We begin a new book of the Bible today—James. James is one of my favorite Bible books. I participated in Bible quizzing on James as a teenager in IL, and coached Bible quizzers on James in IN and MN. More than half of the verses of this first chapter of James are underlined in my Bible.
James’ writing style differs from the author of Hebrews. He is blunt and forthright in his writing.
The author of James was most likely the son of Joseph and Mary, which made him the half-brother of Jesus. Interestingly, James and other family members did not initially accept the teaching of Jesus.
In Mark’s account of Jesus, we find these verses.
“He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. And when His own people heard about this, they came out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’” Mark 3:20-21
The book of John tells us “For not even His brothers believed in Him.” John 7:5
However, after Jesus had risen from the dead, (“then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” I Cor 15:7), James’ life was transformed. He became an important leader of the church in Jerusalem and the surrounding early churches.
The first verse of James ties in with his widespread influence to the churches. He addresses his letter “to the twelve tribes which are dispersed abroad.” This audience was actually Jewish Christians, many of whom had been forced to leave their homeland due to persecution. They were new in their faith and needed instruction and encouragement that was straight forward and easily understood.
Think about the opportunities and choices available today for people who want to be a “do-it-yourselfer.” Whether it is home building or remodeling, cooking, gardening, crafting, “you name it,” there is a book, a manual, a TV program, a YouTube video, or a website that can help you out. (DIY network, HGTV, Craftsy, are a few that come to mind.) Paul A. Cedar calls the letter of James a “how -to-do-it manual for the Christian life.” James offers solid, practical instruction for Jesus’ followers.
“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Verse 2 tells us to be joyful when we face trials. It seems like a difficult thing to do, but remember, the Christians who first received this letter had experienced extreme trials to the point they had fled their homes to survive.
Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except something common to mankind; and God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
This is the joy we should have when trials confront us. And, as verse 3 says, “the testing of your faith produces endurance.” When we experience trials, our faith grows in the Lord, as we work towards our “perfect self” in God’s Kingdom. (verse 4)
James’ brother Jesus, our Savior, often told parables, or simple stories to help his audience understand his teaching. I find it interesting that James, like his brother, uses several illustrations in his letter to further explain his instructions to his readers.
If you lack wisdom, ask God for it, but don’t doubt you will receive it. One who doubts “is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. Let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (verses 5-8)
Blunt and to the point! No commentary by me needed!
Story/illustration #2–Verses 9-12
“Now the brother or sister of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; but the rich person is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so also the rich person, in the midst of his pursuits, will die out. 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.”
A Christian with limited means for livelihood “glories” in his coming inheritance in God’s Kingdom. A rich man/Christian should glory in the fact that his wealth is temporary, only of this world. Verse 11 gives us a visualization of the fleetingness of this life—hot sun, scorching wind, dead grass and flowers. (This picture reminds me of the drought areas around the US this past summer.) Both men are equal in their future reward, a “crown of life,” IF they “persevere under trial.”
James continues with straightforward, sensible instruction.
“No one is to 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.But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it has run its course, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters. 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.”
God, the Father of Lights, loves us, and is a generous giver. His greatest gift was His Son Jesus and the plan of salvation, but He has also given us the beautiful natural world to delight in and discover its wonders each day. God has given us our families, friends, jobs, food, homes. How blessed we are. And His care, His protection, His love never changes—“with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” This phrase reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Malachi 3:6a. “For I, the Lord, do not change.”
James continues with his direct approach in verse 19. He tells his readers to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Why? Verse 20 says, “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (Insert drum rimshot here!) Obviously!
Quick, Slow, Slow. In other words, 30 seconds to think and respond during a contentious conversation. Even Thomas Jefferson had this sage advice. “When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, a hundred.”
Verses 21-25 bring us another story/illustration to make James’ point, if we still don’t get it! The guidance is repeated with action words this time to begin the illustration.
- “Put aside filthiness and the remains of wickedness.”
- “Receive the word”
- “Prove yourselves doers, (not merely hearers, who delude themselves.)”
Don’t hold back, James!
Here comes the explanation/story. “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; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does.” (verses 23-25)
A man looks at himself in a mirror, walks away, and immediately forgets what he looks like. This man is like a person that listens to God’s Word, hears what “the preacher says,” and then leaves church on Sunday and lives his life the rest of the week not connected to God.
However, one who not only looks into God’s Word, (the perfect law of liberty) abides in it, and follows through with appropriate actions, is truly blessed in his life. Paul said it this way, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” Galatians 5:4. Where do you start?
James gives us an example in the last verse of James 1, verse 27. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Simple love in action. The Bible is our guidebook/how-to manual. We can’t just read it and not follow through. James 1 is direct instruction for the do-it-yourself generation.