In the last Bible study that covered James 1:1-11, James taught his hearers and later readers three things. He told his hearers to consider trials joy because they produce endurance and perfection. James taught Christians they could ask for wisdom from God to know how to withstand trials they face. He gave a caveat though. James said Christians had to ask for wisdom without doubting. Doubting people were double-minded and unstable and should not expect to receive anything from God. James’ final lesson in this chapter was about the rich and poor man. He said the rich man (metaphor for unbelievers) would fade away and not receive eternal life, but the poor man (believers) could rejoice in his position as a child of God.
The first eleven verses of James 1 are the first part of the opening statement of the book of James. With verses twelve through twenty-seven, James expands on the first eleven verses. Verses twelve through twenty-seven are the second part of the opening statement of book of James. Readers of this epistle will see similarities between the two sections of chapter one. The second section expands the first section. The two most important points James expanded in the second section were the differences between a trial and temptation and the differences between a believer and unbeliever.
Consider it all Blessed?
In the opening statement of the first half of this chapter, James told the Jewish Christians in verse two, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” He opened the second section of this chapter with a similar exhortative statement. James, in verse twelve, said, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial.” These two statements catch a person’s attention. They appear ridiculous, yet James told his hearers they could have joy and consider themselves blessed when undergoing trials. In verses three and four, as we learned last week, the believer who encounters trials would grow in endurance that led to perfection, becoming like Christ. Christians know when they die they will live in God’s kingdom and receive their inheritance as children of God and co-heirs with Christ. At that point, they will have reached perfection in Christ. That is why Christians can have joy in the midst of trials. In verse twelve, James completed his earlier statement of verses two through four. He explained perfection means receiving the crown of life that Jesus promised His followers. So a Christian can experience joy in the midst of his or her trials. That person can call him or herself blessed when going through trials because that person knows he or she will inherit eternal life - the crown of life - as a child of God saved by Jesus Christ. Christians can have joy, exult, and consider themselves blessed because they know the Lord and will have eternal life with God in His kingdom. The trials cannot change that fact because God does not change, nor is He unfaithful to His promises. God is faithful and steadfast.
Trials verses Temptations
With verses thirteen through fifteen, James explained the difference between trials and temptations. Remember, in verses two and three, James spoke about trials. He said trials come to test a believer’s faith, which then produced endurance and perfection. In these two verses, the word “trials” comes from the Greek word peirasmos[i] and means a trying or proving that can test a person’s faithfulness or because of a person’s desire can entice a person to sin. The word “testing” in verse three comes from the Greek word dokimion[ii] and means the proving or testing of something. “Trial” and “testing” go hand in hand in these verses. To summarize, a trial is a testing to prove a person’s faithfulness. When James used the word “tempt” in verse thirteen, the Greek word for “tempt” is peirazo[iii], the root word of “trials.” We need to understand James distinguished between trials and temptations in his writings. The distinction occurred when he explained God cannot be tempted and He tempts no one (vs. 13). Because God is good, created all things and called them good, and desires only good things happen in the world, He cannot be tempted, nor does He tempt. Temptation leads to sin and God is sinless. A trial is an occurrence that tests one’s faith. When a person has a desire for anything other than God and being closer to Him, the trial becomes a temptation to sin and get what one desires, as opposed to getting what God desires – a deeper relationship and Christlikeness. Temptation leads a person to turn away from God to his or her own desires.
Since God does not tempt a person, James said in verses thirteen and fourteen, “Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust is conceived, it gives birth to sin.” Sin lures the person to let go of the self-restraint God will give him or her through His wisdom upon the person’s asking and the power of His Holy Spirit implanted in the person upon belief in Jesus Christ. Remember, in verse five James said a person can ask God for wisdom to understand and overcome trials so he or she could endure them and grow toward perfection. When a person gets carried away by his or her desire, lust is conceived and that lust gives birth to sin. James used the Greek word epithumia[iv] for the word “lust” and it means to long, crave, or covet what is forbidden. The craving for something or someone else is greater in that person than the desire for a relationship with God. That person puts someone or something on a higher pedestal in his or her life than God. When a person gives in to that desire/craving/lust, he or she sins against God. James said further in verse fifteen, “When sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” Conceding to the craving is sinning against God. God, because He is all good and sin-free, cannot be in the presence of sin. So when a person sins that person cannot be in the presence of God. That separation from God is death. Because God created and creates all life, separation from God is death. Sin has its own penalty then – death/separation from God. Temptation, when not resisted through the strength of God implanted in a person as His Holy Spirit, leads to sin and death – separation from God. Paul explained this in Romans 6:23 when he said, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Believers have at their disposal God’s power to resist sin and grow more like Him, to endure. That strength and power of God comes from the Holy Spirit Jesus puts in each person when they believe in Him as their Lord and Savior.
Light and Shadow
James carried forward this thought, but first gave a command to every believer. He said in verse sixteen, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” Deception is not part of God. It comes from the anti-God, Satan. Satan tempts every person by his or her own desires and cravings. The desires lead a person away from God to make him or herself god of his or her own life, thereby removing Yahweh God as his or her God.
Remember, God does not tempt because He is all good and creates and gives only good things that bring about good things. James continued this thought in verses seventeen and eighteen. He said, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” The word “good” comes from the Greek word agathos[v] meaning pleasant, useful agreeable, excellent, upright, and honorable. The word “thing” comes from the Greek word dosis and means gift. “Perfect” comes from the word teleios[vi] and means complete, lacking in nothing including human integrity and values. God’s gifts are perfect because they come from Him. They are good because they create completeness in His children, completeness that comes from growing honorable and upright virtues in the believer. These virtues include what James stated in verses three through five – endurance and wisdom.
James added one other thing to describe God. He said God is good and gives only good things, does not tempt. God is the “Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow,” James said in verse seventeen. “Father of lights” is a metaphor about God. God is light because light has a pure, extreme, brilliant quality. In light, no mixing of darkness exists. John said in 1 John 1:5, “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” David recognized God when he attributed Psalm 136:7 to God and said, “To Him who made the great lights, for His loving-kindness is everlasting.” Both these men recognized and compared God to light. They recognized that only love and good could come from God. James agreed with them in this verse. By stating God is the Father of light, he implied Satan was darkness. With that understanding, we realize any variation in truths – lies – or any variation in gifts comes from the “shifting shadow.” Satan shifts and changes as he feels the need to entice and trap his victims. He can vary his attack and his words to fit the desire of his intended victim. God does not change or vary. He is pure light and gives only goodness while exposing darkness and shadow.
As an aid to guide us to follow truth, James said in verse eighteen, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” By the deliberate, purposeful will of God, He brought us forth. We know He created us because of what Moses and John wrote in Genesis 1 and John 1:1, but listen to this, He did more. God “brought us forth.” Just as in verse fifteen, sin brought forth death, God brought us (His children, Christians) forth to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) through the living and enduring Word of God (1 Peter 1:23) - the “word of truth” as James said in verse eighteen. “Word” comes from the Greek word logos[vii] and means Jesus Christ. This Word of truth - Jesus Christ, implanted in Christians when they believed, is His Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit. Jesus gave us His Holy Spirit so that believers would have the power to overcome temptations and the strength to endure trials. By the Word of truth and through the Spirit of truth Christians are brought forth into a living hope so that those who believe are the first fruits of people on earth whom God created – the first fruits of the harvest of righteousness to gain the inheritance of God’s kingdom through Jesus Christ. The words “first fruits” comes from the Greek word aparche[viii]. Aparche means “those offered first to God as His due since He (Jesus Christ) gave them like the sacrifices taken by the Israelites to God’s temple.” Jesus Christ made believers new and born again. As such, we are the first fruits among the people of the earth given to God as His people through the death and resurrection of Jesus and our saving faith in Him. “Just as Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruit of His harvest,” Jeremiah 2:3 said, every believer in Jesus Christ is holy and a first fruit of His harvest. Revelation 14:4 says this, too, “These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.”
This action of saving humanity from the sin Satan (the shifting shadow) tempts them to follow shows God’s goodness and loving-kindness. When God created all things, He called them good and showed only goodness comes from Him with no variation and no sign of darkness. God in His goodness again showed His Light by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us from sin and darkness, to give us new life, truth, and perfection. There is no darkness in light. There is no evil in righteousness. James said in verse sixteen, “Do not be deceived my beloved brethren.” You can know Light from dark by its characteristics – its goodness, love, and righteousness. Darkness cannot have these.
Hearer and Doer
Since no person can withstand temptation in his or her own strength or wisdom, he or she can only be saved from sin and darkness by God, the Father of light because of His goodness/righteousness, love, and mercy. Understand that well. People cannot save themselves from sin and its result – death. The power of Satan is greater than the power of humankind. Only One who is all good (righteous and holy) can save and redeem sinful humanity. God is that One because He created all things. He has all power and is all good all the time. With God’s strength available to humans through the Holy Spirit, we can withstand Satan and his temptations. Most important to note though, we can do nothing of ourselves to save ourselves from sin and its effects – death. We need someone greater than Satan to defeat him. Nothing we do in our own strength will save us from Satan, sin, and death.
With that understanding, we realize when James said faith without works is dead (James 2:17), he did not mean faith plus works/actions saves a person. He meant faith that does not result in acts of love and service for God toward God and other people is no great faith. That kind of faith is just mental assent to God’s existence. The person who just gives mental assent to God without doing any good acts as a result is one whom James calls a “hearer.” A person whose faith results in acts and words of love and service is one whom James calls a “doer.” The faith of which James spoke expands from verse nineteen of chapter one.
For James a person of faith is quick to hear and slow to speak or anger. Is that contrary to what I said in the previous paragraph? No, being a Christian who hears is not contrary to one who acts. Verse nineteen must be read in context. The word “hear” comes from the Greek word akouo and means to consider, perceive, and understand[ix]. This knowing is a continual growing in knowing God and understanding His will. Akouo is similar to the Hebrew word yada that means gradually to come to know God in these same ways. When a person knows God so well he or she hears Him and understand His character, that person will realize situations often arise where it is best not to speak first with rash words, but to meditate and take the issue to God. By doing this, the person will be less likely to respond to a circumstance with anger because God will have control of the person’s heart, mind, and mouth. Intentionally stopping to consider a situation is an action. We must understand well what the other person says before we respond either with belief or with anger. Acting rashly can lead to speaking hurtful and unwise words in anger. Anger, if not righteous anger from God, can separate a person from the will of God. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:22), “If anyone is angry with his brother, he will be guilty before the court.” Paul said in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Verse twenty of James 1 says, “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” The unrighteous anger you allow to lead your words when you hear or see another person doing or saying something bad/evil will lead to your unrighteousness. That will create a wall between you and God. Let you faith hold you and keep you standing firm on what you believe. This is faith in action, not just mental assent. Stand firm. Listen carefully. Be slow to respond verbally making sure of what the person says. Be slow to anger so you do not sin. That will separate you from your close relationship with God. Keep strong in your faith in the Father of Lights who gave you the Word of Truth to save you and an inheritance in the kingdom of God.
James added to these characteristics of a believer with verses twenty-one to twenty-seven. In verse twenty-one he said, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted which is able to save your souls.” A doer of the word actively puts aside filthiness and wickedness. That person does not entertain such thoughts so he or she does not act upon them. “Filthiness” comes from the Greek word rhuparia and means to make filthy or file, to defile or dishonor[x]. “Wickedness” comes from the Greek word kakia and means malignity, malice, ill-will, depravity, desire to injure someone, and evil[xi]. When a believer succumbs to a temptation of ill-will, malice, or evil to act upon it, that person sins. Sin dishonors God and the believer who sins. Paul told believers in Ephesians 4:22. “Lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit.” Peter told believers in 1 Peter 1:22, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.” James, in verse twenty-one tells the believers to put aside all filthiness and wickedness and, with humility toward God their Lord, receive the word implanted that can save them. Do not just acknowledge God exists, but actively put off the filthy and wicked things and receive the power to avoid and overcome temptation that shifty, shadowy Satan throws at you. Jesus can save your souls and empower you with His implanted Holy Spirit to defeat Satan daily. Do more than mentally assent to Jesus as your Savior; do the word – act out God’s truth. Be doers of the Word because Jesus implanted the Word in you.
James emphasized again in verses twenty-two through twenty-five Christians were to enact their faith in the world. He said, “But prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” Something proven is shown to be an actuality. To prove something, you must actively do something. For Christians that means to obey God and His laws and commandments. Jesus summed up God’s the laws when He spoke in Matthew 22:36-40 with two commandments. He said the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. James told the Christians to act out their faith, not just give mental assent to it. He meant show the world you are Christians by your love for God and other people. James told his listeners not merely be hearers who delude themselves by falsely reckoning they were Christians. The way to prove you are a Christian is to act upon your faith in the world by showing love to God and to other people. That occurs when you speak and act out love. Paul emphasized this in Romans 2:13 when he said, “For it is not the hearers of the Law who are justified before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.”
James agreed with Paul and said,
If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in the mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:23-25 [NASB])
If someone hears the word of the Lord and does not act upon it to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation, then that person is merely a hearer of the word. Besides this, if anyone hears the word of truth and accepts God and Jesus are one, but does not act upon this new life, how can others know he or she is a Christian? That person’s faith is small and not evident to other people around him or her. James equated this person with the one who looks in the mirror and forgets what kind of person he or she was. That kind of believer, when he or she is not looking in the mirror (the Word of God), forgets he or she is God’s child bought by His love and blood. That person walks in his or her own ways instead of God’s ways. He or she is like the seed sown beside the road, on the rocky places, or among the thorns (Matthew 13). Each of these kinds of people do not understand fully the power they have in them from the Holy Spirit and so allow the trials and temptations to overwhelm them. They fall away because they did not grow in the Word and have it implanted deeply. These kinds of people just assented to the Gospel. James added, though, the believers who act upon their belief are the ones who look intently at the perfect law. These people study God’s Word and stay in it growing to be more like Christ each day. That is abiding.
When a person abides in the Truth, nothing can cause that person to stumble. The law of liberty will free that person from the power of sin and death, from temptations and sins (Romans 8:2). Peter agreed with James. He said in 1 Peter 2:16, “Act as free men and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-slaves of God.” Willingly, with love and respect, offer up yourselves for God’s purposes. Be the Christian Jesus saved you to be. Be free from the power of temptation and sin. Enact the two greatest commandments out of love and obedience to God toward God and other people. Become an effectual doer and not a forgetful hearer. God blesses his faithful children. John 13:15-17 relayed what Jesus taught about this. It says, “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” As children of God redeemed by Jesus Christ’s blood, we are to live out the love put into us by the Word of Truth, the Holy Spirit. Our faith is to be deep enough we act upon it with words and deeds that show what God has done in our hearts and minds. Being a “doer of the Word” means showing God’s love.
In the earlier parts of this chapter, James gave specific actions Christians should do. His hearers learned they were to do as the Word of Truth taught them to do and as Jesus did while living on earth and as God commanded in the Bible. They learned, too, they had to withstand trials and temptations and call upon God for wisdom to be able to stand against them. As part of enduring and growing toward perfection – Christlikeness - Christians must put aside filthiness and wickedness. Nothing that is evil can be in the presence of Holy God and so His children must grow in goodness/righteousness to perfection in Christ. Believers are to be slow to speak and anger and quick to hear and comprehend. They must show restraint because anger shows instability and allows a foothold for Satan to enter and separate a person from God. Finally, near the beginning of this chapter, James told the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem to be humble and glory in their high position, that of being children of Yahweh, the Most High King.
The earlier actions James taught are good. He specifically spelled out how to live out their Christian faith in the rest of the chapter. He told them to “bridle their tongues” in verse twenty-six. If what comes out of a person’s mouth does not give glory to God, then how can people know that person is a Christian. They will know for sure the person is not growing in Christ. This will cause the people hearing and watching to put little regard in the Christian’s faith and in salvation through Jesus Christ. James said this person with an unbridled tongue would deceive even him or herself. That Christian’s words did not give God glory - did not give a living worship to God. In everything Christians do or say, worship and praise of God should be able to be given. If it cannot, then the Christian needs to consider if he or she is just being “religious” as the Pharisees were, to receive praise for themselves. Everything a Christian does should give glory to God, should be a testimony to Him. That is true worship – true religion.
James went further to describe pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God in verse twenty-seven. He said, “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained.” From the foundation of the nation of Israel, God cared even for the poorest in the nation and created laws for their protection and provision of needs (Deuteronomy 14:29; Job 31:16-17, 21; Psalm 146:9; Isaiah 1:23). James confirmed this and taught these commands of God continued. Jesus taught Christians this lesson in Matthew 25:36. He told the people when they fed, clothed, and visited the poor, they did these things to Him, too. By taking care of the poorest people and people more “palatable,” Christians show their love for God, too. This sums up the two greatest commandments Christ taught. Added to this, James taught the believers of Jerusalem to stay unstained by the world. “Unstained” comes from the Greek word aspilos and means spotless, free from vice and censure, and irreproachable[xii]. Titus taught similarly in Titus 2:11-12 when he said, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” To stay unstained in the world requires God. To live out our faith in Jesus Christ requires God.
James, as leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem, taught Jewish Christians. His teachings surpass the borders of that group and encompass all Christians, not just Jewish Christians. James adamantly taught to have a deep and growing faith required loving action for God and other people. Actions to James meant going beyond a mental assent God exists. To him, action was the intentional bridling of one’s tongue to caring for the poor. Actions could be internal, which was fighting the old nature to acting out in public the new nature Christ instills in each believer. Without out action, James questioned if faith in Jesus Christ truly occurred.
Relevance and Conclusion
This brings a question home to each of us. Do you have a saving faith in Jesus Christ if you are not living out God’s love in the world? Can you truly say you are a Christian if you do not show God’s love or grow in your relationship with Him? Some of us must answer this negatively. Maybe you have never heard about God’s love for you and His provision for your salvation. Now is the time to ask God to give you faith to believe. Now is the time to accept Jesus Christ is God’s Son, believe He died as the sacrifice for your sins, and confess your sins to Him. Now is the time to be reborn and live your faith through your actions in the world. By doing this, God receives glory and you are worshipping Him.
On the other hand, maybe you are already a Christian, but have never grown beyond hearing the Gospel and responding to God’s love. Now is the time to seek God by reading His Word (the Bible) and praying to Him. Now is the time to live out what He is growing in you through His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit Jesus implanted in you when you believed in Him teaches you about God, encourages you in your walk, and empowers you to defeat temptation and make a bold stand for God. Will you choose to grow deeper in your relationship with God? As you grow, you reflect more of God’s glory, and that is your worship of Him.
Finally, maybe you have been a Christian for many years and you have served God in ministry many ways, but you are tired and possibly disillusioned now. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you and for you to the Father. Allow Him to encourage you and renew your energy and strength. He will make you soar on eagle’s wings. He will make the paths straight and level. Now is the time for you to come to God and receive His strength and power. Now is the time to show the world God is not finished yet and you keep walking with Him. Even now is the time to declare you continue to stand with and for God by loving the poor and leading and teaching other believers. Will you take the challenge to continue walking with God in His power and strength? Will you continue to allow your life to be an active testimony of worship of God?
Wherever you are in your life’s journey, God wants to be in a living, vibrant, loving relationship with you. He loves you. Will you choose Him in no matter part of life’s journey you now travel? Faith is more than mental assent. Choose to be in a living relationship with Him. Grow more like Christ each day. Live out your love for Him in the world and reflect God’s glory. Hopefully someone will see God in you and want to know Him, too.
What do you choose to do today?
Act on your faith.
[i]Thayer and Green, Greek Lexicon. The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, 1999. (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/aparche.html).