The Epistle Of James: The Reality Of Faith Proved In the Circumstances Of Everyday Life

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: James
2. Faith Proved by How We Handle Trials: James 1:1-18
3. Faith Proved by How We Receive the Word of God: James 1:19-27
4. Faith Proved by How We Treat Others: James 2
5. Faith Proved in Our Speech: James 3
6. Faith in Connection With the Flesh, the World, and the Devil: James 4
7. Faith Proved by How We Handle Injustices: James 5:1-13
8. Faith Proved by Our Care for the Sick (Physically & Spiritually): James 5:14-20

Introduction: James

This is the earliest inspired epistle in the New Testament, written around A.D. 45. At that time, the Church was predominantly comprised of Jewish believers; Gentiles were just beginning to be saved and added to their number. As far as the apprehension of the full truth of Christianity is concerned, the Church was in a period of transition. Believers at that time had not entered into a full understanding of the faith that they had embraced, largely because the Apostle Paul's teachings, which sets forth "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27; Col. 1:25), had not been given to them yet. Consequently, they were not fully separated, in practice, from the Jewish order, of which the writer of Hebrews calls, "the camp" (Heb. 13:13). That epistle, which insists on a complete separation from Judaism, was not written until later—about A.D. 63. Jewish believers on the Lord Jesus had not entered into the meaning of His teaching in John 10:1-9, which speaks of being led out of the Jewish "fold" into the full light and liberty of Christian privilege and service in His "flock" (John 10:16).
Hence, these Jewish Christians were understandably still very much attached to their synagogues and that Jewish order of things. They clung tenaciously to the Law of Moses (Acts 21:20), not knowing the heights of the heavenly position, calling, and destiny of the Church. They viewed themselves as a faithful and enlightened remnant of the Jewish people (i.e. Dan. 11:35; 12:3) who had new hopes for the nation, centered in the Lord Jesus Christ, Israel's Messiah. Their hope was to see the kingdom of Christ established on earth according to the teaching of the Old Testament Prophets. This, they believed, would happen shortly.
We must keep this in mind in reading the epistle of James; things are viewed very much on a Jewish level of things, though they were believers on the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Purpose of the Epistle
This epistle is one of the Jewish-Christian epistles in our Bibles (Hebrews, James, 1st and 2nd Peter). These epistles were written to establish Jewish converts in various aspects of Christianity that they would naturally have problems with, in coming out of Judaism. In this epistle, James deals with certain Jewish questions, idiosyncrasies, and tendencies that were ingrained in their thinking and ways. Such "graveclothes" clung to these Jewish converts and were a hindrance in their Christian liberty and service. Thus, they needed to be put off. However, oftentimes those who are saved out of Judaism do not see those hindrances clearly and need the help of others in taking those things off. This was the case with the graveclothes that were on Lazarus. The Lord said to His disciples, "Loose him, and let him go" (John 11:44). Essentially, this is what James and Peter (who were ministers to the circumcision) do for their Jewish brethren in their epistles (Gal. 2:7-9).
While the things that James addresses have specific application to those with a Jewish background, the practical principles he touches on apply to all Christians from every era—whether Jew or Gentile. The practical character of the book is like “salt” that preserves the saints in separation from the world and from the temptations that press upon every Christian (Matt. 5:13). The book, therefore, is intensely practical, containing very little doctrinal truth. It is significant that there is not one reference to the Lord's work of redemption on the cross. Instead, James focuses on practical issues that were confronting his brethren.
The Importance of Living by Faith
James’ main purpose in writing the epistle was to emphasize to his fellow countrymen, who had received the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour, the importance of living by faith. Having come from the system of Judaism which was largely governed by sight and sound, they needed to learn to walk by faith and not by sight, which is an essential element of Christianity (2 Cor. 5:7; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). The epistle, therefore, focuses on the need for living by faith in the everyday circumstances of life.
Realizing that there was a high possibility that there were some among them who were not real at all, James addresses his audience as a mixed company of believers and mere professing believers. He emphasizes the importance of each proving the reality of their faith with conduct that befits a true Christian. He exhorts them to a practical walk that would manifest their faith and thus show that they were real believers. The key verse in the book is chapter 2:18—"I will show thee my faith by my works." Brother Nicolas Simon said that James was essentially saying, "Would the real believers please stand up!" In other words, it was time for those who truly had faith in our Lord Jesus to identify themselves among the mass of merely professing Christians by showing it in their lives. Since there are more merely professing Christians connected with Christianity today than ever before, this epistle has never been needed more than at this present time.
True faith will manifest itself in a believer's conduct in the everyday circumstances of life. This being the case, James touches on situations that we all encounter in our daily lives, and shows how they are to be used as opportunities to validate our faith in Christ. In a sense, James is building on the teachings of the Lord Jesus who said, "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:20).
Outline of the Epistle
As mentioned, James touches on a number of areas of Christian living wherein faith is required and should manifest itself. If these situations in everyday life are met with faith, we will prove the reality of our faith to be real; the moral graces and virtues of Christianity will be seen in our lives as evidence of our faith.
FAITH proved by how we handle trials—with cheerful submission and confidence in the goodness of God (chap. 1:2-18).
FAITH proved by how we receive and respond to the Word of God—with obedience (chap. 1:19-27).
FAITH proved by how we treat others—with grace and kindness (chap. 2:1-26).
FAITH proved in our speech—with self-control (chap. 3:1-18).
FAITH proved by not being governed by the flesh, the world, and the devil—with holiness (chap. 4:1-17).
FAITH proved by how we handle injustices—with patience (chap. 5:1-13).
FAITH proved by our care for the sick (physically and spiritually)—with love (chap. 5:14-20).

Faith Proved by How We Handle Trials: James 1:1-18

The Salutation
Vs. 1—“James” writes to his fellow countrymen who had professed faith in "the Lord Jesus Christ." He was not one of the twelve apostles (Luke 6:13-16), but was one of the chief elders in the assembly at Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:17-25; Gal. 2:9). James was "the Lord’s brother," having grown up in the family of Joseph and Mary (Mark 6:3; Gal. 1:19). He was an unbeliever during the Lord’s earthly ministry (John 7:3-10), but was converted shortly after His death. This likely happened when the Lord appeared to him after He rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:7). Josephus tells us that James was stoned to death by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish council) around A.D. 61-62 in the same fashion as Stephen.
This epistle is classed as a "general" epistle, meaning that it was not written to any specific assembly or individual, but to a wider audience—"to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" (chap. 1:1). These tribes of Israel had been dispersed for many years, starting with the carrying away of the ten tribes (2 Kings 15:27-31; 17:3-41) and then later the two tribes (2 Kings 24). While a remnant of Jews (the two tribes) returned to their homeland in Ezra 1-2, most remained scattered (John 7:35). James' faith was such that he believed that there were some among these tribes of Israel who had faith in Christ, and addressed his epistle to them. Some of these may have been in Jerusalem and heard the apostles preach at Pentecost (Acts 2), or at some later date, and returned to the various countries where they lived as believers on the Lord Jesus. J. N. Darby points out that by James speaking of "the twelve tribes" in this way, it indicated that the nation had not yet been formally (literally) set aside in the ways of God. This happened later in A.D. 70.
Two Kinds of Temptations (Trials)
Since the brethren to whom James was writing were facing a severe trial of persecution in regard to the Christian stand that they had taken, he addresses the subject of temptations (trials) first. He speaks of two kinds of trials that a believer faces in the path of faith. They are:
Holy trials—These are temptations from without; from external things that God allows to come into our lives to test us (vss. 2-12).
Unholy trials—These are temptations from within that emanate from us allowing the lusts of our sin-nature to gain control of us (vss. 13-15).
(Hebrews 4:15 tells us that the Lord Jesus was tested in all points as we are in the area of the first class of temptations. It says that He was “tempted in all things in like manner, sin apart.” This means that He was tested by trials in His life of every kind that a holy man could be tried, with the exception of temptations that emanate from the “sin” nature within. The Lord never had temptations of the second kind, because He did not have a fallen sin-nature with which to respond to Satan's temptations. John 14:30 indicates that there was nothing "in" Him that could be affected by such things because He had only a holy human nature – Luke 1:35.)
In these verses, James shows that both kinds of temptations are to be met with faith. Not only would faith help a person to rise above them victoriously, but it would also manifest the reality of their profession.
Temptations From Without
Vss. 2-4—The Church, in that day, was predominantly comprised of converted Jews, and they were under tremendous persecution from their unbelieving countrymen for their profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 2:14-16). How this mixed company of professed converts reacted to these trials from without (persecutions) revealed a lot about where they truly were in their souls—that is, whether they were real believers or not. There was a constant temptation before them to avoid the trial of persecution by drawing back into the Jewish fold (Heb. 10:38-39). However, that would prove that their professed faith in Christ was not real.
While persecution was the outstanding trial that these Jewish converts faced, James addresses his remarks to a wide variety of trials which he calls, "divers [various] temptations." This, of course, would include the trial of persecution, but would take in all sorts of things that would test a Christian's faith. It could be health-related things, financial difficulties, family sorrows, marital problems, etc.
James says that we "fall into" these temptations (holy trials). This may sound a little unusual; we could better understand it if he had said this in connection with the second kind of trials relating to sin (vss. 13-18). However, we must remember that the KJV is an old English translation that has some archaic usages of words. The expression "fall into" in this passage is an example. Today we would say "befall." This helps us to understanding what James is talking about. He is saying that there will be certain difficulties and troubles that will befall us, and thus come into our lives quite unexpectedly and beyond our control (compare Acts 27:41).
Four Things Necessary in Order to Profit From Trials
James speaks of four things that we must have in times of trial in order to profit from it spiritually.
A Cheerful Spirit
Firstly, we need to maintain a cheerful spirit (vs. 2). He says, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations." This might appear a little paradoxical. How can anybody be happy about having a trial in his or her life? However, James doesn't say that we are to be happy about the troubles and problems that come our way. God does not want us to laugh off a trial of this sort, as if it were something that is not to be taken seriously. James is simply warning us against the tendency to complain when a trial comes our way. Thus, his exhortation is to be careful to maintain a cheerful spirit. The "joy" that he is speaking about here results from faith looking beyond the trial to its positive outcome. If we lack faith, we will not rejoice but complain about it. Consequently, we will not be in a proper state to gain from the trial.
An Understanding Mind
James goes on to speak of a second thing that we need in order to profit from trials—an understanding mind (vs. 3). He says, "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience [endurance]." Our ability to rejoice in trials is connected with "knowing" and believing that the Lord wouldn't allow anything to touch us that didn't have a purpose of "love" on His part (Heb. 12:6) and "need be" on our part (1 Peter 1:6). Understanding that the trial has been ordered of God and to work out something in us for our spiritual profit—such as "patience [endurance]" which is an important feature in Christian character—we will be able to pass through the trial with the right attitude. Without this knowledge, we might not know what was happening when trouble assailed us, and as a result, our faith could break down under it and we could become discouraged.
The Apostle Paul speaks of the importance of this kind of knowledge in Romans 8:28: "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." He doesn't say that all things that come into our lives are good—because some of them may be very sad and bad—but that those things "work together for good." We may not see it at the time of the trial, but the trial is meant to work in our lives toward something that is good in the end—as far as our moral being is concerned (Deut. 8:16). Let us remember that every child of God is in the school of God, and thus under His divine training (Job 35:10-11; 36:22; Psa. 94:10; Isa. 48:17; Heb. 12:10-11). God uses trials for our spiritual education—to teach us dependence and obedience (Psa. 119:67-68, 71) and to form the character of Christ in us (Rom. 8:29), etc. Knowing and believing that such things "work together for" our good and profit gives us the ability to endure in times of trial.
J. N. Darby remarked that "trial cannot in itself confer grace, but under God’s hand it can break the will and detect hidden and unsuspected evils, and that if judged, the new life is more fully developed and God has a larger place in the heart. Also, by it lowly dependence is taught; and as a result, there is more distrust of self and the flesh, and a consciousness that the world is nothing, and what is eternally true and divine has a larger place in the soul." Hence, trials have a way of removing superfluous things in our lives and in our personalities. They tend to disconnect us from our material resources and positions in life, and connect us with what is spiritual and eternal.
When trial comes, we quite naturally think, "How can I get out of this." But we really should be saying is, "What can I get out of this!" There are at least ten positive things that result from the trials that the Lord's people pass through, if they are taken rightly:
They are opportunities for God to show His power and grace to sustain His people in times of trouble, and thus manifest His glory (Job 37:7; John 9:3; 11:4).
Through them we are brought to know the love of God in a deeper way, and thus we are drawn closer to the Lord (Rom. 5:3-5).
Through them we are conformed morally to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29), and thus they work toward our moral perfection (James 1:4).
If we are walking in paths of unrighteousness, they are used by God to correct our spirits and our ways, and thus produce in us the peaceable fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:5-11).
Through them our faith is strengthened (2 Thess. 1:3-4).
They teach us dependence (Psa. 119:67-68, 71).
They wean us from earthly things and thus turn us heavenward; as a result, the heavenly hope burns more brightly in our hearts (Luke 12:22-40).
They draw brethren closer to one another (Job 2:11; 6:14; 1 Chron. 7:21-22).
The lessons we learn by going through trials enable us to sympathize with others more effectively (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
They capacitate us for the theme of praise in the coming glory (2 Cor. 4:15-17).
A Submissive Will
James speaks of a third thing that we need in order to profit from trials—a submissive will that accepts the trial from hand of God as a divine appointment (vs. 4). James says, "Let patience [endurance] have her perfect work that ye may be perfect." The danger here is to resist what God is doing in our lives through the trial, and thus not to profit from it. The key is to "let" the trial do its good work in us, because it is ordered of God to make us "perfect." Perfect, in the sense that James speaks of it here, means full growth (maturity). This shows that God is deeply interested in our spiritual development, and that He is willing to allow suffering in our lives "for a season" to accomplish it (1 Peter 1:6).
It will require faith to allow the trial to do its divinely appointed work. But, if we believe that God has ordered it for our good and blessing, and that He has something to teach us in it, we will be more inclined to submit to Him in the trial. It will work toward the formation of our character and the moral qualities that go into making us mature (“perfect”) Christians. Thus, we will grow spiritually. David spoke of this; he said, "In pressure Thou hast enlarged me" (Psa. 4:1). One great result in submitting to the trial in faith is that we become “complete, wanting nothing.” We will lack nothing as far as the formation of our Christian character is concerned.
Job displayed this spirit of submission when his multi-faceted trial came on him. He "arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away: blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:20-21). Faith believes that God is over all things, and that He is good and only appoints what is for the good of His people. In Job's case, God used the trial to make a good man better. In the middle chapters of the book of Job, Job developed a bad spirit when provoked by his three friends, and he became bitter, but God prevailed, and in the end, Job repented and got a blessing from it. Job's problem was not in his actions, but in his attitude. He was "perfect" outwardly (Job 1:1), but God wanted him to be perfect inwardly too (Job 23:10). That God would go to such lengths in the troubles He allowed in Job's life shows the importance that He puts on His people having a right attitude. The lesson for us here is that if we do not have a right spirit, the trial could make us bitter rather than better, and thus we will miss out on the blessing that God has for us in it.
Some things to remember which will help us to accept our trials from the hand of God in a right spirit are:
Our trial is divinely timed (Job 23:14).
Our suffering in the trial has been divinely measured (Job 34:23).
We will be divinely endowed with grace to handle it (1 Cor. 10:13).
We will be divinely compensated (1 Peter 1:6-7).
An Exercised Heart
The fourth thing that we need in order to profit from trials is an exercised heart that seeks God's face in prayer in regard to the trial (vs. 5). James, therefore, encourages us to get into the presence of God in prayer and commit our situation to Him, asking Him for wisdom to know how to handle the problem properly. He says, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth [reproaches] not; and it shall be given him." If we are truly concerned about what God has for us in the trial—though we may not know why the circumstances have occurred in the way in which they have—it will "yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:11).
Eliphaz exhorted Job to seek God's face in his trial. He said, "I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause" (Job 5:8). This will always be a fruitful exercise. Someone once said, "We should never let adversity get us down—except on our knees." Faith will see the difficulty as coming from the hand of God and will go to Him about it. God wants us to come to Him with our difficulties and troubles; He has promised to give us “wisdom” in the trial so that we will know how to deal with those things that assail us. James assures us that the wisdom we need for those trying situations "shall be given" to us, if we "ask" Him for it. He never “upbraids [reproaches]” us for coming to Him for help. This should encourage us to go to Him in prayer all the more. Trials, therefore, have a way of drawing us closer to the Lord—and that is certainly a good thing.
James adds, "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering." While we may lack wisdom for the situation, we should never lack faith. Note also: James does not tell us to ask God to help us get out of the trial, but that we might have divine wisdom in the trial. Naturally speaking, we would like to get out of the trial—and that is understandable—but it is not what James encourages us to ask for. He would have us to seek grace and wisdom from God in the trial, and to try to profit from it.
These four things which we have mentioned will be evident in the life of a person who has faith in the time of trial. In fact, the most difficult circumstances in life are our greatest opportunities to manifest our faith in God (Job 13:15). It will be evident by the way in which we respond in trials.
The Danger of Not Meeting Trials With Faith
Vss. 6-8—James goes on to speak of the dangers of not meeting trials in faith. He says, "He that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord." It is futile to go to God about certain difficulties in our lives, if we don't come to Him in real faith. If we ask the Lord for help in a trial, but we don’t believe that He will do anything for us, we prove to be “double-minded” and faithless in the matter. All such doubters will not “receive anything of the Lord.” This shows that answers to prayers can be hindered by unbelief.
A person may claim to be a believer, but if he is not a true believer, his prayer life will manifest it. Trials have a way of bringing this out. Who we really are becomes evident in times of trial. If a person's faith is only a professed thing, he will not truly turn to God in the trial—though there may be a pretence of doing it. He or she will be seen turning to human resources and other things for help.
Rewards for Exercising Faith and Wisdom in Trials
Vss. 9-12—James shows that the positive effects of trials are worked out in people from all walks of life—they touch everyone's lives in one way or another. He takes up two extremes to demonstrate this—a poor man and a rich man.
A "brother of low degree" (a poor man) rejoices because the lessons he learns in his trials cause him to value more deeply what he has in his "exalted" place with Christ. He rejoices in his spiritual blessings. He also learns practical lessons in regard to the compassions of God by receiving help from God in his times of need. The result is that the Lord becomes more precious to him.
The "rich" man, on the other hand, learns valuable lessons in humility ("humiliation") by passing through trials. He learns that his money cannot insulate him from trouble, and thus he is cast on God like every other believer. Trials have a way of "whittling" rich men down to the size of an average man. They have a way of teaching him dependence, which all men must learn. James doesn't say, "Let the rich man rejoice in his riches," but rather that he should rejoice in that he is "made low," and thus made more like Christ (Matt. 11:29). This shows that there is something valuable in learning humility. The rich man is taught not to trust in himself, nor in "uncertain riches," but in God (1 Tim. 6:17).
In light of eternity, the temporal advantages that a rich man has will not last. To emphasize this point, James reminds us that as "the sun" rises with "burning heat" and "withers the grass" and "the flower," so also will "the rich man fade away in his ways." While James is referring to rich men generally, the rich man who has faith can learn from his trial (if taken rightly) that material riches are nothing in comparison to divine and eternal things. He may know this intellectually, but the trial will help to know consciously and practically. His focus in day to day living will get turned away from temporal things toward eternal things in a more real way, and thus he will value them more deeply.
The point in these verses is that, whether a person is rich or poor, he can derive lasting spiritual benefits from the trials of life, if they are taken in faith. The poor man and the rich man can rejoice alike in the fact that moral and spiritual qualities are being produced in them by enduring trials.
Vs. 12—James passes on to give a word of encouragement to the one who "endures temptation" (trial). He says, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him." He shows that there is a present and a future reward for passing through trials with the Lord. There is a present blessedness. ("Blessed" means to be happy.) This refers to an inner joy that is given to those who walk with the Lord in their trial. It results from knowing that we are the special objects of His care in the particular trial that He has given us. This joy is known only to those who take the trial from the Lord in faith. Then, there is also a future reward of receiving a “crown of life” in the day of reckoning. This would be at the judgment seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:13; 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 25:20-23). This teaches us that the Lord values faith, and that He will reward it in a coming day.
However, if we rebel against the things that the Lord has given us to bear, we not only lose our present joy in the Lord and the spiritual profit that God intends for us to gain from the trial, but we also lose a future reward. James adds that these present joys and future rewards are promised "to them that love Him" and endure the trial in faith. This shows that the trials that the Lord gives us to bear are an excellent way for us to show our love to Him. Taking them from His hand in submission is indeed a beautiful thing to Him; He values it and will reward us in that day.
Summary of the Good Things that Trials Produce in Our Lives if Taken in Faith
They are opportunities to manifest our faith (vs. 3).
They work endurance in us (vs. 3).
They produce spiritual maturity (vs. 4).
They teach us dependence on God (vss. 5-6).
They teach us to value eternal things (vss. 9-11).
We will be rewarded for enduring them—presently and in the future (vs. 12).
They are opportunities to prove our love for the Lord Jesus (vs. 12).
Temptations From Within
Vss. 13-15—James goes on to speak of the other kind of temptation—the temptation to sin. As mentioned, these are unholy trials which emanate from the fallen sin-nature. Note: James does not say, “Count it all joy” here, as he did with the first kind of temptation. Satan would like to present these things to us as something that will make us happy, but it's a lie. In reality—and we all know from experience—giving way to the lusts of the flesh does not bring happiness. It leaves us unsatisfied and out of communion with God. James shows in this series of verses that we can overcome these temptations to sin if they are met with faith.
He begins by clearly stating that these kinds of temptations do not come from God. He says, "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God. God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man." James mentions this because the natural tendency of the human heart is to shift the responsibility for our wrong-doing onto someone else. However, we cannot blame God for our sinful lusts. God does not tempt people to do what He hates; He will test our faith in various ways, but He will not tempt us to do evil.
Sin emanates from our own wills acting; and it all comes from within the human heart. The Lord taught, "For from within, out the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23). The simple truth is that we sin because we choose to sin. A believer may “enter” into these kinds of temptations, if he or she chooses to do so (Matt. 26:41). Therefore, we are fully responsible for allowing sin in our lives.
James shows us the fruit of allowing lust within. There is a course, or a chain of things, that works out in our lives. It begins with "lust" conceived in the heart, and if not judged in the presence of God (1 John 1:9), it bears fruit in acts of "sin," which ultimately results in "death." His point is unmistakably clear; if we allow lustful thoughts to linger in our hearts, they will surely bring forth sin and death in our lives.
Sow a thought, reap an action,
Sow an action, reap a habit,
Sow a habit, reap a character,
Sow a character, reap a destiny.
It may be asked, "In what way does allowing sin in a person's life bring forth death?" "Death," in Scripture, always has the thought of separation of some kind. It depends on the context of the passage; it could be separation of the soul and spirit from the body in physical death (James 2:26), or it could be the separation of the unbeliever from the presence of God forever in a lost eternity (Rev. 20:6, 14 – "the second death"), etc. Sin, in its fullest sense, results in physical death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 5:12), and, if a person is not saved, it result in eternal separation from God. In regard to a believer allowing sin in his or her life, it is referring to death in a moral sense. That is, there will be a disconnection in his communion with God practically, whereby no fruit can be produced in his life. The Apostle Paul speaks of this aspect of death in Romans 8:13: "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die." (See also 1 Timothy 5:6.)
Vss. 16-18—In connection with the foregoing remarks, James says, "Do not err, my beloved brethren." Essentially, he is saying, "Don't make a mistake ("err") in thinking that you can get something good through lust." Every time we think that we can get something good through gratifying our lusts, we make a mistake; it only produces moral death in our lives. We are left unhappy, unsatisfied, and out of communion with God.
How Temptations From Within Are to Be Handled
James goes on to show us how these kinds of temptations are to be handled so that we don't sin in these situations. Firstly, we need to remember that God is a good God and a giving God, who provides for all of His creatures. Everything that the child of God needs for his happiness “comes down from the Father of lights;” it does not come by reaching out for it through lust. We need to keep this great fact before our souls because the tendency is to lose sight of it in times of temptation.
James notes that there are two kinds of gifts that God gives to men. There are “good” gifts, which are the natural things in life that He gives to all mankind (Eccl. 3:13; 5:19; Acts 14:17; 1 Tim. 6:17), and then there are “perfect” gifts, which are spiritual things that God gives to believers (Rom. 6:23; John 4:10; 1 Thess. 4:8; Eph. 2:8; 4:7). This shows that God is the Source and Giver of every good and perfect thing. He will supply all our needs—naturally and spiritually—in His good time (Phil. 4:19). He is not the originator of sinful temptations within. We must have faith to believe this in order to conquer sinful lusts.
Moreover, James calls God "the Father of Lights." This indicates that He is an all-knowing and all-caring God. "Father" speaks of tenderness, love, and care. It means that He is not an impersonal God who acts without feeling towards His creatures. "Lights" emphasizes His infinite knowledge and understanding of every situation in life. It means that He knows our situation in life perfectly, and will provide what we need according to His great goodness. James adds, "With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." This means that there is no changeableness in God's disposition toward us; His intentions to bless and provide for us cannot not be altered (Mal. 3:6). He is not a fickle God. We can be sure, therefore, that He will do the very best for us in our situation in life. Faith believes this. It believes that God is the Bestower of every benefit that we enjoy—naturally and spiritually—and looks to Him to provide what is needed in His good time. This kind of confidence in God pleases Him greatly (Psa. 118:8-9).
He knows, He loves, He hears,
Nothing this truth can dim;
He gives the very best,
To those who leave the choice to Him.
However, the believer's faith is the very thing that Satan attacks (Luke 22:32). His aim is to shake our confidence in the goodness of God. When we have a need that is not immediately filled by God, we are being tested by Him in the matter. When Satan sees this, he will suggest to us that God is holding back something good from us. He will also suggest that we should, therefore, take action for ourselves in the matter. If our confidence in God is shaken, we will likely entertain Satan's suggestions and reach out for that thing which we think we need. However, when acting in self-will and in independence of God, we bring forth sin and death in our lives. Mr. H. E. Hayhoe rightly said, "Unbelief in the goodness of God is the root of all our failures."
This is exactly the line upon which Satan tempted Eve in the garden of Eden. He told her that eating the fruit of the tree would make them "as gods" (Gen. 3:5), and that God was holding that good thing back from them. When her faith was shaken as to God's goodness and she believed that if she took the fruit it would improve her and her husband's position, she took the forbidden thing and ate it. But it was all a lie. Taking the fruit did not improve Adam and Eve and make them as God; it made them sinners.
Satan tried the same tactic on the Lord in the temptations in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). In essence, he said to Him, "If you are the Son of God, why doesn't God look after you in one of the most basic things in life—your need of food?" Behind this temptation was an attempt to get the Lord to pity Himself in that situation. The devil as much as said to Him, "You're starving here; this shouldn't happen to a godly man!" Then, he suggested that the Lord should use His Godhead power to supply that need—which God evidently was not supplying. But to do so, He would be taking a step in independence of God. Note how subtle Satan is: he told the Lord to make the stone into bread; he didn't go so far as to tell Him to eat it! He knew from his experience with human behavior that it wouldn't take long for a hungry man, who saw food in front of him, to reach out and eat it. But Satan was defeated in this ruse by the Lord's faith in God (Psa. 16:1) and the Lord's obedience to God's Word (Psa. 17:4).
The devil has been using this tactic on men and women since the beginning of time. It shows us how subtle he is (2 Cor. 11:3) and also how deceptive the human heart is (Jer. 17:9). Hence, James is teaching us that we can overcome these temptations to sin by having faith in God's goodness—and this will be evident by our waiting on Him to supply our needs.
Vs. 18—James then speaks of God's great sovereignty. "Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth." This is referring to our new birth (John 3:3-5; 1 Peter 1:23). He was not forced to do this great act of kindness and mercy—He did it of His "own will" and out of the goodness of His heart. He initiated our spiritual life in the first place, and in doing so, He has made it His responsibility to care for us and to sustain us in the path of faith. If we indeed are His children, why would we think that He will not care for us, and that we have to sin to sustain our practical needs? Moreover, Christians are the "firstfruits of His creatures." We have thus been given a unique and very favoured place among all of God's creatures. Being so favoured as we are, it is even more ludicrous to think that He will not provide for us (Isa. 49:15).
Hence, as there is a right and wrong way to react to temptations (trials) from without, there is also a right and wrong way to react to temptations within. As to the latter, we can allow ourselves to be “enticed” in our lusts and get "drawn away"—but it will only bring forth moral "death." Or, we can wait in faith on the Father of Lights to supply our needs in His good time.
How a person responds in these situations in life will give an index as to where he is in his soul spiritually. If a person does not trust God and does not judge himself, but habitually succumbs to lusts and sins as a way of life, it calls into question whether he or she has faith at all. The falseness of a person's professed faith is thus exposed. A believer may sin and fail in his life, but he will repent and judge himself, and rise up and go on in the path of faith (Prov. 24:16). Falling down does not make a person a failure in life; it is staying down that does. Falling down does not mean that a person is not saved, but staying down calls into question whether he is. A person who is not a real believer in the Lord Jesus Christ will remain in his sins as a habitual course of life, and by this he will show that his profession of faith is not real.
The point that James is making in this first section of verses is that temptations—whether they are from without or from within—manifest where a person is in his soul. Thus, trials and temptations in life are really opportunities to manifest our faith and to show that we are real believers.

Faith Proved by How We Receive the Word of God: James 1:19-27

The next subject that James addresses is how we treat the Word of God—the Scriptures. Having mentioned “the Word of truth” by which we have been born again (vs. 18), he goes on to speak of the place that it should have in our lives. In this next series of verses, James shows that the way in which a person handles the Word of God will manifest whether he or she has real faith or not.
The Jewish converts to whom James was writing had identified themselves with the Christian company, and were attending the meetings where the Word of God was ministered (Acts 2:42). However, it wasn't long before some of them gave indications that they might not be real believers (Gal. 2:4; Titus 1:10-16). Thus, it became evident that there was a mixed multitude among them. Knowing this, James teaches us that the way a person receives and responds to the Word of God will manifest the reality of his or her profession. Those who are not real will show it by habitually being “hearers only.” They will listen to the Word being ministered, but it will have no practical effect in their lives. On the other hand, a person with real faith in Christ will show himself to be a genuine believer by being a “doer of the Word.” James, therefore, focuses on two things in this passage:
Being receptive of the Word of God (vss. 19-21).
Being responsive to the Word of God (vss. 22-27).
Receiving the Word of God
Vss. 19-21—As stated already, James addresses certain idiosyncrasies that were peculiar to the Jewish mindset and way of life which they tended to carry over into Christianity. These were "graveclothes" that needed to be taken off these new converts. One such thing, in connection with the Word of God, was their love of sitting in the synagogue on Sabbath days, and discussing and disputing the things that were read from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2-3, 17; 18:4; 28:19). They imagined themselves to be masters (teachers) and critics of the truth (Rom. 2:19-20; 1 Tim. 1:7), and they loved to debate their opinions. While this may have been tolerated in the synagogues in Judaism, it is something that has no place in Christianity (2 Tim. 2:14). God would have Christians to gather together to hear the Word of God read and expounded (1 Tim. 4:13), but such occasions were not to deteriorate to the debating of one's opinions (2 Tim. 2:14).
James begins by stating the right and proper posture we are to have in the presence of the Word of God. He says, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” These short, but pointed, exhortations, show that there is to be reverence for God's Word when it is opened and read, and it should result in self-restraint on the part of the hearer (Psa. 119:161).
Firstly, we need to be “swift to hear.” This refers to a readiness of mind to hear and receive the truth of the Word of God. We should be eager to seize every opportunity for learning it. The person who has a teachable spirit—taking the seat of a humble learner and listening intently when the Word of God is ministered—will most certainly profit from the occasion (Deut. 33:3; Luke 8:35; 10:39).
Secondly, we should be “slow to speak.” This is a reference in regard to making remarks on Scripture. We know in part, and at best, we can only prophesy in part (1 Cor. 13:9). To assume to be an authority on the truth of God is to think of ourselves more highly than we ought (Rom. 12:3). It manifests an ignorance of the greatness of God's Word (Psa. 138:2). James, therefore, insists on a restraint being made on the desire to project our thoughts on Scripture. In chapter 3:1, he warns against wanting to have the role of a teacher and a communicator of divine knowledge, because all such are held to a greater standard of responsibility. The person who is constantly transmitting his opinions and views is not in a position to receive truth and to grow in his understanding of the divine revelation. Therefore, comments on the Scriptures should be made with caution and a conscious realization that it is God's holy and infallible Word that we are commenting on.
Thirdly, we must be “slow to wrath.” Sad to say, fleshly discussions over the truth of God's Word can sometimes result in heat and anger. This was all too often the case with the Jews in their synagogues. James, therefore, insists on the restraint of such fiery passions. Trying to get our point across by raising our voice and arguing will never help advance the declaration of the truth, because, as James says, “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” God will not identify with such fleshly actions. The truth of God should be communicated and received in a setting of quietness and peace (Deut. 33:3; Eccl. 9:17; Luke 8:35; 10:39).
Vs. 21—James goes on to show that in receiving the Word of God there should not only be self-restraint, but also self-judgment. If we expect to profit from reading God's Word, it is imperative that we lay aside all “filthiness” and “overflowing of wickedness.” Without this necessary judgment of self, "the engrafted [implanted] Word" will never properly take hold in our souls and cause us to grow. If the soil in a garden is full of weeds, the roots of a good plant will not take hold and grow properly. A wise gardener, therefore, prepares the soil by pulling up unwanted weeds that choke out the growth of good plants. Similarly, we must prepare our hearts to “receive” the Word by getting rid of everything in our lives that is inconsistent with God's holy nature (1 Peter 2:1-2). This is done through self-judgment (2 Cor. 7:1).
The spirit in which we are to receive the Word is that of "meekness." This indicates a reverence for the Word and the One who has given it to us. James calls it “the engrafted [implanted] Word” because, if received properly, it will take root in us and become an integral part of our lives. The Apostle John speaks of this, saying, “The Word of God abideth in you” (1 John 2:14).
James adds, “Which is able to save your souls.” For those who were not saved (the mere professors among them), reception of the Word of God in faith would result in their eternal salvation. But for those who were saved, there would be a great practical benefit in having the engrafted Word as an integral part of their Christian life. If there is obedience to the principles of God's Word, the believer can be saved from the many spiritual dangers and pitfalls in the path of faith (Psa. 17:4).
Responding to the Word of God
Vss. 22-25—James, therefore, goes on to speak of the importance of responding to the Word in practical obedience. He exhorts us, not to be “hearers only,” but also “doers of the Word.” Ezra is a good example of this. It says that he “prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it” (Ezra 7:10). This, then, is another test of a person's reality. If he or she has faith, being a real believer, it will be evident by obedience to the Word. A believer may, at times, fail to put the Word of God into practice in his life as he should, but he is characteristically a doer of the Word. If, on the other hand, a person habitually neglects to practice the principles in the Word, it calls into question whether he or she is a real believer. It may very well mean that such are not saved at all.
We are told in Hebrews 6:4-5 that it's possible for an unbeliever to come in among Christians where God's Word is ministered, and thus taste "the good Word of God" and partake of what "the Holy Spirit" is doing there in an outward way—yet remain unsaved. Such people would be "hearers only" in its primary sense; the Word has never been received in faith. However, trafficking in the truth, without being a doer of it, is a dangerous thing; it can lead to self-deception. James adds, "Deceiving your ownselves." Many a person has been spiritually blinded in some way because of his unwillingness to obey Scripture after he heard it. James says that he is like a person who looks into a “mirror,” and then goes away and forgets what he saw—thus, it produces no effect in him. Note: it is ourselves that we deceive, not others around us. People who know us are not usually deceived by our hypocrisy.
This empty facade of being "a hearer of the Word, and not a doer" has had a history among the Jews. Those in the days of Ezekiel are an example. The Lord told him that the people would come and sit before him as the people of God should do in the presence of a prophet of God, but they wouldn't do what he said. “They will hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not” (Ezek. 33:31-32). The Pharisees, in the time when the Lord was on earth, were the spiritual descendants of those in Ezekiel's day. The Lord said of them, "All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not" (Matt. 23:3). This problem is not something exclusive to the Jews, we all know how easy it is to read the Bible without being affected by what we read. We all need to be exercised about this.
Vs. 25—James goes on to state that being a doer of the Word should not be a burden to a believer, because to be asked to do something that you want to do is not a burden; it's a joy. This is what James calls “the perfect law of liberty.” It is mentioned in contrast to the law of Moses. The Mosaic law is occupied with restraining the impulses of the old nature. It is filled with the often-repeated, negative phrase, “Thou shalt not ... ” To attempt to perform all those injunctions was a burden to all who were under that obligation (Matt. 11:28; Acts 15:10). The law of liberty, on the other hand, focuses on encouraging and directing the new nature in positive things that the new life delights in doing. It is marked by the phrase, “Let us ... ” Doing these things is not a burden for the new nature because it delights to do the will of God marked out in His Word (Psa. 40:8). Similarly, to ask a horse to eat hay is, to a horse, perfect liberty—it’s exactly what it wants to do! However, to ask a dog to eat hay is another thing—it's pure bondage to him. Hence, the man walking in the Spirit enjoys doing the will of God; it's not a burden to him. The perfect law of liberty, therefore, is when the Lord’s commands and the believer's desires symphonize.
To encourage the practice of God's Word, James reminds his audience of the present reward for doers of it. He says, “He shall be blessed in his doing.” The root meaning of the word “blessed” is happy. Hence, the person who walks in the truth will be happy in his soul, because there is a joy in obeying the Word of God that is known only to those who do it. This is illustrated in the first miracle that the Lord Jesus did when He turned the water into wine (John 2). Drinking “water,” in Scripture, refers to the refreshment of the Word of God. “Wine,” in Scripture, often speaks of the joys of Christian living. In performing the miracle, let us ask, "When did the water turn to wine?" It was not when the servants poured the water into the vessels, but when they picked up those vessels and carried them out to the governor. Somewhere along the way, as they walked with the water, it turned into wine. Similarly, when we carry out the Word of God in our daily walk, it becomes a joy to us.
A Three-Fold Test of Reality
Vss. 26-27—Since there is a danger of professing faith without having inward reality, James shows that a man's religion is to be put to the test. He says, "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." ("Religion," in the sense that it is used here, is the profession and practice of certain religious beliefs and doctrines.) This statement shows that it is quite possible for a person to have an exterior that projects the image of being a real believer, but there is no inward reality. Hence, James presents three things by which all profession of true religion can be tested. He tells us that there will be unmistakable evidence of faith in a person's life. The Lord spoke of this in His ministry, saying, "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:16, 20).
SELF-CONTROL—The first thing is self-control. If a person makes a profession of being “religious,” but habitually doesn’t control his tongue, it is a tell-tale sign that he may not be a real believer. The vanity of his religion is exposed as being merely a “vain” show in his life. He has deceived himself.
LOVE AND SYMPATHY—The second thing is love and sympathy. If a person’s faith is real, he will care about those who suffer, and it will be seen in his life by extending himself in some benevolent way to those who are in need—i.e. "the fatherless" (orphans) and the "widows."
PERSONAL HOLINESS—The third thing is personal holiness. This will be a result of practical separation from the world. If a person’s faith is real, then he will be careful about his associations and will “keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Hence, the reality of one’s faith in God and His Word will be evident in right speaking (vs. 26) and in benevolent actions towards the needy (vs. 27a), and in personal holiness maintained through separation from the world (vs. 27b). This shows that hearing the truth is not an end in itself; it is only the beginning. God wants inward reality in His people that results in practicing the truth (Psa. 51:6).

Faith Proved by How We Treat Others: James 2

Another area in which faith is tested and its reality manifested is in the treatment of others. James proceeds to address this very practical subject.
Again, what he is about to say here had a special application to his Jewish brethren who had professedly converted to Christ. Respect of persons (partiality) was a common thing among the Jews. The Lord referred to it in the context of a wedding (Luke 14:7-11), and also at their common feasts (Matt. 23:6), but He didn’t approve of it, of course.
The Jews loved to make social and religious distinctions among themselves, based on how rich and influential a person was or wasn't. Some of this came from a distorted view of certain Old Testament Scriptures having to do with the government of God in connection with His people. In that economy, if a person's ways pleased God, that person could expect to have Jehovah's blessing bestowed on him in a material way (Deut. 28:1-14; Prov. 3:9-10, etc.). This led them to reason that if a man was rich materially, he must be a good man and one in whom God approves. Likewise, if a man was poor and his life was full of trouble and woes, he must be rebellious toward God (Deut. 28:15-68). Thus, from this premise the Jews tended to judge and categorize their brethren, and treat them accordingly. Since people naturally want to be well thought of and treated with respect, there was constant pressure in Jewish society to boast of a false wealth and spirituality—which was not necessarily true. This tended to produce hypocritical living, of which the Pharisees were a prime example (Luke 12:1).
The problem that James was dealing with here was that these Jewish converts were endorsing that kind of behaviour while professing to be Christians. While the respect of persons may have been tolerated in that old economy, it certainly has no place in Christianity. Remnants of Jewish thinking and way of life under the old economy evidently lingered with these professing believers; it was another one of the "graveclothes" that they needed to put off.
The Sin of Partiality
Vs. 1—A “respect of persons” (partiality) is having an undue respect or disrespect of certain persons for ulterior reasons. James begins by stating that Christians are not to have this sort of thing toward people in society, nor should it be found in the Christian circle, because it is totally inconsistent with those who profess to know “our Lord Jesus Christ” as their Saviour.
This attitude and practice was not among the Jewish believers in the earliest days of Christian testimony, when they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:44-45 says, "And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need." And again Acts 4:34-35 says, "Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need." However, it wasn't long before some of them began to accuse the others of having a respect of persons to the exclusion of others. Acts 6:1 says, "When the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians (Hellenist Jews) against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in t he daily ministration." This spirit is something we have to watch against today in Christianity, it creates hard feelings and tears down the practical unity that should exist among the saints.
A person's material possessions and social status are not a gauge to determine his or her spirituality and faithfulness in Christianity. This is because the basic principle of discipleship is that we give up all for Christ and the gospel's sake (Mark 10:21, 28-30). If a person lets go of his earthly possessions for the cause of Christ, he might very well get into a financially depressed situation (2 Cor. 8:2-3). Also, under the persecution that Christians were facing in that day, a person's earthly possessions may get stripped away from him unfairly (Heb. 10:34). Circumstances that could develop out of such things in a person's life are not a result of him being unfaithful or rebellious toward God, but because he has been faithful in the things of God. Hence, it is grossly unfair to judge someone in Christianity on the basis of his or her material possessions or the lack thereof. And, even if a fellow Christian was not walking as closely to the Lord as he could and should, it does not mean that we should treat him with distain; we are to draw near to him and shepherd him into a closer walk with the Lord.
Favouritism can manifest itself in many ways amongst the Lord's people. We can unintentionally classify Christians as to what we think their importance is in the body of Christ, and then treat them accordingly. The Apostle Paul taught that as each member of the human body is needed by the other members of the body, likewise we are to treat each member in the body of Christ with the same respect and honour. We need each other—even if a person is a seemingly insignificant member in Christ's body (1 Cor. 12:23-24). Elsewhere, he said, "Let each esteem other better than themselves" (Phil. 2:3). A question we can ask ourselves is, "Do we judge and categorize people according to their appearance, or by what we think their spirituality is, or by some other criterion—and then treat them according to our assessment?"
Two Visitors at a "Meeting"
Vss. 2-4—Addressing this subject of partiality, James brings up a typical scenario. Two men come into a "meeting" of Christians. ("Meeting" is Mr. W. Kelly's Translation. The word literally means, "a gathering of people," and does not specify whether it is a Jewish meeting or a Christian meeting. J. N. Darby translates the word as "synagogue," but he remarks in his exposition that James describes the meeting that way because his mind still very much ran on the lines of Jewish habits of thought – Collected Writings, vol. 28, p. 121). It appears that James did not have a full understanding of the truth of the Church—which came out later under Paul's ministry—and therefore, used the word "synagogue" for a gathering of Christians. It is unlikely that James was seeking to regulate the order in a literal Jewish synagogue under the old Mosaic economy; synagogues would have been under the control of unbelieving Jews who would never listen to him on account of his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That a worldly spirit of partiality would be found in a Jewish synagogue is not surprising, but to find it in a Christian gathering was appalling, and this led James to address this issue.
In his hypothetical scenario, one visitor is a rich man with “a gold ring, in goodly apparel” and the other is “a poor man in vile raiment.” (It is not a question of whether these men are saved or not.) Both visitors are welcomed, but there is a difference made in how they are treated. A seat of honour is given to the rich man, but the poor man is told to “stand” against the wall or "sit" on the floor. This was an obvious case of having a "respect of persons" (favouritism). This kind of thing apparently existed among the Jews in Judaism, but it is not to be among Christians. Such a practice was another one of these things carried over from their old days in the Jew's religion that needed to be expunged.
Why Partiality Has No Place in a Christian’s Interactions With Others
Vss. 5-13—James proceeds to give three reasons why having a "respect of persons" (partiality) has no place in Christian life:
1) It Denies What Grace Has Accomplished in Salvation (vss. 5-7). Such behaviour betrays an ignorance of the basic truth of the gospel. It makes one wonder whether those who advocate partiality are really saved. James calls attention to the fact that God doesn’t play favourites in saving men; He saves the rich and the poor alike. He has “chosen the poor of this world rich in faith” to be “heirs of the kingdom.” As believers, we all have an equal place before God. Why then would we have respect of persons among men when God clearly doesn’t? If He has "chosen" a poor man and has blessed him richly, we shouldn't treat that poor man in any other way but with honour. If we do otherwise, we dishonour a man whom God has honoured. Essentially, it is despising God's choice! Moreover, we misrepresent God who is not a respecter of persons among men (Matt. 22:16; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25; 1 Peter 1:17).
In speaking of this subject, we need to understand that James is not speaking of the respect due to elders who are to be treated with double honour (1 Tim. 5:17), nor is he speaking of those who are in a public office in government, who are also to be treated with honour (Rom. 13:7). The “respect to persons” that James is referring to here is an evil thing where favouritism used toward certain persons over others for ulterior reasons. This was one of the first sins in the Church, and it caused dissension, and thus disrupted the unity of the Spirit (Acts 6:1-2). Those who know the grace of God and have tasted it personally will manifest that same spirit toward others that God has had toward them. It hardly needs to be said that we shouldn’t treat people according to their social and financial status.
In verses 6-7, James reminds us of the general character of the rich apart from grace working in their souls. They often “oppress” believers and bring unjust lawsuits against them. Worse than that, they “blaspheme that worthy name” by which Christians are called. If they humiliate Christians publicly and blaspheme the Lord, why would we think that we should honour them over other people? Could it be that we are looking for favours from them?
2) It Violates the Royal Law (vss. 8-11). James goes on to give a second reason why partiality has no place in the life of a believer—it is beneath the standards of the law. Even the Mosaic law taught higher principles of living than what they had fallen into. “The royal law,” of which James speaks, is the second table of the law of Moses, containing the latter six commandments. These commandments pertain to man’s responsibilities toward his fellow man, and could be summed up as, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:39). Note: James does not say that the Christian is under the law, but appeals to it to show that the moral import of it insisted on the Israelite loving his neighbour as himself. Having a “respect to persons” is beneath the standards of the law and thus violates the law. All who did so were “convicted of the law as transgressors.” Therefore, such behaviour—even under the old economy—was condemned by God.
James also shows that the law is indivisible; it must be taken as a whole (vss. 10-11). If a person keeps the whole law, "yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." Those under the law could not pick and choose which of the commandments they wished to keep, and disregard the others; the law stands and falls together.
3) It is Contrary to the Law of Liberty (vss. 12-13). James proceeds to give a third reason why partiality has no place in Christianity—it is contrary to "the law of liberty." The much higher principles of Christian living, as indicated in this law, call for the believer to treat all men with grace and equality. This is something that should come naturally to a Christian because he has a new life that delights in doing such things. Since it is God's will that we show kindness and respect to all whom we interact with, and that we have a new nature that desires to do those very things, it shouldn't be a burden for us to treat people impartially. In fact, it's pure liberty for a believer to express himself in this way, for such is the law of liberty.
This being the case, James says, "So speak ye, and so do [act]." His point here is that if we say that we are believers on the Lord Jesus Christ, we should prove it in our actions, and thus live without being partial toward certain persons. Moreover, James shows that by making a profession of being a Christian, we put ourselves in a position of higher responsibility, and will therefore, be "judged by the law of liberty." That is, it tests and exposes us for what we really are. Normal Christianity is such that the law of liberty would lead Christians to show mercy and grace toward others, but, if a person has no inclination to such things, that same law manifests that perhaps he doesn't have that new life and nature at all. Thus, the law of liberty judges our profession to be false, and thus our salvation is called into question.
Vs. 13—Moreover, if we do know the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, but refuse to act according to “the law of liberty,” we will bring upon ourselves the governmental chastisements of God. James warns us that "judgment will be without mercy to him that has shown no mercy." He adds, "Mercy glories over judgment." This means that God delights in mercy, rather than judgment (Mic. 7:18). Therefore, we should too. If we show mercy to others, we will avert judgment upon ourselves.
Mr. W. MacDonald asks some searching questions in connection with this topic: "Let us test ourselves then on this important subject of partiality. Do we show more kindness to those of our own race more than those of other races? Are we more kindly disposed toward the young than the old? Are we more outgoing toward to good looking people than those who are plain and homely? Are we more anxious to befriend prominent people than those who are comparatively unknown? Do we avoid people with physical infirmities and seek the companionship of the strong and healthy? Do we favour the rich over the poor? Do we give the 'cold shoulder' to foreigners who speak our language with a foreign accent? As we answers these questions, let us remember that the way we treat the least loveable believer is the way we treat the Saviour?" (Matt. 25:40)
The Reality of Faith Will Be Proved by Works
Vss. 14-26—This leads James to speak of the need for putting a man's profession to the test. Quite evidently there was a mixed multitude of Jewish brethren to whom he was writing, who were mere professing Christians. They had made a profession of being believers on the Lord Jesus Christ, but there was little or no evidence of it in their lives. It is no wonder why they would have no compunction in acting on fleshly and worldly lines of courting the favours of the rich and disdaining the poor.
In the latter part of the chapter, James asks a series of questions that would test the reality of a person's faith. Three times in verses 14-18, he says, "Though a man say...." and "One of you say...." and "Yea, a man may say...." The point here is that a person may make a profession of having faith, and "say" that he is a believer, but the reality of his statement must be proved by "works." This is indicated by the expressions, "show me" and "seest" in verses 18, 22, and 24. We cannot see a person's faith, just like we can't see the wind, but we can see the evidence of the wind in the effects that it makes in blowing things around. Likewise, real faith will evidence itself in observable results.
Vss. 14-17—James asks, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? In the most simple way, he insists on "works" being shown in a believer's life to give evidence of the reality of his faith. Faith and works ought to go together. Hence, he calls upon believers to show their faith in their everyday lives. The hypothetical scenario he uses to emphasize his point is the subject already in discussion—the treatment of others. If "a brother or sister" is in need of clothing and food, and we offer no practical help but merely give some empty words of encouragement, we are not displaying the characteristics of one who has faith. James asks, "Can [that] faith save him?" (vs. 14). That is, "Can that kind of faith save a person?" The answer is, "No!" Such faith is proved to be worthless; it is just an empty profession. The normal practice of Christianity is not only to have courtesy toward all, but to also have compassion on all. However, in the case of the person that James speaks of, it is clear that that person's faith, when tested, proves to be "dead" (vs. 17).
Vss. 18-20—James then contrasts these two kinds of faith for us. He says, "Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works." True faith is a living thing that manifests itself in works. This kind of faith distinguishes itself from the dead kind of faith that consists only in the acceptance of certain facts about God, without the heart being brought under the power of those facts. He says, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well." However, real faith is more than just an intellectual assent to facts about God. To prove this, he says, "The devils [demons] also believe" those facts, but it hasn't changed anything for them; they "believe," but they also "tremble." James, therefore, comes back to his earlier conclusion and says, "Faith without works is dead."
This brings us to a searching but very practical question: "If the authorities in these lands were to turn against the practice of Christianity and they began to imprison Christians, would there be enough evidence in our lives to convict us of our faith?" The Lord taught that it's quite possible to hide our "candle" (our personal testimony) "in a secret place," and consequently, no one would see it (Luke 11:33). The Lord said that we should be putting our candle "on a candlestick" so that all can see it. He said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).
Justification by Faith and Justification by Works
James speaks of a person being "justified by works" and that "faith without works is dead" (vss. 20-21). Paul, on the other hand, speaks of a man being "justified by faith" (Rom. 5:1). These are not contradictions, but rather two different aspects of justification. Justification in the epistle to the Romans (chaps. 3-5) is vastly different from the justification taught in James 2. The following are some of the main differences:
In Romans, it is the faith of a sinner seeking salvation, but in James, it is the faith of a believer bearing witness to the salvation he possesses.
Justification in Romans is before God, and therefore, faith is emphasized. Justification in James is before men, and therefore, works are emphasized.
Paul speaks of what is vital before God, whereas James speaks of what is testimonial before men.
The moment a person believes on the Lord Jesus, he is justified before God—as Paul states in Romans, but that person is not justified before men until he manifests some evidence of it in works. Hence, Paul is speaking of things Godward, and James is speaking of things manward.
James is not speaking of "works" to get saved, but works that result from being saved. Such works are not the cause of salvation, but the effect of salvation possessed. Nor is James saying that we are saved by faith plus works; to hold such a view denies the finished work of Christ (John 19:30). Works have no part in our eternal salvation—not even a little (Rom. 4:4-5; Titus 3:5). But works do show to others that we are saved. Since men cannot see our faith, they need to be shown some evidence of it before accepting our testimony as bonafide. They have every right to demand some evidence of us that would prove our faith in God. Hence, our works are "good and profitable unto men" in a testimonial sense (Titus 3:8). Works, in this way, justify a believer before his fellow man—they demonstrate before men that we are truly righteous before God.
Abraham and Rahab
Vss. 21-26—James' point in his argument is that faith and works must go together—they are inseparable. If a person truly has faith, then there will be evidence of it in his life. He brings forth two persons from the Old Testament that illustrate the kind of works that result from real faith. One is "Abraham," the father of the Jews, and the other is "Rahab," a disgraced Gentile. Both proved the reality of their faith by their works and were blessed of God.
Abraham was "justified by faith" in Genesis 15 when he believed God (Rom. 4:2-3), but he also was "justified by works" in Genesis 22 when he attempted to offer his son on the altar (Heb. 11:17). His faith was "counted unto him for righteousness" (Rom. 4:2-3), but his works identified him as "the Friend of God" (James 2:23; 2 Chron. 20:7). Likewise, Rahab acted in "faith" (Heb. 11:31), but she also produced "works" in that she "received the messengers, and had sent them out another way" (James 2:25). This teaches us that faith and works must go together. If we take faith out of the picture, Abraham could be accused of being a (attempted) murderer and Rahab would be viewed as a traitor.
It is noteworthy that James is careful not to give a list of outward things that would qualify as "works," which a person could do in a perfunctory way. He doesn't list things like: giving to charities, helping the sick, attending Bible meetings, etc. A mere professing believer could do those things and still be far from God. Instead, James points to works of a moral character which emanate from within the soul that has faith. Two outstanding works that marked the reality of Abraham's and Rahab's faith were:
Abraham manifested obedience to God (vss. 20-24).
Rahab manifested love for the people of God (vss. 25-26).
These are perhaps the two greatest "works" of faith that a person can do that would show that he or she is truly saved. Faith, hope, and love are things that should "accompany salvation" (Heb. 6:9-12). Abraham's obedience was such that he was willing to let go of the dearest object in his life—his son whom he had waited a long time to have. Rahab's love for the people of God was such that she was willing to risk her life to help them. She proved the reality of her faith by being willing to break her former connections with her people and identify herself with God's people. She turned her back on the world, of which she had once been part and parcel, and threw her lot in with the Lord's people.
Applying the principles of James' argument to how we treat people who come into our gatherings, we can learn something from Abraham and Rahab. From Abraham we learn that we must put what is due to God before any persons that we might naturally prefer—even if it is our own son. From Rahab we learn that we are to receive people cordially and help them with genuine love and care.
Vs. 26—James concludes his remarks on faith being evidenced in works by repeating what he said earlier in verses 17 and 20—"Faith without works is dead." Just as "the body without the spirit is dead"—so also must these two things go together.

Faith Proved in Our Speech: James 3

The Use and Misuse of the Tongue
Another area in which Jewish believers tend to have the "graveclothes" of Judaism cling to them is in their attitude of superiority over other nationalities. This has been ingrained in them over many hundreds of years. It's understandable how such a thing could develop; as Israelites they were God's "chosen" people (Deut. 7:6; 14:2) and divinely favoured above the other nations (Deut. 28:9-13; 32:8-14)—and their national pride reveled in this fact. The tendency of these Jewish converts was to bring that spirit with them into the Christian ranks. When unchecked, it manifested itself in offences with "the tongue." This was especially the case in disparaging remarks being made toward Gentile believers who were just then being saved and added to the Christian company. Needless to say, this was detrimental to the fellowship of saints, and it led to "bitter envying and strife" among brethren (vss. 14-16). Something even more serious lay at the root of this problem; it had become evident that some of the Jews who professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ were not saved at all—they were mere professing believers. Thus, it was no wonder that such offenders had no compunction in stirring up strife with offensive remarks.
In many ways, our speech is a gauge as to who we really are; it manifests our spiritual condition. What you are will inevitably be revealed by what you say. This may not always be the case (Psa. 55:21), but usually what is in the heart will come out of the mouth. It has been said that the tongue is a tattletale on the heart. Solomon cautioned us, "If thou hast thought evil, lay thy hand upon thy mouth" (Prov. 30:32). Why? Because what we have been thinking is likely to come out of our mouth, if it is not judged in the heart. Hence, we tell on ourselves by what comes out of our mouths. The Lord Jesus taught, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (Matt. 12:34).
Since the tongue is an honest representative of the inner person, in this chapter James uses the tongue as another test as to the reality of a person's professed faith. He proceeds to address the vanity of a superficial faith that does not produce the evidence of reality in one's life. He would have his fellow countrymen who had made a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus to prove the reality of their faith by the control of their tongues, and thus walk in happy fellowship with their brethren.
Vs. 1—Sad to say, there was an undue aspiration in some of these Jewish converts to be masters over others—particularly the Gentiles who had believed. James moves to address this as an introduction to his comments on the use and misuse of the tongue. He says, "My brethren, be not many masters [teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation [judgment]." James was not speaking of the right use of the gift of teaching wherein the tongue would be used to build up the saints in the truth, but of the propensity of the flesh that delights in teaching others. Hence, the subject here is not a teacher exercising his gift in dependence on the Lord, but the penchant to want to teach—the sin of clamoring for the chair of a teacher.
Being Jews, they knew the Scriptures well; this gave them a distinct advantage over their Gentile brethren who hadn’t been so favoured. But this led some to assume that a position of respect and admiration should be given them among their Christian brethren, as had the Rabbis in Judaism. It is a natural desire of the flesh to want to instruct and legislate others, and thus gain ascendency among men—but sadly, it stirs up resentment and “bitter envy and strife” (vs. 14). Positions of admiration may have been advocated among the Jews in Judaism, but there is no place for it in Christianity. The Lord Jesus taught His disciples, "But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren."
Teaching among believers needs to be done (1 Tim. 4:13), but those who teach must understand that a greater responsibility falls on all who teach. All who teach profess to have an understanding of the Christian's duty, and they are, therefore, bound to obey it. The aspect of "judgment" that James refers to here is God's governmental chastening of His people while they are on earth. If our ways do not please the Lord, He will undertake to correct us through disciplinary judgments in our lives that are of a providential nature (1 Peter 1:16-17; 3:10-12). This kind of judgment has nothing to do with the believer's eternal salvation in Christ.
Vss. 2-4—James moves from the use of the tongue in public teaching to the use of the tongue in conversation in general. In the matter of controlling the tongue, he says, "We all often offend." We all know what it is like to feel the cutting edge of an offensive remark, yet we have all made such comments at one time or another (Prov. 12:18). By saying, "We," James did not point his finger at offenders without including himself. A case in point actually occurred later in James' life when he gave bad counsel to Paul in the matter of taking a vow and going into the temple (Acts 21:18-25). Even Moses, the meekest man in all the earth, offended in this way; he spoke "unadvisedly with his lips" (Num. 12:3; 20:9-12; Psa. 106:33). Solomon said, “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles” (Prov. 21:23; 13:3). Therefore, we all need to pray the prayer of David, "Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips" (Psa. 141:3).
Mr. W. MacDonald said that as a doctor in old times used to check a person's state of health by examining his or her tongue, we can often discern the state of a person's soul by checking the activity of their tongue. As mentioned earlier, the tongue is an index to the heart. No member of the human body is more ready to follow the impulses of the fallen sin-nature than the tongue. J. N. Darby aptly said, "The movement of the tongue is the first expression of the will of the natural man." This is true of a believer as well as an unbeliever, for all men have a fallen sin-nature.
Since the sins of the tongue are the most common and the most difficult to control, the measure of a Christian’s maturity is in the control of his tongue. James says, "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man." Perfection, in the sense that he uses it here, is full growth—maturity (Heb. 5:14). The control of the tongue is of utmost importance for the maintenance of peace and unity among brethren. As mentioned already, this was quite a test for the mixed multitude of professed Jewish converts because of their long history of prejudice against the Gentiles, with whom they were now called to walk.
The Uncontrollableness of the Tongue
Vss. 3-4—James uses a number of figures from nature to illustrate the tongue's use and misuse. The first two figures indicate, by way of contrast, the fact that though the tongue is a very small member in the body, it is very difficult to control.
A Bit in a Horse's Mouth (vs. 3)—A "bit" in a horse's mouth is not a very big thing, yet it controls the direction in which an animal goes. Whoever holds the reins to the bit is able to press his or her will on the horse and control the direction of the beast. But, sad to say, it does not hold true when it comes to the tongue. The tongue is a very small member of the body, yet we have the greatest difficulty controlling our tongues.
A Rudder of a Ship (vs. 4)—The instrument of control in the previous example was at the front of the animal, but here, in the case of the "rudder," it is at the rear of the vessel. A rudder is out of sight and behind the ship, yet it is capable of controlling the ship's direction. Again, this depends entirely on the will of the person who is at the helm. While this is true of a great ship, it does not ring true in the case of the tongue.
The Destructive Nature of the Tongue
Vss. 5-6—James moves on to speak of the destructive character of the tongue, when let loose. The first two images point to the responsibility of the owner and operator of the tongue, but this figure ("a fire") focuses on the evil possibilities of that little member and the damage it does when it's not controlled.
A Spark Igniting a Devastating Forest Fire—A spark is a very small thing, yet it can ignite a huge forest fire! James says, "See how large a wood [forest] a little fire kindles" (W. Kelly Trans.). The devouring nature of a fire is used in the book of Proverbs to describe the destruction that a talebearer's tongue can do (Prov. 26:20-21). The children's rhyme: "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me," is simply not true. Words do hurt people (Prov. 12:18; 18:8; 26:22 – "wounds"). Hurtful, fleshly words leave a wake of destruction and offences. They tear down others, and in the process, they destroy personal relationships, marriages, families, assemblies, etc. We would do well to remember the old adage: "He who will gossip to you will gossip about you!" This is because, if a person can't control his tongue in one direction, he won't be able to control it in other directions either.
Verse 6 emphasizes the fact that the tongue stirs up the flesh, not only in the individual who allows the flesh to act, but in others also. It is "a world of unrighteousness." The word "world" is used here to denote a whole system of unrighteous things that are inter-connected being stirred up in a person's soul. The result is "the whole body" (the whole person) is affected and "defiled." James says that it "sets fire to the course [wheel] of nature." That is, the fallen sin-nature gets rolling and is very difficult to stop. He adds that the "blaze" of fleshly action is set on "by Gehenna" (W. Kelly Trans.). Gehenna is a word that describes the eternal place of damnation for Satan and his angels (Matt. 25:41); it is used here as a synonym for Satan's kingdom of evil. The point is that when our flesh is stirred, Satan can take control of the situation and use our tongues for his hellish purposes. This is a solemn and serious thing to consider.
The Corrupting Character of the Tongue
Vss. 7-8—The next point that James dwells on is the defiling and corrupting character of the tongue. It is not only uncontrollable and destructive, but it is also perverse.
An Untamable Poisonous Beast—In these verses, James personifies the human tongue as an evil beast that is unlike all other beasts. He points to the fact that there are all kinds of "species both of beasts and of birds, both of creeping things and of sea animals" that can be "tamed" (vs. 7). In contrast to all these, the human tongue is a beast that "no man can tame" (vs. 8a). This statement seems to contradict verse 2, which says that a perfect man (a fully mature Christian) is able to bridle his tongue. It may be that James is speaking of a man of the world who is not even saved.
The tongue is "an unruly evil." Even the most sincere child of God, who has a new life and nature, has a real fight on his hands. King David knew what it was to fight and to lose that battle. He said, "I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue" (Psa. 39:1-3). He was determined to curb the activity of his tongue, but it wasn't long before that unruly member burst forth and he spoke out of turn.
James also personifies the tongue as a venomous beast that is "full of deadly poison" (vs. 8b). And how poisonous words can be! Just a few evil words can poison a hearer's mind and influence and corrupt someone very quickly. This ugly, little beast would love to gossip about someone and to criticize them, etc. It is a willing instrument of the heart to articulate evil (Mark 7:21-23).
The Inconsistency of the Tongue
Vss. 9-12—James points out another strange anomaly in connection with the human tongue—the inconsistency of its actions. He says, "Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men" (vs. 9). We are asked to consider the inconsistency of having blessing and cursing streaming forth "out of the same mouth." Yet this is exactly what men do. James employs two more images from nature which teach us that this "ought not so to be" (1 Cor. 11:14). Such natural things rebuke this inconsistency.
A Fountain that Gives Salt and Fresh Water—He asks us to imagine a fountain that gives forth both salt water and fresh water at the same time. He asks, "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?" (vs. 11) There is no such thing in nature, and yet with the human tongue this paradox is evident.
A Tree that Yields Two Kinds of Fruit—Again, James asks the question as to whether there ever was such a thing in nature where a tree would yield two kinds of fruit. "Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? Either a vine, figs?" (vs. 12). His conclusion, of course, is that the tongue should not be a thing of inconsistency.
Since unconverted people do not bless God the Father, James obviously is speaking of believers here. How is it then that this strange phenomenon can be found in Christians? The answer is that they possess two natures. They have the fallen sin-nature, but being born again, they also have a new life. If the fallen sin-nature is allowed to act, then the tongue will become a ready instrument of the flesh. But if the new life is acting under the control of the Holy Spirit, the tongue will bless and build up all who hear it speak. The Christian is responsible to judge the flesh so that only that which is the good would come forth blessing to others.
Wisdom's Use of the Tongue
Vss. 13-18—Having dwelt on the evil possibilities of the tongue, James turns to speak of the Christian's responsibility to "show out" the fact that he is "a wise man" by "good conversation [manner of life]" and with the "meekness of wisdom" (vs. 13). Meekness has to do with being careful not to give offence to others in our interactions with them—especially with our tongue. If we do not manifest a restraint in this area of our lives, but are habitually filled with "bitter envy and strife," it calls our profession of faith into question. James warns, "Do not boast and lie against the truth" (vs. 14). That is, don't boast of being a Christian when your life bears continual evidence to the contrary.
Professing to be a Christian while living contrarily is not "the wisdom which comes down from above." It is purely "earthly, natural, devilish" (vs. 15). The man of the world is governed by the principles of the world, the flesh, and the devil. All such earthly mindedness will leave its mark of "confusion and every evil work" on whatever it touches (vs. 16).
On the other hand, true heavenly wisdom ("from above") will evidence itself in moral results and in practical Christian living. James gives us seven outstanding features of heavenly wisdom:
“Pure”—Purity of heart which results in communion with God.
“Peaceable”—Tranquility of soul and mind that results in being agreeable with others.
“Easy to be entreated [yielding]”—Not headstrong or self-willed.
“Full of mercy and good fruits”—Acts of kindness toward others.
“Unquestioning [uncontentious]”—Willingness to receive further light on subjects without debate.
"Without hypocrisy [unfeigned]"—No pretension or falseness, without ulterior motives.
We see from this that true wisdom is not measured by a person's words or by his depth of Bible knowledge, but by his manner of life. Knowledge of Scripture does not control the tongue; it is only achieved by a life lived in the presence of God flowing from communion with God.
Vs. 18—Heavenly wisdom will be seen in the results it produces; it will result in a quiet unity among brethren. Instead of the community of saints being torn down by unbridled tongues, "the fruit [seed] of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace." If we sow "the seed of righteousness" in peace, it will yield a crop of righteousness, and it will make peace among brethren. Earthly, natural, and devilish (false) wisdom only fuels the fire of contention and confusion. At times, we may have to say something faithfully to someone (Prov. 27:6), but it should be "sown in peace." Someone said that "tact is knowing how to make a point without making an enemy." This kind of heavenly wisdom comes from a soul being in communion with God; it seeks peace through "righteousness," not through compromise.
Hence, the key to right speech is being in a right state of soul through communion with God. If our words were weighed in the presence of the Lord before they were uttered, we would be kept from saying many harmful things. In this, "we all often offend" (vs. 2). Perhaps if we subjected ourselves to the following test we might be delivered from unkind and destructive words being spoken:
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
Ultimately, the tongue is an index to the state of a person's soul. It may prove that a person who professes faith is not real. If one truly has faith, it will be shown out in his life. However, if there is habitual bitterness, envy, strife, unkind and vindictive speech, it may be a sign that the person is not saved at all. Hence, the use and misuse of the tongue is, in this sense, a test of a person's faith.

Faith in Connection With the Flesh, the World, and the Devil: James 4

James moves on to address another thing that was disrupting the peace in the Jewish-Christian community. The three great enemies of the Christian—the flesh, the world, and the devil—were running unchecked in the lives of many who professed to be saved. The problem was that some of the Jews who had professed faith in the Lord Jesus had not made a real break with their old life of worldliness and they were bringing those ways into the assembly. Even though they had been brought up in Judaism—a religion that exposed them to the true knowledge of God—it did not mean that they all had faith. There was a mixed multitude among the Jews in Judaism. When many of them professedly converted to Christianity, and began moving within the Christian ranks, they brought their worldly ways with them. The sad evidence of these three enemies working in their midst could be seen in the "wars and fightings" that were commonplace among them. Again, this called into question whether they were really saved.
A strong indicator that a person is truly saved will be in his attitude toward these three enemies. A true believer will see them in the light that the Bible sets them in—as enemies of God and man (Eph. 2:1-3). Characteristically, a true Christian judges the flesh (Phil. 3:3) and walks in separation from the world, which is under the control of the devil (1 John 5:18-19). He may, at times, get careless and allow the old nature a place in his life, and thus act in the flesh, or he might become careless about his associations with the world, but normal Christianity is marked by the children of God judging the flesh and walking in separation from the world. If a person does not manifest this characteristic in his life, but habitually walks in the flesh in a worldly way, it is cause to question the reality of his professed faith.
James, therefore, uses the Christian's judgment of the flesh, the world, and the devil as another proof of his faith. He addresses the flesh in verses 1-3, the world in verses 4-6, and the devil in verse 7.
The flesh is an internal enemy.
The world is an external enemy.
The devil is an infernal enemy.
These enemies work together as a coalition of forces, with the devil being "the commander in chief," so to speak. The flesh is an enemy behind the front lines—being within the believer—working in communication with the world and the devil.
Satan's design ultimately is to sully the glory of Christ in this world and to turn people away from Him and the gospel of God's grace. Since Christians bear the name of Christ, Satan attacks Christians. If he can get them to dishonour the name that they bear by introducing sin into their lives, he can accomplish his end. People see such Christians as hypocrites and they turn away from Christianity. To a large extent this has happened. Christians have so poorly represented Christ in this world, it is a wonder that any believe at all. A sad example of this is what Ghandi, the former president of India, said: "If it weren't for Christians, I would have been one!"
Satan has sought to nullify the Christian testimony before the world by disrupting the unity within the Christian community and by getting Christians to hanker after worldly things. As mentioned, this projects an image before the world that Christians are unhappy and that can't get along together, and thus, there is really nothing to Christianity.
The Flesh
Vs. 1—James speaks first about the activity of the flesh—the fallen sin-nature in a believer. He asks, "From whence come wars and fightings among you?" The word translated "wars" in the original language has the sense of a prolonged and long-standing battle, whereas "fightings" refer to a specific quarrel. It shows that some problems of strife among brethren have a longstanding history, and that others are simply isolated instances.
In asking this, James wanted them to consider what was at the source of their conflicts and to judge its root. (Some translations actually use the word "source" in this verse.) He answers his question with another question: "Come they not hence, even of your lusts [pleasures] that war in your members?" James' use of "members" here is not referring to our membership in the body of Christ, but to the members of our physical bodies. Also, the word "lusts" in the KJV should be translated "pleasures." It indicates that they not only had lustful desires in their hearts, but that they were gratifying those desires by indulging in sinful pleasures. Hence, by asking this second question, James was pointing to the evidence of a serious spiritual problem in their souls. They were giving license to the flesh in their lives, and it was just stirring up the flesh more and more, and it was manifesting itself in other areas than pleasure seeking—it was fuelling the conflicts that they were having in their personal relationships. This shows us that the problem of conflicts among brethren can be traced to allowing the flesh to run unchecked in other areas of our personal lives. These things all run off the same root system—the flesh.
This state of things among brethren surely is not the will of God. In Ephesians 4:1-4, the Apostle Paul taught that the very first responsibility we have as being part of the body of Christ is to keep the unity of the Spirit. He said that this can only accomplished when each member of the body being marked by lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, and forbearance. The subject of the interaction of the members of Christ's body, however, is not James' line of ministry, and therefore, it is not mentioned here. Nevertheless, love and unity among believers are themes that run throughout the New Testament and are what ought to characterize the Church in testimony. Sad to say, it has been lacking among Christians for centuries.
Vss. 2-3—These verses tell us how the flesh works in stirring up strife and contention. It begins with unbridled "lust" in the heart to possess something. This is covetousness. The lust can grow to be so strong in a person that in extreme cases he might even "kill" to reach this end. When the person "cannot obtain" and gratify his lustful desires, his frustration will be vented in other areas of his life. It will become evident in the person being a source of trouble among his brethren. He will "fight and war." It will also be evident in his prayer life. Either he won't pray about it—"ye ask not"—or if he does pray, he will "ask amiss," because he has wrong motives. Since his object is "to consume it upon his lusts [pleasures]," he does not receive what he asks for.
This shows us that God looks at the heart when we make our prayer requests. He doesn't just listen to our words, but searches the motives of our hearts, and if He finds that we have ulterior motives in the things that we ask for, those things will not be granted. It is, therefore, quite possible to pray for thoroughly right things with thoroughly wrong motives, and they will, of course, be denied.
The sin of covetousness runs in every human heart (Mark 7:22), but it seems especially so in the heart of a Jew. The race as a whole seems to be bent on gaining wealth. When that sin runs unchecked in the Christian community, there will surely be strife and contention. When we take into consideration the fact that some of the people to whom James was writing were not even be saved, it is quite understandable why there would be such tension. A heavenly minded man and an earthly minded man will never see things the same.
To help them to see the flesh, the world, and the devil properly and to judge the activity of this evil coalition, James touches on a number of ugly things that result from these things being given free rein in a Christian's life. The havoc they produce in every aspect of life is horrific.
Wars and fightings—vs. 1a.
Pleasure seeking—vss. 1-2.
Prayerlessness—vs. 2b.
Covetousness—vs. 3.
Disloyalty to Christ—vs. 4a.
Worldliness—vs. 4b.
Lack of power to resist the devil—vs. 7.
The World
Vs. 4—James goes on to speak of the inevitable result of a person living with unchecked lusts; he will turn to the world to fulfill those desires. When the flesh is not kept in check in a believer's life, it will work in conjunction with the world and the devil, and those enemies will lead him away from God, practically speaking. Therefore, James moves to warn us against the sin of worldliness. He says, "Adulteresses, know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" (The KJV adds, "and adulterers," but there is little or no manuscript authority for it. The Church is viewed in Scripture in the feminine gender rather than in the masculine – 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23-32; Rev. 19:7-9). The point that James is making here is that to turn to the world-system to gratify our lusts is spiritual adultery; it is really unfaithfulness to the Lord. To love the passing things of this world (1 John 2:17) is to be untrue to the Lord. The lust for material possessions and pleasures is covetousness, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5). The evil of idolatry is that it sets up an idol in our hearts that rivals Christ for our attention and affections (Ezek. 14:3). All such is spiritual unfaithfulness to Him.
Moreover, "the world" is in a state of open rebellion against God. It has shown its hatred for Christ and has cast Him out. How then can any right-minded Christian want to have fellowship with the world? To do so is unfaithfulness to the Lord. We should be friendly toward the people of the world, but we should not be friends with worldly people. We speak here of complicity with the world, not of "arms-length" interactions in business, etc.
The world is viewed in three different ways in Scripture:
As a place where we live (planet Earth) and to which Christ came to die for sinners (Mark 16:15; Acts 17:24; 1 Tim. 1:15; Heb. 1:2).
As a system of affairs and activities that man has arranged in an attempt to keep himself happy and satisfied in his alienation from God. Since man is a complex creature with many interests and desires, the world system has been built up with many departments—political, commercial, religious, entertainment, sports, etc. (John 16:33; Rom. 12:2; Gal. 6:14; 1 Cor. 2:12; 3:19; Titus 2:12; 2 Peter 1:4; 2:20; 1 John 2:16; 5:19). It is a society where Christ is excluded (John 1:10-11; 1 Cor. 2:6-8).
As lost people who are wrapped up in the world-system (John 1:10b; 3:16-17; 17:23).
James is speaking of the latter two aspects of the world. He says, "Whoever therefore is minded to be the friend of the world is constituted an enemy of God." This is a sobering statement indeed. He is saying that our attitude toward the world plainly declares our attitude toward God. If we take a position with the world, we are taking a position against God! There is no neutral ground in this. Salvation has changed us from being enemies of God to being the friends of God (Rom. 5:10). When a person responds to the call of God and comes to Christ, he by his confession, is making a clean break with the world that crucified Christ. To turn around after being saved and take a position of being friends with the world is a practical denial of our confession as Christians. Anyone who does it puts a question over his or her confession as to whether they are truly saved. To continue in habitual friendship with the world is evidence of unbelief, and it could mean that he or she is not saved at all. James, therefore, uses the principle of separation from the world as another test of the reality of a person's faith.
Vs. 5—He says, "Think ye that the Scripture speaks in vain? Does the Spirit which has taken His abode in us desire enviously?" His point here is that Scripture does not warn us of these kinds of worldly lusts for no reason; they are very dangerous and "war against the soul" (1 Peter 2:11). James is asking us whether we really thought that the Spirit of God dwelling in us would lead us to lust after worldly things. It would be absurd to think that the Spirit of God would lead a Christian into something that is so hateful to God.
In reading this verse, we might wonder what Old Testament Scripture James was quoting. However, he wasn't referring to a specific verse, but was speaking of the whole tenor of Scripture. The message of Scripture in general decries worldly lusts. Hence, how could they possibly think that God would be happy with them pursuing a course of friendship with the world—either the people or with the system?
Vss. 6-7a—James anticipates someone stating that he is not able to break the links of the long-established relationships that he has had in the world, and replies, "But He giveth more grace." That is, regardless of how strong the draw toward the world is, God's grace is sufficient to meet and overcome it. He will give grace to every exercised person so that he or she can overcome the world, and step away from it. All we have to do to receive this great grace is to humble ourselves before Him. Accordingly, James says, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." Pride—the desire to be well-thought of by certain people—is often at the root of a person's unwillingness to make a clean break with the world. If a believer prizes his friendships with the world more than his friendship with the Lord Jesus, and puts their claims before Christ's, then let him understand that God resists the proud; His grace will not be given to such. But if a person is truly exercised about the unequal yokes that he has with the world (2 Cor. 6:14-17) and he humbles himself before God, God will pour out His limitless supply of grace for the situation and will help him step away from his worldly associations. James then gives the only logical conclusion to the whole matter: "Submit [subject] yourselves therefore to God." That is, "submit" to Him (to what He has said in His Word in regard to the world) and seek grace from Him to turn away from the world and its associations. Submitting to God is where the power for Christian living lies.
The Devil
Vss. 7b-10—James goes on to speak about the Christian's third enemy—the devil. As Pharaoh tried to get the children of Israel back into Egypt after they had departed from it (Ex. 14), so this enemy would like to draw the believer back into the world. (Pharaoh is a type of Satan.) Therefore, James says, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." We might wonder how we are to resist him when he is so much stronger than us. It's true; strength for strength we are no match for Satan, but we have God on our side. "Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4). We might have thought that James would have told us to flee from the devil—but it is quite the opposite. We are to hold our ground and not compromise any aspect of the truth that has been given to us.
The great question is, "How are we to do this?" James proceeds to give us the key to resisting the devil successfully. We resist him by drawing near to God. This can be seen in the fact that James adds to his exhortation regarding resisting the devil, "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you" (vs. 8a). When we engage in prayer, reading the Word of God, and meditation (Heb. 4:16; 10:19-22), we draw near to God and He draws near to us. The result is that we have communion together. If we are found in the presence of God, the devil won't stay near us. He is not comfortable there and will flee. Thus, we are delivered from his harassment. The presence of God, therefore, is the believer's place of safety. "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust. Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust" (Psa. 91:1-4). These verses confirm that the Lord's dwelling place is truly a place of protection for the believer. Figuratively speaking, it is like a mighty fortress and a great eagle's nest. The "fowler" (Satan) cannot touch us when we are there. Deuteronomy 33:12 indicates the same thing: "The beloved of the LORD shall dwell in safety by Him." Psalm 143:9 also says, "Unto Thee do I flee for refuge."
Satan trembles when he sees,
The weakest saint upon his knees.
The Needed State of Soul to Meet the Christian's Three Enemies
Vss. 8b-10—The language that James uses in these next verses show us that he was addressing a wide scope of individuals—including those who were mere professing believers. It was truly a mixed multitude. The activity of these three enemies of God and man, if left unchecked in a believer's life, will lead him far from God, morally and spiritually. He would not lose the eternal salvation of his soul, but his enjoyment of fellowship with the Lord would be lost. His life could get so fleshly and worldly that it might be difficult to know whether he is truly saved. For the mere professing believer, these enemies will work to keep him from being saved (Eph. 2:1-3).
If these enemies are to be beaten, a person must be found in a proper state of soul. James, therefore, says, "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded." This is a call to repentance. It shows that those to whom he was writing were in a poor state generally. Verses 1-3 confirm this. For those who were believers, repentance would lead them to a restoration of soul and communion with God (1 John 1:9). For those who were mere professing believers without inward reality, it would be repentance that would lead to the salvation of their souls. In either case, repentance and self-judgment were needed if they were to be brought into fellowship with God. Cleansing the hands implies separating oneself from the pollutions of the world. Purifying one's heart would imply judging the activity of the flesh within. One is outward and the other is inward (See also 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1). Such cleansing and purification could only be possible through godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Hence, James says, "Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep" (vs. 9). He adds, "Let laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness." This latter remark shows that we need to get serious about these things in the presence of God.
The promised result is sweet indeed. He says, "Humble yourselves in the sight of [before] the Lord, and He shall lift you up" (vs. 10). If a believer truly humbles himself in God's presence about his careless ways, restoration is promised—there is always a way back to God. God is faithful; when we own our failure, He lifts us up and restores us to communion with Himself (1 John 1:9). Humbling oneself in true self-judgment is written in the aorist tense in the Greek; it means that this should be done once-for-all time. Hence, there should be some deep and serious conviction in our self-judgment to turn away from the error of our way—once and for all.
If a person were a mere professing believer—which some of them evidently were—he would manifest it by not heeding the rebuke, and continuing on in his fleshly and worldly ways. Thus, he would prove that he doesn't have real faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Evidences of Self-Judgment and Restoration to Communion With God
Vss. 11-17—James addresses two more evils at the end of the chapter which appear to be connected to the preceding subject. By bringing these things in here, the Spirit of God is showing us that a person's repentance should give evidence to the fact that he has truly judged himself in connection with the flesh and the world. The first is a critical spirit (vss. 11-12), and the second is an independent spirit (vss. 13-17). At the root of these fleshly and worldly things is self-importance and self-confidence. One had to do with their attitude toward the Law of God and the other had to do with their attitude toward the will of God.
Vss. 11-12—These professing converts were fighting and devouring one another (vss. 1-2); they were hardly behaving like Christians. James proceeds to warn them about the negative effects of speaking "against one of another." (The word, "evil" in the KJV in this verse should be translated "against." He is not speaking of having to deal with evil in a brother or a sister, but rather of a critical spirit.)
He exposes this sin by showing us that putting others down is really an indirect attempt to exalt ourselves. The seriousness of having a critical and censorious spirit is that it not only breaks down the unity that should exist among fellow Christians, but it is really judging the Law. This is because the Law commands us to do the opposite—to love our brother—which is the royal law mentioned in chapter two. Therefore, the person who criticizes his brother sets himself up to be superior to the Law, rather than being subject to it. Scripture teaches that the only Person who has a place superior to the Law is the Lord Himself—the "lawgiver" (Isa. 33:22). Hence, to judge our brother is really putting ourselves in the Lord's place! This shows the seriousness of judging our brother. The person who has judged his fleshly and worldly spirit will cease to speak against his brother. It is another evidence that his faith is real.
Vss. 13-17—The second thing that would give evidence that a person has truly judged his worldliness is in his ceasing to live in independence of God. James' closing remarks in chapter 4 are a rebuke of the self-confident and independent spirit that prevailed among these professed converts from Judaism.
These people professed to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour, but the manner in which they were living betrayed that they did. They were making their plans like a person of the world who didn't know the Lord—without reference to God. As an example, James says, "Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain; whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow" (vs. 13). Since neither they, nor we, know what a day holds for us, to make such a boast is sheer folly. All such language indicates arrogance and self-confidence, and is the epitome of the spirit of the world. As mentioned, it is really planning our lives with the Lord left out. Solomon rebuked this worldly spirit when he said, "Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth" (Prov. 27:1). Egypt is a type of this aspect of the world; it signifies the world in its independence of God. The Egyptians didn't wait upon God to send rain for their crops, as the Israelites did (James 5:7); they irrigated their land so that they didn't have to be dependent upon God (Deut. 11:10).
They may have thought that a person should involve the Lord in his or her life when it comes to spiritual things, but in secular things one needn't bother the Lord with mundane trivialities. However, this reasoning betrays a lack of understanding. Quite to the contrary, the Lord is interested in the everyday decisions of a believer's life. He wants to help us make right decisions in the fear of God that we might be preserved from the many pitfalls in life, and thus be a part of every aspect of our lives.
In rebuking this independent spirit, James makes reference to the brevity of life on earth. If we live our lives for temporal things only, without the Lord being part of it, our life will be but "a vapour" (vs. 14). A vapour is something that not only lasts for "a little time," it also is something that has no substance to it. Hence, James' point here is that a life lived without reference to the Lord is an empty life. This is a pity because life is so short, and wasted time cannot be retrieved.
He is not saying that a Christian shouldn't make plans in life. The Apostle Paul surely did, but he added to his plans the words, "If the Lord permit" (1 Cor. 16:5-8; Rom. 10:1). This shows that he submitted his plans to the Lord. As Christians, we are not "of" the world, but we are "in" the world, and thus, we cannot help but have interactions with worldly people in it (John 17:14-16). Since we live in the world, our business affairs and earthly responsibilities should be carried out in humble dependence on the Lord. James, therefore, suggests that they should say, “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” This brings the Lord into each situation in a practical way. This kind of humble dependence will manifest the reality of a person's faith.
Vs. 17—He closes this subject with the following statement: "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." He does not say that to do evil is sin, but not to do good is sin. This shows that sin is not only doing that which is wrong, it is also not doing that which we know to be right. We might call this "the sins of omission." Hence, with knowledge comes responsibility. This doesn't mean that we should close our eyes to light and knowledge (truth), but that we should seek grace from God to do what we know is right. The point here is that the opportunity to "do good" makes us responsible to do it.

Faith Proved by How We Handle Injustices: James 5:1-13

Vs. 1—The things before us in the first part of this chapter clearly show that some among these professed converts to Christianity were definitely not saved. The way in which James addresses these "rich men," shows that he did not consider them to be believers at all. He doesn't even call them "brethren"—which is how he has addressed his audience up to this point in the epistle (chap. 1:2, 9, 16, 19; 2:1, 14; 3:1, etc.).
James warns these false professors of the certainty of coming judgment. He tells them to "weep and howl" because their "miseries" were about to come upon them at any moment, and they would lose everything. Judgment was going to be meted out against them because of their faithlessness toward God and their ill treatment of the believing Jews. This happened in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Historians tell us that most Christians left the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding area before the Roman armies descended upon it. They heeded the warning given by the Lord in Luke 21:20-24. The unbelieving Jews did not heed the warning and were taken by the Romans, and subsequently fell under this judgment. So certain was this judgment that James tells these rich men to start their weeping now.
Four Outstanding Sins of the Rich
Vss. 2-6—He accused them of four specific things:
Hoarding up treasures—vss. 2-3.
Fraudulent practices in dealing with their employees—vs. 4.
Self-indulgence—vs. 5.
Persecuting their brethren (the just)—vs. 6.
What was at the bottom of their unbridled lust to gain wealth and power was the sin of covetousness. It drove them on in their wicked practices. It was especially sad that these evil practices were done at the expense of those with whom they professed mutual faith—their own brethren! Hence, the strongest rebuke in the epistle is given to these false professors.
Vss. 2-3—Even though the sin of hoarding is condemned in the Scriptures (Eccl. 5:10-13; Psa. 39:6; Prov. 23:4-5), these rich Jews, who would have been familiar with those Scriptures, "heaped treasure together for the last days." James warns them that God's judgment was against this practice. To emphasize the brevity of material possessions, he tells them that their "garments are moth-eaten" and their "gold and silver is cankered." Their treasures would be corrupted and become useless. The point here is that riches can be hoarded up to the point that they become spoiled and useless. On a very practical note, it shows us that it's not God's will for people to hoard clothes in their wardrobes and to stock pile money in banks.
The Bible does not say that it is a sin to be rich, but it does teach that hoarding riches is a sin. Unconsecrated riches is what James is rebuking here. In the plainest language the Lord Jesus taught, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal" (Matt. 6:19).
The sad thing about the wealth that these Jews had acquired was that it had been gotten by unjust means. James assures them that they would be rewarded accordingly. They would have their eyes opened to see the demise of their wealth: "Their canker shall be for a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as fire." This is figurative language indicating that these rich men would have great remorse at the loss of their possessions—not to mention the loss of their souls (Mark 8:36). The lesson here is that it is foolish to hoard one's possessions—be it food, clothing, or money. These rich men had heaped treasure together for "the last days," but they would not live to the last days to enjoy them because the Romans were going to invade and destroy the land.
Vs. 4—The second great sin that these rich Jews were guilty of was cheating their employees through fraudulent practices. "The hire [wages]" of the labourers who had reaped down their fields was being "kept back by fraud." This was not an oversight on their part, but a deliberate action of short paying their poor farm workers. What made this so sad was that many of these were their own brethren whom they mutually professed faith in the Lord Jesus! This was not only a violation of the Law of Moses (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24-14-15), but it was contrary to the teaching of the Lord Jesus (Luke 6:31, 36). It was also contrary to the teaching of the Apostle Paul (Col. 4:1). It is clear that their profession of faith was not real.
James told these rich men that God had seen their wicked practices and that He had heard the cries of His suffering people. "The cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth [hosts]." We might be tempted to think that the Lord is indifferent to the injustices that are leveled against us, but it's not true. Just because He does not act on our timetable doesn't mean that He doesn't care. The Apostle Peter reminds all who might be tempted to think such things: "He careth for you" (1 Peter 5:7). The Lord is deeply interested in everything that touches His people (Exodus 2:23-24; Zechariah 2:8). The point in mentioning "the Lord of Hosts" here is to emphasize the fact that He who commands the hosts of heaven is strong on behalf of His suffering people who are unjustly trodden down. God's governmental dealings with all who accumulate wealth by oppressing their employees will meet with their just retribution.
Vs. 5—The third sin of these rich men was self-indulgence. They lived in pleasure and extravagance. James says, "Ye have lived luxuriously [in pleasure] on earth and indulged yourselves." Such a lifestyle can lead to insensibility to the needs of others. These unjust hoarders lived with self at the center of their lives, while those whom they took advantage of were in need. They "nourished" themselves "as in a day of slaughter." This is an image taken from soldiers greedily looting the spoils of their conquered enemies in a scramble for wealth.
Vs. 6—The fourth evil of these rich men was their persecution of the righteous. They "condemned and killed the just" followers of Christ. In doing so, they were manifesting the same character of unbelief and wickedness as the unbelieving Jews who killed Christ—"the Holy One and the Just" (Acts 3:14). The killing of the righteous here refers to "judicial" murders. That is, these wicked rich men would get the judicial system to execute judgment (falsely) on these righteous believers. This is seen in the fact that their condemnation is mentioned before they were killed. These poor people were haled to court and accused unjustly by these unscrupulous and wicked men (chap. 2:6). Having no means of defending themselves, they were executed under the judicial system. "And he doth not resist you" apparently refers to these poor accused persons having no power to resist the injustice.
These things show us what covetousness can lead to. What began as an undue emphasis on amassing wealth, ended with murdering those who were in the way of achieving that goal! This ought to be a severe warning to Christians not to allow themselves to get caught up in accumulating wealth. Unconsecrated riches will destroy their owners.
The Dangers of Reacting Wrongly to Injustices
Done Against Us
Vss. 7-13—Having warned the unbelieving rich men in this mixed company of professed converts, James returns to address those who are true believers, calling them "brethren."
These poor people were being taken advantage of—especially in the workplace. The question is, what were they to do about these injustices? Since there is a real possibility of letting those things, by which we have been wronged, bother us to the point of getting into a bad state of soul, James anticipates three fleshly responses in which a person might understandably have in these situations, and exhorts his audience accordingly.
1) Retaliating (vss. 7-8).
The first thing that James addresses is the tendency to want to retaliate—to get revenge. However, he does not present that as the answer for his suffering brethren. Instead, he says, "Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord" (vs. 7). This is a reference to the Appearing of Christ. (The truth of the Rapture was a unique revelation given to the Apostle Paul to bring to the saints; it is unlikely that it was known at the time of the writing of this epistle.)
In answer to these injustices, James does not say, "Form a trade union, brethren. Stand up for your rights in this world and fight back against these things." No, they were not to strike back at these injustices, but wait patiently for the Lord to come. Just as a "husbandman" (a farmer), after sowing seed in the ground, must wait for "the early and latter rain" to come before he harvests his crop, so also these suffering brethren were to patiently wait for "the coming of the Lord" (vs. 8). They needed to show their faith by having patience and endurance in the face of these injustices from their false brethren (the unbelieving Jews). This is emphasized by the word "patience" being used five times in these few verses. The Apostle Peter confers with this: "When ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God" (1 Peter 2:20).
The point that James is making here is that the evils in this world will not be set right until the Lord appears and takes the reins of government in His hand (Rev. 11:15). Christians are to "be patient" and to wait until then. To take up the wrongs in society now in this day and try to set them right is to move before the Lord does in the matter. There is a "time of setting things right" coming for this world (Heb. 9:10); it will begin when the Lord intervenes in judgment. Then righteousness will reign (Isa. 32:1).
If we live any length of time in this world, we will inevitably encounter something being done to us unjustly—either in the workplace or in private life. The struggle between capitalists and the labour class still exists today. What should Christians do about industrial strife and other unjust things taking place in society ? They are not to join the confederations of men that have been set up to fight these injustices—well intentioned as they are—but simply to "be patient" unto "the coming of the Lord." There will be a time of righting the wrongs in society when the Lord righteously judges this world for 1000 years (Acts 17:31). Scripture does not teach Christians are to get involved in setting things right now because we are "not of this world" (John 18:36). If we feel that we have been taken advantage of, the Word of God says, "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Rom. 12:19). As we wait, we are to commit ourselves to Him who judges righteously in all these things.
These situations are another area in life where we can manifest the reality of our faith. Since we are objects of God's grace, and the recipients of many spiritual blessings and privileges, we can afford to show grace to others—even though they have despitefully treated us (Luke 6:28). It may be that such an attitude could be used to convert some to Christ (Rom. 12:20-21; Prov. 25:21-22).
2) Complaining (vss. 9-11).
Another tendency is to “complain” about the situation. However, complaining manifests a bad spirit; it is often born out of not submitting to what God has allowed in our lives. James, therefore, says, "Complain not one against another, brethren." He also warns that if it developed into a chronic problem, God our Father might have to deal with us in a governmental way to correct our bad attitude. He reminds us that "the Judge" stands "before the door." That is, God our Father is ready to act as a judge in our lives, if need be (1 Peter 1:17). The KJV says "condemned" and "condemnation" (vss. 9, 12) but it should be translated "judged" and "judgment." (This mis-translation also occurs in John 3:18-19). Condemnation is an irrevocable and final thing from which a person cannot be delivered. All who are not saved in the world are presently "under judgment to God," but they are not yet condemned (Rom. 3:19; John 3:36). The judgment of God is a sentence from which a person can be delivered, if they come to Christ and get saved (John 5:24). In doing so, they are not only delivered from judgment, but they are also set in a position before God "in Christ" where they cannot come into "condemnation" (Rom. 8:1). If, however, men will not believe, their "judgment" will be "to condemnation" (Rom. 5:16).
As an example of how we are to behave in these trying situations, James points to the prophets in old times. They suffered "affliction" with "patience." All who have followed after them in the path of faith "call [count] them blessed" because they "endured" suffering patiently (vs. 11). We respect and honour them for their lives of zeal and devotion. One of the patriarchs in particular ("Job") is set before us as a example of the "endurance" we need to have in our suffering. “The end of the Lord” refers to the end the Lord had in view for Job in his trial. He was a good man made better, and thus "the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning" (Job 42:12). He found something very good indeed by enduring the trial.
3) Swearing With Oaths (vss. 12-13).
Another thing that we may be tempted to do when we have been taken advantage of is to swear that we will get revenge. James anticipates this, and says, "Above all things, my brethren, swear not , neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath" (vs. 12). In these situations, we might be inclined to call on God to bring judgment on those who have wronged us. But as Christians, we are not to pray imprecatory prayers of judgment on others. The Lord is our example in this: "When He suffered, he threatened not" (1 Peter 2:23).
Our place is to wait for the Lord to work in these matters. Judgment is His work, not ours. He might even set some things right before the day of setting things right comes. He could very well cause some to rectify the wrongs that they have done to us—it is His prerogative. Swearing with oaths and vows were common practice in the old Mosaic economy (Num. 30; Eccl. 5:4-6), but invoking the name of God, or heaven, or earth, in the heat of passion for retaliatory reasons against our enemies is not the Christian way to handle wrongs. We are simply to let our "yea be yea" and our "nay, nay" in all of our interactions with men. That is, our word in saying "yes" or "no" ought to be enough for men to trust us, because our Christian character is such that we do what we say we are going to do, and there is no need for us to back our word up with oaths.
Instead of looking up to heaven and swearing by an oath, James tells us that we are to look up to heaven and "pray." He says, “Does anyone among you suffer evil? Let him pray” (vs. 13). This is the Christian's true resource if he has been treated unfairly. Again, the Lord Jesus is our example. When He was ill-treated, He "committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:23).
James concludes this subject by saying, "Is any merry? Let him sing praise” (W. Kelly Trans.). In saying this, he anticipated the faith of the saints rising to the point where they would take these things from the Lord in the spirit of praise and thanksgiving. Many persecuted saints have done just this. They have risen above the evils against them so significantly that they have actually gone to their death singing praise to the Lord! (Acts 5:41; 16:25; Heb. 10:34) This is the ultimate proof of the reality of a person’s faith.
The grand point to see in all this is that God is not indifferent to the injustices of His people. He will deal with it all in His good time. In the meantime, we are not to take matters into our own hands and avenge ourselves. We must leave it to the Lord: "Vengeance is mine, I will repay" (Rom. 12:19). Until that time, the answer for us is to "bear evils" in a spirit of longsuffering patience (2 Tim. 4:5). This manifests true faith that believes that the Lord will set everything right in His time. It also practically manifests the fact that we are not living for this world, but for another world where Christ is the center.

Faith Proved by Our Care for the Sick (Physically & Spiritually): James 5:14-20

Vss. 14-18—In the old Mosaic economy, if a person walked uprightly with God, he was promised the mercies of God in his everyday life. One such mercy was to have good health. A faithful and obedient person could count on being preserved from sickness (Ex. 15:26; Deut. 7:15). However, in Christianity, this is not necessarily the case, though there is a special preserving care for "those that believe," over and above the care God has for all men (1 Tim. 4:10). Being a believer on the Lord Jesus Christ does not mean that we are exempt from getting sick. For example, the Apostle Paul walked with God but had "infirmities" in his body (2 Cor. 12:7-10). In this present economy, God uses such things as sickness in the path of faith to teach us valuable lessons and to form our Christian characters.
It is, therefore, a mistake to think that the gospel call includes a promise of wealth and freedom from sickness. Those who preach this false, "prosperity gospel" are mixing Judaic principles with Christianity. Such a message plays upon the covetous nature of fallen men and women, and draws them into the Christian profession for ulterior reasons—to gain health and wealth. In many cases there has not been a real work of faith in their souls at all. Scripture indicates that God may allow sickness to come our way as a means to correct us, if need be. Or, He may allow sickness in our lives, even when we are walking uprightly. Whatever the case is, if sickness does touch us, we need to understand that everything that happens in our lives is allowed of the Lord for our good and blessing. We are not to view a sickness coming upon us as an accident, but to see the Lord’s hand in it. This principle was mentioned in the first chapter.
The Prayer of the Elders
Vss. 14-15—Under the old covenant, God was faithful to all that He promised. Even when they had gone far from Him, and He had to chasten them, He remembered them in mercy (Hab. 3:2) and gave them manifestations of His healing power when some were sick. The strange happenings that occurred at "the pool of Siloam" are an example of this (John 5:1-5). An angel would come down at certain times and stir the waters of the pool and the person who got into the pool first got healed. Since these acts of mercy were intermittent, a person would have to wait quite some time for such an act of God to happen—and the blessing that was dispensed was always based on a person having to do something to gain it (Gal. 3:12).
Now that these Jewish converts were gathered on Christian ground and were in the assembly where "the name of the Lord" was, they had a resource for cases of sickness that was superior to what they had known in Judaism. A sick person could "call for the elders of the assembly" to come and "pray over him." They would anoint him "with oil" in the name of the Lord Jesus, and their "prayer of faith" would "heal the sick." This was not an intermittent thing, as was the case at the pool of Siloam, but something that could be done at any time. By calling for the elders "of the assembly," the person manifested faith in the fact that there was now a new place where the authority of the Lord rested—in the assembly of saints gathered unto His name (Matt. 18:19-20; 1 Cor. 5:4).
James says, "The Lord shall raise him up." Note: the power for healing is not in the elders, though some individuals in that day may have had the gift of healing (1 Cor. 12:9). Nor is the power in "the oil" that the elders use. It is not a question of how much faith the elders have or how much faith the sick person has, but having simple faith in the Lord Jesus in regard to this mighty act of healing. It is “the Lord" who raises him up. All the credit and praise, therefore, must go to Him.
Some have thought that this procedure (of anointing a sick person with oil) was a special Jewish provision for that day when things were in transition from Judaism to Christianity, and thus it is not something for Christians today. This is deducted from the fact that the apostles used anointing oil in their earthly ministry, which was a ministry having to do with the kingdom being set up on earth (Mark 6:13). Therefore, since we are heavenly citizens in Christianity (Phil. 3:20), they conclude that we should not be employing such rituals in this economy. However, there are outward things that are used in Christian ordinances; bread and wine are used in the breaking of bread, literal water is used in baptism, and head coverings are worn by sisters. These are outward things that are used literally in Christianity today. Therefore, there is no reason to think that the literal use of oil in these cases is something that shouldn't be practiced in Christianity. H. A. Ironside mentions in his book on the epistle of James that Mr. Darby and Mr. Bellett acted on these verses in many places in Dublin, and there were many remarkable healings that resulted. Mr. J. B. Dunlop reports that he personally called for the elders to pray over him on four different occasions, and each time he was raised up.
Sickness on Account of Sin
Mr. Darby wrote, "I do not doubt that a large part of sickness and trials of Christians are chastenings sent by God on account of things that are evil in His sight, which the conscience ought to have paid heed to, but which it neglected. God has been forced to produce in us the effect which self-judgment ought to have produced before Him" ("The World or Christ," p. 10).
If the person's sickness is the result of God's dealing with him on account of specific sins in his life, and he is repentant, James says that his sins "shall be forgiven him." He states this as a promise. This is an example of where governmental forgiveness and administrative forgiveness coalesce. Governmental forgiveness has to do with God seeing repentance in one of His erring children and lifting the discipline (chastening) He may have placed on him. It follows restorative forgiveness, which has to do with the erring person being restored in his soul to communion with God through the confession of his sins (1 John 1:9). Administrative forgiveness has to do with the elders (acting in conjunction with the assembly) administrating forgiveness to a repentant believer (John 20:23). It may also be in connection with a person's restoration to the fellowship of the saints, if he had been put way from the Lord's Table (2 Cor. 2:10).
It is noteworthy that there are two different words used here in the original language that are translated "sick." The first occurrence (vs. 14) has to do with sickness in the body, but the second occurrence has to do with distress and oppression of the mind (vs. 15). The second use of the word is only used in one other place in Scripture, where it says, "Wearied and faint in your minds" (Heb. 12:3). This indicates a mental distress. Our point in mentioning this is that whether the difficulty is physical or mental, the Lord can use the prayer of faith of the elders to lift it.
This passage shows that physical illness or mental distresses can be connected with a person's low spiritual state. As noted, the context of this passage in James has to do with healing sickness due to sin in one's life. However, the fact that it says, "If he have committed sins...." shows that not all sickness is a result of God's governmental judgment on account of a course of sin in a person's life. In this regard, Mr. Darby wrote, "It would, however, be untrue to suppose that all afflictions are such. Though they are so sometimes, they are not always sent because of sin." Hence, the elders may be called to pray over a person when there is no specific sin involved. However, from 1 John 5:16 we learn that the elders need to have spiritual discernment as to whether they should pray for the individual in this way. It says, "There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it." This means that in some cases, if the elders discern that it is a sickness "unto death," they may not feel free to pray for healing.
Further to this, it should be pointed out that the sick person is to "call" for the elders. The elders should not interfere with what God is doing in a person's life and volunteer to come and pray for them. God will honour the faith of the sick person in calling for the elders, even if the call is feeble.
Vs. 16a—James goes on to show that it's possible that the healing, which the elders have been called to pray for, could be hindered. If the person has outstanding offences toward others that he has not settled, or he holds a grudge against someone, or he will not forgive a person for some reason, he needs to address these things first (Matt. 5:23-24; Mark 11:24-26). James says, "Confess therefore your offences to one another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed." The use of the words, "therefore" and "that" show that clearing these things up is connected with the healing process. Hence, the confession that James is referring to here is that which the person desiring to be healed needs to make to whoever he or she has offended, so that there would be nothing on their part that would hinder the healing process.
In Christianity, there should be an openness and a transparency among brethren. If we have offended someone—and we "often" do (chap. 3:2)—we should want to make things right by confessing our offence to the one whom we have offended. And thus, God would be happy to answer our prayers regarding our physical healing. James is not encouraging the saints to randomly disclose their sins to one another which they have committed before they were saved—which have been judged and washed away in the blood of Christ. This would be a pointless exercise, and in many cases, quite defiling. The confession that James is referring to here is regarding an offence that the person seeking healing may be guilty of, and perhaps has caused a breach of fellowship between brethren. His point is that we cannot expect to be healed of a physical malady, by having the elders pray for us, if we have some matter that is unsettled with a brother or a sister.
Elijah's Prayers
Vss. 16b-18—James goes on to give us some encouraging words in connection with the power of prayer. He says, "The fervent supplication of a righteous man has much power." To illustrate the power in prayer, he directs us to two prayers of Elijah (1 Kings 17-18). In order to negate any thought in our minds that this man was some super-believer whose prayer life we could never match, James reminds us that he was a man "subject to like passions as we are." Elijah had his failures, but God still answered his prayers in a remarkable way. They were answered according to the goodness in the heart of God, not according to Elijah's faithfulness. This should encourage us to pray.
In connection with Elijah's first prayer—"that it might not rain"—we must not look at it for its imprecatory qualities, but for its example of praying intelligently and in the current of the mind of God. He knew from the Scriptures that if the people departed from God, God would chasten them by withholding rain (Lev. 26:1-20; Deut. 11:17). Since the northern kingdom of Israel (the ten tribes) had turned away from Jehovah and had adopted Baal-worship as their religion, Elijah knew what was coming and prayed in concert with the ways of God in the matter. It is not for us in this Christian economy to pray against people in an imprecatory way—that is, to invoke curses and judgments on them. Elijah is not an example for us in this.
Elijah's second prayer on Mount Carmel is recorded in 1 Kings 18:41-45. It is in connection with the restoration of the backsliding nation of Israel to Jehovah and their consequent blessing. Three and a half years after the first prayer, Elijah "prayed again, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit" (vs. 18). This is something that we surely want to emulate in our prayers. We should desire the good and blessing of all men, and should pray to that end. This is what Elijah did.
James does not mention the earnestness with which Elijah prayed on that occasion. But in turning to the account in 1 Kings 18, we see many significant elements of fervent prayer by this righteous man—all of which we need to have in our prayers.
Elements of Elijah's Prayer on Carmel
Intelligence—He said, "There is a sound of abundance of rain" (vs. 41). The people had turned back to the Lord, and as a result, Elijah knew that God's will would be to open the heavens and send rain, because God always rewards obedience (Deut. 11:13-15; 1 John 5:14 –"according to His will").
Communion"Elijah went up the top of Carmel." This implies nearness to God (vs. 42a; John 15:7 – "If ye abide in Me...").
Humility—He "cast himself down upon the earth" (vs. 42b).
Dependence—He "put his face between his knees" (vs. 42c).
Faith—He said, "Go up now, look toward the sea" (vs. 43a; Col. 4:2; Eph. 6:18 – "watching thereunto").
Perseverance—He said, "Go again seven times" (vs. 43b; Eph. 6:18 – "with all perseverance").
Confidence—He said, "Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot" (vs. 44; 1 John 3:21-22 – "We have confidence toward God").
Restoring a Wayward Brother
Vss. 19-20—The subject throughout this whole passage has been in connection with restoring individuals who have gotten off the path. We have seen the elders of the assembly praying in regard to the restoration of a believer who has been sick on account of God's chastening hand being laid upon him. We have also looked at Elijah as illustrating the need for praying in communion with the mind of God in connection with backslidden persons. But now in these last two verses of the chapter, we have the exercise of brethren to go after a wayward believer and bring him back.
In the case of the person who has been sick, God has used his sickness to turn him back to the Lord. In turning to the elders, he is calling for help. Hence, repentance has been going on in the individual. But in the situation that we are about to consider, the person is not calling for help. Hence, the work of repentance has not begun in his soul yet. This latter case, therefore, is far more difficult. Even though it is a monumental task, James places the onus on his brethren to go and bring him back. How are they to accomplish this? In order for one to turn back to the Lord, there must be repentance—a change of mind and a passing of judgment on all that has been done wrong. Therefore, those who seek to restore the wayward brother must minister to him in such a way that his heart and conscience are reached.
Also, it should be noted that those who are to do this restorative work are not necessarily the elders in the assembly. James simply says, "And one convert him [bring him back]." This "one" could be any brother or sister who has the wayward person on their heart. We are all our "brother's keeper" (Gen. 4:9), and we should all care enough to go after him. Abram went after Lot and brought him back (Gen. 14:14-16). The Apostle Paul touches on this needed ministry in Galatians 6:1: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." Note: this does not require a special gift. The only thing that is needed is spirituality and a genuine care for the person who has erred. This will lead us, not only to pray for him, but also to go after him and bring him back, if possible.
James seeks to encourage us in this work, saying, "Let him know, that he which converteth [brings back] the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." This is not written to the erring brother, but to those who care for him. It shows that labouring to restore souls is a rewarding work. God grants joy and a special sense of His approval to the one who goes after a wayward brother or sister. Saving the person "from the error of his way" refers to him being prevented, through repentance, from going deeper into sin, and thus feeling the governmental consequences of it. The chastening of God will follow an erring believer—even to shortening his life on earth through "death." Many wayward children of God have died prematurely under the chastening hand of God because of their unwillingness to judge the course of sin that they were on. Ecclesiastes warns, "Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?" (Eccl. 7:17).
The one who seeks to restore the erring brother may learn of sins in the person's life, but "love shall cover the multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8) and not broadcast those things before the world and further muddy the Christian testimony. Love covers that which has been judged and put away.
This work of seeking the welfare and restoration of others is another evidence of a person having faith. If we truly believe on the Lord Jesus, we will love others who believe on Him, and if one such believer errs in the path, love in us will seek to restore him (1 John 5:1). Divine love in a believer will seek to lead the erring person to repentance so that he judges himself and returns to the Lord. If a person is not a true believer, but a mere professor, he will not be concerned for a wayward person, and thus manifests evidence that he is not truly a believer.
In summary, we have seen James challenging those who have faith to exhibit it in various ways in the everyday situations of life so that it is clear to all that they are true believers on the Lord Jesus Christ.