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The Epistle of James
With all the writings in the New Testament concerning the riches of God’s grace, freely given to us, we must be careful not to take advantage of these riches and ignore our duties as followers of Christ. It is indicated in Scripture that those whose lives do not bear fruit to God may not truly be children of God (Matt. 7:17-21; Titus 1:16; I John 3:17-19). Certainly, it is not the fruit itself that makes us children of God; nevertheless, a life that bears good fruit is a necessary result of a new birth into God’s family. The lack of such fruit in one’s life, however, sh%ould not drive one to frantically do good works in order to, in this way, truly become a child of God. Rather, it should drive one to his knees to seek from God a true birth into the kingdom. Then God will work in His child’s life and give him the desire and circumstances to bear good fruit.
To the world, it should be obvious by our actions that we are children of God. Christ Himself says: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Peter warns us not to be “ineffective and unproductive” in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (II Pet. 1:8). Paul warns us not to “show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience” (Rom. 2:4). While we certainly should rejoice and praise God for the magnificent free gift of life that we have received, we should by no means allow this comfort to develop into laziness.
Thus, we have the Epistle of James. This epistle is full of exhortations concerning the proper actions and attitude of a true child of God. It does not, as some would have it, contradict the doctrines of the free grace of God; rather, it complements this teaching and exhorts us to live lives worthy of those who truly understand the magnificence of the gift we have received.
1James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
“James”, the human author of this book, is most certainly the brother of Jesus (or, technically, His half brother). James was a well-respected man by both Jews and Christians, acquiring the nickname of James the Just. He was, apparently, a leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem. He is noted in the book of Acts as the author (no doubt inspired by the Holy Spirit) of the compromise that resolved the dispute at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-33).
“A servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”: James begins his letter by emphasizing his spiritual relationship with Christ, rather than his earthly relationship as brother. It is hard for us to imagine the difficulty Christ’s immediate family had in accepting Him as Savior, Lord and Creator of the universe. They grew up with Him. They knew Him as a child, watching Him as He was being apprenticed as a carpenter. Certainly, He was no ordinary child, and from early on, He had a deep relationship with and knowledge of God (cf. Luke 2:46-50). Yet, it must have been difficult for His family to come to terms with the Lordship of Christ.
Indeed, during His ministry on earth, His family apparently did not believe in Him (see John 7:5). They even considered Him crazy when (typically concerned for their family member) He was neglecting His meals for the work of His ministry (see Mark 3:20-21). Yet, as a great testimony to the truth of Christ’s Lordship over all, His family apparently did come to believe in Him and exalt Him as Lord.
In fact, two of Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, wrote epistles in the New Testament. Interestingly, just as James began his letter by emphasizing his spiritual relationship to Christ, so also Jude, in his epistle, opens with “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (Jude 1:1). Thus, he also emphasizes his duty as a servant of Jesus over his earthly relationship with Christ.
“To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations”: James, as a leader in the Church in Jerusalem, was writing primarily to the Jewish believers throughout the world, though, of course, what he wrote applies to us all. It is a comfort that, though “scattered among the nations”, the people of God remain the people of God. We are citizens of God’s kingdom, ambassadors of Christ, regardless of the earthly flag under which we reside. It is also a comfort that nearly no matter where our journey on earth takes us, we can find God’s people, fellow pilgrims living in this foreign world.
Joy Through Suffering
2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James exhorts us here to have joy through suffering. He says, “Consider it pure joy”. That we must “Consider” implies that joy is not the natural reaction to suffering. Nevertheless, we are to arm ourselves with this attitude in light of the positive results that the suffering brings:
(1) It brings future rewards, as it did for Moses: “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Heb. 11:26).
(2) It strengthens our character: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11); “...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know suffering produces perseverence, perseverance character, and character hope” (Rom. 5:4).
(3) It brings future glory: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:17-18).
James says “pure joy”, meaning the utmost joy, unsurpassable joy, joy that is unmixed with sorrow. To maintain this level of joy through hardship, we must have an acute awareness of the riches and blessings of the glory that we will experience. We must have faith that God will carry out His promise and give us a glorious life in heaven.
“Whenever” suggests: first, that we will assuredly face trials; second, that trials will come often.
The trials will be “of many kinds”. We live in a desparately, fallen world. Man has entered into sin of many kinds; thus, we face trials of many kinds. Even the holiest men of God are not exempt from the many kinds of trials, as Paul relates: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (II Cor. 11:24-28).
The reason for the trials is “the testing of your faith”, for what good is untested faith? It is not faith at all. The result of the testing is “perseverance”. Note, that it is “develop”ed perseverance. God’s purpose in our trials is that we should “develop”, grow into the child of God He wants us to be, as we are conformed to the likeness of Christ.
The final goal of this process is that we should become “mature and complete, not lacking anything”. God does not give up on us, but continues to shape and mold us until we are complete. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). We can only attain completeness from God through Christ. Those of the world will never be complete. No matter how successful in the eyes of the world, they will always be lacking, just as the man who came to Jesus in Matt. 19 seeking eternal life. From the world’s point of view, the man had everything: he was rich, young, upstanding and moral. Yet, he says, “What do I still lack?” (Matt. 19:13). Despite his worldly success, he realized that he was lacking fulfillment.
Praying for Wisdom
5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But 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. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
James, in this exhortation, gives us the benefit of the doubt, and presumes, by saying “if”, that some of us do not lack wisdom! Certainly, we all “lack wisdom” in various degrees. The remedy for our lack of wisdom is to seek it through prayer. We must take care, however, to seek Godly wisdom; for there is a wisdom of the world that is contrary to the wisdom of God. “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (I Cor. 1:20). Even Solomon, who is renowned for his wisdom, at the end of his life allowed worldly wisdom to overshadow Godly wisdom. But, the most uneducated beggar who knows Jesus Christ is wiser than the most respected scholar who does not. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1).
It is Godly wisdom that He “gives generously to all”. And why not? Certainly God is happy to hear us pray for something that will make us spiritually stronger, rather than praying to satisfy our worldly appetites (as we so often do).
Note that God responds to our requests for wisdom “without finding fault”. To pray for wisdom is to come to God in humility, acknowledging our need for His wisdom. Many in the world often look down on the one who acknowledges his own weaknesses. Not so God. God will never find fault in a prayer from a humble heart, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; I Pet. 5:5; cf. Prov. 3:34).
When we ask God for wisdom, we “must not doubt”. “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. 7:11). Those who doubt have the wrong concept of God’s character, thus reflecting that they do not have a strong faith in the true God. Doubt that God will fulfill this request springs from either (1) doubt that it is God’s will that we be strengthened spiritually (thus doubting God’s goodness) or (2) doubt that God is able to strengthen us spiritually (thus doubting God’s power). How can someone who doubts that God will answer a prayer for wisdom expect to “receive anything from the Lord”, given his view of God’s character?
This lack of faith makes one “double-minded” and “unstable”. How can they be stable? “Who is the Rock except our God?” (Ps. 18:31). If they do not trust the Rock and only sure foundation, they certainly will be unstable.
Father, we praise You and thank You that we can rejoice even in the testing of our faith. Thank You that this testing is under Your guidance and control, so that it is not a futile testing, but a testing that is meant to strenghten us. We also thank you that we can come to you with our request for Godly wisdom, and that our request will be granted. We praise You that You desire us to grow spiritually. We offer this thanksgiving in the name of Your Son Jesus, Amen.