(last edited 9/9/15)
James was an apostle and the half-brother of Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph, Mat. 13:55. He (and his brothers) did not believe in Jesus, John 7:5, until after His resurrection. (There were four people named James in the New Testament.) He was the head of the church in Jerusalem, Acts 15, Gal. 2:9. James is the first of the General Epistles--not addressed to a particular church or individual. The others are I and II Peter, I, II, and III John and Jude. It was the earliest epistle, written before Paul's first epistle, I Thessalonians.
James doesn't get into much doctrine, but has much to say about what the Christian life should look like. Was he addressing problems he was aware of, or just giving these believers some good ideas to think about? Being the leader of Jerusalem church, which was Jewish, it seems he may be speaking to problems he had been observing in the church. The early church was not some ideal super-spiritual bunch of people; from the very beginning, the church has consisted of a group of forgiven sinners who continually struggle with the world, the flesh and the devil.
1 Does James identify himself and his authority as being the half-brother of Jesus, an apostle, or the head of the original, large, Jewish church at Jerusalem? What does this tell us about him? Humility. Do you think he might have struggled with remorse over his earlier failure to believe Jesus was who He said He was?
His heart was for the Jewish church; this letter is addressed to what group of people? Some claim there are lost tribes, but here and in Revelation the Bible speaks of 12 tribes. Does God know who they all are and where they all are? Why were they dispersed (not lost) or scattered? Acts 8:1. James only mentions the name of Jesus twice in this book--here and 2:1. In the records of what he said in the book of Acts, he never mentioned the name of Jesus. Why might he be hesitant to use the Name? Perhaps his humility kept him from drawing possible attention to his family relationship to Christ so as not to appear proud of that unique connection. His salutation, "greeting," is only used in this epistle, and has the connotation of rejoicing.
Why might James have opened his letter to the scattered Jews with these verses? Why had they scattered out from Jerusalem?
2-4 The NASB speaks in 2 of "trials" while the KJV uses "temptations." Based on the context here and in 12-16, the NASB seems to be clearer than the KJV. (Strong's: putting to the proof by experiment, discipline, adversity, temptation, try.) This is a good passage to meditate on as we struggle with trials in our lives. What seeming paradox do we find in 2? Joy vs. trials. How does 3-4 explain that paradox? So "trial" in 2 equals with what phrase in 3? Is there a difference between a trial and a temptation? Might every temptation to sin involve a test of our faith? And might every test of our faith include a temptation to sin by making a wrong choice? They seem to be two sides of the same coin.
So are we to be happy to have trials? What is the difference between happiness and joy? Does that joy happen naturally, or what does it mean to "consider" or "count" it all joy? When we know that this is how we are to respond to our trials, what is accomplished in our walk of faith? Endurance (the implication is cheerful, not gritting the teeth and complaining), patience, patient waiting, constancy. Will this perfecting and completing happen automatically, or what might it mean to "let"? (Perfect does not mean sinless.)
The Bible, especially the New Testament, has much to say about patience/endurance, especially as it relates to two things: going through tribulations, and waiting for the rapture. Compare James' words in 1:2-4 with Paul's words in Romans 5:3-4. How do we generally feel about learning patience? How does God seem to feel about patience in our lives? Does understanding this help us to bear up patiently when things are not going well for us, especially for extended periods of time?
So in these situations of trials and tribulations, are we doomed to just respond according to our feelings, or do we have choices to make? Why do we often choose impatience, whining, grumbling rather than joy and patience? We often ask "WHY?" in our trials; these verses clarify God's purpose--spiritual maturity. So can we say that patience/endurance is one mark of a mature Christian? Does knowing this fact about trials make them easier to endure? If we allow doctors to inflict temporary pain, and pay them to do so because we know the long-term benefit, shouldn't we joyfully allow God to do the same? According to this passage, Christians have everything they need to overcome trials and deal with life; we have the Bible, prayer, and the indwelling Holy Spirit. But we need to make biblical choices.
5 The Bible speaks much about wisdom; what is wisdom? Applying spiritual knowledge (truth/doctrine) to daily life. Who do we get wisdom? Ps. 19:7, 111:10 relates wisdom to understanding God's commandments--where do we find those? In His Word. Proverbs has much to say about wisdom: 2:6, 3:5-6, 11:2. There are two kinds of wisdom; I Cor. 1:18-2:16 has much to say about man's wisdom vs. God's wisdom. What does Col. 2:3 tell us about wisdom? What about 3:16? Will the wisdom God gives ever contradict what is already in the Bible? James will speak more about wisdom in chapter 3.
How many of us need God's wisdom? Does "all" speak of all men, or is the context speaking to believers? If we aren't walking in His Word, can we expect to receive God's wisdom? How does God give it? Does He get after us for asking, or taunt us or chide us? Does He "tease" us by promising wisdom but then not giving it? How many of us have asked for wisdom but then not felt any wiser, or felt like we STILL didn't know what God wants us to do? Should we go by our feelings--by inner impressions? Does Scripture teach anywhere that inner impressions are the source of wisdom, or how to interpret inner impressions? This is where most of us get hung up.
6-8 What is the key, in 6? What did 5 say God would do if we asked? Does "faith" mean just thinking something, or acting on it? Often we make decisions based on subjective criteria, such as "our interpretation of inward impulses (feelings) and other 'road signs' that cannot be objectively verified." p. 248, Decision-making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen. Since wisdom is NOT a feeling, should we doubt God answered our prayer just because we don't feel anything? We probably asked for wisdom because we needed to make a decision, so what should we do now? And then, after we make the decision, what should we not do? What does the Bible call this type of person? Of two minds, vacillating. Is there any point in asking for God's wisdom if we haven't read what He has already told us?
Here are more relevant comments from Friesen's book:
"1) In those areas specifically addressed by the Bible, the revealed commands of God (His moral will) are to be obeyed. 2) In those areas where the Bible gives no command or principle (nonmoral decisions), the believer is free and responsible to choose his own course of action. Any decision made within the moral will of God is acceptable to God." pp. 151-52
"God's guidance in the Old Testament reached down into the details of daily life while His guidance in the New Testament is expressed in more general commands and principles...Most of the specific regulations that constituted God's moral will for the Israelites have been moved into the 'area of freedom' for Christians. We are free and responsible to decide for ourselves what to eat, what to wear, where we will live, which church we will attend, and so on." pp. 244-45
9-11 In the early church, there were masters and slaves; today there could be upper class and lower class folks, or even business owners and their employees. Don't people, even Christians, often compare and even judge themselves and each other by material standards? What is James' solution? What is the humble brother's high position? (riches in Christ) What is the rich brother's humiliation? (he is a sinner needing Christ, just like the lowest wretch) 11, why shouldn't we be overly concerned about riches?
12-16 More about trials and temptations. Again, it seems that in 12, "trial" (NASB) is more accurate than "temptation" (KJV), since 13 tells us that God does NOT tempt us. Yet every trial does bring temptation to respond wrongly--to sin. As we saw in 2-4, what is the outcome God is after when He allows trials in our lives? Patience, endurance, perseverance. What outcome might happen if we don't submit to God's will in joy and patience? Bitterness?
People, even Christians, often blame God for "bad" things that happen. Is God the source of trouble in this world? Is He not loving enough or strong enough to keep bad things from happening? Then why does He allow them? What happened in Gen. 3 that brought trouble, pain, evil, and death into this world? But God uses those things to further His plans for bringing people to salvation and for spiritual growth.
Can God be tempted to do wrong? Could Jesus have sinned? Was there any desire for sin, for self, that a temptation could appeal to? Then why was Jesus tempted by Satan? To prove that there was no sin, no sin nature, in Him. What example did He give us of how to handle temptation? Mat. 4:3-10, with God's Word.
What does "blessed" mean? Fortunate, well off, happy: joy, as in 2. It sounds like the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount in Mat. 5. 12 repeats the ideas in 2-4; what might we conclude from this? This is important! IS this a big issue in our lives, and often a source of confusion? Then we are told about another crown that believers may receive. It would seem that the crown would be for patience/endurance just mentioned, but it is for what? What does this tell us about what it means to love the Lord? Love is about choices and actions that glorify God, not about fuzzy feelings. Knowing about the various crowns believers may receive should help us keep our eyes on the finish line, as we recently read back in Heb. 12:1-2.
Then James speaks of temptation to sin. We associate temptation with Satan, but he is not mentioned here. However, what word in 13 implies Satan's activity? In the garden, what did he do? He presented a temptation to disobey God, and tried to deceive. What did Eve do? She was deceived and chose to disobey God. What did Adam do? Adam was not deceived, I Tim. 2:14; he knowingly sinned, transgressed/violated God's commandment, Rom. 5:12-17. See Mat. 4:3, I Cor. 10:13, I Thes. 3:5. Is it a sin to be tempted, or is not sin until we respond wrongly to the temptation? Self--our old nature--is the source of the lust, the desire, that responds to temptation, 14.
Can Satan, or anyone, cause us to sin, so that we could say we were not responsible for that sin because someone made us do it? Psychology tells us the opposite; in order to deal with our guilt feelings, we need to accept ourselves as good, even awesome, and realize that our mistakes are really a product of other people or circumstances. This thinking appeals to our fleshly nature. Who was the first human to pass the buck? 16 may be speaking of not being deceived like Eve, or it may mean not to attribute temptation to God. Eph. 6:10-18 will help us not to be deceived by Satan. We are warned so many times about deception; so many types of deception abound.
17 Instead of focusing too much on our temptations, our sins, and the things that deceive us, what should we focus on? God and the good things that we DO have from Him. Does God use only trials to get our attention on Him? He also uses blessings. Might some of our trials actually be blessings from God in disguise? Would "good" and "perfect" here be our definition or God's? Have you ever been able to look back at a trial or something we thought was bad, and later seen how it was actually a blessing from God? Even hearing about other believers' experiences of this type can help us look at our own situations from a different perspective.
The first phrase uses "gift" twice (NASB uses "given" for the first); these are two different Greek words. The first one speaks of the giving of a good thing; the second speaks of the perfecting or completing of it. This progression seems to contrast with the progression of the previous verses, speaking of temptation, then lust, then sin, then death.
How is God's nature contrasted with ours? It is hard for us to get an understanding of different God is from us, because all we know is our human selves. What might "Father of lights" refer to? What are God's first recorded words? Perhaps this speaks of God as Creator. The unchangeableness of God is made clear throughout the Bible, yet today in the church, some teach the heresy of "process theology": that God "learns" and "adjusts" to fit the situation as it unfolds, since He could not really know it before it happened. This denies the complete sovereignty of God.
18 Is this speaking of God creating man, or of salvation? God created by the word of His mouth. The Bible says repeatedly that we must believe/receive in order to receive the salvation Christ purchased for us. But we cannot say that salvation comes through an act of man, because what else is the Bible clear about? It is both; can we accept this truth even though we don't understand it? Remember that God, who is so far above US, and whose thoughts and ways are so high above ours, is telling us things that are beyond our understanding; is our human understanding the standard of truth? What is truth here?
In what way are we a kind of firstfruits of His creatures? Who is "we"? The church. In I Cor. 15:20,23 how is Christ the first fruits? His resurrection. So how does this apply to the church? What happens at the rapture? The church is resurrected first.
19-20 James says his readers are already familiar with these truths. Quick to hear what? Why slow to speak? The context is about anger. Are some Christians easily angered, short-tempered? Should they defend their behavior by claiming that God made them that way, that God doesn't make mistakes--as gay-rights people claim? Or does God expect them (and us) to control their sinful impulses? Is 20 speaking of a witnessing situation, or reaction to things in the world?
21 What other impulses might a Christian have and need to control? Sounds like he could be speaking of immorality. "Lay apart" (KJV) is "putting aside" in the NASB; it's hard to stop doing, saying or thinking wrong things, but Paul often counters "put off the old man" with putting on what? Christ, the new man, the new nature. Does the Christian have to give in to the impulses of the old sinful nature? What do we have that empowers us to make the right choice? The indwelling Holy Spirit.
How does God's Word get planted or grafted? Then what needs to happen? What results? Is it received everywhere the seed is sown? What parable speaks of this? Mat. 13:1, the sower and the seed.
22-25 What happens if we are hearers and not doers? What happens if we are doers and not hearers? How does self-deception play in here? How is the mirror example like being a hearer but not a doer? What is "the perfect law, the law of liberty"? How are we to look at it? Strong's: to bend, lean over, so as to peer within. Then what are we to do with it? What is the outcome? What might that mean? Strong's: fortunate, happy, well-off.
26-27 James is writing to believing Jews; the Jews were known for their outward religious practices. He speaks again about being self-deceived, in what way? Have you known of a believer like this? In this letter, James stresses the works of faith that should accompany salvation; how does 27 speak to this question? Does he say to just give to the needy? Rather, to do what? Can you be publicly very Christian, but inside be worldly? The Christian should be characterized by personal purity.
1-7 James continues to talk about how faith should and should not look. What is an example of showing differing levels of respect? In 1:9-11, James also addressed the differing economic levels in the church; apparently this was a problem in the early church. Does this happen in the church today--making judgments of others, or treating others different, based on economic differences, clothing styles, or? Why? As in the earlier passage, he points out the other side of the coin regarding both poor and rich; does it really make sense to give less respect to poor believers, or to pander to the rich? Many cultures are quite class-oriented, but what is different about the church? Gal. 3:28. Does the behavior of Christians ever cause Christ's name to be dragged through the mud?
8-13 Here James contrasts two kinds of law: the Law (of Moses) and the royal law (the law of the Lord)--Mat. 22:36-40. This is how Christians are to act. How does the Law of Moses work, 10? It sounds like James is saying that these Christians are not speaking or acting, 12, like Christians--those under the royal law--but rather, acting like sinners who are still under the Law of Moses. What does he call this royal law in 12? What two words does he use in 13 to contrast these two laws, these two mindsets that are contrary to each other? 13 is another way of repeating what is clear throughout Scripture: you reap what you sow, and it takes us back to the Sermon on the Mount, Mat. 7:2.
Who is our neighbor? How do we "love" ourselves? Does it mean like, or be in love with? Don't many people actually dislike, even hate, themselves sometimes? But don't we still see that our bodies have food, clothing and shelter? We are to treat our neighbor--those we come across--as we would treat ourselves. Is that about feelings or actions? Loving our neighbor as ourselves is illustrated in the parable of the good Samaritan, Luke 10:27-37.
14-26 The previous comments--about being a doer not just a hearer, about loving your neighbor as yourself--leads into an extended explanation of the relationship of faith and works. (Read all first.) This section confuses many, who think James is contradicting Paul in Eph. 2:8-9. What is Paul saying about good works and salvation? Can we be saved by being good enough? No, we are saved how? By faith alone. Is James speaking about good works that result in salvation or good works that should follow salvation? Just as we saw in I and II Timothy and Titus, the church is to be characterized by good works. Being the first epistle written, this predates Ephesians; perhaps Paul wrote Eph. 2:8-9 to clarify the relationship between faith and works.
14-17 If your faith is only intellectual assent--a notion in your mind--but it never gets down to your feet, is that what the Bible means by faith? NO. True saving faith results in obedience, in actions. In 14, does this person have faith, or does he "say" he has faith? Is everyone who claims to be saved, truly saved? As we've been going straight through the Bible, we just read in Hebrews 11 what faith looks like in action; it shows itself as obedience. In Hebrews 11, the examples were of believing God even though the promised Messiah had not yet come, of obeying God no matter what test He gives, of bearing up under difficulties and persecution. From 1:19 up to this point, James seems to be speaking mostly of how we treat others being the result of faith, the evidence of faith.
18-20 In that day, all religions outside Judaism were polytheistic, but James says that believing in only one God is not enough to save you; what specifically do you need to believe for salvation? Jesus Christ--the cross, the blood, the resurrection. How often do we hear someone say, oh yes they believe in God, and we assume, oh they must be a Christian too! That is where faith must start, but if that's all they believe, that is not saving faith. Not all faith is equal--not all faith is saving faith. James is making it very clear that believing and obeying are two sides of the same coin, as did the writer of Hebrews. The entire Bible is very clear on this. Again we see the emphasis on usefulness vs. uselessness.
21-26 Two incidents in Abraham's life are mentioned; which was first, and told us that Abraham had saving faith? The incident mentioned in 23, which is found in Gen. 15:6. Much later in Abraham's life we find the incident in 21, which is found in Gen. 22--a test which revealed how much faith he had. First we believe, but then our faith is matured and completed--perfected, as it says in 22. 24 and 25 use the word "justify" to again let us know that the Bible's definition of saving faith is faith that results in some sort of obedience; perfect obedience is not required, as we saw by the examples of faith in Heb. 11. (We do need to be careful, when talking about obedience, not to go off into legalism or works-based salvation.)
25 It's interesting that Rahab is held up as an example of true saving faith both here and in Heb. 11:31. Was her lie wrong? She lied to save two lives--to keep the Jewish spies from being murdered; this is not condemned in the Bible accounts. Read her story in Joshua 2 (all), 6:22-25, Ruth 4:17-22. Compare Mat. 1:5--what a great love story! So Rahab, a Gentile, a harlot, because of her true saving faith that showed itself by her actions, became part of the line leading to Christ. (Who says the genealogies are boring?)
1 The NASB speaks of teachers, but the KJV speaks of masters. Shouldn't we all be involved in sharing with or teaching others what we know? There are two Greek words used for teacher; this one includes the meanings of "doctor, master"--a teacher with authority, a leader. Were perhaps many taking this role upon themselves who shouldn't, perhaps for prestige or pride? Why will leaders be judged more strictly? The KJV speaks of condemnation, but what does Rom. 8:1 say? The idea is judgment. Have all our sins been paid for? But what happens when we get to heaven, II Cor. 5:10, I Cor. 3:10-15?
2-4 Do all believers stumble and offend others, in their words or their actions? Even pastors, leaders, even apostles? "Perfect" is not sinless but complete, mature; as we mature in our walk with Christ, what should happen less? What images does James use to help us see the connection between the mouth and our whole self? So if our mouths are in obedience to Christ, what should result? When we are speaking to people about the Bible, we also should try to use examples that are understandable to that person.
5-6 How is our tongue like a small fire? This example is the most sobering yet. Have we all experienced this, either stumbling ourselves or being adversely affected by the words of others?
7-8 Does this mean the tongue is hopeless? Does it seem that way at times? Is the tongue really the problem. How can we overcome, or lessen, the struggle with out mouths?
9-12 How do we feel or act, or how should we, when other believers are like this? James comes down very hard on believers who don't control their mouths. This passage reminds us of the Sermon on the Mount, Mat. 7:15-19. Apparently this behavior was just as much a problem in the early church as today. Again, is the tongue really the problem, or what is? How could that be addressed?
13-18 Is James comparing believers and unbelievers, or believers choosing two different types of behavior? Is he giving here the answer to the problem of the tongue? 13 points us back to the discussion on true faith resulting in good works. So what is really the problem of the heart? His contrasting of the two kinds of wisdom sounds like Paul's discussion in Rom. 8:5 (actually Rom. 6-8) of what? Do all believers automatically act in God's wisdom? Do Christians still have the old nature? Do the three sources in 15 speak of the world, the flesh and the devil? Can a believer have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, and arrogance? Doesn't it seem like we didn't actually make a "choice," but rather, stuff just "happens"? But according to the Bible, is that true? How can we get better at recognizing the opportunities for choice, and for depending on the Spirit for God's wisdom? The wise Christian should be characterized by what three things, 18?
The Greek word for wisdom is "sophia." Today, as in the past, some worship the goddess Sophia--not only in New Age and pagan circles, but even in churches that embrace feminism and react against a male God. The Bible speaks much of wisdom, but James makes it clear that there are two sources of wisdom. Interestingly, the Greed word in 15 for "sensual" (KJV) or "natural" (NASB) is "psauchikos" which is the root of our word "psychology." Psychology is man's wisdom, not God's. Where is God's wisdom found?
1-5 Again we wonder what had been going on that caused James to write these admonitions. There are several ways to look at this passage. The terms "lust" and "adulteresses" (the KJV adds "adulterers") could imply sexual sin. Or lust could simply speak of desires, cravings--allowing Self to take over. It could be speaking of spiritual adultery--a Christian riding the fence and trying to live in the world system, being unfaithful to God. It seems unlikely that murder was actually going on, but again compare the Sermon on the Mount, Mat. 7:21-28, teaching that motives and thoughts can be just as sinful as actions, even if not carried out.
What is the source of all the problems mentioned, 1? SELF....I WANT!... Is this a problem for us? What is the problem with the praying they did? Is this also a problem with the way we pray sometimes? Is prayer for the purpose of getting God to do what we want? How should we pray instead? How did Jesus teach His disciples to pray? Should we desire and pray for OUR will, or His? What does it mean to pray in Jesus' name? Are the things we pray for, the things that Jesus would pray for?
What is friendship with the world? Is this a problem for us...for Christians? How are we to relate to the world, to feel about it? In what ways do Christians, or churches, compromise with the world?
Do these problems point back to issues in chapter 3? As we saw particularly in Rom. 6-8 and in both letters to the Corinthians, Christians struggle between the old and the new nature, between the flesh and the Spirit. How does God feel about this? 5 is unclear; some think the KJV implies our spirit within us struggles with lust and envy, but the NASB sounds like God's jealousy over us who have His Spirit dwelling in us. Of course, God's jealousy is righteous and holy, not sinful like ours.
6 That focus on SELF/I WANT! is what, 6, and is the opposite of what? So the proud Christian, the one walking in the flesh, is lacking in what? Pride is probably the most prominent sin in the Bible; is it only a problem for unbelievers, or for Christians as well? Does the proud believer even feel any need for God's grace? If we are proud, God will oppose us; does that explain some of the difficulties we have had in life?
7 Some specific directions to follow to deal with these problems. 7 has two commands; aren't these two sides of the same coin? And what are we then promised? If we haven't done the first thing (obey), can we do the second thing (stand our ground against temptation)? If we don't do the first two things, will the third thing happen? Some teach we (the church) are to bind Satan or cast him out; the Bible does not teach this.
8 What other two things do we need to do if we want to get control over our sinful desires? How might we do the first? What results if we keep God at a distance? What do we need to do to our hands and hearts? Why both? Is "double-minded" doing one and not the other?
9-10 Does 9 mean that Christians should not laugh, enjoy humor, and be somber, as the Puritans thought? What is the context--what are we to grieve about? What if we DON'T feel this way about our sin? If we don't humble ourselves (feel humiliation about our sinfulness), what might God do instead of lift you up? Let you fall on your face, again? Can we be proud of our humility? What should we do instead of continuing to exalt SELF? Psychology teaches we are to elevate Self; the Bible teaches the opposite. The way up is down. Compare Isa. 66:2b; how seriously do we take God's Word? So was the early church plagued with problems with sin, with pride?
11-12 On first glance it may appear that this passage says we are not to judge others at all. Many, both Christians and non-christians, misunderstand what the Bible says about judging others. Many talk as if there is a blanket statement in the Bible that we are never to judge others; this is not true. The Bible speaks of judging, of not judging, and of how to judge rightly; the context clarifies the meaning.
It helps to look at the two flavors of meaning that are included in the Greek word for "judge." When most people say, "the Bible says not to judge," they refer to this meaning: punish, avenge, condemn, damn. Are individuals to do this to other individuals? Whose job is that, in our society? Courts and judges. On the other hand, "judge" may mean: to distinguish, decide, try, determine, esteem, call in question, think. Are we to do this? Does the Bible give us guidelines for how to do this? Are we to make observations about people, things, events, etc., and make moral decisions about right and wrong, good and bad?
Mat. 7:1-5 and Rom. 14 warn against a critical spirit, giving directions on how to judge correctly; they speak of individuals being judgmental of other individuals. Are local church bodies to judge blatant unrepentant sin among its members, I Cor. 5? They are also to be forgiving, loving and accepting if repentance takes place, II Cor. 2:1-11. Does the story of the woman caught in adultery, John 8:1-11, teach that we are not to judge others or that Jesus was soft on sin? Rather, it is more about how Jesus dealt with the hypocritical Pharisees who were setting a trap for Him by selectively applying the Law. Did He condone the woman's behavior? Did He tell her she was forgiven? He told her that He was not judging at that time.
With this background, note the content and context of this passage. James has been speaking of sins of the what? The KJV reads, "speak not evil," where the NASB, "do not speak against," is less clear. The Greek includes the meaning, "slander." Is this saying we should never speak a word against a fellow believer, no matter what they have done? Rather, we should not slander/speak evil of him. Can we use our tongues to judge righteously? We are not to use it to judge unrighteously.
James speaks of not judging the law and not being a doer of the law. Context--the rest of this letter--clarifies. What law does James speak of in 1:25? and 2:8-12? The perfect law, the law of liberty, the royal law. Is this the Law of Moses? Rather, Mat. 22:36-40. On the judgment day, God, the Righteous Judge, will judge those who deserve judgment.
13-16 Is it wrong to make plans, to set goals, to try to make money? Why is 13 an arrogant way to speak or think? What quality that James has been speaking about is the opposite of arrogance? How does 15 illustrate humility? How does 15 speak to the belief that we can get God to do what we want by praying, thinking, or speaking in a certain way? Why is it hard to pray "IF God wills"? Do we really know what is best? Do we know the future? Who does? What if we really really want a particular thing to happen--should we beg or insist that God do that for us? How can we know if our prayer is God's will? Can we know for sure that it is God's will that someone be saved? Can we know for sure that it's God's will that we get a certain job, house, spouse, etc? Can we know for sure that God desires to remove a trial we are struggling with? Compare Prov. 3:5-6, 16:3,9, Mat. 6:31-34. Why is it hard to do this? We don't want to give up control, but are we really in control of anything?
17 When James has referred to the law, what law has he been talking about? Is that love about feelings or actions? What verse in the first chapter states this same idea? 22. The law of Moses addressed wrong actions; according to the Sermon on the Mount, God is concerned not only about our actions but about our what? Thoughts and motives. According to this verse, is sin the same for everyone? But as James just pointed out, God will judge, and He is a righteous judge. So this verse speaks not of sins of "commission" but sins of what? Ommission.
1-6 Does this sound like it is addressed to Jewish believers? Or does it sound like James is talking to unbelievers--rich Jewish unbelievers? Will Christians mourn and howl and look for miseries from God? Can our riches in heaven rot? What is our garment--can it become moth-eaten? We have put on the Lord Jesus Christ and His righteousness. Where is our treasure? Can it rust? Whose flesh will be consumed by fire? Those suffering eternal punishment. What do they do, 4? Do we today get ripped off and suffer from the fraudulent and corrupt dealings of the rich? "Sabaoth" sounds like Sabbath but is not related; it refers to God in a military sense, as in having armies--the Lord of Hosts.
So James must be talking to these believers about the fate awaiting the unrighteous rich men who oppress them. Who today does this sound like, 5? Is money evil? What IS evil? 6, how did believers react under persecution? In the near future, the way things are, might we lose jobs, be fined, or go to jail for our faith? We wonder how we will act when the bad stuff starts to happen; consider this verse. Perhaps they had no power, no rights, no access to justice. Is it wrong to stand up for our legal rights? Paul did, Acts 22:22-29; he knew how to use the system in his favor. Is the church told to fight against social wrongs? If we do suffer injustice, will God make it right eventually?
Even though this is speaking of unbelievers, are there warnings here for Christians who are wealthy or powerful, say in business or politics? Is ethics a problem for the Christian in high positions?
7-11 "Therefore...brethren" seems to confirm that the preceding verses were not to believers but were about unbelievers who were oppressing them. And what is the huge comfort they are to focus on to help them deal with their problems? This event is next on the prophetic calendar; it is dateless, but we are to expect Him to catch us up at any moment. HOW are we to wait? What word tells us so--that is used in 7, 8, 10? But how are we often waiting instead? The KJV refers to the "patience" of Job; was he a model of patience? Actually, a different Greek word is used here; the NASB more accurately says "endurance." What phrase in 9 is another way of saying He is near? Why does the farmer not get impatient about his crop? What does the farmer do while he is waiting patiently? We today would not say God is "pitiful"; the KJV is less clear than the NASB, "full of compassion" or full of pity. Do we really trust the outcome of the Lord's dealings?
12 Does "swear" here mean cussing? Or to swear as in court we swear to tell the truth--to invoke something sacred? Or both? Why should we not have to swear that something is true? Why should we not use swear words? Is swearing the same as coarse language? Does the Bible speak about coarse vulgar language? Eph. 5:4. Because it says, "above all, do not swear..." it appears that this verse is related to the ones before it. Comparing it to 1-11, what is James saying? No matter how difficult life is, improper language is not the proper response; endurance is. What kind of judgment awaits the believer? Not hell, but the judgment seat of Christ, where we will be recompensed for our works, good or bad. I Cor. 3:10-15, II Cor. 5:10.
13-16 Whether things are going badly or going well, who are we to focus on--Self? Are we directed here to someone with the spiritual gift of healing? Does the Bible teach that all sick believers can expect healing? The person is to ask for prayer, and accept medical treatment. Oil in that day was considered medicinal; the word used here for "anoint" is not speaking of the sacred anointing associated with the Holy Spirit; it is speaking of the common use of oil, being rubbed on the body. 15 seems to be speaking of a malady related to spiritual problems--sin.
Does 15 say that the key to healing is to have faith that God WILL indeed heal as we command Him to, without entertaining any doubt that He will? Some charismatics teach this. What does it mean to offer prayer in faith? I John 5:14-15. Does the Bible teach that healing is always God's will for the believer? As we have gone through the Epistles, we have seen much evidence that it is not. James 1:6 speaks of asking in faith without any doubting; does that mean not to doubt God will give us what we want, or not to doubt that we can trust the outcome to God?
16 puts a different light on the previous few verses. Here the KJV seems clearer--"faults"--rather than the NASB "sins." Now that Jesus is our high priest, do we confess our sins to God or to men? But are we to admit our faults to each other? James just spoke about humility and not speaking evil against others, 4:10-11. 16 relates sickness and healing to dealing with interpersonal relationship among believers. It is possible that the word translated "sick" can also be translated "tired," "faint," "wearied" or "feeble." James may be saying that lack of humility, lack of dealing with our faults, can lead to physical and/or spiritual weakness, and might need to be dealt with by the leadership intervening with prayer, as well as oil for healing and refreshing. Some think this could speak of spiritual burnout leading to depression. Does praying for one another contribute to spiritual health? If our faults are causing problems with others, does dealing with them lead to spiritual health? What is said here about the prayers of a believer?
17-18 Were the Old Testament giants of the faith some sort of spiritual elite, or were they just people like us? Should we pray for this type of thing? Did Elijah pray that the rain would stop and then restart for his own benefit, or as a prophet, did God move him to do this for the sake of God's name? Can we make God do whatever we want through prayer? Elijah, used here as an example of prayer, has an interesting story, especially when compared to the above verses. What did Elijah do in I Kings 17 and 18? He was a mighty prophet, yet what did he do in 19:1-3? Doesn't that seem out of character? And don't his words in 19:4? Some think Elijah suffered from spiritual burnout, then depression; some even speculate he could have been what we call bipolar (extremely up, then extremely down). Did God chastise him, 5-8? He strengthened him. 9-10,14, Elijah sounds unrealistic and overly dramatic--compare what God said over in 17. What did God do for him, 19-21? Do pastors, missionaries, etc. get stressed out and overdo, even suffering deep depression?
Does the Bible tell us how to gain spiritual healing, or must we look outside the Bible to psychology for help? The Bible gives us "God's psychology." One great passage is Phil. 4. Here are some principles we have seen in James.
Chapter 1: Recognize the purpose of your problems (trials) and focus on God's joy. Develop endurance which leads to spiritual maturity. Exercise your faith. Ask God for wisdom. Don't get hung up on your lack or abundance of money. Don't accuse God of tempting you when it is actually Self; deal with Self. Recognize God's good gifts. Control your mouth, and your thoughts which are behind that problem. Be in the Word; practice doing what you read. Look honestly at yourself in the mirror of God's Word. Don't be self-deceived.
Chapter 2: Treat others in a way that God desires. Don't let your life blaspheme the name of God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Learn to distinguish the freedom we have in Christ from law-keeping and the guilt that accompanies it. Don't be judgmental. Let your faith show in your life; do good works that please the Lord, that others can see.
Chapter 3: Bridle your tongue. Don't let your tongue give out both fresh and bitter water. Access God's wisdom and understanding. Show good behavior in the gentleness of wisdom. No jealousy, no selfish ambition, no arrogance, even if you keep it inside. Be pure, peacable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. Make peace.
Chapter 4: Deal with Self, or you will struggle with quarrels, conflicts, internal and external conflict, uncontrolled desires, wrong motives. Don't be a friend of the Godless world system. Humble yourself; don't be proud. Submit to God, draw near Him. Resist the devil. Cleanse your hands and hearts, don't be double-minded. Don't speak evil of others. Don't be judgmental. Don't exclude God from your plans. Work on an attitude of "Thy will be done." Get God's perspective. Do what's right.
Chapter 5: Don't take advantage of others, financially or otherwise. Don't be greedy. Be patient. Look for the rapture. Strengthen your heart. Be patient. Don't complain. Don't be judgmental. Be patient. Endure. Remember God is compassionate and merciful. Control your mouth. Pray. Sing praises. Don't keep it inside; verbalize. Ask for prayer when you need it. Take care of yourself physically. Pray. Have faith. Pray for others. Admit your problems and faults to others who have been affected. Pray. Don't underestimate prayer!
If you think you need psychology or counseling, ask yourself first if you have been diligent to seek out and apply God's psychology first. There is much more than what has been listed here; we need to read, study, meditate on God's Word, discuss it with others, apply it. Can you have a relationship with God if you don't spend much time with Him?
19-20 Does this speak of a believer going astray and being brought back, or a sinner coming to salvation? Commentators disagree. I John 5:16 speaks of sin leading to death; is that, and this, talking about a believer being in danger of hell? Might this be a continuation of the above verses speaking of a believer who has strayed from the truth and is suffering spiritual and even perhaps physical consequences? Or might it be speaking of someone, even someone in the church, not truly saved? But it sounds like someone who has wandered away; has an unbeliever ever been there in the first place?
James doesn't get into doctrinal facts; his letter is full of practical advice and examples of what it means to be a Christian. The Bible is a wonderful balance of theology and Christian living. No one book contains everything we need to know. There is great blessing in reading it all!
Copyright 2015 Jan Young
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