The Book of James Survey
Pr Edi Giudetti
The book of James is a book of contrasts, bringing out distinctions between lives changed and lives unchanged by the Gospel of Christ.
It speaks to attitudes, how we ought now to live in comparison to how we usually lived.
Amongst other areas and topics;
- It speaks to how we handle trials and afflictions in life,
- how we perceive others,
- how we are to live the natural outworking’s of our faith,
- how our mouths betray the nature of the true spiritwith us
- and how pride ought to give way to humility.
If James is anything, it is a book that well demonstrates what ought to be the contrasting nature of a true conversion to Christ.
With regard to WHO penned this general epistle, we know by the first verse that it is a man named James, but there are four men called James in the New Testament, two very obscure and considered most unlikely, but the other two distinct ones are James the brother of John and James the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ.
James the brother of John was killed by Herod in the early days of the Church (Acts 12:2) not long after the conversion of Saul, it is generally believed he is not the author of this letter.
But we see the leader of the Church in Jerusalem being James the Lords brother in Acts 15 who heads the first council discussing doctrinal distinctions on Salvation. It is this James that tradition mostly supports as the author of this letter.
The book of James is very Jewish in its orientationas are all the books from Hebrews to Revelation. It is a general letter, not written specifically to any one church or person but, “to the twelve tribes scattered abroad” (v1).
That he writes to the Scattered brethren indicates it was written after the diaspora, the formal word for the ‘dispersion or scattering’ of the Jews which had occurred after either the persecution under Saul, or after the destruction of the temple in 70AD.
The historian Josephus writes that this James was killed in 62AD, so the earlier time is preferred.
THE CONTRAST OF TRIALS
2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
Certain few people think it a joy to fall into divers temptations, the meaning in this context referring to those trials and afflictions we might endure from time to time.
So many and so divers they are to us, that we would normally afflict our souls and be wearied by them.
Tears fill our eyes for them,
anger fills our hearts,
BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY questions fill our minds;
- “Why is this happening to me?”,
- “Why did this occur?”,
- “Why did he/she hurt me so much?” etc.
Fascinating isn’t it? The very question that comes most to our hearts respecting trials betrays to us an inner knowledgethat there is a PURPOSE to all we undergo.
James teaches exactly this and state this is the reason we should “count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations” and the reason?;
3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
There is a work that temptations take within our lives, a work that is blessed, a work that brings about patience, it is a perfect work and not a partial work.
Its end is that we may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
Well this is certainly not easy to accept, especially when you are in the midst of the trial.
Yet any of you who have had to undergo such trials in your life, no matter how painful, you know it has come to the better in you, it has changed you, strengthened you, made you patient, made you entire.
As a father I know that I will be greatly saddened if or when my children go through trials and temptations in life. No matter how much I desire their happiness and that they will not go through the difficulties I went through, I also know that there are few teachers that teach better than adversity, provided we ‘take it patiently’ and not play to self-pity.
Turn to 1 Peter 1:6
6Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: 7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
Your perception of purpose in trials and temptationsis again confirmed even here in
1 Peter. It is compared to the refining fire that purifies the most precious metal of allyet having an even greater benefit being eternal in scope.
Turn to Romans 8:17 as we consider the wonderful work of suffering in the life of one who knows the Lord;
17And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer withhim, that we may be also glorified together. 18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present timearenot worthyto be comparedwith the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Again, not only is there a temporal benefit to trials and afflictions, to suffering and adversity, to make a person patient and entire wanting nothing, but here there is again evidence of an eternal purpose.
Why, we ask did this or that happen? The answer is found ONLY in the Bible.
If you trust that the universe is purposeless, if you are a present feature on the Earth coming about by nothing other than billions of randomly mutating accidental occurrences, then quite frankly you have no rightto even ask the question!
But Why do you still ask it? Because deep within you, you know there is purpose.
“because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” Romans 1:21
James identifies and tells “Count it all joy”, even Christians think this strange, until we turn in our Bibles to Romans 8:28
28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according tohispurpose.
If ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD, then so do our trials, whether it be temporal or eternal, good comes out of trial for those who love God, THEREFORE “Count it all joy”.
THE CONTRAST OF PERCEPTION
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. 2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; 3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: 4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of ievil thoughts?5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? 6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
Perception through outward appearance is dangerous in many ways, not least of which is our belief that what is seen on the outside is a true reflection of that which is within.
In this example is seen the belief that outward wealth reveals inward blessing of Godwhich can only come from a good heart.
Pentecostalism is rifewith this belief, thinking that blessings are bestowed upon faithful men and women through an abundance of materials wealth and possessions. But they are not unique in this belief.
The most ancient of pagan beliefs is demonstrated through the Hindu Caste system, holding those born into extreme wealth almost as Gods, placing them in the leading roles in their nations and holding tightly to every word they speak, all the while treating the lowers castes, and most obviously those known to them as the “Untouchables”, with sheer contempt and disdain.
No, this evil belief is not new, Paul refers to those who hold this notion as having corrupt minds in 1 Timothy 6:5 stating;
5Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
Gain is certainly not evidence of Godliness, nor is material benefits any evidence that God is the one who bestows it.
Friends if Gain was evidence of Godliness, if the fact that some seem to have great material abundance is a true indicator of God’s favor, why is it that the greatest wealth in the world is held in the hands of Blasphemers of the Lord?
Pentecostals and charismatic, the fastest growing cults today, believe that because they have great buildings and wealth, God has favored them, yet the richest such organization in the world is the Roman Catholic.
No, wealth is no indicator of Gods favor and blessing.
6Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God(Mt 19:24)
James condemns the rich men who have unjustly gained their riches and who thereby trust in them in chapter 5 saying;
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. 3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. 4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. 5 Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.
Take care in that which you perceive true by outward appearance.
It’s not that all the rich are hell bound, remember that the gain of the kingdom of God is not possible for any, but with God all things are possiblesays the Lord.
Yet it seems the Lord has chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him (v5).
The poor have no competing interests, this is why they so quickly love the Lord.
Those who continue to think the world has their interests at heart will continue to believe the world can deliver to them that which it promises, the enjoyment and blessing of this life….but sadly if this does come,it is most likely to come at the cost of the next life.
He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. (John 12:25)
Remember to consider the Contrast of your perception, the poor will come to Christ more readily that the rich.
The needy look to heaven while the needful look to the world.
The Lord has no respect of persons and many will be surprised in that day when the Lord will say, “depart ye that work iniquity”.
25But Abraham said, (to the rich man) Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. (Luke 16:25)
Take great care that it is not the damned you comfort.
Pity not the poor, who are rich in faith but pity the rich, who are poor in spirit.
THE CONTRAST OF FAITH
14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. 19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
The Epistle of James was one of the last books confirmed in the canon of scripture as authoritative and believed to be accepted by the Church, and the reason is due to this portion of the letter, one that seems on the surface, to contradict the letters of Paul.
But when we consider it closely we find that it confirms Pauls writings.
Paul wrote of a living faith, one that is evidenced by action. A changed life is the evidence of a changed heart.
Turn to 1 Cor 6:9-11
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
“Such were some of you”, some of you were “fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners” and the lists continue in other portions of his letters, “Such were some of us” but not anymore, Paul acknowledged a changed LIFE, a change that evidences being justified by faith, being born again.
Not that those who are justified do not struggle with sin, but certain they no longer LIVE in sin.
The passage in Corinthians shows people so closely related to their sin that they are identified BY their sin!
But no longer, their lives should be lived by their faith as evidence of their faith.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
In other words, my works will themselves demonstrate the truth of my faith. I am not going to just pray for those who I know are naked and destitute of daily food saying Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled, NO, the faith I have in Christ will give them those things that are needful for the body.
My focus is no longer on myself, my benefit is sealed, I have heaven as my home and not even death can take that from me, but there are those in need that I am to bless and benefit in the name of the Lord Jesus.
You say you believe in Jesus? Consider carefully James words in the nineteenth verse.
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
The mere confessions of our mouths mean nothing if it is not founded in the belief of our whole heart, the truth of which is made evident by a changed life.
All of us live by faith every day; faith that food will set aside hunger, that work will set aside poverty, trust will set aside doubt, love will set aside fear.
We know that what we do is the explicitevidence of what we first believe.
James provides the contrast of Faith from verse 20
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
Abrahams very actions evidenced his faith, willing even to slay his son as God commanded.
Hebrews 11:19 revealing to us that Abraham trusted God would evenraise him up, even from the dead. Isaac being a shadow of Christ and Abraham a shadow of God the father.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
James brought a clarity to the doctrine of faith not seen in other books in the Bible.
Are you willing to believe the Gospel now? Will you confirm your faith by asking God to save you today?
Please listen carefully;
If your manner of life today differs little from what it has always been, if you remain self-absorbedas ever, covetousas ever, proudas ever, fearfulas ever, putting yourself firstjust as you always have in the past, with very little evidential distinction; then the selfless, content, humble, loving, sacrificial Spirit of God is NOT IN YOU!
You should tremble just as the devils who also believe there is one God, because without the living faith spoken of by James, it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6)
THE CONTRAST OF SPIRIT
3My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. 2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. 4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. 7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: 8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
A wonderful extension of the Contrast of Faith is the Contrast of Spirit, just as true faith in Christ is evidenced by a new life contrasting the old, so too we see here a contrast of the spirit within.
When Jesus entered into the village of the Samaritans in Luke 9:54, the Samaritans would not receive him and James and John asked Jesus this very strange question;
54… they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? 55 But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
The spirit within James and John was one of contempt and condemnation, a hatred willing to destroy the lives of men, but Jesus contrasts them saying in the very next verse;
56For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to savethem. And they went to another village.
Turn to Matt 12:33-34
33Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known byhisfruit. 34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heartthe mouth speaketh.
All of us, I am sure, say things from time to time that we regret. Things that might hurt others, thoughtless things that come so quickly out of our mouths that we wished we could go back and swallow them up again, but we can’t go back.
The “many masters” James warns in the beginning of this chapter is for people like your Pastor, my words are recorded not only digitally, but most importantly LIVE in your hearing, and “in many things we offend all”, especially when we are charged with what I believe to be the most important work in the world, preaching and teaching of the infinitely important word of God.
Turn to Romans 7:15
15For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law thatit isgood. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; buthowto perform that which is good I find not.
Though the Spirit of God indwells the believer, there is also a flesh nature that often takes the reigns effectively quenching the Spirit of God.
James chastises the believer, speaking of the wayward tongue saying My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
My tongue before my salvation was absolute filth, even my friends were embarrassed by me, I remember my wife condemning me for swearing so much. In the building industry my foul mouth was not unusual. When I was born again this mouth was the first thing the Lord washed, it was noticed by everyone.
But that does not mean every word that came out of my mouth was controlled by the new Spirit within me either, though I stopped swearing I did not necessarily stop saying stupid things.
Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
We have a tendency of plugging the wrong fountain and letting bitter waters flow.
Remember, James is not exhorting unbelievers, but believers, if all believers always naturally permitted the flow of the sweet waters there would be no need of this passage.
The point? You cannot bridle your tongue, only the Lord can. 8…the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil
Just as you cannot cease from sin in your own strength, only the Lord can do this work in you, let him, trust him, grow in him and draw near every day.
Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you
THE CONTRAST OF HEART
4From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. 4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. 5 Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? 6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. 9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. 10 wHumble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
Pride is a state of the heart.
It is that which rose in the heart of Satan, the iniquity found in him was self-exaltation, thinking himself so much more than he is.
It is pride that prevents man from seeking after the Lord and praying he would save him, many proud blindly believe they have no need of salvation from the judgement to come.
James here condemns those hearts whose fighting’s and lusts and covetousness is evidence of a friendship with the world, a world at enmity with God.
Even their prayer is corrupted, look at verse 3, Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. A perfect picture of the prosperity preaching of the modern Church today who think that it’s a lack of faith that withholds the fruit of their petitions, James says not that it’s a lack of faith that they receive not, but because they would consume it upon their lusts.
Take care then when you read Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: 8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Mt 7:7-8) and put it in context with this passage.
This betrays a heart of pride that believes it deserves the lusts of the heart, but consider the contrast of heart that belongs in the believer;6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
The temptations that tempt the heart to covet and sin is not of God, James reminds us in 1:13-14 saying God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
So he says here in verse 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Our own lusts draw us away, this is what comes from within, but it is the devil that entices from without.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
This is that promise of God, we have a command to resist and a promise that if we do the devil will flee, the enticement will stop, but we must take care not to be drawn away further.
Yet brethren we might not be perfect in the endeavor, Paul reminds us of our weakness respecting our resistance against sin in Hebrews 12:2 Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
1 Peter 5:8-9, turn there with me, 1 Peter 5:8-9 shows that we all are similarly afflicted, so pride has no reason to enter our hearts;
8Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
James continues in verse 4:8
8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. 9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
The heart of Pride we all naturally have is to become contrasted with one of humility. Sin has a tendency to bring us low, to afflict us and have us mourn and weep, laughter quickly turned to mourning and joy to heaviness.
To what end?
Humility in the sight of the Lord, that he, and not we ourselves, will lift you up.
It is a contrite heart that God accepts ()
James seems very much to be a book of Contrasting Witnesses;
How we are to take trials in our lives contrasted by our natural tendency.
How we are to perceive people contrasted by how we usually see people.
How faith is demonstrated by life contrasted by how we once lived.
How the spirit living within should reflect the words spoken without
And How the new heart of humility will oust the stubbornness of our pride.
All this can be achieved through one faithful saying in the book of James, it is found here in the fourth chapter,
Eleven simple words in verse 8
Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.