James 1
James 1 Kingcomments Bible Studies


The letter of James is a letter with its own particular character. Of course that goes for each letter in the Bible, but still this letter is indeed special, as you will discover. It takes a special place in the New Testament. You could compare the place of the letter of James among the other letters with the place that Jonah takes in the Old Testament among the other prophets. All Old Testament prophets have a message for the people of God, except Jonah. Jonah is an exception, for he is sent with a message from God to the Gentiles.

Many letters in the New Testament, especially those of Paul, address the believers as members of the church and as united with Christ. James is an exception, for he addresses his letter “to the twelve tribes” of Israel “who are dispersed abroad” (Jam 1:1). James writes his letter to the people of Israel as a whole. It is also remarkable that he, although he mainly addresses the Jewish Christians – he uses the word ‘brethren’ fifteen times –, also addresses the unbelieving Jews.

James does not speak about heavenly blessings in his letter, which are the portion of the church and the individual believer. He writes about the practice of the life of faith. In his letter he addresses everyone who confesses to belong to God’s people and tells him what such a person is supposed to show in practice. What a person says has to become visible. The life from God is to be shown. That is also essential, for the works of faith are to other people the only proof that there is real faith present in the heart. Faith works through love (Gal 5:6) as an expression of the new creation that the believer is in Christ (Gal 6:15; 2Cor 5:17).

In this letter you do not find much doctrine or teaching. Possibly this letter has already been written before Paul wrote his letters. Nevertheless, it must be said that for this letter to become a reality in your life, it is necessary that you know the teachings of Paul’s letters. It is not a letter that you simply put into practice overnight. It is about living out the new man, and about that new man Paul tells everything in his letters. If you have read his letters you will certainly recognize this. Although the ranking of the letters, as we have in the Bible, is not inspired, the letter of James therefore takes, right after the letters of Paul, a remarkably justified position.

The recipients are the people of God that still belong to God’s earthly people. They are still not separated from them. The people as a whole have rejected the Lord, while these recipients yet confess that they believe in the Lord Jesus as the Lord of glory (Jam 2:1). That means that through this letter God makes us familiar with a form of Christendom, which is a mixture: the Jewish Christendom. It is a letter that is written with a view to a transition phase of the old (Judaism) to the new (Christendom). The particular period of time in which we could best place this letter is the time of the church life of the first believers, as it is described in the book of Acts.

In this transition time God tolerates that certain customs of the old people of Israel are still maintained in the newly established church. Soon there will come an end to that transition time, due to the destruction of Jerusalem that will take place in the year 70 by the Romans – the letter of James is dated between the years 45 and 62. James also points this out when he speaks about “the last days” (Jam 5:3). In a certain sense you may therefore call this letter an ‘end time letter’.

That is why this letter is also relevant to us. We also live in an end time and indeed the end time of Christendom. Also the end time in which we live will be closed with judgments. Another thing is that we are on the threshold of a new time that will come after the judgments. That new time covers a period of a thousand years, a period that is characterized by peace in heaven and on earth under the most blessed government of the Lord Jesus.

In the order we have in the Bible this letter follows after the letter to the Hebrews. However, most apparently the letter to the Hebrews has been written later than the letter of James. In the letter to the Hebrews, also addressed to Jews, the call sounds to go out outside the camp (Heb 13:13). That call sounds also with a view to the coming destruction of Jerusalem. We do not find such a call in this letter.

The people of Israel are still addressed. James addresses those who are dispersed, namely the Israelites who are dispersed everywhere among the nations. He still sees the whole people, like Elijah (1Kgs 18:31; cf. Ezra 6:17) and Paul (Acts 26:7) did, until God executed judgment.

James has a leading position in the church at Jerusalem. You may say that he is the leader of this church. The church at Jerusalem consists of Jews who came to faith in the Lord Jesus, but who, in the exercise of their religion, are not distinguished from their unbelieving compatriots. Among them James, together with Peter and John, is considered to be a pillar (Gal 2:9).

When Paul comes to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey, he goes to James with whom all elders of Jerusalem gather together. In the conversation that follows Paul is told that already ten thousands of Jews have come to faith, who all are zealous for the law (Acts 21:20). Under the leadership of James they submit a proposal to Paul through which he could show that he is also a Jew who is faithful to the law. Paul’s agreement with this proposal means the end of his public service.

Here you see how great the influence of James is. That great influence is also seen during the apostle meeting where James gives the decisive response that the Gentiles should not be troubled to keep the law (Acts 15:13-21).

Sender and Addressee

Jam 1:1. 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 essence each Israelite was a bond-servant. To James that was not an oppressive 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 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 were 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 plausible that this appearance has been the reason for his conversion.

By the way, you see that James puts God and the Lord Jesus on the same level by calling himself both a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus. He honors the Son as 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 whole.

With a brief “greetings” he expresses his fellowship with them. Greeting someone or conveying greetings to someone speaks of fellowship. This word contains a wish that the other person may rejoice and is happy – the word occurs two more times: in Acts 15:23; Acts 23:26.

Now read James 1:1 again.

Reflection: What makes this letter so special compared to the other letters in the New Testament?

Faith in the Midst of Trials

Jam 1:2. The call of James to consider it all joy when you encounter various 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 connected 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 trueness of your confession is tested by temptations and trials. For the company to whom James is writing, that trial consists primarily of poverty. That may also be the case for you. But these trials can also be sickness, invalidity, unemployment or the passing away of a beloved person. These are all trials that the Lord allows on the path of the believers to see in whom they put their trust.

James therefore starts with the test of the trueness 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 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 distress (1Pet 1:6) and that’s easier to understand. Still it only is an apparent and not a real contradiction.

James and Peter approach trials from two different points of view. When you are going through a trial, it makes you distressed, 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 purpose is that the trial you are going through, drives you out to God. If 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).

Jam 1:3. 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 tested, make their faith stronger and those trials also challenge them to hold on. The purpose that God has with the trials we encounter, is to teach us to endurance. Endurance is the proof of true faith.

You may say now: ‘Does salvation then depend on our own efforts after all?’ No, absolutely not. Salvation is anchored in the work of Christ. When we say that we are saved, it will be proved by the endurance in faith, even though we encounter 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 if you suddenly encounter a trial. But the real test comes if 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).

Jam 1:4. In case 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 endurance have its perfect result. In the life of a Christian endurance is an important characteristic. When Paul summarizes the signs of an apostle he mentions first ‘perseverance’, endurance (2Cor 12:12). To both James and Paul the word endurance or perseverance means: to bear the suffering with endurance or perseverance. Like James also Paul shows the blessed results of endurance or perseverance in trials (Rom 5:3-5).

An example of a person with whom endurance did not have its perfect result, is king Saul. He is not able to wait for Samuel and offers the burnt offering too early. That costs him his kingdom (1Sam 13:8-14). But also David fails in his endurance. He is continually chased by Saul. The long duration of that trial becomes too much for him at a certain moment and he says 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 his fellowship with God. With him endurance did not have its perfect result, 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 endures until the end.

Endurance lasts until you at a certain moment completely subject yourself to the will of God. “Have [its] perfect result” indicates actually that you fully subject 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 as us, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). With Him the result of the temptation was that He has been made perfect. In that way He became the source of eternal salvation (Heb 5:7-10).

If this work has been fulfilled in you, in other words, if you are fully subjected 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 subjection to Him He can reveal His will to you. You are then accessible to Him and also usable.

The perfection James is talking about here, has got nothing to do with sinlessness. Even if you live in subjection 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 subjected 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 to endure in his faith when he was tempted because he lacked the wisdom for the right decision and for the right confession.

Jam 1:5. To be preserved from such experiences requires “wisdom”. Wisdom is making use of the knowledge that you have in the circumstances you find yourself, where your faith is put to the test. Because your faith is continually 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 endure, it is important to see what the purposes of God are. That means that you need to go to Him, in the sanctuary. In the sanctuary you see which way God has in mind 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 invites you to ask God for wisdom. He also tells you how God responds to that request. generously and without reproach.

If you ask people for help, you have a chance to be reproached. They just think you’re cheeky or they feel used or tell you to fend for yourself because they can't help you anyway. 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 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.

Do Not Doubt, but Persevere

Jam 1:6. In the previous section you saw that God loves to see you come to Him. But 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. If 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 driven up and down. Doubt looks like the open sea, where the waves are a plaything of the wind. Such is a man who doubts: he is a plaything of opinions of other people to which he opens himself.

Jam 1:7. It is not wrong to seek one another for advice, but that advice is not to take the first and leading place. If the advice of others means that much to you that your trust in God is not effective anymore, you will receive nothing from the Lord. 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.

Jam 1:8. 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, it is not possible to understand him. 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.

Jam 1:9. After the general principles about endurance in trials, James applies these principles to “the brother of humble circumstances”. You can 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 is in danger 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 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 it can be seen as a test of 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 may do so because of his connection to Christ. The poor may glory in his exaltation because Christ is not ashamed to call him ‘brother’ (Heb 2:11). This title is 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.

Jam 1:10. James has also a word for the socially prosperous one. The rich man who glories or 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 glory “in his humiliation”, which means in what he in himself is to God. In himself the rich man is a sinner who cannot stand before God. In addition, it will be a good thing for him to realize that all his riches will pass away. That not only goes for the riches of the rich man, but also for the rich man himself, “he will pass away”.

Jam 1:11. Grass represents the prosperity of human life with its inextricable link that that prosperity will quickly pass away. The flower gives the grass color and luster, but the color and luster of the flower also pass away quickly.

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 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 at 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. If 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 lofty and lifted up (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, which reveals everything, it will be seen what it has been all worth.

Jam 1:12. With the promise “blessed” to the man who perseveres under trial, James concludes the introductory section about the test of faith. The man who has overcome the trial, receives beside that approval also a reward. To him “the crown of life” will be given.

The Greek 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 during the Olympic Games in those days. With this crown in view, a participant was prepared to make great efforts and impose on himself all sorts of denials. The stephanos is a great encouragement to run the race.

In this sense the ‘crown of life’, also mentioned in Revelation 2 (Rev 2:10), will be handed over by the Lord Jesus on the day of decoration. Other crowns to be deserved will also be handed out on that day, like ‘the crown of righteousness’ (2Tim 4:8) and ‘the unfading crown of glory’ (1Pet 5:4). Those who have endured the trials 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 returns with His own, they will be characterized by ‘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; Jn 14:6). They will bear 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 marveled at among 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 Jam 1:12. 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; Jam 2:5). That shows that the true practice of faith is only possible if love for the Lord Jesus is the driving force. Only love for Him will have the effect in you that you exert yourself and make sacrifices. 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’s love for you.

Now read James 1:6-12 again.

Reflection: How can you receive the crown of life?

Partakers of the New Creation

Jam 1:13. The temptations James is talking about in this verse are of a totally different kind than the temptations or trials he has been talking about up to now. The temptation he has spoken about up to now are the temptations or trials you have to deal with in the life around you. Those are circumstances in the midst of which your find yourself in that challenge you to show your faith.

The temptations that James refers to in Jam 1:13-14 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 inner being.

God can test you through outward circumstances. His purpose with that is to bless you. You see that with the example of Abraham. To tempt Abraham, that is to test him and make his faith visible, God asked him to offer 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 or trial does not come from Abraham himself, but from God. When there is no question of sin, but obedience and perseverance are 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 inner being do not come from God. You can never say that God is trying to incite you 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 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 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 on 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 true, 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 incite us to sin. He does not tempt to sin.

Jam 1:14. When you give in to temptation then that is because you are drawn away and enticed by your own lust. 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.

Jam 1:15. Once that process has started lust will not only remain an inner lust but it will surely result in a deed. You now have come that far in your thinking about the lust that you also want to possess it. Then lust gives birth to sin. You take possession of the object of your lust, 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 sexual intercourse 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.

If 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 things 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 connects 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.

Jam 1:16. 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 brethren mean to him. You hear that in the way he addresses them, namely 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.

Jam 1:17. A wrong perception on temptations disturbs that relationship. If you say for example that God is against you when you are tempted, you give a false impression of God. James has exposed 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” (Jam 1:18). 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 connected 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” refers to the act of giving by God, in which there is absolutely no wrong motive. The expression “every perfect gift” refers 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 connected with darkness and sin.

Jam 1:18. Therefore, to be able to give you according to the purposes 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 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 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.

Reflection: What are the contrasts between the section of Jam 1:13-15 and the section of Jam 1:16-18?

The Practice of the New Life

Jam 1:19. After the wonderful explanation of the work of God in His own James continues with the practice of the new life. His purpose 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. If 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 Someone 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 if 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 if people treat you unjustly. That anger can just suddenly pop up if you see or hear something that is unjust or if you feel yourself to be offended. Then you lose your patience just like that.

Jam 1:20. 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 be careful that there is no self-interest involved. 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 grief go together perfectly (Mk 3:5a), 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.

Jam 1:21. In order not to fall into the trap of a wrong anger, James passes on some instructions. You have to put 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 put aside. As a matter of fact he is up to date when he starts with “all filthiness”. The world is full of that and it easily clings to the believer.

Filthiness may just jump toward you; it splashes from the bill boards alongside the road and if you do not watch out it is also on your television or computer screen. Do not look at it, 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”. If you are humble, God can implant His Word in you. ‘Humbleness’ 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.

Jam 1:22. 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 done to it, he would rather have John killed than go back on a promise he quickly made under the influence of his aroused lust (Mk 6:21-27).

Jam 1:23-24. 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 went away and forgot what kind of person he was. If you read in the Bible you must not do that in a hurry, but calmly. If 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 person you are, that you may adapt your life to it.

Jam 1:25. 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 humbleness 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 abide by 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.

Jam 1:26. 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 justified or judged according to our words (Mt 12:37). If 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 from his tongue comes a waterfall of words, deceives his own heart (Pro 13:3b; Pro 10:19).

Why is James that sharp in his judgment of the tongue? He will explain that penetratingly in chapter 3, but it is already clear here that what matters to him is that it comes down to deeds and not nice words. He 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.

Jam 1:27. 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 stained 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 distress you show them God’s Fatherly love. He is after all the Father of orphans and the Judge for the widows (Psa 68:5; Psa 146:9). God’s love seeks the helpless and the socially deprived ones. When you visit them in their distress 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.

However, this is not the only way to give substance to ‘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, but 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 in the power of the evil one (1Jn 5:19). You have been delivered from it (Gal 1:4), you do not belong to it 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 assessment of the world should determine your dealings with it, just as His care for the defenseless in that world should determine your care for them.

Now read James 1:19-27 again.

Reflection: How do you put into practice of what James says in this section?

© 2023 Author G. de Koning

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