James - Chapter 1

by Charles E. Bryce

James — Chapter 1

Greetings everyone. Today we’re going to begin a series through the book of James. This is a book that is chock–full of very interesting principles of true Christian living. It is also replete with teachings on sound doctrine. It was written around 61 A.D. by James, the half–brother of Jesus Christ. Now, think of that. He was the half–brother of Jesus Christ and he was raised in the same home with his older brother who later became the Savior of the world. Mary and Joseph were His parents. Let’s just get a little background on that family by turning over here to Matthew 13:53.

Notice Matthew 13:53.

53 And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence.

54 And when he was come into his own country, —

The area where He grew up.

54 — he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence has this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?

People were familiar with Him because He grew up among them. Familiarity does breed contempt, in just about every case.

55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?

56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then has this man all these things?

Now, of course, we could talk about this passage for a long time, but we’re focusing on James, the author of the book of James. And notice it says here that he was a brother of Jesus Christ. In fact, he was the oldest of the four brothers to Jesus Christ. There were at least seven children in this family of Mary and Joseph. Mary was a virgin until Christ was born. Jesus Christ’s father, of course, was the great God in heaven. The Father in heaven put Jesus Christ in Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible makes that plain.

Once Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary, she no longer was a virgin. She then became a mother and had at least six more children. This book addresses Christianity in general. It is not written to a particular location or a particular church. However, when an epistle is written to a particular location or a particular church, it still addresses Christianity in general. But in the case of James, this book addresses Christianity in general without mentioning a particular location or group. It is a very practical book filled with specific teachings about the Christian life. James was an apostle and in charge of the church at Jerusalem. Let’s notice a little background on that.

Let’s turn over here to Galatians 1:18. We read in Galatians 1:18 a passage that is talking about a trip that Paul took up to Jerusalem. And he says here in Galatians 1:18, Paul writing this under inspiration of God:

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.

19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save —

Or except

19 — James the Lord’s brother.

So there’s a verse that nails down several answers to several questions. One, it nails down the fact that James was at Jerusalem. Two, that he was an apostle. And three, that he was the brother of Jesus Christ.

You know, Martin Luther called this epistle an epistle of straw, which is an outlandish and false charge. Can you imagine someone calling the book of James straw? You can research it and put all the facts together on it and you will see that the book of James is the true Word of God, inspired by God Himself through His apostle, James. So with that background, let’s go back now to the book of James and let’s begin in chapter 1. Please follow along in your own Bible and see for yourself the true teachings of this book of James, and let’s turn to James 1:1.

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into —

Different or

2 — divers temptations; —

Now, the twelve tribes are mentioned here. The twelve tribes of Israel, descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob whose name was changed to Israel. And it was known where those twelve tribes were dispersed in the time of James, when this book was written. Now, of course, people think they’re lost and they no longer can be defined, but we can define them. We do know where the descendants are located and you can too. Now continuing.

Repeating James 1:2.

2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into —

Different temptations or

2 — divers temptations; —

Or trials.

3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience.

Now, when trials and tests come along and tough times come our way, sometimes it can really intimidate us and almost overwhelm us. And we’re left wondering what in the world is happening. But if we can see through that and on past that and consider the bigger picture, we will realize that this is an opportunity to overcome and grow and build faith and develop character, as we learn to trust God and look to Him for the strength to learn the lessons from these trials and tests and to have the power to keep going in spite of these setbacks.

3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience.

4 But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

Patience takes time to develop. And trials teach us patience as we endure those trials all the way through until we come out of them on the other side, and learn lessons from it. And we’re stronger for it if we will do that, and look to God in faith to help us through those trials and tests.

5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraids not; and it shall be given him.

When is the last time that you asked God to give you wisdom? Wisdom is one of the most important things that we can have. We can’t work it up; we can’t develop it on our own. There’s a worldly wisdom that you can acquire through education, but the wisdom that’s being talked about here is a much higher wisdom that comes from God. And it is a gift. And it clarifies everything else and it directs the knowledge that we have. So it’s one of the most important qualities that we can receive from God. But in order to receive that, we need to ask for it. So do you ask for wisdom on a regular basis? I hope you do. Because it says right here in verse James 1:5.

5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraids not; and it shall be given him.

What a promise and what a blessing!

6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

Think about it. You know, if we ask God for something and then we think “Oh, He’s not going to give it.” What good does it do to ask? Or if we ask God for something, say like wisdom, but we’re kind of tenuous and shaky and iffy about it, and maybe He will, maybe He won’t. He’s not going to give us what we ask for when we ask Him for it. But wisdom is a good thing and God wants to give it to us. So when we ask God for wisdom and then trust that He will answer that prayer, He will do that. Don’t doubt. Don’t wonder. Just simply believe that He’s going to answer that prayer and be convinced of it and then go on your way knowing that wisdom will come if we continue to look to God in faith.

8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

And, of course, we know that. You don’t want to have anything to do with somebody who talks out of both sides of his mouth. You know you don’t want to do business with people who’ll tell one thing and do another, and then do another thing and tell you another thing. And there’s never any consistency, there’s never any dependability. His reputation and word, or her reputation and word are not sterling and sound. They’re double–minded. They’ll double cross you. And they are unstable in all of their dealings. So the best thing to do is don’t have any dealings with people like that. You can be nice to them and you can try to help them, but be careful about getting involved in projects or agreements, or even life itself for very long a time, or you’ll be in trouble real quickly.

9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:

You know, when we are humble and we trust God and we don’t try to be a big shot and we don’t strut around like we’re better than other people, but we just humbly carry on with our responsibilities and let our light shine, God is going to bless us. And He is going to lift us up in the right way for the right reasons. And we’ll handle it in the right attitude—if we remain humble. And we can rejoice about that fact and just patiently wait for God to do that, and He will.

But notice what it says here about those who are puffed up and exalted and think so highly of themselves that they are better than anybody else. And they have all of this stuff and all of these riches.

10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.

11 For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withers the grass, and the flower thereof —

Falls off or

11 — falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perishes: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being rich. The problem is, people get all wrapped up in being rich. And then that becomes the most important thing in their life. And God fades out of the picture, if He ever was in the picture. And other people are treated as if they are lower forms of life, so often. Now, it doesn’t have to be that way if you have money, if you keep it in proper perspective and you keep putting God first, and you treat others with respect, and you’re not all wrapped up in the stuff that you have. But if you do get wrapped up in things, you’re going to fade just like the grass. And the flower fades in a short period of time under the heat of the sun, or to carry the analogy forward, under the heat of life where riches are involved. That’s the warning right here in verse 11.

Now notice verse 12.

12 Blessed is the man that endures temptation: —

Or tests or trials,

12 — for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him.

He’s going to build that character and develop that faith and grow in patience so that when his life is over and Jesus Christ returns, he’s going to be resurrected and given eternal life and the crown of life. He put God first. He followed Jesus Christ. He lived by the Bible. He didn’t get all wrapped up in this world and the riches of this world and the things of this world. He knew what was important and what was unimportant. And he or she focused on the important things. That’s how they live their lives. And when they are tempted or tested or tried by people or places or things or stuff or fame or fortune, they don’t get carried away with that. They put it in its proper place and concentrate on the things that really count—the things of God.

Now notice verse 13, a very, very important lesson here.

13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man:

Now, there are people who simply don’t understand that point. They think, “Well, God, He’s just tempting me. He’s trying to catch me. He’s trying to lure me off. He’s putting pressure on me.” God does not do that. That does not come from God. Oh, it comes, but it doesn’t come from God. That is not how He deals with His people, and that is not how He deals with humanity. He does not put us in positions hoping that we will fail. He does not put us in situations to see whether or not we’ll take the bait or not. That is not how God the Father relates to His children.

Notice what it says here in James 1:14.

14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

Now to be sure, God tries us and He tests us and He puts us through situations where we have choices to make. And we learn to make the right choice over the wrong choice. But He does not bait us. He does not lure us. He does not put us in a situation where we’re likely to fail; and He’s finding out whether or not we will. He puts us in situations where we have the opportunity to succeed. And He hopes we will. And He helps us if we’ll look to Him to make those right choices.

Repeating verse 14.

14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

15 Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.

So it starts with a thought. It starts with a thought about some woman or some man or some position or some amount of money or some home or car. It can be just about anything. You begin thinking about, “I want that. It’s his but I want it. It’s hers but I want it. It’s not mine but I still want it. I want to do that. I want to be that.” And then that thought starts to flourish and develop and hatches into sin as it were, and then that sin when it is full blown and fully developed brings forth disobedience, bad attitudes, wrong actions, rebellion, going down the wrong path and ending up in eternal death—if we do not repent, change directions and overcome that wrong way of living, wrong way of doing, wrong way of being, that wrong choice.

16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.

Don’t be deceived.

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, —

No variation,

17 — neither shadow of turning.

We can depend on Him. We can trust Almighty God. He is perfect and His Word is perfect and His promises are absolutely sure. And that’s where we look to for the gifts and for the things and for the happiness in life. Because that’s where the real happiness originates from, from God the Father in heaven. And that’s where the things that really count emanate from. And He gives us those gifts if we look to Him in faith and then use them rightly. And they are spiritual gifts but they can also be physical gifts. And they have no kickback and they have no pitfalls attached. And they bring happiness and joy. And they’re all about giving and serving and overcoming and growing and obeying in righteousness. They’re never evil. They’re never devious. They’re never negative, and they never produce wrong results—those gifts that come from God. And so those are the ones we want, not what man can give us and not what this world can give us, but what God can give us. And then with His help use those gifts in a way that pleases Him and reflects Jesus Christ, our Savior.

18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Called out first, called out early and given the truth of God, and that’s one of the greatest gifts we can possibly receive. We can’t earn it. We can’t find it out for ourselves. God has to open our minds and then through the power of His Holy Spirit begin to reveal His truth to us. And as we obey it more and more, He gives us more and more of His truth. And that’s one of the greatest gifts and greatest blessings we can have, the truth of God, the truth about everything. The truth about God, about His Word, about the purpose in life, about the plan of salvation, about world events and why they’re happening the way they’re happening, and how they’re all going to turn out, about the Kingdom of God. It’s just wonderful, and it is a true gift from God, and He gives it to us freely and happily. He’s glad to beget us with the word of truth and to call us early as His first fruits of His creatures.

Considering all of that, notice what James says here in verse 19.

19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, —

We need to ask ourselves, “Are we swift to hear? Will we listen to others?” You know, it’s very hard to find anyone who is a careful and interested listener today. Most people just want to do all the talking. They will interrupt, they will butt in, they will override. They care nothing about what you have to say. And even when they listen to what you’re saying, they’re just waiting until they get their chance to blat out what they want to blat out. Now, not everybody is like that, but too many are.

Let’s examine ourselves and see what we’re like in the light of James 1:19.

19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:

What a different way of life than the normal way of life espoused in this world today and the normal way of life you find humanity, in general, living. This is a Christian way of life. This is the converted person’s approach to living. This is what Christ Himself was like when He was on this earth. And the example that we ought to be following is the example He set as our Savior.

Let’s repeat verse 19.

19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:

20 For the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God.

How many people are dead today just because somebody got mad? And when they cooled off later and wished they hadn’t done it, that person is still dead. You inject wrath into any equation, trouble, pain, sorrow and massive destruction quite often result. There should never be a time when wrath is put into the picture or added to the equation. You can’t take that in a direction that is right and will end up right. It’ll always go in the wrong direction and end up wrong, and people are going to get hurt. And the one who’s mad is going to get hurt as well. So we must not give ourselves over to wrath. We can feel strongly about something, we can have righteous indignation about evil and wrongdoing, but when wrath takes over and begins to drive any situation, pain and suffering and disaster are on the way. So he goes on to tell us in verse 21.

21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness —

Filthiness of talk and filthiness of thinking, filthy magazines, filthy books, filthy movies and television programs. Anything that has to do with filthiness should not be a part of a Christian’s life, conversation, thinking process, or personality. Not to be found anywhere in the life of a Christian. That’s why James says here:

21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

22 But be you doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

What good does it do to hear something that is right and then we don’t act on it. We have to do what is right, not just hear what is right. We have to do God’s Word, not just hear it. Just knowing God’s Word and stopping there produces nothing. We have to know God’s Word and we have to live by God’s Word. We have to do what we are directed to do, and that produces tremendous righteousness and results. He goes on to elaborate on that principle here as we continue reading in James 1:23.

23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

In other words, he’s like somebody looking in a mirror.

24 For he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was.

He stands there or she stands there looking in the mirror. They see their hair is combed, they see their clothes are on nice. They see they’re neat and tidy and look sharp. They know what they look like. And then they walk away from the mirror, and as the day goes along they forget about what their hair looks like, what they were dressed like, what the picture that came back from the mirror was of them which they saw. Their hair might get messed up, their tie might get crooked, they might have spilled something on their dress. But they don’t know that. They’re no longer looking into the mirror. There’s no way to get a reflection back to what they really look like. And that’s the principle he’s mentioning here in verse 23 and 24. And he now applies it spiritually.

Notice verse 25.

25 But whoso looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein, —

You don’t just stand and look at the mirror all day long. You look at the mirror and then you leave. And what you saw in the mirror might change as the day goes along. But when it comes to the law of God, you don’t just look into the law of God and walk away from it and forget what’s there. That’s the point he’s making here in verse 25—what we have to do when it comes to the law of God, which is the Ten Commandments, which are not done away. They are still enforced, and James makes that plain. And that’s one of the reasons why this book is referred to as spurious or even straw. They’re still in force, the Ten Commandments.

And look what he says here about that law in verse 25, James inspired of God.

25 But whoso looks into the perfect law of liberty, —

It’s called the perfect law and it’s not called bondage,it’s called liberty. It’s called liberty.

25 — and continues therein, —

You don’t just look at the Ten Commandments and walk away from them, like you might look at a mirror and walk away from it. You look into the Ten Commandments and continue therein. It is a way of life.

25 — he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, —

A doer of the law,

25 — this man shall be blessed in his deed.

These are powerful and strong words of doctrine and of Christian living here. What a wonderful book, this book of James is. I hope we’ll study it in great detail, and I hope we’ll absorb it and ingest it and make it a part of our thinking. And then I hope we’ll put it into practice in our lives. Because these are the words of God, these are the words of life.

Continuing now in verse 26.

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, —

Thinks he’s religious, just seems so wonderful and so holy and so religious and so righteous. Seems that way.

26 — and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

It’s useless. You’ve ever known anyone like that? If they do not bring their words into line with God’s Word, but rather just prat along with gossip and meddling in other people’s business and passing on accusations and false facts, they may seem religious, but their religion is in vain. Those are powerful, powerful principles being brought out here by the apostle James. And they apply to each and every one of us, and I hope we’ll heed and I hope we’ll take note of what he’s saying here.

Now the last verse in James chapter 1 is potent. It’s loaded with tremendous guidelines to live by. It says, verse 27:

27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, —

Look at what it says here. It has to do with actions, not just words. It has to do with putting into practice what we know. It’s very practical. It says:

27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, —

When is the last time you did that? If there’s someone who’s trying to do the right thing, and there’s someone who’s doing all they can to improve their situation, but they’re really in tough straits, and they are a widow or they are an orphan, do we ever give them the time of day—a phone call, a letter, drop by to see them, find a way to help them? We help them so they then can help themselves. It says right here. That’s —

27 Pure religion and undefiled —

To do that. That’s more than just hearing the truth. That’s living by the truth, according to James, here in verse 27. And what else?

27 — and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Pure religion means we don’t get caught up in this world and the ways of this world—the evil, the sins, the trash, the lust and ungodliness that goes on all the time in so many places in our society today. We stir clear of that. We don’t get in with the wrong crowd and we don’t get in the wrong places. And we don’t end up doing the wrong things, carried away with that kind of atmosphere.

Rather we live life to the full, but we live it God’s way. We have friends that want to do the right thing. And we have activities that are upstanding and good and they’re fun. And they’re fun today and tomorrow and the next day, and there’s no kickback. That’s the abundant life, and that’s keeping oneself unspotted, unblemished and unpolluted from this world, that may have its thrills. But at the end of the road we have to answer for those thrills that were wrong. And the pain and the suffering make those thrills not worthwhile.

So we don’t look for the thrills of the world. We keep ourselves unspotted from that. A we look to the joy and the happiness and the thrills and the tremendous fun living life God’s way.

Until next time, this is Charles Bryce with the Enduring Church of God.

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