Through the Bible in a Year: James 1-5

This Week’s Reading Schedule

Monday, April 30: Romans 1-6
Tuesday, May 1: Romans 7-11
Wednesday, May 2: Romans 12-16
Thursday, May 3: James 1-5
Friday, May 4: Galatians 1-6

Next week we will go back over Romans chapter by chapter, comparing James and Galatians (and the Gospels).

The overall year’s plan is here.

James 1:1

James’ letter is a "general epistle." It is not addressed to an individual or a church, but to all Jews dispersed abroad. Remember, Peter and James were heading the ministry to the circumcision, while Paul was to the uncircumcised (Gal. 2:9).

There are those, including friends of mine, who would argue that the twelve tribes James addresses is spiritual Israel, not fleshly Israel, but I just don’t think that’s true. James was in Jerusalem all his life before finally being martyred by the Pharisees and priests.

James 1:2-4

Famous verses, but only a few are able to practice them.

It seems odd to count it all joy when you fall into troubles. I like to tell people that they should think like an athlete. An athlete may not like the pain of that extra practice or a particularly difficult workout, but he voluntarily embraces it, even pushes himself, because he has the joy of the result in front of him.

We need the joy of the result in front of us. Trials will, in the long run, make us perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

That was exactly Jesus’ attitude toward the cross (Heb. 12:2)

James 1:5-8

What a glorious promise! If we need wisdom, we can ask God, and he will give it to us without reproach as long as we ask in faith! So none of us need be without guidance! God may send that guidance through fellow disciples (cf. Heb. 3:13), circumstances, or by speaking directly to us, but he has promised us wisdom.

James 1:9-10

Everything directed at the rich in the apostles’ writings is either negative or a warning. James’ admonitions are no exception.

James 1:12-18

James talks about the danger of our lusts here and the source of temptation. Paul talks about being delivered from the power of our lusts in Romans 7 and 8, which we looked at Tuesday. James sums up those two chapters by simply saying that we were born again by the word of truth (v. 18).

James 1:19-26

Here we get the first taste of James dealing with the tension between works and faith. We "receive the implanted Word with humility," but we repent by putting off all filthiness and wickedness (v. 21). We must also be doers of the Word, not hearers only.

Finally, if that implanted Word does not result in your bridling your tongue, you have obtained a worthless religion. It should bridle your tongue and cause you to have compassion on the widow and orphan.

James 2:1-13

James not only warns against the dangers of riches, but he warns against the danger of showing favoritism to the rich. How do we react to those who look homeless, poor, or just socially unacceptable and turn up in our midst?

Pure religion and undefiled takes care of widows, orphans, and anyone else in their distress (1:26 with Matt. 25:31-46).

James 2:14-26

This passage contains the statement that has caused so many Christians and denominations difficulties for about 500 years. (It didn’t cause anyone difficulties before that.)

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (v. 24)

We saw as we went through the first part of Romans that Paul distinguishes between the beginning of our walk with Christ, when we enter the grace of God and receive the Spirit and the forgiveness of sins purely by faith apart from works, and the end of our walk with Christ, when we face the judgment, where we will be judged for living by that Spirit or not living by that Spirit, receiving eternal life based on a judgment of works (Rom. 2:5-8; 8:12-13).

James is not defending his faith in this general epistle. He is going after those who claim to have faith, but whose lives have not been changed from that faith. The righteousness of God is not being revealed (cf. Rom. 1:17) or fulfilled (cf. Rom. 8:3-4) in them.

James talks about the beginning and end of our faith together. He has no reason to separate them. He’s not having to defend his Gospel like Paul did.

With the whole course of our salvation in mind, he says what’s true, that salvation is not by faith alone, but it’s by works as well. If you need an explanation of that, Peter gives an excellent one in 2 Peter 1:5-11, but Romans 8:1-13 is an excellent picture as well. We’ll talk about all of that in more detail next week.

Of course, James has given his own explanation here, and it amazes me how many Christians simply do not believe him, but come up with all sorts of novel ways to twist his words. Don’t be like them.

James 3:1-12

Is there anyone who is not convicted by these verses? Let him exhort the rest of us. The person who does not stumble in word does not stumble in anything (v. 2).

This is a terribly convicting passage, but conviction is supposed to motivate us, to press us to overcome. Let us truly beware of our tongues. They are dangerous.

James 3:13-18

What a beautiful description of true Wisdom. We read the same sorts of things last week in Proverbs 1-9.

James 4:1-10

This whole passage challenges us to really be Christians. Having problems with quarrels? Selfishness is the problem. Your prayers not being answered? Give up the world, quit longing for it. God is jealous of your divided affections, and he’s looking for a deep repentance ("lament and mourn and weep").

James 4:11-12

We need to be careful of judging, so much so that James says not to judge at all. Jesus says the same in Matthew 7:1.

There is, however, some judgment that must be done. How will we put out the wicked man from among us (1 Cor. 5:13), if we do not judge? Paul rebukes the Corinthians in that chapter for their lack of discernment and says, "I have judged already" (v. 3).

Perhaps the difference is that we must trust the church’s judgment, not our own. Before we treat someone like they are outside the faith (like a "foreigner or tax collector"), our judgment should be brought before the church (Matt. 18:15-17).

Or perhaps the difference is that we should be careful to judge with a righteous judgment, based on God’s Spirit, not our own offense. Jesus does issue a command that says, "Do not judge according to appearance, but according to righteous judgment" (Jn. 7:24).

James 4:13-17

Boy, have I been applying this passage! My family’s plan was to move back to Selmer, TN from Nashville next week. This week was my last set of appointments with the stem cell clinic after receiving a stem cell transplant in January. Here I am, though, writing this in the emergency room of Vanderbilt Medical Center, awaiting admission for observation because of a blood clot causing swelling in my neck.

How many times over the last nine months of treatment for acute leukemia have I found that I have very little control over my circumstances. God can turn my life upside down at any moment, and he can set it straight at any moment. I have learned to say "Lord willing" every time I mention my plans.

Sometimes, though, God reveals his plans. Then, and only then, can we say that such and such is going to happen. Paul, for example, had every reason to be confident that he would be arrested, survive the attacks on his life, and preach the Gospel in Rome because Jesus had told him he would arrive there.

James 5:1-6

The rich are not held in high esteem in James’ letter. As I’ve pointed out, the New Covenant is a spiritual covenant, and it is heavenly treasures that Christians pursue because they have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24).

James 5:7-12

Endure your trials until the Lord comes and wait patiently for him.

There is a reason that Christians do not make oaths. It is because we are honest, and we have no need to make oaths. We fulfill all our words, not just the ones accompanied by an oath.

I don’t really think this is a reason to avoid swearing to tell the truth in a courtroom, though a lot of Christians do.

James 5:13-18

Protestants don’t do a lot of anointing the sick except in certain denominations, and most Roman Catholic priests only anoint the dying (in a "sacrament" called "Last Rites").

I don’t believe that God wants to heal everyone. I just mentioned that I’m in the emergency room as I type this, and God used medical doctors to heal my leukemia. Even Paul did not heal all his companions (e.g., 2 Tim. 4:20). However, if our faith was greater, I suspect we’d see a lot more healing in the church.

Faith is both a gift and something that gets stronger as we mature in Christ and learn how to believe. James encourages us to use Elijah as an example and to remember that we was "a man with similar passions to us" (v. 17).

James 5:19-20

If someone wanders from the truth, he is in danger of spiritual death, and the person who restores him will save that soul from death. Paul says so, too, in Romans 8:12-13.

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