James Chapter 1
The reasons for believing James to be the Lord's
brother are well summarized elsewhere (1); his
introduction is therefore an essay in humility and not playing
on human relationships as a means to assert authority, seeing
he does not mention this fleshly relationship: "James, a servant
of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ". James the Lord's brother
being the clear leader of the early church, it would be fitting
that at least one of his letters (and Hebrews too?) be preserved.
His high position of respect is indicated by Mk.15:40 describing
a "James the less"- i.e. than the great James the Lord's brother.
It was not until after James' death that the Gospel mushroomed
among the Gentiles, which again points to a basically Jewish readership
being catered for. The Lord's brothers having been sceptical of
him during his ministry (Jn.7:3-5), James' depth of appreciation
must have developed at lightning speed for him to write this epistle
at a relatively early date. Two outstanding characteristics of
James are the constant allusions to previous Scripture, especially
the Gospels and Proverbs, and the intensely practical understanding
of the moment by moment spiritual battle which we all face. It
is worth noting that the most senior brother of the early church
scored highly on these points. His humility in calling himself
a servant of the Lord Jesus is remarkable- Paul could legitimately
lay weight to his reasoning by saying he had seen Christ in the
flesh (1 Cor.9:1; 2 Cor.5:16); how much more so could James have
gently pointed out his "(knowing) Christ after the flesh"?
"Greeting" (v.1) means literally 'I
wish you joy'. James then goes on to define what that joy is:
"Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations". And so
we are introduced to the basic theme of James- the machinery of
human nature and our evil desires, and how to overcome them. Contrary
to how it is often read, the temptations here are spiritual temptations-
so the context of the chapter and letter require. "Every man is
tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust (NIV "evil desire"),
and enticed" (1:14). The real temptations in life are to give
way to our evil desires; the trials of life like illness or disaster
may not necessarily tempt us so strongly in this way. It is easy
to think that 'temptation' refers to these 'physical' trials,
and to see those problems as things in themselves to be bravely
endured. But whether we lose a leg or miss a bus, the same spiritual
temptation of frustration- or whatever- may be presented to each
sufferer. The flesh tends to make a big difference between physical
and spiritual temptations; but to God- and James- the spiritual
temptations are of paramount importance; whatever physical temptations
we have are not for their own sake but to create the situation
which our evil desires will use to tempt us spiritually. For other
examples of 'temptation' and trial referring primarily to the
spiritual temptations that lie behind the physical trials, see
James exhorts us to count falling into
spiritual temptation as a joy; instead of the 'here we go again...',
'sin after sin' kind of attitude descending on us as we sense
such temptations approaching. We must instead rejoice that here
is another opportunity to please God on the highest level possible;
to have an evil desire in your heart and to overcome it. The idea
of falling ("When ye fall..") may create the idea of giving way
to the temptations. But there may be some degree to which we fall
(2) a little way before we
are tempted: "Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away (from
his normal safe spiritual self, abiding in Christ) of his own
lust" (1:14). There is surely no real temptation if the evil desire
appears so unattractive as to not even lead us part way towards
realizing it. Thus the devil in the sense of Christ's natural
desires (Heb.4:15 cp. James 1:14,15) led Jesus away from His own
supreme spirituality to tempt him (3).
"Knowing this, that the trying of your faith
worketh patience" (v.3). Our joy at the onset of temptation should
be because we know that we have an opportunity to develop permanent
spiritual fruit, if only we can respond correctly in those split
seconds when the process of being drawn away and enticed is going
on. The trying of our faith due to spiritual temptation is in
the sense of our faith that God "is able to keep (us) from falling"
(Jude 24). In the moment of temptation, whether it be from an
unkind word from someone or irritation at someone's natural characteristics,
our joy will be helped by our faith that God will keep us from
falling, and will not lead us any further into temptation unless
we go on ourselves. However, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing
by the word of God" (Rom.10:17).
"Thy word have I hid in mine heart (source of
our evil desires), that I might not sin against Thee" (Ps.119:11).
Thus the spiritual temptations lead to a testing of the faith
developed by the word- perhaps implying that each individual piece
of spiritual faith developed by the word is then tested by a spiritual
At this point it is worth drawing attention
to the remarkable parallels between James 1 and 1 Peter 1 (4).
The infallible principle of interpreting Scripture by Scripture
will therefore allow more light to be shed on much of James 1.
Peter's parallel to "the trying of your faith worketh patience"
is "Ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the
trial of your faith...tried with fire" (1 Pet.1:6,7). A heavy
spirit is more likely the result of prolonged spiritual temptation
than physical trials, although these were no doubt the cause of
the spiritual tests. The fire therefore represents the fire of
the flesh, a figure which James also uses regarding the tongue
as the epitomy of our evil desires (3:5,6). Thus Prov.16:27: "An
unGodly man diggeth up evil (out of the evil treasure of his heart-
or is this the basis of the wasted talent parable?): and (therefore)
in his lips there is as a burning fire"; cp. too 1 Cor.7:9. It
is the constant reaction to spiritual trial that forges an acceptable
character, not just the receipt of physical trial, as would be
the case if the fire only represented persecution in itself. This
trial of faith "worketh patience"- which must therefore be defined
in this context as the ability to grit one's teeth in the moment
of temptation, and cling on to one's faith in God's spiritual
protection in the power of the word.
Such patience results in a "perfect
work..perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (1:4; note the triple
emphasis of the same idea) in terms of spiritual development.
The word of God has the power to make perfect (2 Tim.3:16; 1 Cor.13:10),
and we have seen its place in developing the faith and patience
which James says lead us to perfection. The trial of faith leads
to the development of these fruits of the Spirit; yet the word
also leads to the same fruits (Jn.15:7 cp. v.4,5). For more examples
of the word generating spiritual trial and trials having the same
effect as the action of the word on us, see Digression 2. The
goals of spiritual development James sets are high- contrast Paul,
who frequently laments the realities of the flesh (why the different
approach?). Maybe James was alluding to Christ's ultimatum "Be
ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is
perfect", Mt.5:48. The idea of perfection occurs again in 3:2,
where it applies to the man who does not offend in word, and therefore
has his whole life in tight control- again, the result of a mind
fully controlled by the word. In the context of sin and forgiveness,
Paul's words in Rom.5 take on new meaning: "We glory in (spiritual)
tribulations (cp."Count it all joy...") also: knowing that (spiritual)
tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience,
hope: and hope maketh not ashamed" (Rom.5:3-5). "Tribulation"
is therefore to be equated with "the (spiritual) trial of your
faith" in James 1.
The interpretation of "faith" as faith in God's
keeping us from falling (Jude 24) is confirmed by a closer look
at Rom.5; "Not only so, but we glory in tribulations also"-
as if he is saying that the "tribulations" had the same effect
as "being justified by faith (in forgiveness), we have peace (through
forgiveness) with God...we have access by faith (in forgiveness)
into this grace..." (Rom.5:1,2). So we see the equation: "Tribulations"
(Rom.5:3)= same effect as having total faith in forgiveness (Rom.5:1,2)=
"the trial of your faith" that God will help you overcome your
sin (James 1:3), i.e. keep you from spiritually falling (Jude
24). In the language of Rom.5, the "experience" of patiently resisting
sin gives birth to hope- confidence and a positive approach, hoping
for grace in the last day. The more we overcome the hour by hour
nigglings of the flesh, the more humbly confident we will be of
our eternal future.
"That ye may be perfect" may seem an unreasonably
high target. In Eph.4:13 Paul says that through the ministry of
the Spirit (now in the word) we are on the way to the "perfect
man" state; he implies that he too is on that journey ("till we
all come"). Yet in Phil.3:12-17 Paul speaks as if whilst he has
not yet reached that state, striving for literal perfection is
the same thing as being perfect. "Not as though I had already
attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after...reaching
forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark
for the prize...let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus
minded...be followers together of me" in this example of all out
striving for a perfect character. Does this indicate that a state
of perfection is theoretically possible for us in this life(5),
through developing a full faith in God's total justification of
us on account of our being in Christ? Thus both the word and the
blood of Christ sanctify us, seeing that the word reveals and
develops faith in Christ's sacrifice (Jn.17:17; Heb.10:10-14).
Both blood and water (the word- Eph.5:26) came from Christ's side
on the cross.
Word of wisdom
"If any of you lack wisdom" (1:5)-
"wisdom" is associated with the faith and perfection which James
well anticipates his readers would complain they lacked. We have
seen that the word is the source of such faith, perfection and
endurance; it seems fair to equate wisdom with the word. We will
see by and by that James makes frequent reference to Proverbs-
and in that book wisdom is almost a synonym for the word, in the
local instance the Law of Moses, upon which Proverbs is often
"Let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally,
and upbraideth not" (1:5). Again, James anticipates the natural
human fear that a totally spiritual God will upbraid us for our
lack of spiritual strength; but God's giving of such strength
is "liberal", to whoever asks. James evidently interpreted "Ask,
and it shall be given you" (Mt.7:7) as primarily referring to
asking for spiritual strength and knowledge. Similarly "...how
much more shall your Father which is in Heaven give good things
("the Holy Spirit", Lk.11:13) to them that ask Him?" (Mt.7:11).
These passages appear to be alluded to by James here- thus wisdom,
the word, the Holy Spirit, good things , "every good gift and
perfect gift" (1:17), God's spiritual help to overcome sin, are
all equated. These things are further defined in 3:17 as resulting
in peace and harmony.
"Upbraideth not" can imply to taunt, to cast
in the teeth. James implies God doesn't do that, implying
some others did. No doubt he was referring to the spiritually
elitist Judaizers, who would have rejoiced to mock the spiritually
immature who humbly sought for spiritual strength to overcome
their temptations. "Upbraideth not"! God expects us to
crawl to Him seeking for such strength to do better. But half
the time our love of true spirituality just isn't strong enough
to motivate us, and we let our fear of God's holiness and righteousness
make us fear His 'upbraiding'.
"But let him ask in faith, nothing
wavering". A half hearted 'Dear God please keep me from this sin
I think I may well commit soon' is no good. It is easy to conceive
of faith as a sense of hope and trust in God in time of physical
trial. But far more is it a totality of belief that God will hold
us back from sinning as the temptation starts to develop- surely
the supreme way of showing faith.
"He that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven
with the wind". There must be a connection with the later description
of a controlled tongue being the force that overcomes fierce winds
(3:2-4). Words being a reflection of the mind (Mt.12:34), controlled
words show a controlled mind, which is through the influence of
the word. Such a man is a "perfect man" (3:2)- i.e. matured by
the word (2 Tim.3:16,17; 1 Cor.13:10). Thus the only way to ask
for spiritual strength is if the mind is firmly controlled by
the word, which thus generates an upwards spiritual spiral- "unto
every one that hath (of spiritual strength) shall (more) be given...but
from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he
hath" (Mt.25:29). This parable of the talents must refer to spiritual
knowledge and strength, and the need we have to develop (trade)
the spiritual gifts we have been given. Notice how we are given
the talents/ gifts of spirituality, totally at the discretion
of the Master. In a similar way, the gift of wisdom in James 1:5
equates with the "good..and..perfect gift...from the Father...the
word of truth" of 1:17,18 and the wisdom that descends from above
that is pureness, peace, gentleness, mercy etc. in 3:17.
Wave on the water
"Wavereth" comes from a root meaning
'division', giving the idea of inner debate. We will see that
time and again James is warning us against having a semi-spirituality,
whereby only part of our mind is totally influenced by the word,
whilst other parts still retain the thinking of the flesh. "He
that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind
James being so shot through with allusions to
the Gospels, it is tempting to think that James is as it were
taking a snapshot of Peter, wavering both in his physical movement
and in faith as he stood on the water. Jesus did not upbraid Peter
(cp.1:5) for his request for strength and support, but was eager
to satisfy it.
There is also a possible connection with Eph.4:13,14,
which says that the miraculous Spirit gifts were to be possessed
until the church reached the "perfect man" state, i.e.
when the canon was completed (1 Cor.13:8-10 cp. 2 Tim.3:16,17),
and that through being in that state they would "henceforth be
no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every
wind of doctrine...and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in
wait to deceive". The primary reference is doubtless to the doctrine
of the Judaizers. This would liken the brother in James 1 whose
faith in the Lord's protection from temptation is weak, to the
brother in Ephesians 4 who will not make full use of the word
to remain in the "perfect man" state, and is therefore liable
to be influenced by false teaching. Both brethren are weak for
the same reason- not making full use of the Spirit's gift in the
word. Eph.4:13,14 implies that firmly grasping the basic doctrines
of the one faith results in us not being blown about by winds.
This connection with James teaches that true doctrine will have
a very practical effect upon our lives; in this case, by developing
a firm faith.
James constantly sets before us the need to strive
for a "perfect" (complete, mature) man state, through having a
mind wholly committed to the word. His black and white, "hot or
cold" approach is now powerfully shown: "Let not that man (the
waverer) think that he shall receive anything of the Lord" (1:7).
This squashes the natural human reasoning that a bit of faith
in prayer will lead to a bit of response from God. Faith is an
absolute state. We either pray in faith- or with what are effectively
empty words. But of course by contrast, if we do not waver, we
certainly shall receive of the Lord. Again, there is another warning
against semi-spirituality: having faith within certain limits,
being content with expecting a small answer to our requests in
accordance with our shaky faith. The way James understands human
nature shines through, and it is fitting that someone of his experience
and insight into the moment by moment ways of the flesh should
have been the great leader of the early church. He too must have
analysed his sins and temptations like we also can do. The correlation
between his being such a senior brother and his evident appreciation
of the wiles of the flesh must be significant; something to think
about at the next ecclesial election?
The theme of semi-spirituality continues:
"A double minded man is unstable in all his ways" (v.8)- i.e.
all his spiritual ways. "Ways" is often used in a spiritual context
in Proverbs, to which James alludes so much. The more evident
allusion here is to Mt.6:24: "No man can serve two masters: for..he
will hate the one, and love the other..Ye cannot serve God and
mammon". James inspired interpretation of Matthew would make this
apply to our minds. One can quite easily serve two masters physically,
externally; as every self-examining Christian should be all too
aware. It is only in our heart that we can only serve one master.
"Mammon" in the James context is thus not just material goods,
but more importantly the lack of a totally spiritual mind which
is behind these things. Note again the 'all or nothing' approach.
While surely every reader of these words finds this somewhat worrying,
tempting to conclude that this exposition is so idealistic as
to be out of touch with reality, it does us no harm to reflect
that ultimately in God's sight things are in black and white.
As we read these words we are either in black or white with God.
The ideal standard is set by Christ speaking of taking up the
cross daily and following him. "To me to live is Christ, and to
die is gain" Paul could say. If our conscience is tuned according
to the word, we should be able to sense whether we are "double
minded...wavering" or with that totality of commitment to the
word in our heart, even if sometimes we falter. Considering these
things should make us all recognize that spiritually we are but
candles in the wind, desperately needing to make every effort
to resist the winds of the flesh, and seek the shelter of Christ
and His word of grace which keeps us from falling.
"Double minded" means literally 'two souled',
showing that the soul can refer also to the spiritual side of
man, as well as the carnal. Notice how in the context James is
talking about the mind being split into carnal and semi-spiritual
divisions. The 'souls' referred to in the phrase 'double minded'
would therefore be referring to attitudes of mind. For more on
'The Problem of Soul and Spirit', see Digression 3.
Rising up higher
"Let the brother of low degree rejoice
in that he is exalted" (v.9). The riches which exalt the poor
brother are the spiritual riches contained in the word (Ps.119:14;
Prov.3:16 etc.). A poor brother being exalted recalls the parable
about taking the lowest seat in the ecclesia so we may rise up
higher at the judgement. Yet James uses the present tense- "he
is exalted". This is one of many examples of believers being
spoken of as if in prospect they are already in the Kingdom (see
Digression 4), in the same way as Israel were constituted the
Kingdom of God at Sinai after their Red Sea baptism, but were
not fully manifested as such politically until their entry into
Canaan. Thus "The rich...is (present tense) made low
(i.e. told to take the lower seat, as he will at judgement)...he
shall (future) pass away" (v.10). However, this may have
had a primary reference to the rich Jews of the first century
being stripped of their wealth in some parts of the empire. Note
that Heb.10:34 was also written to the scattered, persecuted Christian
Jews whom James was addressing: "Ye...took joyfully the spoiling
of your goods". If James is alluding to the parable of the wedding
feast, then the reference to the poor brethren being given an
honoured seating place in God's sight in this life, would have
telling reference to the practice of the rich Christian Jews having
their own honoured seats in the ecclesias to whom James was writing
(2:3). This command to "rejoice" is in the context of v.2 speaking
about rejoicing in spiritual trial. For the low brother who was
to be exalted, the very thought of such greatness in the Kingdom
could be a temptation to pride- and he should rejoice in the chance
to fight this. 'Let him rejoice' shows that the kind
of joy James is thinking of would not come naturally, as it would
if the brother was just thinking of his exaltation in this life.
"Because as the flower of the grass
he shall pass away". 1 Pet.1:24,25 has a similar passage: "All
flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.
The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But
the word of the Lord endureth for ever". The fading grass is contrasted
by Peter to the enduring Word of God, and this is repeated by
James. The humble brother taking the lowest seat in the ecclesia
(cp. the more spiritual members being told in 2:3 "sit here under
my footstool...stand thou there" because all the chairs were taken
by the rich) is connected with the one who asks the wisdom from
God (v.5), who is not wavering or double minded, and who through
the word is attaining to the perfect man state (v.4). Thus the
poor in this world are rich in the faith that comes by hearing
the word of God.
The figure of fading grass suggests reference
back to Is.40:5-8: "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and
all flesh shall see it together...The voice said, Cry. And he
said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness
thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the
flower fadeth...surely the people is grass...but the word of our
God shall stand for ever".
The "glory of the Lord" being revealed primarily
refers to Christ's manifestation to Israel at his first coming.
The preceding verses 3 and 4 describe John's preparatory work:
"The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness...". "All; flesh"
were to see the revelation of God's glory in Christ. This "all
flesh" can refer to the Jews, "all" of whom went out into the
wilderness to hear John's testimony regarding the coming Christ.
This is confirmed by v.7 "The (Jewish) people is grass". The "goodliness
thereof is as the flower of the field" would then be a reference
to the Jewish law, which was "holy, just and good" but offered
a fading glory, which Paul in 2 Cor.3:7-18 said epitomized the
Law. The word of the Lord (v.5) and "the spirit of the Lord" (v.7)
were to make the grass wither and pass away, although the word
would remain. This pointed forward to the ending of the Jewish
system and Law through the work of Christ, "the word made flesh",
"the Lord the Spirit" (2 Cor.3:18 R.V.), and the ministry of the
James seems to have this background in mind when
he makes the allusion in 1:9-11 to Is.40. The rich Christian Jews
of the first century who were not that humble to the power of
the word may well also have been swayed by Judaist arguments.
They are being likened to the "grass" of Is.40, which represented
the Jewish system which was to be replaced by a permanent, unfading
system based on the word. The Messianic Ps.102:4,11 describes
our Lord as being "withered like grass", showing how in his life
and death on the cross he took upon himself the punishment of
apostate Israel. James is neatly exhorting them to commit themselves
wholly to the word, lest the demise of the Jewish system should
result in their fading away too. Yet there is also the very primary
application to the materialism of this group, being obsessed by
their earthly riches. "So also shall the rich man fade away in
his ways". "Ways" is elsewhere translated "journeyings", and would
connect with the reference to the itinerant Jewish traders in
4:13: "Ye (amongst the believers) that say, Today or tomorrow
we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy
and sell, and get gain".
"For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning
heat ("a hot wind", Gk.), but it withereth the grass...blessed
is the man that endureth temptation" (v.11,12) is an obvious allusion
to the person who received the word and quickly "sprung up, because
they had no deepness of earth", referring to the person who falls
away due to temptation (Mt.13:5,20,21). The rich members of the
ecclesia had therefore only let the word enter them skin-deep;
it had not penetrated far through the "earth" of the flesh. The
rising of the sun can refer both to Christ's coming (Mal.4:2)
and also to trials. In a sense both these meanings were fulfilled
in AD70, when the rich Jews converted just prior to AD70 fell
away, having endured only "for a while". The call to let God's
word fully penetrate our flesh goes out to us with great urgency,
living as we do on the brink of the final period of trial, and
the full coming of Christ. More thoughts concerning all this will
be found in Digression 13 about the parable of the sower.
Moment by moment
"Blessed is the man that endureth (spiritual)
temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of
life" (1:12). Now James is giving us supreme encouragement in
those moments when the decision between flesh and spirit looms
large. When we endure spiritual temptation, hanging on to the
spiritual side of our minds, we will at that moment receive a
crown for overcoming in Heaven. Because of this, we will be given
the crown of victory at the judgement (2 Tim.4:8), which has been
developed as a result of our moment by moment spiritual victories
in this life. Therefore each temptation we face is like a mini-judgment
seat. This idea of there being some recognition in heaven the
moment we achieve a spiritual victory is perhaps based on Mt.5:11,12.
So much of James is rooted especially in the Sermon on the mount.
"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you...rejoice, and be exceeding
glad: for great is (present tense) your reward in Heaven".
Our eternal life "is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who
is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him
in glory" (Col.3:3,4) Similarly Rev.3:11 implies we do now have
the crown in a sense: "Hold fast that thou hast (your reward you
have in prospect?) that no man take thy crown". Through our trials,
God "scourgeth every son whom he receiveth", and therefore we
can be spoken of in the continuous tense as "receiving a Kingdom"
through our continued correct response to trials (Heb.12:6,28).
In those moments of spiritual temptation it is
easy to recognize that the situation creating the temptation has
clearly been arranged by God, and therefore to get bitter against
Him. But "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God"
(v.13). Now the earlier definition of 'temptation' as the spiritual
temptation to sin which arises within us becomes vital. God may
put the physical temptation in our way- e.g. the serpent in Eden,
God tempting Abraham in Gen.22:1- but our evil desires or "lusts"
in our minds (v.14) are alone responsible for our sinning, due
to wrongly responding to these physical temptations. Thus God
could therefore examine the inner thought process of David's mind
to reveal whether he was giving way to the spiritual temptations
that would be developed by the physical trials: "Examine me, O
Lord, and prove (same word as "tempt" in Gen.22:1) me; try my
reins and my heart" (Ps.26:2). Thus "Every man is tempted, when
he is drawn away" (v.14).
"When lust hath conceived, it bringeth
forth sin". The lusts inside our mind are being likened to an
attractive woman enticing us. Thus the instinct to illicit sexual
sttraction within us is seen as a type of all wrong attraction
to sins of any kind. It is a repeated New Testament theme that
the punishment for sin is some kind of burning by fire. To the
Old Testament mind, this image of being burnt at judgment day
would have connected with the command to burn a whore (Lev.21:9);
thus all types of sin are to be seen as prostitution against God.
The same process in sexual attraction of a wrong thought taking
root, constantly preying on the spiritual mind, resulting in our
allowing it to grow under the excuse that we are still in control,
eventually bringing forth gross sin, is repeated time and again
as we are faced with the spiritual temptations of life every hour.
The same figure occurs in Num.15:39 speaking of 'going a whoring'
"after your own heart and your own eyes", as if our natural mind
is a whore.
Our inherent sin and carnal mind being likened
to a whore or glamorous woman is a strong theme of Proverbs. The
important thing to note is that Proverbs emphasizes that it is
obedience to the word which will keep us from the lusts which
the woman represents. "The lips of a strange woman drop as an
honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil...hear me now therefore
(says the wisdom/word), O ye children, and depart not from the
words of my mouth. Remove thy way far from her" (by listening
to wisdom's words); Prov.5:3,7,8. "For the commandment is a lamp;
and the law is light...to keep thee from the evil woman, from
the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman" (Prov.6:23,24).
The strange woman
Prov.7:1-5 is an even stronger emphasis:
"Keep my words, and lay up my commandments..keep my commandments...My
Law...that they may keep thee from the strange woman, from the
stranger which flattereth with her words". The woman was "subtle
of heart" (v.10), recalling the serpent, and had a guise of spirituality:
"I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows"
(v.14). She reasons that "the goodman is not at home, he is gone
a long journey: he hath taken a bag of money with him, and will
come home at the day appointed" (v.19,20). This is almost certainly
the basis of Christ's parable of the talents, revealing that the
reasoning of the one talent man was that Christ was not physically
around, therefore he need not develop. Thus that man does not
represent just the lethargic Christian; but the man who consciously
indulges in sin because he cannot feel the Lord's presence. "The
goodman" is further equated with Christ in Mt.20:11. Notice the
emphasis in the three Proverbs passages mentioned on the words
of the woman being her means of attraction. Prov.7:21 is explicit:
"With her much fair speech (cp. the serpent again, and 2 Cor.11:3;
Rom.16:18, which connect the fair speaking, the whore, the serpent
and the Judaizers) she caused him to yield". Words are a reflection
of the mind (Mt.12:34), again indicating that the woman represented
an epitomy of fleshly thinking. The parable of the prodigal son
is clearly meant to show the path which we all take whenever we
sin. The women upon whom he wasted his (spiritual) substance represent
our giving way to sin in its various forms (Lk.15:13).
The good gift
Again, James warns us not to err in
thinking that God is leading us into sin by stressing that "every
good gift and every perfect gift (gift of perfection) is from
above, and cometh down from the Father of lights" (v.17). The
gift that leads to perfection must be that of the written word,
replacing as it did the temporary ministry of the miraculous gifts
(1 Cor.13:8-10). This coming down of the "good gift" (cp. "the
good word of God", Heb.6:5) is parallel with the gift of wisdom
in v.5, which gift is further expanded in 3:15-17: "The wisdom
that is from above is first pure (cp. "the words of the Lord are
pure"; "Thy word is very pure", Ps.12:6; 119:140), then peaceable,
gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits".
Thus the effect of asking for wisdom (1:5) is to be liberally
given the gift of responding to the word so that it cultivates
a fullness of spiritual fruits in us (1:17; 3:17). The gift of
wisdom produces a fullness ("full of...") of characteristics which
recall the moral characteristics of God's Name as declared to
Moses: "Merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant (cp.
"full of good fruits") in goodness and truth, keeping mercy..."
(Ex.34:6,7). The R.V. describes Yahweh as a God "full of" these
things. Thus the word through developing those characteristics
in us leads to God's Name being upon us and God being manifested
The gift of the word "cometh down from the Father".
'Coming down' is the language of God manifestation- e.g. God "came
down" upon Mount Sinai in a mighty theophany; Jesus "came down
from Heaven"; God "came down" to destroy Sodom and Babel. It is
through the word 'coming down' into our hearts that we are able
to manifest God. Thus Jn.3:5 speaks of being born again (lit.
'from above')- which 1 Pet.1:23 interprets as being born of the
word. There are many references to the word resulting in men carrying
the Name of God and thus manifesting Him: consider Jer.15:16 AVmg.;
Dt.18:18,19; Jn.17:6; 10:34-36, and how much the prophets manifested
God because they spoke the word of God, so that their words were
the word of God. More on this in Digression 5.
Father of lights
"The Father of lights" (v.17) is another
indication that the good and perfect gift which comes from Him
is connected with the word, which is "a light unto my path" (Ps.119:105,130;
Prov.6:23). Another connection in this context starts in 1 Jn.1:5:
"This then is the message (word) which we have heard of Him, and
declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness
at all". The prologue of John's Gospel is closely linked to that
of his epistles. The parallel to 1 Jn.1:5 is Jn.1:4 "In him (the
word) was life, and the life was the light of men". Thus the Father
of lights is the source of the logos-word, which is the gift that
can be given to us.
"With whom is no variableness, neither shadow
of turning". James again puts his finger on the feelings we have
in those moments of weakness- there is "no variableness, neither
shadow of turning" in the amount of spiritual strength He gives
us from the word. It is tempting to think that the power of the
word does vary, to despair that Bible reading can ever affect
the likelihood of us overcoming sin. If there is no variableness
in the power of the word, then it follows that any weakness to
temptation is solely our fault. Again, the ideal standard is hinted
at in a wonderfully gentle way- if the power of the word is constant
and able to overcome every spiritual temptation, then there is
the possibility- theoretically, sadly?- that we should have the
power now to overcome every temptation. Failure or success is
in our own hands.
"The gifts and calling of God are without
repentance" (change of mind, Rom.11:29). The gift of God is now
in the word, and the calling of God is also done largely through
it. Several of the Old Testament references concerning the unchanging
nature of God are in the context of speaking of the unchanging
word of God:
- In Num.23:19 Balaam assures Balak that God
will not suddenly give him a different prophetic word after
the one he had just given, and that the prophecy he had just
given would be surely fulfilled: "God is not a man, that He
should lie; neither the Son of man, that He should repent: hath
He said, and shall He not do it? Or hath He spoken, and shall
He not make it good?".
- Later Saul thought that the word of God was
variable, in that he doubted whether the command to totally
destroy the Amalekites still stood. Samuel rebuked him for not
"obeying the voice of the Lord...the Strength of Israel will
not lie nor repent: for He is not a man, that He should
repent" (1 Sam.15:22,29).
- Mal.3:6 "I am the Lord, I change not; therefore
ye sons of Jacob are not consumed"- because of the eternal covenant
(cp. the word) which God made with Israel.
- Titus 1:2,3: "In hope of eternal life, which
God, that cannot lie, promised...in...His word through preaching".
It may well be that in His defining of the gift as the word,
James is preparing the way for his readers to accept the changeover
in the manifestation of the gifts from the miraculous to the
ministry of the word.
In contrast to the process of conceiving
sin explained in v.14,15, "Of His own will begat He us with the
word of Truth" (v.18). The child of God is born "Not of blood,
nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God"
(Jn.1:13)- i.e. of the will of God. The act of intercourse which
leads to human conception is the ultimate and strongest expression
of the fleshly will of man. The same immense drive and will is
possessed by God, who channels it through His word to result in
the conception of spiritual people. What tremendous power
there is therefore in that word! Note the comparison: "Of his
own lust...of His own will...the word" (v.14,18).
"Being born again, not of corruptible (human)
seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God" (1 Pet.1:23).
Jn.3:3 says that the new birth comes from above- James 1:17 describes
the good and perfect gift of the word as being "from above". Notice
that the word of God is connected with the will of God. Perhaps
our faith in our prayers is militated against by our resigned
'If it be Thy will' being so liberally sprinkled in them. Generally
the Biblical examples of prayer- which presumably guide our approach-
are conspicuous by their omitting of 'If it be Thy will...'. They
seem to request things in total faith- and normally receive them.
Even Paul in recounting his experience of having three prayers
go unanswered (2 Cor.12:8) does not make any specific comment
about the will of God. If we have the word of God in our minds
and guiding our prayers, then we will be praying according to
the will of God, "in the Holy Spirit". John 15:7 is explicit:
"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what
ye will, and it shall be done unto you". Jesus doesn't
say that our prayers will be answered according to God's will,
but according to our own will. This is because the word guiding
our thoughts results in our will becoming identical with that
of God, in so far as it is guided by the word. Again, an ideal
is being suggested to us- a wholly spiritual mind filled with
the word will result in a far more powerful prayer life. It is
by birth of the word, therefore, that we become a son of God,
part of the Divine family; and Jesus said "Whosoever shall do
the will of my Father which is in Heaven, the same is my brother,
and sister, and mother" (Mt.12:50)- thus equating the will of
God and the word. Similarly Jn.7:17 "If any man will do His will,
he shall know of the doctrine" (in the word). Even more fundamentally,
the covenant name of God is 'I will be who I will be' (Ex.3:14
R.V.mg)- and God executes the will that is intrinsic in His very
Name through His word. Thus as we saw earlier in considering v.17,
a proper response to the word leads us to bear the name of God.
"A kind of firstfruits"
"That we should be a kind of firstfruits
of His creatures" (v.18)- as a result of the word's action on
our mind, in the context of James 1, these firstfruits must be
a state of mind. "His creatures" would therefore be the spirit-bodies
that are the ultimate end of God's creation. However, we can have
the firstfruits of that state now in our minds, which if they
are spiritual are the only part of our bodies which are experiencing
the Kingdom life now, albeit in a limited form. An alternative
approach to this verse is to view the "creatures" as the whole
multitude of the redeemed, of which the present believers are
only "the firstfruits". In this case, all the faithful who have
been influenced acceptably by "the word of truth" are only a small
foretaste of the many who will be so converted in the Millennium.
This raises fascinating questions about the population and nature
of the Millennium, and indicates the relatively small number of
the faithful in the world's previous history.
Because of the glorious power of the word as
outlined in the previous verses, "Wherefore (therefore), my beloved
brethren, let every man be swift to hear" that powerful word.
The idea of running swiftly in eager response to the word is quite
a common Biblical idiom (2 Thess.3:1; Ps.119:32,60; Hab.2:2; Amos
8:11,12; Dan.12:4). Inevitably some practical examination of our
eagerness of response to the word has to be made. How frequently
do we rise up from our readings with an eager resolve to do something
practical, to make some subtle change in our character? How often
do our minds burn and race within us as we chase connections and
themes through Scripture (cp. Lk.24:32) and God's word falls open
to us? Or are we content to dash through "The readings" on the
way to work, or leave them to the dog end of the day? God and
the Angels no doubt look eagerly to those parts of the day when
we read the word as their opportunity to guide and teach us, to
strengthen us against the flesh. What a despite to them if our
minds are somewhere else as we read- if we bother doing the readings
at all that day.
The wrath of man
The practical effects of swiftly hearing
this powerful word are to make us "slow to speak, slow to wrath"
(v.19). Along with many other examples in James, this definitely
alludes to the Proverbs- in this case 10:19 and 17:27 for "slow
to speak", and 14:29 for "slow to wrath". The context in these
passages is that "instruction...reproof(10:17)... knowledge...
understanding (17:27) ...understanding" (14:29) lead to the control
of speech and wrath. All these things are true concerning the
word- the ultimate source of reproof (2 Tim.3:16,17) and understanding.
This is exactly the context of James 1- by being "swift to hear"
the spiritual strength which is in the word, we find the strength
in practical terms to be "slow to speak, slow to wrath". It may
be that James is alluding to Moses being "slow of speech, and
of a slow tongue"- i.e. rather quiet, unsure of his words. Hence
God reassured him: "I will teach thee what thou shalt say" (Ex.4:10-12).
This would be specially relevant to James' persecuted Jewish readership;
telling them to 'be like Moses' in his quiet speaking.
"The wrath of man (i.e. wrath as the expression
of his feelings uncontrolled by the word) worketh not the righteousness
of God" (v.20). The implication is that the word making us "slow
to wrath" does work the righteousness of God- i.e. the
word works or develops the righteous attributes of God within
us, e.g. being "slow to wrath". This is a specific characteristic
of God's Name (Ps.103:8;145:8); thus the word gives us God's Name
(see Digression 5). In a similar way, the spiritual trial of our
faith "worketh patience" (1:3)- another aspect of "the
righteousness of God". In this case, we see that the word has
the same effect upon us as trials. For more examples of this,see
Digression 2. Our present tribulation "worketh for us
a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor.4:17).
1 Jn.2:29 is also relevant- "every one that doeth righteousness
is born of God", which James says is by the word. Thus the word
of God acting on a man "worketh..the righteousness of God". There
are so many allusions in James to the Sermon on the mount that
the mention of the righteousness of God probably links with the
only time Jesus mentioned this, in Mt.6:31-33: "Take no thought,
saying, What shall we eat..but seek ye first the Kingdom of God,
and His righteousness". Thus seeking God's righteousness is contrasted
with over-concern about food. In the wilderness Jesus made the
contrast between not living by bread alone, but by every word
of God. Thus living by the word of God is associated with seeking
the righteousness of God. It is also stressed that we only receive
('work') the righteousness of God by faith (Rom.3:22; 10:3-6;
Phil.3:9)- which comes from the word (Rom.10:17- which is in the
context of a whole chapter showing that righteousness comes by
faith). For more examples of the action of the word leading to
God's righteousness being imputed to us, see Digression 5.
Receiving the word
"Wherefore lay apart all filthiness,
and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the
engrafted word"(v.21). Receiving the word so that it makes us
"slow to speak, slow to wrath" is helped by laying apart "filthiness
and superfluity of naughtiness". The Greek phrase translated "lay
apart" is elsewhere used always concerning forsaking the practical,
specific characteristics of the flesh (Heb.12:1; 1 Pet.2:1; Eph.4:25;
Rom.13:12). We have seen so far that James is emphasizing that
it is through the new birth from the word that this can be achieved.
1 Pet.2:1 also tells us to lay aside fleshly characteristics by
being "newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word" (v.2).
Similarly Eph.4:23-25: "Be renewed in the spirit of your mind...put
on the new man (created by the word)...putting away lying" (etc).
Rom.13:12,13 gives us the greatest motivation to make this effort
to so apply the word: "The night is far spent, the day (of the
Kingdom) is at hand; let us therefore cast off (same word "lay
apart") the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of
light. Let us walk honestly, as (if we are) in the day" of the
Kingdom. Thus we can therefore live now to some degree as we will
in the Kingdom- by using the word to cast off the flesh and put
on spiritual attributes, resulting in us walking (living in our
day to day lives) as if we are in "the day" of the Kingdom.
The word acting on our minds should help us lay
apart all "superfluity of naughtiness". "Superfluity" is from
the same word translated "abundance" in Mt.12:34 "Out of the abundance
of the heart the mouth speaketh". It must have occurred to us
all at some time that the command to bring "into captivity every
thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor.10:5) seems impossible
to achieve. There are so many thoughts which are necessary in
our secular lives, they cannot all be brought around to Christ.
However, the word "abundance" means 'that which is over and above
the necessary'. The point of bringing our thoughts to Christ is
so that our words will be Christlike, and as our thoughts lead
to our words, we must control them. The context of 2 Cor.10:5
is Paul justifying the apparently hard words he was having to
use to the Corinthians- he assured them that in practice he was
bringing all his thoughts captive to Christ, therefore his words
were not the outpouring of unspiritual bitterness. Thus only those
thoughts which are "of the abundance" of the heart (the
mind) control our words; those thoughts which are over and above
our necessary ones. James is saying that this "abundance" or "superfluity"
of wrong thinking ("naughtiness") can be displaced by the word.
"Receive with meekness the engrafted word" to
enable this, James advises. "Engrafted" means 'implanted', or
more literally 'something placed inside you which springs up'.
This must have some reference to the sower parable- "The seed
is the word", and if we are to receive the word meekly, James
must be likening us to the ground of the parable- in this case,
'meek' ground. Are we meek to the word- 'quiet, mild', as 'meek'
implies? It is so true that a settled, quiet mind is vital if
we are to let the word really act on us.
There may also be a reference back to Romans
11, where Paul reasons that the Gentiles had been grafted into
the Israelitish olive tree. Having a Jewish readership, James
is maybe gently hinting that all men, including Jews,
need the word grafted into them.
So far in this study we have spoken
in general terms about "the word" being the power of righteousness,
which comes down from above and germinates spiritual life within
us. This verse 21 gives us some hints as to a more precise definition.
We have noted the clear allusion to the parable of the sower-
the "engrafted"/ implanted word-seed. "The word of truth" of v.18
"begat" us, which the almost parallel passage in 1 Pet.1:23 says
is the seed-word of God. The word in the parable of the sower
is defined as "the word of the Kingdom" (Mt.13:19)- i.e. the Gospel
of the Kingdom. The sower parable shows the response of various
people to the Gospel which they initially hear. James
1:21 continues by saying that this word is "able to save your
souls". This recalls a number of passages which say that it is
the message of the basic Gospel which saves our souls:
"To you is the word of this salvation sent"
"The Gospel of Christ...is the power of God
unto salvation" (Rom.1:16)
"I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached
unto you, which also ye have received (cp. "receive with meekness
the engrafted word")...by which also ye are saved; if ye keep
in memory what I preached unto you" (1 Cor.15:1,2); this Gospel
which would save them was centred around the basic truths of
the resurrection and second coming of Christ which Paul goes
on to reiterate in 1 Cor.15. One of the conclusions arising
from this is that an ecclesia should regularly hold meetings
of some sort which re-iterate the basics of the Gospel. There
really is power in them, to save our souls.
The subsequent warning "Be ye doers of the word"
in the sense of bridling the tongue and visiting the sick (v.22,26,27)
implies that "the word" of the Gospel included practical matters-
something hinted at in many other passages. The believers to whom
James was writing had already received the implanted word-seed
of the Gospel at their conversion- but James implies that they
needed to keep on receiving it. 1 Pet.1:22,23 connects loving
"one another with a pure heart fervently" with "being born again...by
the word of God". Thus again the new birth is not just a question
of accepting doctrine in the sense of 'first principles', but
also the doctrine of practical Christian living. Thus it needs
continued intercourse with the word to create a stream of new
life. On a practical note, let us remember that we should get
this power of new life entering us from re-hearing the basic Gospel
as much as from the deeper parts of our Bible study. Thus Sunday
evenings at 6:30 should not be a session of sleepily having our
ears tickled with the fact we have the truth about man's mortality,
the nature of Christ, the Kingdom etc.- but one more chance to
eagerly receive that word of power and dynamic new life. Notice
that the word can "save your souls", showing that the soul does
not always just refer to the life or body/creature, but can also
refer to our spiritual selves, which the word is able to save
or preserve (see Digression 3).
Theory and practice
Having talked in theory so much about
the power of the word, James now warns: "But be ye doers of the
word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (v.22).
One of the easiest forms of self deceit is to hear the correct
exposition of the word and feel that therefore we are on the right
track towards the Kingdom. Yet a comparison with v.27 indicates
that it is quite possible to be "spotted by the world" as well
as being a hearer of the word. This must be something we are especially
liable to, hearing as many of us do up to three times a week the
correct exposition of the word at church meetings. There must
be a reference back to Rom.2:13: "for not the hearers of the Law
are just (ified) before God, but the doers of the Law shall be
justified". Thus again James is thinking of the Jewish nature
of his readership, and leading them to redirect their zeal for
keeping the Law to zeal for receiving and doing "the engrafted
word" of Christ's Gospel. "Deceiving" implies 'reasoning'- and
again, James has his finger on the pulse of human nature. If we
ask ourselves, 'Do I reason with myself that I am doing the word
when actually I'm only hearing it' the instinctive answer is,
'No, I'm not aware I do anyway'. The reasoning or "deceiving"
goes on in our deep subconscious. "Doer" is also translated "poet",
in the sense of a performer of a written script. Thus Paul speaks
of "how to perform that which is good (i.e. the law/word of God,
v.16) I find not" (Rom.7:18). This theme of self-deception is
continued in v.26- if a man "seem to be religious, and bridleth
not his tongue (he) deceiveth his own heart". Words are a product
of the mind (Lk.6:45), and thus to bridle the tongue is to bridle
the mind, which can only be done through the application of the
word. If this is not done, then we deceive ourselves- which v.21
says we do by hearing and not doing the word. Thus to be a doer
of the word in this case is to apply the word to our minds, to
consciously make the mental effort to let the word control our
thinking and words when in a provocative situation. Therefore
being a doer of the word does not necessarily involve any physical
The real works
There are other examples of 'works'
not being physical actions but mental effort to apply the word
to our minds:
- "This is the work of God, that ye believe
on Him whom He hath sent" (Jn.6:29- cp. Rom.10:17 "Faith cometh
by hearing...the word of God"). Prov.12:22 (Septuagint) speaks
of the man that "worketh faith".
- "The work of the Law written in their hearts"
- Sin "did work in our members" (Rom.7:5)
- God "hath begun a good work in you" (Phil.1:6)-
i.e. in your spiritual development
- "Fruitful in every good work...patience...longsuffering...
- A man carefully examining himself by the
word, "the perfect law of liberty", is "a doer of the work"
- We will be judged according to our works
(Rev.22:12)- and our spiritual development rather than physical
achievements will be of paramount interest to our Judge.
- Those who believe false doctrine about Christ's
nature should be shunned because "He that biddeth him God speed
is partaker of his evil deeds", i.e. his beliefs (2 Jn.11,7).
A like example is in Rev.2:6,15: "The deeds of the
Nicolaitanes, which I also hate...the doctrine of the
Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate".
- Similarly Jesus worked "the works of Him
that sent me" (Jn.9:4; 17:4) not just in miracles and good deeds,
but in developing that perfect character until He "finished
the work (of saving man) which Thou gavest me to do" .
- "The works of Abraham" (Jn.8:39) in the context
were to believe in Christ.
All this is part of the great Bible theme that
our thoughts really are reckoned as works by God. In the light
of this housebound housewives and hard working bread winners can
take courage that their lack of 'works' physically achieved is
totally appreciated by the Father. With this definition of works
it is no longer necessary to feel we can only work for God at
weekends or in the evenings- or after the children are asleep.
Our whole life can be one of active, working service. But to inspire
those works, constant contact with the word must be made. The
odd glances at the pocket Bible during the day, or the Commandments
of Christ on the wall, will be worth their weight in golden faith
in the great day.
The man who hears the word but does
not do it "Is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a
glass (mirror): for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and
straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was" (v.23,24).
Hearing the word but not doing it is a sermon
on the mount allusion- those who heard those sayings
but did not do them were likened to the man building
his house on the sand (Mt.7:26). In the same way as he thought
that he was building and was doubtless quite pleased at his progress,
so the man who glanced in the mirror thought all was well with
his spiritual development. The acquiring of knowledge ('hearing')
can give the impression that we are progressing; but practice
('doing') is the real foundation. It is sad that the ever deepening
level of our community's Bible scholarship is not always matched
by such 'doing'.
Hearing the word is likened to glancing in a
mirror and then going on with life, immediately forgetting that
vision. Like the quick glance at the mirror, straighten the tie,
brush the hair, off to the office. Maybe this equates with the
sleepy, half awake doing of the readings in the morning and then
off into the day with not a further thought about our real spiritual
"Beholding" means 'observing fully'- the man's
mistake was in his immediate forgetting of the image he saw. Thus
he was a very careful hearer- because it is not always that we
apply ourselves so much to the word that it is as if we are staring
into our own face, observing fully our real spiritual self. In
the previous analogy, here is someone who got up, washed, dressed
and did his readings at the table with a concordance, and was
really helped in those minutes to examine himself. But Bible study
was only part of his life- he "Straightway forgot". Surely none
of us can feel complacent at this challenge of James?
Notice how the word is likened to a mirror- our
study of it should always lead to some form of self-examination
and assessment as we compare ourselves against the deep things
of the Spirit. Thus our studies should revolve around the application
of the word to our moment by moment spiritual lives, rather than
the mental gymnastics with Scripture at one extreme and empty
platitudes at the other, which seem to characterize so much of
our communal Bible study. The idea of the word being represented
by a mirror occurs again in 1 Cor.13:8-12. Verse 8 describes the
withdrawal of the miraculous spirit gifts, and their replacement
by the completed word- "that which is perfect", v.10 (cp. 2 Tim.3:16,17).
Paul then contrasts the dispensation of the Spirit gifts and the
word: "Now we see through (look into) a glass, darkly; but then
face to face". Thus the dispensation of the word would enable
him to see a clear reflection of himself- "Then shall I know (myself)
even as also I am known" (1 Cor.13:12). The implication of these
few words are tremendous- through using the completed word to
examine ourselves, it is possible for us to see ourselves as God
sees us- to know ourselves even as God knows us. Paul expresses
his lack of full knowledge in 1 Cor.4:4: "I know nothing by myself
(therefore) am I not hereby justified". The context is Paul's
countering of the Corinthians who claimed to have examined and
judged him. Paul is saying that he is not qualified to fully examine
and judge himself, so therefore cannot comment. But now, with
the completed revelation compared with the partial understanding
of only some facets of God's revelation to man given by the ministry
of the miraculous gifts (1 Cor.13:9), we are able to achieve a
fuller self-examination. James' description of the word as the
"perfect law" (1:25) strengthens the impression that he is consciously
alluding to 1 Cor.13 (cp. "that which is perfect" concerning the
completed word); as if he is preparing his readers for how they
should use the completed word which he, like Paul, knew in advance
would soon be available.
The word enables us to 'behold' ('Observe
fully') our "natural face". "Natural" is from the Greek 'gennas'-
to regenerate, conceive, gender, beget. This must connect with
the concept of v.17,18 and the parallel 1 Peter 1:23- we are conceived
by the word entering us. The man James is speaking of looked at
his "natural face". This could imply at least two things- he examines
the state of spiritual regeneration he has reached from the word;
or he looks back to his initial spiritual birth, how he was at
his first 'genesis' by the word of the Kingdom when it developed
within him for the first time. The same idea is picked up in 3:6;
the tongue "defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course
of nature; and it is set on fire of hell". Our thoughts lead to
the words of the tongue. Thus ultimately an undisciplined mind
"setteth on fire the course of nature"- unless our thoughts are
restrained by the word, our 'genesis' ("nature") so far developed
by the word, and our initial spiritual strength developed by the
word of the Gospel, will be destroyed, "set on fire" (6).
Strong interprets "course" as meaning 'A circuit of effects'-
the circuit of effects due to our 'genesis'("nature") will be
destroyed or broken unless we make a conscious effort to control
the mind. We have seen that the 'genesis' is a result of the action
of the word on a man's heart. This creates a 'circuit of effects'-
hence 3:6 AVmg. speaks of the "wheel of nature" (the 'genesis')
in the sense of something continuous. Surely the implication is
that once the word starts to take effect, it initiates a circular,
upwards spiral of spirituality- spiritual strength leading to
spiritual strength, a certain level of appreciation of the word
steadily leading to a higher level. For more examples of this,
see Digression 7. However, this "course of nature" can be broken
by not making a conscious effort to control the mind and the words
which follow from it (in the context of James 3:6), and of not
making the effort to continue beholding our "natural
face" in the mirror of the word, and letting the word act on the
results of our self-examination (7).
The bane of knowledge
That the word should lead to an ever-increasing
level of self-examination and recognition of the urgency of our
need to spiritually improve is also hinted at in 1 Jn.1:10: "If
we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word
is not in us"- implying that the more the word is in us, the more
we recognize the degree to which we have sinned. But notice it
is not just a reading of the word that results in this- seeing
that the Jews to whom Paul partly wrote Romans (8),
for all their Bible knowledge and ability to assimilate the detailed
Old Testament allusions Paul makes in Romans, were of the opinion
they could "continue in sin that grace may abound" (Rom.6:1)-
i.e. they reasoned that whatever they did was automatically blotted
out by reason of being in Christ (and Jewish?). "We make Him (God)
a liar" must refer back to the serpent in Eden, who also lacked
the word of God in him, thus effectively leading him to the conclusion
that Adam and Eve could not sin, even if they consciously disobeyed
the commandments. Saying we have not sinned is equivalent to saying
that we do not need Christ- both statements make God a liar (1
Jn.1:10 cp. 5:10); which again was the implication of the serpent
reasoning. Paul picks this point up in 2 Cor.11:3, where he connects
the reasoning of the serpent with that of the Judaizers, who also
argued that Christ was not vital for salvation. Eating the fruit
of the tree of knowledge made Adam and Eve aware of their sin-
as does eating of the word of knowledge in our day. Jn.15:22;
Lk.12:47,48 and many other passages clearly teach that the more
knowledge of the word a man has, the more aware he is of his sins,
and therefore the more answerable to judgement.
However, the very nature of life in
this present world appears to make it impossible to permanently
"continue therein" ("continue"= 'to stand beside'). But things
were even more difficult for the first century believers: "Whoso...continueth
(looking) therein (into the word)...being not a forgetful
hearer" (v.25). Thus looking at the word and hearing
the word are paralleled. The only access to the word by the average
believers was probably by hearing it read publicly. The ability
to read would not have been widespread, and copies of the scrolls
not widely available (hence the ministry of the miraculous spirit
gifts to provide the word of prophecy and its interpretation).
Other passages refer to this hearing of the word through public
reading of it in the ecclesia: Acts 13:27; 15:21 (cp. James 2:2
AVmg.); 2 Cor.3:15; Col.4:16; 1 Thess.5:27; Rev.1:3; 2:7,11. The
believers should hear the word spoken or read and look into it
continually- i.e. keep it in mind, meditate upon it. Thus 1:19
encourages them to be "swift to hear" the word of God- not to
mentally doze through those all-important meetings of the ecclesia
when the word was read. Thus James never intended these words
to be read as meaning 'You must walk around with your head in
a Bible all day'- he was too practical to advocate that. But he
was offering an even greater challenge- to live each day continually
looking into the things of the word in one's mind, with "the eyes
of your understanding being (open)", Eph.1:18. We who can read
and have convenient access to the written word have so much more
opportunity- but we seem to lack the degree of mental spiritual
alertness to the word that James is speaking of. Surely every
Christian who can afford one should have a pocket Bible close
at hand during the day and frequently refer to it- even for a
few brief seconds in the hour. But above all, we must strive to
achieve that continual mental looking into the things of the word.
There is ample evidence to suggest that many of us have trotted
through the 'readings' every day for years without catching the
fire of personal Bible study- content to rely on the reflections
of those who have gone before. A whole host of other conscience
prickers could be listed:
- As we sit at a baptism service are we "swift
to hear" Romans 6 yet once again? Do we all bother to open our
Bibles and follow?
- It has been proved beyond argument that to
pay attention to information one should preferably read for
oneself rather than just listen- and also take notes. As an
ecclesia goes on through time, there should not be
an ever-diminishing amount of page rustling at our meetings.
Are there pens and notebooks in the hands of the average Christian
- Is there a dearth of questions and extra
comments after Bible classes? What exactly do those stony silences
But he who continues looking into "the perfect
law", "this man shall be blessed in his deed"- and that in itself
means that James is not setting an impossible standard. It is
realistic for a man to achieve it. Note how the continual looking
into and applicatipon of the word is "his deed". We have earlier
commented how 'deeds' and 'works' can refer to the mental effort
made in daily life, rather than specific physical actions.
Word of freedom
Notice the reference to "the law of
liberty"- another gentle dig at his Jewish readers, reminding
them of "the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free...be not
entangled again with the yoke of (Mosaic) bondage" (Gal.5:1).
Other references to "liberty" are clearly in the context of liberty
from the Mosaic Law, and they also have indirect hints at our
liberty being because of a word ("law") of liberty:
- "We are not children of the bondwoman (the
Law) but of the free" (Gal.4:31). We are children by being born
of the word of God (James 1:18; 1 Pet.1:23). Thus "the free"
is the free word of liberty.
- "Ye have been called unto liberty...(to)
walk in the spirit" (Gal.5:13,16)- i.e. in a way of life guided
by the Spirit word (Jn.6:63 etc.)
- "As free...(doing) the will of God" (1 Pet.2:16,15)-
which is in the word (James 1:18; Jn.1:13)
- "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is
liberty" (2 Cor.3:17)- the Lord's Spirit is in the hearts of
His people who are influenced by the Spirit-word.
- "The truth (the word- Jn.17:17) shall make
you free...the servant abideth not in the house for ever (alluding
to Hagar being cast out, representing the casting out of the
law, Gal.4:30). If the Son therefore (i.e. because the law was
being cast out) shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed"
(Jn.8:32,35,36). That freedom comes from the Truth (Jn.8:32),
which is in the word.
Now it may be argued that if "the law of liberty"
(to return to James 1:25) is the words of Jesus and the New Testament,
then that part of Scripture is far more spiritually powerful than
the Old Testament, particularly the Law. Why not drastically re-jig
the Bible Companion to concentrate on the New Testament? Two answers
- "The spirit of Christ was in (the prophets)"
(1 Pet.1:11). The Spirit of Christ was in them, but it was only
there for our benefit who came after Christ (1 Pet.1:12). Thus
the prophets "searched diligently" for the meaning of their
prophecies (1 Pet.1:10)- the implication being that they were
unsuccessful because the purpose of the prophecies was for our
benefit not for theirs- "not unto themselves...they did minister
the things, which are now reported (explained) unto
you" (1 Pet.1:12). We have shown that the Spirit-word
is the law of liberty, which is contrasted to the Mosaic law
or word of bondage. The contrast is not specifically made between
the word and the Mosaic law, but between the Spirit word and
the Mosaic Law. Thus it may be that the Spirit in the sense
of a power of righteousness that can change a man's mind was
only released fully from the Old Testament word when it was
read by believers after Christ. Notice how the parallel with
us looking into the law of liberty in 1 Peter is in 1:12 concerning
the Angels desiring to look into the word. This is a parallel
with 1:10, describing how the prophets desired to look into
the word. Thus seeing that prophets and Angels have unsuccessfully
tried to look into the word, we should grasp the opportunity
we have. This parallel show that the "law of liberty" was also
the prophetic word of the Old Testament which the prophets tried
to "look into".
- There is considerable evidence that the power
of the Old Testament word was opened by the death and resurrection
of Christ, when He became "the Lord the Spirit" (2 Cor.3:17,18
RV), thus enabling us to be changed from the Mosaic glory to
the Christian glory- "From glory to glory...by the Spirit of
the (risen) Lord" (cp. Jn.1:16,17). In passing, it is worth
considering whether Paul's other reference to contrasting types
of glory also has reference to the Mosaic/ Christian system
comparison- "the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory
of the terrestrial is another...so also is the resurrection
of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption"
(1 Cor.15:40,42). Thus Paul would be likening the present mortal
state of our bodies to the earthy (terrestrial) Jewish system,
compared to the glory of the spiritual heavenlies in Christ.
Of milk and meat
The man who keeps mental hold of the
Spirit of the word in his daily life "Shall be blessed in his
deed". This must be alluding to Lk.11:28 "Blessed are they that
hear the word of God, and keep it". Again, the hearing of the
word was a literal hearing, as Jesus had been speaking orally
to the people. Thus James' interpretation of keeping the word
was to continually look into it in one's mind and let it have
the effect of self-examination upon us. The preceding verse records
the comment "Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps
which thou hast sucked" (Lk.11:27). Jesus is saying that the more
important spiritual equivalent of this is to "hear the word of
God". Thus being breast fed is likened by Jesus to hearing and
keeping the word. In Peter's language: " As newborn babes, desire
the sincere milk of the word" (1 Pet.2:2). It is only the spiritually
young who should feed on the milk of the word (1 Cor.3:2; Heb.5:12,13).
Those to whom Jesus spoke about the sucking of breasts being like
hearing and keeping the word were also spiritually young, having
only just heard the word. James 1:24,25 is saying that the man
who continually looks at his natural face in the mirror of hearing
and keeping the word will be blessed for his effort. Lk.11:27,28
is saying that the spiritually young who as newborn babes keep
hearing and keeping the word will be blessed. Remember that it
was suggested that the "natural" (Genesis-ed) face of the man
could refer to his recently spiritually born self. This would
fit the connections with Lk.11:27 nicely. Thus James implies that
there is an especial temptation for those newly converted or spiritually
conceived by the word to soon give up their zeal for the word
and to stop carefully examining their own position in the light
of the word. The parable of the sower puts this in black and white.
Our 'instruction' of candidates for baptism through correspondence
courses and personal discussion sessions can often end at baptism-
our provision of the milk of the word ends as soon as the baby
Keeping and doing
"If (we) know these things, happy (blessed)
are (we) if (we) do them" (Jn.13:17). Also worth mentioning Lk.8:21
too: "My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word
of God and do it". By being born again by hearing, doing, keeping
and continually looking at the word, we take on the family likeness-
Jesus can feel to us as to a mother or brother. These things help
us appreciate the real spirit of the frequent commands to "Keep
my commandments, and do them" (Lev.22:31). This implies that keeping
and doing the word are different. God is not so much looking for
individual cases of us 'doing' the word in the sense of occasionally
obeying a highly specific command- but for us to "keep" the word
in the sense of continually keeping it in mind in our lives, so
that as a consequence we 'do' the specific commands when necessary.
The copious parallels between James 1 and 1 Peter 1 further illuminate
the looking into the word of this v.25; the parallel is Peter's
description of the Cherubim Angels earnestly looking down into
the mercy seat in 1 Pet.1:12, as if paralleling that supreme place
of God manifestation with the Word.
The gentle reminders of the need to leave Judaism
are continued in v.26 "If any man among you seem to be religious".
The Greek word translated "religious" is elsewhere always used
in the context of the Mosaic law; James is implying that they
were not properly keeping the spirit of the Mosaic law if they
"bridled not (their) tongue". This idea of bridling the tongue
is picked up again in 3:2-4, where James says that we put bits
in the horses' mouths to control them, "but the tongue can no
man tame", i.e. bridle (3:8). "No man" here must mean 'no ordinary
man of the flesh', since James 1:26 says that the believer must
bridle his tongue. In the preceding verses in James 1, James has
been talking about 'doing' the word in practice rather than just
theoretically receiving it. The prime example of this, he continues,
is whether you can bridle your tongue. This is because our thoughts
lead to our words, and therefore to bridle the tongue is to control
the mind- and this can only be done through the conscious application
of the word. This is the main 'doing' of the word. Again there
is the warning against semi-spirituality; seeming to be religious.
Ps.32:8,9 provides the basis for James
1:26: "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou
shalt go: I will guide (mg. 'Counsel') thee...be ye not as the
horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth
must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto
thee". Thus having the instruction, teaching and understanding
of God should replace having a bridle or bit. God does not want
to force our tongues and bodies to obey Him- but for us to effect
this by our application of His word to our minds. Thus the word
is the means of bridling our tongues and therefore our minds-
our whole lives. Note too that a bridle is a two-way thing. It
stops the horse approaching the rider in an ungainly and painful
way. The action of the word on our minds should lead to us similarly
being helped in our approach to God. The man who thinks he has
his mind bridled but whose words belie this "Deceiveth his own
heart, this man's religion is vain" (v.26- cp. Jer.17:9). To be
"Double minded" (1:8; 4:8) is thus to have what we think is our
'spiritual' heart or mind deceiving our real heart- that of the
flesh, "his own heart".
"Pure ('clean') religion" may refer to the system
of religion that comes as a result of "the washing of water by
the word" (Eph.5:26). This religion is also "undefiled"- possibly
implying that to not let the word totally affect our lives is
to allow ourselves to be defiled by our fleshly mind and desires.
The sexual connotations of the word for "Undefiled" would suggest
that passive laziness to apply the word is equivalent to active
unfaithfulness against Christ. This pure and undefiled religion
"Before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and
widows in their affliction" (v.27). The reference to God as the
Father is in the context of v.17- "the Father of (the) light"
of the word which came down to us.
We may well ask 'Why is God so especially concerned
for "the fatherless and widows"'? Maybe because He had witnessed
the emotional agony of His humanly fatherless Son, Jesus, and
the broken heart of Mary on the Lord's death? There is a possible
connection between this verse and John 14:18 where Jesus promises
that he "Will not leave you orphans (fatherless- A.V. 'comfortless'):
I will come to you" through the Holy Spirit Comforter, which was
manifested firstly in the miraculous Spirit gifts and then in
the written word. The ideas of God 'coming down' and 'visiting'
people are common Old Testament idioms for God manifestation.
Thus it may be that James is implying that in the same way as
Jesus has visited us through the Spirit-word, so we should share
the spiritual Comfort of the word with the fatherless and widows.
We have noted the association between 'coming down' and the gift
of the Spirit-word already in v.17, which provides the background
for this v.27.
This pure religion is also to keep ourselves
"Unspotted from the world". The words "pure", "undefiled..unspotted"
are all the language of marriage. Because the notion of us being
the bride of Christ, engaged to Him, seems so far above our feeble
spirituality, it is tempting to think that the relationship between
a man and his bride is just being used as a vague likeness of
our relationship with Christ. But the glorious fact is that we
are in absolute reality the typical bride of Christ! Intercourse
with the world and fleshly mind is as bad as being unfaithful
to our bridegroom- and almost on the night of our marriage, too.
The comment is sometimes made that Christians are too dreary and
weighed down by our sins. But bearing in mind the nature of our
relationship to Jesus and His faithfulness unto death for us,
it is not surprising that we are seriously worried about the continual
failures which we have to admit to; these are equivalent to being
unfaithful to Him. To balance this, there is the joy of receiving
"every good and perfect gift" from our loving, truly merciful
Father, the knowledge that He "upbraideth not" and is delighted
by our strivings to truly develop spiritually; and the happiness
("blessedness") of the man who does try to keep the word in his
heart. Whilst we need to be careful that we are not giving way
to spiritual pride, there can be a sense of deep joy and peace
at the little victories we slowly win against the flesh.
See Neville Smart 'The Epistle of James' (C.M.P.A 1955);
A.D.Norris 'Acts and Epistles' (Aletheia Books, 1989);
John Martin 'James' (C.S.S.S., n.d.).
The Greek word for "fall" in 1:2 only occurs in Lk.10:30 regarding
the man falling among thieves- representing the inherent sins
of human nature to which all men fall prey, and from which our
Lord as the good Samaritan offers possibility of redemption.
more about the language of physical movement used in regard to
sin- e.g. the ideas of 'falling' and 'leading'- see 'In Search
Of Satan', p.27 (The Dawn, 1990).
Like James, Peter in both his
letters is emphasizing the need to develop spiritual attributes
in the light of the imminence of the Lord's coming; and he warns
that false teachers would sidetrack them from the pursuit of real
spirituality, which is a major theme of James.
Is it theoretically possible through the power of the word to
be perfect in God's sight to the same degree as our Lord was-
at least momentarily? If we answer 'Yes', then the unique relationship
between God and Jesus, and the fact that "God was in Christ, reconciling
the world unto Himself" is surely not appreciated. But if we answer
'No', in what sense was Christ our perfect example? Would God
set before us a standard of perfection (e.g. "Be ye therefore
perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect"), if He knows
that we have no possibility of attaining it?
on fire is symbolic of destruction; see Jer.17:27; Jude 7 etc.
Arthur Gibson, 'The Wheel of Nature', The Testimony,
Vol.44 (1974), p.295 for an excellent linguistic study of this.
Note the Jewish context of Rom.1 and 2 and the constant allusions
to the Old Testament to prove that Jews are in the same spiritual
state as Gentiles.