The Book of James
New Living Translation
(Explanation of verses are taken from
The Life Application Bible version of The Living Bible
by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.)
Purpose: To expose unethical practices and to teach right Christian behavior
Author: James, a leader of the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 12:17, 15:13), was not James the apostle, but James, Jesus’ brother. The book of James was one of the earliest epistles.
To whom written: First century Jewish Christians residing in Gentile communities outside Palestine, and to all Christians everywhere
Date written: Probably A.D. 49, prior to the Jerusalem council held in A.D. 50
Setting: After Stephen was martyred (Acts 8:1-3), Christians in Jerusalem were scattered throughout the Roman world. Because these early believers did not have the support of established Christian churches, James wrote to them as a concerned leader, to encourage them in their faith during that difficult time.
James confronts the unethical practices of his readers head-on. Christianity must not only be believed, it must be lived. The proof that our faith is real is a changed life.
Genuine faith will inevitably produce good works. This is the central theme of James’ epistle. He supplies practical advice on living the Christian life.
General characteristics of the Christian life (1:1-27)
Act justly in society (2:14-26)
Importance of controlling one’s speech (3:13-18)
Turn from evil desires and obey God (4:1-12)
Be patient with each other (5:7-11)
Be straightforward in your promises (5:12)
Pray for each other (5:13-18)
Help one another remain faithful to God (5:19,20)
Read James and become a doer of the Word (1:22-25).
Chapter 1 Confident Stand What a Christian has
Chapter 2 Compassionate Service What a Christian does
Chapter 3 Careful Speech What a Christian says
Chapter 4 Contrite Submission What a Christian feels
Chapter 5 Concerned Sharing What a Christian gives
1. Genuine religion (1:1-27)
2. Genuine faith (2:1 – 3:12)
3. Genuine wisdom (3:13 – 5:20)
James wrote to Jewish Christians who had been scattered throughout the Mediterranean world because of persecution. In their hostile surroundings they were tempted to let intellectual agreement pass for true faith. This letter can have rich meaning for us as we are reminded that genuine faith transforms lives. We are encouraged to put our faith into action. It is easy to say we have faith, but true faith will produce loving actions toward others.
THEME EXPLANATION IMPORTANCE
James wants believers not only to hear the truth, but also to do it. He contrasts empty faith (“claims without conduct”) with faith that works. Commitment to love and to serve is evidence of true faith.
Living faith makes a difference. Make sure your faith is more than just a statement—it should also result in action. Be alert to ways of putting your faith to work.
In the Christian life there are trials and temptations. Successfully overcoming these adversities produces maturity and strong character.
Don’t resent troubles when they come. Pray for wisdom. God will supply all that you will need to face persecution or adversity. He will give you patience and keep you strong in times of trial.
Law of Love
We are saved by God’s gracious mercy, not by keeping the law. But Christ gave us a special command, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19). We are to love and serve those around us.
Keeping the law of love shows that our faith is vital and real. To show love to others, we must root out our own selfishness.
Wise Speech Wisdom shows itself in speech. We are responsible for the destructive results of our talk. The wisdom of God that helps control the tongue can help control all our actions. Accepting God’s wisdom will affect your speech because your words will reveal their godly source. Think before you speak and allow God to give you self-control.
James taught Christians not to compromise with worldly attitudes about wealth. Because the glory of wealth fades, Christians should store up God’s treasures through sincere service. Christians must not show partiality to the wealthy, nor be prejudiced against the poor.
All of us are accountable for how we use what we have. We should not hoard wealth, but be generous towards others. In addition, we should not be impressed by the wealthy nor look down on those who are poor.
Faith and Endurance
Greetings from James
1 This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.
2 Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.
4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.
6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.
7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
9 Believers who are[b] poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them.
10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.
11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.
12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong,[c] and he never tempts anyone else.
14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.
15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.
16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters.
17 Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.[d] He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.[e]
18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.[f]
Listening and Doing
19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.
20 Human anger[g] does not produce the righteousness[h] God desires.
21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror.
24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.
25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.
27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
a. James 1:2 Greek brothers; also in 1:16, 19.
b. James 1:9 Greek The brother who is.
c. James 1:13 Or God should not be put to a test by evil people.
d. James 1:17 Greek from above, from the Father of lights.
e. James 1:17 Some manuscripts read He never changes, as a shifting shadow does.
f. James 1:18 Greek we became a kind of firstfruit of his creatures.
g. James 1:20 Greek A man’s anger.
h. James 1:20 Or the justice.
1:2 The word temptation as used here refers to trials or testing. It does not mean an enticement to do evil. While God tests us, he never provokes us to commit sin (see 1:12-16).
1:2, 3 James doesn’t say if the way is rough, but when it is rough. He assumes we will have trials and that it is possible to profit from them. James tells us to turn our hardships into times of learning. Rough times can teach us patience. For other passages dealing with patience (also called perseverance and steadfastness), (see Romans 2:7; 5:3-5; 8:24, 25; 2 Corinthians 6:3-7; 2 Peter 1:2-9.
1:2-4 We can’t really know the depth of our character until we see how we react under pressure. It is easy to be kind when everything is going well, but can we still be kind when others are treating us unfairly? Instead of complaining about our struggles, we should see them as opportunities for growth. Thank God for promising to be with you in rough times. Ask him to help you solves your problems or give you the strength to endure them. Then be patient. God will not leave you alone with your problems. He will stay close by and help you grow.
1:5 The statement, “If you want to know what God wants you to do” can also be translated, “If any of you lacks wisdom.” James is not only talking about knowledge, but the ability to make wise decisions in difficult circumstances. If we need wisdom, we can pray to God and he will supply what we need. Christians never need to grope about in the dark, hoping to stumble upon answers. God’s wisdom is available to guide our choices.
1:5 When James speaks of wisdom, he means practical discernment. Wisdom begins with respect for God, leads to right living and results in increased ability to tell right from wrong. God is willing to give us this wisdom. To learn God’s will, we need to ask him to reveal it to us, and then we must be willing to do what he tell us to do.
1:5-8 If you have ever seen the constant rolling of huge waves at sea, you know how restless they are—a subject to the forces of wind, gravity, and tide. Doubt leaves one as unsettled as the restless waves, tossed to-and-fro. If you want to stop being tossed about, believe that God knows what is best for you. Ask him for wisdom, and trust that he will give it to you. Then your decisions will be sure and solid.
1:6 What is a doubtful mind? It is a mind that is not completely convinced that God’s way is best. It treats God’s Word like any human advice, retaining the option of disobedience. It vacillates between feelings, the world’s ideas, and God’s commands. The cure for a doubtful mind is wholehearted commitment to God’s reliable way. See the note on James 1:5.
1:7, 8 To “ask with faith” is to ask with confidence that God will align our desires with his purposes. For more on this concept, read the note on Matthew 21:22.
1:9 This verse refers to a person of humble circumstances, without status or wealth. Such people are often overlooked, even in our churches today.
1:9-11 If wealth, power, and status mean nothing to God, why do we attribute so much importance to them and honor those who possess them? Do your material possessions give you a sense of purpose and a reason for living? If they were gone, what would be left? What you have in your heart, not your bank account, matters to God and endures for eternity.
1:10, 11 The rich should be glad that wealth means nothing to God, because wealth is easily lost. The poor should be glad riches mean nothing to God, otherwise they would be considered unworthy. True wealth is found in an individual’s spiritual life, not his financial assets. God is interested in what is lasting (our souls), not in what is temporary (our money and possessions). See Mark 4:19 for Jesus’ words on this subject.
1:12 The world says happiness comes from pleasure, money, location, job, image and success. These cannot provide lasting happiness, however, because they are temporary and provide no eternal benefits.
1:12-15 Temptations comes from evil desires within, not from God. It begins with an evil thought. It becomes sin when we dwell on the thought and allow it to become an action. Like a snowball rolling downhill, sin’s destruction grows the more we let sin have its way. The best time to stop a snowball is before it is too big or moving too fast to control. See Matthew 4:1-11; 1 Corinthians 10:13, and 2 Timothy 2:22 for more about escaping temptation.
1:13-15 It is easy to blame others and make excuses for evil thoughts and wrong actions. Excuses include:
1. It’s the other persons’ fault.
2. I couldn’t help it.
3. Everybody’s doing it.
4. It was just a mistake.
5. Nobody’s perfect.
6. The devil made me do it.
7. I was pressured into it.
8. I didn’t know it was wrong.
A person who makes excuses is trying to shift the blame from himself to something or someone else.
A Christian, on the other hand,
accepts responsibility for his wrongs,
and asks God for forgiveness.
1:13, 14 People who live for God often wonder why they still have temptations.
Does God tempt them?
God tests people, but he does not tempt them by trying to seduce them into sin.
He allows Satan to tempt them, however, in order to refine their faith and to grow in their dependence upon Christ.
We can endure the temptation to sin by turning to God for strength and choosing to act in obedience to his Word.
1:17 Scripture often compares goodness with light and evil with darkness. For other passages where God is pictured as light, see Psalm 27:1, Isaiah 60:19-22, John 1:1-14.
1:18 First-century Christians were the first generation to believe in Jesus Christ as Messiah. James calls them “the first children in his God’s new family.”
1:19 When we talk too much and listen too little, we communicate to others that we think our ideas are much more important than theirs. James wisely advises us to reverse this process. Put a mental stopwatch on your conversations and keep track of how much you talk and how much you listen. In your conversations, do others feel that their viewpoints and ideas have value?
1:19, 20 This verse speaks of anger that erupts when our egos are bruised—“I am hurt:; “My opinions are not being heard.” When injustice and sin occur, we should become angry because others are being hurt. But we should not become angry when we fail to win an argument, or when we feel neglected. Selfish anger never helps anybody.
1:22-25 It is important to know what God’s Word says, but it is much more important to obey it. The effectiveness of our Bible study time can be measured by the effect it has on our behavior and attitudes.
1:25 “God’s law for free men” is also called the “law of liberty,” or the “perfect law that gives freedom.” It seems paradoxical that a law could give us freedom. But God’s law points out sin in our lives and gives us opportunity to ask God’s forgiveness (see Romans 7:7,8. As Christians, we are saved by God’s grace. Salvation includes freedom from sin’s control. We can live a holy life that we could not live otherwise. As believers, we are free to live as we should (as God created us to live). Of course, this does not mean that we are free to do as we please (see 1 Peter 2:14-16).
1:27 In the first century, orphans and widows had ver few means of economic support. Unless a family member was willing to care for them, they were reduced to begging, selling themselves as slaves, or starving. By caring for these powerless people, the church put God’s Word into practice. Giving with no hope of receiving in return, they showed what it means to serve others. This is what Jesus expects of all true believers.
A Warning against Prejudice
1 My dear brothers and sisters,[a] how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?
2 For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting[b] dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes.
3 If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well,
4 doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?
5 Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?
6 But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court?
7 Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name[c] you bear?
8 Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[d]
9 But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.
10 For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.
11 For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.”[e] So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law.
12 So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free.
13 There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.
Faith without Good Deeds Is Dead
14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?
15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,
16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”
19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.[f] Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.
20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.
23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”[g] He was even called the friend of God.[h]
24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road.
26 Just as the body is dead without breath,[i] so also faith is dead without good works.
a. James 2:1 Greek brothers; also in 2:5, 14.
b. James 2:2 Greek your synagogue.
c. James 2:7 Greek slander the noble name.
d. James 2:8 Leviticus 19:18.
e. James 2:11 Exodus 20:13-14; Deuteronomy 5:17-18.
f. James 2:19 Some manuscripts read that God is one; see Deuteronomy 6:4.
g. James 2:23 Genesis 15:6.
h. James 2:23 See Isaiah41:8.
i. James 2:26 Or without spirit.
2:1 In this chapter James argues for the necessity of good works. He sets forth three truths:
1. Commitment is an essential part of faith. You cannot be a Christian simply by affirming the right doctrines or agreeing with biblical facts. You must commit your mind and heart to Christ (2:19).
2. Good works are the evidence of true faith. A genuine Christian will have a changed life (2:18)
3. Faith without good works doesn’t do anybody any good—it is useless (2:14-17).
These statements are consistent with Paul’s teaching that salvation is by faith alone.
Paul emphasizes the purpose of faith—to bring salvation.
James emphasizes the results of faith—a changed life.
Are you easily impressed by status, wealth, or fame?
Are you partial to the “haves” while ignoring the “have nots”?
This prejudice is sin. God views all people as equals, and if he favors anyone, it is the powerless who cannot help themselves. We should follow his example.
2:2-4 Our motives need to be unselfish showing no favoritism and loving all people regardless of their circumstances. God does not promise earthly rewards or riches. In fact, Christ calls us to be ready to suffer for him and give up everything.
2:5 When James speaks about the poor, he is talking about those who have no money, and also those whose simple values are despised by much of our affluent society. Perhaps they prefer serving to managing, human relationships to financial security, peace to power. This does not mean that the poor will automatically go to heaven and the rich to hell. Possibly, one of the barriers to salvation for the rich is pride; for the poor, it could be bitterness.
2:8,9 We must treat all people as we would want to be treated. We should not ignore anyone, nor favor anyone.
2:10, 11 It is easy to spot the sins in others while we overlook or rationalize our own. James reminds us that if we’ve broken just one law, we are sinners. You can’t break the law a little bit; if you have broken it at all, you need Christ to pay for your sin. Measure yourself, not someone else, against God’’ standards. Ask for forgiveness where you need it, and then renew your effort to show your faith by your actions.
2: 13 Our sins are forgiven by God’s mercy alone. We can’t earn forgiveness by forgiving others. But when we withhold forgiveness from others after having received it ourselves, it shows we don’t understand or appreciate God’s mercy toward us (see Matthew 6:14, 15; Ephesians 4:31, 32).
2:14 Intellectual assent—agreement with a set of Christian teachings—is incomplete faith. True faith transforms our lives. If our lives remain unchanged, we don’t truly believe the truths we claim to believe.
2:17 Living the way God wants us to live does not earn our way into heaven, but it shows that our commitment to God is real. Godly conduct is not a substitute for, but a verification of our faith in Christ.
2:18 At first glance, this verse seems to contradict Romans 3:28 “we are saved by faith in Christ and not by the good things we do.” Deeper investigation, however, shows that the teachings of James and Paul are not at odds. While it is true that our good works can never earn salvation, true faith always results in a changed life and good works. Paul speaks against those who try to be saved by works instead of true faith; James speaks against those who confuse mere intellectual assent with true faith. After all, even demons know who Jesus is, but they don’t obey him (2:19). True faith involves a commitment of your whole self to God.
2:21-24 James says Abraham was declared good (righteous) because of what he did, and Paul says he was declared good (righteous) because of what he believed (Romans 4:1-5). James and Paul are not contradicting, but complementing each other. Belief brings us salvation; active obedience demonstrates that our belief is genuine.
2:25 Rahab lived in Jericho, a city the Israelites conquered as they entered the Promised Land (Joshua 2). When Israel’s spies came to the city, she hid them and helped them escape. In this way, she demonstrated faith in God’s purpose for Israel. As a result, she and her family were saved when the city was destroyed (Joshua 2). Hebrews 11:31, 32 lists Rahab among the heroes of faith.
Controlling the Tongue
1 Dear brothers and sisters,[a] not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.
2 Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.
4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.
5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.
6 And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.[b]
7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish,
8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.
9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.
10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?
12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.[c]
True Wisdom Comes from God
13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.
14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying.
15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.
16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.
18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.[d]
a. James 3:1 Greek brothers; also in 3:10.
b. James 3:6 Or for it will burn in hell (Greek Gehenna).
c. James 3:12 Greek from salt.
d. James 3:18 Or of good things, or of justice.
3:1,2 Teaching was a highly valued and respected profession in Jewish culture. Many Jews who embraced Christianity wanted to become teachers. James warned that although it is good to aspire to teach, the teachers’ responsibility is great because their words affect others’ spiritual lives. If you are in a teaching or leadership role, how is your example affecting those you lead?
3:2,3 What you say and what you don’t say are both important. Proper speech is not only saying the right words at the right time, but controlling your desire to say what you shouldn’t. Examples of wrongly using the tongue include:
putting others down,
Before you speak, ask, “Is it true, is it necessary, and is it kind.
3:6 James compares the damage the tongue can do to a raging fire—the tongue’s wickedness has its source in hell itself. The uncontrolled tongue can do terrible damage. Satan uses the tongue to divide people and pit them against one another. Idle words are damaging because they spread destruction quickly, and no one can stop the results once they are spoken. A few words spoken in anger can destroy a relationship that took years to build. Before you speak, remember that words are like fire—you can neither control nor reverse the damage they can do.
3:7-12 If no human being can control the tongue, why bother trying? Because even if we do not achieve perfect control of it in this life, we can still learn enough control to reduce the damage it can do. It is better to fight a fire than to go around setting new ones! Remember that we are not fighting the tongue’s fire in our own strength. The Holy spirit will give us increasing power to monitor and control what we say. As Christians we are not perfect, but we should never stop growing.
3:9-12 Our contradictory speech often puzzles us. At times it is right and pleasing to God, but at other times it is violent and destructive. Which of these reflects our true identity? The tongue gives us a picture of our basic human nature. We are good—made in god’s image; but we are also bad—fallen and sinful. God works to change us from the inside out. As the Holy Spirit purifies our hearts, he also gives us self-control so that we will speak words that please God.
3:13-18 Have you ever known anyone who claimed to be wise, but acted foolishly? True wisdom can be measured by the depth of one’s character. As you can identify a tree by the type of fruit it produces, you can evaluate your wisdom by the way you act. Foolishness leads to disorder, but wisdom leads to peace and goodness.
Drawing Close to God
1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?
2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.
3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
4 You adulterers![a] Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.
5 What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy?[b]
6 But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say,
“God opposes the proud
but favors the humble.”[c]
7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.
9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy.
10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
Warning against Judging Others
11 Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters.[d] If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.
12 God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
Warning about Self-Confidence
13 Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”
14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.
15 What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”
16 Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.
17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.
a. James 4:4 Greek You adulteresses!
b. James 4:5 Or that God longs jealously for the human spirit he has placed within us? or that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, opposes our envy?
c. James 4:6 Prov 3:34 (Greek version).
d. James 4:11 Greek brothers.
4:1-3 Quarrels among believers are always harmful. James tells us that these quarrels result from evil desires within us. We may want more possessions, more money, higher status, more recognition. When we want badly enough to fulfill these desires, we fight in order to do so. Instead of aggressively grabbing what we want, we should ask God to help us get rid of our selfish desires and trust him to give us what we really need.
4:2,3 James mentions the most common problems in prayer:
asking for the wrong things
asking for the wrong reasons
Do you talk to God at all? When you do, what do you talk about?
Do you ask only to satisfy your desires?
Do you seek God’s approval for what you already plan to do?
Our prayers will become powerful when we allow God to change our desires so that they perfectly correspond to his will for us (1 John 3:21, 22)
4:3,4 There is nothing wrong with wanting a pleasurable life. God gives us good gifts that he wants us to enjoy (1:17; Ephesians 4:7; 1 Timothy 4:4,5). But it is wrong to seek pleasure at others’ expense or at the expense of obeying god. Pleasure that keeps us from pleasing God is sinful; pleasure in God’s rich bounty is good.
4:4,6 The cure for evil desires is humility (see Proverbs 16:18, 19; 1 Peter 5:5,6) Pride makes us self-centered and leads us to conclude we deserve all we can see, touch, or imagine. It creates greedy appetites for far more than we need. The antidote to self-centered desires is to humble ourselves before God, realizing that we need nothing except his approval. When his Holy Spirit fills, we realize that the things we have coveted are only cheap substitutes for what God has to offer.
4:7 Although God and Satan are at war, we don’t need to wait until the end to see who will win. God has already defeated Satan (Colossians 2:13-15; Revelation 12:10-12) and when Christ returns, Satan and all he stands for will be eliminated forever (Revelation 10:10-15). Satan is here now, however, and he is trying to win us over to his evil cause. With the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can resist Satan and he will flee from us.
4:8 How can you draw close to God? James gives five suggestions:
1. Give yourselves humbly to God” (4:7). Realize that you need his forgiveness, and be willing to follow him.
2. “Resist the devil” (4:7). Don’t allow him to entice and tempt you.
3. “Wash your hands” (that is, lead a pure life) and “let your hearts be filled with God” (4:8) Be cleansed from sin, replacing it with God’s purity.
4. Let there be tears, sorrow, and sincere grief for your sins (4:9). Don’t be afraid to express deep heartfelt sorrow for them.
5. “Realize your worthlessness” (4:10). Humble yourself before God, and he will lift you up (1 Peter 5:6).
4:10 “Realize your worthlessness” can also be translated, “Humble yourselves before the Lord.” Humbling ourselves means recognizing that our worth comes from God alone. We do not deserve his favor, but he reaches out to us in love and gives us worth and dignity, despite our human shortcomings.
4:11,12 Jesus summarized the law as love to God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40), and Paul said love demonstrated towards a neighbor fully satisfies the law (Romans 13:6-10). When we fail to love, we are actually breaking God’s law. Examine your attitudes and actions toward others. Do you build people up or tear them down? When you’re ready to criticize someone, remember God’s law of love and say something good about him or her instead. If you make this a habit, your tendency to find fault with others will diminish and your ability to obey God’s law will increase.
4:13-16 It is good to have goals, but goals can disappoint us if we leave God out of them. There is no point in making plans as though God does not exist, because the future is in his hands. What would you like to be doing ten years from now? One year from now? Tomorrow? How will you react if God steps in and rearranges your plans? Plan ahead, but hang on to your plans lightly. If you put God’s desires at the center of your planning, you will not be disappointed.
4:14 Life is short no matter how long we live. Don’t be deceived into thinking you have lots of remaining time to live for Christ, to enjoy your loved ones, or to do what you know you should. Live for God today! Then, no matter when your life ends, you will have fulfilled God’s plan for you.
4:17 We tend to think that doing wrong is sin. But James tells us that sin is also not doing right. (These two kinds of sin are sometimes called sins of commission and sins of omission.) It is a sin to lie; it can also be a sin to know the truth and not tell it. It is a sin to speak evil of someone; it is also a sin to avoid him when you know he needs your friendship. We should be willing to help as the Holy Spirit guides us. We should be willing to help as the Holy spirit guides us. We should also pray that we do not sin by neglecting to do what is good and right.
Warning to the Rich
1 Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you.
2 Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags.
3 Your gold and silver have become worthless. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgment.
4 For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
5 You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter.
6 You have condemned and killed innocent people,[a] who do not resist you.[b]
Patience and Endurance
7 Dear brothers and sisters,[c] be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen.
8 You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.
9 Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!
10 For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
11 We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.
12 But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.
The Power of Prayer
13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises.
14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.
15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.
16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years!
18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.
Restore Wandering Believers
19 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back,
20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.
a. James 5:6 Or killed the Righteous One.
b. James 5:6 Or Don’t they resist you? or Doesn’t God oppose you? or Aren’t they now accusing you before God?
c. James 5:7 Greek brothers; also in 5:9, 10, 12, 19.
5:1-6 James proclaims the worthlessness of riches, not the worthlessness of the rich. Today’s money will be worthless when Christ returns, so we should spend our time accumulating treasures that will be worthwhile in God’s eternal Kingdom. Money itself is not the problem. It is the love of money that leads to evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
This is a warning to all Christians who are tempted to adopt worldly standards rather than God’s standards (Romans 12:1,2). Also read Matthew 6:19-21 to see what Jesus says about riches.
5:6 The defenseless people James mentions here are probably poor laborers. The poor who could not pay their debts were thrown in prison or forced to sell all their possessions, and at times, even sell their family members into slavery. With no opportunity to work off their debts, poor people often died of starvation. God called this murder.
5:7,8 The farmer must wait patiently for his crops to grow; he cannot hurry the process. But he does not take the summer off and hope that all goes well in the fields. There is much work to do to ensure a good harvest. In the same way, we must wait patiently for Christ’s return. We cannot make Christ return any sooner, but while we wait there is much work we can do to advance God’s Kingdom. Both the farmer and the Christian must live by faith, looking toward the future reward for their labors. Don’t live as if Christ will never come. Work faithfully to build his Kingdom, for the King will come when the time is ripe.
5:9 When things go wrong, we tend to blame others for our miseries (see the note on Genesis 3:12, 13). Blaming others is easier than owning our share of the responsibility, but it is both destructive and sinful. Before you judge others for their shortcomings, remember that Christ the Judge will come to evaluate each of us (Matthew 7:1-5), He will not let us get away with shifting the blame to others.
5:12 A person with a reputation for exaggeration or lying often can’t get anyone to believe him on his word alone. Christians should never become like that. Always be honest so that others will believe your simple yes or no. By avoiding lies, half-truths, and omissions of the truth, you will become known as a trustworthy person.
5:14,15 Here James is talking about someone who is incapacitated physically. In Scripture, oil was both a medicine (see the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37) and a symbol of the Spirit of God (as used in anointing kings, see 1 Samuel 16:1-13). Thus oil can represent both the medical and the spiritual spheres of life. Christians should not separate the physical and the spiritual—Jesus Christ is Lord over both the body and the spirit.
5:14,15 People in the church are not alone. Members of Christ’s body should be able to count on others for support and prayer, especially when they are sick or suffering. The elders should be on call to respond to the weakness of any member, and the church should stay alert to pray for the needs of all its members. Prayer, especially corporate prayer, is essential to the life of the church.
5:15 “And their prayer, if offered in faith,” does not refer to the faith of the sick person, but to the faith of the church. God heals, faith doesn’t, and all prayers are subject to God’s will. But our prayers are part of God’s healing process. That is why God often waits for our prayers of faith before intervening to heal a person.
5:16 “Admit your faults” can be translated “Confess your sins.” Christ has made it possible for us to go directly to God for forgiveness, but confessing our sins to one another still has an important place in the life of the church.
1. If we have sinned against an individual, we must ask him or her to forgive us.
2. If our sin has affected the church, we must confess it publicly.
3. If we need loving support as we struggle with a sin, we should confess it to those who are able to provide that support.
4. If , after confessing a private sin to God, we still don’t feel his forgiveness, we may wish to confess that sin to a fellow believer and hear him or her assure us of God’s pardon.
In Christ’s Kingdom, every believer is a priest to other believers (1 Peter 2:9). This means we are charged with helping others come to Christ and telling other’s of Christ’s words of forgiveness.
5:16-18 The Christian’s most powerful resource is communion with God through prayer. The results are often greater than we thought were possible. Some people see prayer as a last resort to be tried when all else fails. This is backwards. Prayer should come first. Since God’s power is infinitely greater than our own, it only makes sense to rely on it—especially because he encourages us to do so.
5:19,20 Clearly the person who has slipped away is a believer who has fallen into sin—one who is no longer living a life consistent with his beliefs. Christians agree that those who move away from their faith are in serious trouble and need to repent. James urges Christians to help backsliders return to God. We can do this by taking the initiative, praying for the person, and acting in love to meet the person where he is and bring him back to God’s fellowship.
5:20 The book of James emphasizes faith in action. Right living is the evidence and result of faith. The church must serve with compassion, speak lovingly and truthfully, live in obedience to God’s commands, and love one another. The body of believers ought to be an example of heaven on earth, drawing people to Christ through love for God and one another. If we truly believe God’s Word, we will live it day by day. God’s Word is not merely something we read or think about, but something we do. Belief, faith, and trust must have hands and feet—ours!
When our speech is motivated by: It is full of:
Earthly concerns and desires
Unspiritual thoughts and ideas
God and His Wisdom Mercy
Love for others
Yielding to others
FAITH THAT WORKS
James offers a larger number of similarities to the Sermon on the Mount
Than any other book in the New Testament. James relied heavily on Jesus’ teachings.
When your life is full of difficulties and persecutions, be happy. A reward awaits you.
You are to be perfect, strong in character, full and complete.
Ask God and he will answer. James 1:5; 5:15
Those who are humble, who don’t amount to much by the world’s standards, should be very glad.
Watch out for your anger . . . it can be dangerous. James 1:20
Be merciful to others, as God is merciful to you. James 2:13
Matthew 5:7; 6:14
Your faith must prove itself by helping others. James 2:14-16
Happy are those who strive for peace; peacemakers plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.
James 3:17, 18
You cannot serve God and money, pleasures, or evil. Friendship with evil makes you an enemy of God.
When we humble ourselves and realize our need for God, he will come to us and encourage us.
Don’t criticize or speak evil of others; it works against God’s command to love one another. James 4:11
Treasures on earth will only erode and disappear—we must store eternal treasures in heaven.
Be patient in suffering, as God’s prophets were patient. James 5:10
Be honest in your speech, so you can say a simple “yes” or “no” and always be trusted. James 5:12