Introduction to James

By James M. Rochford

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The author doesn’t identify himself beyond the name “James” (Jas. 1:1), which is a translation of the Greek name Iakōbos or “Jacob.” But which James is this? Four options are possible:

1. James the son of Zebedee?

He was one of the twelve disciples (Mk. 1:19; 5:37; 9:2; 10:35; 14:33), and he was one of Jesus’ “inner three” disciples, along with Peter and John of Zebedee (his brother). However, James of Zebedee was killed by Herod in AD 44, which seems too early for him to have written this letter (Acts 12:1-2).

2. James the son of Alphaeus?

He was also one of the twelve disciples (Mt. 10:3; Acts 1:13; Mt. 27:56? Mk. 15:40? Lk. 24:10?). However, he was too obscure to be the one who wrote this letter. Since the author simply identifies himself as James, we would expect this person to be a major player in the early church—not an obscure person like this.

3. James the father of Judas (not Iscariot)?

He was an obscure believer in the early church (Lk. 6:16; Acts 1:13), and he wasn’t famous enough to be a good candidate for the author of this epistle.

4. James the half-brother of Jesus (Mt. 13:55)

This is the most likely candidate for the author of this epistle. We hold this view for a number of reasons:

First, he was a well-known leader in the early church. James—the half-brother of Jesus—is mentioned more than any other James in the NT, and he was a central leader in the early church (1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19; 2:9; Acts 1:14; 12:17; 15:13; 21:18). This would explain why the author has no need to explain who he is. He simply writes “James,” knowing that his audience would know who this was.[1]

Second, James (Jesus’ half-brother) focused his ministry on the Jewish population in Jerusalem. This would make sense of the Jewish nature of this letter, and why he would have such authority in writing to Jewish believers in the diaspora (Jas. 1:1).

Third, the language of the letter has similarities with James’ speech in Acts 15.[2] For instance, both use a similar “greeting” (chairein, Jas. 1:1; Acts 15:23) and both use the term “visiting” (episkeptomai; Jas. 1:27; Acts 15:14).

Who was James?

James turned from a skeptic into a radical follower of Jesus. He serves as an example of a radically transformed life. Originally, James did not believe in Jesus (Jn. 7:5). In fact, Mark tells us that he initially believed Jesus was insane (Mk. 3:21). However, after Jesus appeared in his resurrected state (1 Cor. 15:7), James became a radical follower of Christ.

In Acts 1:14, James huddled with the early believers right from the beginning of the early Christian movement, and within a few years, he had become one of the “apostles” in the early church (Gal. 1:19). Paul even referred to him as one of the “pillars” of the early church (Gal. 2:9). Furthermore, throughout the book of Acts, we even find Peter showing deference and respect to James (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18).

What does extra-biblical history tell us about James?

Hegesippus (2nd century AD) wrote this regarding James:

He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people.[3]

Zane Hodges is surely right in noting that this is historically embellished.[4] Other scholars refer to this as a “legendary” account, which draws its information from the Ebionites.[5] The great church historian Philip Shaff concurs that this “is an overdrawn picture from the middle of the second century, colored by Judaizing traits which may have been derived from the Ascents of James, and other Apocryphal sources. He turns James into a Jewish priest and Nazarite saint.”[6] At the same time, the historical core of this citation presumes that James was a dedicated leader for Jesus.

Eventually, James suffered martyrdom for his faith. Flavius Josephus (AD 37-100) was a Jewish Pharisee and military commander who had been captured by the Romans before the fall of the Temple in AD 70. After being taken prisoner, he began working as the court historian for Emperor Vespasian and adopted a Roman name (“Flavius”). Regarding James, Josephus writes,

The judges of the Sanhedrin… brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned. Those of the inhabitants of the city who were considered the most fair-minded and who were strict in observance of the law were offended at this.[7]

Josephus demonstrates that James was the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:19), and James went to his death for belief in his brother Jesus. Regarding this first passage, Van Voorst writes, “The overwhelming majority of scholars holds that the words ‘the brother of Jesus called Christ’ are authentic, as is the entire passage in which it is found.”[8]

Did Jesus have a brother? I thought Mary was a virgin!

Some people are shocked at the idea that Jesus had brothers. However, biblically speaking, it is clear that he did. Mary was a virgin before she gave birth to Jesus (Mt. 1:23), but she was not a virgin after (Mt. 1:25). The idea that Mary remained a virgin is a Roman Catholic doctrine called the “perpetual virginity of Mary,” which is not substantiated in the Bible. Craig Blomberg writes,

As Roman Catholicism developed, with its doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, alternate understandings of ‘brother’ developed as well, including the ideas that adelphos referred to a more distant relative of some kind or that Joseph had other children by a previous wife. But the most natural inference from Matthew 1:25 is that Joseph and Mary had other children after Jesus was born, and adelphos only very rarely means anything in Koine Greek other than a physical or spiritual sibling.[9]

Theologian Douglas Moo adds, “Adelphos always means ‘brother’ when blood relationship is denoted in the New Testament.”[10]

Canonicity of James

Some theologians throughout history have questioned the canonicity of James. Martin Luther wrote that James “mangles the Scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture” (Luther’s Works, 35:397). He called James’ letter “an epistle of straw” (Luther’s Works, 35:362). At the same time, Moo qualifies Luther’s statements about the book of James:

While Luther obviously had difficulties with James and came close to giving the letter a secondary status, his criticism should not be overdrawn. He did not exclude James from the canon and, it has been estimated, cites over half the verses of James as authoritative in his writings.[11]

In fact, Luther wrote, “I cannot include him among the chief books, though I would not prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him” (Luther’s Works, 35:397). Calvin did not agree with Luther’s criticism, fully accepting James’ letter.[12] There are good reasons to accept the canonicity of James:

First, allusions and citations to the book may have occurred very early. Moo writes, “Since ancient authors did not always cite their sources, it is possible that earlier writings made use of James without acknowledgment. Mayor discerned allusions to James in most of the New Testament epistles and in many late first and early second century non-canonical Christian writings.”[13] In fact, he writes, “The Shepherd of Hermas (early or middle second century) has the greatest number of parallels to James. In the section of that book called the ‘Mandates’, several of James’ characteristic themes are found… It is also possible that 1 Clement (ad 95) and the Epistle of Barnabas (written sometime between ad 70 and 132) show dependence on James, but this is not certain.”[14]

Second, Clement of Alexandria (AD 180) apparently wrote a commentary on James, but it didn’t survive. Moo writes, “Clement, head of the important catechetical school in Alexandria, is said to have written a commentary on James, but no such commentary has ever been discovered, and Clement never shows dependence on James in his extant writings.”[15]

Third, Origen identified the author as “James the apostle.” He was also the first to cite James as Scripture. Moo writes, “Clement’s successor in Alexandria, Origen, is the first to refer to the letter of James by name. He cites the letter as Scripture (Select. in Ps. 30:6) and attributes the letter to James, ‘the apostle’ (Commentary on John, frag. 126).”[16]

Fourth, Eusebius believed the letter was written by James—Jesus’ half-brother—and cited the book as canonical. Moo writes, “Eusebius (d. ad 339) uses James frequently in his writings and apparently accords it canonical status. However, he also includes it among the ‘disputed books’ (antilegomena), signifying that he was aware of some Christians who questioned its scriptural authority (H.E. III. 25.3; II.23.25).”[17]

Fifth, James could’ve been resisted by some Christians because of its Jewish content. The epistle of James is a resolutely Jewish book—even being addressed to the “twelve tribes” in the dispersion. Of course, the first-century apostolic church was honest about its tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Might these racial tensions have spilled into the second and third century churches, where anti-Semitism was so common? Could this have led to some Gentile fellowships being overly skeptical of the letter? Church historian Gregg Allison writes, “Its Jewish-Christian address… and flavor rendered it less attractive to the largely Gentile churches.”[18]


Craig Blomberg writes, “Early church tradition (e.g., Origen, Jerome, Augustine, and the Council of Carthage) strongly supports the identification of the author of this book with James, the (half-) brother of Jesus.”[19] Michael Kruger summarizes the evidence as follows:

[James] appears to have influenced a number of other early Christian writings, such as 1 Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas. In addition, James is cited by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria wrote a commentary on it which is now lost, and it was recognized as canonical Scripture by Origen, who cites it frequently and refers to it as from ‘James, the brother of the Lord.’ Eusebius acknowledges that some had doubts about it, but counts it among the canonical books ‘known to most,’ and the letter is fully received by Jerome, Augustine, and the councils of Hippo and Carthage. Moreover… we possess several early manuscripts of James: P20, P23, P100 are all third century and suggest that the book was known and used by early Christians.[20]

Moo concludes, “To be sure, James’ status was not immediately recognized. But it is important to stress that James was not rejected, but neglected.”[21] He states that it might have been neglected for two reasons: (1) the apostolic origin of the letter, because James signs the letter as a “servant” rather than an “apostle,” and (2) the destination of the letter to the Jerusalem churches, which quickly disappeared after the Jewish War in AD 70. As a result, the letter might not have circulated as fast. Moo comments, “It may be significant in this regard that Origen makes reference to James only after coming into contact with the church in Palestine.”[22]


Since James died in AD 62, the letter must have been written before then. But how early does the letter date?

Critical scholars date the book after AD 49, because they believe James was refuting Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone (Gal. 3:5ff; Jas. 2:14-26; Introduction to Galatians for the dating of Galatians). We reject this. While James used the same expression that Paul does to refer to “justification by faith,” he was probably responding to a distorted version of Paul’s teaching—not Paul himself. Legalists had falsely accused Paul of a distorted form of grace teaching (Rom. 3:8), and these legalists likely shared this distorted view with James (Gal. 2:9; Acts 15:24). Of course, James himself concurred with Paul’s teaching (Gal. 2:12).

Since there is no controversy over Jewish-Gentile relations, this would fit better before the Jerusalem Council of AD 49 (cf. Acts 15:1),[23] though this isn’t conclusive.

Zane Hodges dates the letter “as early as the middle or late 30s.”[24] He does so for a number of reasons. First, James never mentions the Gentiles in his letter, which would point to a very early date. Citing J.A.T. Robinson’s work, Hodges argues that this could imply that there were only Jewish believers in Jesus at this time. Second, the “diaspora” of James 1:1 could refer to the scattering of believers after the persecution of the church in Acts 8. Third, James’ statement “let not many of you become teachers” seems to fit with an early date, where the apostles were doing most of the teaching.

Donald Burdick dates the letter sometime between AD 45 and 50.[25] In addition to the arguments listed above, he notes that the letter mentions nothing about the Judaizers, and it refers to believers meeting in the “assembly” (synagōgē), which implies an early Christian use of synagogues.

Douglas Moo favors a date sometime between AD 45 and 48 for a few reasons.[26] For one, James’ reference to justification by faith shows that he heard (second hand) the preaching of Paul. James does not disagree with Paul, but with the distortion of Paul’s preaching, according to Moo. Moreover, Paul and James met at the Council of Jerusalem in AD 49, which would’ve reconciled this distortion. It’s difficult to think that James wouldn’t have mentioned anything about the decisions of this Council if it had already happened. A massive famine occurred in Judea around AD 46, which would fit with the main theme of the rich and the poor (Acts 11:28). This is speculative, but fits the general picture of an early date.

Many of these lines of argument are compelling to show an early date for the letter, but none give us a decisive date. We should be content to say that the letter is very early, but just how early, we do not know.


James addresses his letter “to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad” (Jas. 1:1). When he writes this, he is most likely addressing Jewish believers in Jesus who are spread out across the ancient world. Paul uses the expression “twelve tribes” to refer to Jewish believers as well (Acts 26:7; c.f. Mt. 19:28). In James 2:2, he uses the term synagōgē to refer to the Christian “assembly.” James only quotes the OT five times—though he alludes to it multiple times throughout his letter (compare Jas. 2:19 with Deut. 6:4). Since James primarily served the Jerusalem church (Gal. 2:9), it makes sense to read such a thoroughly Jewish letter here.

James’ audience must have been suffering persecution (Jas. 1:2-4, 12), primarily from the rich (Christians?) in Jerusalem. The rich were refusing to pay them fair wages (Jas. 5:4-6) and unfairly taking them to court (Jas. 2:6). James seems to be worried that this church would compromise with the temptation of wealth (Jas. 4:4), instead of being faithful to Christ. There was a real danger of having jealousy filling their hearts (Jas. 3:14), rather than being content with their relationship with Christ. In one instance, James tells his readers not to show deference to the rich because of their money (Jas. 2:1-4).

Structure and organization of James

Luther wrote that James was “throwing things together… chaotically.”[27] Form critic Martin Dibelius argued that the genre of James was that of paraenesis—a string of exhortations without any clear structure or contextual flow of thought.[28] Moo claims that “this viewpoint has been dominant in commentaries on James for decades.”[29] Moo disagrees with the thought of Dibelius, yet he holds that any clear outline to the letter is not possible to put into a “logically developed structure without imposing artificial and sometimes misleading headings on the material.”[30]

Yet others claim that there is structure to this letter.[31] As you read through James, try to piece together the thought process and how these concepts flow from one to the other.

Commentary on James

Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

James 1 (Suffering victoriously). 10

James 2 (Faith that works). 18

James 3.1 (Taming the tongue). 25

James 3.2 (Wisdom). 30

James 4.1 (Battling the world-system). 33

James 4.2 (Trusting God with big decisions). 37

James 5.1 (Rebuking the Rich). 39

James 5.2 (Waiting on the Lord). 41

James 5.3 (Prayer). 42

James 1 (Suffering victoriously)

(1:1) “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.” This is the first of many references to James’ Jewish audience. The Greek term for “dispersed” is diaspora. Peter uses this same term in the opening of his letter—translated as “scattered throughout” (1 Pet. 1:1). However, James combines this term with reference to the “twelve tribes.” Since the early Jewish Christians were scattered because of persecution in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1ff; 11:19), James is likely writing to believers outside of Palestine. Moo writes, “Taken from the Greek verb that means ‘to scatter’ or ‘disperse’, the word was used to describe Jews who were living outside of Palestine among Gentiles (Ps. 147:2; Isa. 49:6; 2 Macc. 1:27; John 7:35) and, by extension, the place where those who had been dispersed lived.”[32]

The Greek word for “greetings” is also used in James’ address in Acts 15:23 (see Authorship above).

Don’t waste your suffering

James must be addressing a church going through substantial suffering, and this is why he opens his letter addressing external trials (1:1-12) and later internal temptations (1:12-27). James gives several insights into how to suffer well.


(1:2) “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” James doesn’t state that we should feel joy during suffering. Instead, he tells us to consider it an opportunity for joy. Hodges writes, “James is exhorting these believers to view their hard times with the eye of faith.”[33] During suffering, we need to actively rejoice, expressing thanks to God (“consider it all joy…”). This battle begins in the mind, and eventually invades the heart. The mind is the beachhead of the heart. Rather than trying to control our circumstances, God wants to be our stable source of joy.

Notice that James doesn’t say if you encounter trials, but when you encounter various trials. Suffering is a reality of life. Suffering is in your future—whether it’s a funeral, a divorce, a medical test, a trip to the hospital—suffering is coming for you. What are you going to do to face it? Thank God that he speaks to the human condition so clearly!


(1:3) “Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Even if we do not always know the eternal reasons for our suffering (Deut. 29:29; 1 Cor. 13:12), we do know that God has ultimate reasons for our suffering (Rom. 8:28). Put simply, even though we don’t know what God is doing through our suffering, we know that he is using it for a morally justifiable reason. At the very least, we know that he is using our suffering for our own spiritual growth.

“Testing” (dokimion) comes from the root dokeō meaning “to seem” or “to appear.” In the Septuagint, the term was used for identifying true from fake currency.[34] Paul uses the term frequently of believers who have been found to be trustworthy or “approved” (Rom. 14:18; 16:10; 1 Cor. 11:19; 2 Cor. 10:18). Therefore, both this passage and common experience teach that we can see that some believers have passed this test of faith and are trustworthy. Suffering reveals and forms our character in ways that the other means of growth cannot (cf. Rom. 5:3-4).

God will later reward us based on how we passed these tests of faith. Peter writes, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7). God will eventually heap “praise, glory, and honor” on us for our faith!

“Endurance” (hypomonē) comes from the root words hypo (“under”) and menō (“remain” or “stay”). In modern vernacular, we might translate this as “stay put” or “stand your ground.” It means “to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty, patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance” (BDAG). As we pass these tests of faith, it builds spiritual stamina. Jesus said that the ones with “endurance” (hypomonē) are the “seed that fell upon the good soil” (Lk. 8:15).

(1:4) “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Suffering transforms the Christian. When we go through the horror and agony of suffering and see God’s provision and care, we realize that we really need “nothing” (cf. Ps. 131:2).

Much of our suffering is wrapped up in the worry beforehand. But after the fact, we discover that our experience wasn’t as bad as reality. After waiting on God, we see that he came through powerfully. When we go through our worst nightmare and come out on the other side, we can become more courageous than before.

(1:4) Can Christians gain sinless perfection?

(1:5) “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Isn’t it interesting that we learn the most about ourselves, about others, and about God during times of suffering? We learn more from trips to the hospital, than from trips to Hawaii. It’s possible to groan during suffering and become bitter, but it’s also possible to grow and become better.

God doesn’t automatically impart wisdom during suffering; we need to “ask” for it. This implies that we need to be in prayer during suffering; otherwise, we will miss what God is trying to teach us and how God is trying to use us. We haven’t successfully suffered as a Christian until we have rejoiced (v.2) and met with God in prayer (v.5).

“Without reproach” means that God will not accuse us for asking. Hodges writes, “How easily He might chide us for our ignorance and stupidity—as also for how little we have learned in so long a time! But when we ask in faith, He does not reproach us for what we do not know.”[35]

(1:5) Does this verse support the Mormon “burning in the bosom” used to confirm the Book of Mormon?

(1:6-8) “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord. 8 Being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

(1:6-8) Is it a sin to doubt?

The person in love with the world-system should not expect to receive more wisdom, because God has already revealed enough already for them to make a decision. Moreover, flirting with the world-system leads to instability.

(1:9) “But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position.” The “humble circumstances” refer to the trials of suffering in context. This believer has access to “glory” during these times, because he can bank on God bringing about character change (vv.3-4) and added wisdom (v.5).

Instead of thinking of solving our suffering with the comforts of the world-system, James reminds us that none of this will aid us when we meet Christ. These temporary results will no longer help in the eternal perspective.

(1:10) “And the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.” There is dispute over whether the “rich man” is a believer. First, he is not called a brother, but a “rich man” instead. Second, he is also said to “pass away.” This doesn’t seem consistent with a believer, either. The text doesn’t say that his reward will pass away, but that he himself will pass away.

However, we agree with Hodges who understands this to refer to a true believer.[36] When a rich Christian encounters suffering, he is to glory in his “humiliation” (i.e. God humbling him of his pride). When the text says that “he will pass away,” it isn’t referring to eternal damnation, but simply the inevitability of his death. After death, his riches will do him no good. Hodges writes, “Trials, however, can be used by God to remind the rich Christian of the transience of his own earthly life and of how quickly all his material belongings can be lost (cf. Luke 12:16–21). He should rejoice in his sufferings because they humble him and because, after all, he is a mere human being whose life is a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (Jas 4:14).”[37]

(1:11) “For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.” All of the “pursuits” of the rich man will end in nothing. God can use suffering in the life of a wealthy believer to wake him up to true wisdom (v.5).

(1:12) “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” The word “blessed” (makarios) means “happy” or “fulfilled” (BDAG). This is the word Jesus uses throughout the Beatitudes (Mt. 5; Lk. 6). We are “blessed” for serving others (Jn. 13:17; cf. Acts 20:35). It is rendered “fortunate” (Acts 26:2), as well as “happy” (Rom. 14:22; 1 Cor. 7:40).

We think that we’d be happy or fortunate to avoid the trials of life—not persevere through them. But when we persevere through suffering, we gain a deep happiness that we couldn’t have understood beforehand. God blesses our lives as he did to Job (Jas. 5:11).

Not only do we have a subjective sense of blessing in the present, but we can also become happy looking forward to our great reward in the future.

The “crown of life” (stephanos) doesn’t not refer to salvation, but to reward (cf. Rev. 2:10). Moo writes, “The word crown (stephanos) sometimes refers to a royal crown, but is more frequently used of the laurel wreath given to the victorious athlete (see 1 Cor. 9:25) and, figuratively, symbolizes glory and honour.”[38] This is in contrast to the “death” that the believer experiences (v.15).

“To those who love him” sets out a key attitude during suffering (cf. Rom. 8:28). When we go through suffering, we sometimes blame God. In reality, we are cutting ourselves off from the only hope that we have during suffering. During these times, we need to cling in love to God even deeper than before.

During suffering, temptation becomes more alluring as ever…

(1:13) “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” We are being tested (v.3), but not tempted by God (v.13).[39] During suffering, we often want to blame God. Yet nothing could be further from the truth! God doesn’t inflict suffering or temptation. Instead he carries us through the suffering (cf. Jas. 1:17).

Incidentally, when we go through trials, we are often very tempted to deal with the pain by falling into sin as an anesthetic (e.g. drugs, drunkenness, porno, comfort-seeking, etc.). When we have a fall, it’s easy to say, “I wouldn’t have fallen into sin if I wasn’t dealing with all of these problems in my life!” In reality, this is really saying that God is the one responsible for my problems.

During times of suffering, we want to meet our own needs in an illegitimate way. However, Wiersbe writes, “It is better to be hungry in the will of God than full outside the will of God… God’s gifts are always better than Satan’s bargains. Satan never gives any gifts, because you end up paying for them dearly.”[40]

(1:14) “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” We are the ones who are tempted—not God. Rather than blame-shifting during times of trial, we need to take responsibility for our sin.

“Enticed” (deleazōmenos) means “to arouse someone’s interest in something by adroit measures, lure, entice… A fishing metaphor is probable” (BDAG). It is as “deluded” by a “trick” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 5.120). It is used of false teachers “enticing” people away from the truth (2 Pet. 2:14, 18).

“Lust” (epithumia) comes from the roots “over” (epi) and “desire” (thymos). It refers to an “over desire” or “a great desire for something, desire, longing, craving” (BDAG). This is when we take a good desire (e.g. food, drink, sex, money, etc.), and we become over desirous of it.

(1:15) “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” The problem is not external, but internal. We decide to lust, which brings sin, which in turn brings death. Since the problem begins in the heart, it can only be fixed in the heart.

The “death” here could refer to physical death (Prov. 10:27; 11:19, 12:28; 13:14; 19:16).[41] More likely, it refers to spiritual death in our condition—not our position in Christ (Rom. 7:9-11; 8:13). It could also refer to the death of our reward—in contrast to the “crown of life” (v.12).

(1:16) “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” What is the “deception” James is referring to here? This probably refers to the noetic effects of sin in general, rather than a specific deception. When we are stuck in sin, we blame-shift so badly that we can even blame God himself (v.13). We show ourselves to be deeply deceived. For each temptation, there’s a lie behind it. When we get at the root lie, the sin isn’t as exciting.

(1:17) “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James’ description of God as the “Father of lights” probably refers to his “good” creation of Genesis 1, where there and elsewhere, the lights refer to God’s creation of the universe (Job 38:4-15, 19-21, 31-33; Ps. 136:4-9; Isa. 40:22, 26).[42]

These early Christians thought that God was tempting them. In reality, every good thing in their life came from God. It wasn’t that God was holding back on blessing them, but that they didn’t recognize and receive it.

The “shifting shadow” refers to the changing of creation from morning, noon, to night. In God’s character, there is no shifting shadow or change. While even the astral bodies shift and change, God never changes. All of this means that God’s love, character, and promises are constant in and through suffering.[43]

(1:18) “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” “Brought us forth” (apokyō) is the same word used in verse 15 (“sin… brings forth death”). Hodges writes, “Sin… ‘gives birth’ to death, but God ‘gives birth’ to us!”[44] This is demonstrable proof of God being a good giver (v.17). As Paul writes, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

This passage shows that regeneration is a past completed act, using the aorist tense (“He brought us forth”).

Practical steps to take during stressful circumstances

Those who consider James’ letter to be a “string of pearls” see him as not having a clear flow of thought. Here, for instance, they consider this to be an entirely new idea—not connected in context with what he has written so far.

Others argue that this section (vv.19-27) gives practical steps to take during times of temptation, trial, and stressful circumstances.[45] We hold to this latter view. That is, we contend that there is a contextual flow of thought in this letter.

(1:19-20) “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Why is being “quick to hear” important during times of stress and suffering? This could be because God is trying to give us “wisdom” directly or through fellow believers (v.5). Being “quick to hear” could refer to being quick to hear God’s word (v.21). Hodges writes, “One cannot learn anything while talking!”[46]

“Anger” is a quality we usually fall into during suffering. Instead of being worked up in anger or bitterness during suffering, we need to learn from God through the word. This sort of anger is antithetical to the “wisdom” (v.5) that God has for us (Jas. 3:17-18).

(1:21) “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” A crucial component to reading the word includes humility—being able to set aside our own wisdom (v.5) and hear from God (cf. 1 Pet. 2:1-2).

“Receive the word implanted” looks back to the fact that God “has brought us forth” through his word (v.18). The imagery here is that a seed was planted in us at conversion, and we need to nurture it to see it grow.[47]

“Which is able to save your soul” is understood to refer to salvation from hell by many commentators. However, we contend that this refers to physical life. Hodges writes, “The Greek phrase found here (sōsai tas psychas hymōn) was in common use in the sense of ‘to save the life.’ It is used in both the Greek OT as well as in the NT in exactly that sense (see Gen 19:17; 32:30; 1 Sam 19:11; Jer 48:6; Mark 3:4//Luke 6:9).”[48] Hodges goes so far as to say that this phrase never is used of salvation from hell in the entire NT or the Septuagint. This would be a similar usage in James 5:20 (“He who turns a sinner from the error of his ways will save his soul [physical life] from death”).

This concept fits with the wisdom literature of the Proverbs. Remember, the context of James 1 is the “wisdom” of God.

(Prov. 10:27) The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be shortened.

(Prov. 11:19) He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, and he who pursues evil will bring about his own death.

(Prov. 13:14) The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn aside from the snares of death.

(Prov. 19:16) He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul, but he who is careless of conduct will die.

At the same time, why can’t it be both physical healing (as in James 5:14-20) as well as spiritual sanctification? Sin does have physical consequences (i.e. physical death), but it also has spiritual consequences (i.e. spiritual suffering). The term “save” can refer to sanctification (see comments on James 2:14-26).

(1:22) “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” Another crucial component to reading the word includes acting on what we learn (cf. Rom. 2:13; Lk. 11:28). Isn’t it interesting that we feel closest to God when we put his word into practice, but experience the worst doubts when we are passive and disengaged in our faith? James is right: When we refuse to put God’s truth into practice, we become “delusional” to the reality of God and his work in our lives.

This passage speaks against the believer who is a real “theologian,” but never puts anything into practice. Such a person is utterly deceived.

(1:23-24) “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.” The illustration of looking into the mirror reminds us of the need to reflect on our identity in Christ (“what kind of person he was”). It’s as we reflect and trust in the love of God and our position in Christ that we are able to carry out and “do” the word. When we follow God actively in our “condition,” this leads to a deeper understanding of the reality of our position.

Hodges understands the concept of the “mirror” to be understood as “moral instruction.” Like a scale reveals our need to lose weight, the mirror reveals what God wants to change in our lives.[49] If we do not act on what we learn, then we quickly forget the revelation God gave to us. He writes, “To be a mere hearer of God’s truth is to forget our true identity as born-again and justified children of God, and to behave as though we were not.”[50] This would fit with James’ mention of the “law of liberty” (v.25).

The imperative to be a “doer of the word” might be the central thesis of James’ letter, which he unfolds practically throughout the letter. One Bible teacher asks the question, “What is the most important part of a good Bible study? It’s when you close your Bibles.” This may be overstated, but we get the point. There is no use getting endless education, when we refuse to act on application. So, we should ask ourselves: What truths do I already know that I’m not putting into practice?

(1:25) “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”

(1:25) Are Christians under law or not (c.f. 2:8, 12)?

(1:26) “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” We need to be “effectual doers” in our words, as well as our works. James will return to this subject of “taming the tongue” in chapter 3.

(1:27) “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” We need to be “effectual doers” in our works, not just our words. Remember, this church was ravaged by extreme poverty—possibly due to the great Judean famine of Acts 11:28 (AD 46). In this context, the best way to be a doer of the word was to get out and serve the marginalized of society. Merely talking about Christian love is worthless without acts of Christian love.

In the Greek, the “and” is not there (“to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world”). If we remove this word, this would imply that a way to keep ourselves from the love of the world is to charitably care for the poor with our time and money. One of the best cures for materialism is to become a strong financial giver.[51]

Discussion questions

Based on verse 4: How does victorious suffering lead to having a sense of peace and feeling like our needs are met by God?

Based on verse 12: How might the eternal perspective affect our ability to victoriously suffer? What would it look like to suffer without the eternal perspective?

Based on verse 19: What are some keys to becoming a better listener?

Based on verses 22-24: What are some signs that we’re learning the word, but not putting it into practice? What are symptoms of this disease?

James 2 (Faith that works)

No more partiality

(2:1) “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.” These believers had faith (“your faith… Christ”), but they weren’t being consistent with their faith. They were showing partiality to the rich. How, asks James, can you glorify the rich, when you also have faith in the “glorious Lord Jesus Christ”? Is “the glorious Lord Jesus Christ” impressed with rich people? How could he be? We must look ridiculous in all of our materialistic pride, prestige, and power compared to his overwhelming glory.

Imagine if you were standing in between Bill Gates and Lebron James at a Bible study. Surely, it would be hard to pay attention to the teacher! But why? It must be that we hold an inordinate focus on people, rather than God. After all, if the “glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1) showed up at the teaching, we wouldn’t have the mental or emotional energy to think about who was sitting next to us. James challenges their worship of men by getting their focus back onto Christ.

(2:2) “For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes.” It’s interesting that James uses the Greek term “assembly” (synagōgē) to refer to Christian gatherings. A Jewish setting is surely in view. This doesn’t mean that the believers met in Jewish synagogues necessarily, but simply that their assembly was similar to this model.

The distinction between the two men is that one is well dressed (“gold ring and dressed in fine clothes”), while the other is not (“poor man in dirty clothes”). This isn’t racism, but classism.

(2:3) “And you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool.’” This is Pharisaic religion. Remember, the Pharisees enjoyed “the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues” (Mt. 23:6). Here, the believers were giving the same treatment to the rich.

In the second and third century, the term “footstool” (hypopodion) meant “a stone bench running along the walls, with a lower tier for the feet of those sitting on the bench.”[52] Thus the rich would get the good seat at the table, while the poor would sit where people put their feet. Consider how humiliating this would be for a middle-class or poor person?

(2:4) “Have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” James doesn’t judge their motives by seeing into their hearts. Our motives will not be revealed until Jesus returns (1 Cor. 4:5). Instead, James judges their motives (1) by pointing to their actions and (2) by asking a question, rather than making a declaration. Similarly, we shouldn’t judge motives. But pointing our sinful actions and asking questions is an appropriate way to reveal sinful motives.

“Distinctions” (diakrino) means “facing both ways.”[53] These believers were paying lip service to Christian humility, but they were actually honoring the ways of the word (cf. Jas. 4).

In the OT, the people were not supposed to show favoritism to the rich or the poor: “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev. 19:15).

The church is the one place where the marginalized are supposed to receive love. What does it communicate about God when we treat them as the world does?—as pests rather than people.

(2:5) “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? James counters their classism by appealing to God’s perspective. This passage doesn’t teach that all poor people “are rich in faith.” We need to remember that the poor are still required to be “rich in faith” and “love Him.” However, James is showing that the poor as a whole have an advantage over the rich—namely, they have more of an opportunity to trust God. When they realize their need and humility, this can easily transfer to spiritual humility (cf. Mt. 5:3; Lk. 6:20). Adamson comments, “The poor, in general, are much more likely and eager to believe in a celestial heaven to come.”[54] Hodges writes, “Ironically, a rich Christian may have less opportunity to trust God for his needs than a poor man who must trust Him day by day, and sometimes meal by meal. Thus, by the providential arrangement of God, a poor Christian may become very rich in the area of personal faith in God, while the rich Christian may be poverty-stricken in this aspect of spiritual experience. James’s readers needed to remember this whenever a scruffy, poor brother came to their assembly. Despite outward appearances, he might be a spiritual millionaire!”[55]

James’ point is that it’s more likely to be physically poor and spiritually rich. After all, Jesus said to the church of Smyrna: “I know your tribulation and your poverty but you are rich” (Rev. 2:9). But later, to the church of Laodicea, he said, “You say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).

(2:6-7) “But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?” The rich were dragging the poor into (debtors?) court outside of fellowship, and then they were taking their seats inside of fellowship! Later in the letter, James specifies that these rich people were condemning and killing believers in the courts (Jas. 5:6). To “blaspheme” is the “sin of attempting to bring [God] into dishonor by such speech.”[56] The believers in the church must have thought that flattery would result in placating the rich persecutors, but this did nothing of the sort.

(2:8) Are Christians under law or not (c.f. 2:12)?

(2:8-9) “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” The expression “royal law” (nomos basilikos) refers to the law of the sovereign King (cf. Jn. 15:12). If we are royal “heirs” of the kingdom (v.5), then we should follow the “royal law” of the King. James seems to appeal to the Law—not as a means of spiritual growth—but as a means of judging right from wrong (“you are doing well” v.8 versus “you are committing sin” v.9).

James quotes Leviticus 19:18. In Leviticus 19, we discover that verse 10 is about loving those in need and loving the stranger (cf. Lev. 19:33-34). If believers were supposed to love the needy and the stranger in the old covenant, how much more should we not show partiality in the new covenant?

(2:10) “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” James isn’t expecting Christians to be perfect. Later, he uses this same term (“stumble”) to describe the ordinary Christian life: “We all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2). He is thinking of breaking the Law in relationship to justification here. Paul gives a similar line of argument in his letter to the Galatians: “I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law” (Gal. 5:3).

This passage does not teach that “all sins are the same to God,” as is often touted. Far from it! All sins are equally sins, but not all sins are equally sinful. In this passage, James is not teaching ethical priority. Rather, James is simply saying that any and all sins cause us to fall short of God’s standard for justification (cf. Rom. 3:23). James’ point is that we dare not say that “sin is not sin” or “lawbreaking is not serious.” In reality, all sin is treated incommensurably serious to God, and our only option is to fall totally on the grace of God.

Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Hillel taught that wearing phylacteries was enough to follow the whole law (Aboth iii.19.). However, stricter rabbis held a similar view to James: “If a man perform all the commandments, save one, he is guilty of all and each; to break one precept is to defy God who commanded the whole” (b. Shab. 70.2).[57]

(2:11) “For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” James makes a comparison with standard moral imperatives from the Ten Commandments. What use is it to say that you have never committed adultery if you’re a murderer? Similarly, what use is it to say that you keep the law, if you don’t love your neighbor and honor the poor? Your innocence in one area does not justify your negligence in another. Hodges writes, “In the modern evangelical world, it is amazing how often the statements of Paul and James about the law are readily ignored. Instead, we are supposed to believe (according to some) that we can keep God’s law well enough to essentially validate our own conversion and so be regarded as Christian people. But such a view is Pharisaism revisited. It is not NT doctrine at all.”[58] This concept of our radical need for total and complete forgiveness apart from works will become very important in our interpretation of James 2:14-26.

To truly be “doers of the word” (1:22), we need to do more than just avoid heinous moral sins like adultery and murder. We also need to practice love. Again, James is not using the Law to motivate spiritual growth (i.e. the so-called “third use of the Law”). He is using the Law to show right from wrong.

(2:12-13) “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” This refers to the bema seat of Christ (see comments on 2 Corinthians 5:10). The “merciless” nature of the judgment does not negate grace (cf. Mt. 5:7; Lk. 6:36); instead, it affirms it. If we were truly under law, then no one would make it to heaven (vv.10-11). When we stand under the bema seat judgment, our works and “motives” (v.4; 1 Cor. 4:3-5) will be judged by Jesus. If we weren’t under grace, no one would be able to stand on that day. Thus, Adamson understands “judgment” to refer to “legalistic judgment.”[59] The point is that we shouldn’t give out legalistic judgment to others and expect gracious judgment at the bema seat.


The main point is to not show “favoritism” (v.1) or discrimination of any kind—not just classism. While the immediate application is classism, this could apply to other forms of discrimination (e.g. racism, sexism, ageism, etc.). Humans are experts at creating ways to discriminate.

Is it always wrong to discriminate? No. The term “discriminate” comes from Latin (discriminat), which means to “distinguish between.” Under this definition, discrimination is good thing when it comes to rightly identifying evils like racism, sexism, and classism. That is, we should discriminate against these things, calling them immoral or false, rather than moral and good. In general, humanity has this all wrong: we divide on superficial differences like skin color, age, and sex; however, we embrace on serious differences like truth, morality, and worldview. In other words, we divide where we should embrace, and embrace where we should divide!

In general, we should be tough on ideas, but gentle with people. Our culture has this backwards, being tough on people and accepting of damaging ideas. Remember that James tells us to love others, not just tolerate them (v.8), which is a much higher standard.

Why shouldn’t we discriminate? In our culture, we are shamed if we discriminate (usually on Twitter!), and we are told discrimination is wrong—just because it is wrong! But why shouldn’t we discriminate? Are there any good reasons for why we shouldn’t discriminate?

(1) Jesus has every right to discriminate, but he doesn’t. Even Jesus’ enemies said, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any” (Mt. 22:16). He spent time with “tax collectors and sinners” (Mt. 9:11; cf. Mt. 21:30-31).

(2) How can we discriminate against the poor, when Jesus was poor? Jesus “became poor” for us (2 Cor. 8:9), taking the “humble position of a slave” (Phil. 2:7 NLT). He was born in a manger (Lk. 2:7). His parents were so poor that they couldn’t afford a lamb to sacrifice, so they made the sacrifice of the poor instead—only, two pigeons (Lk. 2:24; Lev. 12:8). Before he started vocational ministry, Jesus was a working class carpenter (Mk. 6:3). After he started vocational ministry, Jesus had nowhere to sleep on a regular basis (Mt. 8:20). Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey (Mt. 21:3-5), had his last meal in a borrowed room (Mt. 26:20ff), and he was buried in a borrowed grave (Mk. 15:43-46). If Jesus walked into this church, he would’ve been sitting on the floor! (Jas. 2:3) All of this shows that God himself identifies with those at the bottom (Prov. 14:31; 19:17; Mt. 25:31-46; 1 Cor. 1:26-29).

(3) Jesus brought about a cultural upheaval regarding discrimination. In the ancient world, there was no problem with the rich getting better seats in a religious service—any more than the rich getting floor tickets to a basketball game today. However, Christianity revolutionized the moral norms of the first century (see “Moral Norms in the Ancient World”). With this in mind, note what Paul wrote. In one verse, he eliminated racism, classism, and sexism: “There is neither Jew nor Greek [racism], there is neither slave nor free man [classism], there is neither male nor female [sexism]; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

(4) We have no grounds for discriminating against one another. After all, humans are all equal in being (1) image-bearers, (2) desperate sinners, and (3) in need of salvation. Just ask yourself, “How would I look apart from Jesus Christ? How would I look if __________ never happened in my life?” We say, “I had some luck and help, but basically I earned it.” God says, “You made some good choices, but basically I gave it to you!”[60]

(5) Discrimination often clouds our discernment. Humans judge based on the most superficial aspects of someone’s life (e.g. clothes, speech, etc.) in order to judge the most serious qualities of who they are (e.g. love for God and others, character, etc.). We should always ask, “What is his story? What were they like as a little kid? What advantages did I have that they missed out on?”

Can we be “partial” or show “favoritism” towards friends? Yes and no. Jesus chose the 70, the twelve, and the inner three—thereby excluding everyone else. Likewise, God chose Israel—excluding every other nation. However, both chose special relationships with a few in order to spread love to the many. Jesus’ disciples were specially chosen to love many people (Jn. 15:16). Similarly, Israel was called to bless the nations—not to suppress the nations (Gen. 12:1-3). So, if our friendship groups only exist for themselves, then we should ask ourselves if we are guilty of only “loving those who love us” (Mt. 5:46). This is what Becky Pippert humorously referred to as a “holy huddle.”

How can we avoid discrimination in Christian community? In our view, rather than giving labels, it’s better to focus on actions. Hardly anyone would self-identify as a racist or sexist. In fact, naming them would only be the beginning of the process of change. Instead, we should focus on whether or not our words or actions have hurt others. If this has happened, the solution is not bitterness, resentment, and revenge. Rather the solution is confrontation, forgiveness, and repeat. Even in our modern world we see examples of “blood feuds” where people keep retaliating interminably.[61] We might look at blood feuds as barbaric, but we kill others every day in our hearts! (Mt. 5:21-22) Confrontation and forgiveness are the keys to growth as a community.

Faith and works

(2:14-26) Is salvation by faith or works?

When we show our faith in our actions, we communicate the truth of Christ to the world. Yet when we live double-lives, we drag Jesus’ name through the mud. It seems that some of the best evidence for God is Christians (Jn. 13:34-35; 17:21-23), but some of the best evidence against God is also Christians!

Discussion questions

Based on verses 2-4: Because of their great influence in the world, many churches favor rich members in the church today… What might happen if we allowed rich members to control the direction and leadership of the church?

Many people care about solving (or at least helping) poverty in our day. Yet many strategies for solving poverty only perpetuate it. What are some key principles for helping the poor? In what ways can we make a strategic difference in this area?

Based on verse 14: Before we harmonize this difficult passage, what is at stake in this question of faith and works? Is it really that important of a discussion? Why or why not?

James 3.1 (Taming the tongue)

Earlier, James wrote, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” (Jas. 1:26). Then he wrote, “Speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty” (Jas. 2:12). In James 2:14-26, James addressed works (“act”); here in James 3:1-12, he addresses our speech (“speak”). Aren’t works more important than words? This is a false dilemma—like asking which wing of the plane is more important. In the Christian life, much of what we do is speak, and we need to learn how to do this well.

(3:1) “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren…” How does this passage fit with the concept of “every member ministry”? James might be thinking of “teachers” here in a restricted sense. Paul refers to “teachers” in a restricted sense, when he writes, “All are not teachers, are they?” (1 Cor. 12:29) In Paul’s context, he is referring to having the spiritual gift of teaching. Elsewhere Paul writes, “[God] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). Likewise, Luke refers to a restricted group of “prophets and teachers” (Acts 13:1). It isn’t that only some people should do the work of teaching. James must mean that some are particularly suited and gifted for this work.

While there is a sense in which teaching is an office for certain people in the church, in a less restricted sense, it is given for every believer in Christ. Paul writes, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another” (Col. 3:16). The author of Hebrews states, “By this time you ought to be teachers” (Heb. 5:12). This shows that every member can teach on some level. Yet every member ministry does not mean that any member can teach in any setting in the fellowship.

Jesus said that whoever “keeps and teaches” God’s word will be considered “great in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:19). Paul warns us, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

“…knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” This could refer to the bema seat judgment. It could also refer to being judged by our fellow believers (1 Cor. 14:29).

Why does James open by discussing teaching? He later writes about controlling our tongue. If we cannot get a hold of our tongue on a small level, then we shouldn’t teach on a big one.

(3:2) “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” Some commentators hold that the key to our inner heart issues is to control our tongue:

Alec Motyer: “James’ purpose in this section of his letter is not to warn us to be on our guard against the hasty or impure or lying tongue—or whatever our weakness may be—but to make the positive point that control of the tongue leads to a master-control of ourselves and our lives… The control of the tongue is more than an evidence of spiritual maturity; it is the means to it.”[62]

Zane Hodges: “Human beings can control their own actions provided they first can control the rudder—namely, the human tongue. To a large extent our actions are determined by the things we say.”[63]

This understanding puts the cart before the horse. James isn’t saying that we need to fix our tongue in order to control our heart; rather, what comes out of our mouths reveals what was already in our hearts. As Jesus taught, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Lk. 6:45). He also said, “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Mt. 12:34). Solomon writes, “A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction” (Prov. 16:23). James later writes that “no one can tame the tongue” (v.8), showing that our method of operations is not to focus on cleaning up our speech first, but rather, cleaning up our heart and head.

If someone had perfect control of their speech, this would indicate a flawless character. Yet the key to a flawless character is not to try to control our speech, but to renovate our hearts! We should make sure not to become legalists with speech, all the while ignoring our underlying heart issues. We shouldn’t confuse the fruit with the root (see comments on verses 11-12).

A bit, a rudder, a fire

(3:3-5) “Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” In each of these illustrations, James isn’t saying that the tongue is the way we control our sinful nature. Instead, he is using illustrations of small things (e.g. a bit and bridle, a rudder, a flame) to show their impact on large things (e.g. a horse, a ship, a forest). So too, the tongue can have a powerful effect for good or for evil. The illustrations reflect the smallness of the tongue—not our control over the tongue. He writes that “the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things” (v.5).

James offers three analogies for why taming the tongue is so important: the bits in the horse’s mouth (v.3), the small rudder on a ship (v.4), and a forest fire started from a small flame (v.5). James uses very strong language to describe the tongue (“restless evil” “full of deadly poison”). This sounds like language one would use for describing a character in a horror movie! Solomon agrees, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Prov. 18:21).


(3:6) “And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” Like a small flame that starts a forest fire, our speech can corrupt us. When we choose to speak negatively toward others, ourselves, and God, this has a corrupting effect on the heart.[64]


(3:7-8) “For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” It’s interesting that we can tame a lion or killer whale, but we’ve never been able to tame our own tongues!

If a person could tame their tongue, they would be “perfect” (Jas. 3:2). But here James proves that we have all fallen short of perfection (“we all stumble in many ways”), when he writes that “no one can tame the tongue” (v.8).

When you tame a powerful animal, this is not only impressive, but it can be a cause for great good. The same is true of the tongue. It’s morally neutral—being used for good or bad.

(3:9-10) “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” Pay attention to what you talk about. It’s interesting to hear how people will hypocritically speak about God in one breath, and in the next breath they will grumble or complain about their brother in Christ.

(3:11-12) “Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.” He compares our inconsistency to speaking out of both sides of our mouths. In order to change this, we need to fill our heart with the truth and love of God. Otherwise, we are just faking our speech about God, while cursing our brother. Again, we need to fix the root (i.e. our hearts) in order to change the fruit (i.e. our speech).

Application: How do we grow in this area?
Develop a healthy fear of our words

We have a healthy fear that fires could burn down our houses, and install fire detectors, buy fire extinguishers, etc. But do we have a similar healthy fear of what we say? How many times have I wanted to hit rewind and take back what I’ve said? Solomon writes, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18).

Cut back destructive speech

(Prov. 11:13) A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.

(Prov. 13:3) He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.

(Prov. 16:28) A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.

We can hold onto words said years later—even from childhood

Many of the things we say (for good or for bad) won’t be remembered by us. But others will remember. One woman told the story of getting her menstrual cycle for the first time, and her father said something to the effect of “keeping the boys away from her.” The woman shared this in tears, and she was 80 years old! We can hold onto words said:

  • In the heat of the moment.
  • In gossip and drama.
  • In defensive.
Close your mouth and open your ears

Be “slow to speak” and “quick to listen” (Jas. 1:19).

(Prov. 10:19) He who holds his tongue is wise.

(Prov. 12:23) A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly.

(Prov. 17:28) Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

(Prov. 21:23) He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.

(Eccl. 10:14) The fool multiplies words.

Plan ahead with encouragement, exhortation, etc.

(Heb. 10:24-25) Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

(Prov. 12:25) An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.

(Prov. 16:24) Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

(Prov. 25:11) A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

(Prov. 15:4) The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.

Meditate on God’s words to change our words

(2 Tim. 3:16-17) All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

(1 Pet. 4:11) Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God.

(Mt. 10:20) it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.

Learn to turn conversations around

(Eph. 4:29) Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Pray and look for an opportunity.

Work on timing and tone

(Prov. 15:1) A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

(Prov. 15:23) A man finds joy in giving an apt reply—and how good is a timely word!


(Prov. 25:12) Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.


(Prov. 10:21) The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment.

Speak up, rather than clam up

How do you justify not speaking up for weeks or months?

James 3.2 (Wisdom)

(3:13) “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” Building on his thesis in 2:14-26, James returns to the importance of deeds. If we really have a spiritual mindset (“wise and understanding”), it will naturally flow out in our actions. Hodges writes, “Instead of boldly (and arrogantly!) verbalizing the wisdom they thought they possessed, James’s readers are challenged to demonstrate it by their lifestyle in that gentle spirit (praütēs: meekness) which was always a mark of true wisdom.”[65]

What wisdom is NOT

Wisdom is more than mere INFORMATION. In our culture, we have facts and figures at our fingertips. In fact, trivia contests for radio stations have become somewhat of a joke with the advent of smart phones. We are gorged with knowledge, but starving for wisdom! Wisdom is not less than information, but it is certainly more. It is the ability to know how to use the knowledge that we possess. Wisdom is the big picture, rather than just endless details.

Wisdom is different than INTELLIGENCE. In his book Outliers (2008), Malcolm Gladwell interviews Christopher Langan, who is acclaimed as the smartest man in America, and maybe the world. His IQ is somewhere between 195 and 210. He earned a perfect score on the SAT—even though he took a nap during the test.

Yet Langan dropped out of college after his first year because of financial problems. He felt that he had more to teach his professors, than learn from them. When Gladwell published his book, Langan worked at a bar as a bouncer.

People are obsessed with intelligence and being gifted, but not with being wise. We often hear college students say, “I got C’s in high school, but I didn’t try.” Why would we consider this to be a positive quality? Would you rather be an average person who works hard, or a gifted person who is lazy? OSU football coach Woody Hayes used to say, “Men, you don’t have the most gifted coach, or the smartest coach, but you definitely have the hardest working coach.”

Wisdom is different than INTEGRITY. Wisdom isn’t a moral law, but more like a “law of gravity.” You don’t break it, but it breaks you! For instance, consider helping a friend who has fallen on hard times financially. The moral thing to do is help them, but how you do this can either help or destroy them.

What is wisdom?

In the OT, the word “wisdom” (hokmah) derives from a word meaning “skillful” (Ex. 31:1-3). It refers to being skilled at weaving, woodworking, and metalworking (Ex. 28:3 “skilled” “wisdom”). It can carry this meaning in regards to sailing (Ps. 107:27) or leadership (Isa. 11:2-4). In the book of Proverbs, this refers to being skilled at living life. Maybe you’ve been around people like this. They seem to have a supernatural ability to know the right move to make—when to speak and when to be silent—when to move and when to wait. Warren Wiersbe writes, “[Wisdom] tells you, not how to make a living, but how to be skillful in the lost art of making a life.”[66]

(3:14) “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.” Instead of trying to bolster our “public image” or “climb the ladder” in the Christian community, we should take the lower seat of humbly loving others and sharing wisdom with them (v.13). “Bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition” are contrasted with “gentleness” (v.13).

“Selfish ambition” (eritheia) was used in Aristotle for “where it denotes a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means” (BDAG; Aristotle, Politics, 5, 3). This reminds us of the apostles who constantly argued over who was the “greatest” (Mk. 9:34; Lk. 9:46; 22:24). It’s possible to have the veneer of spirituality, all the while having jealousy and bitterness underneath it all. This is really “lying against the truth.”

These attitudes exist primarily in the “heart,” yet they are still considered lying. Why is this considered “lying against the truth?” It must be because we know that we’re weak, but we’re putting on a show. Deep down, we know that we’re not what we’re claiming to be. In its purest form, it is the lie that I can be like God.

It’s not that bad, is it? We often think, “God can use a little jealousy and ambition to help me stay motivated, which helps others” or “Some daydreaming about being praised and admired isn’t that bad. It could be worse.” But what does James say about all of this? It’s demonic!

(3:15) “This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.” This selfish perspective doesn’t come from God; it comes from Satan. Satan was the original being to violate God and reject his leadership, placing himself at the center of the universe. All selfish ambition, jealousy, and bitterness come from his perspective—placing ourselves first. This doesn’t come from above, but from below. Hardly anyone who is falling into this mindset thinks that they are acting like Satan. They usually convince themselves that they are trying to be good spiritual leaders. But James warns us that this selfish ambition is “demonic” in nature, and no doubt deceiving as well. So, to return to the question above, Yes, it is really that bad! When we fall into this, we are imitating Satan himself.

(3:16) “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” James returns to the subject of “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition.” Such inner attitudes can rip the church apart—thus fulfilling Satan’s strategy. Hodges writes, “How often this inspired statement has proved true in churches where individuals seek prominence out of a spirit of jealousy or proud ambition! Characteristically the local church where this occurs is thrown into turmoil, and factionalism and evil things are said and done which have no place in the Christian fellowship. Thus the work of Satan becomes unmistakable.”[67]

What would a Christian fellowship look like if everyone adopted a jealous and ambitious attitude?
  • Cutting people down with sarcasm, rather than giving them courage to move forward
  • Disappointment in ourselves when others succeed, rather than happy for the other person
  • Secret envy and criticism of others—that is, building long lists of problems with others, but keeping short lists on ourselves
  • Glad to see others fail, rather than heartbroken

(3:17) “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” James opened his letter referring to “wisdom” (Jas. 1:5). Remember, James said that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (Jas. 1:17). What is Christian wisdom like?

“Pure” (hagne) was used before the first-century for Temple worship (BDAG). It can mean “pure” (1 Jn. 3:3; 2 Cor. 11:2; Phil. 4:8), “free” (1 Tim. 5:22), or “innocent” (2 Cor. 7:11). Later James writes, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify (hagne) your hearts, you double-minded” (Jas. 4:8).

“Peace” (eirēnē) refers to a “state of concord, peace, harmony” (BDAG). In the OT, this is the word translated into Greek from the Hebrew term shalom.[68] It could be the inner peace given to us by Christ (Rom. 15:13; Phil. 4:6-7; Jn. 14:27; 16:33) or peace between believers (Rom. 14:19; Eph. 4:3; 1 Pet. 3:11; Mt. 5:9).

“Gentle” (epiekes) literally means “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom” (BDAG).

“Reasonable” (eupeithes) is from the root word peitho which means “persuade.” BDAG defines it as “obedient” or “complaint.” We might refer to “reasonable” as being “persuadable” or “open to persuasion.” Wiersbe states that this person is about to “disagree without being disagreeable.”[69]

“Mercy” (eleous) means “kindness or concern expressed for someone in need, mercy, compassion, pity, clemency” (BDAG). Jesus told us, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36). Instead of giving people what they deserve, we should do what pastor Chuck Smith called “surprising people with grace.” This is when a person expects judgment, but they get grace instead.

“Unwavering” (adiakritos) means “to not [be] judgmental or divisive, nonjudgmental, not divisive, impartial” or “to not [be] unwavering or uncertain” (BDAG). It speaks of a confident faith in God (cf. Jas. 1:6).

“Without hypocrisy” (anypokritos) means “without pretense, genuine, sincere, literally ‘without play-acting’” (BDAG).

(3:18) “And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” He compares this sort of character to farming. This is a long term project. Spiritual shortcuts and quick fixes will not produce character of this kind. But the fruit is well worth it! As David writes, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1)

Discussion questions

How would you counsel a person who simply talks too much, or lacks a “filter” in their speech?

When should we treat foul language as a big issue? When is it not a major issue? When does it become an issue worth addressing? See comments on 1 Corinthians 4:13 “Did Paul Swear?” and “Prioritized Ethics.”

What would happen to a small group that had become weak with encouraging one another? (i.e. using our tongue for the building up of others) What sorts of symptoms would it experience from that disease?

How is encouragement different from flattery or manipulation?

What would be beneficial if someone admonished us, but some of the things they said were off the mark?

James 4.1 (Battling the world-system)

(4:1) “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” In a church with all of this “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition” (3:14, 16), it shouldn’t surprise us to discover “quarrels and conflicts.” Some people are shocked at seeing Christians in conflict, but we really shouldn’t be. After all, the Bible teaches that unrighteous conflict was in the early church just as much as in our modern churches (1 Cor. 6:1-8; Gal. 5:15; Eph. 4:1-16; Phil. 4:1-3).

The source of our conflicts is what Paul calls the “flesh” or the “sinful nature” (Rom. 7:23). Similarly, James refers to the source as the “pleasures” that are inside of us. James calls this an inner “war” inside of the believer. Paul agrees, when he writes, “The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17).

Not all conflict is bad. In fact, we often have good conflict in Christian community, because different convictions regarding how, when, and where to serve Christ. But these conflicts would look radically different than the ones James is describing. The word James uses for “pleasures” (hēdonē) is the root word for our modern term “hedonism.” The problem was selfish desires—not selfless desires to serve Christ.

Selfish desires spring from an ungrateful attitude, asking for more before being thankful for what we already have. This leads to envy and jealousy that breaks down relationships. All of the sudden, we discover that we’re angry with people, and really, angry with God himself.

(4:2) “You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel…” The term “lust” (epithumia) comes from the roots “over” (epi) and “desire” (thymos). It refers to an “over desire” or “a great desire for something, desire, longing, craving” (BDAG; see comments on James 1:14).

Was “murder” really happening in this church? It’s not impossible, but it’s more likely that they were hating their brothers in their hearts (cf. Mt. 5:21-22; 1 Jn. 3:15). Later, in this same context, James uses the term “adulteresses” in a non-literal way (v.4). Hodges writes, “In their jealous hostility toward some Christian brother or sister, James’s readers were doubtless guilty of ‘wishing him away’ (‘I wish he was dead’) and then of coveting what they hoped they might obtain if he actually were dead.”[70]

“…You do not have because you do not ask.” The root of their problem was that they weren’t turning to God for their needs. Again, they were wrapped up in “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition” (3:14, 16), and this outwardly expressed itself in “quarrels and conflicts” (v.1). James was urging them to turn to God in prayer to solve their inner spiritual brokenness.

(4:3) “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” God doesn’t answer prayers that are in line with our selfish purposes. He only answers prayers that line up with his will (1 Jn. 5:14-15). God can only give good gifts—not bad ones (Jas. 1:16-17).

(4:4) “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Our selfish ambition and desires lead to a love for the kosmos (see “The World-System”). Remember, James had already warned his readers to be “unpolluted by the world” (Jas. 1:27).

Why does James compare our love for the world system with an adulterous sex affair?

First, adultery is an either/or proposition. If your spouse asked, “Are you having an affair?” you could say “Yes” or “No,” but you could not say, “Sort of…” We can carry on with one or the other, but we cannot carry on with both or none. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mt. 6:24).

Second, adultery takes place over time. No one wakes up one morning and says, “I think I’ll cheat on my wife today.” Adultery begins with fantasy and flirting, and it goes on for months and sometimes years before a person officially cheats on their spouse. Similarly, no one decides to reject God one day and fall for the world-system. Instead, this is a slow and seductive process. We “long” for materialism (1 Tim. 6:10), and this ruins our spiritual life over time, until one day we realize how little we care for the cause of Christ and can’t seem to figure out why.

Third, adultery is breaking an intimate promise and pledge. God compares our relationship to him like a husband to a wife (Rev. 21:2, 9; 22:17; Isa. 61:10; Eph. 5:25; 5:32; 2 Cor. 11:2). God has placed his Holy Spirit inside of us (Jas. 4:5), and it grieves him to see us waste our lives (Eph. 4:30).

Fourth, adultery takes our affections and love away from our spouse. Similarly, our zeal and love for God are zapped when we fall in love with the world system. Jesus said, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Mt. 6:21). Even when we are in fellowship with other believers, we can find our minds drifting into day dreams about our pursuits in the world-system. This is no different than a husband fantasizing about a mistress while on a date with his wife!

Fifth, adultery often stems from thinking marriage is too restricting. Marriage is filled with excitement and fun, but not always. There are times where we work through difficulties. This leads some people to think that marriage is too restricting and too much of a sacrifice. At these times, the fantasy of an affair become more exciting. While this gives us more freedom in one sense, it kills our joy and happiness overall. Similarly, dedicating our lives to Christ is difficult at times, but worth the investment. We only get out of our relationship what we put in. Some believers start to look for stimulation and excitement from the world-system, wanting a short term thrill that ends in misery.

Sixth, adultery is a self-fulfilling prophecy regarding the state of our marriage. A husband might start to think that his wife is restricting or boring, so he begins to look for a mistress on the side. This only makes his marriage worse, thus fulfilling his original assumption. Spouses on the brink of divorce often have a completely skewed memory of their entire relationship—not knowing why they fell in love in the first place. In the same way, when we take more steps toward the world-system, this only affirms that following Jesus was never what we thought it was. Worldly Christians start to think that they were just “going through a phase” or “having a religious experience.” In reality, they are forgetting all that God has done for them through Jesus.

Seventh, adultery is short lived. The thrill of an adulterous relationship is doomed to failure. How can a married person not see where their unfaithfulness is headed? Similarly, the world-system is “passing away” (1 Jn. 2:17).

(4:5) “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’?”

(4:5) Is this in the OT or not, and why is God jealous?

(4:6) “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” To support his point, James cites either Psalm 138:6 or Proverbs 3:34. The world-system produces pride in our hearts. It makes us feel like we have no need for the security, provision, and the identity that God offers. In order to come out of this perspective, it takes a humbling of the heart.

This passage gives a stern warning to the prideful believer: You could find yourself being resisted by God himself! When we pursue the world-system, we are driving 100 mph at a brick wall. Either we can hit the brakes or hit the wall. Either way, the car will slow down! God wants to give us an opportunity to surrender before our time is up. Remember, this world is “fading away” (1 Jn. 2:17). James doesn’t write this to scare his readers. The purpose is to reveal God’s “greater grace.” If we respond in humility, God promises to give us grace.

(4:7) “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James’ readers were wrapped up in “fights and quarrels.” They believed that their problems were horizontal (i.e. between them and other people). But James urges them to view their problem as vertical (i.e. between them and God). All true repentance starts when we get our eyes back onto God.

“Submit” (hypotassō) is a compound word. Hypo means “under” or “beneath.” Tasso means “to appoint.” It was even used as a military term in the sense of directing soldiers for battle (TDNT, 8:27; Plato, Apologia, 28e). In this sense, it means to “get into line” or “get into your proper rank.”[71] Even if a military sense is not in view, James is telling us to get beneath God’s will and submit to him, rather than our own egotistical agenda.

Since Satan controls the world-system (“Resist the devil…”), it makes sense that James would include him in this verse. Resisting the world-system is similar to resisting Satan himself. If we resist Satan in faith, he must flee. This fits with James’ earlier comments about selfish ambition being “demonic” in nature (Jas. 3:15).

(4:8) “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” In order to find transformation, we don’t need to exert willpower or self-effort. Instead, the solution is to draw near to God in prayer and authentic repentance (“submit,” v.7). This is a deeply inward concept. Wiersbe comments, “It is possible to submit outwardly and yet not be humbled inwardly.”[72]

If you are enmeshed in the world-system, are you willing to draw close to God and have words with him about this? Are you willing to turn to him for your significance and dependence? Again, this is what James was referring to about being “double-minded” (cf. Jas. 1:8).

(4:9) “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” When we have a change of heart like this, the tears often follow. Many have thrown their family, their friends, and their spiritual lives under the bus for so long that when we turn back to God we sometimes face deep pain. It’s important to push through these guilt feelings until we can experience the repentance that leads to “no regret” (2 Cor. 7:9-10).

(4:10) “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Instead of wallowing in guilt, we should seek humility and grace (2 Cor. 7:9-11). This is why James could write earlier, “The rich man is to glory in his humiliation” (Jas. 1:10). When we are humbled, it leads to glory.

(4:11) “Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.” This likely returns to the thought on which James started—namely, the “quarrels and conflict” mentioned above (Jas. 4:1). Will you continue in selfish ambition and envy? Or will you turn to God as the ultimate Judge.

Note that James again returns to the concept of being a “doer” of the word—not merely a hearer (cf. Jas. 1:22). We cannot just listen to his words about our “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” (Jas. 3:15) or our “pleasures” (Jas. 4:1) that are leading to conflict. We need to act on them.

(4:12) “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” Hodges takes the expression “save” to refer to physical life, because the terms “save” (sōzō) and “destroy” (apollumi) are most commonly used that way in secular Greek.[73] Such a reading is possible. Yet it’s more likely that James is merely referring to God as the ultimate authority in all things—especially judgment. In context, the believers were assuming the authority of judge (v.11), while God reserves this role for himself.

James 4.2 (Trusting God with big decisions)

(4:13) “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’” In ancient Palestine, commerce drove many men out to sea. Moo comments, “The picture James paints here would be familiar to his readers. The first century was a period of great commercial activity, and especially the Hellenistic cities of Palestine (the Decapolis, for instance) were heavily involved in commerce of various kinds. Many Jews were active in these business comings-and-goings; large numbers had settled in cities throughout the Mediterranean world for commercial reasons.”[74]

We can recognize this attitude in our modern age as well. People travel all over the world in order to make a profit—yet they view reality only through the naturalistic lens. They don’t factor God’s will into their decisions.

The decisions these (hypothetical) people were making were significant: moving to an entirely new city and spending a year there. Why were they willing to pick up and move their lives? James tells us the motivation: “business” and “profit.” It shouldn’t surprise us to see him mentioning this on the heels of his discussion about the world-system (Jas. 4:4).

(4:14) “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” There are multiple problems with this line of thinking:

(1) Our limited ability to foresee the future (“you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow”). When we make plans without seeking out God’s will, we ignore the fact that our finite minds really can’t know the countless problems that could confront us. It’s similar to a little child trying to pick their profession at age 6 (“When I grow up, I want to be a veterinarian!”). They know so little about this field of study that it’s hard to take them seriously. Of course, their desire may work out, but we are often shocked when it does—given the fact that the child knows so little about the future.

(2) The pursuit of money is utterly transitory and temporal (“You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away”). You might make plans for advancing your education, career, or stock portfolio. Yet all of this fades into smoke exactly one second after you die. We are never promised a successful life of money-making, but even if we do grasp it, it melts through our fingers (see “Does Money make us Happy?” and “The Eternal Perspective”).

(4:15) “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” The correct perspective is to seek God’s will in these big decisions. We want to trust the complexities of our lives to him, rather than autonomous human pride (see “Trusting God with Big Decisions”).

(4:16) “But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” We might think of big decisions as fairly innocuous or unimportant, but James considers this attitude as very serious, calling it “arrogance” and “evil.” John uses the term “arrogance” (alazoneia) in his infamous passage on the world-system: “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 Jn. 2:16).

(4:17) “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Apparently, God expects us to discern his will when it comes to big decisions. We shouldn’t be paralyzed in fear that we will make the wrong decision. Instead, we should make sure that our conscience is clear when thinking of God’s will, asking ourselves if we are willing to do whatever God wants (Rom. 12:2).

Discussion questions

How would you respond to this claim: “Scripture never tells us what to do in many of these areas of decision-making. Therefore, we shouldn’t consider big decisions as being a big deal to God.”

What are some keys to discerning God’s will when we’re making a big decision? What are methods that we wouldn’t advise?

What are some ways that we can prepare ourselves now for difficult decisions later in life?

James 5.1 (Rebuking the Rich)

Earlier, we read how rich members had been persecuting the poor (Jas. 2:1-6). Here James takes the approach of an OT prophet, calling out this faction of the church. He gives a blood-chilling, stark rebuke to those who oppress the poor.

(5:1) “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.” Hodges holds that this section (5:1-6) is linked to the previous section (4:13-17).[75] After all, both sections open with the words “Come now…” and both deal with materialistic greed.

The term for “howl” is onomatopoeic—a word that sounds like its meaning (e.g. “bam,” “plop,” etc.). The term (ololyzō) sounds like someone howling in misery. James 1:10 implies that rich Christians lived alongside poor ones (cf. 1 Tim. 6:17-19). Therefore, he must have the unrighteous rich in mind. Though, it is honestly difficult to see if these people are Christians or non-Christians in this passage. Even Hodges, who holds that the entire letter is written to Christians, has doubts about this section being written exclusively to believers. He writes, “His pronouncements are obviously no longer addressed to the Christian community alone, even though the epistle was intended to be read by that community. Yet his words are designed to awaken his readers by means of a crisp announcement about the eschatological doom of all human wealth.”[76]

We would agree. Instead of calling these people “brethren,” he identifies them as “you rich.” Moreover, he ends the section contrasting the “rich” with the “righteous man” (i.e. believers).

(5:2-3) “Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!” Where does all of our wealth go in the end? It becomes rotted, eaten, and rusted (cf. Mt. 6:20; Lk. 12:21). Of course, gold and silver cannot rust, but Moo notes, “The word rust (ios) was already being applied to gold and silver (Epistle of Jeremiah 10) and the image seems to have become a traditional way of designating the temporality of even the most precious metals (cf. also Ecclus. 29:10).”[77]

James uses the perfect tense in each of these examples. Moo writes, “Many commentators take these perfect tense verbs as ‘prophetic’ or ‘proleptic’ perfects: the destruction of these goods in the ‘miseries’ of the judgment is so certain that it can be described as already present… Probably this is to be understood figuratively, in the sense that the riches provide no spiritual benefit in the present nor do they give grounds for hope at the judgment.”[78]

“Their rust… will consume your flesh like fire.” While Hodges holds this to be literal fire,[79] we take this as metaphorical. After all, James uses the language of simile (“consume your flesh like fire”). Furthermore, gold and silver do not “rust.” This is metaphorical language for their riches becoming useless.

These people justified their hoarding of wealth to give them security, but instead, it will only bring judgment.

(5:4) “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.” The inequality of land distribution was awful in first-century Israel. The landowners had all of the rights, and could use servants as relative slaves. Moo writes, “First-century Palestine, before AD 70, witnessed an increasing concentration of land in the hands of a small group of very wealthy landowners. As a result, the smallholdings of many farmers were assimilated into these large estates, and these farmers were forced to earn their living by hiring themselves out to their rich landlords.”[80] Moo cites Jesus’ parable of the landowner as an example of this (Mt. 20:1ff).

Of course, the OT law did not condone this (Deut. 24:14-15; Lev. 19:13), but the landowners exploited their position anyhow. In this culture, people lived “paycheck to paycheck” so to speak. It would’ve been wicked to withhold their pay. The “Lord of hosts (Sabaoth)” refers to God as a commander of a great army, coming to judge and set the world right.

(5:5) “You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure [spatalaō]; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” This is similar to Ezekiel 16:49 LXX (where the same term spatalaō is used). It’s also similar to Luke 16:25.

(5:6) “You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.” Some take this to refer to the rich killing Jesus (i.e. the Righteous Man”). Others take this to refer to the righteous man in a broader, generic sense. They were dragging these poor people into (debtors?) court to “condemn” them (cf. Jas. 2:6-7). Moo writes, “Condemn (katadikazō) is a judicial term, and suggests rather that the rich are using, and perhaps perverting, the legal processes available to them to accumulate property and to gain wealth. Such activities had long been practised in Israel, and were roundly condemned by the prophets (cf. Amos 2:6; 5:12; Mic. 2:2, 6–9; 3:1–3, 9–12; 6:9–16).”[81]

Why does James include this section in his letter? He seems to be reminding the believers what the ultimate fate of the “rich” will be. With this in mind, it makes James’ earlier comments about showing preferential treatment to the rich much more forceful (Jas. 1:9-11; 2:1-7). Since this ultimate fate is “near” (Jas. 5:8), believers should wake up from their infatuation with pleasing and showing preference to the rich (Jas. 2:1-10).

James 5.2 (Waiting on the Lord)

(5:7) “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.” Where does the hope of the believer rest? In the courts? In bitter selfish ambition to fight and kill their oppressors? Not at all! It rests in the return of Christ!

(5:8) “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” Have you ever watched grass grow? If you watch it for an hour or two, you might be convinced that it doesn’t really grow at all. But after a week, you see it grow considerably. Similarly, we need to be patient in waiting for the return of Christ. The signs of Jesus’ return have taken a long time to materialize, but they are coming to fruition.

Note that James believed in the imminent return of Christ (“the coming of the Lord is near). He is standing “right at the door” (v.9).

(5:9) “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.” If you were one of these poor people losing money, family, and even your life, you’d be tempted to complain, grumble, and grow bitter. Yet we need to take our seat in the great truth of the Second Coming. Hold tight! This will all be over soon. When we grumble and complain at our circumstances, we are really denying the reality of the Second Coming, where Jesus will return to bring judgment and peace to the Earth, righting every wrong.

(5:10) “As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” We see examples of this needed patience in the OT repeatedly.

(5:11) “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” Job suffered immensely. Why? Not because he was unrighteous but because of the fact that he was righteous. An entire cosmic battle surrounded Job, yet he never knew why he was suffering. At the end of the book of Job, God gives him twice the blessings that he had at the beginning (Job 42:12). James encourages his readers to believe the same thing about their circumstances: Like Job, they were suffering and were being “tested” (Jas. 1:2-4), but God would bring about blessing in the end.

(5:12) “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.” The point here seems to be that we should have integrity in all of our words, all of the time. Swearing an oath implies that we aren’t always telling the truth. Moo comments, “The swearing that James here prohibits is not ‘dirty’ language as such, but the invoking of God’s name, or substitutes for it, to guarantee the truth of what we say.”[82] Paul made oaths, so this can’t be an absolute imperative (Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:23; 11:11; Gal. 1:20; Phil. 1:8; 1 Thess. 2:5, 10).

Regarding “falling under judgment,” Hodges notes that many Greek manuscripts contain the words eis hypokrisin, which should be rendered “fall into hypocrisy.” However, we disagree with his view. Hodges holds that the Majority Text (or Byzantine Text) is generally more reliable than the Alexandrian Text. We disagree with this position (see “The King James Version Only?”).

James 5.3 (Prayer)

James mentions prayer in every verse in this section (vv.13-18). The earlier section dealt with suffering from being sinned against (by the rich). Here, James teaches about suffering that could come from sinning against others.

(5:13) “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. We haven’t suffered properly until we’ve prayed and given thanks. We pray because God hears our prayers (Jas. 5:4).

According to this passage, singing is a way to express our joy—not a way to cause joy. The term “sing praises” (psallō) is the cognate of the English word “psalms.” This does not refer to a corporate worship service. Note that James uses the singular noun (“he”) to describe singing. So, this refers to an individual singing or praying respectively.

These imperatives are in the present tense, which could be rendered “keep on praying” or “keep on singing” (see NLT).

(5:14) “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

The person who is sick was mortally ill. The elders need to come to the person, which implies that the sick person cannot travel. The next verse states that the “Lord will raise him up,” which implies he was bedridden.

Why are the elders called? The sick person may have been sick due to sin (“If he has committed sin,” v.15).

(5:14) Why did they anoint people with oil? Should we do this practice today?

(5:14-16) Does this passage support the Roman Catholic doctrine of the ministerial priesthood?

(5:15) “And the prayer offered in faith…” This isn’t an absolute promise. It is conditional on “the prayer offered in faith.” Like 1 John 5:14-15, true biblical prayer involves praying in God’s will (cf. Jas. 4:15; Mt. 6:10).

“…will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up…” We don’t have power to cure sick people. Rather, the Lord raises people up from sickness.

“…and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” This is a third-class condition, which is the condition of probability—not certainty. This means that James isn’t claiming that all sickness is due to sin (cf. Lk. 13:1-5; Jn. 9:1-3), but he does view it as a possibility in this situation (cf. 1 Cor. 11:30).

(5:16) “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed…” We should confess our sins to each other and pray for each other. This isn’t just the responsibility of Christian leaders. The term “healed” (iaomai) can refer to physical or spiritual healing, depending on its context. Blomberg[83] favors spiritual healing, because the focus is on confession and forgiveness. Adamson[84] favors physical healing, because the earlier context referred to physical sickness. In our view, both are likely in view.

“…The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” The term “effective” (energeō) may refer to laboring or working in prayer (our role), knowing that God is bringing the actual power (his role).[85]

Should elders be the only ones to make hospital visits for sick people?

Elders should make hospital visits as much as any other member in the church. For one, this is not a biblical emphasis. In fact, this is the only place in the NT where we are told to pray over someone. It would be unwise to form a theological view on a singular passage.[86] Second, the elders are called because the person could be sick due to sin (“If he has committed sins,” v.15). This implies a special circumstance—not just any sickness. Third, every member is told to “confess” and “pray” to every other member in the church (v.16). “A righteous man” (v.17) also implies anyone in the church—not just elders. Finally, this interpretation would place a low view on every member of the church—even those with gifts of healing and prayer. All believers should play this role.

(5:17) “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours…” We often read about the exceptional believers in the Bible and think that they were the exception—not the rule. They must be a “cut above the rest” for God to answer their prayers. But James tells us that we are humans just like them! We all “have this same ability to pray powerfully.”[87]

“…and he [Elijah] prayed earnestly…” The expression “prayed earnestly” (proseuchēi prosēuxato) literally means that he “prayed with prayers.” Blomberg argues that this is a case of Hebrew intensification, which would imply praying “earnestly” (NASB, NIV, NLT, NET) or “fervently” (ESV, NRSV). If this is the case (which we do not affirm), we must remember that we are not praying to coerce God through our earnestness or fervency. Instead, we need to stay mentally focused—not being distracted by Satan, sin, or the world-system.

In contrast, we agree with Adamson who argues that this intensification is common in Hebrew, but not so in Greek. He writes, “In Greek the case is the opposite. Here the point is not that Elijah put up a particularly fervent prayer but that praying was precisely what he did.”[88] We do not need intense emotion or pleading in order for God to hear our prayers. In fact, Elijah hardly prayed at all when he spoke to Ahab (1 Kin. 17:1), so this OT citation hardly supports such an interpretation. Instead, James uses repetition to note the “emphasis and frequency” of prayer, rather than earnestness and fervency.[89] This is exactly what we see in the life of Elijah—namely, emphasizing prayer and frequent prayer.

“…that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.” 1 Kings 18:1 states that the drought lasted for three years, but James and Luke 4:25 specify that it was three and a half years. One is rounded off, while the other is more specific.

Why did James pick this scene from the life of Elijah? Why didn’t he pick Elijah’s prayer that defeated the prophets of Baal (1 Kin. 18:16-40) or the resuscitation of the widow’s son? (1 Kin. 17:17-24) Blomberg argues that James picked this reference because Elijah prayed in the context of the apostasy of Israel, which would fit the context of “healing” people who were in sin. He also speculates that James is noting that there could be a “lag time”[90] between the prayer and the fulfillment. This implies that believers should be persevere and be patient in their prayers. This fits with our interpretation of “praying with prayer” above.

(5:18) Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.” Elijah didn’t just have a one-time answer to prayer. God used him repeatedly. Again, Elijah had to pray over time for the rain to return (1 Kin. 18:41-46).

(5:19-20) “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

(5:19-20) Will we go to hell if we stray from the truth?

Discussion questions

Read James 5:13-20. What do we learn about prayer from this short section?

What are some key ways to build our prayer life with God?

[1] Incidentally, if this letter was written by a pseudonymous author as critical scholars claim, then why wouldn’t he give more details on who he was? Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 8). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[2] Carson and Moo write, “Corroborating this decision are the striking similarities between the Greek of the Epistle of James and that of the speech attributed to James in Acts 15:13-21.” Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. 622.

[3] Hegesippus’ writing have been lost, but Eusebius (4th century AD) contains this portion. Ecclesiastical History, 2.23.5-6.

[4] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 9). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[5] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 21). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[6] Schaff, P., & Wace, H. (Eds.). (1890). Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine (Vol. 1). New York: Christian Literature Company.

[7] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20:197-203.

[8] Van Voorst, Robert. Jesus outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2000. 83.

[9] Blomberg, Craig. From Pentecost to Patmos: an Introduction to Acts through Revelation. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006. See footnote on page 387.

[10] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 22). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[11] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 18). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[12] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 19). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[13] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, pp. 15–16). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[14] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 16). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[15] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 16). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[16] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 16). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[17] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 17). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[18] Gregg Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 44.

[19] Blomberg, Craig. From Pentecost to Patmos: an Introduction to Acts through Revelation. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006. 387.

[20] Kruger, Michael. Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. Wheaton, IL. Crossway. 2012. 269-270.

[21] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 18). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[22] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 18). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[23] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 35). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[24] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 10). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[25] Burdick, D. W. (1981). James. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation (Vol. 12, p. 162). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[26] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 35). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[27] Luther, ‘Preface to the New Testament’ (1522), in Luther’s Works, 35, p. 397. Cited in Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[28] Martin Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, revised by H. Greeven (Kritisch-exegetischer Kommentar; Eng. trans. Fortress Press, 1976).

[29] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 40). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[30] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 40). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[31] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 14). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[32] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, pp. 33–34). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[33] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 19). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[34] Haarbeck, H. (1986). δόκιμος. L. Coenen, E. Beyreuther, & H. Bietenhard (Eds.), New international dictionary of New Testament theology (Vol. 3, p. 808). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[35] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 21). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[36] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 23). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[37] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 23). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[38] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 73). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[39] The same Greek term is used throughout for both “testing” and “tempting” (peirazō). However, the term has a semantic range that can include both meaning, and the usage and context requires a different translation. It might be similar to saying, “Our boss is running this company poorly, and he better keep running to catch up with our competitors.” Even in the same sentence, the term requires a different lexical meaning.

[40] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 343, 344). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[41] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 29). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[42] Some also see a connection to Genesis 3 in James 1:15. It might be that James has the Creation and Fall in mind in this section; in other words, the origin of suffering and pain.

[43] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 30). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[44] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 31). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[45] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 34). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[46] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 35). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[47] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 41). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[48] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 41). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[49] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 43). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[50] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 44). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[51] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 47). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[52] James Adamson, The Epistle of James (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), p.107.

[53] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (p. 108). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[54] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (p. 109). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[55] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 51). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[56] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (p. 112). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[57] Cited in Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (p. 116). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[58] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 55). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[59] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (p. 118). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[60] I am indebted to pastor Timothy Keller for this insight.

[61] Andrew Hosken and Albana Kasapi, “The Children Trapped by Albania’s Blood Feuds.” BBC, November 12, 2017.

[62] Motyer, J. A. (1985). The message of James: the tests of faith (p. 120, 121). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[63] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 79). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[64] See William Backus’ material on “self-talk” in his book Telling Yourself the Truth (2000). This is at the heart of all Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

[65] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (pp. 84–85). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[66] Warren Wiersbe Be Skillful, 1996.

[67] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 86). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[68] Brown writes, “In the LXX eirēnē is almost invariably used to translate the Hebrew šālômh.” The term is translated that way about 250x in the LXX. Brown, C. Vol. 2: New international dictionary of New Testament theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. 777.

[69] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 365). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[70] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 90). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[71] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 369). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[72] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 370). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[73] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 99). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[74] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 159). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[75] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 102). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[76] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 102). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[77] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 166). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[78] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 166). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[79] Hodges, Z. C., Farstad, A. L., & Wilkin, R. N. (1994). The Epistle of James: proven character through testing (p. 103). Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[80] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 168). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[81] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 171). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[82] Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, pp. 178–179). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[83] Blomberg, C. L., & Kamell, M. J. (2008). James (Vol. 16, p. 245). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[84] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (p. 198). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[85] Blomberg, C. L., & Kamell, M. J. (2008). James (Vol. 16, p. 245). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[86] Moo writes, “Only here in biblical Greek is proseuchomai (pray) followed by epi: it may simply indicate physical position, but could possibly imply that hands were also laid on the sick person (see Matt. 19:13).” Matthew records, “Some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray” (Mt. 19:13). Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 182). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[87] Blomberg, C. L., & Kamell, M. J. (2008). James (Vol. 16, p. 246). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[88] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (p. 201). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[89] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (p. 201). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[90] Blomberg, C. L., & Kamell, M. J. (2008). James (Vol. 16, pp. 246–247). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.