Modern Bible Commentary on James 1:1-18

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are in the Dispersion: Greetings.

The book of James was most likely written by James, the brother of Jesus around 50 AD. Each epistle usually begins with a greeting or salutation similar to the one stated here. James identifies himself as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover, the author is writing to Jewish believers in the Messiah who are scattered among the nations or “dispersed” throughout Israel.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

This is the opposite of what the culture teaches us today. The world tells us to run from pain and embrace pleasure. However, Scripture teaches us that when we face trials or hardships, we will grow stronger. In fact, trials can strengthen our faith. At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:10).” Therefore, when you are struggling, rejoice that you are being sanctified and your reward is great in heaven.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. For that man shouldn’t think that he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Wisdom is defined as having experience, knowledge, and good judgment. This is a needed virtue today in our broken world, where proper judgment is lacking. For instance, we are in the middle of a pandemic and people are still refusing to wear a mask even though the CDC guidelines have shown that it limits the spread of the disease. People are more interested in conspiracy theories and political allegiance rather than scientific proof.

Nevertheless, true wisdom is more than just scientific knowledge or intellectual reasoning. Wisdom comes from God and it’s a prerequisite to have knowledge of God before wisdom can be firmly established. This is because wisdom comes from God, and we must ask God to give us wisdom just like Solomon did.

When you do ask for wisdom, you must believe and not doubt. This means that faith and wisdom are interrelated. They are contingent upon one another. If you have faith that can move mountains, you are grounded in wisdom (Matt. 17:20).

Furthermore, you don’t want to be a doubter because then wisdom can’t have a foundation to stand upon. You will be blown and tossed around by the wind, making poor choices and relying on your own understanding (Prov. 3:5) rather than God’s. This type of person is double-minded, meaning they go back and forth, changing their mind too many times. They are unstable. They are unpredictable, which demonstrates they are immature.

But let the brother in humble circumstances glory in his high position; 10 and the rich, in that he is made humble, because like the flower in the grass, he will pass away. 11 For the sun arises with the scorching wind and withers the grass, and the flower in it falls, and the beauty of its appearance perishes. So the rich man will also fade away in his pursuits.

As believers, we ought to humble ourselves and boast in the Lord. For He has given us all things, including our jobs and places of high position. The platform we have as Christians should not be taken for granted. If you have a position of authority, use it wisely and for the advancement of God’s kingdom.

The rich, however, should take pride in their humiliation since they will pass away like a wild flower. These are strong words of judgment toward the wealthy who neglect God. As you might be aware, people who have great wealth are tempted to be full of pride and boastful in their own achievements. But the Lord says the exact opposite and warns them that their pride will be turned into humiliation when they are condemned.

God uses metaphors to describe how He will judge the world. Just like the sun can scorch a plant in a matter of minutes, or a flower can be short-lived and then die, so will the rich fade away as they continue to go about their business. Scripture tells us we cannot serve two masters: People will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other–you cannot serve both God and money (Matt. 6:24).

12 Blessed is a person who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him.

As an athlete, you can suffer physical and mental exhaustion by training on a daily basis. This is why it’s important to have a goal in mind when you are training. You want to be able to look forward to something in the future so that you can grit through the short-lived pain.

For example, I was a swimmer and loathed waking up early in the morning for a grueling practice. However, I knew that my training would ultimately lead to receiving a personal best time and so it made the pain worth it. This striving for human achievement pales in comparison to being obedient to the Lord because the crown of life that the Lord promises to those who love him is everlasting. Knowing God and spending our lives with Him in heaven is worth the temporary suffering we experience on earth, as Paul clearly states in Romans 8:18.

13 Let no man say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God can’t be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. 15 Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin. The sin, when it is full grown, produces death. 

God is not the tempter. He is sovereign over our decisions and permits us to make bad decisions, but ultimately it is our evil desires that lure us into sin. As Scripture teaches, each person is tempted when their carnal nature entices them to disobey God’s righteous commands. Thus, it’s vital that we put off the old self and put on the new by the renewing of our mind in Christ Jesus (Eph. 4:22-23).

The Lord is faithful and will not tempt you beyond what you can bear, but will provide a way of escape (1 Cor.10:13). If you decide to ignore the narrow road that leads to life and choose the broad way that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13), your evil desire will give birth to sin. And when you continue to feed sin by your lusts, it gets stronger and grows bigger until ultimately leading to your death.

Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” You should always choose life. Do not allow your fleshy desires or the tempter Satan to snare you away from our heavenly Father. When you do sin, call upon the name of the Lord. If you confess your sins, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive you of all your sins, and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

16 Don’t be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor turning shadow. 18 Of his own will he gave birth to us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

James warns his Jewish Christian friends not to be deceived. This repeated warning in Scripture should sound the alarm for all of us that deception is a common foe. However, the good news is that our heavenly Father, who gives us every good and perfect gift, does not change. He is all-powerful, sovereign, and all-loving. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that is found through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 8:39).

As believers, we can be confident that He will not change his plans but will work together for our good. He chose to give us birth, which demonstrates that there is a reason for our existence. Our purpose is to be a harvest for him to celebrate. We are children of the living God, and when we sing praises to Adonai, He rejoices and is exceedingly glad. For these reasons, we should be confident that our trials will soon be gone and ultimately lead to fellowshipping with God forevermore. Are you looking forward to this? I know I am. Let’s pray!

Dear heavenly Father,

Thank you for the epistle of James. This passage speaks to our hearts, minds, and souls so that we can be a beacon of light to a dark and broken world. Even though we experience brokenness ourselves, may we cling to your goodness and promises. Remind us to look forward to the day when you redeem, sanctify, and ultimately deliver us from pain and suffering. We know you are a good, good Father. Thank you for sending your Son Jesus to die on our behalf so that we can have this relationship with you. We give you all the praise, glory, and honor in Jesus name. Amen!

Commentary written by Chad A. Damitz (M.Div)

Bible Translation taken from the World English Bible, a public domain modern English translation of The Holy Bible

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