corinthian believers came to the point of suing one other in court because of their disagreements (1 Cor. 6:1-8). Then the Galatian Christians were “biting and devouring” each other (Gal. 5:15). There were even two wonderful women, who were no doubt friends of Paul, but who could not get along with each other in Philippians 4:1-3. 4
Whether the battles are outward or inward, James puts his finger on their cause. They come about because of evil desires (hedone). Peter later warned the church saying: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).
We should take note of the Greek word “hedone,” from which we get our concept of “hedonism.” 5 Today we are living in a hedonistic age where the populace has run headlong to pleasures, self-gratifications, lusts, desires, appetites and passions. Because of such things the US is a nation of bloodshed where an ever growing portion of our population is being confined to prison. We know that the same hedonism can infiltrate the church to some degree. Perhaps the beautiful words of Psalm 133:1-2 were written to discourage just such a thing: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.”
James continues: You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God” (4:2). The Lord gives us a great secret here that will put an end to quarrels and fights. The secret is prayer. Through proper and persistent prayer the searchlight of God can illuminate the hidden lusts and passions burning in each of our hearts. Through prayer we can also have our real needs met. After this, there will be no more cause to
Quite simply we don’t have because we don’t ask. Once more this seems to be a reference to the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened”
James is quick to add a qualifier to his statement about asking. He goes on to say: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (4:3). The Bible is clear that all prayers cannot be answered. Some people are really not praying but “scheming” when they talk to God. As Texas professor Bob Utley says that “the worst thing God could do for most Christians is to answer their selfish prayers!” 6 “The craving for pleasure in the end shuts the door of prayer. If a man’s prayers are simply for the things which will gratify his desires, they are essentially selfish and, therefore, it is not possible for God to answer them.” 7
We need to spend enough time on our knees so that we begin to understand who God really is and what his plan is for our lives. When we determine what his will is for us and when we then ask according to his will, we can know that he will hear us. We can ask “anything” according to his will and he will hear us. We can be totally assured of his answer (1 Jn. 5.14).
The Bible tells us what kind of prayers God hears. They are the prayers of the righteous (Psa. 34:15); who call on him in truth (Psa. 145:18); the penitent (Luke 18:14); who ask in his name (Jn. 14:13); the believing (Mk. 11:24); and as we have said above, those who ask according to his will. “It has well been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth.” 8
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. James 4:4
Here some early Christians are called “adulterous people.” In this instance James is no doubt speaking of spiritual adultery. In several other scriptures the church is called the bride of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul makes it clear that she is a bride-to-be or a bride in waiting and that it was his task to present her to Christ as a pure virgin (cf. Eph. 5:24-27; Rev. 19:7). When the church becomes defiled with the loves and passions of this present evil age she begins to miss her high and holy calling of being the bride of Christ.
We see in scripture that Israel was also looked upon as God’s bride. When Israel turned to idolatry as she often did, the husband/wife relationship became threatened (Ezek. 6:9; 16:32; Hos. 3:1; Jer. 3:8). In Jeremiah 3:8 we see that God finally gave Israel, the northern ten tribes, their bill of divorcement and sent them away into captivity. After some 2700 years they are, for the most, part still divorced and still in captivity.
What a warning this is! We dare not let such a thing happen in the church. There is such a tragic picture of this in an early Christian worker named Demas. He labored some time with Paul but finally the apostle spoke these sad words of him: “…Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me…” (2 Tim. 4:10). We see a similar thing in the Book of Revelation as the mighty church at Ephesus had begun to lose her first love (Rev. 2:4). The great wedding of the Lamb is approaching and we as the bride of Christ in-waiting must make ourselves ready for this wonderful event (Rev. 19:7).
It is clear that a believer can become an enemy of God by being friendly with the enemies of God. 9 Because of this possibility the scripture admonishes us: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15); “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2).
Here we realize once more that real Christian faith boils down to relationship with God. We might further define it as a holy, loving relationship. As we see in the marriage covenant it is indeed an intimate relationship. Abraham was a good friend of God. They spent much time talking together. God shared with him his secrets. Earlier, Enoch was also a great friend of God, insomuch that God took Enoch home with him and he never came back.
Religion is worthless if it does not result in a close relationship with the Creator of the Universe. Such a relationship is now made possible through the cross of Christ. This relationship must be kept pure and holy at all costs. God is a jealous husband and will not permit us to mix this holy relationship with the things in the world and with its idolatry.
“Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?” (4:5). While we cannot immediately recognize this as a scriptural quote 10 it certainly reflects the spirit of scripture found in several other places such as Exodus 34:14. In this passage God says: “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (cf. Deut. 4:24; 6:14-15; Zech. 8:2).
This verse has been a troublesome one over the centuries. Some scholars see the “spirit” mentioned as the human spirit, such as we see reflected here in the NIV where “spirit” is not capitalized. However, the passage seems to flow much better if we understand that it is God’s Spirit who is jealous or envious. Moo states that the imagery of God as spouse is the key to understanding the verse. The appropriateness of God’s jealousy outweighs any linguistic difficulties of the word phthomos (jealous, envious). 11
“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (4:6). God can recognize the proud coming a mile away (Psa. 138:6). Here in his quote of Proverbs 3:34 he assures us that he resists the proud but at the same time gives grace to the humble (cf. 1 Pet. 5:5). In Isaiah 57:15 God says: “For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” We remember that Jesus, the divine and holy Son of God, rode into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey (Matt. 21:7-9). What an example for us. He instructed us that it is the humble in spirit who will receive the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt. 5:3).
Barclay says about pride: “Pride does not know its own need, cherishes its own independence, and does not recognize its own sin. It shuts itself off from God; its real terror is that it is a thing of the heart.” 12
On the other hand the humble receive mercy. Mercy must be one of the greatest gifts from God and really a key to all other gifts. It is surely one of the things most desired by those of earth. It is interesting that on my website I have close to 200 books and articles offered, but the one that is always close to the top of the list of weekly requests is the article on mercy.
SUBMITTING TO GOD
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7
By using the imperative “submit” (upotasso) James is inserting a military term. It means “to align oneself under authority.” 13 This might be too much to ask in the “do your own thing” age of ours. Quite simply, God has an army and we are in it.
Not only are we to submit ourselves to God but we are to resist the devil. We can almost hear the Lord commanding things like “Fall in!”… “Forward march!” We will remember that in Ephesians 6:13, Paul gives some more military instruction: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Peter says a similar thing: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings”
(1 Pet. 5:8-9).
The devil, being the master strategist he is, certainly knows when we are weak, discouraged, demoralized, and disorganized. He will pick such times to attack the church. However, when we take a stand and the people of God take a united stand, the devil will flee and wait for a better day. The simple truth is that when we dare resist the devil he will run away. This is illustrated so clearly in the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11. The devil presented Jesus with three great temptations, all striking at the heart of his coming ministry. With each of the devil’s three temptations the Lord replied “It is written” (4:4, 7, 10). Jesus stood like a rock. He stood on the eternal word of God and
the devil fled.
In the frozen arctic country of Canada, musk-oxen are often attacked by wolves. A lone musk-ox, although he is one of the strongest land animals, is in great danger of being brought down by a pack of wolves. However the oxen have learned to gather in a circle with little ones in the center. They place their back sides at the center with their heads and long front legs and hoofs facing outward. 14 All the wolf pack sees is a mass of sharp horns and dangerous hoofs. Usually the wolf pack slinks away and waits for a
“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (4:8). This is a great promise, that if we draw near to God he will draw near to us. When we feel God far away we can know it is not God’s fault. There is a wonderful supporting passage in Malachi 3:7. God says, “…Return to me, and I will return to you….” Indeed, “the only true safety is nearness to God.” 15
We are instructed here to wash our hands and purify our hearts. This picture is probably taken from ancient Tabernacle. Before the Tabernacle there was a brazen laver where the priests were obliged to stop and ceremonially wash their hands and feet before entering (Exo. 30:18-21). We know that in Jesus’ day the Pharisees held to a ceremonial washing of hands before meals (Mk. 7:3). In fact, Jewish people today continue with a ceremonial washing of hands (ntillat yadayim) before meals and at other times.
The hands are symbols of our acts and our lifestyle. God wants to purify our lifestyle and bring it into conformity with his commands and instructions (cf. Isa. 1:16). He also wants to purify our hearts. The heart is the center of our being and it is really out of our hearts that our actions flow. This passage is a call to repentance for Christians. Sometimes we think that repentance is just for the lost and unsaved but it is also for saints. I once heard a Christian professional football player say in his testimony that he had become “a repenting type person.” That sums it up pretty well. We must keep on repenting because to some degree we keep on sinning despite our efforts to stop (1 Jn. 1:8).
As sinners, we are all “double minded” at times. The word is dipsychos and James has used it before. It has the meaning of being “two-souled” or unstable. It is difficult for God to depend on us in such circumstances. It is also difficult for others to depend on us.
“Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom” (4:9). James continues on with his theme of repentance for believers. Jesus says in Matthew 23:12, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” The Bible also says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psa. 34:18).
In our postmodern society we cannot help but note that there is not so much grief, mourning and wailing over sin. It has simply gone out of style. It has probably done so because we are gradually losing the understanding that we are sinners (Rom. 3:23). We are also gradually losing the understanding of just how bad and evil sin really is. In earlier times, especially in the great frontier revivals of America people fell on their faces and wept over their sins until they found forgiveness. It was a mess, with people weeping and moaning over their wrongdoing. When people did get saved in those days they were
Davids remarks of our situation today saying: “Modern evangelism has tended to short-circuit this process by promising peace before a person has fully realized the seriousness of his or her condition.” 16 The result is that we have churches filled with half-saved people. When temptation, trouble or difficultly arises, too many of these fall away from what little faith they had (cf. Mt. 13:1-9). In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).
James continues with his humility theme saying: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (4:10). “The picture is that of someone prostrate before an oriental monarch, begging mercy.” 17 The picture is also that of the poor Prodigal Son all ragged and hungry in the hog pen. When he fully realized his fallen position he repented, he made a firm decision saying, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men” (Lk. 15:18-19). The young man did something. He turned from his old life and returned to his father, who was eagerly waiting for him. This is a picture of real repentance. As the old saying goes, “a lot of our repentance today needs to be repented of.”
In the Kingdom of God things often seem topsy-turvy. If we wish to live we must die. If we wish to go higher we must go lower. Calvin says, “as a tree must strike deep roots downwards, that it may grow upwards, so every one who has not his soul fixed deep in humility, exalts himself to his own ruin.” 18
Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. James 4:11
James has already spoken much about the improper use of the tongue. In verses 11-12 he seems to be giving us some type of closing summary about this subject. 19 He focuses first on the matter of slander. In Leviticus 19:16 we are commanded: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people….” The word for slander here is katalaleo and it means to speak evil against another. We know today that this can include defamation, rumors, malicious or false stories about another person. This is particularly grievous when the other person is a brother or sister in Christ. The Bible is clear that slander is something of which we must rid ourselves (Eph. 4:31; 1 Pet. 2:1). We cannot do this alone but the Lord through his Holy Spirit will help us clean up our speech.
We are told here that anyone who judges his brother judges the law. The Bible tells us that we are free to judge ourselves (1 Cor. 11:31) but not to judge others. Again in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Mt. 7:1). When we judge others we actually condemn ourselves (Rom. 2:1) because we are probably guilty of the same thing. It is that old business of pointing a finger at someone and suddenly realizing that three of our fingers are pointed back at us.
But how can we judge the law by judging others. If we happen to be judging a brother of sister in Christ we need to realize that the law is written on their hearts (Jer. 31:33; Psa. 37:31). If we judge them we are in a real sense judging the law. God didn’t send us here to judge the law but to keep it in the truest spiritual sense through the power of Christ.
“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you— who are you to judge your neighbor?” (4:12). We must learn to leave all judgment to God. Outside of judging ourselves we are told in scripture to “…judge nothing before the appointed time…” but to “…wait till the Lord comes.” (1 Cor. 4:5). The Lord at his coming will judge all the dark and hidden things in people’s hearts.
It is silly for us to even think about judging someone else, especially a brother or sister in the Lord. If we are living by the Royal Law of love we can’t even think about judging one another. “Criticism usurps God’s authority, for as Paul states, ‘Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls [Rom. 14:4].’” 20
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” James 4:13
In ancient times Jews were great merchants and traders. 21 They have continued to be merchants through the pages of history, even up to this present day. Because of a common religion, common languages such as Hebrew and Yiddish, it is relatively easy for Jewish people to travel worldwide and to conduct business between peoples and nations. The Jews have a natural facility in language anyway, having been dispersed to all nations on earth. In Israel today it is difficult to find a Jewish person who cannot speak at least two or three languages fluently.
During the late Middle Ages Jewish people were severely persecuted and forced out of the nations of Spain and Portugal. Many of those Jews were accepted into the Ottoman Empire and into the Netherlands. In these places they were largely responsible for building gigantic trading empires. In the Ottoman Empire the Jewish center of Salonica became the greatest mercantile center of the Mediterranean. The Jewish people helped the Netherlands to become a vast colonizing and trading power far out of proportion
to its size. 22
The Bible says here that the problem with such a lifestyle of travel, trading and merchandizing can be one’s own presumption. A person can become presumptuous in assuming that he will live long enough to make such an extensive trading journey.
James seems to be drawing heavily here upon Proverbs 27:1, which says: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” How different are our plans from the plans of the Lord which stand forever (Psa. 33:11). In Luke 12:16-21 Jesus tells an interesting story of a successful farmer whose crops were so bountiful that he decided to take down his barns and build bigger ones. He also decided that he could take it easy, eat, drink and be merry for many years. “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Lk. 12:20).
James exclaims: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (4:14). How can we make plans for a year when we do not even know what will happen tomorrow? Our life is very brief at its best. The Book of Job particularly describes the brevity of life in saying that our days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle (7:6); they are vanishing cloud (7:9); a shadow (8:9); and that they are few and full of trouble (14:1-2). Many other scriptures verify the brevity of human life (Psa. 39:5-6; 78:39; 102:11; Hos. 13:3; 1 Pet. 1:24).
The great Shakespeare in his play Macbeth put it into these memorable words:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. 23
God knows the number of our days (Psa. 139:16) as well as the number of our years. It would profit us to heed the words of Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” “In laying their plans with reference only to this world, these business people have failed to reckon with a fundamental fact – the insubstantial and transitory nature of ‘this world.’” 24
LIVING BY THE LORD’S WILL
Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. James 4:15-16
In the Middle East among Muslims the words “Imsh’ Allah” (If Allah wills) are constantly heard. It seems that this expression has almost become a catchphrase in order to allow people to escape responsibility or to procrastinate. We should rather internalize this concept and always seek the Lord before we launch into a serious enterprise.
We see this idea “if the Lord wills” often in the New Testament. Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians 4:19 and 16:7. We see it used in Acts 18:21 and in 21:14 (cf. Rom. 1:10; 15:32). We will see it again in Hebrews in 6:3.
The Lord Jesus lived his life and died according to the will of God. He said in John 4:34, “My food…is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” Even as he faced the cross Jesus said to his Father: “…may your will be done” (Mt. 26:42). Like Jesus we should find out God’s will, know it, and seek to do it in our lives. We see in Colossians 1:9 that Paul prayed for people that they could know God’s will: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” We need to learn to pray like this for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
“James will not discourage us from planning and doing, only from planning and doing apart from a reliance on God.” 25 When we fail to factor God into our plans we will probably end up with a mess. Thomas a Kempis, the late Medieval Catholic monk and author of The Imitation of Christ, said: “Man proposes but God disposes.” Or as Wiersbe says, “When God cannot rule he overrules.” 26
“Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (4:17). Here James mentions a sin that is often overlooked in Christian ranks. It is the sin of omission. We are all familiar with sins of commission, when we decide to do things our way and not God’s way. The sin of omission is not a matter of committing a sin by our own will but it is a matter of leaving a good thing undone, or a thing that God has requested that we do.
In Luke 10:30-37 Jesus gives us the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. What made the Samaritan “good” in Jesus’ eyes was that he stopped his journey to attend to a wounded man along the roadside. Before he did so both a priest and a Levite had passed by the poor man, no doubt in their hurry to get on with their “ministry.” They had both committed the sin of omission for failing to do what they knew they should do and what their Bible assured them that God desired them to do (cf. Mt. 23:23).
The great seventeenth century Puritan minister, Cotton Mather, had this principle of action: “that the ability to do good in any case imposes an obligation to do it.” 27 Paul also says in Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. James 5:1
The first words of chapter five begin with “Now listen” or “Come now” (NKJ) in speaking to the rich. Although there may have been a few rich people in the otherwise poor congregations (1:10), it seems that most of the “rich people” (plousioi) censured here were probably not Christians. James does not appear to be too positively inclined toward them, as we have seen earlier in 1:9-11 and 2:6-7. 1
It appears that both James and his brother Jesus had some problems with rich people. Jesus said in Luke 6:24-25: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” On another occasion Jesus said of a certain rich young ruler: “…How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Lk. 18:24-25).
A similar attitude is expressed throughout the New Testament. In 1Timothy 6:9 Paul says, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.”
Interestingly, the word wail (ololyzo) used here in verse 1 is onomatopoeic, in that it sounds like the word it describes. 2 It is really more intensive than “wail” and has more of the meaning “to shriek” or even “to howl.”
Although the rich may have many comforts in the present world, they will experience much misery in the coming world. The rich here are clearly wealthy landowners. Moo says that “First century Palestine, before AD 70, witnessed an increasing concentration of land in the hands of a small group of very wealthy landowners.”3 These rich landowners commonly oppressed the poor workers. This had been a pattern even as far back as the days of Israel’s prophets (cf. Amos 2:6-7). In fact, James sounds much like one of those prophets as he condemns the oppressors. 4
Jesus once told the story of a very rich man who lived in luxury and a poor man who apparently fed on the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. However, when both died the tables were turned and the rich man was in torment in Hades while Lazarus, the poor man, rested comfortably in Father Abraham’s bosom. The rich man begged that Lazarus might be sent with a few drops of water to cool his parching tongue but such a thing was not permitted (Lk. 16:19-26). The Bible is clear that rich oppressors will suffer great misery in the world to come.
It is not that James, or Jesus, are condemning riches per se. Another Lazarus who lived in Bethany and who was a good friend of Jesus was apparently quite wealthy. He used his wealth to entertain Jesus and his disciples and his wealth became a blessing and not a liability. Paul in 1Timothy 6:10 says: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil….” It is the love of money that brings wrath. However, a person can also fall under condemnation for improper and fraudulent acquisition of wealth as we will see in verse 4.
“Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.” (5:2). A popular comedian once said: “If money talks…all it ever says to me is goodbye!” 5 Even great treasures hidden for long periods can become corrupted and useless. The clothing becomes moth-eaten. On one of our first trips to Israel my wife and I bought a lovely knitted woolen wall hanging. Some weeks after we had returned home and placed the item on our wall we noticed that we often had to sweep under it. Finally we realized that our treasure was eaten by moth larvae and was disintegrating. In the end we had to throw what was left of it into the trash.
We realize that in biblical times clothing represented wealth. Achan brought great trouble to Israel when he lusted for a beautiful garment from Babylon (Josh. 7:21). Samson, that mighty man, offered clothing to those who could solve his riddle (Jud. 14:12). Naaman the Syrian commander and leper offered a gift of clothing to the prophet Elisha. Although the prophet refused the gift, his servant Gehazi secretly followed Naaman and received the gift of silver and clothing for himself. This deceitful act resulted in Gehazi being stricken with leprosy (2 Ki. 5:21-27). Paul, in Acts 20:33, displayed great wisdom when he declared that he had never coveted money or clothing from those to whom he ministered. 6
In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus warns us: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Now James even warns his hearers that the greatest and most sought-after of earth’s treasures will not last. He says: “Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days” (5:3). The word James uses for corroded or cankered is katiwtai, and this word appears only here in the New Testament. It seems to have the meaning of rusting, being corroded or oxidized. 7
We are aware that gold in its pure state of 24 karats does not rust or oxidize. However, when gold is mixed with additives in making jewelry it can become tarnished. There is also an account of some gold coins issued by the Central Russian Bank that were supposedly 999 percent pure and yet they began to oxidize when they contacted moisture. 8
Regarding silver items many of us know that silver can become tarnished. Some of us have no doubt had the unpleasant task of polishing the corroded silver when we are about to serve distinguished guests in our homes. Unpolished silver looks almost disgusting.
James points out that in the last days such treasures will become a liability. Indeed this very thing happened to the residents of Jerusalem as the city was about to fall to the Romans in 70 AD. Robbers inside Jerusalem violently broke into homes and seized treasures of gold and silver as well as stores of food. The possessors of these things were often violently killed trying to defend such treasures. 9 Finally, even the surviving treasures of the Temple were looted and burned.
How true the words of James that treasures heaped up for the last days will eat like fire and become a liability to the owners. Isaiah speaks of the rich casting their treasures of gold and silver to the rodents and bats in the last days (Isa. 2:20). The prophet Ezekiel adds more to this scenario saying “They will throw their silver into the streets, and their gold will be an unclean thing. Their silver and gold will not be able to save them in the day of the LORD’s wrath. They will not satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it, for it has made them stumble into sin” (Ezek. 7:19).
Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. James 5:4
In this highly organized and mechanized age of ours we can scarcely imagine the hardships faced by day-laborers in Bible times. As Davids says, “These laborers lived a hand-to-mouth existence. Today’s wage bought tomorrow’s breakfast. When the wage was not paid at the end of the day, the whole family went hungry.” 10
Because our God is a compassionate God he gave many commands regarding the laboring person. In Deuteronomy 24:14-15 it is commanded “Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin” (cf. Lev. 19:13; Prov. 3:27-28; Jer. 22:13; Mal. 3:5).
As Barclay says, “The Bible is nothing less than the charter of the laboring man.” 11 We see in the Bible how Job that righteous sufferer had not failed to pay his day-laborers on time. He says: “If I have denied justice to my menservants and maidservants when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me? What will I answer when called to account?” (Job 31:13-14).
In ancient times life was extremely difficult for the laboring man as we see from other passages in Job (cf. Job 7:1-2; 24:10). In those days people had no credit cards with which they could buy groceries in the evening. Everything depended upon the honesty and integrity of the landlord. When he failed to pay on time the pitiful cries of the working person went up to God. The Greek words here are kuriou tsebaoth (Lord of Hosts, or Lord of the armies of heaven). God is Commander in Chief of these armies and is certainly able to avenge himself upon the powerful and greedy landlord.
“You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter” (5:5). The Greek word for living in luxury is truphein, and it describes a soft living style that results in breaking a person down and sapping a person’s moral fiber. 12 The people of Sodom once lived this way. It is said of them in Ezekiel 16:49: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”
The people in James’ day were like animals being fattened for slaughter. Obviously the day of slaughter was a reference to the Day of the Lord often spoken of by the prophets (cf. Jer. 46:10; 50:26-27; Ezek. 39:17; Rev. 19:17). Today in the US we might wonder if God is preparing a slaughter for us, since some sixty percent of Americans are now overweight. It is common in the plains areas of the US to see (and smell) feeding lots each with hundreds of head of cattle being fattened for the markets. These animals are allowed to eat to their hearts content not knowing that their gluttony will soon end in slaughter and disaster.
“You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you” (5:6). Sometimes we do not realize how easy it is to destroy another person. For the laboring man it may have been as simple as not paying him on time. This may not only have caused hunger but it could have initiated a downward spiral in the family that may have ultimately resulted in the unnecessary death of a family member through malnourishment.
We need some prophets today in the US who will be unafraid to cry out concerning the oppression that is common in our nation. Our minimum wage is often not sufficient to sustain normal life. Some company managers in these difficult financial times have scaled back basic benefits to the subsistence level. Companies have also abused junior management employees by placing them on salary and thus they avoid paying them for the many extra working hours of overtime. A large and popular merchandiser where our son once worked deliberately held back the salaries of some young people who came in and assembled bicycles because they wanted to end up the week with a certain desirable
What can the day-laborer do? That person has no means to go to court for protection. The poor man must simply bear the injustice. However, the oppressors often forget that a merciful but angry God is watching. Their day of judgment is soon to come.
Coffman sees in these six verses a prophecy relating to the impending overthrow and destruction of the oppressive Sadduceean Temple overlords in Jerusalem. They were notorious oppressors of the poor and at last used their position of power to murder the very Son of God. 13 Some scholars think that the Greek words ton dikaion (the innocent or righteous) are an actual reference to the Lord himself. 14 The wicked reign of the Sadducees was brought to an abrupt and terrible end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in AD 70.
“This passage (James 5:1-6) deserves to rank alongside the greatest passages of the Bible for its tremendous social implications. …The Bible, like an unfailing arsenal, has supplied the ammunition for the age-long struggle for liberty.” 15
HAVING PATIENCE IN SUFFERING
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.
Being patient was the counsel James gave us at the beginning of the letter (1:1-5) and now as he starts to end his letter he gives us the same counsel again. 16 The Greek verb makrothymeo used here often has the meaning of long suffering or patience with people. However, when it is used in the prophetic sense it conveys a similar meaning as the word huponone, which means patience in suffering or an expectant waiting. 17
Clearly the patience has to do with the Lord’s return. All the difficulties of earth should not cause us to take our eyes off the blessed event of his coming. Indeed, we should watch for it as the farmer watches over his crop. We should long for revival in our lives and in our world just as the farmer waits for the autumn and spring rains.
In Israel the early rains begin in September or October, usually, during the Festival of Tabernacles which happens at this time. During this festival Israelis pray hard for the rains. They may be fortunate enough to have a light shower during Tabernacles. After that the rains may continue spasmodically. However, the heavy rains usually do not begin until December and they may continue through January or even into early February. The latter and smaller rains can come through April or perhaps into May. After that, there is scarcely a drop of rain falling in Israel until September or October. To receive any rain in the early summer is considered a miracle (1 Sam. 12:16-18). 18
Obviously, the early rains soften the ground for the planting of crops, especially wheat and barley. The latter rains would help bring about the maturing of these crops during the late spring at the time of Pentecost. God promised Israel in Deuteronomy 11:14, “…then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil” (cf. Job 29:23; Jer. 5:24; Zech. 10:1).
As a farm boy I can well remember waiting and hoping for the rains that would bring our crops of soybeans and cotton to maturity. Frequently it seemed that we didn’t get enough rain at the right times and the crops would wither, cutting their production. Sometimes in the swampy area where we lived there was too much rain and our crops were flooded. The Israelis today seldom have such a problem do to their great lack of water.
“You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (5:8). This whole section reflects the Day of the Lord, the gathering of the harvest and the judgment of God. When this epistle was written there was just a very short number of years until the Romans would conquer the land and destroy Jerusalem (AD 66-73). This was most surely a “Day of the Lord” that came as an awful sign upon Israel. Although the Christian population escaped to Pella in today’s Jordan, hundreds of thousands of Jewish people were slaughtered with Jerusalem and the Temple being totally destroyed. Jesus spoke of this coming disaster in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. It seems in these passages he weaves the Day of the Lord that came upon Israel with the final Day of the Lord when the whole world will be affected. 19
Prophecy in its fulfillment often reminds me of the mountains of Colorado. When approaching the Rocky Mountains from the eastern plains it seems that they are but one tall snow-capped ridge. However, as one gets closer it is possible to see that the ridge is made up of many smaller and closer mountains with large valleys in between. Jesus was in a sense looking far into the future at the highest ridge which marks the end of our age, but he was also seeing the more immediate fulfillment of the Day of the Lord in AD 70.
“Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (5:9). The Greek word for grumble (stenazete) can also mean to grudge, sigh or groan. 20 The Bible assures us that in the last days the pressures and troubles will be almost unbearable. It is likely in such times of great stress to complain and murmur as did the Hebrew children when they ran out of water (Exo. 17:1-2). They even murmured against the great leader Moses. Pressures cause us to lose patience with each other, to sigh, to groan and to complain. Otherwise loving Christians can lose their love in such times and begin to hold grudges. 21
James gives us the key to surviving the pressures of the last day. We are to keep our minds focused on the coming of Jesus. When we see such times come upon us we can know that the Judge is standing at our door (cf. Rev. 3:20; Mk. 13:29). We should be ever on the watch (1 Pet. 4:7; 2 Pet. 3:10-12).
EXAMPLES OF PATIENCE
Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. James 5:10
The prophets are great pictures of patience. They all endured a lot for the sake of God’s truth. In Elijah’s day, Obadiah hid a hundred prophets in caves to save them from evil Queen Jezebel (1 Ki. 18:1-4). Zechariah the son of Jehoiada was stoned to death by the order of the king and in the very Temple compound (2 Chron. 24:20-21). According to Rabbinic sources the prophet Isaiah was sawn in two by King Manasseh because he prophesied the destruction of the Temple. 22 The prophet Uriah was struck down by the sword under King Jehoiakim because he prophesied against the land and the city of Jerusalem (Jer. 26:23). We remember the “weeping prophet” Jeremiah. He was put in stocks (Jer. 20:2), imprisoned (Jer. 32:2) and at last placed into a miry dungeon (Jer. 37:16). Jeremiah had to experience all the horrors of Jerusalem’s capture by the Babylonians. At last, John the Baptist was put in prison and later beheaded by
King Herod (Mt. 14:10).
“As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (5:11). We do not know if Job is being listed as a prophet or as just an example of perseverance. It seems that he certainly uttered words of prophecy saying in Job 19:25-26: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God….” We see also in Job 42:7 that Job’s words were approved by God himself.
There is a common saying among Christians and it seems correct, that without a test there can be no testimony. In other words, if there is nothing to endure, we cannot learn endurance. 23 Job both endured and learned endurance. He comes down to us as a sterling example of endurance or perseverance.
Wiersbe assures us that when we find ourselves in the fire, we need to remember that it is a gracious God who keeps his hand on the thermostat. 24 Job continued to hold on to God through great affliction. At last he was willing to say: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him…” (Job 13:15).
A FINAL WARNING ABOUT THE TONGUE
Above all, my brothers, do not swear— not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned. James 5:12
For those living under the Old Covenant it was permitted to take oaths (Gen. 21:31; 24:8; Num. 30:2). However, under the New Covenant all oaths are forbidden (Matt. 5:33-37). There is a very simple logic in this. If our “yes” and “no” cannot be trusted, there would be no use for us to swear by the Temple or by God himself. “In an honest society no oath is needed.” 24
It appears that the Jews made a distinction in their oaths. If an oath did not include the name of God it was considered as non-binding. 25 It seems that James is particularly focused on ending this kind of deception. “James lends a priority to this particular point of behavior by his introductory above all. …The introductory words above all indicate that James has in mind a meaning larger than honesty in everyday speech.” 26
Now the question is bound to arise as to whether or not Christians can take an oath—in court for instance. Some in the Anabaptist tradition refuse to take oaths today, even those in the courtroom. Moo remarks that it is questionable as to whether or not Jesus or James ever intended to deal with the subject of official oaths. Rather, he feels that the Bible has in mind here the matter of voluntary oaths. It appears that Paul sometimes uses oaths (2 Cor 1:23; Gal 1:20; 1 Thess. 2:5). 27 However, he may only be calling God as a witness on his behalf.
PRAYING IN FAITH
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. James 5:13
Christians have a wonderful and ever-present resource. They can pray and be heard by the God of the universe. They can especially pray in times of trouble. In fact, the believer is instructed to pray at all times (Psa. 34:1-3; Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17). Throughout this epistle James has dealt with the tongue and, as we have said, prayer addressed to God is no doubt the highest usage of the human tongue. Barnes says, “This would be a sad world indeed, if it were not for the privilege of prayer.” 28
Not only can we pray but we can also sing songs. From the outset, Christians were a singing group of people. We have one historical reference to this fact noted in a letter sent in AD 111 to the emperor Trajan by Pliny governor of Bithynia. Pliny says of the Christians: “they are in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it is light, when they sing in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as God.” 29
Interestingly, the word “to sing” (psallein) is a word that has reference to plucking the strings on a harp. In the Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament this word often refers to singing that is accompanied by the harp (1 Sam. 16:16-23; Psa. 33:2, 3; 98:4-5; 147:7; 149:3). It can also refer to singing without accompaniment as seen in Psalm 7:17; 9:2, 11). 30 While there are some groups of Christians who do not believe in singing with instruments, the Bible seems to fully dispute such an idea. In fact, in Psalm 150 we see all kinds of instruments used in praising God – trumpets, harps, tambourines, strings, flutes and cymbals.
In Ephesians 5:19 Paul instructs us to “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord…(cf. Col. 3:16).” The scripture makes plain that songs are not just limited to times when we are happy. On one occasion at midnight in a forlorn Philippian jail, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God (Acts 16:25). They were then miraculously delivered by the mighty hand of God amid the great wonder of the prisoners and the prison warden.
“Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (5:14). This verse has elicited a voluminous response from the commentators. It is a puzzling verse for sure, especially to people in our modern and postmodern times. It was probably not puzzling at all to people in the first century, however. Olive oil was abundant in Israel and days before Crisco, canola oil and the wide assortment of other oils available in our households, it was the oil of choice. It was not only used in cooking and for a thousand other things but it was used as a medicine.
Olive oil for medicinal purposes was mentioned by many ancients such as Plato, Galen, Pliny, Philo and Josephus. 31 Oil was and still is a great mollifier of the skin. I use it almost daily to soften my aging skin. It is really interesting that James uses an ancient medicine in conjunction with prayer as a means of healing. This seems to imply that various other means of healing plus prayer may be used.
In Bible times olive oil was often used as a spiritual anointing. Here in this verse this symbol of anointing is used in prayer for the sick. What can we make of all this? We know for sure that the olive oil by itself was not the cure mentioned here. In the New Testament particularly we see many symbolic things used in connection with healing. Jesus on several occasions used such symbols. In Mark 8:23-26 Jesus spit on the eyes of a blind man and then touched him. The man was healed. On another occasion he put his fingers in a deaf and dumb man’s ears. Then he placed his spittle on his tongue. The man was healed.32
We no doubt remember another instance where Jesus commanded a person who was blind from birth to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. He issued this command after first spitting on mud and rubbing it upon the eyes of the blind man. Upon washing in the Pool of Siloam the man was healed. (Jn. 9:6-7).
Healing is a mysterious thing. It is really the work of God. It is reported that over the main entrance to the Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan, New York, these words are engraved: “All healing is of God; physicians only bind up the wounds.” 33 If God does not choose to work in the healing process the work of earth’s greatest doctors is in vain. But God can work in many ways to bring healing.
Sometimes it is not God’s will to bring healing when we ask. God may have other plans as he did in the cases of Job and Paul. Jesus knew the will of the Father and always worked according to his will. Everyone Jesus healed was fully healed and there were no exceptions. However, even the disciples were once baffled because they could not heal a young boy. Jesus had to come and do it for them (Matt. 17:16-18).
However, despite what many people have said, miraculous healings continue today and they continued on in the church far past the first century. The famous apologist Justin Martyr spoke of people receiving gifts of healing around AD 160. 34 The church father Irenaeus (around 180) also spoke of miraculous healings and even the raising of the dead. 35 The African father Tertullian (about 197) wrote of performing miraculous cures. 36 The influential father Origen (around 248) mentioned performing many cures. 37 We know from other sources that miraculous healings were witnessed in the church as late as the times of Ambrose (339-397) and Augustine (354-430). 38
It is interesting that in the time of Tertullian even the Roman Emperor Alexander Severus (222-235) was healed through anointing and by the laying on of Christian hands. The servant of God in this case was a certain Torpacion. It is said that in gratitude the Emperor kept this Christian as a guest in his palace until the day of his death. 39
Regarding the anointing to heal, it is sad that the Roman Catholic Church misinterpreted this passage completely. In the sixteenth century Council of Trent the church approved the doctrine of extreme unction. With this doctrine the Roman church decreed that priests only would have the right to perform this ceremony. 40 What is especially tragic is that extreme unction became an anointing for death and not one of healing and life.
We are blessed today that God still heals people. He can heal through the elders of the church if they but believe. He can heal through special gifts of healing which he has placed in the church (1 Cor. 12:28-30). Or, he can just heal through the prayer of any believing person. Since there are so many sick people in today’s church it is a shame that we do not pray more for the sick and help them get the healing they need.
“And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven” (5:15). “James 5:14-16 is the only passage in the New Testament epistles that directly addresses the question of physical healing…James’ language makes it impossible to eliminate the physical dimension.” 41 God promises physical healing when it is according to his will and when it is asked in faith. We see a second bonus here and that is the forgiveness of the sick person’s sins. This does not mean that all sickness is caused by sin (Jn. 9:2-3). We can never look at a sick person and say that the person has sinned. Neither can we look at a sick person and deem that they do not have enough faith to be healed.
However the Bible is clear that some sickness is caused by sin. Many in the Corinthian church were sick and some had even died all because of their sin (1 Cor. 11:30). They needed healing and the forgiveness of sins. We still need healing and forgiveness today.
I remember an event of miraculous healing in my early ministry. At the time our denomination did not really believe in miraculous healing. However, one of the deacons in our small church came down with thyroid cancer. After exploratory surgery the doctors decided his situation was hopeless and gave him only a few months to live. To make matters worse, his wife, a dear spiritual woman, was confined to a wheelchair. She was able to care for their three small children but she was totally dependent upon her husband to lift her and transport her.
Our little church was stricken with sorrow and concern for this family and many prayers went up for them. We received word that many other people far and near had heard and were praying for this desperate situation also. On the coming Sunday after hearing this awful news we announced a prayer meeting for this deacon in the afternoon. We didn’t know much about healing but the small group that assembled to pray knew that we had to have a miracle. We first confessed any sin that we had against each other and then one by one, as faith rose within us, we laid hands on this brother and prayed for him.
The next day this deacon went back to the doctor. Upon examining him the doctor exclaimed, “What has happened?” The cancer, which covered his throat and even reached into his head and lungs, had begun to shrink. The shrinking continued and after a few weeks this brother was cancer free. He lived on in full health until his children were grown and married and until his precious wife had passed on to glory. He died in old age with many blessings, seeing his children and his children’s children.
THE POWER OF CONFESSION
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:16
We have probably all heard the old adage, “confession is good for the soul.” In reality, confession is good not only for our souls, but it is also good for the souls of those who hear us. Confession has a way of strengthening our spiritual lives. It not only gives us confidence and encouragement, but it gives these things to our listeners as well.
Confession is likely one of the strongest offensive weapons in our spiritual arsenal. This is probably why the devil makes our confession one of the main targets of his attack. Truly, the enemy desires to steal it away. When we speak of confession today, its meaning is a bit clouded by misuse and misunderstanding in the church. We surely need to gain a biblical understanding of this concept. We also need to realize that there are two types of confession mentioned in the Bible, the confession of sins and the confession of Jesus as our Lord. Here we are dealing only with the first kind of confession.
We need to realize that the confession mentioned in this passage has nothing to do with the auricular confession found in Roman Catholicism. 42 In Catholic confession the person confesses his or her sins in the hearing of a priest. In this passage we see that we are to confess one to another. There is no mention of a priest being present.
History bears witness to the fact that during the mighty revivals like The Great Awakening in early America or the revival in Wales, there was much public confession of sin. Confession was actually the norm and people were desperate to get things right with God. 43 In some of the more recent outbreaks of revival on college campuses there were long lines of young people waiting to confess their sins publicly. Although this is rare today it was not so rare in past great revivals or in Bible times. We see for instance in Nehemiah’s day that people stood for hours confessing their sins publicly (Neh. 9:2-3).
Norman Grubb in his little classic entitled Continuous Revival, points out the importance of public confession of sin. He cites it as one very important element in keeping revival fires burning year after year. This was the case with his experience in East Central Africa around the middle of the twentieth century. He points out how the natives became quick to confess even their smallest sins to each other. The value of such quick confession is that the evil seed of sin is not allowed time to take root and grow. Also, it is obviously much better to confess the sin of a lustful thought than to confess the sin of adultery much later. What a healthy practice, to confess our sins to each other. Husbands and wives should certainly get into this practice. Prayer groups and even fellowships would also profit greatly from doing this. It would liberate us and deliver us from much
The scripture is clear that we must confess our sins. The confession and repentance of our sins is one of the very first steps into the Kingdom of God. The Lord gives us a wonderful promise in regard to confession of sin. The promise is found in 1 John 1:9 and it would bear memorizing: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” In the next verse John warns us that if we say we have no sins we are liars. When we try to hide our sins we become hypocrites – our bones waste away and our strength is sapped, as was the case with David in Psalm 32:1-5. When David acknowledged his awful sin, he could then call himself “blessed” because his sin was forgiven.
In a similar sense, the Bible assures us that if we cover over our sins we will not prosper (Prov. 28:13). When we bury sin it sprouts and produces more sin. It is only when we confess and forsake sin that we obtain mercy.
It must be a devastating thing for the kingdom of darkness when people begin to confess. Satan’s kingdom is built upon deception, lies, hypocrisy and concealment. When people confess publicly, they shatter the darkness with the light of truth. They begin to walk in the light and this makes true fellowship with one another possible. The Greek word used in this passage is a form of “homologia.” The word means literally to “say the same thing.” 44 When we confess our sins we say the same thing that God is saying about us. We affirm that his testimony about us is true, for the Bible says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….” (Rom. 3:23).
Not only are we to confess to each other but we are to pray for each other. We are to especially confess and pray when there is sickness that needs healing. Barclay says that “Christian truth is something which must be done.” 45 We cannot just teach it nor can we merely sit around and philosophize about it. We must get busy and do it. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Neither should we balk at the word righteous, since God has declared all believers righteous through the sacrifice of Jesus.
The New King James Version translates the last part of verse 16 in this way: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Barnes remarks regarding the words powerful and effective (NIV) and avails (NKJ) that this Greek word is energoumenh and would be rendered better by the word “energetic” since it is derived from this word. 46 He goes on to repeat an old adage saying that “prayer moves the arm that moves the world.”
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. James 5:17-18
Peter Davids remarks of Elijah that he “does not stride across the stage of history ten feet tall but as an ordinary man with an extraordinary God.” 47 Elijah did some outstanding feats but he also had some failures (cf. 1 Ki. Chs. 17-19). The miraculous episode on Mt. Carmel was perhaps his finest moment but within hours he was terrified and fleeing for his life from Jezebel.
In Elijah’s day Israel was plagued with an awful famine because of her idolatry. The prophet predicted a great famine for three years (1 Ki. 18:1) and the famine came. Times became exceedingly difficult in Israel. In our text we see that the duration of the famine was three and one-half years. Jesus also verifies this three and one-half year period in Luke 4:25. It is possible that the drought began six months prior to the famine and that Jesus and John are both referring to the whole period of three and one-half years. 48
There is no question that the three and one-half year period is a particularly important symbol in prophecy. We see this same time period in Daniel 7:25, and in Revelation 2:14. Davids explains all this saying that the three and one-half years are one-half of seven and that seven is the standard period of judgment in the Bible. 49 The three and one-half year period will become extremely important to God’s people in the last days for this is marks the Great Tribulation that will fall upon the earth as God judges the sins of humankind.
We see in this passage that Elijah prayed earnestly. The Greek literally says that he “prayed with prayer.” Robert Jamieson, the Scottish divine, sees this as a Hebraism for “praying intensely.” We see a similar thing in Luke 22:15 as Jesus says “…I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”50
Then we see Elijah praying again. We do not have the words to his prayer and do not know exactly how he prayed. We can know from 1 Kings 18:42 ff. that he kept on praying when it seemed futile. He even fell down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. 51 Finally a tiny cloud appeared and afterward a torrent of rain, the answer to his prayer.
“My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (5:19-20). The picture of “wandering” here is taken from the Greek verb planao. We get “planet” from this word and it pictures a heavenly body wandering through space (cf. 1 Pet. 2:25; 2 Pet. 2:15). 52
As we have seen in James and as we see in the rest of the Bible, God presents us with two ways. Each of us must make a choice concerning these ways. John Oxenham, the English journalist, novelist and poet puts it into beautiful rhyme
To every man there openeth
A Way, and Ways, and a Way.
And the High Soul climbs the High Way,
And the Low Soul gropes the Low,
And in between, on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth
A High Way, and a Low.
And every man decideth
The Way his soul shall go. 53
It is clear that all believers have the task of watching over others in the church and trying to bring them back if they begin to wander away. Especially in the US today believers have a daunting task of keeping their fellow saints from backsliding. Recent surveys have indicated that some sixty-six percent of American adults no longer believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth. It is alarming that in the 18-25 year-old range the figure is at seventy-two percent. 54
Commentators have wrestled a bit with the expression “cover over a multitude of sins.” They have asked, “Whose sins are being covered, the one who is wandering or the one who is bringing the person back?” The Greek is ambiguous and cannot help us. 55 However, the word “cover” is an expression related to the atonement and it seems obvious that the sins of the one recovered are the ones that are covered. 56 It is only God who can do the work of covering our sins, and sins can only be covered by the atonement made by Christ.
Daniel says in 12:3, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”
With these thoughts the little epistle of James ends. Coffman says of its ending: Here there is no signature, no farewell greeting, no formal closure of any kind, just the bold imperious words of the inspired writer, standing starkly against the mists of fleeting centuries like a massive inscription chiseled into a granite mountain.” 57
Several sources I have cited here are from the electronic media, either from websites or from electronic research libraries. Thus in some of these sources it is not possible to cite page numbers. Instead I have cited the verse or verses in each chapter of James (e.g. verse v. 1 or vs. 1-2) about which the commentators speak.
1. Frances Taylor Gench, Hebrews and James (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996) p. 83.
2. Bob Utley, James, The Study Bible Commentary Series, 1996, p. 2.
3. William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976), p. 3.
4. Douglas J. Moo, James, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 16 (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985), p. 18.
5. Peter H. Davids, James (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983, 1989), p. 1.
1. Hershel Shanks & Ben Witherington III, The Brother of Jesus, The Dramatic Story & Meaning of the First Archaeological Link to Jesus and His Family (San Francisco: Harper, 2003).
Shanks & Witherington say: “To judge from Josephus, after Jesus himself, James was the most important person associated with the Jesus movement.” p.195.
2. Davids, James, p. 3.
3. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p.32.
4. Davids, James, p. 3.
Also Davids remarks on page 25: “There was only one James so well known in the early church that he would need no other form of identification, and that was James the Just, brother of Jesus, leader of the church in Jerusalem.”
Shanks &Witherington add: “Only one James is ever referred to in the New Testament without further qualification, and that is James the brother of Jesus.” p. 144.
5. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 40.
6. F.F. Bruce, New Testament History (NY: Doubleday, 1969), pp. 136-137.
7. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 41.
8. David Guzik, Commentary on James, David Guzik’s Commentaries
on the Bible, http://www.studylight.org/com/guz/view.cgi?book=jas&chapter=001,
9. Moo, James, p. 62.
10. Utley, James, p. 8.
11. Davids, James, p. 11.
12. Utley, James, p. 10.
Here Barclay also reminds us of Romans 5:33, saying, “James describes this process of testing by the word dokimion. It is an interesting word. It is the word for sterling coinage, for money which is genuine and unalloyed. The aim of testing is to purge us of all impurity.” p. 43.
13. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 43.
14. Utley, James, p. 11.
15. George M. Stulac, James, Volume 16, IVP New Testament Commentary Series (IVP Press, 1993), http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/?action=getBookSections&cid=13&source=1
16. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 44.
17. Utley, James, p. 12.
18. Davids, James, p. 14.
19. Dennis Bratcher, The Character of Wisdom, An Introduction to Old Testament Wisdom Literature, http://www.cresourcei.org/wisdom.html
20. Christi Goeser, http://www.theology.edu/journal/volume3/message.htm
21. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2007), p. 853.
22. Utley, James, p. 12.
23. Davids, James, p. 29.
24. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 853.
25. Utley, James, p. 14.
26. Moo, James, p. 69.
28. Stulac, James, comment on vs. 1-12.
29. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 66.
30. Albert Barnes, Commentary on James, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, <http://www.studylight.org/com/bnn/view.cgi?book=jas&chapter=001>.
31. P. L. Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, 1996, c 1979.
32. Keith Brooke, War Cry of the Salvation Army, Nov. 7, 2009.
33. Robert Jamieson, Commentary on James, Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible, http://www.studylight.org/com/jfb/view.cgi?book=jas&chapter=001, 1871.
34. Moo, James, p. 76.
Barnes adds to this by using a metaphor of the Rabbis in tractate Sanhedrin which says: “Evil concupiscence is at the beginning like the thread of a spider’s web; afterwards it is like a cart rope” (Barnes comment on v. 15).
37. Bo Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), p. 18.
38. Barnes, Commentary on James, comment on verse 19.
40. Peter Pett, Book of James, comment on verse 20, http://www.angelfire.com/planet/matthew1/james1.html
41. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 57.
42. Moo, James, p. 85.
43. Stulac, James, comment on vs. 22-25.
45. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 59.
46. Gench, Hebrews and James, p. 98.
47. Moo, James, p. 87.
48. Barnes, Commentary on James, comment on verse 25.
49. Stulac, James, comment on vs. 26-27.
50. Darian R. Lockett with Craig Evans, The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary, John’s Gospel, Hebrews— Revelation, ed., Craig A. Evans (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2005), p. 272.
1. James Burton Coffman, Commentary on James, Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University, 1983-1999), <http://www.searchgodsword.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=jas&chapter=001>. v. 1.
2. Stulac, James, vs. 1-7.
3. John Calvin, Commentary on James, Peter, 1 John & Jude, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, 1509-1564, (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library),http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom45.vi.ii.vii.html, comment on verse 1.
4. Peter Pett, Book of James, comment on v. 2.
Albert Barnes also remarks about verse 2 saying: “It is remarkable that this is the only place in the New Testament where the word synagogue is applied to the Christian church.”4. Peter Pett, Book of James, comment on v. 2.
5. M. R. Vincent, Vincent’s New Testament Word Studies – James, v. 2. http://www.godrules.net/library/vincent/vincentjam1.htm
Barclay here cites Clement of Alexandria who recommended that believers should limit themselves to one ring and that it should have some sort of religious emblem affixed to it, like a fish or dove (Barclay p. 64).
6. Moo, James, p. 93.
7. Davids, James, p. 74.
8. Calvin, Commentary on James, Peter, 1 John & Jude, v. 1.
9. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, pp. 860-61.
10. Pett, Book of James, v. 4.
11. Guzik, Commentary on James, vs. 5-7.
12. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 5.
13. Stulac, James, vs. 1-13.
14. Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosperity_theology
15. Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude, p. 28.
Gench cites Cain Hope Felder of Howard University who says “that James 2:1-13 provides what is perhaps the strongest castigation of class discrimination in the New Testament…” (Gench p.103).
16. Vincent, Vincent’s New Testament Word Studies – James, vs. 6-7.
17. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 862.
18. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 8.
19. Ibid., v. 10.
20. Guzik, Commentary on James, vs. 10-13.
21. Moo, James, p. 99.
22. Adam Clarke, The Adam Clarke Commentary, The General Epistle of James,
<http://www.studylight.org/com/acc/view.cgi?book=jas&chapter=001>. 1832. v.10.
23. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 863.
24. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 13.
25. Ibid., v. 14.
26. Gench, Hebrews and James, p. 106, 105.
27. Ibid., p. 106.
28. Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude, p. 34.
Shanks & Witherington also comment here saying: “There is no evidence in the New Testament that James sided with the radical Pharisaic Jewish Christians who demanded that Gentiles be circumcised and keep the food and Sabbath laws… Nowhere in the letter of James is there any discussion about food laws, strict Sabbath keeping, circumcision, or any of the usual boundary-marker issues that Paul had to deal with when he was confronted by what he called Judaizers.” p. 157.
29. John Calvin, as quoted in Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 864.
30. Clarke, The Adam Clarke Commentary, The General Epistle of James, v. 14.
31. Marvin R. Wilson, Our Father Abraham, Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith (Dayton & Grand Rapids: William B. Eeerdmans Publishing Co., and Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, 1989), p. 219.
32. Davids, James, p. 75.
33. Moo, James, p. 107.
34. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 18.
35. Vincent, Vincent’s New Testament Word Studies – James, v. 19.
36. Davids, James, p. 66.
37. Vincent, Vincent’s New Testament Word Studies – James, v. 20.
38. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 865.
39. Lockett with Craig Evans, The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary, John’s Gospel, Hebrews— Revelation, p. 275.
40. Moo, James, p. 114.
41. Ibid, p. 116.
42. Pett, Book of James, v. 22.
43. Moo, James, p. 118.
Moo adds, “Thus Paul can speak of ‘the obedience of faith’ (Rom. 1:5) and say that it is ‘faith working through love’ that avails in Christ (Gal. 5:6). In other words, faith for Paul includes the commitment to obedience.” He continues on page 119 saying: “Paul is thinking of justification as the initial granting to the believer of a righteous status. James, as we have argued, operates, with a different meaning of dikaioo using it to refer to the ultimate verdict of God over our lives.”
Reicke also adds saying: “It is quite impossible to speak of any direct or indirect contradiction of Paul, who, according to Gal 5:6 and other passages, emphasized that faith should be realized in deeds of love” (Reicke, p.32).
44. Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude, p. 35.
45. William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrews, Revised Edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 56.
46. Barnes, Commentary on James, v. 26.
47. Moo, James, p. 121.
1. Vincent, Vincent’s New Testament Word Studies – James, v. 1.
2. C.W. Slemming, Thus Shalt Thou Serve (Fort Washington PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1966, p. 42.
4. Barna Research Group Ltd., 647 West Broadway, Glendale, CA.
5. Gench, Hebrews and James, pp. 109-110.
Moo also remarks on the tongue saying: “The teacher places himself in greater danger of judgment because the main tool of his ministry is also the part of the body most difficult to control: the tongue.” (Moo144).
Barclay adds: “Many have fallen by the edge of the sword; but not so many as have fallen by the tongue. [Ecclesiasticus 28:13-26] (Barclay p. 83).
6. Pett, Book of James, v. 4.
7. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 868.
9. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, pp. 87-88.
10. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 868.
11. Utley, James, pp. 55-56.
12. Davids, James, p. 81.
13. Barnes, Commentary on James, v. 7.
15. Guzik, Commentary on James, vs. 7-8.
16. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 8.
17. Colorado Springs Gazette, January 18, 2006.
18. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p.869.
19. Moo, James, p. 133.
20. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 870.
21. Clarke, The Adam Clarke Commentary, The General Epistle of James, v. 13.
22. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 13.
23. Stulac, James, vs. 13-18.
24. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 872.
Another opinion is offered on the subject by Moo: “Meekness (prautes) was hardly a virtue to be sought after in the minds of most Greeks: it suggested a servile, ignoble debasement. But Jesus, who was himself ‘meek’ (Matt. 11:29), pronounced a blessing on those who were meek (Matt. 5:5).” (Moo p.136).
25. Clarke, The Adam Clarke Commentary, The General Epistle of James, v. 13.
26. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, pp. 871-872.
27. Davids, James, p. 90.
28. Barnes, Commentary on James, v. 16.
29. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 95.
30. Ibid., p. 97.
31. Clarke, The Adam Clarke Commentary, The General Epistle of James, v. 18.
32. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 18.
1. G. Abbot-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1960), pp. 370, 280, 419 & 472.
2. Stulac, James, comment on vs. 1-4.
On this passage Calvin adds: “The language of the whole passage is highly metaphorical. He calls their contentions ‘wars and fightings;’ for the whole tenor of the passage is opposed to the supposition that he refers to actual wars.” (Calvin v. 2)
3. Guzik, Commentary on James, vs. 1-3.
4. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 874.
5. Moo, James, p. 143.
6. Utley, James, p. 66.
7. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 100.
8. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 874.
9. Ibid., p. 875.
10. Davids, James, p. 107.
11. Moo, James, pp. 149-150.
12. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 105.
13. Utley, James, p. 66.
15. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 7.
16. Davids, James, p. 103.
17. Ibid., p. 104.
18. Calvin, Commentary on James, Peter, 1 John & Jude, v. 10.
19. Utley, James, p. 69.
20. Davids, James, p. 105.
21. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 113.
Moo adds: “It is possible that due to the wealth required for such excursions that these merchants were rather well off. This, in addition to the fact that James does not address them as “brethren” may indicate that these people were not part of the church” (Moo159).
It is likely that James is using this group of merchants to warn the believers about the sins of presumption.
22. Jim Gerrish, Does God Play Favorites? :God’s Unique Relationship with Israel (Minneapolis: Cornerstone Publishing, 2000), pp. 203-205 (available free on Jim’s website).
23. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 14.
24. Moo, James, p. 160.
25. Guzik, Commentary on James, v. 16.
26. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, pp. 877-878.
27. Barnes, Commentary on James, v. 17.
1. Gench, Hebrews and James, pp. 119-120.
2. Stulac, James, vs. 1-3.
3. Moo, James, p. 168.
4. Ibid., p. 164.
5. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 879.
6. Pett, Book of James, vs. 2-3.
7. Barnes, Commentary on James, v. 3.
9. Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, Bk. 5, Ch. 10:1-2 .http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/flavius-josephus/war-of-the-jews/book-5/chapter-10.html
10. Davids, James, p. 116.
11. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 119.
13. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 6.
14. Robert Jamieson, Commentary on James, Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible, 1871, <http://www.studylight.org/com/jfb/view.cgi?book=jas&chapter=001>.
15. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 6.
16. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 882.
17. Moo, James, p. 173.
18. Vincent, Vincent’s New Testament Word Studies – James, v. 7.
19. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 7.
20. Vincent, Vincent’s New Testament Word Studies – James, v. 9.
21. Guzik, Commentary on James, v. 9.
22. Peter Pett, Commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews,
http://www.angelfire.com/planet/lifetruth/hebrews1.html, Ch. 11, vs. 36-37.
23. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, p. 885.
24. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 126.
25. Guzik, Commentary on James, v. 12.
26. Stulac, James, vs. 12-20.
27. Moo, James, p. 180.
28. Barnes, Commentary on James, v. 13.
29. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 129.
30. Lockett with Craig Evans, The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary, John’s Gospel, Hebrews— Revelation, p. 286.
Moo remarks about the word psallo, saying: “It is easily recognized as related to our English ‘psalm’. Taken from a Greek word that designated a kind of harp,…This singing in praise was closely related to prayer (cf. 1 Cor. 14:15); indeed, it can be regarded as a form of prayer. (Moo p. 181).
32. Moo, James, p. 183.
33. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 13.
34. Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, I (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956), p. 214.
35. Ibid., p. 409.
36. Ibid., Vol. 3, p. 91.
37. Ibid., p. 415.
38. John Wimber, with Kevin Springer, Power Evangelism, Signs and Wonders Today, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1985), p. 155-56.
39. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 129.
40. Moo, James, p. 183.
41. Ibid., p. 189.
42. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 16.
43. Pett, Book of James, v. 16.
44. Guzik, Commentary on James, v. 16, citing Hiebert.
45. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 133.
46. Barnes, Commentary on James, v. 16.
47. Davids, James, p. 125.
48. Coffman, Commentary on James, v. 17.
49. Davids, James, p. 136.
50. Jamieson, Commentary on James, Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible, v. 17.
51. Clarke, The Adam Clarke Commentary, The General Epistle of James, v. 18.
52. Moo, James, p. 194.
53. John Oxenham, Bees in Amber (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1959),
54. Christianity Today, October 26, 1992, p. 30.
55. Moo, James, p. 195.
56. Coffman, Commentary on James, vs. 19-20.