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Chapter 1


James Chapter One
Commentary by Pastor Timothy H. Burdick

Verse 1. “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.”
Verse 2. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,”
Verse 3. “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”
Verse 4. “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Verse 5. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
Verse 6. “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”
Verse 7. “For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,”
Verse 8. “being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
Verse 9. “But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position;”
Verse 10. “and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.”
Verse 11. “For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.”
Verse 12. “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
Verse 13. “Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God;' for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”
Verse 14. “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.”
Verse 15. “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”
Verse 16. “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.”
Verse 17. “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
Verse 18. “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.”
Verse 19. “This you know, my beloved brethren But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;”
Verse 20. “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
Verse 21. “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
Verse 22. “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
Verse 23. “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror;”
Verse 24. “for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.”
Verse 25. “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”
Verse 26. “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless.”
Verse 27. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

James calls himself “a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” While I like the rendering of the New International Version, I feel that the New American Standard Version and the King James Versions of the Bible are more accurate here. A bond-servant was one who continued service by choice. The bond-servant therefore has nothing that he calls his own. Everything of the bond-servant belongs to the master. In this day of possessions, we need to realize that whatever has been given to us by the Master is intended to glorify God. Ask yourself: How can you make this concept come alive in your life?

The concept of a bond-servant is found in Exodus Chapter 21. If we have received Christ, we should consider this concept of bond-service. Bond-servants are those who CHOOSE to do His will. Jesus expounds upon the principal of servant-hood in Mark 10:43 and 44. In our self-service culture, we know very little about the servant hood that Jesus was talking about. A true servant is often one who stands in the shadows or works behind the scenes. He or she looks out for the OTHER person’s best interests, always trying to build them up. While servant hood is not an easy lifestyle, it is one of the major keys in becoming a disciple of Christ. I think in the fast lives that we are all caught up in, it is easy to overlook this concept. As a visually impaired person, I have had people bring groceries to my door while others opened their Bibles and brought nothing. Who was the servant in these cases?

As we touched on in the Introduction, the twelve tribes of Israel have most likely been dispersed through Jewish persecution. Since we all face different problems in life, it is important to talk about this subject. Paul makes it quite clear that we are all in constant spiritual warfare. When you have the time, read Ephesians 6:12 and the verses that follow. Whatever you are going through, you are NOT being singled out for punishment. The Bible calls Satan a liar and the father of lies. Among many descriptions that the Bible gives, the name “liar” is one name out of many for him. Just know that Satan is very real, and that he is your number one enemy. Jesus said, as recorded in John’s Gospel, that Satan came to steal, kill, and destroy. Secondly, whatever you face, know that you are the apple of God’s eye. He loves you. If you have given yourself to the Lord by making Jesus the Lord of your life, you can be secure in His love. Jesus spoke of the value that we all have in God’s sight when He spoke about the hairs on our heads being numbered. In context, read Luke Chapter 12, where the writer goes into detail about your value to the Lord. God has additionally given a promise of freedom and hope in Jesus Christ. Paul talks about this in Romans 8:2. James says to “count it all joy when we fall into various temptations.” This seems like a strange response until we really think about it.

I don't know about you, but my first response to any kind of trial isn't positive. Later, we will look at the difference between happiness and joy in more detail, but for now let us just say that happiness is circumstantial whereas joy is a product of what Christ has done for us. But before we leave this verse I want to say that I think that word “temptations” could be better rendered “test” because the Lord “doesn’t tempt” anyone as James later says.

Peter sums up this verse for us when he says that in our tests or sufferings we, in a minute way, share in the sufferings of Christ. James goes to say in Verse three that the proving or testing of our faith works patience. I don't about you, but I don't have much patience. This is an impatient culture where we want everything instantly. Some examples of our “right now” culture might be found in microwaves, television, computers, etc. To be a disciple of Christ in this age we really have to be counter-culture. God wants the best for us, and sometimes that takes time. If you have children, you know that you don't give them the first thing that they ask for. Sometimes you have to make them wait in order to give them the very best. Our heavenly father is like that. When we think we see God saying “No;” instead know He is often saying “wait” until something better comes along.

In the first part of Verse 4, James talks about how we are supposed to let patience have it's perfect work. What does that mean you might ask? Let’s use the example of God as our Parent. I remember when I was a kid and my dad gave me some spending money. I had to be patient because I wasn’t allowed to spend it on the first thing I wanted. I look back on that now and realize that the waiting to spend played a big part in my growing up. We are to be patient and let the Holy Spirit work in us because the Bible says in other places that God wants us to grow up into the image of Christ. Patience isn't easy. That is why we need to stay in the Word and fellowship. We need to both encourage and be encouraged.

If truth be known, I have gone through a lot of experiences in my life where I wondered: what is God doing? I think that James is telling us here that many times like a child, we don't see the big picture. Or like Paul says in 1st Corinthians 13, “we see through a glass darkly.” You are God’s masterpiece and he wants to make a beautiful picture out of your life, one step at a time. But in order for God to do his magnificent art work, we must trust Him and let Him have His perfect work.

In the last part of Verse 4, where it says “lacking nothing;” it would seem to refer to the spiritual qualities or “fruit” we are supposed to bear as we become more and more mature in Him.

Jesus called this kind of dependence, “abiding” in Him (John 15 4). Paul named this same kind of lifestyle “walking in the spirit” (Galatians 5:16). Many think of asking God as a kind of “rolling the dice,” so to speak. Such an idea couldn't be further from the truth. To help us develop a moment-by-moment, second-by-second dependence, James tells us a little bit about God's character. Not only will God give wisdom freely and with an open hand, He will also not scold you for asking. On the contrary, He says, “Come unto Me all of you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). A lot of people come to God in fear and trembling – period! They think of Him only in terms of punishment. So many people have been rejected in life, and they think that God will reject them, too. Like a child coming to his father, God longs for this kind of companionship – with you. Read Luke Chapter 15 to learn more about this.

To be honest, Verse 6 of James Chapter One has always troubled me a little bit. James tells us here: “Let him who asks, ask in faith, NOTHING doubting. For he that doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” A lot of times, you'll see faith healers on television. These people usually say something like this: if you believe strongly enough, you'll be healed. That is not what James is talking about. That kind of faith is not really “faith” because it is based on my works. To state it another way - ALL of us have questions and doubts, and if it was left to us to develop the kind of faith which was created through our effort, it would be based on our own merit.

So I had to ask myself what James meant by His statement. It would almost seem on a superficial reading, that our faith has to be perfect in order to please God. I think the answer is given to this dilemma in Mark 9:23 and 24.

In that place we find that "Jesus said unto him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’” Then Jesus went on to give the man’s response in verse 24. “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.’” We have a right, if we have been born again, to ask the Holy Spirit for faith. Paul lists “faith” as one of the gifts of the spirit. Verse 7 of James One says, “that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord.” Again I think that it is important to note that we are talking about the man who asks in unbelief. Aside from what I have already said, let me say that God will not reject an honest question; an honest need. He is talking about that man who changes his mind like shifting sand, a “double-minded” man, as in Verse 8. We have all met people like James is speaking about - this “double minded man” is “unstable in all his ways.”

Remember the song that many of us sang in Sunday school; it includes these words: “the wise man built his house on a rock, but the foolish man built his house on the sand.” Think about that house built on sand. It will shift and eventually fall. The next verse of that song says, “So build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is the Rock, the only anchor that will keep us from double-mindedness. I would ask: Are you double-minded?

Verses 9, 10 and 11 all speak about how short life is from differing viewpoints. Verse 9 says to let the brother of low degree, glory in his low estate. In the Roman world, you had either the very rich or the very poor. There was no middle class as we know it. Most of the early Christians came from the ranks of the poor, and most of them were slaves. In our world where we have so much compared to the Romans, at first glance that doesn't seem to make much sense. But listen to what Paul has to say about the subject of our position in Christ: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17).

Both James and Paul point to the endless riches that we can dwell in when we are in Christ. If we find ourselves living in humble circumstances, we can rejoice that God is using our circumstances to form in us the image of Christ. Many of us have special needs, and I know that this can sound like it’s pie the sky. But when God has already given us so much, we can step back as it were and see that this is only a down payment. Peter tells us in his epistle that it is a privilege to suffer for Christ. And Paul also says that if we suffer with him we shall also reign with Him. Therefore, if we have put our faith and trust in the Lord, this is much more than positive thinking. By contrast, when he talks about the rich man in verse 10, James says that he can also rejoice, but because he is made low.

There is no merit, nor is there any curse on riches. James is talking about the man who has put his faith in Christ rather than uncertain riches. He realizes that this life and the riches will pass away. By contrast, he also has found true riches in Christ. In Verse 11, James sums this up when he says that those who do not trust in Christ will “fade away.” Jesus summarizes the whole matter in Matthew 6:20 and 21, where He says, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy.” He goes on to say, “for where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”

Verse 12 of James Chapter One, says, “blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life.”

Blaming God is one of the first things we do when we have a problem. Insurance companies even call natural disasters an “act of God.” But when we narrow this down to the temptations we face in another places, James makes it clear that we are tested when we are drawn away by our own desires. I have felt this pull in my own life as we all have. But Jesus was tempted when Satan tried to play on his desires, and Jesus had to use God’s Word in order to be victorious. Instead of blaming God when we are tempted, we need to study and memorize the Word. In order to get out of a mindset, we need to meditate on God’s character also. Isaiah 6:3 reveals God’s nature by saying, "And one cried to another and said, holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” The writer of Proverbs said that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Many when talking about this “fear” of God, explain it away by only using the idea of “reverence.” I like to think about a parent and child here. When I was growing, I had a reverence for my parents. I knew though, that I should not do certain things and if I did them, I was in fear.

It’s the same with God. We need to develop a healthy respect for Him. God is love, but I think that we have gotten too “buddy-buddy” with Him. James says here what I have already commented upon; that we are drawn or carried into temptation by our own desires. The reason I even mention this again is that James is talking about personal responsibility. You can't blame it on the devil and you can't blame it on someone else. The Bible invites us to a personal relationship with God, and Paul says that we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

James goes on to say: not only do our desires lead us into sin, but that sin brings forth death. To further examine this principle, let’s look at Genesis 3:6, where we read, "and when the woman saw that tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that tree was desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and gave also to her husband and he did eat.” Notice the three ways Satan tempted Eve, including the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. They are the three ways he still tempts today, which includes the appetite. The tree was bearing interesting looking fruit, and Eve saw that it was good for food.

Satan uses the “eye gate” to our souls. Think of all the sins that start with a longing glance. The fruit, according to Satan, could make her wise. How do you rely on your wisdom, instead of trusting God? We are to use our intellect, for Proverbs says that the mind of man plans his way, but we are to submit those plans to God, for it goes on to say that Lord directs his steps.

The death which James is talking about is not only physical death which is brought on by sin, but Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 that the “wages of sin is death;” agreeing with James, but in that context he is talking about spiritual separation from God.

David, talking about how we can avoid and eliminate sin, said this: "How can a young man keep his way pure? - By living according to Your Word.” He goes on to say: “I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You" (Psalm 119:9-11).

Who of us doesn't face calamities? Since a lot of us struggle with certain challenges this idea is all too familiar. Rather then having a chip on our shoulder because of our circumstances, James tells us again that in order to face life head-on, so to speak in that context, we need to examine the character of God further.

Everything in this world changes; many our hopes and dreams are shattered. That is why James wants to really focus on God as the one Being who will never change. In Lamentations 5:19, the writer says, “You, O Lord, remain forever, Your throne from generation to generation." James says that of God’s own will He brought us forth (Verse 18). God loves you – you weren't some kind of “cosmic accident.”

Our text in Verse 18 says that He did this “by the Word of truth.” The “word of truth” is the Word of God. John the Apostle said, “In the beginning was the Word (Jesus) and the Word (Jesus) was with God and the word (Jesus) was God” (John 1:1).

Jesus is not only the Word, but He is also the truth, for he said, "I am the way, the Truth, and the life” (John 14:6). James says also that we should be a kind of “first fruits” (Verse 18). Since James is talking in terms that the people would understand, he uses this term, “first fruits,” which was a phrase that spoke about the first part of the harvest. Just as the first part of the harvest was to be given to God as an offering, so our lives are to be that same kind of offering. This concept is found in Exodus 23:16, where it says, "Celebrate the feast of harvest with the first fruits of the crops you sow in your field."

Some see the term “first fruits” (Verse 18) as referring mainly to the new church, and since it was in it's infancy at the time this Book was written, I can see this point of view. I however, think we need to hang to the idea which was mentioned as the primary concept here. This is because each believer has a unique offering that only he or she can give to God. We all have differing talents and abilities that can yield a harvest which is a product of the new birth. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, that “if any person is in Christ, he is a new creation and old things have passed away.”

Paul goes ahead and enlarges on the believer’s relationship to God, when he says in Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore brethren by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God which is your spiritual (some translate this as “reasonable”) service.”

Before we go to the next verse of Scripture, you might think about “service” to God. This is a rich concept for all of us. How can we offer our lives more completely to God?

In the next verse, James goes on to say that we should be “swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” “Swift to hear,” just means to be a good listener. This is so neglected in our culture. Just speaking for myself, a lot of times, when my wife speaks to me, I notice that I start to prepare my answer before she's finished. Listening is such an important skill, and many times you can say more to a person by listening than you can by talking.

I was in a nursing home one time talking to people. I went into a man’s room, who had lost his leg or legs to amputation. He had been shot in the war, and was angry at everyone including God. I didn't say much; I just listened. If I had talked, it would have done more harm than good. He didn't want someone to simply dismiss his words by interrupting him and telling him about God’s love. He needed to talk about his missing legs.

If we go into a tragic situation, people will often dismiss our words until they see that we are “real” (credible). After we have listened, our words will have more credibility. But I believe hearing also has to do with listening to the voice of God. Many times we have what we think is a good idea, and move out in our own strength. I think that when James is talking about our being good listeners, he is saying much the same thing. In other words – don't speak in haste.

In referring to our speech, Paul says in Colossians 4:6, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer each one.” I confess that I don't like it when James talks about “anger.” So many stupid things make me angry. I used to think being “slow to anger” meant to bottle up my feelings. But I notice that James doesn’t say to suppress your anger; he just says to take time and think. Have you ever noticed what a little time will do in mending a fence, so to speak? After I have weighed my words, I can say the things I feel necessary, in a more rational way.

In another place, Paul mentions a list of things that we are to have nothing to do with, and the first is “anger.” The second thing on Paul’s list is “wrath.” “Wrath” as I understand it, is when anger is blown out of proportion. The person wants to stay in an angry mode. It becomes a lifestyle that leads to physical, mental, and emotional harm, both to himself and others.

In Ephesians 5:15, Paul seems to me to sum these two verses up: "Look therefore carefully how you walk, not as fools but as wise.” We live in a filthy culture. We are encouraged to participate in our culture, but we are told both here and elsewhere to have nothing to do with it. Paul talks about this when he says in Romans, not to be conformed to the world. Or as the Phillips translation renders it: “don't let the world squeeze you into it's mold.” Like everything else in Scripture, how I live my life is my choice. Do I want to watch that program or movie that is questionable? What about music?

In order to do what the author (James) suggests in this light, we must lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares. James tells us how to do this: He tells us to receive with meekness the Word (Verse 21). But in order to put things like anger and wrath away, we need to spend time studying God’s word, which will renew or reprogram your mind so that old habits and desires have a harder time coming to the surface.

But just like you don't want to eat physically unless you are hungry, part of receiving God’s Word is asking the Holy Spirit to put a hunger in your heart. Jesus said in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.” Jesus is saying that when you get a taste of God’s Word, and allow the Holy Spirit to quicken it to your heart, you'll want more and more of eternal things and less of what the world has to offer.

In the last part of Chapter One, when James talks about salvation of the soul, it is important to note that salvation is spoken of in three tenses in the bible. These three are: 1) I have been saved, and that requires the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart. 2) I am being saved is not to suggest that I wasn't saved once in time. It simply talks about a daily work that God is doing in all of the hearts of them that know Him, to continue to mold them into His image, delivering them from the world. And 3) I will be saved, when He returns to this earth.

If you have ever met a very pious person on Sunday, and have seen the same person on Monday, acting like there is no God, James says that this kind of religion is in vain (Verse 26 & context). Verse 27 sums up Chapter One this way: "pure religion and undefiled, before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Stop and ask yourself, how am I able to not go over the field a second time, or pick up the grapes that have fallen, that should be left for the poor and alien. I am the Lord your God” (see Leviticus 19:10).

Timothy H. Burdick, Associate Pastor
Friday Study Ministries
PO Box  92131
Long Beach, CA
90809-2131 USA

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