During just four days in June, we will read through the Epistle of James. In this powerful exhortation on practical issues in the life of a true saint, James demonstrates that the motivating power of a believer’s life is faith. It provides the means of victory in every problem, enabling the believer to rise above every temptation and to surmount every trial. For “…this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Faith comes by “hearing the word of God” and must be manifest in a changed way of life. That belief (faith, conviction) must be demonstrated in works of faith—our spontaneous reaction in time of trial.

How can we be fortified against the pressures of the world on every hand? Young people, families, children at school, adults in the workplace… only one way is effective in the warfare! Unless our ear is daily attentive to the voice of God it is impossible to develop that belief and conviction which is faith: and without faith “it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6), and equally impossible to overcome the world.

Background

The Epistle of James was written in the “last days” of Judah’s Commonwealth. Like the end of any epoch—the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, or today—similar conditions prevail, and it becomes a time of testing for the Ecclesia. But this is surely what life in the Truth is all about—the development of a character out of trial to the glory of Yahweh.

The Apostle Peter states that our Hope gives us cause to “greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6,7).

This is the principal message of this short Epistle—the ability to see past present suffering and consider the joy set before us.

The Ecclesia To Whom James Wrote

James wrote “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”—that is, the Diaspora. They were scattered in such a way after the murder of Stephen (Acts 8:1). We do not read of any Gentile element whatever in the ecclesias to whom James wrote. However, his words have great relevance for Gentile believers today, who walk by faith and not by sight and who rest in the Hope of the Promises made unto the Fathers.

At the time of writing, Jewish believers still maintained their observance of the customs of the Law and of Temple worship, seeing in the ‘shadowy’ ceremonies and sacrifices the substance, which was Christ. Paul, for example, saw nothing inconsistent in going up to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple (Acts 24:11–21). We note the Jewish converts mentioned in Acts 2:46, “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house”—they worshipped in the Temple and also conducted Memorial meetings in the home. These Jews continued their association with the synagogue in the lands of their dispersion, until extreme opposition forced them to establish their own separate ecclesias. James mentions both the Synagogue and the Ecclesia (Ch 2:2; 5:14).

Many to whom James wrote experienced trial, hardship and persecution: many suffered from the opposition of their wealthy fellow-Jews, who had not embraced “the things of the Kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ”, and who were, no doubt, members of the synagogue.

The Epistle

JOY—James commences his epistle—“Count it all joy when you fall into divers trials…”(Jas 1:2). In his opening salutation, the word “greeting” means “be joyful or happy”, and James takes up this idea in his exhortation to his readers. Trials are not naturally joyful (Heb 12:11), but even the Lord himself benefitted from the experience of suffering (Heb 5:8; 12:2).

TRIALS—The words “trial” and “temptation” can mean different things in English, but in the Greek one word serves for both. James has argued that the child of God should look upon temptation (or trial) as one of the means by which the Father disciplines him to steadfastness and righteousness, that he may be accounted worthy to inherit the Divine Nature. It is possible, however, to respond to trial in quite a different way—that of the man who fails to endure it faithfully and instead of being “exercised” by the chastening process, succumbs to it. Often he is unwilling to recognise his own responsibility for failure. He seeks to shift the blame, and finds but one—God Himself (Ch 1:13, cp Prov 19:3).

ENDURANCE—It is not uncommon for a person to follow Christ out of wrong or mixed motives. He may even be self-deceived, but when persecution arises because of his allegiance, pretence and self-delusion can be no longer hidden, for persecution forces us into the open and only true faith will endure. The word “patience” in 1:3,4 is actually “endurance” and Rotherham renders verse 4 as, “But let endurance have a mature work that ye may be complete in every part, being destitute of nothing”.

WISDOM—Many of the brethren and sisters to whom James wrote were not being beneficially exercised by the trials they experienced. They were lacking in that wisdom which is from above (Ch 1:5) and therefore did not see the purpose of Divine trial. The wisdom they desperately needed was not just wisdom in a general sense, but the wisdom enabling them to put life in the right perspective: to see life through God’s eyes, and thereby endure the suffering.

SINGLEMINDEDNESS—God grants wisdom “liberally” (1:5) or “in singleness”. The word denotes an attitude which is wholehearted, unaffected and without reserve. God, who is righteous and consistent, gives only in singleness and cannot accept the approach of a “double-minded man” (1:6–8). The man who seeks God must do so “in faith, nothing wavering”. The essential idea of the word “wavering” is ‘division’ and there is a close link here with the underlying meaning of the word “double-minded”. A double-minded man cannot expect to receive from a single-minded God, nor does a single-minded Father beget double-minded children.

DIVINE BEGETTAL—God is constant, unchanging, and James uses the analogy of heavenly bodies to demonstrate this fact. He is the “Father of Lights”, who has begotten us by the Word of Truth. It is right and proper, therefore, that we give earnest attention to that Word as “children of Light”. But, says James, this must be manifest in action—“Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only”. This is the antidote to double-mindedness and self-deception (1:23–25).

James, however, clearly spells out the kind of “doing” he has in mind—“pure religion”, as he describes it in 1:26,27. The external aspects of worship to James’ readers could have meant ceremonial worship as under the Law, so he is quick to define his meaning.

In Chapter 2:1–13 James deals with another symptom of double-mindedness: they were “partial” (2:4, same as “waver”, 1:6) amongst themselves and they had regard for material distinctions between brethren (cp Rom 2:11; Prov 24:23).

In 2:14–26 James takes up a major theme showing that faith cannot save a man, without the accompanying works of faith. Brother Thomas comments in Mystery of the Covenant of the Holy Land Explained, concerning this matter that James,

“teaches that ‘faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone’. This is as true as the saying of Paul, ‘A man is justified by faith without works of the law’, and between them there is no real contradiction. The works James speaks of are those opposed to ‘the works of the flesh’, and termed ‘the fruit of the Spirit, such as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance’. Now, James teaches that if a justified man’s faith (and he cites Abraham as an example) be unaccompanied with such works as these, he is possessed of a dead faith, and has no means of proving that he has faith at all. Paul says, Abraham was justified by faith; James that he was justified by works; both agree, for they speak of Abraham at different epochs of his life. James refers to the time of his offering up Isaac; and Paul to upwards of twenty years before his son was born. He was then justified from all his past sins by faith, or believing on God; he was afterwards, when proved, justified by works, the fruit of faith; by which works, says James, his faith was perfected… The works Paul was opposed to as a ground of justification were the works done in obedience to the law of Moses; but he agreed with James, that where the works of faith were wanting there was spiritual death; and that in such a case, though all past sins had been purged, the man was unfruitful of holiness, and therefore could not inherit the Kingdom of God” (pages 11,12).

He further comments in Elpis Israel on this matter of “faith and works” as follows:

“Abraham was the subject of a twofold justification, as it were: first, of a justification of faith; and secondly, of a justification by works. Paul says, he was justified by faith; and James, that he was ‘justified by works’. They are both right. As a sinner he was justified from his past sins when his faith was counted to him for righteousness; and as a saint, he was justified by works when he offered up Isaac… I have termed it a twofold justification by way of illustration; but it is, in fact, only one. The two stand related as cause and effect; faith being the motive principle it is a justification which begins with the remission of sins that are past, and is perfected in obedience unto death” (page 260).

James directs his words in chapter 3 to those who would be teachers (“masters” Ch 3:1) in the ecclesia. True leadership is to be encouraged, but some seek such a position because of the pre-eminence they imagine it affords them. “In many things we all stumble” (3:2), but a man who is able to control the tongue is certainly a mature (“perfect”) man, and a great burden of responsibility rests upon those who speak in the ecclesia.

James now gives two illustrations—the horse and his rider with the bit, and the ship with the pilot at the helm—two small things that have power to steer objects much larger. Like the bit in the horse’s mouth or the rudder of the ship, the tongue is only a “little member”; but it takes only a very small flame to set a whole forest on fire and James likens the tongue to “a fire” (3:5,6). The tongue is also a further indication of the double-minded man, “out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (3:10).

In the following two verses (3:11,12) James illustrates the consistency of nature and contrasts that with human kind. Christ also alluded to the same problem in Matthew 12:33 and concluded “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh” (Matt 12:34).

James sets forth two qualities that those who aspire to teach should possess—good conduct (“conversation”), and “meekness of wisdom” (3:13), but an unhealthy spirit of rivalry and competition produces no benefit or honour to the truth. He describes such “wisdom” as “earthly” (from beneath), “sensual” (stemming from the propensities) and “devilish” (generating a spirit of madness). True Divine wisdom, as James has shown, comes from above (Ch 1:5,17), and it is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason (“easy to be entreated”), full of mercy and good fruits (cp 3:12), without partiality (cognate words ‘wavering’, ‘doubting’ 1:6; ‘partial’ or ‘divided’ 2:4), and without insincerity (“without hypocrisy”).

He now turns his attention in Chapter 4 to disputes and controversy which apparently disturbed the unity of the ecclesia at that time, and which is not unknown in our day as well. These conflicts were the product of lust and motivated by envy and were so serious as to render their prayers ineffective. In addition, their growing friendship with the world brought them into a state of enmity with God (4:1–4). Here again was a further example of their double-minded attitude.

On the other hand, God loves his children with a deep affection, akin to jealousy (4:5; “or do you suppose that it is in vain that the scripture says ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit which He has made to dwell in us’”, RSV), yet that jealousy does not lead Him (as it does with men) to the grudging of His gifts: rather does He bestow His grace in greater measure upon those who respond in humility.

James calls for complete repentance and an end to the evil-speaking and judging between brethren: he reminds them of the Lawgiver and Judge who can save or destroy. He directs them to a more faithful outlook by calling to their attention the Divine Providence in life, which puts life in its proper perspective and leaves no room for presumptuous pronouncements (4:13–17).

In Chapter 5 James first addresses the rich among his readers. In view of the approaching crisis and the destruction of the Jewish State, it is futile to “heap up treasure together for the last days”. It is a warning applicable in our day when we await the end of all things as at present constituted and the appearing of the Lord from heaven.

James likewise warns his readers of the nearness of the Lord’s coming in judgment on the nation and returns to his earlier theme of endurance under trial, citing the examples of the prophets and the patience of Job (5:7–11).

Finally, James directs them to the power of prayer and illustrates the fact that, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” with the incident of Elijah’s prayer for rain. There is again here an inference suggesting the need for a single-minded approach in prayer to the Father (Ch 1:6–8).

James concludes on a note of hope, urging consideration one for another and the need to labour to help our brethren and sisters to the Kingdom. And surely this is our daily endeavour in the Ecclesia of today—to make ready a people prepared to meet the Lord at his coming. We do well to take heed to the words of our Brother James as the crisis of the ages is upon us and “the judge standeth before the door”.

Analysis

(1) How Faith Can Triumph Over Trials—Chapter 18 

Introduction                                                                    v1

Rejoicing in tribulation                                              v2–4

Faith enables a person to seek God correctly         v5–8

Faith conquers double-mindedness                       v9–11

Faith develops endurance                                            v12

The source of sin                                                            v13–16

The source of righteousness                                     v17–18

The Believer’s responsibility in Christ                    v19–22

Faith must be exhibited in action                         v23–25

Without Faith religion is in vain                             v26–27

(2) How Faith Can Govern Actions Towards Others—Chapter 2

The Failure—Partiality                                                                         v1–4

The Cause—Despising the Poor                                                         v5–7

The Contrast—Right versus Wrong                                                  v8–11

The Corrective—Bear in mind coming judgment                          v12–13

The Fact—Faith profitless without works                                     v14–20

The Examples—A Hebrew and a Gentile                                        v21–26

(3) How Faith can Discipline the Tongue—Chapter 3

A Warning for Teachers                                                 v1–2

The Tongue’s power for evil                                            v3–6

The Tongue’s ungovernable nature                             v7–8

The Tongue’s inconsistent speech                                v9–12

Faith teaches the virtue of silence                                v13–16

Faith teaches the value of true wisdom                      v17–18

(4) How Faith Can Purify Character—Chapter 4

The Failure—Wars and Conflict                        v1–5

The Corrective—Seek the gift of grace               v6–10

The Principle—Respect for Others                     v11–16

The Summary—Sin defined                                   v17

(5) How Faith Can Create Confidence in God—Chapter 5

The Warning—Judgment is coming                                  v1–6

Assurance—The oppressed will be vindicated                v7–12

Encouragement—How faith can empower prayer         v13–20