Last week we learned that the book of James was written by James. There is the announcement of the century. But beyond that, it was written by James the Just, the half-brother of Jesus. It was written to Jewish Christians before the Judaistic Controversy around 45 AD, which makes this most likely the earliest written book of the New Testament.
James 1:1 – James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
We can get an idea of who this was written to simply by the first verse, this is written to the twelve tribes that were scattered out of Jerusalem soon after the martyring of Stephen.
The first chapter of this book is broken into 3 sections: the greeting (in v. 1), trials & temptations (vv. 2-18), and listening & doing (vv. 19-27).
After the greeting to the twelve tribes, James starts in discussing trials. Right out of the gate, James makes it very clear, we WILL have trials. There is no “if” in there. The verse says:
James 1:2 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds
Also evident in v. 2, James calls for us to count our trials as joy.
Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you thanked God for the tough times you have been going through? It isn’t easy to do so, is it?
I’ll admit, when life is throwing everything at me, my first inclination is not to say, “Thanks God, I really appreciate this opportunity to grow.”
No way. I’d rather complain to my girlfriend, scream at the stupid drivers on the road, or rant on Facebook. It is so much easier to vent our frustrations (usually loudly) than direct them to God and thank Him for causing us to grow.
But James tells us to consider it joy. Why? Because as we go through trials, it tests our faith and brings perseverance. Perseverance brings maturity. Some key things to consider here is that trials do NOT CREATE faith….trials TEST faith. So what causes faith? Read Romans 10:17. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.
While trials do not create faith, when we meet the trial with faith, patience is created. Patience can only come through passing the tests of faith. If we take trial with disbelief or an argumentative heart, then we could find ourselves in bitterness or discouragement.
James 1:5 – If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
James then goes on to tell us in vv. 5-8 that we need wisdom as we go through our trials. Please know this, WISDOM and KNOWLEDGE are two different things. Knowledge is the raw data. It is the book smarts. Knowing that we need to love someone because the Bible tells us to, for example. But wisdom is how to use the raw data. So if the raw data of the Bible tells us that we should love, wisdom, which comes from the Holy Spirit, explains to us how we should love.
Something cool about this wisdom is that God gives it liberally and without being angry about it. How often has someone asked us how to do something and we exhale loudly, giving them that feeling that we are put out by them. As a parent, I have found myself doing that with my kids from time to time.
But God doesn’t do that.
He gives freely. Happily. Liberally.
James 1:9-11 – Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.
The interesting thing here is the beginning of v. 9. It speaks of the “lowly brother” and the “rich.” The lowly brother glories in being lifted up by God. It is so much easier for the impoverished to see God’s hand as they come through a trial while the rich find it much more difficult as they lose in their humiliation. This humiliation comes as the rich realize that this life, and all their riches, is only for this life. They cannot take any of their riches into eternity. To that end, the rich also fade, just as the flowers and beauty of the fields fade.
It is at this point that James changes direction a little. Up until this point, James talks about perseverance and patience and joy during trials. But now he is going to change it to speak strictly to temptation. He begins by sharing the blessing that those who endure temptation, and love Him, will be given the crown of life.
James 1:13-16 – Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
How many times have we said to ourselves or someone else, “This must be God testing you.” Don’t get me wrong, there will be tests of faith. But God will not tempt us. Guys, for example, God is not going to give you the desire for that beautiful, half-dressed woman walking down the street just so He can see you fall. He is not intentionally giving you the temptation of sex. He will give you a way THROUGH the temptation. Not the temptation itself.
James goes on to explain that we are tempted when we give into our own desires. We are drawn away from God when we give into the evil beauty that Satan and the world has put in our path. And while Satan tempts us, it is our own fallen nature that destroys our true desire to please God.
When our desires of the flesh are realized, then that gives birth to sin. Coming from the corrupted desire of sin is death. Satan will always try to hide that progression from us, but if we stay in the light of Christ, then we will be able to have the wisdom to see the corruption before it begins.
James 1:17-18 – Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
It is now in vv. 17-18 that James compares the sinful corruption to the “good and perfect gifts” that come from God. When James explained the Father in v. 17, he describes Him as the “Father of the lights.” It is these celestial bodies that are example to us as eternal lights as they never go out. God never changes. James explains that because God never changes, it begins with their generation. They are the “firstfruits” of the redemption.
James 1:19-20 – My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
James begins talking about listening and doing in the final section of James 1. Have you ever been angry? In your anger, have you simply lashed out and said the first thing that popped into your head? Of course, we all have. But James tells us that anger and our wrath does not come from God. When we lash out in anger, we are attacking the other person based on our own desires, and, as discussed above, that does not come from God, but our own selfish, corrupt desire.
By the time James gets to v. 21, he tells us to accept with meekness the “implanted Word of God.” By accepting in meekness, we accept it with a teachable heart. His Word, then implanted into our hearts, will maintain our purity in an age that is filled with impurity.
James 1:22-24 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.
Does this sound like the church today? Most people go to church, sit in the pews, and listen to a message by the pastor. After church, they take the notes from the service and place it in their Bible, never to be seen from again. They don’t apply what they had just learned in church. James tells us that this is like a man who sees his face in the mirror but forgets what he looks like once he walks away from the mirror. This kind of Christian is one who is easily swayed by the winds and waves of every new doctrine to come down the pike.
Let me ask you a question.
Do you believe that the majority of the televangelists are acceptable for a Christian to cite as an authority?
Let’s look at an example. Joel Osteen. This is the televangelist that everyone loves to attack and many people feel pity for him, deservingly so. We should pity him. But we shouldn’t pity him for the rebukes he is facing, but for being completely and utterly deceived by the spirit of greed and evil that Satan gives.
His own wife proclaimed in both the pulpit and on his TV show that “when we obey God, we are not doing it for God…we are doing it for ourselves.” Matthew 5:16 refutes what she said very clearly: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Looking at Joel himself, he wrote in one of his books that the Israelites “lack of faith and their lack of self-esteem robbed them of the fruitful future God had in store for them.” Unfortunately, Osteen added words to the actual Bible verse. Both Hebrews 4:2 and 11:6 speak only to the Israelites’ lack of faith, not their self-esteem.
But if we are simply going to church to hear the Word and change our lives to live the Word, then we will find that any teaching, including that of Osteen, as long as it has a Christian title to it, is acceptable when it most certainly is not. The Bible tells us that there are plenty of people out there that will distort the Word for their own, and for evil’s, purposes.
James 1:26 – If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.
In the final two verses of James 1, we are told that if we do not hold our tongue then our religion is useless. In Greek, the word for “religion” is never used in a good context in the bible. James uses the idea here for someone who has religion but does not have a right relationship with God. He tells us that we can spot that pretty easily by a person who claims religion but does not hold their tongue.
James concludes by showing that our faith is truly simple. We should love on orphans and widows and to keep our faith undefiled. Too much of today’s religion is defiled by greed, ego, desires of the flesh and so on. If we simply love on those who the world deems unlovable and keep our eyes affixed on Christ above, then we will be able to keep our religion as undefiled.
James 1 sets the stage for the rest of the book. While in chapter 1 we learn about “hear and do,” in chapter 2 we will learn about “faith and deeds.” Each of these are stepping stones into a deeper faith and a practical way to live out our faith.