Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.Analysis and Annotations
I. TRIALS AND THE EXERCISE OF FAITH
1. Trials and the power of faith (James 1:1-4) 2. The resources of faith (James 1:5-8) 3. The realization of faith (James 1:9-11) 4. The conquest of faith (James 1:12-15) 5. The result of faith (James 1:16-27)
2. The resources of faith (James 1:5-8)
3. The realization of faith (James 1:9-11)
4. The conquest of faith (James 1:12-15)
5. The result of faith (James 1:16-27)
The first verse is the introduction. The writer is James, but he does not add, as he might have done, “the brother of the Lord.” It would have identified his person at once, and being the Lord’s brother, he had a perfect right to call himself thus. But he did not. His humility shines forth in this omission; others called him by that title, but he avoided it. He is “servant of God,” and he served God as “servant of the Lord Jesus Christ,” a godly believing Jew. He writes to the twelve tribes in the dispersion of like faith. But the beautiful words of greeting in other Epistles, “Grace and peace be unto you,” are not used by him. Greetings only are sent, and in this respect it is like the Apostolic document which was issued by the council in Jerusalem in Acts 15:1-41. (See Acts 15:23.)
The practical character of his letter is at once apparent. “Count it all joy when you fall in divers temptations.” They were all undergoing trials and tests as believing Jews, who had accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah. The First Epistle of Peter, which is also addressed to believing Hebrews tells the same story. They were in heaviness through manifold temptations. Their faith was severely tried as with fire (1Peter 1:6-7). James exhorts these sufferers not to be grieved or disturbed over these trials, but rather to count it a joy. These trials were the evidences of their sonship and that their faith was real. Faith must be tried; the trial itself worketh patience, that is, endurance. This belongs to the practical experience of a believer. “For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps” (1Peter 2:21). If endurance has its perfect work, if the believer continues steadfast and in patience he will be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. The word “perfect” has been misinterpreted by some as if it meant an assumed Christian perfection or sinlessness. It does not mean that, but it means the perfect work of patience, enduring to the end, when self will is subdued and the will of God is fully accepted. The result is that there is no deficiency in the practical life of the believer. The Lord Jesus is an example of it. He never did His own will, but patiently waited for the will of God and yielded a perfect obedience. Faith is power to suffer and to endure trials and testings.
Such endurance is impossible without prayer. In the midst of trials and hardships, the various perplexities which come upon the believer, they, as well as we, lack wisdom; we often do not know what to do. Wisdom is needed, not human wisdom, but that wisdom which is from above. This wisdom enables us to discern His will and to follow the right guidance. It is obtained by an utter dependence on God, and the expression of that dependence is prayer. He giveth to all liberally, nor does He upbraid. We can come to Him at all times, and habitually wait on Him for guidance and direction; and as we wait on Him thus and count on Him there will be no disappointment. Often believers think they have divine guidance, but it is but following some kind of an impression, certain impulses, which may come from ourselves, or from the enemy. But constant waiting on the Lord and trusting in Him, this is wisdom. All this necessitates childlike faith, which means counting on His faithfulness and on an answer from Him. If we doubt his faithfulness or question His answer we cannot receive anything from Him. Hesitance about God, a double-mindedness, depending upon something else besides God is in reality unbelief. “For he that wavereth (is not positive in his utter confidence and dependence) 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. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” If the believer is double-minded, looking to the Lord and at the same time looking elsewhere, he dishonors Him, and He cannot honor the believer and answer his prayer. How blessedly it was expressed by David, which perhaps was remembered by these believing Jews, when the inspired king wrote: “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him” (Psalm 62:5).
Faith makes things real. It lifts above the circumstances of life. The brother of low degree in the midst of his trials can glory in realizing faith that he is exalted, while the rich believer can rejoice in faith in his trials, that he is made low, that he can suffer loss, and learn from his own poverty and lowness, realizing that all his riches are but for a moment, transitory “because as the flower of the grass he will pass away.” This is the realization of faith in the believer; the believer of low degree in the midst of trials realizes that he is exalted, he glories in that, while the rich learns his low estate, that riches will fade away, but that he possesses an inheritance that fadeth not away.
Here is a beatitude: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is proved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.” Overcoming faith will be rewarded. As the poor believer, or the rich believer, endures temptation, is proved and overcomes through faith, the Lord will give to him the promised crown of life.
The sources of temptations are mentioned in connection with this beatitude. There are two sources of temptations. There are temptations, the trial of faith which comes from God for our own good; there is a temptation of the flesh, of inward evil, which is not of God, but of the devil. Trial of faith God permits, but when it comes to temptations of evil, to do evil, to be tempted in this fashion, God never is the author of that. God cannot be tempted with evil, nor tempteth He any man.
This passage settles the question with which so many believers are troubled: “Could the Lord Jesus Christ sin?” They generally quote in connection with this Hebrews 4:15, that He was tempted in all points as we are. They claim that “all points” includes temptation to sin coming from within. Even excellent Christians are at sea about this question. Our Lord Jesus Christ is very God. Being manifested in the flesh does not mean that He laid aside His Deity. James says, “God cannot be tempted with evil,” for God is absolutely holy. Therefore our Lord could not be tempted with evil. He had nothing of fallen man in Him; the prince of this world (Satan) came and found nothing in Him. Furthermore, the correct translation of Hebrews 4:15 is as follows: But was in all points tempted like as we are, apart from sin. In all other points our blessed Lord was tempted, but never by indwelling sin, for He was absolutely holy in His human nature, given to Him by the Holy Spirit.
It is otherwise with man fallen, he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. The working, as revealed in James 1:14-15, is illustrated in the case of David when lust brought forth sin and death (2Samuel 11:1-27).
James 1:16-27. Evil has been traced to its source, and now we come to the other side. From God cometh every good and perfect gift and He is a God who does not change; with Him there is no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning. The greatest good and the greatest gift from such a God is the gift of His Only Begotten Son. Those who believe Him that sent the Son of God into the world (John 5:24) are born again by the Word of Truth (John 3:5; 1Peter 1:23; Ephesians 1:13) to be a kind of first fruits of His creatures. His own holy nature is thus communicated to those who believe; it is the result of faith. Of that new nature, the divine nature, it is written in 1John 3:9 : “He that is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” It means that there is no evil, in the new nature; it is a holy nature, it will never tempt to sin. But the believer has an old nature, and that is evil, nor can it ever be anything else, “for that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Thus, begotten again by His own good and gracious will, we are the first fruits of that new creation which in God’s own time will be revealed.
This new nature must produce the fruits of righteousness, hence the practical exhortation. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” Hearing is the attitude of true faith, ever listening to that which God speaks in His Word; then slow to speak, because speech gives expression to what we are; and it needs caution not to let the old nature express itself; and slow to wrath, which is the flesh. Wrath does not work that practical righteousness which is pleasing to God. Then there is to be, as a result of true faith, a laying aside of all filthiness, all superfluity of naughtiness; this is the same putting off of which we read in the Pauline Epistles ( Colossians 3:1-25, etc). This putting off is not the working of the law, but it is the result of the implanted Word, which received in meekness, saves; it is both the means of true salvation and the working out of that salvation into results of righteousness. But it needs more than hearers of the Word; we must be doers of it.
“But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed indeed.” What is the law of liberty? It is not the law of Moses as some have imagined. The perfect law of liberty is explained in the context. It is the Word of God by which the believer is begotten again, it is the implanted Word, which teaches, instructs, guides and directs; it is the life which flows from the new nature, subject to the Word of God. It has often been aptly described as a loving parent who tells his child that he must go here or there; that is, the very places which he knows perfectly the child would be gratified to visit. Such is the law of liberty; as if one said to the child: ‘Now, my child, you must go and do such and such a thing,’ all the while knowing you cannot confer a greater favor on the child. It has not at all the character of resisting the will of the child, but rather of directing his affection in the will of the object dearest to him. The child is regarded and led according to the love of the parent, who knows what the desire of the child is--a desire that has been, in virtue of a new nature, implanted by God Himself in the child. He has given him a life that loves His ways and His Word, that hates and revolts from evil, and is pained most of all by falling through unwatchfulness into sin, if it seemed ever so little. The law of liberty therefore consists not so much in a restraint of gratifying the old man, as in guiding and guarding the new; for the heart’s delight is in what is good and holy and true; the Word of God on the one hand exercises us in cleaving to that which is the joy of the Christian’s heart, and strengthens us in our detestation of all that we know to be offensive to the Lord” (Wm. Kelly).
This is the law of perfect liberty and in doing this there in blessedness. Then follows a definition of pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father. Religion does not mean here the inner life, but the outward manifestation of it. The fatherless and the widows are God’s special objects of love and care; to visit such in their affliction is Christlike, How often this is quoted by those who do not believe in the gospel of grace and in the cross of Christ, as if works of kindness were the true religion, by which man is saved and pleasing to God. The whole chapter shows how erroneous such an application is. And the other definition “to keep himself unspotted from the world,” a true life of self surrender and separation, is generally overlooked.