Handfuls on Purpose
by James Smith, 1943
Or, the Epistle of Jacob, for James is another form of Jacob. This is a letter written primarily for the Jewish Christians. It is the most practical of all the Epistles, and could be called "A Practical Guide to Christian Life and Conduct," or "A Guide-Book for Everyday Religion." Note the vivid and picturesque style. James thinks in figures, and illumines his theme with metaphors. He is often quite dramatic. He frequently states great truths in a form which touches on paradox, so compelling active thought.
THE DEITY OF OUR LORD. James 1:1; 2:1
Bondman. That is the real meaning of the word "servant." "James, bondman of," etc. (J.N.D.). Most of the servants of that time were slaves, and the New Testament writers proudly accepted that title as an apt description of their association with God and with Christ.
Observe the humility of James in abstaining from any reference to his earthly relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom he was brother according to the flesh.
Though James mentions the Name of God seventeen times, he repeats the Name of Jesus but twice, here, and in 2:1, but note how reverently and devoutly he does this; and what a world of significance there is in his deliberate association of the awful Name of God with Jesus. Though James was bitterly opposed to Jesus and His claims prior and up to His death, he was, immediately after the Resurrection, converted by a special and private interview with the Risen One (1 Corinthians 15:7). This adds value to the testimony of James with regard to the Deity of our Lord.
I. An Arresting Fact. James only refers to his own brother Jesus twice, and then in a reverent and devout fashion. Though they knew each other so well, there was no familiarity, for he called Him, Lord and Christ as well as Jesus. This is an arresting fact.
II. An Impressive Fact. The fact that a brother associates his relative in such a way with God as to imply an equality with the Almighty is very impressive. If Jesus were not Deity, then such an association would be blasphemous. Note, "God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ."
III. A Glorious Fact. James calls his brother Jesus "The Lord of Glory" (2:1). This is a glorious Old Testament title for God.
IV. A Significant Fact. James calls himself the slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. That implied on his part full surrender of will and life. A slave because:
1. Purchased—by the Blood of Christ.
2. Liberated—from sin's guilt and servitude.
3. Pledged—conscious of blessed freedom, in great thankfulness he pledged life, service, and possessions.
4. Dependent—in conscious utter dependence upon Him.
V. An Interesting Fact. "To the twelve tribes." Then there were not any lost tribes, for he addressed his letters to the twelve, whose location was evidently well known at that time.
TEMPTATIONS. James 1:2,12-15
After the briefest of greetings, James at once plunges into his subject. He begins by telling them how they are to regard their temptations.
I. Nature (13). The temptation dealt with here is not that testing of character so familiar in other parts of the Bible (Genesis 22:1, etc.), but the enticement to sin.
II. Origin (14). We must not lay the blame on wrong shoulders. While testings of character come from God, temptations to evil come not from Him, but from the evil one through our own corrupt nature. "Fall," not "go into" (2).
III. Form. "Manifold" (Young). "Divers temptations" (2). "Hedged in" is the Weymouth rendering.
IV. Estimation. "Count it all joy," etc (2). "Greet it as pure joy" (M.). We usually count it joy when we escape from temptation, sorrow, or loss. Instead, we should count the testing a glorious opportunity of proving our faith.
V. Purpose (3). Why we have to count it joy is not the trial itself, but its purpose. God makes such the instrument of blessing. It is quite possible for trial to work impatience, but He will give grace that the real purpose of it may be accomplished.
VI. Blessedness. The man who does not escape, but survives and conquers temptation, is blessed, and becomes happily conscious of the Lord's blessing (12).
COUNTING. James 1:2
Spiritual arithmetic is of value. The arithmetic of the Bible is important, and no Christian believer can afford to ignore it. James, in verse 2, invites his Christian brethren to "count."
I. God's Counting.
1. His Counting of Identification. As Job, on account of his sickness, was counted an enemy (Job 19:11; 33:10), and a stranger and alien (Job 19:15), so God counted the Lord Jesus on the Cross, as we should have been counted—an enemy and an alien.
2. His Counting of Righteousness. As Abraham's faith was counted for righteousness (Genesis 15:6), so with us (Romans 4:3).
3. His Counting of Comfort. He counts:
a. Believers as "Seed of Promise" (Romans 9:8).
b. All our Steps (Job 31:4).
c. All our Hairs (Matthew 10:30). Most of us only see the Lord's care in counting our hairs; but the late Dr. Pierson saw much more. Said he "Numbered, not simply counted. Every hair has its own number, and if one has disappeared, that number has gone off the list." What a marvelous thought this is!
d. Counts the place of our birth as deserving of honor (Psalm 87:6).
e. Delights in counting His servants as faithful ones (1 Timothy 1:12).
f. And as partners (Philemon 17).
II. Believer's Counting.
1. Blood as Precious (1 Peter 1:19), in contrast with some who count that same Blood an unholy thing (Hebrews 10:29).
2. God's Thoughts, as preserved in the Bible, to be Precious (Psalm 139:17, 18).
3. Himself as a Sacrifice, and to live, day by day, the sacrificial life (Acts 20:24).
4. All Human Merit as loss for Christ (Philippians 3:7).
5. Prepared to Undervalue everything, counting it as "dung" in order to gain a more excellent knowledge of Christ (Philippians 3:8).
6. Count the Cost of loyalty and devotion to our Lord (Luke 14:28).
7. Trials as Profitable (James 1:2).
PATIENCE. James 1:3, 4; 5:7, 8, 11
What a man James was for the word "patience!" Both J.N.D., W.M., and Young give "endurance" in 1:3, 4, which is one fruit and manifestation of patience.
I. Its Passivity. The Dictionary defines patience as forbearance; longsuffering; endurance. "Patience" in verse 3 is translated "endurance" in some other versions. Patience is a passive virtue. It enables us "to grin and bear up" under the most trying and testing ordeal.
II. Its Activity (1:3, 4). Yet patience is not only passivity—it really does work. "Let patience have her perfect work." If patience is allowed full scope and operation in our lives, then we shall speedily mature, and enjoy fullness. "That you may become perfect and complete, deficient in nothing" (W.).
III. Its Production. The various allotments of Divine Providence come as testings, and these, by God's grace and blessing, will produce patience (1:3, 4).
IV. Its Exercise (1:4). Patience is a grace, for which special grace is given. Its muscles require exercise for development. "Long patience" is suggestive (5:7). "Let your endurance be a finished product" (M.), on verse 4.
V. Its Exemplar (5:11). Job is brought before us as an illustration and exhibition of patience. Ponder the phrase, "The end of the Lord," that is, His purpose in permitting and designing Job's trials. There was an end to Job's patience, but none to the Lord's.
WISDOM. James 1:5; 3:13,15,17
Wisdom was a great word among the Jews. It is required for every walk of life. The presence of wisdom here in association with temptations is suggestive. It is specially difficult to behave wisely in times of testing, when wronged and insulted. But the wisdom from above will enable us so to do. Let us put together the teaching on wisdom found in this short Epistle.
I. Lack of Wisdom. It is possible to lack wisdom. This is suggested by the sentence: "If any of you lack wisdom." What a sad lack. What a mess such a lack can lead us into.
II. Uniqueness of Wisdom. Does James say, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him sit down and think, or take a course of study?" No. Then the wisdom he has in mind is absolutely unique.
III. Origin of Wisdom. This wisdom is "from above" (3:17), from God (1:5). We get from the sky, and not from the earth, all those gracious influences without which our world would be only a gigantic, lifeless cinder, rolling through space. Light and heat, sunshine and rain, come from above. Our spiritual life as well as our earthly life is dependent upon what comes from above.
IV. Condition of Wisdom. Its possession follows "asking of God" (1:5). Prayer leads to the possession of this wisdom.
V. Counterfeit of Wisdom. This is the point suggested by 3:15. How sad to be deceived—to imagine oneself to be wise. Yet the wisdom which comes not from God is at the best but "earthly," and possibly "sensual," yes even "devilish."
VI. Proof of Wisdom. "Which of you is a wise and well instructed man? Let him prove it by a right life with conduct guided by a wise and teachable spirit," is W. most excellent translation of 3:13. The crowning proof of wisdom is in our "conversation" (3:13). It is here in tongue, when under trial, we so often fail. Wisdom from above will influence our tongue.
VII. Manifestation of Wisdom. The true wisdom is manifested by the possession and practice of the following most excellent qualities recorded in 3:17:
3. Gentleness—"Courteous" is Wisdom.
4. Easy to be Entreated"—"Not self-willed" is Wisdom.
5. "Full of Mercy"—"compassion" is Wisdom.
6. "Without Partiality"—"free from favoritism" is Wisdom.
7. "Without Hypocrisy"—"free from all insincerity" is Wisdom.
THE GIVING GOD. James 1:5
Our God is a God who loves to give. Alexander the Great said to one overwhelmed with his generosity, "I give as a King." Jehovah gives as the infinite God. Someone has stated that the sentence here could be translated: "Ask the Giving-God." He loves to give because He is Love, and love must give and continue giving.
I. What? The Identity of His gifts. He gives many things, but wisdom is mentioned here. How much we need wisdom. God gives that mercy.
II. To Whom? The Recipient of His gifts. God gives "to all," for He is no respecter of persons.
III. When? The Date of His giving. "Let him be asking of God," is Rotherham's rendering. We must continue asking, not presenting our petition once only, but again and again.
IV. How? The Spirit of His giving. "Who gives with open hand to all men, and without upbraiding" (W.). Observe:
1. He Gives Liberally. His giving goes beyond our asking.
2. He Gives Ungrudgingly.
3. He Gives without Criticizing or Scolding. "And reproaches not." is J.N.D.'s rendering. He does not reprimand our ignorance, nor scold our foolishness. He utters no word of reproach. He casts up nothing of the past.
In the first few verses of this Epistle, James touches on most of the things he later on elaborates. That is particularly true of the subject of prayer.
Prayer is one of the easiest subjects for speakers to preach, or authors to write upon, but not so easy to practice. After listening to an address on prayer, to ask the speakers how much time they devote to prayer might give them a very bad half-hour.
Now James has much to say on prayer. What about his practice! Ah, he did practice what he preached. The tradition concerning him is that, when on his death, the women came to bestow upon the body the last sad attentions, they found that his knees were worn hard as a camel's through his constant habit of prayer.
I. Necessity. James, in common with other of the New Testament writers, points out the necessity, and extreme value of prayer.
II. For Whom? "For each other" (5:16), as well as for ourselves (1:5).
III. When? Of course at all times, in the common and everyday affairs of life, but especially when "afflicted" (5:13), or sick (5:14).
1. Earnestly (5:17).
2. Fervently. "The fervent supplication."
1. Faith (1:6; 5:15). "Prayer of faith."
2. Energy (5:16, 17). The energy of the Holy Spirit is required. "The supplication of a righteous man, when it is energized" "The fervent supplication"
3. Righteousness. "Of a righteous man," that is of a man who has discovered the worthlessness of his own righteousness, and the righteousness of God which becomes ours by faith.
4. Wholeheartedly. "The heartfelt supplication of a righteous man"
1. "Very Strong is a working supplication of a righteous man " Prayer is strong with God.
2. "Much Avails, the supplication of a righteous man"
3. "Exerts a Mighty Influence"
VII. Exponent. Elijah (5:17, 18).
THE RICH AND THE POOR. James
James in his Epistle shows characteristic disregard of, yes, almost contempt of, wealth. While there were many poor folk in the early Christian assemblies, there were also the rich. Evidently there was a tendency to exaggerate the importance of wealth, and on the part of some to show undue regard and respect to the wealthy, to the detriment of the poor. James seeks to correct this mistake There is a place for respect in daily life. To show respect for age, for weak, for women, for official position, for authority, is a Christian duty. For subjects to show respect to their King, Emperor, or President, is commended in Scripture. But the respect James denounces is quite different. Respect of persons is not only a breach of good manners, and discourteous to the poor, but sin against God (2:9). What James here forbids, the world does every day—worships the successful, strong, and wealthy; and despises the man who is poor. Believers must not follow the example of the world.
I. The Poor:
1. Should rejoice in being heirs of the Kingdom (2:5).
2. Should see that they are rich in faith (2:5).
3. Should humbly rejoice in any improvement in employment or wealth (1:9).
II. The Rich:
1. Should bow humbly to the various adverse allotments of Divine Providence (1:10).
2. Should not expect any preferential treatment in the assembly (2:2-4).
3. Should humbly remember injustices inflicted by some wealthy folk on the poorer members of Christ's flock (2:6,7).
ON BEING DECEIVED. James 1:16, 22, 26
Three times over in this chapter does James warn God's people upon the possibility and danger of being deceived. Wise are we if we take heed to the warning.
I. About God (1:16). "Be not deceived" is the R.V. At first sight we are not sure whether this is a warning against (13) blaming God for our temptations to evil, or imagining changefulness in Him (17). On a second sight we decide that it has to do with verses 17 to 21.
1. God's Gifts are:
c. "From above" (17)
2. God Himself.
a. Source of all Light—like the sun, the center and chief of all the glories of the visible universe.
b. Free from variableness—is to be relied upon.
c. "Free from shadow cast by turning" (R.).
II. About Ourselves (1:22).
1. If only a hearer and not a doer of the Word, we shall deceive ourselves (1:22).
2. Such are like most of us who have a habit of looking into the mirror in an absent-minded sort of way (1:23, 24).
III. About Religion (1:26).
1. The religion that does not influence the tongue is not a true or vital one.
2. True vital godliness leads to, and includes:
a. Control of tongue.
b. Purity of life—"Unspotted from the world."
c. Usefulness in life—"Visit the fatherless and widows."
THE BOOK. James
It is both interesting and instructive to trace what James has to say about the Holy Book of God. Putting all together we get a helpful study.
I. Its Names.
1. "Word." Origin of it (1:18). Word proves authorship. A word is the result of the mental and vocal exercise of a personal being. Therefore in that simple word of four letters, w-o-r-d, we have taught the origin of the Book—God Himself.
2. "Law." Authority of it (1:25). What a paradox we have here. Law imposes restraint. Yet we find here the phrase, "Law of Liberty." Observe a few points:
a. Restraint of the Book—"Law."
b. Liberty of the Book—"Law of Liberty."
c. Perfection of the Book—"Perfect Law."
d. Authority of the Book—Law implies the Law-giving God.
3. "Truth"—finality of it (1:18). It is the Word of Truth—that suggests its finality. Both Christ, the Living Word, and the Bible, the Written Word, are Truth.
4. Judge. Exercise of it (2:12). This verse declares no new thought, but only enforces what our Lord Jesus declared (John 12:48). The Word of God will be our Judge at that Great Day,
II. Its Operations.
1. Convinces (2:9). The Law convinces of transgression.
2. Begets (1:18). We are born of God's Holy Spirit, through the Word. The Word is the great regenerating medium.
3. Implants (1:21). "Lay aside all filthiness and abounding of wickedness" is J.N.D. translation. The word "engrafted" is suggestive, teaching that upon the stem of our natural life God engrafts His Word, and so infuses His own life. For "engrafted" J.N.D. gives "implanted," teaching the inwardness of the operation of the Word.
4. Energizes (1:25). The phrase "Law of Liberty" is suggestive of power, of energy. Law stands for force, power, energy.
III. Our Attitude.
1. Examine (1:25). "Looks into." In this, and also verse 23, the Word is likened to a Mirror, into which we peer, and the contents of which we are to examine.
2. Hear (1:23). "Hearer of the Word." What a privilege it is to hear His Word.
3. Receive (1:21). But hearing the Word is not sufficient, we are to "receive" it "with meekness."
4. Do (1:23). How practical is James. We must not be satisfied with only "hearing," we must go on doing.
THE TONGUE. James 1:19, 26; 3
In the early Christian Church there evidently was great freedom of speech, and that liberty was abused. From the severity with which James deals with the tongue it is clear that there had been a great deal of ill-considered, ill-natured, self-assertive and violent speech among the Jewish Christians.
Probably this had taken the form of angry debating and bitter strife in the Assembly. At any rate verse I of chapter 3 seems to hint at this. The verse clearly shows that there were many who aspired to leadership and public ministry, without taking in mind the serious responsibilities of that position. In this verse James refers to the danger associated with too great a readiness to put forward one's opinions on matters of religion.
Associated here with warning are bright Gospel lessons, and the reminder that one proof of our justified state is seen in our words; that our speech will reveal what and whose we are.
A young man was sent to Socrates to learn oratory. On being introduced to the philosopher he talked so incessantly that Socrates asked for double fees. "Why charge me double?" asked the young fellow. "Because," replied the orator, "I must teach you two sciences, the one how to hold your tongue, the other how to speak."
I. An Awakening Statement (3:2). Who is a perfect man? James informs us: "If any man offend not in Word." Having mastery of that difficult member, the tongue, the rest is easy. "Able to curb his whole nature" (W.). "The same is a perfect man" is in W.: "That man has reached maturity of character." This then is the mark of a mature Christian.
II. A Sobering Description. Note the suggestive descriptions James gives of the tongue.
1. A Fire (3:6). Setting the whole being on fire as from Hell.
2. "A World of Iniquity" (3:6). Defiling the whole being of each individual.
3. "Full of Deadly Poison" (3:8).
4. "Unruly Evil" (3:8).
III. A Dread Possibility (3:9, 10). That the same tongue can:
1. Bless and curse (3:9, 10).
2. A fountain sending forth two kinds of water (3:11).
IV. A Wise Admonition (1:19; 3:13-18). Notice how affectionately James addresses his readers. "Swift to hear, slow to speak"—what wise words! A wise man will seek only to produce "Good conversation."
V. A Sad Confession (3:7, 8). Most living things can be tamed, yet "the tongue can no man tame," save the Man, Christ Jesus.
VI. A Glorious Possibility (1:26; 3:3-6). This point forces itself upon us as we ponder the figures used by James for the tongue.
1. Bit and Bridle (3:2,3). To turn the whole body of the horse a firm hand on the bridle is required. The hand of the Man, Christ Jesus, can grip and firmly use the bit and bridle on our tongues.
2. Small Helm (3:4). The pierced Hand can firmly control and wisely use the helm of our lives—our tongue.
THE ROYAL LAW. James 2:8
The Law of Love is here called the Royal Law. This is a lovely and suggestive description, teaching
I. Its Origin. This Law comes from Heaven's Royalty, the Triune God.
II. Its Dignity. It is a Royal Law. Nothing petty or mean about it.
III. Its Authority. The fact that it comes from God gives it royal authority, the very authority of Heaven.
IV. Its Breadth. Its Royal sweep, taking in not only myself and my own, but others. "Your neighbor" with the interpretation of Luke 10:29, 36, means any and all.
V. Its Subject. Love, not admire or respect. What a Royal quality.
VI. Its Quality. There is Royalty in Its quality. We are to love "As yourself." But the new commandment (John 13:34) is even of richer quality and a higher standard, "Love one another as I have loved you."
VII. Its Power. Its Royal power. Love is here called a Law, that is, a. power, a force, a dynamic.
WHAT IS SIN? James 2:9; 4:17
What a simple question! Yet how it floors many. Mark you, the question is not: "What do men say sin is," but, "What says the Scriptures?" Give the very words of the Bible. There are seven definitions of sin in the Book— two given by James, two by John, one by Paul, and two by Solomon.
I. Stepping Over, or breaking the Law of God (1 John 3:4).
II. Coming Short of the requirements of the Law (1 John 5:17).
III. Not Living Up to the Light God has already given to us (James 4:17).
IV. We Can Sin in Thought as well as by actions (Proverbs 24:9).
V. We Sin when we do Things we are Doubtful about (Romans 14:23).
VI. Sin Viewed as Pride and Vanity, and the performance of legitimate and indeed essential things, such as ploughing, with a wrong motive (Proverbs 21:4).
VII. Respect of Persons (James 2:9).
SOLIDARITY OF THE LAW. James 2:10-12
We are here exhorted ever to keep in mind the fact that we shall be judged by the Law, called here the Law of Liberty (v. 12), and that the constant remembrance of that fact should influence our speech and conduct. "So speak you, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the Law of Liberty."
There is another point we shall deal with in our next study, but we must now note the solidarity of the Law.
It is human to gloss over sin. Said a little girl when excusing some questionable act, "I haven't broken the commandment, I've only cracked it." Here in verses 10 and 11 we are told that if only one commandment be broken, we are "guilty of all," that in the breaking of one we break all. Read Galatians 3:10 which enforces this fact, observing the word "all." We may have a fine chain, but of what use is it if all links are good save one? That one broken link renders it useless. "For whoever obeys the whole Law, and only makes a single slip, is guilty of everything" (M.).
Another fact. It is clear that the one sin thought of here is that mentioned in verse 9., namely, respect of persons. And there are few, if left to themselves, who would ever dream of reckoning such behavior as sin.
These are facts to ponder.
JUDGMENT AND MERCY. James 2:13
The point in this verse is that alluded to by our Lord in Matthew 7:1-2, that as we treat others, so shall we be dealt with. "For He shall have judgment without mercy, that has showed no mercy."
But are there not positions in which it is difficult to think of the exercise of mercy? Certainly. What then? For your guidance observe that fine phrase, "Mercy rejoices against judgment," or, as Dr. John Kerr remarks: "In the face of it." "It is a fine figure, mercy looking full in the face of judgment, and not losing a particle of its joy." These are great facts in human history and experience.
I. Judgment Without Mercy. Bad for the sinner (Psalm 1:5). No standing for the ungodly.
II. Judgment With Justice. Bad for the Savior. Justice and judgment are the habitation of God's throne (Psalm 89:14; 97:2). He suffered in our stead.
III. Judgment With Righteousness. Good for the sinner (Psalm 33:5). At Calvary, God's mercy and righteousness met in the Person of Christ, and God's judgment was satisfied.
IV. Judgment With Mercy. Good for our neighbors. Such an exercise produces song (Psalm 101:1).
V. Judgment Defied by Mercy. One principle in our treatment of those who have wronged us. Good for our erring brother (James 2:13).
FAITH AND WORKS. James 2:14-26
This is the very heart of the Epistle, showing that real living faith is always known by its fruits. Many have imagined that James wrote these verses to combat Paul's teaching concerning justification by faith, as unfolded in the Epistle to the Romans. As a matter of fact, James wrote his Epistle some years before Paul wrote Romans. There is no conflict between the two Epistles, as the one is the complement to the other. Faith and works are inseparable, as the following proves.
An old ferryman, a man of much thought and observation, but of few words, a reader of the Bible and a firm believer in its truths, had among his regular passengers two business men, who crossed together on the same day once a week. Their conversation often turned to this matter of faith and works, one of them thinking he could do without works if he had faith, and the other thinking he could do without faith if he had works. The ferryman's patience was so tried by the frequent and fruitless repetition of "faith" and "works," used as they were in a sense so different from their import and so destructive of their Scriptural harmony, that at last he felt that he must intervene. He said nothing, but fell upon the following expedient. On one of his oars he painted the word "Faith," and on the other "Works." When on his next passage across with the two friendly disputants, he reached the most dangerous part, he took in "Faith," and with all his might plied "Works." The boat went round and round, to the annoyance and fear of the two passengers. "Put out the other oar," called one of them in a loud and angry voice."Very well," was the old man's calm reply, as he took in "Works" and put out "Faith," which he used as he had formerly used the other. Of course this produced the same result, and the two men thought he must be out of his mind. The old man, however, continued his practical demonstration for a little, and then called their attention to the names painted on the oars. "I have tried your way," said he, "and yours; and you have seen the result. Now, observe my way." And as he gave a steady pull to each oar the boat at once acknowledged in its forward course the power of their harmonious strokes, and in a few minutes was at the land-place. "Thus it is," he added, "that faith works by love." So faith without works, or works without faith, will not suffice to bring us unto our desired haven. But let there be both, and the haven will be safely reached.
I. A Live Faith. Works are an evidence of a real live faith. The possibility of the possession of a dead faith is here declared (14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 26). Just as a live body will manifest its life in action, so live faith will move.
II. A Profitable Faith. Works make faith profitable (14). "What does it profit?" is a great question. Here we have profit associated with faith. It is essential that we should have a profitable faith.
III. A Working Faith.
1. Faith Leads to Shuddering (19). Real faith leads us to believe in a living God. But what does such a faith lead to? It makes even devils tremble, or, as it could be rendered, "The devils also believe and shudder" (M. reads, "So do the devils, and they shudder"). Has your faith in the existence of God led to shuddering yet?
2. Faith Leads to Sacrifice (21). Abraham's faith led him to Mount Moriah, and to offering his son. Real faith will lead us to Calvary, and to accept the sacrifice Christ has made.
3. Faith Leads to Justification (24). That is, real, living faith.
IV. Perfection of Faith (22). Faith can mature. The proof of a strong and maturing faith will be seen in a plenitude of works.
FRIEND OF GOD. James 2:23; 4:4
Unworldliness is here shown to be an infallible proof that we stand among the justified, that we have real and saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Has this phrase, "The friend of God," ever gripped you? God evidently needed a friend, and He found in Abraham just that friendship that His heart craved.
What are the essentials to true friendship with God? This question is answered by noting what are the requirements for earthly friendship.
I. Confidence. There can be no real friendship without confidence, trust. This is its foundation. Confidence is the child of knowledge. The more we know of our friends, the more we trust them. Faith is the beginning of friendship with God.
II. Love. Confidence alone will not make an ideal friendship. Love is essential. This is essential to friendship, true friendship with God.
III. Frankness. Friends have frank, familiar fellowship one with another. A little girl defined a friend as one who knows all about you, and yet loves you in spite of that. A friendship that cannot bear the truth is of no value. Friendship with God welcomes the truth.
IV. Consideration. Friends delight to meet each other's wishes. They consider each other in every sense. We, if friends of God, will give Him every consideration.
V. Sacrifice. Even going to the point of real sacrifice in so doing. And, of course, real friends love to give presents to each other.
VI. Loyalty. True friends will stand up for each other, especially when absent the one from the other.
VII. Perpetuity. A true friendship is not for a time, but will stand the passage of the years.
THE CRAZE FOR PLEASURE. James 3:18; 4:1-5
Four times the word "lust" occurs in this section. What is lust? Dr. Pierson defined it as "A natural, normal longing which oversteps the limits God appoints. Passion should be our slave, and not our master." Dr. Jowett donned it as "anything that steams the windows of the soul," and thus blurs our vision.
Instead of the word "lusts," in verses 1 and 3, the A.V. margin and J.N.D. give "pleasures," and that forms the key to the meaning of these verses, and also the clue to the teaching they contain. Here we have a craze for pleasure, for sinful pleasure, and the results. Over-indulgence in pleasure is sinful.
The Work of Pleasure-Mania.
I. Fomentation. "From whence come wars and fighting ("brawlings" in margin) among you? Come they not hence, even of your pleasures" (4:1). Inordinate pleasures, the craze for pleasures, fomented trouble in the Church. Compare the "fruit of righteousness" (3:18) with the results of sinful pleasures in 4:1-4.
II. Penetration. "Your pleasures that take the field in your members," or Dr. Young's translation, "that are as soldiers in your members." These renderings are suggestive. If pleasure is allowed to have its own way in us, like soldiers, it takes the field in our members; that is, gets the mastery of us, and the results are saddening.
III. Agitation. "You covet and have not." "You envy and desire to have. You fight and war" (4:2). What a state of agitated unrest have we depicted here, as a result of indulgence in sinful pleasures. And we note a further sad result described in one word—
IV. Dissatisfaction. Observe: "You covet (R.) and have not" . . . "Desire to have, and cannot obtain." What an unsatisfied and dissatisfied condition have we here.
V. Stagnation. Note: "You have not, because you ask not. You ask and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your pleasures" (4:2, 3). What a dreadful effect over-indulgence in pleasure has upon the prayer-life, as shown in these verses. What a dreadful picture of spiritual stagnation! First—prayerlessness— "You ask not." Secondly—fitfulness—"You ask and receive not." Why? Because "you ask amiss," asking for a wrong purpose, actuated by a wrong motive.
VI. Degeneration. What dreadful backslidings have we expressed in the following: "You adulterers and adulteresses"—"Friendship of this world," "Enemy of God" (4:4). How these believers had degenerated in their Christian walk, practice, and experience. They were now unfaithful to their God.
VII. Is there a Cure? Yes. Examine closely verse 5, reading from Dr. Weymouth's translation: "The Scripture says. . . the Spirit which He has caused to dwell in our hearts yearns jealously over us" (4:5). Or, as the late Dr. F. B. Meyer loved to say: "It could be translated, 'The Spirit which He made to dwell in us jealously yearns for our entire devotion.'" No believer who has fallen a victim to pleasure can ever be satisfied in that sad state. Certainly the Holy Spirit is not. How the Holy Spirit must love us to "yearn jealously over us." The cure is shown in the following verses, namely, getting low before the Lord, and seeking His full deliverance.
HUMBLED OR HUMILIATED—WHICH? James 4:6-10,13-17
What a difference there is between being humbled or humiliated! The first is my act, the second is the act of God; the first is remedial, the second retributive; the former is the beginning of blessing, the latter is the commencement of a curse. There is no escape from either the one or the other. If I do not humble myself under the mighty hand of God, the mighty hand of God will humiliate me.
I. Submit to God (4:6, 7). Why should we submit ourselves to God?
1. In View of the Sadness of the Past (4:1-4). What a sad catalogue of sin and failure we have in verses 1 to 4, showing what a mess we ourselves have made of our lives. This comes from the lack of surrender to God.
2. In View of the Present Power of the Evil One. Observe, before we are exhorted to "resist the Devil" we are urged to submit ourselves to God. To attempt to withstand the Evil One without fully surrendering to God, is asking for trouble. When the Devil is resisted by those who previously have fully surrendered to God, he flees.
3. In View of the Uncertainty of Life (4:13-15). How easy it is to plan without God, yet how futile. All our plans should first be submitted to God, and even then announced as "If the Lord will."
4. In View of the Surprises of God (4:13-15). This is another line of thought suggested by these verses. Life is a series of surprises. By the division of time God isolates us every day, loving to surprise us. Indeed life is a series of surprises. What a wonderful God have we!
II. Draw Near to God (4:8, 9). This is one, and, indeed, the first expression, and proof of submission to God. How must we draw near to Him?
1. With Sincerity (8). Seeking cleansed hands and purified hearts.
2. In Penitence (9). With real sorrow for sin.
III. Humbled in the Sight of God (4:10). Remembering our sinnership, taking the lowly place. Then— what?
1. God will Lift you Up. As a parent lifts up the sorrowing head of a child.
2. God will give grace (4:6).
OPPRESSING THE HIRELING. James 5:1-11
Evidently many of the poor among the Christian Jews were oppressed by the wealthy, and defrauded of their hard earnings (verse 4). Faith in Christ and His Coming will lead us to a patient sufferance of evils we cannot avoid. "The Just One" is R.V. of verse 6."Murdered the Righteous One" is Rotherham's rendering.
I. Hire. "Kept back by fraud" (4). Observe— "Cries." What a striking phrase. Cries with a voice God can hear.
II. Patience (7, 8, 10, 11). James turns from the oppressors to the oppressed. "Suffer with long patience" is the marginal note. This is wise advice. For agitation sometimes is futile.
III. Hope. But why be patient? How long should patience be exercised? The defrauded laborer who cannot find immediate redress by man, must remember the future Advent of our Lord when all wrongs will be righted. Read in the prophecies of the Old Testament the glowing results of Messiah's reign. Our great hope is the Coming of the Lord. That Coming "draws near." That was true in those days—how much more so in our day. There are impatient folk who desire immediate redress of all wrongs, and who object to the advice here given. This is the ideal, not immediately realizable. What then? Should not patience be allowed to operate until wrongs are swept away. And who will sweep these things off the face of the earth? Man has done his best and failed. Ah, there is one—the Man, Christ Jesus. "He, the Judge, stands before the door" (verse 9). In the meantime, let us who cherish ardently this hope be patient, and reveal our patience in—
IV. Silence. That is taught in verse 9. "Grudge not one against another," is, in the margin, "Groan not one against another," or, as J.N.D., "Complain not one against another," or as Rotherham, "Be not sighing one against another." Surely this means that, counting on the Coming of the One Who will sweep away all abuses and punish the oppressors, we shall cease to complain to one another, or of one another, ceasing to be constantly "dinning" into other people's ears the story of our grievance. Groaning will give place to glorying—glorying in the Lord. Silent to man on our grievances because not silent to the Lord.
V. Prayer (13). Ah, here is the great result of uncomplaining—we pour out into the ears of our loving God our sorrows, and the wrongs inflicted upon us.
PURE SPEECH. James 5:12
There is a closer connection between this verse and the subject of the oppression of the hireling already dealt with, than at first sight imagined. Under the galling pressure of injury and oppression one is tempted to the use of expletives, of impure and unwise speech, as one outlet, but this is here forbidden.
Is not this verse but an echo of words spoken on the Mount by the illustrious Brother of James, as recorded in Matthew 5:33-37.
Our speech, to be golden, must be:
I. Pure. "Swear not."
II. Unadorned. "Let your yes be yes," etc.
III. Dignified. As becomes believers.
IV. Inspired. By and from the right source. "For whatever is more than these comes of evil" (Matthew 5:37); or, as Weymouth, "Comes from the evil one," suggesting that the Evil One is the author of impure and undignified speech.
V. Disturbing. Anything else causes us "to fall into condemnation," disturbing our own consciences, and grieving the Lord.
PRAYER AT ALL TIMES. James 5:13-18
What James preached he practiced, for he himself prayed much. All the way through this Epistle the writer has insisted on the necessity and extreme value of prayer.
I. Pray when Afflicted (13). When a man is suffering he is tempted to forego prayer. This temptation must be resisted.
II. Pray when Sick (14, 15). The afflicted one must pray, but the sick one should call for others to "pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord." Strange, that believing men and women forget to pray when sick! What a gracious promise of answer to such prayers is given here.
III. Pray when Faulty (16). Here we are urged to confess to each other our faults, but not our sins. The latter should be confessed to God only. What should confession lead to? To prayer for each other.
IV. Pray when Merry (13). To sing Psalms means to pray through sacred song, for the best prayer book in the world is the Book of Psalms.
V. Pray when Thriving. M. reads: "Is anyone thriving? let him sing praise." Singing and praying are signs of spiritual health.
AN ERRING BROTHER. James 5:19, 20
The gracious ministry of restoration is here commended. That is how this Epistle closes. No leave-taking but an abrupt close on a high note.
I. Possibility. Possible for even brethren to err. "Brethren if any of you do err."
II. Defection. Err in what? "Err from the truth."
III. Seriousness. Deflection from the truth creates a multitude of sins.
IV. Peril. Death is the peril. "Save a soul from death." What a dreadful peril!
V. Salvation. While the Holy Trinity operates in salvation, here it is human ministry which is stressed. For usually the Triune God operates through the agency of man.