James Chapters 1 and 2, Verse by Verse, Part 1 (of 3 Parts)
by Karl Kemp 5/11/2014 / Bible Studies
I'll quote from the NASB, 1995 edition, unless I mention otherwise. Frequently I will make comments in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]] to make them more obvious. cf., e.g., means compare, for example
"James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. [[There is widespread agreement that this epistle was written by James, a brother (half brother) of the Lord Jesus, who became the leader of the Christian church at Jerusalem (cf. Matt. 13:55, 56; Mark 6:3; Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; 1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19; 2:9; 2:12; and Jude 1:1) and that it was originally written to Jewish Christians. In Gal. 1:19, the apostle Paul called him an apostle (not one of the twelve). It was probably written early, probably between AD45-48.
((For the record, I believe, in agreement with many, that the things that Paul spoke about in Gal. 2:11-14, where he mentioned the apostle Peter and James (the same James who wrote this epistle), happened before the AD49 Council of Jerusalem that is spoken of in Acts 15. Paul's epistle to the Galatians was undoubtedly written before the Council of Jerusalem, or he would have mentioned the results of that council, since they were so relevant to the primary topic he dealt with in his epistle to the Galatians. I don't believe James was reacting against any of the apostle Paul's teaching in this epistle.))
It seems clear that this early epistle was originally written to Jewish Christians. For one thing, James doesn't deal with issues like whether Gentile Christians need to be circumcised; apparently he didn't deal with Gentile Christians at all in this epistle. Those important and controversial issues were resolved to a significant extent in the Council of Jerusalem that is described in Acts chapter 15. Even though James apparently wrote this epistle to Jewish Christians, what he said applies to Gentile Christians too.]] (2) Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials [[Typically trials aren't enjoyable, but as we press on in faith, we can rejoice (rather than doubting, getting discouraged, complaining, and such), knowing that they will work together for good (cf. Rom. 8:28). During times of trial (assuming we rightly respond to them, trusting God and staying in faith), we glorify God (e.g., Rom. 4:20 KJV); our faith is proved genuine (e.g., 1 Peter 1:6, 7); we grow and become stronger through spiritual exercise (e.g., James 1:3, 4; Rom. 5:3, 4); and there will be heavenly rewards (e.g., James 1:12; Matt. 5:10-12).
It is possible, of course, for Christians to be defeated and go backwards, to one degree or another, by not rightly responding to trials. For us to rightly respond to trials, for one thing, we must know that we are in the will of God. If, for example, we have brought a trial upon ourselves through sin, then what is needed is repentance, not perseverance in faith. God's people are often slow to see their need to repent, but surely God will enable us to see where we need to repent if we seek Him first, and His righteousness and holiness. Also, we are not to seek for trials to show how strong we are (cf. Matt. 6:13).]], (3) knowing that THE TESTING OF YOUR FAITH [my emphasis] produces endurance [or, steadfastness]. (4) And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (5) But if any of you lacks wisdom [[In this context James is speaking (for the most part at least) of the "wisdom" that will enable us to know God's will and to live in His will, wisdom that will enable us to blast through every trial and to live for Him in His truth, righteousness, and holiness. It is true, of course, that God's Word is the primary source for wisdom. If we're neglecting the Scriptures, we can hardly ask God for wisdom. It is also true, of course, that we are dependent on all of the other enabling grace that God makes available to us, including the power to be strong in faith and to press through every trial. Much of His enabling grace, including wisdom, comes through the indwelling Holy Spirit.]], let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach [[God doesn't reproach us for asking Him for wisdom and everything else we need to be victorious in the center of His will. He knows that we are dependent on Him for these things, and He has told us to ask. He wants us to have these things.]], and it will be given to him. [[If we don't know these things about God, we can't ask in faith. It's no wonder the devil spends a lot of time trying to convince Christians that God isn't like this.]] (6) But HE MUST ASK IN FAITH WITHOUT ANY DOUBTING [my capitalization for emphasis through verse 8] [[Compare Mark 11:22-24. What a blessing to know that we are not supposed to doubt God in our hearts. Doubting in our hearts is a major problem for Christians, and we all have warfare in this area. But (thanks be to God!), as these verses (and much other Scripture) show, we are able (by God's grace) to be strong in faith and victorious over doubt. We must be convinced that God wants us to ask Him for what we need; and we must know, of course, that we are asking for things that are His will, solidly based on the Bible (e.g., 1 John 5:14, 15). ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO ASKING FOR THE CHRISTIAN BASICS - LIKE OUR NEED FOR GOD'S ENABLING GRACE (VERY MUCH INCLUDING HIS WISDOM), SO WE CAN BE VICTORIOUS, RIGHTEOUS, AND HOLY, AND DO HIS WILL, WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO HAVE THE UTMOST CONFIDENCE THAT HE WILL GRANT OUR REQUESTS. However, it seems that in these basic areas many Christians do doubt in their hearts, and are not solid in faith. Many of us need to make some major adjustments in our relationship with God (by His grace).
As I mentioned, the devil is very active here, but that is no excuse for us to allow doubt to remain in our hearts. A major problem is that many Christians have been taught that the Bible teaches that we Christians cannot live in the will of God on a consistent basis, that we cannot have faith to live in a state of holiness with the victory over all sin. Asking God (in faith) for wisdom includes having a true desire (a heart commitment) to use that wisdom to live in the will of God. He knows our hearts!]], FOR THE ONE WHO DOUBTS IS LIKE THE SURF OF THE SEA, DRIVEN AND TOSSED BY THE WIND. (7) FOR THAT MAN OUGHT NOT TO EXPECT THAT HE WILL RECEIVE ANYTHING FROM THE LORD, (8) BEING A DOUBLE-MINDED [[The Greek more literally means "double/two-souled." (Our primary thinking is done in the heart/soul/inner man, not the head.) The soul/heart of such a person is not fixed on God and His Word (I'm speaking of priorities, attitudes, motives, and such); it is not established in love for God (cf. Matt. 22:37). Knowing the problem, we can begin to get our heart fixed by God's sufficient grace. The only other place this Greek adjective "double-minded/two-souled" is used in the New Testament is James 4:8, where it has, "purify your hearts, you double-minded." We purify our hearts from a lack of total (whole-hearted) commitment (from a divided loyalty to God) by His grace, in accordance with His Word. These words (1:6-8; 4:8) certainly make it clear that we don't have to doubt/be divided in our hearts. This is good news; is it not?]] MAN, UNSTABLE IN ALL HIS WAYS. (9) But [The Greek "de" could be translated "But" or "And" or other ways, but it is often left untranslated in the English, which seems better here, along with the KJV, NKJV, and the NIV.] the brother of humble circumstances is to glory [or, is to boast/exult] in his high position [referring to the blessed and "high position" he has as a born-again child of God on the path that leads to heavenly glory]; (10) and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation [[I believe the primary point that James wants to make here is that the rich man is in a "low position." It wasn't that the rich man thought himself to be in a low position, but that James knew that he was in a very low position, and James goes on to illustrate how low the true position this rich man is in as he continues with verses 10 and 11. With this viewpoint the "rich man" would not be a Christian (cf. James 2:6, 7; 5:1-6). (We should not draw the conclusion that the Word of God teaches that a rich Christian cannot be faithful to God and on the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal glory.) Some think James meant that the rich man is a brother, who is to boast/exult in that he has humbled himself before God, and there are other viewpoints.]], because like flowering grass he will pass away. (11) For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. (12) Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved [having completed his life on the earth], he will receive the crown of life [In other words, he will receive the fullness of eternal life of the age to come], which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. [To love God includes being submitted to Him in faith and living for Him, which includes keeping His commandments (cf., e.g., John 14:15, 21, 23).] (13) Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. (14) But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust [evil desire]. [[Although God will let us be tested, He is not the source of temptation, and He has provided the grace to prevent our being carried away and enticed by evil desire/lust. WE MUST UNDERSTAND THAT GOD IS AGAINST ALL THE SIN OF HIS PEOPLE AND HAS PROVIDED SALVATION FROM SIN (INCLUDING VICTORY OVER ALL SIN) AT AN INFINITELY HIGH PRICE TO HIMSELF IN THE SACRIFICE OF HIS SON FOR THOSE WHO BECOME UNITED WITH HIS SON THROUGH FAITH. HIS GRACE (WITH THE EMPHASIS ON SANCTIFYING GRACE) IS SUFFICIENT. See my e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin" that is available at amazon.com. (You can download the software free to read the e-book on your pc, mac, smartphone, etc. if you don't have a Kindle.)
Throughout most of the verses of this epistle, James exhorts his readers with the need to live righteous lives. In James 4:6 he shows that we overcome sin by God's grace (but he doesn't emphasize God's saving grace in Christ like the apostle Paul does): "But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, 'GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.' " (James 4:6 is discussed along with James 3:1-4:10, which is an important cross-reference for this present paper, in my paper, "A Verse-by-Verse Study of 1 Corinthians Chapters 10-14; Philippians Chapter 3; and James 3:1-4:10" that is on my internet site.)
What the apostle Paul said in 1 CORINTHIANS 10:13 is a very important cross-reference: "No temptation has taken you, but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it [without sinning]." All Christians have trials, and all of us have the all-to-real potential to be tempted and to sin (the old man has not been annihilated), but grace is provided that will enable us to resist temptation and to avoid getting into temptation in such a way that we are being "carried away and enticed by...lust" (James 2:14) that results in sin.]] (15) Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished [completed], it brings forth death. [[(This double bracket goes on for four paragraphs. Then we will continue our study of James at 1:16.) James certainly is not denying the possibility of repentance and restoration, but there is sin unto spiritual death. See, for example, James 1:21; 5:19, 20; and 1 John 5:16, 17. (These verses and many more are discussed in my foundational paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?" on my internet site.) James 5:19, 20 and 1 John 5:14-17 will be discussed next; James 1:21 will be discussed as we continue.
I'll quote JAMES 5:19, 20: "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth [To stray from the truth includes straying from the "righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Eph. 4:24)] and one turns him back [through intercessory prayer and dealings with the backsliden Christian], (20) let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death [he will save the sinner's soul from spiritual death; you don't save someone's soul from physical death] and will cover a multitude of sins." The sins the sinner committed will be covered in the sense they will be forgiven. Also the sins that would have been committed if the backsliden Christian had not repented will not be committed. Furthermore since sin tends to reproduce itself in the lives of others, all of those sins will not be committed. Repentance is a wonderful thing! (See, for example, Luke 15:7, 10, 32.)
And I'll quote 1 JOHN 5:14-17: "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. (15) And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. (16) If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. [(This single bracket goes on for two paragraphs.) The apostle John is not saying that we should never make request for a Christian who has committed a sin leading to death. For one thing, we cannot see the heart and typically we wouldn't know whether a sin was unto death, or not. If we don't know for sure, we should pray for the restoration of Christians who have fallen into sin. We should desire, as God desires, the true repentance of backsliden Christians. God knows the true heart condition of all people. A big part of what John was saying here is that we cannot have confidence "that we have the requests which we have asked from Him" (1 John 5:14, 15) when we pray for a person like this.
It is easy to give a prime example of "a sin leading to death" from this epistle. Throughout this epistle John warned all who have ears to hear that they must stay away from the heresies of the Gnostics. For one thing, they denied that sin is the problem and that the atoning death of God's Son is the answer, the only answer, to the sin (spiritual death, Satan) problem. They totally rejected the all-important atoning death of the Lamb of God. Most of them even denied that Jesus had a real physical body. I believe it is clear that John was speaking of sins like this (where Christians forsake the gospel and embrace a heresy) and that he was speaking of spiritual death, not physical death.] (17) All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death." (This is the end of the double bracket; now we are ready for James 1:16.)]] (16) Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (17) Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. [God doesn't tempt us to sin. He ALWAYS loves truth, righteousness, and holiness, and hates lies and every other sin.] (18) In the exercise of His will He brought us forth [This speaks of the new birth; the Greek verb used here can be translated "give birth to," and the same Greek verb is translated that way (by the NASB) in James 1:15.] by the word of truth [[(This double bracket goes on for seven paragraphs.) Compare, for example, 1 Pet. 1:23-25; Eph. 1:13, 14; and Col. 1:5. The "word of truth," through which God brought us forth by His Spirit of life (when we submitted to Him and His "word of truth" in faith) clearly includes the gospel message of new-covenant salvation in Christ Jesus. The "word of truth" also includes God's moral law. James puts some emphasis on God's moral law in his epistle, but we cannot separate God's moral law from the good news of new-covenant salvation in, and through, the Lord Jesus Christ and His all-important atoning death and resurrection, and through all the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit of life, which starts when we are born again. A big part of what new-covenant salvation is all about is our being forgiven our past sins, being redeemed from our former bondage to sin and spiritual death, and our being enabled to live in the righteousness and holiness of God, fulfilling the requirements of His moral law in our daily lives.
The word "gospel," when it is understood in a full sense, includes God's moral law. The gospel the apostle Paul, for example, proclaimed included (it even put a strong emphasis on) the fact that born-again Christians are called to walk in the righteousness of God, which equals keeping the moral law of God, through the power (enabling grace) of God. (See Romans 1:16, 17; 8:4, for example. Those verses are discussed, for one place, in my e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin," which is available at amazon.com.) The New Testament speaks of obeying (or not obeying) the gospel (2 Thess. 2:8; 1 Pet. 4:17); to obey the gospel includes living in the righteousness of God, which equals obeying God's moral law, by His saving grace in Christ through faith. Our righteousness comes from God, and He is glorified when we live in His imparted righteousness.
There was no way that the apostle Paul, for example, could have preached the gospel of new-covenant salvation to most Gentiles without teaching them the basics of God's moral law. Those who heard him could not commit themselves (in faith) to the gospel of salvation in Christ Jesus, or cooperate with the saving, sanctifying grace of God in Christ, without knowing God's definitions of what is righteous and what is sinful.
James 1:12-27 and the teaching of many of the verses that follow in the book of James put a strong emphasis on the need for Christians to be doers of God's word/law, which clearly includes being doers of God's moral law.
Born-again Christians (see 1:18) are called, enabled, required, and privileged to be doers of God's word, which includes His moral law, by grace through faith. The same Greek noun (logos) is used for "word" in 1:18, 21, 22, and 23. James 1:21 says we must receive the word (which includes God's moral law) implanted in our hearts. James 1:22 and 23 specifically mention the need for us to be doers of God's word, and James says essentially the same thing in verse 25 by saying that we must be doers of "the perfect law, the law of liberty." Being doers of the "perfect law, the law of liberty" clearly includes being doers of God's moral law. Also, in 2:8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 James says that we must be doers of God's law.
Being doers of God's Word certainly is a biblical concept (cf., e.g., Deut. 28:58; 29:29; and Rom. 2:13). Our being called and enabled to keep God's moral law in our daily lives, by the powerful saving grace of God in Christ, is a big part of what the gospel of new-covenant salvation is all about. God hates sin and He paid an infinite price to set us free from being in bondage to sin in the kingdom of spiritual death and darkness. As my paper, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism" (which is available on my internet site), demonstrates throughout, Christians are called, enabled, and required, to keep God's moral law, which includes obeying Him and walking in His righteousness, holiness, love, etc. (by grace through faith).
It is all too obvious that born-again Christians do not automatically put off sin and keep God's moral law; for one thing, born-again Christians (who are indwelled by the Righteous, Holy Spirit of God [cf. Rom. 8:9]) do not automatically walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis (which we are called, enabled, and required to do [cf., e.g., Gal. 5:16]). James does a lot of exhorting Christians with the requirement to walk in line with God's Word throughout this epistle. For one thing, the world, the flesh (the old man who wants to continue in sin), and the devil and his multitudinous hosts are against us, but the grace of God in Christ is totally sufficient for us to live as God calls and enables us to live. We must understand God's Word, which includes knowing what God has provided for us in the new-covenant and what He requires of us, and we must be committed in our hearts (by faith) to live in accordance with the will of God, by His grace through humble, consistent faith.]], so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. [[The NIV has, "of all he created." Romans 8:18-30 are an important cross-reference; God is going to renew His creation; we have the privilege of being the first fruits of that renewal (cf. Rev. 14:4). The call to be born-again children of God in union with the Lord Jesus Christ, who are destined to be glorified and reign with Him, is a VERY HIGH CALLING. What a privilege! The more we understand our destiny the more we will consider it a very small price to pay (by God's enabling grace) to blast through the trials of our present life in Christ (cf., e.g., Rom. 8:17, 18; 2 Cor. 4:16-18).]] (19) This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear [For one thing, we must be quick to hear God's word. It is also important to listen to what other people are really saying before we speak in response.], slow to speak and slow to anger; (20) for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. [These words of 1:19, 20 are quite important, and we need to listen. Also see James 3:5-4:2. (James 3:1-4:10 are discussed in a paper on my internet site.)] (21) Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness [These things are incompatible with the righteousness and holiness provided by, and required by, the new covenant.], in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. [[(This double bracket goes on for three paragraphs.) "The word" (the word of God) here can undoubtedly be equated with the "word of truth" of James 1:18. (As I mentioned these two verses and verses 22 and 23 all use the same Greek noun for word, "logos.") The "word" here and in verses 22, 23 clearly includes God's moral law. To receive God's word implanted is to take His word into our hearts (by faith) and to think and live/walk as the word requires (by grace through faith). To receive God's word implanted in our hearts (by grace through faith) is to become/be doers of His word (1:22, 23, 25).
The first half of verse 21 shows that receiving the word implanted includes putting off everything that is sinful from our hearts and lives (cf., e.g., Rom. 13:12; Eph. 4:22, 25; Col. 3:5, 8; Heb. 12:1; and 1 Pet. 2:1). God's moral law defines what is sinful ("all filthiness and...wickedness") and what is righteous. Much scripture shows that we must also put on God's truth, righteousness, holiness, love, the new man in Christ, etc. (cf., e.g., Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10, 11; and Rom. 13:12, 14).
To save our souls includes not losing our souls to eternal death, the second death of Rev. 20:14, 15 (see James 5:19, 20 [These verses were discussed above, under James 1:15]; 1:15; Matt. 16:24-27; and Heb. 10:35-39 [In Heb. 10:35-39, we hear of the need to endure in faith "to the preserving of the soul" rather than "[shrinking] back to destruction" and losing your soul.]; all these verses are discussed in my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?"). Many Christians have wrongly interpreted the words "to save your souls" to mean only "to get your minds renewed." See under James 1:21 on pages 12, 13 of my paper titled, "Some Things We Should Know About the Meaning of the Words 'Spirit' and 'Soul.' "]]
We will continue this verse-by-verse study of James chapters 1 and 2 in Part 2, starting with James 1:22.
Copyright by Karl Kemp
http://www.karlkempteachingministries.com Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.