A summary of the epistle from James

Different people see the book of James in different ways. To me, the book of James tells us how to handle trials in a way that is pleasing to God.

Trials are a part of the Christian’s life. Therefore, a key skill that a Christian must master on the way to spirituality is the skill of handling trials the way God wants him to.

James Chapter 1

What is a trial? A trial is a situation in which things don’t go your way. You want something to happen in a certain way at a certain time, but such a thing does not happen. Alternately, something that you don’t want to have happen happens!

The root cause of a trial may be a person or an event. Here are some examples of a trial:

  • You want someone to fall in love with you but he / she does not.
  • Your spouse does not behave in the way you want him / her to behave.
  • Your boss or co-worker does not behave in the way you want him / her to behave.
  • The project that you are working on at school or work or home is slipping and nothing you do is helping it get back on track.
  • A neighbor’s dog or cat pees on your new shoes.
  • A bully at school says something mean to you, or pushes you around.
  • Your friends or acquaintances betray your trust or are speak evil of you behind your back.
  • Your health is sub- par.
  • Your finances are sub-par.
  • You lose everything in an earthquake or tornado or flood.
  • You lose a child to an illness or accident.

Trials are difficult situations. They may be small or big. The big question every Christian needs to answer is: what is the best way to handle a trial. James tells us how.

The first chapter of James says that we should be joyful in trials because of its valuable result (v. 2-4), and that we should seek wisdom from God in understanding why the trial has come (God does not send trials for no good reason), and wisdom in handling the trial (v. 5-8), and that we should not be envious of the rich (i.e. those who do not currently have trials) because they are not in a trial (v. 9-11). Also, we should persevere and not blame God (or other people) for our trials (v. 12-18) – rather, we should realize that we are tempted to be bad because of our own lusts, and not because someone else said or did something.

1 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.

A servant serves for payment or honor or reward. A bond servant relinquishes all his rights, including his right to payment for service. A bond servant serves out of love and gratitude. He allows himself to be a slave to the other person, and works for the other person’s interests rather than his own. He uses his own time and money and skills to further the glory of the other person.

Some people are not even born again and therefore cannot serve God meaningfully. Others are babes in Christ because they only receive and give nothing back. Others serve for payment. And finally, there are bond-servants who serve for nothing in return. Which category do you belong to?

Are you a servant or a bond servant of God? When you do stuff for God, do you do it for payment (not just money but even self-preservation, friendship, honor or influence or to secure a spouse) or out of gratitude? Do you work for Christ even when it is against your personal interest?

Everyone (Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude) who wrote an epistle considered himself a bond servant of God (Rom 1:1, Tit 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Pet 1:1, Jude 1:1, Rev 1:1). Even Jesus, when He became man, became a bond servant (Phil 2:7).

In the Old Testament, Moses was a bond servant (Rev 15:3). Simeon (Lk 2:25-29) was a bond servant and he received revelation from God.

If you want to know what’s on God’s mind become a bond servant of God, and then He might tell you what’s on His mind.

It is good to be a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, being a bond servant has caused James to have his share of trials and he has learnt something about how to handle it and wants to share it with other believers everywhere.

Some trials occur because we have not relinquished our rights. In fact, sometimes God allows us to experience a trial because He wants to give us this important message: turn your focus from yourself to God.

The best way to approach a trial is as a bond servant of God. When your focus is on furthering God’s interests, a lot of trials almost magically disappear! They disappear because the trial does not have any negative effect on furthering God’s interests. For example, if someone is bothering you at work it only bothers you but it doesn’t hinder God’s kingdom. So if you are focused on furthering God’s kingdom and not your kingdom that trial goes away. Let God, if He so desires, deal with the person who is bothering you.

Ironically, in focusing on God’s interests you get the maximum eternal value for yourself.

So a good question to ask yourself is this: am I focused on my own interests or on God’s interests?

2-4 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The second step in handling trials is to get our attitude right, so that we desire, and delight in, the correct thing. Specifically, we need to delight in building character.

What is your definition of ‘lacking nothing’?

For most people, it means having enough money and home and food and sex and friends and free time and good health.

What is your definition of perfection and completeness?

For most people, it means no troubles and no inconvenience (as in, "Today was a perfect day" because no one bothered me today)!

But that is not God’s definition. Per God’s definition, perfection is the ability to handle troubling situations in a Christ-like way; completeness means being perfect in everything. It is to pass the examination with 100%.

And per God’s definition, to lack nothing means to be able to have all the character of God needed to handle the trial in a God-pleasing way.

Do you want to lack nothing, in that sense? If not, that is the first thing you need to work on – your mind must be renewed, and you must have a change in attitude from a person who doesn’t care that he lacks nothing of the nature of God to someone who does care.

When you have the insight to realize that the nature of Christ is the most valuable thing in the universe then you will care and greatly desire to lack nothing of the nature of God. Then your only goal in life will be to become more like Christ.

When a normal person encounters a trial he or she is not joyful. That is because he or she thinks that the trial is doing him or her harm.

We must not be like that. We are Christians. We must be above normal. We must be joyful during a trial.

However, for us to be joyful we must know something, says James. We must know that the trial is doing us good instead of harm. Specifically, we can be joyful when we know that trials build up our endurance, making more Christ-like (perfect and complete).

Suppose God gave you $1000 every time you encountered a trial. Would you then be joyful every time you encountered a trial? So if we are joyful if we get $1000 when we encounter a trial but not joyful if we get character when we encounter a trial what does that teach us about ourselves? It teaches us that we love money more than character!

Every trial is a testing of our faith – our ability to believe that God is doing us good and is taking every opportunity to make us more like Him i.e. God is taking every opportunity to give us the most valuable thing in the universe.

Does God know what is happening here? Does God care? Is God going to do something about it? How you answer these questions will determine how you behave in the trial.

When your faith is tested again and again and again, and each time you handle the trial correctly, you’ve now built endurance; you’ve acquired a new behavior and demonstrated the ability to have the nature of God in some particular way.

5-8 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. 6 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.

In the verses before, James talks about the kind of attitude to have in trials. Then he talks about asking God for wisdom. What is the connection? Well, when you have a trial the first things you need to have is wisdom to understand why God has allowed the trial to come into your life, and how to handle the trial in a godly way. If you understand the purpose of the trial then you know what to shoot for. If you handle the trial in the correct way then you can accomplish the purpose of the trial.

It is important to have wisdom on how to handle the trial. Otherwise the trial can get out of hand, have the wrong result, or the trial will have to be repeated because we didn’t learn the lesson that we were supposed to learn from it.

It is also good to have wisdom to know why the trial has come so that we can accomplish the purpose of the trial. Every trial comes to teach us something, or to form the nature of God in us, or to warn us of something about to happen. If you are a child of God, nothing happens accidentally in your life. God has full knowledge of, and is in full control of, everything that happens in your life.

A person who approaches a trial without understanding why it has come and how to handle it is at a severe disadvantage. To get the trial over with quickly you need to have wisdom – wisdom from God.

Notice the ‘if’ in ‘if any of you lacks wisdom’? Is it better to think that you have wisdom or to think that you lack wisdom?

It is a mistake to think that we have sufficient wisdom to handle the trial that comes our way. A person with such an attitude is proud and will not grow in wisdom.

Notice that James tells us to ask of God – not of men. When you have a trial, you need to go to God, not to your pastor or mentor or friend. Not many Christians do this! Why?

If you say that you are a Christian, doesn’t that make the all-wise God is your Father? Why on earth would you go to anyone else for wisdom? The only explanations I can think of are that your connection with God is terribly out of whack, or that you don’t believe that God is all-wise, or that God is interested in helping you, or that God is not aware of your situation. None of these are good explanations!

Come to Me, says Jesus in Mt 11:25-30. He knows why the Father has allowed you to be in your trial. He is in control of all things. Now Jesus may tell you to take a certain action in the trial. I’m not saying that you should be a passive player in the trial. All I’m saying is that you should get your direction from God, not from the people around you.

Unless you learn to ask of God you will never get anything out of Him.

God gives to all – and that includes you! There are no exceptions. No matter how much you have failed in the past, no matter how evil you have been in the past, if you repent and ask God for wisdom now He will give it to you.

What is your understanding of God? Do you see Him as someone who is generous, and someone you gives you precious stuff without reproach? To reproach someone is to express disapproval, criticism or disappointment in you. When you ask God for wisdom, He will give it to you without expressing disapproval, criticism or disappointment.

To be double-minded i.e. it is to have two minds about the same thing. In this case, it is to ask God for something without believing that you will get it.

When you ask God for wisdom concerning your trial you must believe that He will answer you, and you must be prepared to do what He asks you to do. If you don’t believe that He will answer you then you are presuming that God is miserly or reproachful. That is an insult to God, and He will not give you anything (including wisdom) if you think of Him that way.

When you are in two minds about something then your position is precarious i.e. unstable and it will be easy for Satan to manipulate you (just like the wind tosses the surf of the sea). You will be listening to different people who will give you different advice and you will not know what to do. In such a case, it will be difficult for you to accomplish anything useful.

9-11 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 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.

When you are suffering through a trial and the other guy is enjoying life it is difficult to remain full of joy. It’s like waiting at the signal light in a noisy, beat up car, and seeing a beautiful Porsche glide to a stop next to you. The guy sitting in it is your bachelor co-worker and he has a downright pretty girl sitting next to him with an absolutely adoring look on her face. Then his light turns green and he moves on, but your light is still red.

What are you going to do?

James’ take: The Porsche is a flower, and dude is about to fade.

A brother who is not in a trial can be considered to be rich and a brother who is in a trial can be considered to be poor. From this perspective, a poor brother can be thankful that he has an opportunity to learn something from God, and a rich brother, who has spare time because he does not have to deal with a trial, can use his time wisely realizing that he will soon pass away.

Even from a financial perspective, a poor brother should focus on his high position in Christ, whereas a brother who has material needs should focus on how dependent he is on God for spiritual riches. During the trial, this will keep the poor brother from getting depressed and the rich brother from getting proud.

In times of persecution, people lose their homes and bank accounts, etc. We should be prepared to lose these things. Our attitude should be that if we have God we are content, even if we don’t have anything else.

The end result of a trial is to humiliate the proud and exalt the humble. Typically, the humble person has fewer trials and is usually able to handle them well; it is the proud person who has lots of trials and has more difficulty in handling them.

When you find yourself in the midst of a trial, the best attitude with which to approach the trial is one of humility. Take the low path. If you think, "I’m such an important person. Nobody can treat me like this and get away with it," then you are proud.

For a lot of people, their life seems to be stuck in a rut. It’s never ending trial after trial and trouble after trouble. There seems to be no progress. At the same time, the ‘other guy’ is moving on through life, happy as a lark, and there’s not a cloud in the sky. It can be downright depressing if you don’t handle this well.

Once upon a time, my life was like that. I finally came to a point where my happiness didn’t depend on anything earthly – if I had God I would be content. Years passed, and the trials ended, but I never forgot the lesson of being content with God alone. God gives us all things to enjoy after He becomes all things to us.

When God has brought you to a point where you’d rather have Jesus than anything else then you’ve arrived. The riches of this world fade away. The glory of this world is not glorious in your eyes. You have seen the glory of God and that is all that matters to you.

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.

In a trial you will be tempted to not love God.

God has promised the crown of life to those who love Him, not to those who have merely said "the sinner’s prayer". To get to heaven you have to love God so much that you want to be with Him and therefore you are willing to do whatever it takes to be with Him.

Ask yourself this: if God were in hell instead of heaven, would you be willing to spend eternity in hell just so that you could be with God?

A trial is a little bit like hell. If you are willing to persevere through a trial because you realize that God’s hand is in it then you gain God’s approval that you are willing to be with Him even if He were in hell. You have to love God through the trial in order to be approved.

13-16 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. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

Whenever there’s mud on the wall, the question always arises, "Who did it?" Whose fault is it? Who is to blame? In any trial, the issue of blame invariably comes up. And of course, typically, it is out of the question that the fault is mine. So then whose fault is it?

Suppose your friend /partner says to you, "Let’s rob a bank". You say, "Ok". Then you and your friend / partner rob the bank – and then get caught. What’s your first line of defense? Some people will blame their partner and say, "He made me do it". Adam did that, you know.

If you robbed it alone, you can’t blame your partner. What then? Some people will blame their parents and say, "They gave me bad genes and raised me bad".

Of course, when your parents hear that you did that they are going to have something to say about it and the chances are slim that you are going to get away with that.

Some people blame the devil and say, "The devil made me do it." That’s what Eve did. But true genius blames neither partner nor parents nor the devil. They blame God! They say, "It was God who left all that money in plain sight and gave me the idea to steal it".

Robbing a bank may seem a bit outlandish, right, but what if you spouse says to you (and maybe he / she doesn’t say it literally), "Let’s have an argument". You say, "Ok". You go about arguing with each other for an hour while God is watching. When God then takes each of you to task can you blame your spouse?

Don’t blame others for your trials or your bad behavior during a trial. People who blame others for their trials or their bad behavior during a trial are totally deceived, as James says in verse 16. Blame yourself. If you feel jealous, it is not because someone else did or didn’t do or say something. It is because you have a flesh. It is your responsibility to put your flesh to death. If you can’t control your temper when someone says or does something, then blame yourself. You need to be able to control your temper and your tongue irrespective of what others do.

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.

The correct attitude to have through a trial is one where you understand that the trial is like a gift coming from God. Don’t get mad at people. When you get to heaven you will never get the opportunity to prove your love for God through a trial because there will be no trials in heaven.

God is light – pure goodness, without any atemporal (i.e. variation) or temporal (shifting shadow) change in intensity. That is, He does not change with time or from person to person. When He allows a trial to befall us it is for our own good. That is the understanding and attitude we must have.

Most people don’t realize that the portion of the trial that has come from God is a good thing and a perfect gift from God. Like Jesus in Jn 18:11, when we see the trial as "the cup which the Father has given Me" then it is easier to consider the trial pure joy.

Jn 18:11 So Jesus said to Peter, "Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?"

Of course, the complications that arise due to our foolishness during a trial are our own fault and may not be part of the perfect gift.

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.

The purpose of the trial is to make us more like Christ. First fruits are like the first fruits that come from a tree during a fruiting season.

19-21 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. 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.

19-20 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (NIV).

When James says, "my beloved brethren" it’s like he’s holding your hand or putting his arm around your shoulders and saying this to you in the gentlest possible way. You can picture the Holy Spirit saying this to you as a friend to a friend.

This applies to everyone – everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.

For some people, like me, an argument is like a red cloth to a bull. A verbal battle is a battle of wits, and a sharp mind is a great asset that surely leads to victory. Someone says something and my mind quickly gets an idea of how to counter and what strategy to take. But I’m learning to be quick to hear and slow to speak and slow to anger. Why? Because I’ve seen that my superior wit and superior debating does not change anyone. So I’ll say one or two things and then I’ll stop. I don’t always succeed but I think I’ve become better at this over the years.

Others, when they are riled, simply let loose with abusive language, insults and personal attacks. They like to give you a piece of their mind.

When you are in a trial, the best thing to do is to not open your mouth to speak, especially if you are upset or angry. This is because your anger will not accomplish what God is trying to do via the trial.

When life is rough because of a trial the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut. If you open your mouth when you are angry you will only make your trial worse and then you will have only yourself to blame.

Instead, you need to try and listen to what God has to say to you. Humbly search Scripture to understand what God is trying to say to you, and that is they way to get the trial to end quickly.

Put aside all filthiness and wickedness – that is, don’t have bad thoughts towards others, and don’t blame others, grumble about others, complain about others, wish evil for others, or judge others.

As members of a local church, we can see someone in the church doing something wrong and get angry and rebuke them because they do not display the righteous life that God desires. James says that in such situations we should be slow to become angry and slow to speak.

True spiritual transformation does not occur via a simple rebuke, especially when coming from someone who has no authority over the person being rebuked or from someone who has not established a relationship with the person being rebuked. True spiritual transformation comes from within, from the power of the Holy Spirit. People who don’t understand this rebuke repeatedly but get nothing except frustration out of it. Do you tell your spouse or teenager something again and again and see no change? If you do, then you know exactly what I mean. Instead, try praying for the person in that specific area.

22-27 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 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. 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.

This is James’ way of underlining what he just said and marking it with a highlighter and circling it – all that, just to get your attention.

What is James trying to underline? He is trying to underline that you’ve got to be extra careful to keep your mouth shut during the trial – that is why James reminds you to be doers of the word after he talks about being slow to speak. Then, after this, James reiterates this by saying that if you can’t control your tongue your religion is worthless. This is so important that James talks about this again in Chapter 3.

Remember, these are God’s words, not mine. So take it seriously and practice the things that God is teaching you. There is a blessing that you can have, but only if you practice what you have just read.

Jas 3:26 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.

In an argument with someone, if the person doesn’t do what you want you can’t hit the person (I mean physically). That’ll get you into trouble – especially if the person is bigger than you. So what’s the next best weapon? The tongue! You can argue with them, speak abusively to them, backbite about them, slander them, and destroy their reputation – all that, just with your tongue (or now, with written communication too – writing wasn’t as prevalent in James’ time).

If you can’t keep your mouth shut during a trial then no matter what you say, as far as God is concerned, your religion is worthless. A man who says a bunch of worthless stuff when he is angry is a thoroughly ungodly man even if he is a pastor or elder.

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.

During a trial, and even otherwise, a truly godly person is one who takes the side of the defenseless when they are right even if they are being opposed by powerful people. Partiality is sin.

Another aspect of true godliness is to keep yourself free from the values of the world, and let your actions be guided by God’s values. God favors the humble whereas the world favors the mighty.

Further, as you go through life, events happen and people do things. These can result in trials for you. These trials can stain you if you are not careful. That is, these trials can cause you to become bitter, resentful or unforgiving. These are stains from ‘the world’ that are trying to stick onto you and you need to make sure that they do not stick. You need to deal with them in such a way that no stain is allowed to settle on you, or if it settles, you need to take it off quickly. That is what pure and undefiled religion is all about.

James Chapter 2

1-8 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 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, 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," 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 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? 6 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? 8 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. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 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.

What James is saying here is that treating people differently based on whether they are rich or poor is a sin.

This distinction between rich and poor is not just financial. It also applies to good looks, intelligence, fame, influence, culture, personality and power too, and everything else that is highly esteemed in the eyes of man.

May be this sin of partiality is not very obvious. So let me thrown in a few examples…

At work, may be you like to smile broadly at the pretty secretary as you walk past her. But do you smile equally broadly at that fat, middle-aged janitor woman when you walk past her? If not, why not?

When the boss comes into your office, perhaps you stop what you are doing and greet him. If so, do you also do that when this new employee, who has no importance, comes in? Or do you continue to look at your monitor as he talks to you?

Or suppose you are quite good at a sport. Do you play equally joyfully with someone inferior to you in that sport as with someone superior to you?

Partiality is a deep rooted sin and we need to consciously attempt to remove it.

Partiality is not merely a minor sin, but just as bad as any other sin, and therefore needs to be taken seriously.

Now think about that! If you committed murder this morning, how would you be feeling right now?

To make this real to you, here is the scenario. Suppose this guy was bothering you, on and on, and finally you had enough. So you take a knife and stick it into him and say, "That’s the end of him." Then you wipe the blade off your jeans and look at the clock and say, "Oh, time to go to the church service." You hop into your car and drive to the church.

You wouldn’t do that, would you?

Why not? Only because you’re grieved over the great crime you’ve just committed.

Or if you committed adultery with someone else’s wife last night, how would you be feeling right now?

No, I’m not going to lay out the scenario for this one!

Would you be feeling the same way if were partial to someone this morning? If not, then you need to mediate and internalize what James is saying – partiality is just a grievous as murder and adultery.

We sometimes offend God big time, and we don’t even know it. We may have thought that partiality is not so offensive to God, but I hope that you now see that it is.

In any church, there are the important people and the ordinary people. Typically, but not always, the important people hobnob with the important people. The others want to hobnob with the important people but have to make do associating with the not-so-important ones. Which category do you belong to?

Do you just invite the important people of the church, or do you invite the ordinary people?

Do you avoid hanging out with the people who have personal issues? May be they dig their nose in public, or they pee in your toilet standing up. You can’t have pee all over your toilet, so no inviting Mr. Smith over anymore, right? But it’s okay to invite Mr. Davidson, the elder’s son, even though he backbites about all his relatives? And yes, Mr. Peterson is hilarious so we must invite him. And Mr. Parker, he’s smart – if you have him over, you are sure to have a very enlightening conversation.

Did Jesus have an attitude like that?

What about your attitude to the lonely singles? In Lk 14:12-14, Jesus said that we should invite the lame and dumb and blind and the beggars.

Lk 14:12-14 12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. 13 "But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Godliness is not a matter of attending a church, or having an important position in a church. That is, you are not godly just because you regularly attend a church meeting. And you don’t become godlier just because you have become a deacon or elder or pastor or some other leader in some church. Godliness is about valuing what God values, and detesting what God detests.

For example, in God’s eyes, all that is highly esteemed by man is detestable in the sight of God. If you detest the things that man values highly then you are godly.

Lk 16:15 And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God."

So a godly man will have the same value as God and detest what is highly esteemed among men.

Are you doing something that God detests – like giving preference to people because they have quality that is highly esteemed by man?

It is easy for you to find out if you are like that.

To find the truth about yourself in this matter ask yourself who you invite over to our house for dinner, and why you do it.

Do you invite people over because you want fellowship or because you want to cultivate a friendship with an important person? Or do you invite them over because you sense that they are lonely and need a friend, and you can be that friend and bless them?

What I’ve mentioned so far is concerning partiality in general. We can also consider partiality in the context of a trial.

In the context of a trial, there are two sides. If you like, think of it as a boxing match. Usually, there is the important guy and the good guy. The good guy is the guy who is right. God is on his side. The important guy is the guy who is wrong but thinks he has enough support and influence to crush the good guy. The important guy is the guy who is important to you – your friend, your spouse, your boss, etc.

So whose side will you be on?

Wife or neighbor? Mother or mother-in-law? Boss or co-worker? Your child or someone else’s child? Whose side will you take when there is a disagreement?

Most people will side the important guy. I must be loyal – they say. But that is a big mistake. James points out that such partiality is a sin. Siding with the important guy is a big mistake because God is on the side of the good guy.

Don’t be misguided about loyalty. Our loyalty is first towards God, not to our relative or friend or brother.

Don’t be on the side that has the majority of human support. Be on the side that God is supporting. In the Day of Judgment, when God deals with the situation, you want to be found on God’s side.

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.

These next two verses are not really important, and so we can skip them and move to the next passage.

Ahem. You didn’t really buy that, did you? If you did, shame on you!

Whenever you see a ‘law’ mentioned in Scripture you need to pay extra attention because it is important.

What then is ‘the law of liberty’?

You see, when you do something wrong, God has to decide what to do about it. Should He let you go, or should He give you a tight smack? That is, should He deal with you in mercy or in judgment?

The law of liberty gives God the freedom to judge whoever He wants and to not judge whoever He wants.

God has chosen to be merciful (and not judge) to those who are merciful – mercy triumphs over judgment.

On the other hand, God will judge (and show no mercy) to those who are merciless.

What you see here is an important aspect of the nature God, and understanding this is critical to your own happiness and peace. I’ve seen people who live a miserable life because they don’t have an understanding of this aspect of God’s nature.

So during your trial, don’t judge those who have hurt you. Instead, if you have a chance to hurt them don’t take that chance, but let them go! In letting them go, you give God the liberty to mitigate any complications that arose due to your foolishness during the trial.

So here’s an example: suppose somebody is bothering you. This person may be in your place or work, or in your church, or in your circle of friends. For whatever reason, you don’t like this guy. He’s tried to mess with you. He’s tried to put you down. He ignores your attempts at friendship. He’s tried to speak evil about you behind your back and you’ve found out. So you, sharpshooter that you are, have mentally, consciously or unconsciously, got your gun out, and you are trying to get him in your sights. He’s moving all the time and you’re finding it difficult to nail the guy.

Then one day, he stands still, and bingo, you’ve got him in your sights. That is, he does something wrong and messes up. What are you going to do?

You can pull the trigger and take him out. That is, you can make an issue of the wrong that he did. You can tell everyone who knows him how he messed up. You can destroy his reputation. And oh, how sweet is that? Finally, the debt for all that bothering is paid.

Or you can show him mercy.

James says to show him mercy. Let him go. Don’t say a word about what he did to anyone. Let God deal with him. You’re not qualified because you have a log in your eye (i.e. he’s been bothering you).

When you let him go, you free God’s hand to let you go when you mess up. We all mess up, one day or the other. The secret of surviving a mess up is to let others go when they mess up.

14-26 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Faith saves only if it leads to action. If intellectual belief is not accompanied by actions aligned with the belief, then it cannot save you. The proof that the faith is real is the evidence of the works that arise out of the faith.

Even the demons believe that all the members of the godhead are united, and it scares them because they know that they can’t overcome a united godhead, but it doesn’t change their behavior. This proves that theirs is an intellectual belief that is not accompanied by works. Thus, their faith does not save them.

On the other hand, Abraham and Rahab did what God said, and that showed that they really believed God, and that was what justified them before God.

In a conflict or trial have you ever thought that the other person is more spiritual than you are? Chances are that we assume that we are more spiritual than the other person. But are we really? To find out, don’t look at what you believe but at how you behave in the conflict.

In the context of a trial, what you know is not as important as how you use what you know. For example, if you understand who is right and who is wrong and you take the side of the wrong person, just because he is more important or rich or influential, then you just show that you don’t believe that there exists a God who stands with the righteous and against the wicked. Your actions indicate what you really believe. So don’t be foolish into thinking that you believe something just because you speak it. To find out what you believe look at how you react in a trial.

Chapter 3

1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

During a trial we have the tendency to teach those who we think are the source of our trial. We throw Scripture at them and tell them how they should behave. James tells us that we should not do that because when we teach others God’s expectation of us is higher.

2-12 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. 3 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! 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. 7 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. 9 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. 11 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.

The teacher uses his tongue to teach. If we want to become teachers then God expects us to master our tongues. This is because it is capable of great evil.

In a trial it is common for people to think that they are very spiritual, especially during praise and worship. But if we also speak evil about others and curse them or wish evil upon them then we are showing that we are not spiritual at all. This is because a good heart cannot wish evil upon others.

The tongue is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. Suppose someone did something to hurt you. If you go to your accessible friend and tell them what that other person did, what have you just done? You’ve poisoned your friend’s mind and set your friend to be on your side and against the person who has hurt you. You think you have come out ahead. But actually you haven’t! You haven’t come out ahead because you lost God! God hates people who separate brothers (or sisters) (Pr 6:16-19) and when you separate people by making a person look bad by telling another person what that person did (without first trying to settle it with the person who hurt you), God is no longer on your side. You need to apologize and repent.

13-16 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

You cannot say you are wise and understanding if your behavior is contrary to wise behavior.

Anyone who has bitter jealousy or selfish ambition lies if he says that he is wise. In that case it is better to admit that you are not wise.

Jealousy is to have a bad attitude towards someone when you see them enjoying something that you too would like to enjoy.

Selfish ambition is to try to get everyone to do what you want to do and to serve you.

Jealousy and selfish ambition do not lead to wise behavior, but to disorder and every evil thing. If you see disorder and evil in your home you need to search for jealousy and selfish ambition and remove it.

17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

In contrast, the wisdom from above first aims for purity or righteousness. If a person is wrong you cannot take his or her side even if he or she is your close friend. You have to risk losing the friendship.

Once you take a strong stand for the truth, then you can attempt to calm any conflict and seek for peace (without compromising purity). Words that must be spoken are spoken gently. Actions are gentle rather than quick and forceful. Every attempt is made to be reasonable, to use reason to make a point, to give sufficient time to make amends, and so on. Mercy is then applicable, not attempting to nail the person for every possible wrong. We also attempt to do good things for the person whenever we can. We must do these things consistently, and with genuine affection, not pretending to be good even though we wish the other person evil. This is the wise way to deal with people, and is in contrast to the way of being jealous, and of having selfish ambition.

18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

If you want to change a person’s behavior from wrong to right, the best time to tell them is when there is peace between you and them. You yourself must be a person who strives to be peaceful.

Chapter 4

1-5 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 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. 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"?

Conflicts and quarrels arise because of the lusts in our flesh. We want something that we don’t have, and if we don’t get it we try to take it forcefully. If we cannot, then we fight and quarrel because of our envy of others who have it.

But we don’t get what we want either because we don’t ask God for it, or because we ask with the wrong motives. God does not give us what we ask for if we desire to use it to fulfill our lusts.

"Pleasures that wage war with our members" is James’ term for what Peter and Paul call the flesh. James identifies the flesh as the source of quarrels.

Consider the implications of this verse carefully. This is a verse by which we can examine ourselves. Are we enemies of God?

What is the meaning of ‘to be a friend of the world’? It means to sympathize with, or align oneself with the values of the world, to consider valuable and desire what the world considers valuable (physical beauty, intelligence, material riches), to honor people because of their importance in the world, etc.

It also equates to a tendency to please ourselves. When we mostly do the things that give us pleasure then we are being friends of the world.

We need to judge and cleanse ourselves from ‘friendship with the world’.

1 Jn 2:16 For 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.

The lust of the flesh represents the things that our bodies ask us to do – eat, drink, have sex, etc. The lust of the eyes represents the desire to own or have what we see – a big house, a fancy car, a beautiful woman, etc. The pride of life is the desire to show others what we have and what we have accomplished so that they will esteem us highly. To do these things when God does not want us to do these things or in the manner that God does not want us to do these things equates to friendship with the world.

6-10 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE." 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

If we see our lack when we read verse 4 then verses 6-10 tell us what to do about our lack.

We can get grace (help from God) if we humble ourselves, resist the devil, draw near to God, have an attitude of repentance, and mourn over our failures. Then God can exalt us over the temptation to be friendly with the world.

How does one draw near to God? By cleansing our hands (i.e. stopping wrongdoing) and purifying our hearts (i.e. doing the right things with the right motives); in other words, we draw near to God by repenting.

Note the parallel with 1 Pet 5:5-10. We submit to God by humbling ourselves under His mighty hand (i.e. things that are not in our control – the behavior of people, the breakdown of the car, etc.). We are able to submit to God because we know that He cares for us, and therefore we can cast all our anxieties upon Him. We will resist the devil if we understand that he is like a roaring lion trying to destroy us. We will be firm in our faith if we remember that our brethren all over the world are also undergoing the same experiences of suffering.

We will come out victorious if we keep in mind that God is a God of all grace (1 Pet 5:10) and that the end goal is that God Himself will perfect, strengthen and establish us.

11-12 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. 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?

In a trial it is easy to speak against the person who you think is the root cause of your trials. You need to be careful to not do this, especially when talking to a close friend. A humble person will not judge anyone else. Pour your heart out to God instead of back-biting to your close friend.

To judge another means to assign rightness or wrongness to another’s action, or to assign motive to another’s action.

Only God can judge accurately.

A Christian should only judge himself (Jn 8:15,16), and perhaps those who are under his spiritual authority. We should judge others only if their actions have direct or indirect bearing on us.

Even then, our judgment must be with an attitude of mercy and restoration rather than accusation and condemnation. This is to judge righteously (Jn 5:30; 7:24; Jn 12:47,48).

We will be judged in the same manner that we are judged (Mt 7:1-5).

When we stop judging unnecessarily our life becomes much simpler.

Being quick to judge is a sign of pride, stemming from an attitude that one is capable of judging accurately. Being slow to judge is a sign of humility, and then God’s grace can be upon our lives. That is why James talks about judging just after he has talked about humbling ourselves (Jas 4:6-10).

13-17 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." 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. 15 Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

Another aspect of humility is to acknowledge that we cannot control the universe. Knowing that we cannot control the universe we have the attitude of not wanting to oppose God but doing everything if God permits or wills it. Thus, even though we approach our tasks with confidence, we keep in mind that for it to succeed God must permit it.

Also, after we have done something we are quick to acknowledge in our hearts that it was only successful because God allowed everything to work smoothly. Otherwise many things could have gone wrong.

When in conflict we should not be telling (boasting to) the other person about all the good we did for them. If there was any good that we did to them we should give the glory to God.

The attitude is more important that the actual words. Thus, we should not just say, "God willing" but have an attitude that reflects such a spirit.

We are judged according to the light that we have, and we should not judge others according to the light that we have.

17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

God has now taught you how to handle trials. So He expects you to handle it properly. If you don’t handle it properly then you are sinning.

Chapter 5

In Chapter 5 James focuses on the different types of people, based on how they affect or handle the trial:

  • Some cause the trial.
  • Some complicate the situation (by opening their mouth to judge, complain, grumble or hurt) and bring judgment / sickness upon themselves.
  • Some find it difficult to handle the trial. They don’t have the wisdom needed and lose patience or focus.
  • Some handle the trial well.
  • Some help the people through whom the trial comes, bringing great favor from God upon their life.

1-5 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 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! 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. 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.

The rich man who acquired his riches illegally or by exploiting others will be judged. These words are a comfort to the poor who have been exploited and robbed by the rich.

People who cause trials for others are going to be slaughtered on the Day of Judgment.

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. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

If you have been dealt with unjustly then you need to be patient and wait for the Lord to judge those who have dealt with you unjustly.

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.

While waiting, don’t complain, especially against those who have dealt with you unjustly. If you complain then you will be judged too.

10-11 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 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.

If you want an example of those who have suffered patiently, consider the Old Testament prophets. Consider Job! Can’t you see how God showed Himself to be full of compassion and mercy in the end? So trust God and wait.

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.

Since you don’t know what may happen tomorrow, don’t foolishly make emphatic, definite statements about tomorrow. Don’t talk about what you’ll do to these evil doers tomorrow or when you get an upper hand.

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.

If you are finding it hard to handle the trial, ask God to help you.

If you are finding it easy to handle the trial, thank God for it!

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; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. 19 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.

If you are sick because of God’s judgment upon you, ask the elders of the church to pray for you. Let them pour oil on your head asking God to heal you. If they are righteous men of faith then God will heal you. If you were sick because of sin then your sins will be forgiven too if you confess them to the elders and to those whom you’ve sinned against.

If you are a man of God in a trial, did you know that your prayer can accomplish much – if you, like Elijah, are a man of God? So pray when enduring a trial, for yourself, and for those who are a pain in your butt. Don’t judge them, don’t preach to them, don’t grumble or complain about them – no, instead pray for them, because if they turn away from sin because of your prayers you have saved their butt, and God is going to deal very leniently with you. This is because you have gone beyond mercy. You’ve not only not thrown them into the pit when you could have, but you have actually pulled them out of the pit.

If someone throws you into a pit you need to forgive them.

If you climb out and can now throw them into the pit but you don’t then you are showing them mercy.

If you climb out and see that they have fallen into the pit and you help them get out then you are going beyond mercy. That is the place you want to be.

James ends his epistle rather abruptly, saying no more than what was necessary. So shall I.

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