James 1

1 Traditionally, James, the brother of Jesus, is considered the author of this book. Instead of emphasizing a family bond, however, James chooses to picture himself as a servant or slave of God and his brother, Jesus. His letter is addressed to Israelites -- Jewish Christians -- who had been dispersed from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1).
2 The Christians experienced trials from their Jewish brothers, their pagan neighbors, and the political system. Many traditional Jews rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah and considered the Christian faith a heresy that was hostile to their traditional faith. This jeopardized the Christians' social acceptance in their communities. The political systems were run by rulers that demanded devotion to their idols or even worship for themselves. Christians who refused to compromise their faith would face punishment.

These are certainly not comforting or easy circumstances to live in. One might consider it cruel to suggest that one who is suffering imprisonment or the loss of loved ones consider their circumstances as "pure joy." Yet, James is not appealing to the happiness one finds in a secure, comfortable environment surrounded by friends. He is appealing to their relationship with Jesus, which gives them a hope for the future in heaven that far outshines the difficulties of this life. This is not a denial of the harsh realities of life, but it is a different perspective -- one that can see the spiritual reality that supercedes the concerns of the physical world.

Trials can bring one to know God. When someone gets to the point where he realizes that life is too difficult to handle without spiritual help, he will turn to God. Thus, his trial leads to joy. The Christian facing trials will draw closer to God as he sees anew his need to depend on Him. Thus, trials lead to increasing joy. We must remember that all the events in our lives, good and bad, work together for good in the Christian's life (Rom 8:28).

3 There are some benefits to testing. First, it increases the Christian's awareness of his dependency on God. We must learn to wait for God's perfect timing and purpose to get us through our difficult circumstances. Testing is a faith-building experience.

Testing here does not refer to a trial that is intended to produce failure. Instead, testing is meant to prove the authenticity of the believer.

4 Secondly, testing refines us. We should learn from our successes and failures during times of testing, and see how we can apply our faith when similar trials come into our lives or the lives of others. As we increase our dependence on God, we approach perfection in our relationship with Him. This means that we become the people that God intends us to be.
5 In our limited experiences and sin-tainted lives, we lack wisdom concerning worldly and spiritual matters. God alone possesses all wisdom, and He will freely give it to all who ask Him. He can best teach us how to handle the worldly trials and successes. More importantly, He will give us wisdom in spiritual matters to that we might know how to please Him. God knows our weaknesses and limitations, so He does not fault us for not having wisdom. Instead, He is pleased when we come to Him for wisdom rather than trying to invent our own wisdom or seeking wisdom from secular or evil sources.
6 One requirement, though, is that we must ask God for wisdom in faith. This means that we must truly believe that God will give us the wisdom that we need. If we doubt the value of God's wisdom or His willingness to give it, then we are likely to grow impatient as we wait for His wisdom. An impatient person is more likely to seek wisdom elsewhere and become lost in the variety of opinions.
7 God is very displeased with doubt, and will generally not grant specific wisdom to those who have not decided whether they will do what God tells them or not.
8 The doubting person asks God for wisdom, but does not believe that God will answer his prayers. Alternatively, he may want God's wisdom, but is likely to reject it. This is the "double-minded" state of which James speaks. Why would God entrust His wisdom to such a person? The person is unstable, thinking he can choose between God's wisdom and the advice of the world. He may consider God's wisdom as merely one opinion among many equals, and thus be influenced by worldly thinking that is opposed to God. Neither his faith nor his witness will be strong.
9 One of the trials of life may be poverty. Although riches are often associated with God's blessings, one's relationship with God is independent of one's material possessions. The patriarchs, for instance, were blessed with wealth, while the majority of prophets were poor.

However, the point of this verse is that the poor Christian is exalted. Despite his poverty and social status, he is saved by God and has a rich inheritance in heaven. Furthermore, the poor are more likely to nurture their relationships with God more because they depend on Him every day for the necessities of life and are not distracted by the luxuries and worries of the rich.

10 The wealthy have a more difficult time coming to God because they are more concerned about their possessions and can fool themselves into thinking they are self-sufficient (Mark 4:19, 10:25). However, when a wealthy person comes to accept Christ, he realizes that his material possessions can not help him gain eternal life. Recognizing one's mortality and spiritual need is humiliating, but it is necessary if one is to become right with God. The wealthy person can "exalt" in this humiliation because he recognizes that the treasure he has in Jesus is far greater than any amount of wealth he might amass during this lifetime.
11 When the wealthy person realizes that his earthly pursuits will amount to nothing in the eternal perspective, he should use that wealth to advance God's kingdom. We must all remember that the only things that will last forever are the word of God and people's souls. Each one of us, then, should do what we can to spread the Good News of Jesus and help people to know God. The wealthy can use their material resources to these ends.
12 Love is a trial for all people, and can be even more so for Christians. Our acceptance into God's kingdom does not make us immune from the sinful world that we still live in. However, we are called to persevere with the strength that God gives us. When we show God that we are completely dependent on Him, then we gain His approval. He also promises to reward our love for Him with eternal life. So no matter how bad things may seem, we are to look for the hope that comes from God.
13 This passage turns from external trials to internal ones. When people struggle with sinful thoughts they may blame God for tempting them (e.g., Adam blamed God for giving him Eve). However, God is pure good and pure love. He is not capable of evil Himself because He can not deny Himself. Enticements to stray from God come from the world and from the devil, but God would never entice someone to turn from Him. His desire is that all people would come to Him.
14 While the world and the devil may entice one to stray from God, it does not become temptation until someone considers it a possibility. Some are tempted to overindulge in alcohol while others are tempted to extramarital affairs. These enticements are presented to all, but temptation comes when a person's sinful desires are matched with an external enticement. It is at this critical juncture that the individual must decide whether to do what God desires or follow his own selfish desires. Temptation will not lead to sin if the Christian keeps his thoughts focused on his relationship with God.
15 Unfortunately, if one is not concerned about the purposes of God, he begins down the path to destruction. First, someone desires something that is outside of God's will for him. If he does not master the temptation then he acts on the temptation and does things that displease God. Once the action is performed, the action hurts the man physically and hurts his relationship with God and with other people. If the person never turns away from sin and toward God, then he will be sentenced to eternal death on Judgement day. If the person is a Christian who has fallen into sin, then his witness is diminished and he may miss being used by God to save someone else from death. In all realms, sin is destructive and deadly.
16 People who blame God for the evil in the world are deceived. God is good, and there is no evil in Him. Thus, evil temptations do not come from God, but rather good things like love, patience, and kindness that He encourages.
17 God is the only being in the universe that is perfect and good. He does not change, and He has no "dark side." Make no mistakes about it: everything that is good comes from God.

As Christians, we should be "tempted" to pursue the good, perfect, and eternal gifts of God rather than the harmful and temporary pleasures of sin. Sin may "feel" good at the time, but our emotional response is sometimes a poor indicator of what is truly good in God's eyes. Fortunately, God has given us many guidelines in the Bible that show us how He expects us to behave when we are uncertain in our own minds.

18 God's perfection means that He is always truthful. God created the universe by the word of truth, and it was good (Gen 1:31). However, His creation turned away from Him and fell into sin. Still, His work of salvation in our lives proves that truth and love can conquer sin. As Christians, we are the "fruit" of this saving work of God. The Bible indicates that God will eventually re-create the universe without sin (2 Pet 3:10-14). The saved people of God, then, are the "first fruits" because we are re-created by God before the re-creation of the universe.
19 In our relationships, it is important that we really listen to others. If someone offends us, we are not to immediately lash out at him. An angry outburst usually leads to more trouble and can cause permanent damage to relationships. If there are damaged relationships in a church then the ministry is less effective. If there are hurt and selfish people in a church, then God's righteousness can not be effectively proclaimed.

We are also to be quick to listen to God's word (as implied in verses 21-25). We are to think deeply about spiritual matters and seek how to apply them effectively and accurately in our lives before expressing our theology to others. People who become dogmatic about things they do not understand tend to be angry people who can draw out the ire of others as well.

20 Man's anger is usually based on selfish motives, and such anger can not contribute to building righteousness. In spiritual matters, we must be very careful when trying to determine if what we feel is "righteous indignation" or anger from unrighteous motivation. If the issue can not be resolved in one day, or if the person feels compelled to wrath instead of letting God handle the situation, then it is indeed unrighteous anger followed by counterproductive action.
21 When we put away the wicked things that lead to anger and sin, the void must be filled with something else. That void should be filled with the Word of God. When we read and apply the Bible, we fill our souls with good things that make us better Christians. These can be applied to build loving and peaceful relationships. In our relationships with non-Christians, we can then share the Good News of Jesus that can save them as it already has done for us.
22 The first thing we should notice about this verse is that we are to hear the word of God. Many people rely on this to happen during a church service. However, we need to hear the word of God in our own hearts as we read it from the Bible and as the Holy Spirit reminds us of it on a daily basis.

The second part is that we are to act on what we know. Faith is not passive. When a faithful person hears the word, he is convicted by its profound implications and he is compelled to act. The faithful person wants to please God, so when he hears what pleases Him, he wants to do that. When he hears about things that displease God, he will cease or avoid that activity. Anyone who hears the exhortations of the Bible and feels that they are not important enough to act on (or that he is an exception to the rule) is deceived if he feels he is being honest about the faith which he professes.

23 The word of God is like a mirror. A mirror reflects our physical features so we can examine them. Similarly, the Bible shows us our spiritual features and gives us a chance to examine them.
24 When a person does not care about when he looks like, he will only take a quick glance in the mirror and not be concerned the rest of the day what he looks like. His hair may stick out all over the place because he did not take the time to see if he was well groomed. In a similar way, many people only take a quick, occasional glance at the Bible (if they look at all). Thus, they go about life unconcerned about their spiritual appearance before man or God. They may only hear the reassuring promises of God and church and completely miss the exhortations for change that are all throughout Scripture. These people may wander through life wondering why they feel unfulfilled, unable to relate to other Christians, and unused by God. The reason is that they are uninformed about their true spiritual condition because they have not taken time to reflect on God's word.
25 A person who does care about what he looks like will examine his appearance thoroughly in a mirror. He will make the appropriate adjustments to enhance his good features and fix the flaws. Then when he leaves the mirror he can proceed with confidence, knowing that he has put on his best face. Spiritually, the Bible does the same thing for us. As we look into the Word intently, we see how God has saved us by faith (our good feature) and how we can live a life that pleases Him (fixing the flaws). We do not need to be spiritually perfect to be confident, any more than we need to be physically perfect to be happy with our appearance. However, when we have responded appropriately to God's word in our lives, we can proceed into the world with confidence, knowing that we are saved, faithful, and pleasing to God.
26 Self-control is one of the hallmarks of true faith. This goes back to the idea that a believer must be slow to speak. The idea is that if a believer does have something to say, it would be well thought out and spiritually helpful. Off-the-cuff remarks and unfounded opinions are less likely to be spiritually useful than the advice that comes from someone who is well grounded in the Bible and has put it into practice in his own life.
27 The Christian is very concerned about the hurts that happen in this world. However, our faith can not end with concern. We must take real and positive action to help those who are in need. If we are to display the love of Jesus, we must love as He did. He left heaven to visit the spiritually dead and dying. Should we not also leave our churches and homes occasionally to meet with those who are in physical and spiritual need on earth? This is true encouragement and a testimony that is evidenced by action.

In the process, however, we are also to be concerned about remaining unaffected by the world. We reach out to the hopeless to give them hope, not to become hopeless ourselves. We reach out to those in sin to bring them to the salvation of Jesus, not to become mired again in sin. This is a two-part testimony: finding freedom from sin in Jesus and encouraging others to do the same.