The writer of this epistle is referred to by others as James the Just. It is commonly believed that he was the brother of our Lord. The apostle James who was the brother of John was slain by Herod, see Acts 12:2. The writer of this epistle was also martyred, but it took place quite a few years later.
The theme of the epistle is encouragement and instruction to the scattered Jewish believers. James, who was the head of the church in Jerusalem, had them on his heart, and in this way exercised his pastoral ministry in their behalf. While the epistle differs very noticeable from the writings of Paul, there is not conflict of teaching between the two. Paul emphasized the need of faith without works for salvation, and James taught the need of works to demonstrate that faith.
The divisions of the epistle are four:
1. Chapters 1 and 2. The testing of faith.
2. Chapter 3. The reality of faith.
3. Chapter 4. The rebuke of worldliness.
4. Chapter 5. Divine provision for soul and body.
THE TESTING OF FAITH.
To the average believer temptation is never welcome. Even Jesus was Adriven into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. It is quite significant, however, that He came back filled with the Spirit. The clear light of the Word was what sustained Him, and as He said, it is written, God gave the victory and the tempter was defeated. James tells us that in temptation we must “count it all joy”, Ch.1:2. We are tested to prove the enduring power of our faith, and for those who win out there is a crown of life awaiting, v.12.
God never suggests an evil thought to anyone, therefore, no blame must be attached to Him for those thoughts. Satan is the instigator of all such thoughts. Like Paul, we must learn to keep the body under, so that thoughts from the devil may find no lodgment in us. Wed are to Alay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, v.21.
To become a strong Christian it is very necessary to be doers of the Word, and not hearers only. A man who seems to be religious but fails to bridle his tongue is deceiving himself. Pure religion has a positive two-fold manifestation. Such a person will have compassion of the afflicted, and will keep himself unspotted from the world, vs.26-27.
A further testing of faith is found in our treatment of others. In Galatians 5:6, it speaks of “faith which worketh by love”. We must treat all alike and not favor the rich above the poor, Ch.2:1-5,9. Certain works must also accompany the declaration of our faith. James said, “faith without works is dead”. Abraham believed God, and in taking Isaac to the mount to be offered as commanded, he proved the existence of his faith, v.22. So we must be prepared to act out our faith in whatever way it is tested, that we may thereby affirm our confidence in God.
THE REALITY OF FAITH.
A whole chapter is used to impress us with the need of sincerity. Temperaments differ, and in many things we offend all. We are without excuse, however, if we fail to bridle the tongue.
A common fault is to bless God, and then use the same member and curse men. The apostle says, “these things ought not so to be”, Ch.3:9-10. To be indifferent to the sins of the tongue is unpardonable, and where one is thereby at fault prayer should be offered, to God, for strength to overcome.
THE REBUKE OF WORLDLINESS.
Worldliness is that spirit which speaks and acts just like one of the world. Fighting among ourselves is a phase of pride and “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” A two-fold action is needful, that is, we should resist the devil and draw near to God. When both are done, we get the victory over the world. If we take care to humble ourselves in God’s sight He will lift us up, v.10. To plan ones movements without consulting the Lord is also a mark of worldliness. The unbeliever does that, but we should say, “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that”, vs.13-15, and in that way be obedient children of our heavenly Father.
DIVINE PROVISION FOR SOUL AND BODY.
The rich of this world are prone to heap up treasures at the expense of the poor laborers. God speaks against such, and shows from Ch.5:1-3 how some will do that in the last days. Surely at the present time we see unmistakable signs of this. A special promise is made to believers that God will pour out His latter rain and ripen the precious fruit of the earth. We are to be patient and look for the coming of the Lord, vs.7-8.
Healing is provided for the body, and an ordinance of anointing with oil is given to the church that this ministry for the sick may be practiced. Believers may also pray one for another that they may be healed, vs.14-16. God is no respecter of persons. He heard Elijah who was a man of like passions as we are, and we can expect works of power to come to pass in response to our prayers. Every effort should be made to turn men from sin. The epistle closes by saying “that he which converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”