1 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.
V1. Although James is in fact the leader of the church in Jerusalem, he doesn’t present himself as such in this letter. He presents himself as “a bond-servant of God”. Each Israelite could have repeated that after him, for in the essence each Israelite was a bond-servant. To James that was not an uncomfortable subjection to God, but he mentions it as a privilege.
Then he calls himself also a bond-servant “of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Not each Israelite could and wanted to repeat that after him. James indeed calls himself like that and also here it sounds that he finds it an honor to be a bond-servant of the Lord Jesus. If you then also consider that he is a brother of the Lord Jesus according to the flesh (Gal 1:19), it is absolutely very striking that he calls himself like that.
With him you do not notice anything of the popular spirit that talks about ‘Jesus’ as if He was a friend from the street. He calls the name of the Man, Who was born of the same mother as he was, with great respect. He did not always have that respect. During the life of the Lord Jesus James did not believe in Him as the One Who was sent by God (Jn 7:5). That changed when the Lord Jesus appeared to him after His resurrection (1Cor 15:7). At least, it is very probable that this appearance has been the cause of his conversion.
Besides, you see that James puts God and the Lord Jesus on the same level by calling himself both a bond-servant of God and a bond-servant of the Lord Jesus. He honors the Son like he honors the Father (Jn 5:23).
James writes to “the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad”. Peter also writes to those who are scattered abroad (1Pet 1:1), but then only to the believing Jews, those who are born again (1Pet 1:23). James writes to the total.
With a brief “greetings” he expresses his fellowship with them. Greeting somebody or conveying greetings to somebody speaks of fellowship. This word is actually a wish that the other person may rejoice and is happy (the word only appears in Acts 15:23; 23:26; Jam 1:1).
Now read James 1:1 again.
Reflection: What makes this letter so special compared to the other letters in the New Testament?
2 - 5 Faith In the Midst of Trials
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have [its] perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 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.
V2. The call of James to count it all joy when you fall into trials, connects wonderfully to the wish of the previous verse. By addressing his readers with “my brethren” after the general salutation of that verse, he makes them feel how much he is related to them. It emphasizes again that he doesn’t address them as a leader, but as a fellow brother.
Without any other introduction James speaks directly about “various trials”. He suddenly places you in the world and what you can possibly go through there. In the world the genuineness of your confession is tested by temptations and trials. The company that James is addressing this letter to, is particularly tested by poverty. That may also be the case concerning yourself. But these trials can also be sickness, invalidity, unemployment or the passing away of a beloved person. Those are all trials that the Lord allows in the path of the believers, in order to see in whom they put their trust.
James therefore starts with the test of the genuineness of the faith. As is already said in the introduction, the point for him is the practice of their life of faith. You may say that the world with its trials is the testing room of the faith.
James tells his brothers to welcome the trials and temptations to which they are exposed, with a feeling of joy. That seems like an impossible order, doesn’t it? It even seems to be in contradiction to what Peter says in his first letter. Peter actually says that trials cause sadness (1Pet 1:6) and that’s much easier to understand. Still it only is an apparent and not a real contradiction.
James and Peter approach temptations or trials from two different points of view. When you are going through a trial, it makes you sad. You do not undergo a trial stoically and unstirred (Heb 12:11). Nevertheless you may remind yourself that each trial is a matter that God has planned in your life. He is dealing with you.
The important thing for James is the fact of the trial of which he emphasizes that it may be different for each person. That’s why he speaks about ‘various’. The intention is that the trial you are going through, pushes you up to God. When that indeed happens, it is a result that makes you rejoice, but above all it is a result that rejoices God. In that way you are able to experience something that Paul has experienced, which caused him to say: “As sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2Cor 6:10).
V3. James also explains to his readers why they should count it all joy when they fall into trials. He can also tell them that they know the purpose of the trials. After all they know that those trials, through which their faith is being tested, make their faith stronger and those trials also challenge them to hold on. The purpose that God has with the trials into which we fall, is to teach us to persevere. Perseverance is the proof of a genuine faith.
You may say now: ‘Does salvation then depend on our own efforts ultimately?’ No, absolutely not. Salvation is anchored in the work of Christ. When we say that we are saved, it will be proved by the perseverance in faith, even though we fall into the toughest trials.
The most difficult thing of trials is the time that it can take. Sometimes you manage to maintain yourself well and keep on trusting God when you suddenly fall into a trial. But the real test comes when the trial takes longer. Then that is precisely the time to keep on trusting God that He has everything in control. Then it is important to trust that He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able (1Cor 10:13).
V4. When the trial keeps on going that long that you may think: ‘When will it ever end?’ then that is a trial that has the purpose to let the perseverance have a perfect work. In the life of a Christian perseverance is an important characteristic. When Paul summarizes the signs of an apostle he mentions firstly ‘perseverance’ (2Cor 12:12). To both James and Paul the word perseverance means: to bear the suffering with perseverance. Like James also Paul shows the bountiful results of perseverance in trials (Rom 5:3-5).
An example of a person with whom perseverance did not have its perfect work, is king Saul. He is not able to wait for Samuel and gives the offerings too early. That costs him his kingdom (1Sam 13:8-14). But also David fails in his perseverance. He is continually being chased by Saul. The long duration of that trial becomes too much for him at a certain moment and he thinks to himself: “Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul” (1Sam 27:1).
The only solution he sees is to seek refuge with the Philistines. That indeed delivers him the rest he was looking for, because Saul no longer chases him, but he, however, loses fellowship with God. With him perseverance did not have its perfect work, because instead of asking God for wisdom about what he should do, he came up with his own solution. In contrast to Saul, David came back later on the path of and with God and in that way perseveres until the end.
The perseverance lasts until you at a certain moment completely subject yourself to the will of God. “Have [its] perfect result” indicates actually that you fully submit yourself to God and that His will becomes yours. That is a process and that process will last your whole life. With the Lord Jesus there was no own will, but He was certainly tempted like us, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). With Him the result of the temptation was that He became perfect. In that way He became the cause of eternal salvation (Heb 5:7-10).
If this work has been fulfilled in you, in other words, if you are fully submitted to God, that doing His will is the only thing that you desire, then you are “perfect and complete” and you lack nothing. That does not mean that you now know everything of God’s will and that you do not need to learn anything from God anymore. The point is that you have rest in the will of God with your life and the circumstances you find yourself in. You trust Him that He only wants your best. In that submission to Him He can reveal His will to you. In this way you are to be reached by Him and also useful.
The perfection James is talking about here, has got nothing to do with sinlessness. Even if you live in submission to God, it can occur that you, how well your intention may be, still sin. An example of that you see in the life of Peter. He really wanted to live fully submitted to the Lord. He even said that he was willing to give his life for Him. But the Lord had to tell him that he was going to deny Him three times.
With all his good intentions Peter was blind to his own weakness. And because he even neglected the warning of the Lord, he sinned by denying the Lord. Fortunately he repented and received forgiveness (Lk 22:33-34; 54-62). Peter failed in persevering in his faith when he was tempted, because he lacked the wisdom for the right decision and for the right confession.
V5. We need “wisdom” to be saved from such experiences. Wisdom is making use of the knowledge that you have in the circumstances you find yourself, where your faith is being put to the test. Because your faith is continually being tested, you are continually in need of that wisdom. You will surely feel the lack of wisdom when you look at the life of the world around you. I surely do.
To be able to go on, to be able to persevere, it is important to see what the intentions of God are. That means that you need to go to Him, in the sanctuary. In the sanctuary you see which way God intents to go with you. You also see that His ultimate purpose is blessing.
What a great word James is speaking about here. It is in fact a wonderful invitation. James actually invites you to ask God for wisdom. He also tells you how God responds to that request. God replies your request bountifully and gently without any blame.
If you ask a man for help, you have a great chance to be blamed for something. People often find that impertinent or they feel they are being used or they say that you are to deal with it yourself, because they are after all not able to help you. God does not react in such a way at all. If you ask Him, you will learn to know Him as a giving God. He is not a demander to whom you approach as a beggar, in order to soften Him. No, He is a God Who loves to see you coming to Him, Who loves to listen to you and Who loves to answer you.
Now read James 1:2-5 again.
Reflection: Ask God for wisdom with a view to the temptations you are dealing with.
6 - 12 Do Not Doubt, But Persevere
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. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 [being] a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man [is to glory] in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. 12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which [the Lord] has promised to those who love Him.
V6. In the previous section you saw that God loves to see you come to Him. Though there is a condition attached to it. That condition is that you should come “in faith” (cf. Heb 11:6) and without any doubt in your heart concerning His kindness. When you ask God for wisdom, while you still doubt His kindness for giving that wisdom, you look like the surf of the sea. In such a case you focus yourself on God to ask Him for wisdom, while in your heart you still seek other possibilities where you might find wisdom to escape the trial. You open yourself to God, but at the same time you listen to the opinions of others or you look at the circumstances and make your decisions dependent on that.
Then there is no room for God to make something clear to you. The result of such an attitude is that you are tossed to and fro, like a wave of the sea is being driven up and down. Doubt looks like the open sea, where the waves are a toy ball of the wind. Such is a man who doubts: he is a toy ball of opinions of other people to which he opens himself.
V7. It is not wrong to seek one another for advice, but that advice is not to take the first and leading place. When the advice of others means that much to you that your trust in God is not effective anymore, you will receive nothing from God. Seeking others for advice or listening to the good advice of others, must on the contrary increase the confidence in God. God wants you to trust Him unconditionally.
V8. A man who doesn’t do that is “double-minded”. That such a man is inwardly double-minded will also appear from his ways. He is “unstable” in all his ways, not to be understood. You may think for a moment that he is on the right way, but a moment later he goes a totally different direction. He is not a reliable person. He has a wavering course. He has no stability at all in his faith life.
V9. After the general starting points about persevering in temptations, James applies these starting points to “the brother of humble circumstances”. You could derive that from the word “but”. In that way James makes a contrast with what is earlier said and especially with the doubtful person. The lowly or socially deprived brother runs the risk to doubt the love of God for him. As an Israelite he was raised with the thought that richness is the proof of God’s blessing and that poverty is the proof that God’s blessing is being withheld, due to unfaithfulness. But things are not like that anymore, James says. Poverty is not necessarily a proof of unfaithfulness and God’s dissatisfaction about that. Poverty is a temptation that can be endured with joy, because that can be seen as a test of the faith.
James adds a special encouragement to that. He says to the socially deprived one that he may rejoice in his spiritual riches and “his high position”. He can do that, owing to his relation to Christ. The poor can glory in his exaltation, because Christ is not ashamed to call him ‘brother’ (Heb 2:11). This title is being ignored and counted as nothing in the world. The poor, however, knows that the glory of this world will pass away as a flower of the field, while he rejoices to be a partaker of those who are acknowledged by the Lord of glory as His own.
V10. James has also a word for the socially prosperous one. The rich man who boasts in his riches must realize that in a spiritual sense he is lowly and poor in his riches. James calls on the rich man to boast “in his humiliation”, which means in what he in himself is to God. In himself the rich is a sinner who cannot stand before God. Besides, it would be a good thing for him to realize that all his riches will fade away.
V11. That not only goes for the riches of the rich man, but also for the rich man himself. Grass represents the prosperity of human life with its inextricable link that that prosperity will quickly pass away. The flower colors grass and gives the grass a shiny appearance, but even the color and appearance of the flower quickly pass away.
You see the illustration of that in the history that the Lord Jesus tells about the poor Lazarus and the rich man (Lk 16:19-25). Lazarus was really poor. The rich man did not care about him at all. Lazarus means ‘God is help’ and God had brought Lazarus in such particular circumstances, in order to bring the meaning of his name into practice. Lazarus had nothing and no one else to help him, but God. The rich man lived only for himself alone and needed no help from God. But on the other side of death the roles are reversed. There the rich has become a poor man and the poor Lazarus has become a rich man.
The value of being rich, or better said, the meaninglessness of being rich, appears to be as the heat of the sun as an illustration of tests in life. When sickness and death make their entry, it appears that health and life are priceless and not for sale, even if a person would possess all the money of the world.
You can also see the sun with its heat as a metaphor of the Lord Jesus, Who is presented as “the sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:2). When He comes to judge the earth He will humiliate everything that is high and exalted (Isa 2:10-12). What man considers highly and prominently, will be destroyed by Him. All things in which the heart of man can possibly put his trust and through which he thinks not to need God for, will pass away when the Sun of righteous appears. In the light of the Sun that reveals everything, will be seen what has been all worth it.
V12. With the promise “blessed” to the man that endures temptation, James concludes the introductory portion of the test of faith. The man who has overcome the temptation, receives beside that approval also a reward. To him “the crown of life” will be given.
The word for ‘crown’ here is stephanos. There is another word for crown, the word diadema. The ‘diadem’ is the symbol of royalty or imperial dignity. That word is quite often used in the book of Revelation. Here it is stephanos, which is a crown of honor as a symbol for a winner. This crown is not of gold, but of bay leaves. Therefore it has no material value. The symbolic value however, is enormous, because of the honor that goes together with it.
This crown is received by someone who has delivered an exceptional achievement. This crown was to be gained in the Olympic Games in those days. With this crown as a goal the participant was prepared to make great sacrifices and deny himself of all kinds of pleasures. The stephanos is a great encouragement to run the race.
In this sense the ‘crown of life’ (also mentioned in Rev 2:10) will be handed over by the Lord Jesus on the day of decoration, just like the other crowns that are to be earned (e.g. ‘the crown of righteousness’, 2Tim 4:8, and ‘the imperishable crown of glory’, 1Pet 5:4). Those who have endured the temptations and who have testified not to be living for the life on earth, but for the true life, who were even prepared to pay their faithfulness with death, will receive that crown as an exceptional homage from God.
When the Lord Jesus will return with His own, they will be characterized by ‘the life’. That means that it will be seen by all people that they bear the special mark of the Lord Jesus as the life, for He is the life (Jn 11:25; 14:6). They will bear the life as an honorary distinction. The life that they have lived and of which the excellent quality in the most difficult circumstances has been demonstrated, will be received out of the hand of the Lord Jesus, what will be visible to all people. In this way He will be glorified in His saints and will be admired in all who have believed (2Thes 1:10).
We ought to be Christians who exercise themselves in abstaining from everything that could keep them from gaining the prize (1Cor 9:27). To be able to do that with heart and soul, we need love. James speaks about that in the last part of verse 12. Only those who love Christ are prepared to subject themselves to a hard and long lasting exercise.
“Those who love Him” is a wonderful expression, which appears four times in the New Testament, of which two times in this letter (Rom 8:28; 1Cor 2:9, Jam 1:12; 2:5). That actually shows that the real practice of faith is only possible when the love for the Lord Jesus is the driving force. Only the love for Him will have the effect in you that you make efforts and sacrifices. In order to make that happen in you a total change had to take place, for you were an enemy of God. Loving God is your answer to God for loving you.
Now read James 1:6-12 again.
Reflection: How can you receive the crown of life?
13 - 18 Partakers of the New Creation
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 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.
V13. The temptations James is talking about in this verse are of a totally different kind than those he has been talking about up to now. The temptation he has spoken about up to now are the temptations you have to deal with in the life around you. Those are circumstances in the midst of where your find yourself in and which challenge you to practice your faith.
The temptations that James refers to in verses 13-14 are temptations that have their origin in yourself. Those are temptations that are related to your flesh, in other words, your sinful nature. So you see that James indicates two kinds of temptations: temptations that are challenging you from the outside and temptations out of yourself, from your inside.
God can test you through external circumstances. His purpose with that is to bless you. You see that with the example of Abraham. To tempt Abraham, that is to test and make his faith visible, God asked him to sacrifice his son (Gen 22:1). You see that in the way that Abraham goes in the obedience of faith, his faith reveals itself as faith in the God of resurrection. Of course God knew that he possessed that faith, but now you know that too. The faith of Abraham has become visible. Therefore this temptation does not come from Abraham himself, but from God. When there is no question of sin, but when obedience and perseverance are being tested, it concerns the condition of the heart, to be taught, guided and formed.
But as soon as there is a question of stirring up the lusts, it cannot possibly be said that God is tempting. The temptations that are coming from your inward self do not come from God. You can never say that God is trying to stir you up to sin. A temptation to sin occurs when you do not keep your lusts under control, but give in to it.
God cannot be tempted by evil, for there is no evil in Him. Therefore evil or sin cannot possibly come from Him in order to tempt you in one way or the other. You see that in a striking manner in the Lord Jesus, especially in the temptations to which He was exposed in the wilderness (Lk 4:1-13). He was and He is without sin (Heb 4:15). He could not possibly be tempted by something from Himself, because there was no sin in Him (1Jn 3:5). The ruler of the world could not find anything in Him when He was on earth, not a single connecting factor (Jn 14:30).
But the Lord Jesus has been in very tough circumstances. His path on earth, which He went through in dependence of His God, was the cause of that. He wept at the grave of Lazarus and over Jerusalem (Jn 11:35; Lk 19:41). His sorrow was genuine, for He felt the consequences of sin in perfection. Calamity did not pass Him by. Despite all sadness and disappointment He kept on trusting God. But He has never been tempted by God to sin. Neither does God stir us up to sin. He does not tempt to sin.
V14. When you give in to temptation then that is because you are being drawn away and enticed by your own desire. You might have watched something bad on the internet and you started to think about it. In that case you have not judged it radically, but you allowed yourself to be enticed by what you saw. It might have been a beautiful car, a beautiful woman or a handsome man. You gave your fantasy the free reign and you have let yourself be drawn away by your own lust.
V15. Once that process has started the desire will not only remain an inner desire but it will surely result in a deed. You now have come that far in your thinking about the desire that you also want to possess that yourself. Then the desire gives birth to sin. You take possession of the object you desired, either in reality by for instance buying that car or in your feelings by inwardly taking possession of that woman or man and start to have fellowship with her or him in your feelings. If you continue to live in this situation, then sin will have power in such a way over you that you cannot control it. It becomes full-grown and strong. It rules in such a way over you that it leads you in death.
James says these things to warn you not to let you be misled in the temptations that come from yourself. Those temptations do not come from God and therefore you should not try to consider them at all. If you do, then it means the end of your life as a Christian. The end of the path of a sinner is death (Jam 5:20). You may say that lust is the grandmother of death: lust gives birth to sin and sin brings forth death.
When you consider the way Paul speaks about that, it seems it doesn’t agree with what is said here. Of course each agrees with the other, only you ought to know how Paul presents these issues and how James does. When Paul says that lust comes forth from sin, then he means with sin the indwelling sin, the power of sin (Rom 6:12). The indwelling sin, the sinful nature, is the source out of which all sinful deeds come. The indwelling sin produces lust (Rom 7:8).
When James appears to say the opposite by saying that lust gives birth to sin, then that is an apparent contrast. What he says is not in contrast to what Paul says, but it allies with it. James speaks about lust as a sinful deed that can only produce another sinful deed. Therefore you may say that James deals with the efficacy, while Paul deals with the source.
V16. James appeals not to deceive yourself regarding the fact that what comes forth from yourself does not come forth from God. He does that with a special appeal on how much the brothers mean to him. You hear that in the way he addresses them as “my beloved brethren”. When you see your brothers and sisters as your ‘beloved brothers and sisters’, you will not allow that something disturbs that relationship.
V17. A wrong perception on temptations disturbs that relationship. When you say for example that God is against you when you are tempted, you give a false impression of God. James has condemned that. But now he will explain that although you are in the midst of temptations and although there are temptations which may come forth from you, you still belong to a perfectly new world. He speaks about that when he says “that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures” (verse 18). That means that you, by faith in the Lord Jesus, already belong to that new creation that will be revealed when He will reign in majesty and glory.
That wonderful new thing and everything that’s related to it, finds its origin “above” in heaven, from where it comes down as a “good thing given” and a “perfect gift”. The expression “every good thing given” relates to the act of giving by God, in which there is absolutely no wrong motive. The expression “every perfect gift” relates to the content of what God gives.
The good thing given and the perfect gift of God is the Lord Jesus (2Cor 9:15). You may also think of His Spirit and His Word as good things given and perfect gifts. That is the case with everything that comes from God. From God only good and perfect things come forth. Here you see that God is a Giver, while in the Old Testament He is the Demander.
He gives as “the Father of lights”, which means as the origin of a manifold light. Every gift comes from the light but will always remain in relation with the light. Therefore a gift of God will never ever be related with darkness and sin.
V18. Therefore, in order to be able to give you according to His intentions in His heart for you, it was necessary that God Himself started to work that in you. Because He cannot change, you had to be changed. He has made that happen. He planted the new life in you. He did that “in the exercise of His will”, which implies that He will never come back to that matter. He did that “by the word of truth”, for only in that way you learn to know God and therefore also yourself. That Word has been applied to you by the Holy Spirit. That is how you became a new creation.
It is still “a kind of”, because it still does not apply to your body. Inwardly, however, you already partake of what will be general in the creation, in the millennial kingdom, in future. In the old creation God now already sees people who belong to that new creation. You happen to be one of them. Isn’t that a reason to praise God?
Now read James 1:13-18 again.
19 - 27 The Practice of the New Life
19 [This] you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak [and] slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 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. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 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; 24 for [once] he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 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. 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. 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.
V19. After the wonderful explanation of the work of God in His own James continues with the practice of the new life. His intention is that his readers, whom he again calls “my beloved brethren” may know what ought to mainly characterize the new life. The first thing he mentions is “to hear”, to listen. When you are newly converted it is especially important to listen to the Lord and to do that in the attitude of the young Samuel. Eli taught him to say: “Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening” (1Sam 3:9). The Lord Jesus is the perfect example of Somebody Who hears (Isa 50:4). Therefore He absolutely always knew, when He was on earth, what to say to the right people at the right time.
You also can only say something meaningful when you have first listened. It is good to consider why God has given you two ears and only one mouth. Be quick to hear what the Lord has got to say.
Do not be quick to respond to what men say. Control your tongue and try not to be rash with your mouth (cf. Ecc 5:1). Don’t let yourself be tempted to react sharply and angrily when people treat you unjustly. That anger can just suddenly pop up when you see or hear something that is unjust or when you feel yourself to be offended. Then you may just lose patience.
V20. Of course it is not always wrong to get angry. Anger is a feature of God. When He gets angry He exerts His anger in perfect righteousness. Sometimes it is necessary for you to be angry, but watch out to make it an issue for your own benefit. Therefore it is for a reason why Paul warns us not to sin when we are angry (Eph 4:26). For when you get angry because of seeing a certain injustice, you can get so upset and angry that you cannot control yourself anymore. Then you say or do things that are not fitting to you as a ‘first fruit among His creatures’.
With the Lord Jesus anger and sorrow go together perfectly (Mk 3:5), while with us anger can possibly go together with being personally offended. When we are angry because we are personally offended, it has got nothing to do with “God’s righteousness”. In that case it becomes clear and visible that we are our own judge, while there is nothing to be seen of God’s righteousness.
V21. In order not to fall into the trap of a wrong anger, James passes on some instructions. You have to lay aside something and receive something. Consider the order. You ought to put aside something first, for then you create room to receive something. James mentions two things you should lay aside. As a matter of fact he is very up to date when he starts with “all filthiness”. The world is full of that and the believer can so easily get stuck to it.
Filthiness may just jump towards you; it all splashes out from the bill boards alongside the road and if you do not watch out it happens also all over your television or computer screen. Just do not look at it, just turn your eyes off of them, do not be occupied with such things. You must inwardly take distance of those things.
That also goes for “[all] that remains of wickedness”. Do not be tempted to express your anger in a way that you show more of yourself instead of showing the reason why you are angry.
James urges for a good mind. That good mind expresses itself in “humility”. When you are meek, God can implant His Word in you. ‘Meekness’ is the right ground for the implanted Word to grow and to come to maturity. Then that Word can be effective. Then you will be led by the Word on your path of life and in that way you will be able to proceed that path up to the full salvation. Your life will bear fruit that comes from the new creation that you are, a fruit which is a joy to God.
V22. In that way it will become clear that you are not only a hearer of the Word, but also a doer. Herod for example was only a hearer. He loved to hear John speaking (Mk 6:20), but he was not a doer of the word spoken by John. When it came to the crunch he’d rather have John killed than coming back to a promise he quickly made under the influence of his aroused lust (Mk 6:21-27).
V23-24. John had held up a mirror to him. Herod had looked into that mirror for just a moment. He saw what kind of man he was, but he left and forgot how he looked like. When you read in the Bible you should not do that in a hurry, but calmly. When you just read something quickly, you do not really look into the mirror. The Bible has to be given the chance to show you what kind of man you are, that you may adapt your life to it.
V25. Therefore you ought to look into “the perfect law of liberty”. The perfect law is not a series of rules and commandments that God imposes on you as His demands. With the perfect law is meant the whole Word of God. That Word of God holds up to you the law, which means the lawfulness, of liberty. He who has received the implanted Word with meekness will show the fruits of that Word. That is a lawfulness, a process that cannot occur in any other way.
You see that perfectly in the life of the Lord Jesus. The law of God was in Him (Psa 40:8) and that law completely connected to His desire to do the will of God. A small example may possibly clarify this. If I give one of my children the command: ‘Eat of those cookies’, then he or she does that delightfully, because it is fully in accordance with his or her desire. Being obedient out of love and doing things that you naturally love to do, give the greatest sense of satisfaction.
James adds to it that it is important to continue in it; that means that you must persevere. Then you will “be blessed” in what you do; it gives you the sense of happiness. It doesn’t mean that you will succeed in everything you do, but that you experience happiness in everything you do.
V26. James comes back to the tongue. The tongue is the most important measure of what dwells in the heart of man. The Lord Jesus even says that we are being justified or judged according to our words (Mt 12:37). When you know how to bridle your tongue, then you are also able to serve God in the right way. But he who thinks to be religious, who thinks that God should be satisfied with the way he serves Him, while at the same time he opens wide his lips, deceives his own heart (Pro 13:3; 10:19).
Why is James that sharp in his judgment of the tongue? He will explain that urgently in chapter 3, but it is already clear here that what matters to him is that it comes down to deeds and it is not about nice words. He actually says: ‘Just show what religion means to you. All that talking doesn’t mean anything to me.’ He who talks much, but does not do, has a ‘worthless religion’. He may think that he is doing great, but what he is doing is worthless.
V27. In the final verse of this chapter James explains the way it supposed to be. It is about “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of [our] God and Father”. All service of God must happen in purity of the heart. Insincere motives are not to be playing a role here. Even the service itself ought to happen without being spotted by using any inappropriate means. Serving God means that God is in the center. He determines how the service is to be done.
When you visit widows and orphans in their afflictions you show them God’s Fatherly love. He is after all the Father of orphans and the Judge of the widows (Psa 68:6; 146:9). God’s love seeks the helpless and the socially deprived ones. When you visit them in their affliction it means more than only showing your interest in them. It means that you are trying to empathize with them in their circumstances and in that way expressing your concern for them.
But this is not the only way to acquire greater content for ‘pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father’. If that was the case, then Christendom would not be more than a social program. God is not only love, He is also light. That’s why James adds to it that you ought to keep yourself “unstained from the world”. True religion doesn’t lose out of the sight the natural character of the world, but takes into account that the world has rejected the Lord Jesus. The world lies under the sway of the wicked one (1Jn 5:19). You have been delivered from it (Gal 1:4), you do not belong there anymore.
Therefore you cannot use anything from it in your service for God. Everything you would like to use from the world to only make your staying in there as pleasant as possible dishonors God. His judgment of the world ought to be the key for you concerning your dealings with it, just like His care for the defenseless people in the world should be the key for your care for them.
Now read James 1:19-27 again.
Reflection: How do you exercise the practice of what James says in this portion?