James 1 Bible study

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Chapter 1

 

 

 

Introduction

 

The writer of this epistle is commonly believed to be James the brother of the Lord Jesus, i.e. the son of Joseph and Mary, mentioned by Paul in Gal. 1:19. This is not James the brother of John and son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles. Nor is it James the less, another member of the Twelve. It is important for us to remember this, for the Catholic church do not accept that James was the Lord's brother. They believe that Mary never had children at all, but remained a virgin to her death. The Bible says that Jesus had several brothers and sisters, the children of Mary and Joseph (Mark 6:3). James, the Lord's brother, was a very prominent member of the first church of Jerusalem. At one time, the brothers of Jesus, including James, did not believe in Him (John 7:5). Yet after the resurrection, they did believe. Paul tells us that Christ appeared to James after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7).

 

1:1 From James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes dispersed abroad. Greetings!

 

By the time that James wrote this letter he had yielded himself to Christ and had become a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. In spite of their relationship according to the flesh, James took his place at the feet of Jesus and recognised him as Lord. His letter is addressed to "the twelve tribes scattered abroad". It is not clear who James was referring to. Some say that the letter was written only for converted Jews who had been scattered because of persecution. It may be possible that the epistle was written before the Gentiles has received the word of God by the mouth of Peter - but it is extremely unlikely. Whatever the case, it is important to remember that what is written in the epistle of James applies to all Christians; just as Paul's letter to the Ephesians, whilst it was sent to the church at Ephesus, contains teaching for the whole Christian church.

 

Rejoicing in Tribulation

 

1:2 My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials.

 

As believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, we are all brothers and sisters, born of the same Spirit and having the same Father. So James addresses us simply as "brothers". James knew that the church at that time was suffering persecution, yet he urges his readers not to be downcast, but to remain STEADFAST in the faith, rejoicing in all their troubles.

 

1:3 Because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

 

God allows trouble in our lives to strengthen our faith and to continue His work of grace in us (Rom. 5:3-5).  Trouble produces Christ like character, which is well worth having and which is eternal. In fact, our characters are the only thing that we will take with us into eternity. So when God allows us to be tested he is doing us CERTAIN GOOD, changing us into Christ's likeness (Rom. 8:28).

 

1:4 And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.

 

In order for our characters to be fully developed, we must "let patience have her perfect work." We must allow God to use hardship to test us. We are not to resist or strive against Him as His hand works in our lives through trials. We should not clamour for instant deliverance. If we do, God may answer us, but we will then not mature as quickly or as fully in the faith.  Instead, we are to abide in God's will and continue to trust him. As God's work is done in our lives, we become fully assured and wholly dependant upon the Lord.

 

Steadfast Faith

 

1:5 But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.

 

James applies a general principle to a particular use. If any of us lack _______, we may ask God and he will give freely without finding fault. He applies this to our need wisdom in difficult situations. When we need to know what to do, it is wisdom we actually need e.g. should we find our own way out of a trial or should we wait & trust God? God will give us wisdom when we ask for it.

 

1:6 But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind.

 

Just as Christ taught about prayer (Mark 11:22-24.) James reiterates that a man who asks of God must do so in faith (Heb. 11:6). James compares someone who believes God one minute and doubts Him the next to a wave by the seashore. One minute it is blown this way, the next it goes back the way it came. It swirls around and you can't tell which way it is going. The path of faith is not like that, for it leads only to Christ himself (Phil. 3:14), that is why in the walk of faith we are to look only to Jesus (Heb. 12:2).

 

1:7-8 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

 

Unbelief hinders prayer (e.g. Matt. 17:19-20). An unbelieving person (whether they are saved or not) cannot receive anything at all from God. They will be in the house of God when everything is going well, but when they have problems they will be absent. They will praise God when they feel good but not when they are downcast. They will follow the Lord in fine weather but not in the storm (Hosea 6:4). One minute they have immense zeal for God and his house and his work, the next minute they are gone. They are unstable, inconsistent, as Paul puts it, "tossed to and fro" (Eph. 4:14). They worship God, but have one foot in the world (1 Cor. 10:21). God wants us to be steadfast in the faith (1 Cor. 15:58).

 

Heaven's Economy

 

1:9 Now the believer of humble means should take pride in his high position.

 

Someone who is poor by this world's estimation, yet who has received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, should rejoice in the fact hat he has been made unspeakably rich through Christ with a wealth that this world cannot offer (Eph. 1:3).

 

1:10 But the rich person's pride should be in his humiliation, because he will pass away like a wildflower in the meadow.

 

A rich man who is saved, should not rejoice in his riches. Instead, he should rejoice that God has saved his soul, which is far more precious than all the wealth of the world (Mark 8:36). "God has shown him his spiritual poverty" (JB Phillips) and this has brought him to see his need and seek salvation. Even if you have this world's goods, remember that they will pass away (1 Tim. 6:17).

 

1:11 For the sun rises with its heat and dries up the meadow; the petal of the flower falls off and its beauty is lost forever. So also the rich person in the midst of his pursuits will wither away.

 

Even is a man is rich, let him remember that he is mortal. His life is like the grass which withers at the first sign of the eastern sun. Far more important to lay up for the life to come than to lay up treasure on earth (Matt. 6:19-20).

 

Steadfast Continuance will be Rewarded

 

1:12 Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him.

 

Those who continue in the Christian faith despite trials and difficulty will be truly and forever blessed. By enduring, James means continuing to serve and trust in the Lord. Those who remain faithful to the Lord will receive a crown of life, since by their endurance they have proved their love for Him to be genuine.

 

The Source of Temptation

 

1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one.

 

James corrects a misconception about God. There were those who said that God tempted them to do evil, perhaps to see if they would pass the test. But James makes it clear that God is absolutely holy. Sin and evil are unknown in His nature and have no part in Him. Therefore He cannot tempt man with sin or evil. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). Hence God can never be the source of sin or evil (1 John 3:5).

 

v14-15 But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death.

 

Instead, the law of sin, which operates in the body of fallen man is what lures him to do evil. Evil passions aroused in the flesh draw a man to their desire, alluring him to commit sin. If a man gives in to these allurements, then he will actually commit the sin that he wanted to do, thereby bringing God's condemnation upon himself, for the wages of sin is death. James makes clear that the sinful nature is still present in the believer, although it should not be dominant (Rom. 7:8 and Rom. 8:1-2).

 

 

 

Knowing God and Understanding our Relationship to Him

 

1:16 Do not be led astray, my dear brothers and sisters.

 

It is very important that we do not err in our understanding of who God is or of who we are.

 

1:17 All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change.

 

All that is good and perfect comes from God who alone is good and perfect (Matt. 19:17). He gives to man only what is good (Matt. 7:11). The one who made light is Himself light. This speaks of his moral character. He who is eternal and complete in His own being does not change or alter either in his mind or any other part of his nature. Even the sun and stars are not as certain in their courses as God is.

 

1:18 By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

 

By a sovereign act of his own will God gave us birth by the action of His word and of the Holy Spirit. This is the new birth spoken of by Jesus (John 3:3).The first fruits were the part of the harvest which were offered to God in gratitude for the whole harvest. These offerings belonged to God. All first fruits are sacred to God. As believers we are likened to the first fruits in that we have been made holy and belong to God as his children.

 

Acceptable Worship

 

1:19-20 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. For human anger does not accomplish God's righteousness.

 

Since we are not our own, we have a master, we should be ready to listen and learn from Him as Mary did (Luke 10:39). We should not be so swift to speak our own mind if what we have to say has not been taught us by him. In particular, we should not be quick to lose our tempers, since the anger of man belongs to the old, sinful nature and not the new man, and thus it does not produce the likeness of Christ in us (who is God's righteousness). Nor does it promote His work in others.

 

1:21 So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls.

 

Since we belong to God we are to be done with the sin life. James words "lay apart" carry the same meaning as Paul's illustration of putting off the old man and putting on the new (like clothes). Filthiness, etc. is all that represents the sinful nature (Eph. 4:22-24 and Col. 3:5-10). Instead, we are to in humbleness of mind receive the word of God into our hearts. As we listen to God's word the Holy Spirit takes it into our hearts and continues the work of regeneration. He changes us into Christ's likeness as we put off the old and put on the new.

 

1:22 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves.

 

James is careful to point out that "receiving the engrafted word" does not merely imply head knowledge. God's revealed word is only of benefit to us if we listen and obey.

 

1:23-24 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was.

 

A man might see his face in the mirror and notice that his hair is untidy. If he does nothing about it then what was the good of him looking in the mirror? In the same way, a man who hears the Word of God but does not act upon it in obedience is not  profited at all.

 

1:25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out -- he will be blessed in what he does.

 

God's law (His word) is perfect (Psa. 19:7). When acted upon it sets us free from sin's power (John 8:31-32). As we continue to abide in Christ, and are obedient to His word, we will know constant blessing (John 15:10).

 

1:26 If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile.

 

James views worship very differently to the way we view it today. True worship does not just consist in the form of a religious service, whether ancient or modern. In our meetings, we sing worship choruses, clap our hands, play music, use spiritual gifts and praise God, and so we should for God's word tells us to do these things. Yet if we would be fully rounded and mature Christians, we must not leave out the day by day and social aspects of our worship. First of all, our worship should consist of a life utterly surrendered to God (Rom. 12:1-2). This is the worship of our whole lives. Even our day to day speech must be changed and regulated by God's word. Otherwise our worship is empty and our singing is meaningless. James is telling us that God wants more than outward show. He wants obedience, personal purity and holiness. For this to be so we must yield to him and allow him to do the work of grace in our lives, a work which will be clear for all to see, since it will show itself in our actions and our speech (Col. 3:8).

 

1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

 

The true worshipper of God will seek to please Him by keeping himself unpolluted by the passions and lusts of the world and untainted by the spirit of the age. He will remember his Christian duty to care for the needy and vulnerable, particularly the orphans and widows (Christian orphans and widows are meant), spending himself and his money meeting their needs. This way of practising our religion is pure and acceptable before God.

 

"To James, real worship lay... in the practical service of mankind and in the purity of one's own personal life." William Barclay..

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