Commentary on James

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)



Rom. 8:18 π Rom. 8:28 π Phlp. 3:10 π Heb. 12:2 π 1 Pet. 2:21


Prov. 9:10
Mt. 6:10 π Mk. 12:23 π Mk. 9:24 π Lk. 22:42 π Jn. 15:5 π Rom. 14:23 π Eph. 2:8-9
Psa. 66:18 π Mk. 11:25-26
Mk. 14:38 π Lk. 9:25 π 1 Cor. 10:23 π Col. 2:20-23
Greek Words Mentioned in This Article
Leadhegeomai – [2233]

Jas. 1:1

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, the brother of Jude, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, author of this first-written book of what would later be known as the New Testament. But this is not how he calls himself. He is the bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has forsaken employment and life from all other sources and committed the remainder of his life to service to God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

His service is expressed by his remembrance of the people of God - the twelve tribes dispersed abroad. This letter is his message of love and concern for the people of God who had been spread out over the world by circumstance and persecution, those Jews who, having heard of Jesus Christ and still maintaining the traditions of their fathers, were also still living in other parts of the world. These would be those who would long to come to Jerusalem for the three mandatory feasts every year but who might come only once or twice in their lifetime. James sends his greetings, his love and concern, to his brothers in the faith.

Jas. 1:2

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,

In spite of the extremity or the superficiality of our suffering, we are to consider it a joy to experience suffering. Suffering is the only way we can become more like our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. It was His example that we are to follow ( 1 Pet. 2:21 ), it was Paul’s fervent desire to know Christ more completely through what he suffered ( Phlp. 3:10; top ), and it is James’ command that we should joyously surrender ourselves to God in the midst of every trying circumstance. This is not because we enjoy the pain but because we can look forward to the end consequence: we, in our frail and petty human natures, will be more like Jesus in His awesome and perfect incarnation.

The word “consider,” (Greek heghsasthe from hegeomai [ 2233 ]) means to lead or go before. It is a word that speaks of authority where the decisions of the one in charge are followed. In the same way, we, who have been given spiritual insight and wisdom as to how to walk with Jesus, are to take leadership over our thoughts and emotions. In the midst of a trial, the easiest thing to do would be to wallow in self-pity, to surrender to frightful panic or to imagine the worst possible consequences coming out of this trial. Instead, we who have been given the mind of Christ, are to take charge of our feelings and thoughts and move in a direction of peace, contentment and even joy as we trust that God will work even this trial for our good. ( Rom. 8:28 ) We are to be like Christ who, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross” ( Heb. 12:2 ), and trust that being conformed into the image of Christ is worth some light and momentary afflictions. ( Rom. 8:18; top )

Jas. 1:3

knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.

Here is the secret of being able to count all things joy: we know that the testing, the exercising, the proving, the working out of our faith produces patience. If ever there was a characteristic of God that we need it is patience. And as all athletes know, if there is no training, no straining, no exercising of muscles, no discipline, there will be no victory in the contest. No athlete is formed overnight and neither is a patient saint. Without patience, we will always be the irritable, whining, complaining, disgruntled wretches we have always been. Without the inconvenience, nuisance and discipline of trials, we will never develop patience. No pain yields no gain while a little temporary pain and consistent effort yields great gain.

Jas. 1:4

But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

The perfect result or consequence of being patient is maturity, perfection and completion, to be whole, lacking nothing. This is the goal of many a philosophy, religion, and psychiatry, but none of these will achieve their goal. Only patient suffering combined with entrusting one’s life into the capable hands of Jesus Christ will produce the emotional and spiritual maturity we all need and desire.

Jas. 1:5

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Is there really any question that we lack wisdom? Knowledge may come easy to us, but that “common sense” ability to know what to do with our knowledge is most often too hard for us to grasp. And this is only rightly so. Wisdom is a result of walking in the fear and reverence of God ( Prov. 9:10; top ) and few there are among us who actually live the lifestyle of fearing and reverencing God. We have only begun to walk in wisdom when we begin to fear God. True wisdom is not available to anyone who has no respect for God though they may be cunning and wily in the ways of the world.

So if we lack wisdom, we must humble ourselves and respectfully ask for it from God. And God will be generous in giving us wisdom. God does not want us to squander our lives foolishly or wastefully. He wants us to be wise. He wants to give us wisdom. But until we humbly request His assistance and learn to submit to His guidance and authority in our lives, we have much to learn from the “school of hard knocks.” God will watch over and protect us even in our foolishness, allowing us to be knocked around by the world just enough to bring us to our senses to turn to Him. God does not despise us for our foolishness and stupidity - He merely waits until we have had enough of their consequences. He lovingly waits until we finally decide to turn to the only true source of wisdom - Himself.

Jas. 1:6

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.

One of Jesus’ most misunderstood statements is found in the Gospel of Mark where He said, “Whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him.” ( Mk. 12:23 ) Our immediate response will most likely be the cry of the desperate father of the epileptic boy: “Lord, I believe; please help my unbelief.” ( Mk. 9:24; top )

The very first thing we must know about this is that it is not our faith - that is, it is not something we have to manufacture out of our own substance or being. And the second thing we need to know is very much like it - it is not faith in our ability to perform or achieve nor even in our ability to ask for the right thing. Rather, it is the faith given to us by God. ( Eph. 2:8-9 ; Jn. 15:5; top ) It is a Spirit-induced ability to see things as God will cause them to become. And even in our asking, we must still recognize that God, whose ways and thoughts are infinitely higher and wiser than ours, is going to do what we ask Him to do in a way that is beyond what we can think or imagine.

In our age of intellectualism, it is difficult for us to grasp just what faith is. We often confuse faith with knowledge, opinions or beliefs - all functions of the mind. Faith is an activity of the spirit assented to by the mind. When we fail to recognize this we set ourselves up for disappointment as the things we ask for don't come to pass. Then we are tempted to doubt God and we find ourselves, exactly as James says here, like “a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.”

If we want to be certain that God will answer our prayers, then we should take care that every request we make is something that God wants to do. This seems like a contradiction until we understand that prayer is never a vehicle for getting our will accomplished on earth. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” ( Mt. 6:10 ) In His time of most severe testing, He prayed, “...nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” ( Lk. 22:42; top )

When we have no doubt that what we are asking for is what Jesus, the Father, or the Holy Spirit wants for our lives, then we can ask without any doubt or wavering, knowing that what we ask for will come to pass.

If we lack this firm spiritual belief that what we are asking for is truly God’s will, we will be tossed like a wave for we are being what James will later call “double minded.” And if we act as a result of this confusion, we are sure to sin for “whatever is not from faith is sin.” ( Rom. 14:23; top )

We can never escape this war of the two natures within us. Every action we make in the flesh will have repercussions in the spiritual realms. Every sin we commit will grieve the Holy Spirit and reinforce the sin principle active within our human bodies. Every act of obedience will confirm our having been immersed in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. There is no middle ground.

Jas. 1:7

For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord:

As James said in the previous verse, only requests made in full faith produce the positive results we want to see and experience. And as is seen throughout the New Testament, faith is only produced by the Spirit of God. Thus only the Spirit can prompt us to pray prayers which are in tune with God’s desires for our life. Therefore James says that anyone asking in doubt - that is, asking out of anything other than a direct certainty given to us by the Spirit of God that our request is indeed a desire of God’s heart - such a person can be assured that he will receive nothing from God.

Here again we see the implacable nature of the war between the flesh and the Spirit. There can be no concessions made between God and our fallen nature. Death is the penalty for sin and death is the price Jesus paid to redeem us from sin and destruction. There can be no peace or truce between the old and new natures. The gulf is so wide that God cannot even honor a request made by our old nature - only those requests that are a product of His new nature will prompt Him to the actions we request.

Prayer is not some magical means whereby we twist God’s arm to do what we want Him to do. Rather, it is a wondrous partnership graciously bestowed upon us by God whereby we may deeply interact with Him and know the secret desires of His heart - that source of all love, wisdom, compassion, mercy, forgiveness and grace.

This is also one reason why Jesus said, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” ( Mk. 11:25-26; top )

As we stand praying, we are invoking that graciously bestowed partnership with the heart of God. If we come with an unloving, unforgiving heart, we have no connection, no unity, no togetherness, no communion with the Spirit of God. As David said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” ( Psa. 66:18; top ) And iniquity comes in many, many forms.

We must come to grips with this one or the other nature of serving God. If we do not obey Him, we obey our flesh. If we deny our flesh through the power of His Spirit, then we have obeyed Him. There is no middle ground. There is no mercy given or quarter shown to the old nature. It is dead and must be put off entirely. There can be no compromise.

Jas. 1:8

he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

In John Bunyan’s classic allegory of the Christian life, Pilgrim’s Progress, there is a character named Mr. Facing Both Ways. He wants to enjoy the comforts and privileges of the world and yet he wants to go to the Celestial City too. The man is so torn between trying to go in two directions at once that he gets nowhere - and succeeds only in hurting himself in the process.

This is the man who seeks to live the new life of Christ while reserving certain portions of his life for himself. He will accomplish nothing of eternal value and will only drive himself to utter frustration as he spins round and round quickly going nowhere.

This raises a frightening issue. Jesus said that even if a man gained the whole world and lost his soul, it was of no profit to him. ( Lk. 9:25; top ) A man facing both ways, wanting only a little bit of the world, will, in the end, lose his soul just as surely as the most committed worldling. If a man cannot make up his mind to follow Christ whole-heartedly then he ought to seek as much happiness in this life as he can and forget entirely about Christ - the only rewards available to a half-hearted man are the same as for a full-fledged worldling. Unfortunately for both, those rewards are only temporary and will pass away when this life passes away. But to simultaneously pursue the world and Christ is both a waste of time and a source of bitter frustration. One must choose one or the other.

The question arises, “What things are there in this world that are not worldly?” Did not Paul say that “all things are permissible” ( 1 Cor. 10:23 ) and that subjecting ourselves to physical restrictions was only the appearance of wisdom, religion and humility ( Col. 2:20-23; top )? How then are we to decide what is worldly and what is innocent? what is to be received with thanksgiving and what is to be avoided?

How we as individuals answer that question will instantly expose the truth about whether we too are facing both ways or not. If our thoughts immediately turn to my rights, my feelings, my pleasures, my life, we can know immediately that we are still under the power and sway of the old sin nature. The sin nature is fixated on me and mine while the new nature is fixated on Christ and on abandoning self to please Him.

The struggle to keep the old man off can be fierce and we are easily distracted and diverted away from paying attention to this key fact: that the inescapable element of our walk with Christ is the day-to-day, moment-by-moment decisions as to which nature we are going to indulge. Without obedience to Christ we run the risk of practicing disobedience so that our hearts are hardened and we are no longer able to even hear the voice of the Spirit. With obedience to Him, we will produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and that fruit, the results and consequences of our obedience, will remain with us for all eternity.

If we find that we have this compromised commitment, we can expect all our ways to be unstable. We can expect to have difficulties in life that are brought on by our own inconsistencies. This is the natural consequence of anyone attempting to be on both sides of the battlefield at the same time - he has succeeded only in doubling his chances of becoming a casualty.

How do we overcome this inconsistent commitment? By making resolutions and even more empty promises? No. By all means, no, for that is just another work of the flesh. The only solution is to pray and to receive help from God. Jesus said to Peter, “Be constantly watching and praying in order that you might not enter a place of testing that will present to you a solicitation to do evil. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” ( Mk. 14:38 , Wuest; top) Instead of heeding this warning, Peter fell asleep. When he awoke, he found himself in the unenviable (and yet all-too-familiar) position of actually being in opposition to God’s plan for Christ’s death and resurrection. He cut off Malchus’ ear, deserted his Master, and then proceeded to deny even knowing Jesus. All too familiar indeed.

If our conduct is dishonoring to God, or our desires are mixed, we must pray and ask God to grant us the revelation, the wisdom and the grace (His power at work in us) to obey and then we must act out His commands trusting that His power will sustain us in the fight to abandon self to obey Him. Any other source and any other remedy will prove inadequate and unstable.

More to come “soon”?

I’d love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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