Meditations on James 3:1-12

The “greater strictness” of judgment mentioned here, was in the mind of Jesus when he told Pilate, “he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin”, (Jn. 19:11) God knows that when a Christian becomes a teacher, that Christian becomes responsible for what they teach. In the same way, everyone who was responsible for handing Jesus over to Pilate would carry the weight of accountability for taking on more responsibility in the crime. If Christians teach error, we are committing a greater crime than any other kind of teacher because we are influencing people and giving them over to the influence of deceit instead of truth. James was attacking gossip and equating it with a devastating forest fire in a time when man could do nothing but watch and see everything destroyed. God has grace for us, but we should never negate our responsibility, the risk is too great and our accountability is grave (Matt. 7:16-21; 15:10-11, 17-19). Remember the only people Jesus ever called a hypocrite were religious leaders and teachers, his most severe rebukes were pointed at spiritual teachers, not physical leaders but religious ones. 

        Kindles. The point is that a small force can ignite, become out of control, and then destroy everything! Our words have awesome power and they can truly destroy (Prov. 16:27-29)

       Defiles means evil speech such as lies, false vows, and slander as well as blasphemy and gossip. The Bible says they are all evil! A small tongue in our large body controls our direction, relationships, and all we experience in life from peace to violence; it is how we are perceived and how others react to us (Psalm 25:15, 23; 28:23; 39:1-3; 52:1-4; 57:4; 120:2-4; Prov. 16:27; 26:21).

       Hell, (Greek Gehenna) refers to the valley of Hinnom, the place where the heinous child sacrifices took place under Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Chron. 28; 33; Jer. 7:32). This was the wickedest place a Jewish mind could conceive of, and where the first century Jews burned their trash. It also refers to everlasting torment (Mark 9:43-48). It is the image of judgment. Our tongue is hurtful when it is boastful and condescending and thus will lead to the fate of those who are dammed. James is not saying gossip causes a person to go to Hell, rather it is where its concept and veracity leads, the logical conclusion is for us to stop this, or experience a falling away, Galatians 5:4.

       Tame. The tongue is harder to tame than a wild beast! Animals are made to be to be subservient; we are made to be over the animals (Rom. 3:13-14). Can we have rule over the animals but not ourselves?

        Deadly poison, as in deadly cobra venom, the most powerful illustration that could be made in this time! James is using the image of Moses’ snake, how the snakes killed and how the symbol which is the modern medical symbol today, heals (Nub. 21:6-9). This compares the uncontrolled tongue to the deadliest snake, and how our words can be of love or be a deadly toxin (Psalm 52:2; 58:1-6; 64:3; 140:3; Prov. 12:8, 18; 16:24; 18:21; 25:18)

      Made in God’s image. James’ point is that we are made in God’s image and to be in Christ; animals are made for our use and it is our responsibility to care for them. (Gen. 1:26-28; 9:2; Prov. 12:10). Thus, we should have control and care over our own mouths and words!  

        Does a spring. James illustrates these incongruities with examples of the most common crops that were necessary for life from nature (Gen. 1:11-12, 21, 24-25). The point is that we cannot worship God authentically if we use the same mouth to curse His children!

So then, do we fully understand the power of our words? We must be conscious of what comes out of our mouths before it comes out. Squeezing the toothpaste out is easy, but putting it back in the tube is nearly impossible. When our words come out, they are out for good! We must have them under control! How can we do this? By making sure our tongue is under a good helmsman, God (Psalm 19:14; 51:10; 141:1-4; Eccles. 3:7; Mark 12:34; Luke 6:45; 2 Cor. 6:3-10; 10:5; 11:3; Phil. 4:8; Eph. 4:8; 1 Pet. 1:13-14) and by making sure our spiritual formation is growing in Christ as Lord. When our spiritual life is growing, we will be disciplined as our motivations and attitudes are aligned up to His, The Father of Light, love itself.

Meditations on James 2:14-26

Because of God’s grace, some Christians can be genuine Christians with all the flaws, weaknesses and sins previously listed in James 1:1 – 2:13, but when James starts talking about what kind of faith we have, a line is being drawn to distinguish between real Christians and fake Christians. Salvation is at stake here in learning what kind of faith we have. There is only one kind of faith that can save a human soul, and that is found in Christ, Ephesians 4:5 & John 14:6.

v16, “Go in peace” was a Jewish farewell blessing and saying. It means, may the Lord bless you and go away from me. It is saying to someone, stay warm, while you are in a warm home with a spare coat and they have no coat and are out in the cold. But, the Law explicitly commands us to provide hospitality (Deut. 10: 17-19; 15:7-8; Isa. 42:3-4; 58:6-7; Matt. 14:14-21; 20:34; Mark 1:41; Luke 4:18). Many Jews did; however, many refused and used their faith as the reason not to give help to others-a perverted reason.

Saving a soul or saving a body, is not the question James is concerned about answering, but it is whether or not our faith is real enough to save either, afterall, once body and soul are separated, we’ve lost any opportunity to believe or do anything. Jesus connected the two in a Christian’s duty to the Lord, Matthew 25:31-46.

A dead faith described in v17, is like a dead end, but a living faith is the avenue that brings a person into eternal life, Ephesians 2:8. God’s part is in being gracious, our part is in being obedient, therein is that living faith. Do not for a moment think that this refers to just baptism as a work on our part. Baptism is a work on God’s part, Colossians 2:12. Our faith is seen as trusting obedience through all the action we are compelled by the gospel to do, like confessing, repenting, being baptised and living faithfully. The act of baptism alone is not a work that we do as deserving salvation, it’s simply a part of many steps towards saving us, see 1st Peter 3:21. 

The type of work or labor James refers to in v18 can not be better described than by reading 1st John 3:23-24. To believe in the name of Christ and love your brother is a work akin to salvation, having the same importance as obeying the Lord in baptism. This is why Paul can say we must work out our own salvation, Php. 2:12 and yet still need God’s grace.

Abraham was saved by his faith in God (Gen. 15:6; 22; 26:4-5). What Abraham did was prove his faith by trusting in God and then backing up that trust by his obedience to God’s directive, even though it seemed irrational to offer up his only son, for whom he had waited so long.

  Rahab trusted in God and she was saved. She then hid the spies sent from Joshua. She knew the city was judged and doomed and that the Hebrews were God’s own. She was willing to sacrifice herself so that God would be honored and so that perhaps her family could be saved too (Josh. 2:1-21; 6:17-27; Heb. 11:31).

Two completely different people in nationality, gender, class & personality, yet they both had the same living faith which moved God to be gracious in forgiving and saving both of them. If either of them can be moved by faith to obey God, then God can move us too.

Paul also was saved by trusting in God. His life was radically transformed, so he put the same, if not more, energy into equipping the church as he had in trying to destroy it (Rom. 4:1-5). Paul and James do not contradict. Paul tells us outright that faith will have a response to it; so, Paul and James do not contradict, but rather complement each other. Salvation is a gift, not a reward (2 Cor. 5:10)

Meditations on James 2:8-13

v8, Royal law refers to an imperial edict which became a supreme law and overwrote other laws (Ezra 6:11; Est. 8). Here, it refers to God being the Supreme King and His Law as absolute. If Jesus is Lord & King, then we are obligated to follow His decrees (Lev. 19:15-18; Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:36-40; Rom. 13:8-10)

v9, Sin, The definition of this word is simply, “to miss the mark”. Whether we like it or not, all humans have a Creator that has given us a target, as well as an arrow. There are three ways to sin. 1, shoot and miss accidentally. 2, shoot and miss intentionally. 3, don’t shoot at all. Sin is sin, unless you hit the bullseye. God’s perfect law of liberty in Christ, the law of faith is our bullseye. 

v10, Whole law. The Bible teaches that some sins are more heinous than others; however, in God’s sight, sin is sin. A small sin will condemn you just as much as a bigger one. James warns us not to have a superficial understanding of the Law (God’s Word) (Matt. 5:17-20).

v11, Adultery & Murder. (Mark 12:29-34). James is putting the abuse of the poor and favoritism as a violation of the Great Commandment, and in the same category as murder and adultery! During this time, Jewish Zealots who were too religious to commit adultery would stab the Jewish aristocrats in the Temple court. James is also saying not to go to the other extreme, either. So God’s children couldn’t think that because they kept their personal life pure, they were better than people who were publicly shameful (aristocrats) and that personal purity with God gave them the higher position to execute judgment on their own brothers. Transgressors. The Jews, classically, had a hierarchy of sins-which were the real bad ones, and which were minor. The point James is making, as did Jesus, is that when we sin, we sin; From God’s perspective, there is no “pecking order” or hierarchy (Matt. 5:18-19; 23:23).

v12, Be judged. This refers to how our words and actions reflect who we are and what is in our heart (1 John 3:18). It is amazing that Christians are expected to look upon themselves as legal convicts (transgressors) of The Law of Liberty. Jesus gives us liberty, grace, and his own spotless righteousness, even though we are not as perfect as this royal law. That is amazing. So we are expected to treat other people amazingly! Love them.

v12, Law of liberty refers to being free from the ways of the world. It can also mean being wise in our own eyes. Most scholars believe it means being freed from sin (James 1:25). However you look upon the phrase, the law of faith in Christ itself is perfect, Romans 3:27.

v13, Mercy. God is not obligated to give mercy to anyone; yet, He does so anyway, and in abundance (Zech. 7:9; Matt. 5:7; 18:21-25; Rom. 9). Judaism recognized that God’s greatest attributes are His mercy and Judgment. If we are not impartial in our judgments, it will fall back on us! We always have to remember we are given grace, liberty, and forgiveness, but never forget we also have responsibility. We are called to give mercy and forgive-as God has done with us (Matt. 18:23-35). See Ephesians 4:32.

The basic, simple, and true thought is that we are to treat others as Christ has treated us! Being a Christian means we are to see one another as who we are in Christ. We are to treat one another the way Christ has treated us, because He first loved us. Do we see each other as the children of God just as we are the child of God? (1 John 2:28-3:3). Each of us is a brother or sister in the Lord. So, we must treat one another as Christ has treated us! We do this through the empowerment of His Spirit!

Meditations on James 1:26-2:7

v26, Authentic Christians are responsible for doing something with our life. We are not called to just be right; rather, we are called to get busy while staying clean! This should be seen in all that we do and believe (Prov. 19:17). Therefore if we are like the person that “Does not bridle his tongue” we are not genuine. God calls us to use our words for good (Psalm 141:3; Prov. 10:19; 16:24; Matt. 5:9; 12:34; Eph. 4:29). We are not to divorce our tongue from our mind and heart! We don’t want to be “Useless”. The essential quality that shows who we are in Christ, is putting our words forward with intent to reflect our faith and character. When we are careless with our words, we are being careless with our Lord and His calling. James calls us to wake up and get real with our faith and work. God literally hates it when we do not pay attention to what comes from our lips (Psalm 5:9; 12:3; 52:2; 109:2; 120:2; Prov. 17:4; 27-28; 25:23; 26:20; Jer. 9:8; James 3:1-12; 3 John 9-12)

v27, Pure and undefiled religion refers to obedience that is pleasing to God-doing something with our faith. Orphans and widows are the powerless ones in society. They have fewer resources and in Judea were often thrown away as many cultures do with them today. The Jews did a fair job of taking care of them, and the Romans only took care of the orphans of its citizens. Even though it was a very small percentage, most other cultures did nothing. True Christianity involves defending and providing for the helpless and needy! God’s call is powerful, purposeful, and clear; take care of them! (Ex. 22:20-24; Deut. 10:18; 14:29; Psalm 9:18; 68:5; 146:9; Isa. 1:17; Ezek. 22:7) God’s Word will lead to godly action when it is received by a person who is rooted in Christ, whose life has been transformed. If not, we are self deluded as James states in verses 23-27 and Ezekiel in Ezek 3:30-32. If we prayerfully read our Bibles God’s Spirit will help us with a visible result as our faith increases, and our purpose is set with a life that is worth living.

2:1, Partiality/ favoritism means to receive by face value only, like judging a book by its cover. It is to favor someone externally based on their appearance, race, economic status, or value in society. Here, racism is superficial and it is condemned as being evil! Jewish wisdom stressed (but did not always practice) when our focus is on God, we are to see others in His image, not what they can do to or for us. We are called to discern evil from good, but not make judgments based on appearances only (Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6-8 Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25).

2:6, Dishonored the poor. Treating others by the ways of the world and not the way of our Lord brings disgrace to people and God (Deut. 15:7-11). The poor gain grace and favor because they have learned to trust and rely on God alone, not just for being poor. They were the ones with the most faith and contribute to the church the most in what matters (Psalm 9:18; Luke 6:20; 1 Cor. 1:26-31)  Prejudice is defined as forming an opinion without knowing the facts. Prejudice, discrimination, and favoritism are heinous things before God the Father, who sees all of us as His children. The biggest problems, both in the family and in nations, are the superficial ways we judge each other and do not love. Looking at someone with favor or disgust because of appearance is not godly. In His eyes, we are demeaning our brother for superficial and meaningless reasons. (Matt. 28:19-20; John 13:34-35; Acts. 10:34; 17:24-28;  Rom. 2:11; 15:7; 1 Cor. 1:25-29; 1 Thess. 5:11; 1 John 4:7-21)

Meditations on James 1:19-25

  • v19-21, Anger is valuable when it is controlled and directed. Anger can move the passion of a person in motivation, such as starting or supporting an organization to prevent drunk driving versus shooting the drunk driver. Uncontrolled anger and not listening, gives people a false impression of God and has an extreme negative impact on others for the faith (Col. 3:8; James 3:18; 5:7). The Bible tells us that our anger has a place, but that we should not allow it to cause us to sin! Jesus saw His Father’s house of worship and prayer turned into a greedy market, and he modeled the correct way to use our hostility (Mat. 18:15-17; 21:12-13). Anger can be a solution or a real problem, depending on how we handle it. Anger can also become evil. Literally, it is the rotten fruit unhitched from our temper and loss of control. The Holy Spirit will restrain us but only in the parameters of our will to control our anger (Rom. 8:11; 2 Thess. 2:6; 1 John 4:4). Temper can be valuable if we submit it to God’s cultivation and care. God created each of us with two ears and one tongue, therefore his design and will is for us to do twice as much listening as we do talking. The lack of listening and the abundance of anger, especially when it is out of control, will create a destructive environment for the Christian and the Church (Prov. 27:9). What we should be listening to above all is God’s message. Why is it a necessity to put the Word of God into our daily life? Have we considered how it affects how we feel, how we are, and how it transforms us in how we treat others?
  • v21 “engrafted” or “implanted” is a very important word which every Christian should completely understand from James. Read 2 Pet. 1: 3-11. God calls us to take His Word and allow Him to plant it in us just like a gardener would plant a vineyard or orchard, then allow our efforts in Him and the work of the Spirit to grow His fruit in order to produce the character of Christ in our lives to impact others around us. How can this transpire more effectively in us?
  •  v23-24, “Doer”, The Greek word poietes is rooted in the idea of performing poetry. Reading poetry in silence to yourself is not as effective as reading it aloud with feeling. The performance of reading as an orator is good for you as well as others who hear. The same can be said for whatever Biblical passage you read, we must make a physical effort to live out the point of a passage, not just parrot it on a Sunday. This kind of performer may, at first attempt, feel hypocritical, but with faithful endurance and prayer, the “doer” will become real and natural as fruit growing and maturing, not because of the quality of my performance but because the passage is living & activated by the Spirit of God in Christ! I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  Romans 1:16-17  
  • v25, Notice the phrase changes from “doer of the word” into “doer of the work”. One letter makes all the difference. Christians are not just reflecting Christ as the light of the world, we are supposed to be enlightening the world with Christ, that is work!  Do you fully believe when the Bible has impacted us, we will make a response to it?  What would our congregation look like if more people were “doers of the Word?” Please read Matthew 5:14-16.

I desire to do Your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart. Psalm 40:8

Meditations on James 1:9-18

  • A Question for poorer Christians, v9, “Exaltation” – a higher position of enlightenment, such as the experience of the forgiven, noted in Luke 1:78. After the birth of John the immersionist, his father Zechariah spoke of how baby John would grow to present the Light of the world to people in darkness. When we realize who we are in Christ, all of our problems and opportunities come into perspective. How has this influenced you, or others in your life as a Christian?
  • A Question for richer Christians, v10, “Humiliation” – the abased position of service, such as the way the virgin Mary saw herself in God’s sight when she fully realized she was pregnant with the Messiah, Luke 1:48.  How can you put yourself in God’s care, to be more of a person of faith and integrity? How can you be one who is surrendered and poured out to Christ and used powerfully in the lives of others? (see John 3:30; Gal. 2:20-21; Phil. 3:10)
  • Do you believe that God’s blessings come to us in ways we cannot always fathom? Do you believe that He is indeed good? If not, what is blocking your view and/or experience?
  • How is perseverance or steadfastness, in v12, a factor in our faith development? What do we need to do to further understand God’s sovereignty so we have more willingness to endure, and not give up?
  • The fact about temptation in v14, should cause us to ask; Why is it important to not be deceived and not cave into false thinking? What happens when we do? What can we do to make sure we have the right view of sin and temptation? 
  • How have you struggled with temptations? How can this passage help focus you on the priority that Christ can and will fill you with Himself so that you will not be pulled into worldly desires? Remember Luke 9:23.
  • If we take v15 personally, then we can see that personally our sin brings upon our self, our own death, not the ability to pass on sin to others, but our own death. The death of a newborn infant is not caused by a parent’s sin, or Adam’s sin being passed on genetically, it is caused by merely being born human with the propensity to sin, whether a baby commits sin or not. Every human being is born capable of sinning, so death is the direct result whether a baby is viewed as a sinner or not, because genetically we don’t pass on sin, we pass on the ABILITY (lust/desire/will) to sin, therefore death is passed on, not sin itself, see Romans 5:12. Do you understand this?
  •  v17,“The Father of Lights” – Are we able to realize that we are witnesses to the Light of Christ to become the light that impacts others? Do we realize that our reliability, in being a reflection or a lampstand of the light to those who are weak in Him or do not know Him, will be the essence of Christ they may see in us? (see John 1:6-9; 1 John 1:7)
  • Is it God’s will to use the word of truth in our being born again, or is it man’s will to use the word of truth in our new creation? Read verse 18 carefully.

Meditations on James 1:1-8

  • What do you do when a problem develops? 
  • What is patience to you?
  • Do you depend on yourself or others to solve your problems, or God? 
  • An abundant life in Christ means our problems are always smaller than His solution. Read and contrast Psalm 142:1-7 and Romans 8:28.
  • How can declaring your situation as “joy” be of benefit to you? Read Matthew 5:10-11
  • Remembering who we are in God’s eyes, serves as a great strength when facing any problem, Read 1 John 3:1-3.
  • Since the testing of our faith produces endurance, what does the testing of our doubts produce? Proof that Satan knows which areas of our faith is weak! 
  • If we do not grow in trusting God, we will lack whatever it takes to face the next problem that comes along. What did the searching, rich ruler lack? Luke 18:18-22.
  • Is it possible to be mature in one area of our faith, yet immature in another?
  • What is not right in our life that needs wisdom and attention from God?
  • Is there any other kind of wisdom worth asking for, than wisdom from God?
  • Do we ever doubt God would share His wisdom, or run out of it, or that it would be so old that it’s not applicable? Read Isaiah 40:28 &                     1st Corinthians 3:19
  • Receiving anything more from God than what the world already has, should be truly treasured, so why would He refrain from giving good things to unstable, double-minded people?
  • Why would the “wretched man” described in Romans 7:24, not be the same as the double-minded man in James 1:8 ?

“God will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, Jehovah, is the Rock eternal”. Isaiah 26:3-4 ~ For Jewish Christians would find great strength in Jesus being The Rock, (Matthew 7:25 & 16:18)