The Agora
Bible Commentary

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James 1

Jam 1:1

SERVANT: "Doulos" = bond-slave. This description emphasizes submission and dependence on their Lord. It is not a technical reference to a specific office, but characterizes their willing service of Christ, their divine Master. The same designation appears in the letters of James, 2Pe, and Jude.

Man's slave becomes free in Christ, and a freeman (like Paul) becomes Christ's slave (1Co 7:22).

The use of the term "slaves" also suggests the "redemptive" work of God in Christ: the Israelites were "slaves" in Egypt, who were "bought" or "redeemed" out of their slavery to become the "purchased possession" of the Father (Exo 15:16). (See Lesson, Redemption.)

Jam 1:2

TRIALS OF MANY KINDS: What is the difference betw being "tempted" and being "tried"? "The former word conveys the idea of appealing to the worst part of man, with the wish that he may yield and do the wrong. The latter means an appeal to the better part of man, with the desire that he should stand. Temptation says, 'Do this pleasant thing; do not be hindered by the fact that it is wrong.' Trial or proving says, 'Do this right and noble thing; do not be hindered by the fact that it is painful.' The one is a sweet, beguiling melody, breathing soft indulgence and relaxation over the soul; the other is a pealing trumpet-call to high achievements" (MacL).

Jam 1:5

WISDOM: In context (vv 2-4), the ability to discern God's hand in trials of life.

Wisdom comes from God. There's nothing new about this idea! But the passage doesn't say that God 'beams down pre-cooked enlightenment' to all men liberally. (He COULD if He chose, but the Bible doesn't say He does.) God gives wisdom through His word, and also through events in our lives -- provided they are understood in the light of His word.

Jam 1:8

A DOUBLE-MINDED MAN: A man who tries to walk in two different paths (or live in two different families) at the same time: (a) the generations of death (vv 13-15), and (b) the generations of life (vv 17-21).

"We must want it [eternal life] with all our heart. That is our part. It is not ALL of our part, but it is most of it. God will give us anything, if (1) we want it with ALL our heart, and (2) it is good for us eternally. But we must be total-minded, and we must be single-minded. We are not always conscious that we are double-minded: that our affections are divided: that we want things that are mutually incompatible. We may truly want holiness, but we may be harboring interests and desires, perhaps just seemingly little ones, that are incompatible with holiness -- little worldlinesses that seem so inconsequential. This will not do. It will not work. We must go all the way. 'A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.' God says He will give him absolutely nothing. But to the totally single-minded, God will give every good and perfect gift. It is sure. He has said so. No good thing will He withhold from those that love Him. But what a tremendous, dominating, exclusive, all-embracing totality that love must be! God absolutely will not share our heart with anyone or anything. All else, all others, must be so completely secondary as to be relatively inconsequential and insignificant. God brooks no rival" (GVG).

Jam 1:11


Jam 1:12

THE MAN WHO PERSEVERES UNDER TRIAL: "A bar of iron worth $2.50, when wrought into horseshoes is worth $5. If made into needles it is worth $175. If into penknife blades it is worth $1,625. If made into springs for watches it is worth $125,000. What a 'trial by fire' that bar must undergo to be worth this! But the more it is manipulated, and the more it is hammered and passed through the heat, beaten, pounded, and polished, the greater its value" (FB Meyer).

HE WILL RECEIVE THE CROWN: See Lesson, Olympics -- ancient, modern, and "Christian".

There is a crown of pride (Isa 28:3), which no one should wear. A crown of thorns (Mat 27:29), which no one can wear. And a crown of life (Jam 1:12), which everyone may wear. Also, an incorruptible crown (1Co 9:25), a crown of rejoicing (1Th 2:19), a crown of glory (1Pe 5:4), and a crown to be kept until Christ's coming (Rev 3:11).

Jam 1:13

Again, the parallels with Gen 3 are remarkable. Eve, drawn away of her own lust, is enticed from her steadfastness by the fruit of the tree. She in turn entices Adam (v 13). Lust conceives and brings forth a son: Cain, made in the (now-fallen) image of his father, and consequently a man of sin (v 14). When Cain grows to maturity, he murders his brother Abel -- the antitypical "seed of the woman" (Gen 3:15). Thus "sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (James 1:15).

Lust, sin, and death: three generations of the "seed of the serpent", vividly patterned in the early history of mankind. But there is a second "family" of mankind, "the seed of the woman"! This "seed" (plural) are begotten by God's will, with the word of truth (v 18). This "seed of the woman" are those believers who endure temptation joyfully (v 12), lay aside all filthiness (v 21), and become doers of the word and not hearers only (v 22).

Vv 13-15: Cp language in Psa 7:14. So wicked men bring forth "children" after their own "likeness" (Gal 5:19-21; Rom 1:29-31; 1Co 6:9,10), and are thus known by their "fruits" (Mat 7:16,20). The melancholy litany of birth, procreation, and death in Gen 5 is the result of Adam's "likeness" being distorted in his descendants into the likeness of the serpent.

GOD CANNOT BE TEMPTED BY EVIL: But it was necessary that Christ -- the Son of God -- be tempted (Heb 4:15; 5:8; Mat 4:1-11). Jesus was a man (Gal 4:4; Rom 8:3; Heb 2:14), not a God, and thus capable of being tempted (v 14).

NOR DOES HE TEMPT ANYONE: Is it wrong to think that God might send or allow a vision (or even send an angel) that could actually tempt Jesus? Is this contrary to James 1:13 ("When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone...")? I don't think so, because v 13 is explained by v 14: "But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." So the point of v 13 is NOT that God never puts temptation in the way of men, or even His Son -- He does! But, rather: the real temptation arises from within, or else it is not temptation at all!

No one -- and I mean no one, ie, no external "tempter" -- can tempt me with a steaming dish of squash. Ugh! But a heaping plate of brisket and barbecued ribs, with a little sausage on the side, garnished by... -- well, you get the picture. If there isn't the latent desire inside, if I don't WANT it... then there can be no temptation originating from outside -- and I think that's the point of v 13.

Jam 1:14

BY HIS OWN EVIL DESIRE: Not by a supernatural "devil", or "fallen angel". All temptation comes from within: Jam 4:1-3; Mar 7: 18-23; Jer 17:9. The sensual pleasure derived from the contemplation of things forbidden is sin: Gen 6:5; Mat 5:22,28; Pro 24:9; 1Co 10:6.

Jam 1:15

V 15: The 3 "generations": Lust, Sin, and Death.

SIN... GIVES BIRTH TO DEATH: 1Co 5:54-56; Rom 5:12; 1Jo 2:16,17.

Jam 1:17

"Our Father in heaven" (Mat 6:9); "Father of glory" or "glorious Father" (Eph 1:17); "Father of compassion" (2Co 1:3); "Father of spirits" (Heb 12:9); "Father of the heavenly lights" (Jam 1:17); "a Father to you" (2Co 6:18); "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 15:6).

Jam 1:19

SLOW TO SPEAK: "When others talk, listen. When others want to listen, talk. And don't just chatter. Really try to think something worth thinking, and say something worth saying. You have the world's most marvelous computer right inside your own skull -- a brain: a multi-billion cell miracle: a gift from God. Don't let it rust, or rot with rubbish" (GVG).

SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY: "Anger can take many forms and find many different ways of expression. It may be a hasty ebullition quickly evaporating, and if circumstances are favourable, leaving no bitterness behind. Sometimes after such an explosion men are better friends for having quarrelled. There is grave danger in this quick boiling of anger, however. It is so easy for something to be done or said, the effects of which will linger all through life. Lives have been lost and lives have been ruined through only a few moments of unrestrained anger. Words hastily uttered and meaning little more than an expression of momentary annoyance, may have enduring effects with such complex action and reaction that no one could possibly trace their course or even guess the sum of the evil wrought. A man of hasty temper may soon forget the words that gave relief to his angry feelings. He might be appalled if he could know the full effect of his momentary loss of control. One who is naturally of quick temper and hasty speech may well take to heart the Spirit's warning. Let him learn to be 'slow to wrath,' to rule his spirit and to guard the door of his mouth" (PrPr 202).

Jam 1:21

HUMBLY ACCEPT THE WORD PLANTED IN YOU, WHICH CAN SAVE YOU: "The more you learn of the Scriptures, the less you will want to learn of anything not eternally useful. The more interested you are in the Scriptures, the less interested you will be in anything not related to God and the Scriptures. This is the difference between the Flesh and the Spirit: they are mutually repellant. They of the Flesh do mind the things of the Flesh. The study of the Scriptures has enough fascination for one hundred lifetimes. Don't waste your wonderful God-given mind on rubbish" (GVG).

HUMBLY: See Lesson, Gentleness.

Jam 1:22

DO WHAT IT SAYS: Many believers have allowed their knowledge of the truth to outdistance their practice. A young book salesman was assigned to a rural area. Seeing a former seated in a rocking chair on his front porch, the young man approached him with all the zeal of a newly trained salesman. "Sir," he said, "I have here a book that will tell you how to farm 10 times better than you are doing it now." The farmer continued to rock. After a few seconds he stopped, looked at the young fellow and said, "Son, I don't need your book. I already know how to farm 10 times better than I'm doing it now."

"We must observe that the knowledge of God which we are invited to cultivate is not that which, resting satisfied with empty speculation, only flutters in the brain, but a knowledge which will prove substantial and fruitful whenever it is duly perceived and rooted in the heart" (Calvin).

Jam 1:25

THE PERFECT LAW THAT GIVES FREEDOM: The law associated with the year of release and the Jubilee: cp Deu 15:18.

There are three sorts of dogs in the city: the wild, masterless dog that roams the streets at will, steals his meals from garbage cans, and often came to an inglorious end in the lethal chamber of the humane society; the chained dog, which cannot be trusted for more than a few feet; and the dog that knows and loves his master and responds obediently to his voice. The first of these has liberty but no law; the second has law but no liberty; whereas the last enjoys the perfect law of liberty.

All men seem to be like one of these three dogs. The masses are utterly lawless when it comes to the authority of God. They are dominated by sin, and "sin is lawlessness" (1Jo 3:4). And then, there are many who are like the dog on the leash -- they have law, but no liberty. These are legalists in the religious realm. The cheerless Pharisee is the representative of thousands who, "being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Rom 10:3). But the Christian who knows the truth of NT deliverance is like the third dog. He needs no chain but is guided by his Master's eye and his Master's voice.

AND CONTINUES TO DO THIS: A continuing, careful self-examination.

Jam 1:27

RELIGION: "Threskeia" = religion in its ceremonial observances -- as to external acts or rituals. What is interesting here is that -- for James -- the "ceremonial" observances of true religion have little if anything to do with what we might call the "act" of worship -- sitting, standing, praying, singing, speaking, etc -- and most or all to do with the practical faith of helping others! James is telling us: 'Don't go to the synagogue or temple or ecclesial meeting hall to look for pure religion... look for it in the simple deeds of everyday life!'

PURE AND FAULTLESS: "If our 'religion' does not move us powerfully to put away all selfishness, and create in us a great desire to 'do good to all men,' then it is not 'pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father'. Truly, our conception of what constitutes 'doing good' must be enlightened and guided by spiritual wisdom and scriptural instruction; but the underlying motive force for all we do must be a zealous love for all, and a desire to help all, rooted in the love of God who points this out to us as the only possible Way of life" (GVG).

TO LOOK AFTER ORPHANS AND WIDOWS IN THEIR DISTRESS: The KJV has "to visit", but the word plainly means much, much more than simply to 'drop by to say hello'! In fact, James elsewhere disparages the attitude of speaking pleasant words only while doing nothing, really, to help the one who is hungry or otherwise in need: "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (Jam 2:14-17).

TO LOOK AFTER: The Gr is "episkeptomai" = to oversee: James is citing the words of Jesus in Mat 25:36,43: "[The King will say]... I was sick and you visited -- or looked after (sw) -- me." The verb is related to the word for "bishop" (KJV) or "overseer" in Act 20:28; 1Ti 3:1,2; Tit 1:7; 1Pe 2:25; it signifies one who watches over -- as a shepherd watches over his flock -- with the connotations of protecting, feeding, and otherwise providing for. There are plainly both material and spiritual implications to this word: (1) material, in the sense that "orphans and widows" signify those who may be in need of "feeding" and financial assistance, and God requires us to provide for them (Deu 10:18; 24:17,19-21; 26:12,13; etc) -- the beautiful story of Ruth, a whole Book in the Bible, is primarily devoted to demonstrating how one may "visit" the widows; and (2) spiritual, in the sense that "orphans and widows" are those who have been deprived of fathers or husbands, and may need the guidance and instruction that such should provide. In short, the "shepherd" or "overseer" should provide natural food as well as spiritual "food", as needed. It is instructive to note that in James' exhortation there is no restricting of such duties to ecclesial "elders" or even to brothers: it is the duty of all believers to act as "overseers", and to help those who are in need.

Another thread of thought is that "visit" may signify to preach the gospel -- carrying the idea of spiritual instruction, mentioned above, back further: All the world are as "orphans" (they lack a real "Father"!) and "widows" (they lack a real "Husband"). The true practitioner of "religion" will "visit" them to show them the way of life. In Act 15:14 James (is it the same James?) says: "Simeon [Peter] hath declared how God at the first did visit (sw) the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name." Perhaps the ultimate act of pure religion is to help another in spiritual need find the Saviour! Why stop at giving a simple piece of bread when one can give another the One who is the Bread of Life? Why stop at "healing" a flu or virus when one can offer the dying man the ultimate "healing" of eternal life?

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