|<< Heb 13|
James 1-5 Listen
Who wrote James?
James, according to many scholars, may be one of the earliest letters to Believers in the New Testament. Even though there were two other men named "James" who were Apostles of Christ (Matthew 10:2-4, see notes), it is generally agreed by most students of the New Testament that this "James" is the same one who headed up the church back in Jerusalem, the Lord's brother. He was not one of the Apostles. However, the tone of the letter seems in keeping with the role James played in Acts 15 (see notes) and Acts 21 (see notes) in those Jerusalem councils. The Jewish historian, Josephus, reports that James was martyred around 62 A.D. If that's the case, then the Book of James would have been written prior to that time.
The absence of any reference to Gentile Believers in the Book of James causes us to place this letter before the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 (see notes). James is writing to "the twelve tribes" here (Jewish Christians) and refers to their gathering place as a "synagogue" rather than a "church" in James 2:2. The concept of being saved by grace and subsequently living by grace became clarified in writing by Paul himself on the heels of the Jerusalem Council as he wrote the Book of Galatians—probably the first epistle written by Paul. It is in that letter that Paul clearly spells out the concept of salvation by grace through faith and the subsequent life of grace living that follows through the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is for these reasons that I favor a date for this letter somewhere in the mid 40s.
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:
10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.
11 For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
The recipients of this letter are declared to be quite widespread in the very first verse when he mentions "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad." The phrase "scattered abroad" comes from a single Greek word, "diaspora," which speaks of the dispersion of Jews throughout the Roman Empire. The definite article is used, which would indicate that James is speaking of a particular dispersion of Jewish Christians, perhaps the one suggested as Saul (Paul) was on his tirade against Believers in Acts 8 (see notes), following Stephen's execution. Since they are scattered, the "twelve tribes" is certainly James' way of indicating that his letter is for all Jewish Christians rather than being formally addressed to the individual tribes themselves.
James refers to his letter recipients as "brethren" in verse 2. In what sense does he consider them "brethren," by blood relationship or faith? Since James immediately gets to his point in the same sentence that trial/temptation is upon them because of their faith, he is undoubtedly referring to them as "brethren" based upon their faith in Christ. Why question that? Some have suggested a doubt regarding their status as Christian "brethren" based upon the conduct dealt with by James at the beginning of chapter 4 (see below). However, since these Jewish Christians were scattered, there simply is no feasibility to the notion that James is singling out any particular incident, but rather is addressing general issues of interpersonal conflict among Jewish Christians which he may have heard about from various sources.
James discusses the issue of trials/temptations among Believers. By the way, several Greek words are used in the New Testament for this adversity and are variously translated. Read the information box entitled, "Trial, Testing and Temptation" located to the right of this window, or click here. It will provide a complete overview and tie scriptures together from several New Testament passages on the subject. Two significant Greek words occur in verses 2-4, "peirasmos" translated "temptations" (KJV) in verse 2 and "dokimion" translated "trying" (KJV) in verse 3 - both Greek nouns. A third Greek word, a noun, is used in this first chapter in verse 12 - "dokimos" translated "tried" (KJV). For a proper understanding of the concept of adversity, it is expedient to understand the differentiations and similarities of the words used. Here's the bottom line on verses 2-4: Without adversity, Christians don't spiritually develop. Oooo...tough concept. Look at verse 4, "But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." The Greek word for "patience" there is "hupomone" which is a compound word "hupo" (under) and "mone" (remaining) - "remaining under [control]." It is also translated "endure" in the New Testament. So, the concept is summed up in verse 4 as follows: When we endure adversity, we are perfected (matured) as Believers through that process.
It's a fact; trial is necessary for Christian growth. That doesn't mean we flail in the darkness when we undergo trial. Verse 5 provides a guarantee regarding trial: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." That means that under trial we can know what God is working in our lives through that trial by simply seeking God's wisdom in prayer. Romans 5:2-4 (see notes) gives the sequence for maturity in one's Christian life, and it's primary component is trial. Learn your lesson (from trial) and claim verse 12, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him." Trial draws us closer to God and makes us a reflection of him. Every Believer should have a clear understanding of how to deal with adversity.
Incidentally, I'm convinced that the guarantee of "wisdom" from verse 5 is not limited to the area of trial. "Wisdom" from God is the key to answered prayer about anything a Believer faces. The first step in prayer should always be to seek the "wisdom" of God about any matter. James continues with a lesson on praying with faith in verses 6-8. When one seeks wisdom from God as the first step of prayer, then he is able to "ask in faith" (verse 6). Notice particularly John's formula for answered prayer in I John 5:14-15 (see notes), "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." There it is...clearly written...when "we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us." How's that done? Well...there's your answer in James 1:5 - asking God for wisdom. The disappointments of unanswered prayers are explained in verses 6-8; they were not prayers of faith because they were not founded on wisdom. A successful prayer life must be based upon the "wisdom" of verse 5. Unfortunately, most Christians are "double minded" (Greek: "dipsuchos"), indecisive, when they pray. Why? They did not seek wisdom as the first step to their prayers.
Verses 9-11 may seem out of place here. Keep in mind, these verses are located in the midst of verses about adversity. Relief from adversity was directly addressed in verses 2-4, followed by an admonition to pray for wisdom regarding that adversity in 5-8. The theme of adversity directly continues in verse 12, so verses 9-11 must be related to this whole theme of adversity. Perhaps the thought here is that "the brother of low degree" (Greek: "tapeinos" means "humble") seems to be experiencing more adversity than his not-so-hard-up brother. While "tapeinos" doesn't necessarily speak to material wealth, the comparison with the "rich" of verse 10 definitely indicates a comparison between those who have it and those who don't. Additionally, James picks this back up as a theme in chapter 2 (see below). It is important to note, however, that James is not simply talking about wealth here, but obviously the use of that wealth. He gives an illustration from nature in verses 10-11 to indicate that wealth itself is temporary with this final phrase, "so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways." From that, we deduct that he's describing those who are stingy with their wealth while their Christian brethren are suffering. As seen above, the reward for those experiencing adversity is seen in verse 12 as eternal, compared to the temporal advantages of wealth.
Verses 13-15 merit some special attention here. If you read the overview of temptation provided in the box to the right of this window, you saw that Satan is the one who brings trial aka testing aka temptation into the Believer's life. That Believer was capable of passing that test of adversity (I Corinthians 10:13, see notes). But what if the Believer does not pass the test of adversity which Satan instigates? What if the Believer, instead, succumbs to temptation? Well...that's sin. Allow me to quote a verse from chapter 4, James 4:17, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." In other words, "sin" for the Believer is rebellion against God, specifically, rejection of the leadership of the Holy Spirit's convicting power in the Believer's life. When a Believer sins, God corrects just as a father corrects a son for disobedience (Hebrews 12:6-8, see notes). That process is called chastisement. In this case, adversity in the Believer's life as a result of sin is orchestrated by God himself.
Admittedly, this may seem a little confusing at this point. You ask, "So what's the difference between trial (testing, temptation) and chastisement? Perhaps the clearest Biblical example of trial is that of Job in the Old Testament. In Job 1:11-12 (see notes) we see that God permitted Satan to put Job to the test. It was a horrific test. Everything that happened to Job was brought on him by Satan. What was Satan's goal? It was to bring Job to a point in his life where "he will curse thee [God] to thy face."
Here's the differentiation between trial (temptation) and chastisement. Were Job to have succumbed to that temptation, that would have been sin. But he did not succumb. However, sometimes Believers do fall into Satan's trap and do that which they know is sin. That's when chastisement (from God) is in order. Read carefully the information box provided to the right of this window entitled, "Trial versus Chastisement" or click here.
16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
In relation to material wealth, verse 17 says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above..." What is the gift being referenced here? It's the salvation of verse 18, "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." With that in mind, obedient Christians are careful with their testimony before the world. This may be a good time to recall Galatians 5:22-23 (see notes), "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." Words and actions are in view here in these verses. When Believers are led by the Holy Spirit, these are the attributes that are displayed - not a sharp tongue. James addresses the issue of Believers being "doers" of the word. Is it a coincidence that James talks about temptation followed by chastisement followed by the quality of the Christian's conduct before the world? No coincidence here. When a Believer is serious about serving God, he will naturally protect his public testimony. In other words, Christ in one's life ought to be seen by others as a visible desire to please God. When Believers are committed to our "religion" (Greek: "threskeia" means "devout practices) good things flow out from our lives. Both our words (verse 26) and actions (verse 27) are glorifying to God.
You will notice in these verses that James seems to attribute a negative testimony to uncontrolled anger when he says in verse 20, "For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." This is followed by his admonition that Believers should exercise the principles of their faith rather than simply be observers. He compares this to the man who looks in a mirror, but makes no changes with regard to his appearance. However, looking into the Word of God ought to result in a desire for positive change - a change that will come through the working of the Holy Spirit.
1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.
2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;
3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:
4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?
7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.
James resumes a theme he touched on in 1:9-11 (see above), the relationship between those who are wealthy within the local assembly and those who are not. Incidentally, James refers to the "assembly" with the Greek word that is usually translated "synagogue." Being a very early epistle, the assembly of Believers probably retained this designation until the term "church" (Greek: "ekklesia" means "called-out assembly") began to be used. He is obviously talking about an assembly of Jewish Believers here.
It's bad to esteem one Believer over another. To favor the wealthy-looking man over the poorly-dressed man is to superficially judge based upon "evil thoughts" (verse 4). Wealth has nothing to do with one's standing with Christ (verse 5), so he encourages his readers not to show the same disdain for the poor that the rich of the world do (verse 6). After all, it is they who persecute all Believers (verse 7). Then James refers to the last six commandments as the treat-others-like-royalty commandments (verse 8). These last six deal with the person-to-person relationship while the first four deal with the person-to-God relationship. Christ sets the precedent for dividing the 10 commandments up into these two categories in Matthew 22:36-40 (see notes) when he points out that the "greatest" commandment is "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." He goes on to identify the second by saying, "And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." These two commandments identify the intent of the Old Testament Law. So...what about the Believer who demonstrates a love for God, but does not demonstrate a love for people. James points out that to keep all the commandments except one is to still be a violator of the law. Spirit-led Believers will treat others like royalty.
This very early epistle written to Jewish Believers draws upon their continued adherence to the Law of Moses in these verses. James emphasizes that respect for one's fellow Believer, rich or poor, is just as important as exercising restraint in adultery or murder. He then refers to the contrast between law and grace when he declares in verse 12, "So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty." Jesus had emphasized this concept in John 13-34-35 (see notes) when he said, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." He serves a warning to those who ignore this exhortation in verse 13, "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment." When you serve out "judgment without mercy," don't be surprised when you are the recipient of "judgment without mercy." Thank the Lord that God is merciful!
People are looking for evidence of salvation - works (James 2:14-26)
14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
I often hear people say, "I don't care what people think about me!" I generally conclude that they are lying when they tell me that. Everybody cares to some degree - even those who want to be known for saying they don't. These verses actually continue the theme of verses 1-13. Since the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23, see notes) will demonstrate attributes in a Believer that eliminate the danger of a violation of verses 1-13, the violator of verses 1-13 must question his motivation. James is pointing out that the natural tendency of salvation is to do good works. That's what the world sees in us. How do we demonstrate our salvation with others? Answer: good works! So, is it fair for the world to be inspecting our lives for indications of salvation in Jesus Christ? Maybe not, but life's not fair.
These 13 verses are quite troubling to many. Some even use these verses to promote a works-based salvation. Others are troubled by what perhaps appears to them to be a contradiction of Paul in Romans 4 (see notes). As a matter of fact, James and Paul even use a common example - Abraham.
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Admittedly, that may seem confusing in light of James' statement:
But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. (James 2:20-24)
Of the two epistles, Romans was likely written much later than James. The audience was quite different as well. James was written to Jewish Believers (James 1:1, "twelve tribes"), while Jews in Rome were sparse. James was dealing with the big problem in the early church which was especially visible in Jerusalem - the equal treatment of Believers in the church (Acts 6, see notes; Acts 15 (see notes); Acts 21 (see notes). As you will recall from the Book of Acts, there was a very slow transition for those who had been raised as Jews to a life of grace in Christ from a life dictated by the Law of Moses. James discusses the godly treatment of others in chapter 2. He makes the point that faith in Christ ought to be represented by a love for all Believers. His emphasis is that real faith ought to be demonstrable. When it isn't, well...it ought to be. James is talking about how others view our "religion" (James 1:26-27). He's emphasizing our visible testimony of works to demonstrate our faith to others, not as the conditions for saving faith. Paul, on the other hand, is strictly talking about the simplicity of salvation without works. Paul emphasizes the actual condition for obtaining salvation, faith alone, while James is talking about public testimony. Context for both passages is important here.
Speaking of context, let's get specific here. James seems to be addressing those who are among the wealthier in the assembly when he talks about "works" here. Look at his example in verses 15-16; it deals with a "brother or sister" aka Believer who is destitute. The actions of works referenced here are those of sharing one's wealth in such situations. Taken in context, it further shows James' intent and makes us realize what "works" he's talking about here - works of generosity. That's what is being addressed in verse 17 when he says, "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." These are works of generosity. The "devils" believe that there is one God (verse 19), but their actions aren't positively affected. Therefore, believing the one-God concept does not constitute salvation. The further examples of Abraham and Rahab are intended to show that faith fosters a proactive direction in one's life.
To sum it up, salvation is by grace alone - plus nothing, minus nothing. One isn't saved or kept saved by a "works" supplement to salvation. After salvation, however, "Pure religion and undefiled before God" (James 1:27, see above) will demonstrate one's salvation to others by the way one lives his life.
Tame that tongue (James 3:1-12)
1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:
8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
We're still continuing our theme of lifestyle from chapter 2. James begins by saying, "My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation." Let's look at a couple of Greek words in this verse. "Masters" comes from the Greek word "didaskalos" which means "teachers." Here, the KJV uses it in the context of a master teacher. The Greek word for "condemnation" here is "krima" which means "judgment," but not necessarily condemnatory judgment. James is declaring that teachers of the Word of God have a greater responsibility before God for their words and actions. That sets the tone for the comments to follow. In verse 2 he explains that, when you can control your words, your actions will follow. One who controls his words and actions is a "perfect" (Greek: teleios - mature, complete) man.
The lesson of these verses is, "Watch your mouth!" Several analogies are used to illustrate - animals, fires, ships. Just as a large horse is able to be controlled by a small bridle, so is the tongue. Just as a large ship is able to be controlled by a small rudder, so is the tongue. Just as a large (forest - Greek: hule) fire can be started by a small spark (verse 5), so can controversy out of words from the tongue. All of these are to drive the point home that a loose tongue can do a great deal of damage.
James then addresses the unregenerate nature of the tongue...actually of the loose tongue of the carnal man when he says in verse 8, "But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." Because of our carnal nature, sometimes the same tongue can speak honorably...and sometimes dishonorably (verses 9-10). Being controlled by the Spirit is in view here when he makes the point in verses 11-12 that your tongue indicates what's in your heart. In other words, if you have a sharp, mean tongue, it's probably because you're a sharp, mean person. I don't make the news, I just report it. Again, we should take note of the results of being controlled by the Holy Spirit as seen in Galatians 5:22-23 (see notes). When we are controlled by the Holy Spirit, our tongue is controlled.
And where does this meanness come from? (James 3:13-18)
13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
As these verses point out, meanness doesn't come from God! Godly wise men display a positive Christian testimony (verse 13). We see in verses 14-16 that "bitter envying and strife" are not products from God, but are instead, "earthly, sensual, devilish." As a matter of fact, verses 17-18 sound a lot like Galatians 5:22-23 (see notes) where we find the "fruit of the Spirit." When Believers are not led by the Holy Spirit, the old Adamic nature begins to dominate. Victorious Christian living is only possible through control of the Holy Spirit in one's life. Let's be clear: Contentious behavior toward Believers does not originate from God.
Incidentally, it is the Adamic nature in each of us that gives us the propensity to sin...from the day of our birth. We have this sin nature because of Adam's fall in Genesis 3 (see notes).
Notice the passages where Paul makes reference to Adam and the sin nature:
While James does not specifically refer to this tendency as the Adamic nature in verses 14-16, the concept is there. It is only through the leadership of the Holy Spirit in a Believer's life that he is able to overcome the tendencies of the Adamic nature.
1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
5 Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?
6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.
12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:
14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.
17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
James takes off here on worldly-acting Believers. It's really a continuation of the end of chapter 3 regarding strife compared to Godly wisdom. In addition to "fightings" (Greek: "mache" means "strifes" or "conflicts"), James uses a very strong word here to describe these conflicts. The Greek word for "war" is "polemos" which is the military term for war. Keep in mind, his readers are scattered, so there may not be a particular situation about which he is speaking here. However, James is obviously driving home the seriousness of the strife in chapter 3.
There's no question; James is referring to Believers who are acting like lost people in verses 2-4. For those who would maintain that verses 2-4 describe the unregenerate instead, take a look at verses 5-10. James acknowledges the tendencies of the carnal nature when he says in verse 5, "Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?" James seems to be pulling together some Old Testament concepts into one concise thought regarding man's propensity to sin. However, he declares that this propensity is overcome by "grace" (verse 6), submitting to God and resisting the devil (verse 7) and by drawing close to God (verse 8). These are the steps an out-of-fellowship-with-God Believer should take to get back on the correct footing with God.
James actually itemizes some steps to restoration with God in verses 8-10:
These steps are intended to make these misdirected Believers cease their reprehensible conduct, display remorse for such and turn to God.
Now, don't lose sight of the theme here. We're reminded of it again in verse 11, "Speak not evil one of another..." That's right...it's still their interaction between one another. They have the Law of Moses, which they must have thought they were honoring, when they exercise such contentious behavior (verse 11-12). Finally, in verses 13-17 James points out how temporary life really is. If you want to prepare, prepare for eternity and stop placing so much value on temporary things.
We see in verse 17 the definition of "sin" for the Believer. Let's take care to understand the distinction here; this verse references the actions taken by Believers when it says, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." This knowledge of knowing "good" comes from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit offering leadership. When a Believer violates this Holy Spirit leadership towards good, that constitutes sin. Keep in mind...we're not talking about just blatant overt sin here, but James is including conduct that may look fine on the outside, but is really not surrendered to the Holy Spirit's leadership. We see details regarding this leadership of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:1-11 (see notes).
A warning to the unethical rich (James 5:1-6)
1 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.
3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.
4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.
5 Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.
6 Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
James takes one more swipe at those rich who dwelt among their poor brethren and did not share. These are strong words - so strong, in fact, that it almost seems that he must be describing lost people here. Actually, they're the same people reproved in each of the preceding four chapters. Their less fortunate brethren were suffering while they were living in luxury and refusing to share. These verses are addressing those who came by their riches at the expense of others through unethical and dishonest means. They stood by, and perhaps even participated in the unjust treatment of their less fortunate brethren who were scattered also. From the wording of verse 6, not only did they not assist their needy brethren, they participated in the conviction and execution of those who were needy. Murder is not necessarily the meaning here, but unjust treatment in the courts resulting in execution may be what is meant.
Be patient and get along (James 5:7-12)
7 Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
8 Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
9 Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.
10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.
11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.
Now we turn back to those who are suffering. Patience and mutually-honoring treatment is encouraged between them. The Lord is coming back, but until then, be diligent in your work and get along with others. Ill treatment of your brethren reaps one's own condemnation (Greek: katakrino - always negative judgment). The suffering-under-adverse-condition prophets are cited as examples. Jeremiah was placed in prison and lowered into a cistern...just for telling the truth of God. In addition, an example of Job's patience is given as far as being patient under adversity. No question - Job is the poster child for adversity (see notes on Job). Oh...and verse 12...let your word be such that you don't need to be swearing by anything in order to convince folks to believe you. When you have a reputation for telling the truth, swearing by an oath is not necessary, a concept addressed by Jesus to the Pharisees in Matthew 5:33-37 (see notes).
Prayer for the sick (James 5:13-18)
13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
James deals with praying for the sick by the Elders of the church. Some have suggested that the anointing of oil in verse 14 is really just the applying of medicine to an injury or taking medicine. They attempt to do a play on Greek words to make their point. That's a very weak argument of scripture.. The Greek word "aleipho" is used here as it is every time in the New Testament when oil is used ceremonially to anoint. James is teaching a procedure of anointing the individual who has health issues with oil after they have come to the Elders to ask for this procedure. Since the directions seem to be exact here, it seems inappropriate for an Elder or Elders to do the calling (i.e. a healing line at a religious meeting). The process starts with the ill person calling for the Elders and not vice versa. A confession of sins seems to be an important component to healing here also.
Some have attempted to dismiss these verses as belonging to another dispensation. I see no evidence to that being the case in the scriptures. Therefore, when folks ask that Elders gather together, anoint with oil and pray for their sickness, it appears to be a New Testament mandate for us to do exactly that.
James uses Elijah as an example of faith in verses 17-18. He's referring to the drought and subsequent rain in which Elijah was instrumental in God's judgment against that wicked King Ahab. That account is found in I Kings 17-18 (see notes).
What about those who turn their backs on God (James 5:19-20)
19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
Don't make the mistake of seeing this as spiritual death. When a person assists another Believer in seeing his deviation from sound Christian practice, he helps to deliver him from certain chastisement and possibly death. The Greek word for "convert" is "epistrepho" which means "to turn again." Christians who rebel against God need to be converted back to their serving-God status. Read the information box above entitled, "Trial versus Chastisement" for a clear perspective on this concept. These two verses have nothing to do whatsoever with salvation in Christ - just physical chastisement.