What *faith should do

An EasyEnglish Commentary (2800 word vocabulary) on the letter of James


Ian Mackervoy

This commentary has been through Advanced Theological Checking.

Words in boxes are from the Bible.

The word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.



1 The writer

James is the writer of the letter. But he does not tell us which James he is. James was a common name and there are several men called James in the *New Testament. He wrote to the *Jewish Christians who had left *Israel to live in other countries. They accepted this letter, so they must have known him. He wrote with such authority that he must have been a leader in the church. Otherwise, he would have said which James he was. Of all the persons with the name of James, two were leaders in the church.

The first of these was James the son of *Zebedee. He was the brother of the *apostle John. He was one of the first to believe in the *Lord Jesus and he was one of the *apostles. *Herod the king killed him in about AD 42 (Acts 12:2). As the letter was later than AD 42, this James could not be the writer of it.

The other leader was James the brother of the *Lord Jesus. After Jesus came back from the dead, he met his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7). From that time on James believed in Jesus. He became a leader in the church in *Jerusalem until he died in about AD 62. He is the most likely author of the letter.

After the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph had children. The Bible tells us the names of the other sons of Mary, the half-brothers of Jesus (Mark 6:3). They are James, *Joses, *Judas and *Simon. There were also sisters but we do not know how many. By this time, it seems that Joseph had died. We believe this because there is no mention of him in Mark 6. The people in their home area knew Jesus as the one who made things from wood. When Jesus left home to teach the people, his brothers did not believe in him. They did not believe that Jesus was the Christ (the *Messiah whom God had promised). (See John 7:5.)

We do not read any more about the brothers of Jesus until after he rose from the dead. Jesus came to Peter first. Then he came to the 12 *disciples. After this, a crowd of more than 500 people saw him. Next, he had a meeting with his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7).

When Jesus was going up into heaven, he told his *disciples to wait in *Jerusalem. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to them. So, they came together in an upstairs room to wait for the Spirit to come. Among them were Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (Acts 1:14). It seems that some time after the death of the *Lord Jesus they had come to believe in him.

When the *apostle Peter was in prison, an *angel came and led him out. So, he went to the home where the Christians were praying. He said to them, ‘Go and tell this to James and the brothers’ (Acts 12:17). James had become one of the leaders in the church in *Jerusalem. Some time later the *apostle Paul went up to *Jerusalem to see Peter. He says, ‘I did not see the other *apostles except James the brother of the *Lord’ (Galatians 1:9).

The first Christians were *Jews. They believed that Jesus was the *Messiah that God had promised to the *Jews. They still obeyed all the rules of the *Jewish religion. When *Gentiles believed in Christ, there was a problem. Did they have to obey the rules of the religion of the *Jews? All the church leaders met to decide this question. James was an important man among those leaders. *Barnabas worked with Paul. Paul and *Barnabas told how God had blessed the Gentiles (those who were not *Jews). Then James spoke. He set out the answer to the problem and they sent it to all the churches (Acts 15:12-29).

Some years later, when Paul came to *Jerusalem, he went to James and the other leaders. Many of the *Jews had heard false stories about Paul. They heard that he had spoken against the law of Moses. So, James told Paul how to show that these stories were not true (Acts 21:17-26). Paul did what James said. He went into the *temple with the four men who had made *oaths. They thought that this would show that the stories about Paul were false. However, this did not save Paul from the *Jews. The *Jews thought that Paul had taken a *Gentile into the *temple. And that was against their religion. The *Roman soldiers had to come and rescue him (Acts 21:17-32).

There was a *Jew whose name was Josephus. He was not a Christian. He was the writer of a history of the *Jews. From his books, we learn about the death of James. *Festus, the *Roman ruler in the country of the *Jews, died in AD 62. There was a period of 3 or 4 months before the new ruler, *Albinus, came to take his place. It was then that the high priest of the *Jews, *Ananus II, arrested James the brother of the *Lord. He wrongly accused James of crimes against the law and had him killed. None of this is in the *New Testament but it comes from what Josephus wrote.

From the letter, and from what other people wrote about him, we can get some idea about what James was like. He was a powerful man and a leader in the church. He was a man who loved what was right and good. Even those who did not believe in Christ thought well of him. This was especially true about those who were poor. James was active in support of them. He was against the wicked rich people who did wrong to the poor and the weak. He helped the widows and the children who had no parents. He did what he could for those who suffered wrong. In that way, he showed his trust in God and in Jesus Christ. In all this, he was a man of peace and wisdom. But to the rich, whom he spoke against, he was an enemy. Probably this led to his death in AD 62.

2 The time of writing

For many reasons, the date of the letter seems to be between AD 40 and AD 60. The most likely date is between AD 45 and AD 55. The main reasons for this date are:

•           The letter does not mention Christians who are not *Jewish. The first Christians were almost all *Jewish. So James probably wrote it before there were many Christians who were *Gentiles (not *Jewish).

•           When *Gentiles became Christians, there were problems about the rules that they were to obey (Acts 15). There is no mention of this, so the letter was of an earlier date.

•           The use of the word ‘*synagogue’ (in 2:2 translated as ‘meeting place’) shows that the Christians were still meeting with the *Jews. The date of the letter must be before the Christians had left the *synagogues and had separate meeting places.

•           When *Stephen died, the *Jews tried to kill the Christians. So, many of them left *Jerusalem and went to live in other countries (Acts 11:19). *Stephen was the first person that they killed because he was a Christian (Acts 8:58-60). Again in AD 44 there was trouble for the church in *Jerusalem (Acts 12:1). Maybe James is writing to those who had gone away because of these troubles.

3 The purpose and contents

A large number of the Christians had left *Jerusalem and had gone to live in other countries. But the *apostles and leaders of the church did not go. So, these Christians no longer had the day-to-day contact with their leaders. James wrote to help them. He wrote to encourage them to live as Christians should, in the places where they now lived.

What Christians believe must affect what they do. That is the main subject of his letter. He shows how they should apply their trust in God to the problems that they have. Real *faith must be active. That is the key to what he wrote. *Faith that does nothing is not real *faith. So he says that *faith without works is dead.

The plan of the letter of James

Chapter 1

Greeting from James 1:1

Testing builds character 1:2-4

God gives wisdom to those who ask in *faith 1:5-8

Poor and rich Christians 1:9-11

*Temptations and *sin 1:12-15

Good gifts come from God 1:16-18

Hearing and doing 1:19-25

True religion 1:26-27

Chapter 2

Respect of persons 2:1-7

Royal law 2:8-13

*Faith and works 2:14-26

Chapter 3

Responsibility of the teacher 3:1-5a

Danger of the tongue 3:5b-12

Two types of wisdom 3:13-18

Chapter 4

Desires and divisions 4:1-10

Speaking evil and *judging 4:11-12

Planning without God 4:13-17

Chapter 5

Judgement of the rich 5:1-6

Patience until the *Lord comes again 5:7-11

Do not swear 5:12

Prayer in all circumstances 5:13-18

Bring back those who have gone wrong 5:19-20

Chapter 1

Greeting from James 1:1

v1 This letter is from James, who is a servant of God and of the *Lord Jesus Christ. I greet you who are from the 12 *tribes of the *Jews scattered among the nations of the world.

Verse 1 James was the half-brother of the *Lord Jesus. Their mother was Mary but Joseph was the father of James. After Jesus came back from the dead, James trusted in him. He soon became a leader in the church in *Jerusalem. The *apostle Paul talks about him as one of the three top leaders (Galatians 2:9). Among these, he seems to have been the one with the most authority. Both those in the church and those who did not believe in Jesus respected him. *Jewish Christians left *Jerusalem and settled in other parts of the world. The fame of James spread with them. He was such a great man and yet he was humble. He did not write as the brother of the *Lord or as the leader of the church. He just called himself a servant of God and of the *Lord Jesus Christ.

In this, he is a good example to us. If we are anything, it is from God. And there is no cause for us to be proud. He called himself a servant or slave of God and of the *Lord Jesus Christ. He was neither a free man or a hired servant but a slave. The master owned the slaves. And the slaves lived to do what their master told them to do. To James it was an honour to make himself a slave, and to belong to God and to the *Lord Jesus. The *Scripture calls some of the great people in *Israel’s history slaves or servants of God. [See for example Abraham (Genesis 26:24), Moses (Joshua 1:1), David (Psalm 36:1).] James, like them, lived to serve God and the people of God.

Those to whom he is writing are from the 12 *tribes of the *Jews. They live in many parts of the world. These were *Jews who had become Christians. They were probably members of the church in *Jerusalem who went away from there after the death of *Stephen (Acts 8:14; 11:19-20). If this is so, then James had been their *pastor. He is now writing to them to help them and to encourage them as they try to live for Jesus.

James writes to those first Christians who were *Jewish. Some time later, those who were not *Jews trusted in the *Lord Jesus. And then they joined the church. All that James teaches, however, is true. And it is for all Christians. He shows us what God wants us to believe and do. We should all learn from him.

Testing builds character 1:2-4

v2 My Christian brothers and sisters, consider it pure joy when you have all kinds of *trials. v3 You know that, as you overcome these *trials, your *faith will grow stronger. v4 Go on overcoming so that it may work for your benefit. Then you will grow up to be mature Christians. You will be complete and you will lack nothing.

Verse 2 James calls them his brothers and sisters because he cares about them. They are his brothers and sisters as children of God because they trust in Jesus Christ.

They were having many *trials that were hard for them to overcome. These *trials came to them from other people and were a real test of their trust in God. The same word can mean *temptations that come from inside ourselves. It has this meaning later in James 1:13-18. We have to fight the *trials that come to us. We have to be careful not to give in to the *temptations that come from our own desires.

We do not know what the *trials were that these Christians had. They were *Jewish and many people hated the *Jews. They could have shared the things that the *Jews suffered. They believed that Jesus is the *Messiah, so the *Jews hated them. They could have suffered attacks from the *Jews. Having left their homes in *Jerusalem, they had to make new homes in foreign places. At first, it must have been very hard for them to get work and to earn money to live. James does not say what the *trials were. But he says that there were many of them and of all kinds.

*Trials can be a real test of trust in God. But when we meet them with the right attitude, they serve to prove the quality of that *faith. They know that God is the *Lord of all. And they know that he will help them. God has allowed the *trials to come. This is to prove their trust in God and to make their *faith stronger. So when *trials come, Christians can have pure joy. That is because they know that they can overcome the *trials. Each time they overcome they are stronger to fight the next *trials.

Verses 3-4 They must go on in their trust in God, overcoming each test. Then the *trials will achieve the purpose that God has for them. Christians should grow up and be mature in the life that they have with Christ. They will lack nothing. They will be all that God wants them to be. This is the purpose for the *trials. In this life, no person can be perfect, that is without *sin. But one day God will make all those who belong to him perfect. Then they will live for all time with him.

God gives wisdom to those who ask in *faith 1:5-8

v5 If any of you needs wisdom, ask God for it. God is generous. And he is ready to give to all that ask. He will never say that you are wrong to ask. He will give you what you need. v6 But when you ask for something, you must believe. You must believe that God will give it to you. You must not doubt that he will do it. Whoever doubts is like a wave in the sea that the wind drives and blows about. v7 If you are like that, you must not think that you will receive anything from the *Lord. v8 You are unable to make up your mind. And you are not sure in anything that you do.

Verse 5 Those who suffer *trials need wisdom. They need the wisdom to know how to deal with them. It will help them to understand the *trials. And it will help them to decide what they must do. God gives this wisdom so that they can choose to do what is right. They will know how God would want them to live in their troubles. Then they can overcome them all and not give up the struggle.

God alone can give this wisdom to them. All who feel the need of it must ask God for it. He will answer the prayers of those who ask for it. But they must believe that he will give it. God is kind and generous. He gives to them, freely and without limit, all that they need.

God does not blame those who ask. They need never be afraid to ask too much or too often. God is always ready to give to them all that they need. He is never angry with them for their lack of wisdom. He is so often much more ready to give it to them than they are ready to ask for it.

Verse 6 When people ask God for wisdom, they must believe. They must believe that God will hear their prayer. They must be confident that God will do what they ask. Having asked, they must receive the answers. And they must obey what God tells them to do. They must be firm and constant in their trust in God. They must not doubt that God will answer them. And they must not doubt that he is able to do it. God will not answer the prayers of those who doubt.

Those who doubt do not know what to think or expect. James says that persons like that are like the waves of the sea. The wind drives the waves in one way and then another. As the wind varies, so do the waves. The water moves and is never still. It does not settle; it has no rest. Those who doubt are just like that. They are just like waves that the changing wind blows about.

Verse 7 Those who doubt will not receive anything from the *Lord. God will not answer their prayers. We cannot think in two ways at once when we pray. Either we believe with no doubts or we do not.

Verse 8 In the *Greek, James says that persons who doubt have two minds. They are trying to serve God and someone else at the same time. They are not loyal to God alone. They have two opposite opinions in their mind. They cannot choose which is the right one. At one moment, they believe and the next moment, they do not. You cannot depend on them either in their prayers or in the rest of their lives.

Poor and rich Christians 1:9-11

v9 But let the poor brother be glad because God values him. And he will make him great. v10 And let the rich person be glad that he or she will lose everything. He or she will pass away like the wild flowers do. v11 The sun rises and the hot winds dry the wild flowers. They fall and die and lose their beauty. Similarly, while the rich man is busy, he will fall and die like a wild flower.

Verse 9 James wants to encourage the poor people who trust in God. They may feel that they are of little worth because they are poor. But their hope for the future is in God. The word ‘poor’ can mean humble and weak as well as poor in the goods of this world.

They can have joy and satisfaction in the fact that they are rich with God. They belong to Christ and, with him, they have a place of high honour. They are children of God, who owns all things. God has given them new respect and worth. They know that they are of great value to God. So, they can be happy because of that.

They look to the future. Then, what they see should please them. God has chosen them and will raise them up to new life. Then they will no longer be poor and weak. They will receive from God all that he has promised to those who love him. They will be with Christ for all time and they will share with him the riches of heaven.

Verse 10 We cannot be sure whether the rich person is a Christian or not. It is most probable that he or she is. There were poor and rich Christians in the churches then, just as there are today.

Rich Christians must not be proud of what they own. They must not be proud of the power that they have. They must be humble. They must not think that they are better than anyone else. They should know that their wealth and rank mean nothing to God. To God, they are no better than the poor Christians. If the rich persons here are not Christians, they would seem to have a lot to be happy about. But what they are happy about now will be their shame. Wealth and power will be of no value when they die. God will declare them guilty in the day of judgement.

James wrote about the flower of the grass. Grass does not have flowers. Flower of the grass is an expression that means the wild flowers that grow with the grass. In that land the grass and the flowers grow up quickly in the spring. They only last a short time and then they are no more. The colour and the beauty of them die away. The rich person is like these wild flowers. He or she is no more permanent than they are. Like them, he or she will pass away. Life is so brief and not certain. Rich people cannot take their wealth with them to the next world. The flowers in the spring grass drop after their brief life. In the same way, the rich people and their riches will come to an end.

Verse 11 In the land where James lived, the sun was very hot in summer. There was also a very hot wind that blew from the south-east. It came straight from the southern deserts, and it burst on the land like the heat from a fire. In an hour, it could burn all the grass and flowers. Even without this wind, the heat of the sun in summer could be so hot that it would burn them up in a day. There was no doubt that the sun and the wind would come and destroy the flowers. Similarly, the wealth of this world cannot last. The rich person also will die as the flowers do. Both can be alive one day and gone the next. While the rich person is going about his or her business, he or she will die. Then they will be no more. The end will come quickly and without warning.

It is foolish to trust in things that cannot last. We brought nothing with us when we came into the world. We can take nothing with us when we go from here. Like the poor Christians, we must put our trust in God alone.

*Temptations and *sin 1:12-15

v12 God blesses those whose *faith does not fail during *trials. When they have overcome the testing, they will receive the crown of life. That is the life that God has promised to give to all who love him. v13 When *trials come to tempt you, do not say ‘These *trials have come from God.’ Nothing bad can tempt God and God will not tempt anyone. v14 But it is our own evil desires that tempt us. They lead us to do what is wrong. v15 When we do what our evil desires tempt us to do, we *sin. The end result of *sin is death.

Verse 12 Those who overcome the *trials of this life have real joy. They have proved their trust in God. They can look for the blessing that God has promised. This is the crown of life. God will give it to those who love him. It will be that better life that they will enjoy after this life ends. The crown and the life are the rewards that God will give to those who have real *faith in him.

Verse 13 When we fail, it seems to be natural for us to blame someone else. We do not want to be responsible for our own failure. We like to think that we are not to blame. We think that it was not our fault. It must be God’s fault because he is tempting us. This must be wrong. God cannot be the cause of the evil things that men do. *Temptation does not come from God. Evil things cannot tempt God. There is no moral weakness in him. There is nothing in him to which evil things can appeal. God is all good and can have no contact with evil things. He has no desire that any person should do wrong things.

God does test people but not in the sense that is in these verses. He tests to prove them and not to make them fail. God himself tempts no one to do what is wrong. It is not possible that *temptation to *sin could come from him.

Verse 14 The source of the *temptation is in ourselves. The fault is in the desires and the weakness of our human nature. Those who *sin have no excuse for their *sin. It was their own choice and they are responsible for it. Our desires tempt us. They make us want to do what we know to be wrong. The trap for us is our own weakness. That which is not good attracts us. We could refuse to do it. But if we do not refuse we fail and *sin.

Verse 15 When we say yes to the evil desires then we *sin. *Sin starts when we say yes. Then it results in our doing what is wrong. That is also *sin. The result of *sin is death. All who *sin will die. The good news is that God can forgive *sins. God can forgive *sins because Jesus Christ has died for all people.

Good gifts come from God 1:16-18

v16 Do not make a mistake, my dear brothers and sisters. v17 Every good and perfect gift comes down from God the Father. It is he who made the sun, moon and stars. As they change and turn, they throw shadows. But God never changes or turns. v18 He chose to make us his children by his true word. We must be the first among all that he has made.

Verse 16 Here is a warning. We must not think that God sends *temptation to us. It seems that they had made this mistake. They cannot blame God for their own weakness. Each of us is responsible for our own *sins. Only good can come from God and not bad.

Verse 17 All good and perfect gifts come down from above. This means that they come to us from God. He does not send anything that is bad. He does not send the *temptations that lead us to *sin. He sent Jesus to die for us to bring us new life. He sent the Holy Spirit to be with us and in us. He helps us when we have any troubles. He gives wisdom to those who ask for it in *faith. He gives us all that we need and much more.

In the *Greek language, James calls God the ‘Father of the lights’. The *Jews knew God as *Lord of all the powers in the earth and Father of the skies. It means that he made the lights in the sky. And he controls them. These are the sun, the moon and the stars. They show us how great and powerful God is. The light from the sun, the moon and the stars varies but God does not. They move and change. As they turn, they cause shadows on the earth. These may change and turn but God never does. It is not possible for God to change. He is always the same. We can trust him because he is always good and kind to his people.

Verse 18 Of all the gifts from God, the gift of new birth to his children is the best. God chose to make us his children. As a mother gives birth to a child, so God gives life to those who trust in the *Lord Jesus. God makes them his own children. When God made the earth and the sky, he did it by speaking a word. Here he speaks his true word to give the new birth to us. This true word is the good news about what Jesus has done for us. Those who accept that true word with *faith become children of God.

In the *Jewish religion, the first of the fruits belonged to God. They gave to him the first part of the harvest. These Christians, like the first of the fruit, belong to God and are special to him. They were the first fruits of a much greater harvest to come. After them, there would be many more who would receive the word of truth. Of all the things that God has made, Christians are special to him.

Hearing and doing 1:19-25

v19 Hear this, my dear brothers and sisters, we must all be careful to listen. We should only speak when we are sure that we are saying good things. We should not get angry easily. v20 When we are angry, we do not do what God says is right. v21 Therefore, stop doing all those bad things that so easily make you fall. Accept God’s word. He has planted it in your hearts. That word can keep you safe and save your *souls.

v22 But do not just listen to the word of God. Do what it says. If you do not, you will be making a mistake. v23-24 Some people may listen to God’s word, but not do what it says. Anyone like that is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror. As soon as he goes away, he forgets what he is like. v25 But the persons who keep looking into the good law of God will be free, if they obey it. They will not forget what they hear. But they will do what it says. Then God will bless them in what they do.

Verse 19 James appeals to these Christians to listen to what he says to them. It is important for them to understand the truth of what he has written. It is important that they hear what he is going to say.

They must always be ready to hear. They must listen to what God has to say to them. Then God will guide them. And he will give them the help that they need for their lives. They should listen and hear when other people speak. Then they may be able help them. Someone who talks all the time will not hear what other people say. It is important to be more willing to hear than to speak. They must not speak too much. They should think before they speak. They need to be sure that what they say is good and correct. They should not allow little things to make them angry. Anger will stop the mind receiving the truth of God. It will cause damage both to the one who is angry and to other people.

Verse 20 Anger does not produce the kind of life that God wants us to have. Angry people do not do what God wants them to do. The anger of man does not help the purposes of God.

God is *righteous. And he demands that we are *righteous too. He has set the standard by which we must live. Human anger will cause us not to live to that standard.

Verse 21 They must put off all evil things and all that is wrong in their lives. It is like taking off dirty clothes before they can put on clean ones. They need a complete change to prepare them for the word of God. They were Christians and believed the good news about Jesus Christ. Now they must change the way that they live. They must be humble and receive all that God has said. As they look into the word of God, they must do what it says.

The word of God is like a seed. It requires clean soil in which to grow. It will take root and establish itself in them as they receive it. If it grows in them, it will change them. It will change them to be more like God wants them to be. They must allow the word of God to have its full effect in their lives. This word of God has the power to save their *souls. They can be certain that, by this word, they will be safe with God. They will be safe with God in this life and in the next life.

Verse 22 To receive the word means more than just to hear it. They must do what the word says. They must hear. But, unless they do what it says, it is of no benefit. It is not true that, by merely hearing the word of God, it will save them. If they think that all they need is to hear the word, they lie to themselves. To hear the word of God and not to obey it is a serious mistake.

Verses 23-24 The word of God is like a mirror. It shows them what they really are like. As they look at what God says, they see themselves with their weakness and *sin. It shows them what God expects them to do. And it shows them how they must change. Those who hear the word of God see themselves in the mirror. What they see in the mirror shows them what they need to do. But the man in this verse goes away. And he forgets what he has seen. He does not obey the word of God.

To listen to the truth, that is the word of God, is not an end in itself. The purpose of listening to the truth is that we should obey it. The word of God shows us how we must change.

Verse 25 In this passage, the word of God and the good law of God are the same. The good law of God is like something that God has planted in the Christians. That law is perfect. That means that it shows the perfect purposes of God. It is the law of freedom, because it can make people free. By this law, they can find all that they need to do what God wants. They should look into this law as if they were looking in a mirror. But they should not be like the man who goes away. He forgets what he looks like. They must remain with that law. And they must do what it says. The word of God becomes a delight as they obey it. They will mature in their experience of God. God will bless those who love him and obey his law. They look into the word of God. They study it and think about that law of God. They do what God asks them to do. God blesses them now. And he promises them a good future that has no end.

True religion 1:26-27

v26 If we think that we are *religious, (that is, doing the things that please God), we must not speak bad words. If we do, we are not right. We will not please God. Our religion is of no use. v27 The religion that God our Father accepts as true and pure is to do good things. It is to visit and help widows. It is to look after *orphans in their need. It is to keep oneself pure from all that is wrong in the world.

Verse 26 It is very easy for people to seem (in their own eyes) to be *religious. They may do what their religion asks in acts of *worship and service. These may be good in themselves. But there is no benefit in them if they do not control what a person says. James uses the word ‘tongue’ in this letter to mean the words that we say. Those people who do not control their tongues may think that they are all right. They think that their religion is good enough. But their religion is mere words. They say things that sound good. But, without good acts, their words are of no use. Their religion is vain and of no use because it fails to please God.

Verse 27 This is not a full description of what true and pure religion is. It does show the kind of religion that God accepts. There must be these two parts to it. There must be a real love for God and a love for men and women. Love always wants to do good things. Religion must be more than words. It must show our love for God in what we do and what we are. An example of that love in action is the care of those who are in need. *Orphans and widows had no help and no-one to look after them. These were the two groups most in need of aid. Pure religion is to go to these to comfort and to help them.

Pure religion has to do with what we are as well as what we do. We have to love God and to please him. He demands that we should be holy, as he is holy. This means that we should keep ourselves from all the moral evil that is in the world. But God does not accept people because of their good works. He accepts them because they have a true relationship with him. And those who know God like this will do good works. He is not only their God but he is their Father. They have become his children by trusting in the *Lord Jesus.

Chapter 2

Respect of persons 2:1-7

v1 My Christian brothers and sisters, you trust the *Lord Jesus Christ who is full of *glory. So, do not value one person more than another. v2 Suppose that a rich man who is wearing gold rings and good clothes comes to your meeting place. A poor man who is wearing old clothes also comes in. v3 You show more respect for the man who is wearing good clothes than to the poor man. You say to the rich man, ‘Please sit in this good seat’. But to the poor man you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit on the floor by my feet’. v4 If you do this, you are making a wrong distinction between them. You are judging them based on your own evil thinking. v5 My dear brothers and sisters, listen to me. God chose the poor people of this world to be rich because of their trust in him. They will possess the *kingdom that he promised to those who love him. v6 But you have insulted the poor man and made him feel ashamed. It is the rich who *persecute you. The rich drag you in front of the judges in the courts. v7 The rich speak evil of the good name of the one who called you to be his.

Verse 1 James again calls them brothers and sisters. In this, he shows them that he respects and looks after them. To God we are all of equal worth whether we are rich or poor. They must accept people for what they are and not for what they have or have not. They had considered the rich to be better than the poor. So James tells them to stop doing it. They must not honour the rich and show a lack of respect for the poor. They must be fair and have the same respect for the poor person as for the rich person. Those who belong to God must show respect to all of his people.

They said that they believed in the *Lord Jesus Christ. He is full of *glory. He is the king of *glory and he is the *Lord over all. But Jesus came from heaven. He put aside all that he had. He came for the poor, for those who suffered and for *sinners. He did not have respect for people because of their wealth or power. He is for us the example of how we should respect all people. We should respect them, no matter how poor they may be.

Verses 2-3 Here is a story to show them what he is talking about. It shows what respect of persons is like. It shows how some may express it. This may have happened in at least one of the Christian groups to whom he is writing.

Two visitors, a rich man and a poor man, came to the *synagogue. The *synagogue was the meeting place for the *Jews. The first Christians, who were *Jews, would have met in the *synagogue. Later, when they had left the *synagogue, people began to call the group of Christians ‘the church’. Here it means the place where the Christians met. They met here either for praise and *worship or to give judgement on some matter. The rich man came in. He was wearing gold rings and good clothes. At that time, gold rings were a sign of great wealth and a sign of a place in society. He may even have had more than one ring on each finger. The fine clothes also showed that this man was wealthy. It seems that he was a stranger to this group of Christians. He could well have been a Christian who was just visiting. Or he may not have been a Christian at all. The poor man came in and the sight of him contrasted so much with the rich man. He would only have one coat that he wore all the time. His clothes would be old, worn out with use and probably dirty. He was a stranger to the Christians meeting here. He may have been a Christian who was visiting. They gave the rich man a special welcome. They led him to a good seat. They made him feel at home and important. When the poor man came in, there was no welcome. They told him to stand or maybe he could sit at the feet of the speaker. They did not really want him there at all.

Here we have two men. One was wearing gold rings and good clothes. The other was dressed in old and poor clothing. The church should give them both the same welcome and good seats. They should think of them as of equal value to God and to themselves. What they did shows a bad attitude towards the rich man and the poor man. They made a difference between them by what they saw. The rich man appeared good to them and the poor man was of little worth.

Verse 4 If they act like this, then they are guilty of doing wrong. They consider the rich man to be better than the poor man. They should not make these distinctions between them. They say that they serve God. But they do not act fairly in respect of people. There is no distinction between the rich and the poor with God. They say that they believe certain things. But what they are doing does not agree with those things.

Because they are choosing to welcome the rich man and not the poor man, they are like unjust judges. They are wrong and their thoughts are evil. To make the rich feel more welcome than the poor is not right.

Verse 5 The use of ‘dear brothers and sisters’ shows that James loves the readers. But what he is saying is so important that they must listen to it. This false respect of persons that they show is not wise. The next few verses explain why. Few people in the early church came from the rich or ruling classes. Most of the Christians were poor people. That is, the people in the world think that they are poor. God chose those whom people in the world consider poor to be rich in *faith. God has not limited his choice to poor people, but they have been his first choice. God chose the poor But that does not mean that there is any benefit as such in being poor. The poor here are a class of humble people who put their trust in God. They depend on him. They do not depend on what they are or the things that they own. It does not mean that God chose all the poor because they were poor. It means that God chose poor people. Not all poor people trust in God. Nor does it mean that God does not choose some rich people. These poor are rich in that they have a place in the *kingdom of God. This home in heaven is ready for those who love God. He did not promise this as a reward for their love. The truth is that God called them in order that they may love him.

Jesus said, ‘Happy are the poor in spirit because the *kingdom of heaven is theirs’ (Matthew 5:3).

Verses 6-7 God has chosen the poor. But James is saying that his readers have insulted them. They gave the poor man no welcome and did not respect him. By insulting the poor man and respecting the rich man, they did what was wrong. It shows a bad attitude, one that does not please God. They should have welcomed the poor man. They ought to have respected him at least as much as they did the rich man.

It was the rich men who had power over the poor people. They used this power to get more riches for themselves. They kept the poor people poor and gave them no help. Many of the poor were their slaves. Many of these masters were unkind to their slaves. There was much *persecution of the poor and of the Christians. It was the rich people, not the poor, who started this. So there is no reason for them to respect the rich more than the poor. Rather they should welcome and look after the poor person. Rich people dragged Christians in front of the courts. They accused them of wrong doing against the law. The courts always accepted what the rich people said. The poor people and the Christians did not get proper *justice. Since most people in the church were poor, it would make no sense for them to prefer the rich visitor. Not only did the rich people *persecute them, but they spoke against the name of the *Lord. They insulted God and the name of Jesus Christ. To Christians, the name of Jesus Christ is good and noble. The name means the person, so the name of Jesus means Jesus himself. Christians should not give a special welcome to those who insult that name. In the *Greek it says that they had that name called upon them. To have a name called upon them meant that they belonged to that person. The name called upon them, (perhaps in *baptism), was the name of God. That name is the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So, Christians bear the name of Christ. That shows that they belong to him.

Royal law 2:8-13

v8 The royal law, found in the Bible, says, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39). If you really obey this, you do well. v9 But if you show respect to one person and not to another, that is *sin. God’s law says that you are guilty of doing wrong. v10 We must obey every rule that the law tells us. If we fail to obey one small rule, we have failed to obey the whole law. v11 God has said in his law, ‘You must not have sex with another person who is not your husband or wife’ (Exodus 20:14). He has also said, ‘Do not kill another person’ (Exodus 20:13). If you do not have wrong sex, but you do murder, you have not obeyed the law of God. v12 God will *judge you by the law that can make you free. Speak and live as those who know that. v13 God will not have *mercy on those who have not shown *mercy to other people. God will have *mercy on those who show *mercy. And God’s *mercy overcomes the law when it says that a person like that is guilty.

Verse 8 James now writes about the royal law. It is royal because of its nature and it comes from the great king. The great king is either God or the *Lord Jesus. This is the law of the *kingdom of God. It is the law that is above all laws. It tells us what God commands us to do. And it tells us how we ought to live. Part of this law is the command to love our neighbours. Love for one’s neighbour is at the heart of God’s law. Jesus gave this as a new command that we love one another (John 13:34). If we could love one another as we should, that would satisfy the whole of the law. If they really had done this, it would have been good. But they had not done so. They should show respect to all, both rich and poor. Love does not make distinctions and it shows the same kindness to all. They had not respected the poor man and so they had not kept this law.

Verse 9 To show respect to the rich man and not to the poor man is not to obey this law. Not to respect the poor insults those whom God has chosen. Those who do this to the poor people insult the God who made them. This makes the guilty Christian no better than those who insult the name of God. To make distinctions like this is to *sin against the law of love. It means that we are not loving our neighbour. The law itself says that they are guilty. And it shows them to be *sinners. They have not obeyed the law of God.

Verse 10 The law is a unity and to fail in one command is to fail to keep the law as a whole. A person may be a fairly good person. But he or she may spoil it all by one fault. That person has not failed to obey all parts of the law. Because that person has not obeyed just one part of the law, he or she is guilty of failing to keep the whole law. We cannot choose to obey parts of the moral law of God. We cannot subtract the bits we do not like. Some parts may seem less important to us but we have to obey all parts of it. We cannot excuse our failure in one part by the fact that we have been good in another part. No man can claim to be *righteous because he has obeyed part of the law. Failure to obey in one part is to *sin against the whole law. All of us have failed to keep the whole law. That is why we need the *righteousness of Christ. He loved us and took all our *sins to himself. He suffered the punishment for our *sins so that by trust in him we can be free. He gives us his *righteousness and he takes all our *sins from us.

Verse 11 The law of God has many commands but it is one law. Here is an example to show that to fail in one part is to fail to obey the whole law. God said that you must not have sex with another person who is not your husband or wife. He also said that you must not murder. Since the whole law is one law, failure in one part is a failure in the law as a whole. The person who murders but has not had wrong sex is guilty of failing to keep the law. In the same manner, the one that has wrong sex but has not murdered is guilty of failing to keep the law. Both are guilty of failing to keep the whole law. So, the person who fails to obey just one part of the law is guilty of failing to keep the whole law.

Verse 12 They must recognise that they will all be *judged by the law of freedom. They will have to answer to the judge for what they have done. They should live as those who know that. In what they say and in what they do they must obey the law of God. The law of freedom is the law of God. It is the law of love. This law sets free those who do what it says. It has a serious warning to all those who do not obey it. God will *judge them by this law. The nature of that law should cause us to be kind to all people. It is the law of freedom for those who have real trust in Christ. God in his love, through Christ, has made us free from the punishment for our *sins. He has made us able to love and so to obey the law of love. That power to love comes by trusting in Jesus Christ. And it comes by the Holy Spirit who lives in us. Christians show that love to other people both in words and in actions. As they love their neighbours, they satisfy the law that makes them free.

Verse 13 The judgement of God for those who have not been kind will be severe. As they have not loved their neighbours, they have failed to keep the law of love. Christians need not fear the judgement of God. This is because of what Christ has done. But there is to be a judgement of Christians when the *Lord comes again. Those who show *mercy shall receive *mercy. It was Jesus who said that. The Christian who shows *mercy has done what the law of love demands. Those who show *mercy to other people need not fear the judgement. Their *mercy frees them from judgement. This does not mean that we can earn *salvation by our *mercy. When we believe in the *Lord Jesus, God in his *mercy forgives all our *sins. The law says that we are guilty. But the *mercy of God is stronger than the law. Because Jesus has suffered for us, we are free by the *mercy of God.

*Faith and works 2:14-26

v14 My Christian brothers and sisters, you say that you believe in God. If you do not show this by doing good things, what you say is no use at all. If you believe like that, God will not save you. v15 Suppose a brother or sister needs clothes and does not have enough to eat. v16 You may say, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled.’ It is no good unless you give what the brother or sister needs. v17 It is the same with your *faith. You may say that you believe. But you do not do good things. That is no use at all. People show that they really believe in God by the good things that they do. v18 Someone will say, ‘You believe in God but I help people.’ Show me that you believe in God without doing good things. And I will show you that I believe in God by what I do. v19 You say that you believe that there is one God. Good! The *demons believe that, and it makes them tremble with fear. v20 You foolish people, you should not need me to show you these facts. You may say that you believe. But you do not do good things. That is no use at all. v21 Our father Abraham offered up his son Isaac on the *altar. God called him a *righteous man because of what he did. v22 You can see that Abraham believed God. You can see it because he did what God told him to do. When he obeyed, Abraham showed that he really believed in God. v23 This is just what the *Scriptures said would happen. ‘Abraham believed God, so God called him a *righteous man’ (Genesis 15:6). God also called him his friend. v24 You see, then, that it is by our actions that God makes us *righteous. It is not by our *faith alone. v25 It was the same with *Rahab. She was a woman who lived by sex. But when some men of Israel came to her, she let them stay in her house. And she kept them safe. Then she sent them away by a different route. v26 The body with no spirit is dead. Similarly, you may say that you believe in God. But you do not do good things. Then what you say is no use at all.

Verse 14 The subject here is the nature of real *faith. True *faith will always lead to doing good works. These good works are the work of love. Where there is no active love, there is no real *faith.

*Faith that is in words alone is of no use at all. True *faith is not just to feel good or to accept the truth only with the mind. There is no benefit in that kind of *faith. That kind of *faith is not really *faith at all.

*Faith has to prove itself by what it does. The works of *faith here does not mean just to keep the law. It means to do good things and to be kind to other people. True *faith is active and has to have works as well as words. Works will come from the *faith of the person who really trusts in God.

*Faith of the kind that has no works does not bring *salvation to that person. That *faith cannot save a man from the judgement of God. There is no benefit at all in that *faith.

We cannot do anything to earn rewards from God. Nobody can win *salvation by what he does. But God gives *salvation to the person who trusts in him.

Verses 15-16 Here are Christians who are in urgent need of help. They do not have enough food to eat. They do not have proper clothing. They are both cold and hungry and need clothes and food. Other Christians, who have the means to help them, send them away. They do not give them anything for their help. They give no food, no clothes nor any money to buy the things that they need. But, as Christians, they are brothers and sisters in God. As such, they ought to love one another. So, they should look after those who are in need. They each have a duty to give help where they can. But they do not help. This shows that they do not love or care. One of them says, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and fed.’ Some in the church say this to other church members who are in need. Those in need do not receive food and clothing. Instead, they hear nice words, which do nothing. These words say to them, ‘May your needs be met without our help.’ Those who speak like this refuse to give help. But their words seem to express a blessing. Good words like those are of no benefit without gifts to meet the needs. Words like those are dead words because they do not apply a remedy. Instead, they just depress further those who are in need of help. Good words, however well we mean them, are of no use. They are of no use, if there is no action as well.

Verse 17 *Faith that has not in itself the desire to meet the needs of other people is not real *faith. *Faith that lives will do good works. It always has works and it cannot exist without them.

*Faith that has no works is of no value. And it is not real *faith at all. If there are no works, this is proof that this *faith is dead. It has no more life than a body without breath. It is dead by being on its own, without the evidence of life. It is not the right kind of *faith and it is not living *faith. It does not bring *salvation and it is of no use.

Verse 18 Someone may say that one person has *faith and the other one has works. That person thinks that *faith and works can be separate from each other. This suggests that God will accept either *faith or works. It suggests that we can have one without the other. Some persons may say that they have *faith without good works. The question is, ‘Can we prove that we have *faith for *salvation with no works?’ The problem for this person is to show that he or she can have *faith apart from what it does. However, it is not possible to show that he or she has *faith if there are no works as evidence. True *faith must be active in doing good works. So works are necessary to prove that he or she has *faith. Just to say that he or she has *faith proves nothing. Only action can show that *faith is real.

Verse 19 There are some who say that belief in one God is good and sufficient. It is true that there is one God. He is the only God and there is no other. This God is one in himself. God is one. That is a basic truth. Many people agree that there is one God. They do well to believe in the one true God. It is good but, by itself, it is not enough. *Jews and Christians believe that there is one God and so do *demons. The *demons know that God lives and that he is all-powerful. Their belief is not merely words or thought. It has a real effect on them. They believe and tremble with fear. They are in terror of God. It makes them certain of their own terrible end. They know that one day God will destroy them. He will destroy them because they are not willing to obey him. To say that we believe is of little value if it does not produce good works. Real *faith unites people to God. It does not cause them to tremble but leads them to love God and do good works. *Faith is in the heart and the mind. And it shows itself in a changed life, which wants to obey God. People are *sinners, so an approach to God can only be through the *Lord Jesus. He took the punishment for all our *sins. Christians are those who have this real *faith in Jesus Christ. And they show that it is real. They show this by what they do.

Verse 20 A person who does not see that *faith must lead to good works is foolish. He is not wise. And he does not understand what the truth is. The fact is that *faith that does not lead to good works is not real *faith. James has already shown that it is dead and of no profit. *Faith like that is no use at all.

Verse 21 He calls Abraham our father. God called him to leave his home and go where he would lead him. Then God promised to make a great nation through the son that he would have. This is the nation of *Israel whom we know as the *Jews. This shows us that the readers of this letter were Christian *Jews. Abraham believed that God would do as he had said. He believed that God would give him a son. Then God said that Abraham was *righteous because of his *faith. There was no mention at that time of good works (Genesis 15:6). James is not here speaking about that first time when God called Abraham *righteous. Here God said that he was *righteous by the works that he did because of his *faith. What he did was the evidence of his *faith. It means that God called Abraham a *righteous man because he showed *faith.

The *faith of Abraham had its most difficult test and it did not fail. This event was the final proof of his *faith in God. So God declared him *righteous because of what he did. God accepted him because he offered his son as God had asked him. Rather, Abraham showed that he was *righteous by what he did. The *faith that Abraham had in God was real *faith. This act is the proof of that. He obeyed God and was ready to offer up his son Isaac to death. But without Isaac, God could not keep the promises that he had made to Abraham. But Abraham believed that God would keep the promises. God would keep the promises even if it meant that he must raise Isaac from the dead. Here is the kind of *faith that God will accept as *righteousness. That *faith is one that unites belief with the works that come from it. Abraham had *faith. But it was a *faith that needed to express itself by what he did. If Abraham did not have this *faith, he would not have obeyed God. He would not have offered up his son. His *faith was what caused him to do what God asked him to do (Genesis 22:9,16-18).

Verse 22 We should not think about *faith and works as separate things. Works are the certain result of real *faith. *Faith does not exist on its own without works. It is living and active in doing what God wants. It was not the *faith of Abraham plus his works which God took for *righteousness. Rather, his *faith made him able to obey God and to do the works. Works are not the source of his *righteousness. Abraham’s *faith and what he did worked together. The offering of Isaac was only one of the works that showed his *faith.

There is no question of works adding to *faith. Works make *faith complete in that they show it to be real. *Faith grows stronger by doing works. The works of Abraham proved his *faith. If there are no works, *faith is not complete. It is dead and of no use at all. So God made Abraham *righteous because of what he did. His *faith and actions worked together, so his works made his *faith complete.

Verse 23 God saw the *faith of Abraham. And so he said that Abraham was *righteous. God spoke these words 30 years before (Genesis 15:6). Now, 30 years later, Abraham offered Isaac. This showed the truth of those words. This was the work of the *faith that he already had. This work completed what God had said 30 years before about Abraham’s *faith. God called him his friend. This means that God accepted him as his own. It is not that he earned his place with God when he obeyed him. It was entirely by the grace of God. Abraham received the love of God with *faith and obeyed him.

Verse 24 When a person has a real *faith in Jesus Christ, God forgives all his or her *sins. It is by this *faith in Jesus that God calls that person *righteous. *Faith is essential. But a *faith that has no works to show that it is real is not true *faith. It is *faith that God accepts. But the nature of that *faith is to be active. It is an answer to the call of God, and the call is always to obey God. So doing what God wants must follow that *faith. *Faith in Jesus Christ is necessary to save a person but it is not *faith on its own. It is by *faith and it is by the works that *faith does. The works complete the *faith and show that it is genuine.

Verse 25 *Rahab was a woman who lived in the city of *Jericho. She had got her money by sex. She was not a *Jew, yet, like Abraham, she was an example of *faith in God. God could even make a person like *Rahab *righteous because she did good works by her *faith. The readers knew the story about *Rahab. She believed that the God of *Israel was the one true God. She said to the men who came to her, ‘The *Lord your God is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath’ (Joshua 2:11). Joshua, the leader of the *Israelites, sent men to the city of *Jericho. They were the enemy and had come to see how best to fight against the city. Because of her *faith, *Rahab received these men into her home. She risked her own life to protect them. Then she sent them away by a different route so that the men of the city would not catch them. Because of what she did, the army of the *Jews did not kill her or her family. God saved her because she received the men and kept them safe. She had done this because she believed in God. Because of this, God called her *righteous. He accepted her just as he did Abraham. He accepted her by works that proved *faith.

Verse 26 When the spirit of a person has gone from the body, the body is dead. The human body, when it is dead, is of no use to the person. *Faith that has no works is as dead as the dead body. It is like the body without breath. Compare *faith to the body and works to the spirit. The body is dead if it has no spirit. A *faith that is not supported by works is just as dead.

Chapter 3

Responsibility of the teacher 3:1-5a

v1 My Christian brothers and sisters, not many of you should be teachers. God will demand more from teachers than from other people when he *judges them. v2 All of us often make mistakes. Anyone who is never at fault in what he or she says is perfect. That person is also able to control his or her whole being. v3 We put a *bit into the mouth of a horse to make it obey us. When we do this, we can turn the horse. We can make it go where we want. v4 For another example, look at ships that sail on the sea. They are large, and strong winds push them over the water. But a person can use a small *rudder to make the large ship turn where he or she wants it to go. v5a The tongue is like that too. It is a very small part of the body but it talks about big things.

Verse 1 In the early church, the role of the teacher was a very important one. The church members had a great respect for their teachers. So, it seems that many church members wanted to be teachers. Some of them may have wanted it for the wrong reasons. They wanted other people to think well of them and they wanted to enjoy the power of the job. Most of them did not qualify for the task. They did not have the natural skills and God had not called them to do it.

Teachers must take care to teach the truth of God and not their own ideas. They are responsible for the way in which the church grows. They have power that they could so easily use wrongly. They must show by their lives the truth that they teach. It would be easy and wrong to speak great words but fail to do good things. There should not be a large number of teachers. They should be able to teach. They must know that God has called them to this work. Only those whom God calls should become teachers in the church.

God expects a higher standard of those who teach. He will be more strict when he *judges them than he will be with other people. They have the task of teaching the other Christians how to live. They will receive the greater judgement if they fail to do what they have taught. This verse should not stop those whom God calls to teach. The writer, James, was a teacher.

He warns that it is a responsible task to teach in the church. No-one should take on this work unless God asks him to.

Verse 2 We have all said wrong things. If we were to examine what we say, we would see that. We all slip up, or make mistakes, and say bad things. Often we do not mean to *sin in this way. It is as if bad words just come out of our mouths. There is no man in this world who does not *sin in something. There is no *sin into which it is easier to fall than the *sin of the tongue. In this letter, the writer uses the word ‘tongue’ to mean the words that we say.

If someone could have control over all that he or she says that one would be a perfect person. The tongue is the hardest of all the parts of the body to control. It is out of the heart (which includes the mind) that the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). It is from inside of us that bad actions and evil words come. If anyone does not *sin in what he says, then he or she would not *sin in other ways either. If a person could control the tongue, it would follow that he or she has power over the whole of his or her life. That one would be a perfect person. Apart from the *Lord Jesus, there never has been a person like that.

Verse 3 There are now three pictures to show the power of the tongue. First, there is the horse in this verse. Then there is the ship in verse 4. Later, in verses 5 and 6, there is fire. These all teach us that there is great danger in the wrong use of words.

The rider holds the horse by the *bit and *bridle so that he can control it. The *bit is a piece of metal that men put into the horse’s mouth. The *bridle joins to the ends of the *bit and fits over the head of the horse. By using the *bridle and the *bit, the rider can control the mouth of the horse. This gives the rider power to control the horse. So, the rider can guide the horse in the direction that he or she wants to go. What is true about horses is also true about men. The man who can control what he says can control his whole being. If the tongue is not under control, the whole of life will go the wrong way.

The aim of this example is to show that a small part can have control over a large body. The *bit is small but by it the rider directs the large horse. The tongue is a small part but what it says affects the whole person and other people. This is true for a church as well as for a single person. The words of a teacher can affect the whole church for good or bad.

Verse 3 In those days when people went on a journey they went on horses or in ships. Looking at ships, we can see how a small object can control a large one. The small *rudder sets the direction in which the large ship sails. The *rudder was a piece of wood, or an oar, under the back of the ship. As the sailor turned the *rudder, so the whole ship turned.

The ship may be large and driven by strong winds yet a very small *rudder can guide it. Here is a contrast. The ship is large, the force of the winds is strong but the *rudder is so small. This small object can direct the way that the whole ship will go, even in a storm. The rider pulls the *bit to change the direction of the horse. So the sailor turns the small *rudder and changes the direction of the large ship. The tongue is a very small part of the body just as the *rudder is a small part of the ship. If we could control what we say, we could guide the direction of the whole of our life. The tongue is small, yet it affects the whole body and life of a person.

Verse 5a The tongue is so small yet it has such great power. As the *bit and the *rudder have such an effect, so the small tongue can do great things. It talks big. And it makes itself seem to be better than it is. What we say can bring about much good or much damage. Words can cause acts that have enormous results for both good or bad. Words can move a crowd to do bad things. Words can change the future of nations.

James is not saying that we should not talk. He is arguing for control of the tongue, and the wise use of words. The mind and the heart control what we say. With the help of the Spirit of Christ, we can have that control. Then we can use our tongue to bless people.

Danger of the tongue 3:5b-12

v5b Just think how a tiny flame can set a large forest on fire! v6 The tongue also is like a fire. It is a like a world of evil among the parts of the body. It is a small part of the body but it makes the whole person bad. It seems to set the whole of a person’s life on fire. It is the fire that comes from hell. That is what makes the tongue so dangerous. v7 *Human beings can make all kinds of animals, birds, snakes and fishes, do what they want them to do. v8 But no person can rule the tongue and stop it from saying evil things. It never rests and is full of poisons that can cause death. v9 We use the tongue to praise our *Lord and Father. We also use it to speak evil things against people. But God made people to be like himself. v10 So we use the same mouth to praise and to speak evil things. My Christian brothers and sisters, we should not do this. v11 Bitter water and sweet water cannot come from the same spring. v12 My Christian brothers and sisters, a *fig tree cannot grow *olives. A plant that grows *grapes cannot also grow *figs. Neither can a spring have both bitter and sweet water.

Verse 5b In the dry season, the grass, the low growing bushes and other plants were like dry straw. A small flame could set it all on fire. The flames of that fire would spread like a wave that no-one could stop. It would soon be out of control. It takes just a tiny flame to set on fire a great mass of material. A little flame can destroy a great forest. What we say can be as dangerous as that fire. It can cause real problems for those to whom we speak. And it can cause real problems for those about whom we speak. The bad things that we say can spread like the fire in the forest. The tongue can hurt people and cause them much trouble. Bad words can spoil a person’s good character. They can, in effect, destroy that person. They can set people against each other.

Verse 6 The danger of the tongue is that it is like a fire in the dry straw. A careless word can cause great damage. Once the word has left the mouth, there is no way to take it back. Most *sins that people do involve what they say.

The tongue is like a fire and it is also like a world of evil. It is like a world of bad things set among the parts of the body. The word ‘world’ here means a world without God and so it is evil. The tongue that speaks bad things is like a world that is at war with God. It fights against God and does not obey his laws. We use the tongue to express all kinds of evil. Words hurt and damage the whole body. The body here is not just physical but it is the whole of the person. So, the words that come from our hearts and minds spoil the entire character. They have an effect on the whole of life, from beginning to end. Each life is like a wheel that rolls on from birth to death. It goes through many phases and changes on its way to complete its time on earth. The evil effect of the tongue spreads all round this wheel of life. It affects all those who come into contact with it. The source of the evil tongue is the fire of hell. The devil uses the tongue as a fire that spreads evil in man.

The word hell comes from the *Hebrew word *Gehenna. This was the name of the valley to the south of *Jerusalem. It was there that they burned the rubbish from the city. The fires there seemed to be always burning. To the *Jews this was like the punishment for *sin that would go on for all time. So the name of that *eternal place of *sin and death became hell. Here is the source from which the tongue gets its evil power.

Verse 7 *Human beings can control all kinds of animals, birds, snakes and fishes. When God made the earth, he gave Adam this authority. We do not now see *human beings in control of all other life on earth. But we *humans have learned to control and make use of many of them. It does not say that we can control every single living thing.

Verse 8 *Human beings can still control some of the animals. But because of *sin, they have lost control of themselves. They can make animals tame but they cannot rule their own tongues. No-one by his or her own efforts is able to make the tongue tame. The tongue is like an animal in a cage. It will not rest and it always tries to get free. We can keep an animal like this so that it cannot escape. But this is not possible with the tongue. It is never at rest long enough for us to control it. It is ready at all times to break out into evil. It is not that it never speaks good. But it often speaks evil. It is like a snake full of poison that can kill. Evil words are worse than the bite of animals and the poison of snakes.

Verse 9 With the tongue we praise our *Lord and Father. Both of these words ‘*Lord’ and ‘Father’ refer to God. *Lord is the special name that God gave for himself in the Old Testament. We usually write it in capitals, LORD (see word list). He is the great and powerful God. We call him *Lord because we respect him and we belong to him. Christians know him as Father because in his love he has given them a new birth. Several times in the *New Testament Christians are called children of God. They are now his children by trusting in Jesus. They call him Father because they know his love and love him for it. The highest use of human speech is the praise of God, the *Lord and Father. We use the same tongue when we curse men. We speak our praise to God and we say bad things about people. But God made men to be like himself and that image remains in people. It is what helps us to know what we ought to do. It also helps us to hear God. However, *sin has damaged that image of God in *human beings. But something of it is still there. We ought not to curse people whom God made to be like him. As God made *human beings in his own image, to curse a person is in effect to curse God. So to use the same tongue to bless God and to curse people is wrong.

Verse 10 People say what is in their hearts and minds. Mature Christians will control what they think and say. The Holy Spirit gives them power so that they can control their tongues. They will praise God and they will also speak well of people. But so often, they fail to make use of the control that he gives. It is wrong to bless and curse with the same tongue. Christians should not mix good words with evil talk like this. To curse men in that way makes the blessing just empty words and of no use. They praise God. They think and speak evil about people at the same time.

Verse 11 The land where James lived did not have much rain. A town or village may have to depend on springs or wells for their water. Both sweet and bitter water cannot come out of the same hole. It can have only one type of water, sweet or bitter. Sweet water is that which is fresh and good to drink. Bitter or salt water is not good to drink. But the tongue can produce both bad and good words from the same source. Two kinds of speech come from the same tongue. This is against nature where good comes from good and bad comes from bad.

Verse 12 *Figs, *olives and *grapes were the three most common fruits that the farmers grew. The *fig tree had *figs. The *olive tree had *olives. The *grape *vines had *grapes. Each tree could only have its own fruit and could not have any other fruit. It is a fact of nature that like produces like. As is the root, so the tree will produce the fruit. A plant has the fruit that comes from its own nature. Similarly, a fountain has one type of water. It will have sweet water or it will have bitter water. It cannot have both. Out of the mouth of a good person, there should come only good words. Out of the mouth of a wicked person, we would expect bad words. *Figs, *olives and *grapes are examples of how the tongue should be either good or bad. It is against nature when we speak both good and bad words. We ought to praise and not to curse.

Two types of wisdom 3:13-18

v13 Some of you are wise and understand these things. So, show your wisdom by the good things that you do. But be *meek and live quiet lives. v14 But if in your heart you are jealous, bitter and selfish, do not be proud of it. Do not be so proud that you deny the truth. v15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. It is not the wisdom that is from God. No, it is from the earth, from the bad parts of human nature. It is like the wisdom of *demons. v16 Where people are jealous and have selfish ambitions, there will be trouble. They will do all kinds of evil things. v17 But the wisdom that is from heaven is pure. It is also calm and quiet, gentle, and friendly. It is loving and kind, doing good to all. It values each person. And it is genuine and honest in all that it does. v18 Those who bring peace to other people help them to live at peace with everyone. Those who bring God’s peace to other people, God will make *righteous.

Verse 13 James asks who among them has wisdom and knowledge. Perhaps he has in mind the teachers or those who want to be teachers. Those who know more may think that they are better than the other people. But knowledge and wisdom are not the same. A person can know a lot but have little wisdom. They need to have both. They do not show wisdom so much in what they think or say. They show it more in what they do. It is not what they say. It is how they live. True wisdom does good works. Just as we can see real *faith in what it does, so we know this wisdom by its actions. We will know a wise person by his good life. A wise person will be *meek. ‘*Meek’ is a word that is hard to translate. The *meek person is strong yet humble and gentle. The wise person does not desire honour or fame. When other people do wrong to him, he does not do wrong to them. The Spirit of God gives us the strength to be gentle and humble. The life that is wise and *meek is one that is under the control of God. The *Lord Jesus is for us the great example of this. He was *meek and humble in heart because he had real strength of character.

Verse 14 Those who want honour for themselves are not like the wise and gentle. They are jealous of those who seem to do better than they do. They work hard for their own advantage. Their attitudes are not good and they will cause bad relations in the church. They may be proud that they have the truth. But, by being proud, they are denying the truth. Suppose that a speaker has a wrong attitude. The true words that he speaks may give a false message. Even the truth from the lips of those who are proud can become error. To speak in a proud manner is to speak against the truth. The person who is proud of his wisdom lies against the truth. James says that they must not be proud. Those who are wise and know God will be humble and gentle.

Verse 15 Where people are proud and have selfish ambition, there is not true wisdom. There is a false wisdom that has nothing to do with God. It does not come from above, that is from God. To have wisdom from above is to have the wisdom that God gives. The false wisdom is from human nature and is of the earth. It is unlike that which comes from above. It has its source not from God but from the devil. It works to the standards of this world and not as God directs.

Verse 16 This human wisdom is proud and jealous. It is the cause of disagreement and not peace. Where this wisdom is, there will be confusion. The ambition of man tends to destroy life with God. The works of this wisdom are bad and of no worth. No real benefit for the church can come from them. They do nothing to help Christians and build the church. These works just destroy the unity that ought to be there.

Verse 17 There is the true wisdom that comes from above. This wisdom that comes from God is so different. It is a gift from God. It is not what a person can achieve. It is not of this world. James has described what this wisdom is not. Now he shows what it is. He uses seven words (in the *Greek language) to show what it is like:

•           Pure. It is clean and has no selfish ambition. It is holy, as God himself is holy.

•           Peace-making. It brings people closer together and nearer to God. It does not fight but brings peace.

•           Gentle. It is fair and kind. It knows the weakness of *human beings and helps them. It does not insist on its own rights. It is always ready to help and not to blame.

•           Open to reason. It is easy to approach it. It will listen to what other people say.

•           Full of *mercy and good fruits. It helps those who suffer. And it has sympathy for all those who are sad. It has the pity and the love to do good for them and all people.

•           Fair to all. It shows respect for all people. It does not make distinctions. It does not do things from prejudice. It is sure about what is true. It has good standards that do not change.

•           Real and sincere. It is honest. It does not pretend or act a part. It is sincere in all that it does and with all people. It does not work for its own benefit.

Verse 18 This verse could be a well-known saying that James used. He is teaching here that true wisdom is the wisdom of peace. Those who have this wisdom do good works. Those good works result in blessing and peace. They are like seeds that grow up into a plant. The fruit of that plant is *righteousness. And the soil in which it grows is peace. It is those who make peace that sow and look after the plant of *righteousness. They do not only love peace and live in peace. They also try to create peace. Peace cannot grow where people are jealous and work only for their own good. Nothing good can grow where people fight one another. There has to be unity and they have to work together for the same things. Peace means a right relationship with other people and with God. If this does not exist, there can be no true *righteousness.

Chapter 4

Desires and divisions 4:1-10

v1 You know where all the fights and quarrels among you come from. They come from your desires for pleasure, which are always fighting in you. v2 You want something, but you cannot have it. So you are ready to kill. You desire it so much that you quarrel and fight for it. But you cannot obtain it. You do not have what you want because you do not ask God for it. v3 When you do ask, you do not receive anything. This is because you ask for the wrong reason. v4 You are like a wife who has sex with other men. You ought to know that to be the world’s friend is to be God’s enemy. All who want to be friends of the world make themselves enemies of God. v5 The *Scripture with good reason says, ‘God has caused his Spirit to live in us. He wants very much to keep us for himself.’ v6 God gives us more loving help. That is why the *Scripture says, ‘God opposes the proud, but he gives his loving help to the humble.’ v7 So then, give yourself to God alone. Fight against the devil and he will run away from you. v8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash away your *sins. Make your hearts and minds clean, you who want to go both ways. You cannot love *sin and God at the same time. v9 Be sorry and weep because of your *sins. Do not laugh but be sad. Do not be happy but be serious and sad. v10 Be humble in front of the *Lord God. Then he will make you great.

Verse 1 There were problems where there should be peace. James asks the readers to see what was the true source of their quarrels. There were wars and fights in the church. The word ‘wars’ here means quarrels rather than real wars. So there were quarrels and fights among them. There were angry words and they said bad things about one another. It seems that things got so bad that there were actual fights. There could have been many reasons for these problems. They may have been arguing about what they did. Or they may have been arguing about what they believed to be right. There could have been people in the church who did not like each other. But the real cause of these quarrels was their own desires. They each wanted what pleased themselves. When they could not agree on what they wanted to do, there was trouble.

Where people’s aims are their own desires there will be struggling, hating and fighting. By our nature, our pleasures tend to rule our lives. We need the grace of God to make us free from this selfish attitude. Perhaps these desires have the first place in our lives. Then we will not be able to do what God wants us to do. God made us for his pleasure and not for ours. Our desire ought to be to do what God wants us to do. And we should desire to be what he wants us to be.

Verse 2 They were eager to get what they wanted for themselves. Their desires became the master of their hearts and minds. All this was true. But still they did not have what they searched for. They tried to obtain it but they could never find it. They became so jealous that they would murder to get it. It is hard to believe that these Christians did kill each other. But there were such strong feelings of hate that it was almost as bad as murder. They could never have enough. The more they had, the more they wanted. What they had could not satisfy them. Because they could not get what they wanted, they quarrelled and fought. They were going about it in the wrong way. That is the reason that they could not get it. Instead of fighting, they should have prayed to God. This does not mean that God would give them what they wrongly desired. Rather, this shows that they had turned away from God in their hearts. If they would look to him first, then he would change their desires. The primary need is to desire the right things. They needed to desire those things that God would want to give them. They should not pray to God for their own selfish desires but for his wisdom and help.

The choice we have to make is whether to please ourselves or to please God. If we choose a life of pleasing ourselves, it will not satisfy us. If we choose to please God, he will give us true satisfaction in life.

Verse 3 God is ready to answer the prayers of those who ask for what is right. *Righteous people ask for what God wants to give. So he hears them. He hears those who *repent of their *sins and ask him to forgive them. He will answer those who pray with *faith for that which is good. Some of these people prayed but with wrong desires. They did not receive what they asked for. They did not receive it because they asked wrongly. They asked God to give them more to satisfy their own desires. They wanted to please themselves. They did not want to please God or to bless someone else. God does not answer that kind of prayer.

Verse 4 They were like wives who have sex with men who are not their husbands. To God, sex like that is *sin. James was not saying that they were having wrong sex. But he was showing them that they were not *faithful to God. The *Old Testament speaks about God as being like a husband and the *Jews as his wife. Sometimes the *Jews turned from God to other gods. Then it was like a wife who went to another man. The *New Testament says that the church is like a bride. It is the bride of Christ. James is saying that they were not *faithful to Christ. They did not love God as they should. Instead, they loved the things of the world. Those who share the values of the world are not *faithful to God. That is the world apart from God. It is not the natural world, which God made. The things of the world include all that opposes God and his rules. James is thinking here about those pleasures and aims that draw people away from God. It is the desire for wealth, power and pleasure that governs those of the world. They refuse the rule of God.

Desire for the things of the world is friendship with the world. By its nature, friendship with the world is against God. He who is a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Christians cannot love God and be friends with the world. They have to choose between God and the world. They can be friends either with the world or with God, not both.

Verse 5 They were acting as if they did not accept the *Scriptures. But these are the word of God and have his authority. What James writes here is not directly from the *Scriptures. But he does express the truth that they contain. God has sent the Holy Spirit to live in us. The Holy Spirit is jealous for us. He opposes everything in us that would draw us away from God. He desires us to be *faithful and to love God and the *Lord Jesus. God is a jealous God. He loves us. And he does not want us to love anyone more than we love him. ‘Jealous’ comes from a word meaning burning heat. This shows the strong desire with which God longs for our love.

Verse 6 Only the loving help of God can make us able to accept the love of God. It is his love that can help his people to refuse the *temptations of the world. God makes great demands on them. But he gives them the help that they need to please him. His standards are high, but he gives more than enough strength to meet those standards. God opposes those who are proud. They do not love God, and they refuse to obey him. They do not know or realise that they need God. They think that they can manage in life without God. They are those who are friends of the world. And so, they are enemies of God. They have turned away from their Maker and so he has turned away from them. The proud do not think that they need God’s loving help. So he sets himself against them.

The humble are those who know their own weakness. They depend on God. He alone can give them the help that they need. They give themselves to God and desire to please him. They want to receive the loving help that God gives. No-one can receive this help until he or she accepts the need of it and comes to God for it. To these who come to him, God delights to give his loving help freely.

Verse 7 God gives help to the humble. So, the readers should be humble and come to him. That is to recognise God as the *Lord and Master of their lives. They should give the control of their lives to him. As they give themselves to serve God, he makes them able to fight and defeat the evil one. Then James tells them to oppose the devil. These two actions are two sides of the same thing. They must turn to God and they must turn against the devil. The devil knows that his only hope is to draw Christians away from their trust in God. The cause of their failure is often that they are proud. The devil appeals to that. As strong as the devil may be, humble Christians can defeat him. As they say ‘no’ to his *temptations he has to go away from them.

Verse 8 Their desire for the things of the world had drawn them away from God. In wanting to please themselves, they had moved away from him. They were still God’s people but they had become like strangers to him. They had to *repent of all that had caused them to go from God. And they had to ask him to forgive them. God never refuses to come to those who *repent and turn to him. God is so good and kind to all those who come to him. As they approach God, he will come near to them.

In the *Greek, James says, ‘*Sinners, wash your hands and those with two *souls (or minds) make your hearts pure’. *Sinners are those who do not do what God says. Those with two *souls (or minds) are those who want to be friends with both God and the world. These *sinners and those with two minds must wash their hands and make their hearts pure. The washing of hands was part of the ceremony of *worship. It was to make a person fit to come near to God. ‘Who shall go up to the hill of the *Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart … ' (Psalm 24:3-4). This means that they must *repent and turn from their *sin. They have to choose to follow God and not be friends with the world.

Verse 9 They should be sorry for their *sins. They should be so sorry that it causes them to be sad. They should weep because of what they have done. They should no longer laugh at and enjoy the things of the world. Instead, as they think about their *sins, they should be sad and unhappy. When they have come back to the *Lord, then they will be able to laugh and be glad again.

Verse 10 The writer tells them to come, with a humble attitude, to God. They need to know that they are small and weak. And they need to know that they need God to help them. Only those who come to God like this can know his blessing. God has promised to lift them up, to forgive them and to make them strong.

Speaking evil and judging 4:11-12

v11 My Christian brothers and sisters, do not say bad things about one another. If you speak against another person you are *judging him or her. When you do this, you speak against the law. And you *judge it as well. If you *judge the law you do not obey it. You have made yourself its judge. v12 It is God who gave the law. And it is God who says what we should do. Therefore, only God can be the judge. He alone is able to save us or to destroy us. Who do you think you are, to *judge someone else?

Verse 11 In the church, there were those who said bad things about other Christians. What they said was unkind. And perhaps it was not true. They must stop doing it because they are brothers and sisters. To speak against a Christian is against the law to love him or her. They cannot speak evil about other Christians and at the same time love them. The person, who speaks bad things about another person, acts as a judge of that person. Those who do this also speak against the law of God. It is as if they say that the law is not right. It is as if they have put it aside. They have become judges of the law. Their own ideas are to them more important than the law of God. But our duty is not to *judge the law but to obey it. Those who *judge the law set themselves above the law. This is taking the place of God, who is the judge. Only God can be the judge because he alone is not under the law.

Verse 12 No *human being has the right to *judge another. There is only one person who can be the judge. That is God, who gave us the law. No man can put aside the law of God. It is for all people and for all time. God will *judge all people by the law that he gave. The authority to *judge belongs to God alone. God is the *Lord of life and death. He alone is able to save life or to destroy it. He has the power to reward people or to punish them. Compared with the power of God, man is so weak. So it is foolish for a man or a woman to *judge a neighbour.

Planning without God 4:13-17

v13 Now then, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this city or to that one. We will stay a year there. We will buy and sell and get rich.’ Listen to me. v14 You do not know what will happen tomorrow. Your life is like a mist that appears for a little while and then disappears. v15 What you ought to say is, ‘If it is what God wants, we will live here or there. If he wants it, we will do this or that’. v16 As it is, you are proud. And you talk about what you will do. You speak as if you are able to make it happen. It is wrong to speak like this. Only God knows and can make things happen. v17 So, we all know the good things that we ought to do. If we do not do them, we are *sinning.

Verse 13 ‘Come now’ or ‘now then’ draws attention to what follows. James wants to show that it is a bad mistake to plan our lives without God. The *Jews traded wherever they went in the world. Some of them would travel for the purpose of trade. So, as an example, James speaks about merchants who are in the church.

Here are some merchants who are planning a trip. They say, ‘We will go on the day that we decide. We will go to a certain city and stay there a year. We will trade there and we will make a profit.' But God has no place in their plans. These merchants think that they can do as they have planned. As they made their plans, they forgot God. It was as if the future was in their hands to control. But God alone knows the future and it makes no sense to plan without him. Planning for the future is good but it must be with God. God’s plan is above all other plans. His plans can never fail.

Verse 14 These merchants cannot know what tomorrow will be like. They cannot see what will happen in the next year. Only God knows the future and it is in his control. They forget that they are human. As such, they cannot be sure of their own lives. This human life lasts only for a short time. The only certain thing is that at some time they will die. In the morning, the mist covers the country. By noon it has all gone. Human life is like that. The use of the word ‘mist’ expresses the thought that life is short. Human life on earth is like a mist, or smoke. It is here for a little while and then it goes.

Verse 15 It is not that they should not plan. It is good to plan. But, as they make plans, they need to know what God wants. They should accept that God alone knows what will happen. The only way to plan for the future is to trust God. They should not say what they will do. Instead, they should say, 'We will do it if God allows it.'

Verse 16 The proud merchants were sure of themselves. They were sure that by their own efforts they would succeed. They planned and acted as if God did not exist. It was as if they claimed to be able to control the future. They were wrong, and a confidence in themselves like that is evil. To think that they could plan the future is to *sin against God. Only God can know what is to come.

Verse 17 *Sin is not just to do wrong things but also the failure to do right things. Think about a person who knows to do right. He *sins if he does not do it.

Chapter 5

Judgement of the rich 5:1-6

v1 Now, you rich people, weep and cry aloud. There are terrible troubles that will soon be coming to you. v2 Your riches have lost their value. Your beautiful clothes are as if *moths had eaten them. v3 Your gold and your silver have become dirty and stained. The dirt and stains will be evidence against you in the judgement. They are like poison that will eat up your bodies as with fire. That is because you have heaped up a lot of riches in these last days. v4 Listen! You have not paid the wages of those who worked in your fields. The money you kept from them cries out to God against you. The *Lord of all power has heard the cries of the workers. v5 You have lived on earth in luxury. And you have had all that you wanted. You lived to please yourselves. You have made yourself fat, like animals ready for men to kill. v6 You have accused. And you have caused the death of those who were innocent.

Verse 1 James speaks to the rich people as if he were writing to them. But he is not sending this letter to them. Even if they were to receive it, they would not accept what he says about them. James wrote, in this way, to show his Christian readers that it is foolish to trust in *riches. They should not be jealous of those who are wealthy. The rich people, of whom he is writing, are not Christians. They were, at that time, the owners of the land and rich farmers. They were the wealthy people who caused the poor to suffer.

In verses 1 to 6, James accuses these rich people of four things:

•           They are foolish in storing up so many riches (verses 1-3). Possessions that are not used spoil and do no good.

•           They were not honest in what they did (verse 4). They got their wealth by unfair actions and they cheated their workers.

•           They lived a life of luxury while other people were in need of their help (verse 5).

•           They were guilty of the crime of murder (verse 6).

James warns about the punishment that would soon come upon these rich persons. He does not call on them to change their ways, to escape the judgement of God. He just speaks about the fate that will come to them. They should weep and cry aloud because it will be so awful. God will not punish them because they are rich. They are guilty because of how they got their riches. And they are guilty because of what they did, or did not do, with them. They are guilty because of the way they cheated other people. They are guilty because they depend on their riches and not on God.

Verses 2-3 The wealth of these rich persons is of three types:

•           They had riches, which could refer to all kinds of wealth. But the word also meant grain, oil and food. If they keep these too long in store, they will go bad. And then they will be of no use.

•           They had many clothes, which was one of the main types of wealth in the ancient world. The poorer people would have perhaps just one set of clothes. The rich would have many more clothes than they would ever wear. If they stored these clothes and did not use them, *moths would eat into them.

•           They had a lot of gold and silver that had become stained and dirty from lack of use. These precious metals have no real worth until the owners use them.

The message is clear that the riches of this world have no lasting value. The stain and dirt on their gold and silver is like a poison. It will be as evidence against them in front of God. The wealth of those who do not trust in God accuses them. They trusted in their riches but riches will be of no value to them. Here is a terrible picture of the last judgement. It will be like a fire that burns up their bodies. It is as if their wealth adds fuel to the flames of that fire. Instead of helping the poor, they kept all their wealth for themselves. Their crime was that they were greedy and selfish. Much of their wealth came from the poor. But they did not care about the poor. The poor suffered at the hands of the rich.

James says that the rich have heaped up wealth in the last days. The last days are the period of time between the first coming and the second coming of Jesus. The days in which we live are the last days. At the end of these last days, there will be the judgement. James has that future event in mind as well. It is as if the wealth of the rich people will increase their punishment. That will be in the day when God *judges them.

Verse 4 James accuses the rich because they had not paid their workmen. They had kept back the wages of the workers who worked in their fields. The law of Moses says that employers must be good to their workers. They must pay the wages to the hired workers for the work that they have done. They must not delay that payment. They should pay it as soon as it is due (Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Leviticus 19:13).

If a worker suffers and cries to God, God will hear the prayer. The wrong done to the poor worker would itself cry out to God against that rich person. It is as if the coins in the rich person’s pockets cry out that they are guilty. God is the *Lord of all power. It is he who will act for the poor against the wicked rich persons. God will punish those who cause the poor to suffer.

Verse 5 The rich people lived in luxury and for their own pleasure. A way of life like that shows that they did not care about the needs of other people. They lived for themselves alone. They lived in the excess of luxury. But they were not aware of the judgement that was soon to come upon them. The farmer feeds his animals to make them fat before he kills them. The rich are just like that. They are preparing themselves for their end. They are making themselves ready for the day when God will *judge them.

Verse 6 James says that the rich had caused the death of innocent people. The picture is of the rich taking the *righteous poor to the law courts. The judges in these courts were themselves rich owners of land. So, the wealthy persons were always able to win. There was no *justice for the poor person. As a result, the courts would decide that the poor person was guilty. That often meant the death of the innocent person. It may also be that the rich, by this means, took from the poor. As a result, the poor would suffer and lack what they needed for living. As they died, the rich had in effect murdered them. The poor could not defend themselves. There was no help for them against the rich persons. They had to be patient in their suffering and put their hope and trust in God.

Patience until the *Lord comes again 5:7-11

v7 Be patient then, my brothers and sisters, until the *Lord comes. See how patient farmers are as they wait for the precious crops to grow on their land. They go on waiting for the rain to come in the autumn and in the spring. v8 You too be patient and be strong in your hope because the *Lord is coming soon. v9 Do not complain against one another, my brothers and sisters. If you do this, God will be your judge and he is already standing at the door! v10 The *prophets who brought messages from God showed us how to be patient, my brothers and sisters. They were patient even when they had to go through times of much suffering. v11 We know that God has blessed people like that. They kept doing what God wanted even when they were in trouble. For example, you have heard of Job and how he kept looking to God for help. You have heard how, in the end, the *Lord blessed him. The *Lord is kind, very loving and does very many good things to us.

Verse 7 James now speaks to his Christian brothers and sisters. They need to be patient until God acts on their behalf. They may have to suffer these troubles as they wait for the *Lord to come. Then the *Lord will punish those who have caused them to suffer. In the meantime, Christians must leave the judgement of the rich to God. They must not do what is wrong against those who do wrong to them. This does not mean that we should not speak out for *justice. It is a Christian duty to look for *justice for all people.

James says that they must be patient until the *Lord comes. When he comes, all suffering will stop. And he will make right all that was wrong. The second coming of the *Lord Jesus will be different from the first time that he came. This time he will appear on the clouds in the sky. All the people will see him. He will gather all that are his to live with him in heaven. As Christians look forward to his coming, it helps them to live with the problems of this life.

Farmers are examples of patience. They dig the ground and sow the seeds. Then they have to wait for the rains. The early rain was the rain in the months of October and November. Without that rain, the seeds would not grow. The late rain was the rain in April and May. Without this rain, the grain would not mature and get ripe. It seems a long time from sowing the seeds until the harvest. But the farmers know that the harvest will come. So, Christians have to wait, with patience, for the coming of Jesus. We do not know when he will come. But the *Lord Jesus will come at the time that God has planned.

Verse 8 The readers must be patient as they look for the coming of the *Lord. They know that he will come. And this should encourage them. James writes that the coming of the *Lord Jesus is approaching. He writes as if it were soon. The idea that he could return soon should cause their trust in God to grow. The thought of the *Lord Jesus coming should give them the courage that they need for their life on earth. Christians should not worry about the date when the *Lord Jesus will come. No one knows when it will be. It is the hope of his coming that is powerful. It is powerful in the lives of those who expect it. As they look for his coming, they will be patient and strong in their trust in God. The certainty that the *Lord Jesus is coming will give them strength to live for him.

Verse 9 Christians are not to complain about one another. To do so would destroy the unity that there ought to be in the church. The *Lord will *judge those who do complain. It is not only what they say that is wrong. It is also the bad feelings toward another person that they keep in their hearts.

The coming of the *Lord is a warning as well as a happy event for Christians. Then, Jesus Christ will be their judge. The judge is almost here. He is coming soon. It is as if his foot is already on the doorstep.

Verse 10 To encourage them to be patient when they suffer, James speaks about the *prophets of the *Old Testament. Many of them suffered death because they spoke God’s message. They had all kinds of problems, *trials and troubles. But, through it all, they remained strong in their trust in God.

Verse 11 We call them happy who have continued trusting God to the end. Those who have died and gone to be with God are really happy. Those who suffer because they belong to Jesus will have great blessing. Jesus taught that (Matthew 5:10-12; 23:29-36; Luke 11:49). He also said that those who keep their trust in God to the end will be safe (Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Luke 21:19).

We read about the patience of Job. But he was not patient, as we understand patience. All through the troubles that came upon him, he complained to God. But James still chooses Job to be an example of patience to his readers. Through all his troubles, Job never lost his trust in God. He suffered great testing but he remained loyal to God. He struggled and asked God many questions. But he believed in God even when he could not understand why he had to suffer. He stood firm to the end.

James is urging his readers to be like Job, and to trust God through all their troubles. God allowed Job to suffer for a purpose. That was to prove his trust in God. God allowed the devil to take everything from Job. But through it all, Job’s trust in God was constant. He proved that he would trust God no matter what happened. In the end, God gave to Job much more than he had lost.

From the story of Job, we see that God had a plan and purpose in it all. There is a reason for suffering. Through what he suffered, Job came to understand God’s love for him. The readers, also, should see their troubles as part of God’s design. God works through what they suffer to bring good to them. In the end, if they maintain their trust in him, God will reward them.

Do not swear 5:12

v12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not use an *oath when you make a promise. Do not call on heaven, or earth, or anything else, as witnesses to what you say. Say only, ‘Yes’ when you mean yes. And say only ‘No’ when you mean no. Then you will not come under God’s judgement.

Verse 12 James is not saying that using *oaths is worse than other *sins such as to steal or to murder. But he is saying that this is important. An *oath is to call on God, or some other person or things, to be witness to what is being said. People use *oaths to show that they are speaking the truth. And they use them to add strength to what they say. Not all *oaths are wrong. There are times when there is the need for an *oath. God himself used an *oath (Hebrews 3:11; 4:3).

He means that Christians should not use *oaths at all in ordinary speaking. They should not call on heaven or earth as witnesses. They should not use the name of any other person in this way. The use of these is in effect appealing to the name of God. In the careless use of *oaths, there is the danger of not respecting the name of God. In Exodus 20:7, it says that the person who uses the name of God without respect shall be guilty. The Christian’s speech should always be honest. So he or she should not need *oaths. He should speak the truth and his words should be sufficient without an *oath. He should always say what he means. And he should always mean what he says. ‘Yes’ should be ‘yes’ and ‘no’ should be ‘no’. There should be no need of an *oath to convince other people.

In Matthew 5:34-37, we read what Jesus said about using *oaths. He says, ‘Do not use *oaths at all. Do not make an *oath by heaven, because it is where God sits. Do not make an *oath by the earth, because it is a place for God’s feet to rest. Do not make an *oath by *Jerusalem, because it is the city of God. Do not make an *oath by your own head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Anything more than this comes from evil.’

Prayer in all circumstances 5:13-18

v13 If anyone among you is in trouble, that person should pray to God. If anyone among you is cheerful, that one should sing praises to God. v14 If one of you is sick, let him ask for the church *elders to come. They will put oil on the sick person, and pray in the name of the *Lord. v15 The prayer offered in *faith will make the sick person well. The *Lord will heal that person. And he will forgive any *sins that he or she has done. v16 So then, confess your *sins to one another. Pray for one another, that the *Lord will heal you. God does powerful things when a good person asks him. v17 Elijah was a person who, by nature, was just like us. He really prayed to God that it would not rain. So, it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. v18 Then he prayed again and he asked God to send the rain. Rain poured from the sky, and the seeds in the earth began to grow again.

Verse 13 If anyone is in trouble, that person should pray to God. The answer to that prayer may not remove the problem. But it will give help and strength to be able to live through the trouble. Those who are cheerful (who feel good) should praise God. They should sing *psalms or praises to God. James is reminding his readers to turn to God in good times as well as bad. Prayer and praise are important parts in the lives of Christians.

Verse 14 When they are ill, they should ask the *elders to come and pray with them. The *elders are the leaders and *pastors of the church. They can pray and believe that God will answer them. When the *elders have come, they will pray over the sick person. They will put oil on that person in the name of the *Lord. This is a request for God to act, because he is the source of all healing. In those days, people used oil as a medicine. They put oil into injuries to clean them and to aid healing. As an example of this, see Luke 10:34. The Good *Samaritan poured oil into the injuries of the man whom the thieves had attacked. When Jesus sent the *apostles out to *preach, they put oil on the sick people and healed them (Mark 6:13). It could be then, that here oil is a sign of healing. The cure is not by means of the oil but by the power of the *Lord.

Verse 15 Those who pray with the sick person must believe. They must believe that God will answer their prayers. They must be confident that God will heal. It is the prayer with *faith that God uses. It is prayer, not the oil, that leads to the healing of the sick person. In answer to the prayer, God will make the sick person well again. If *sin was the cause of the illness, God will forgive that *sin. ‘If’ makes it clear that not all illness comes from *sin. More often than not *sin is not the direct cause of it.

Verse 16 It is not only the *elders and the sick person who should pray. All the Christians should pray for one another. They should confess their *sins to one another. They must pray for one another that God may heal them. As they confess their faults and pray for one another, God makes them clean. He forgives them and they forgive one another. Those whom God forgives he considers to be *righteous persons. When they pray to God, he will hear them. God does great things in answer to their prayers.

Verses 17-18 Elijah was a *prophet in the *Old Testament. He prayed to God. And then he declared that there would be no rain for a period of time. God answered him and there was no rain for three and a half years. With no rain, the crops did not grow. After that time, he prayed again. And, as a result, it rained. Now the rain had come, the crops could grow again. (These events are in 1 Kings 17:1; 18:42-45.)

Elijah was a *human being who trusted in God. There was nothing special about him. He had no special power. He was a person just like the readers. James is showing them that anyone who is right with God can pray strong prayers. If Elijah could pray in this way, so could the readers.

Bring back those who have gone wrong 5:19-20

v19 My Christian brothers and sisters, if any among you wanders from the truth, you should try to bring him or her back to God. v20 You know that whoever turns a person back to the truth, will save his or her *soul from death. Then God will forgive that person the many *sins that he or she has done.

Verses 19-20 It is possible for a person, who knows the truth about the *Lord Jesus, to turn away from him. This is not when a Christian does something wrong. It is more than that. It is when a person wanders away from Jesus Christ and denies the truth.

Christian brothers and sisters should look after one another. So, when one of them wanders away, the rest should feel it deeply. It is their duty and desire to try to bring back to the *Lord Jesus any who have turned away. Suppose that a person brings another one back to the *Lord Jesus. He should know that by this God has saved that person from death. Most Christians believe that this cannot mean death of the body. James is speaking about the death of the *soul. To bring back a brother or sister to Jesus is a great work. As that brother or sister comes back to the *Lord Jesus, God will forgive all his or her *sins. A person who comes to Jesus with real trust and receives new life from him, can never lose that life. But these verses talk about one of them, that is one of that church, who turns away. This passage speaks about those who have heard the truth but they have not really put their trust in the *Lord Jesus Christ.

Word List

Albinus ~ a *Roman ruler. He came after *Festus and after James, the *Lord’s brother, died.

altar ~ the special table on which to offer gifts to God.

Ananus II ~ the chief priest of the *Jews who was responsible for the death of James the *Lord’s brother.

angel ~ a servant of God. He brings messages from God to people on earth.

anoint ~ to put oil put on someone’s head. This shows that God has chosen the person for a special task.

apostle ~ one whom God sends; especially one of the 12 that Jesus chose to be his helpers.

baptism ~ to put a person under water or to put water on a person to show that they want to follow Jesus.

Barnabas ~ one of the early church leaders who worked with the *apostle Paul.

believers ~ Christians.

bit ~ a piece of metal put into the mouth of a horse so the rider can control the horse.

bridle ~ attached to the ends of the bit to help the rider to control the horse.

covenant ~ when people agree something together; when God and a person or people agree to a special thing.

demons ~ bad or evil spirits that work for the devil.

disciples ~ the 12 helpers that Jesus chose to be with him.

elders ~ leaders in the church.

eternal ~ what has always been and will always be.

faith ~ belief that something is true; trust in someone or something; belief and trust in God and in Jesus Christ his Son.

faithful ~ true and loyal to someone.

Festus ~ the *Roman ruler in *Jerusalem who died before James was killed.

fig ~ kind of sweet fruit that grows on a tree. The tree is called a fig tree.

Gehenna ~ a valley near *Jerusalem where the *Jews burned their rubbish.

Gentiles ~ people who are not *Jews.

glory ~ everything that makes God beautiful and great. It is like a bright light that is shining round God or Jesus.

grape ~ fruit of a *vine (a climbing plant). You can make it into wine.

Greek ~ the language that James used to write this letter.

Hebrew ~ the language of the *Jews.

Herod ~ a king of the *Jews who killed James the son of *Zebedee.

human being ~ a human person.

humans ~ people.

Israel ~ the country of the *Jews; another name for Jacob, the first father of the *Jews.

Israelites ~ the people of *Israel.

Jericho ~ the city where *Rahab lived.

Jerusalem ~ the capital city of *Israel.

Jewish ~ people or things that are from the *Jews.

Jews ~ people who were born from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their children.

Josephus ~ a *Jewish man who wrote a history of the *Jewish nation.

Joses ~ a son of Joseph and Mary and so a half-brother to Jesus.

Judas ~ a son of Joseph and Mary and so a half-brother to Jesus.

judge ~ to judge is to do the work of a judge; to test and decide what is right or wrong.

justice ~ fair and right decisions and actions.

kingdom ~ the place or territory where a king rules. The Kingdom of Heaven is the people who are under God’s rule.

Lord ~ a title for God, or Jesus, to show that he is over all people and things. The name that God gave to himself in the *Old Testament. He was the One who had made a *covenant with the *Jews.

meek ~ strong but humble.

mercy ~ kindness and help to a person who does wrong, to show love to that person.

Messiah ~ God promised the *Jews that a special person would come to save them. That person is the Messiah. Jesus is that Messiah but the *Jews did not believe it. Messiah is a Hebrew word. It means an *anointed person. In the Greek language, the word is Christ.

moths ~ flying insects whose young eat clothes.

New Testament ~ the last part of the Bible, which the writers wrote after the life of Jesus. It is about the things that Jesus did and taught and about the church.

oath ~ to make an oath is to use the name of a person, thing or God to witness that what someone says is true.

Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible; the holy things that the writers wrote before Christ’s birth.

olive ~ tree or its small fruit with a stone. People make oil from olives. They use the oil to cook food.

orphan ~ a child that has no parents alive.

pastor ~ a church leader who looks after the *believers.

persecute ~ to hurt people because they believe in Christ.

persecution ~ when enemies of God hurt people because they believe in Christ.

preach ~ to speak out the message from God and to teach his word.

prophet ~ person who speaks for God. He can sometimes say what will happen in the future.

psalm ~ a song for when we are praising God; one of the books of the *Old Testament.

Rahab ~ a woman of *Jericho who trusted in God.

religious ~ describes a person who believes in a god or gods. True religion is to trust in the one true God. We show it when we obey God.

repent ~ to change your mind; to turn away from *sin and turn to God.

repentance ~ a change of mind and heart, to turn away from *sin and turn to God. To turn one’s mind and life away from *sin is to repent.

riches ~ the wealth that rich people have.

righteous ~a righteous person is right in what he does; or a person whom God says is right.

righteousness ~ the quality of being *righteous.

Roman ~ *Rome was the capital city of the rulers at that time. That which belonged to *Rome was Roman.

Rome ~ the capital city of the rulers at that time. They were the Romans.

rudder ~ a piece of wood or an oar fixed to the back of a ship. You can turn it to change the direction that the ship is going.

salvation ~ the result after God saves us from *sin and its punishment; the new life that God gives to those believe in the *Lord Jesus.

Samaritan ~ a person from the country of Samaria.

Scripture ~ the books of the Bible.

Simon ~ a son of Joseph and Mary and so a half-brother to Jesus.

sin ~ to sin is to do wrong, bad or evil; not to obey God; sins are the wrong things that we do.

sinner ~ a person who does *sins.

soul ~ the part of a person that we cannot see; or the mind.

Stephen ~ the first person to be killed because he believed in Jesus Christ.

synagogue ~ the place where the *Jews met to *worship God.

temple ~ the special building in *Jerusalem where the *Jews went to *worship God.

temptation ~ something that tries to make us do wrong things.

trials ~ troubles and difficulties that come to us.

tribe ~ family from one man. The first *Jews were the 12 sons of Jacob. The family of each son became one of the 12 tribes of *Israel.

vine ~ a plant that climbs. Its fruits are called *grapes.

worship ~ show honour to God with praise, thanks and respect.

Zebedee ~ the father of the *disciples James and John.

Book List

W Barclay ~ The Letter of James ~ Daily Study Bible

D W Burdick ~ in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

C S Keener ~ Background Commentary ~ IVP

R P Martin ~ in World Biblical Commentary

J B Mayor ~ in Dictionary of the Bible, edited by J Hastings

A McNab ~ The New Bible Commentary (IVF)

R V G Tasker ~ James ~ The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries.

W E Vine ~ Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

Exegetical Summaries ~ SIL



A Marshall ~ The Interlinear Greek New Testament

Friberg & Friberg ~ Analytical Greek New Testament


© 1997-2003, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).

February 2003

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