Epistle of James

Concise Bible Dictionary:

This was written to the twelve tribes which were in the dispersion, viewing them as still in relationship with God, though it was only the Jewish remnant, now become Christians, who professed the faith, which the Spirit gave, in the true Messiah. The moral measure of the life presented is the same as when the Lord was here among His disciples: it does not rise up to the position and principles of the church as found in Paul’s epistles. The believers being in the midst of the Israelites, some of whom merely professed faith in Christ, accounts for the apostle’s address to the mass and the warning to professors. The epistle belongs in character to the transitional time in the early part of the Acts, when the believers went on with the temple worship, before Paul’s testimony came in. In some Greek MSS this epistle follows the Acts, preceding Paul’s writings.
Referring to the various temptations into which saints fall, the apostle bids them count it all joy, inasmuch as the proving of faith works endurance. But this last must have her perfect work that they might be lacking in nothing. If wisdom be lacking, it should be sought in faith from God. The man who doubts will get nothing. The poor and the rich had both that in which they could glory; the one in his exaltation, the other in his humiliation, being able rightly to judge of that which is but for a moment. The crown of life is for him who endures trial—for those in fact who love God.
There is however temptation from within, which is not from God, and this results in sin and death. What is from God is good, for He is the Father of lights. He has begotten us by the word of truth as a kind of first-fruits of His creatures. Hence let everyone be swift to hear, but slow to speak, and slow to wrath: that is, swift to take in, but slow to give forth. The implanted word, received with meekness, is able to save the soul. But the believer must do it as well as hear it. If the tongue be unbridled, a man’s religion is vain. Pure religion before God and the Father is deeply practical both as regards human need and separation from the world.
James 2. The saints are warned against respect of persons in their meetings, the rich honored above the poor. Did not rich men oppress them and blaspheme Christ? If indeed they kept the royal law (to love their neighbor as themselves) they did well. But they transgressed it in respecting persons. They should speak and act as those that were to be judged by the law of liberty.
The apostle then speaks of the folly of saying one had faith apart from works. Where faith is alive there will be these latter. The question is viewed here from man’s standpoint: “Show me thy faith.” Paul views it from that of God, who reckons people who believe “righteous without works.” Both need to be apprehended.
James 3. The danger of being many teachers is now the theme. The tongue is a small member, but is capable of great effects, and must therefore be restrained. A man who does not offend in word is a “perfect man.” A wise man will show his works out of a good conversation with meekness of wisdom. This is in contrast to the mere self-constituted teacher. Heavenly wisdom leads to peace; but it is first pure; that is, God has His place in the soul; then peaceable, self has no place; while the outcome as regards others is that it is full of mercy and good fruits.
James 4. The evil of lust and the world is set in contrast to the action of the Spirit in us. Lowliness, submission to God, and resistance to the devil, are urged upon the believers. They are warned against speaking evil one of another, in doing which they judged the law, which inculcates loving one’s neighbor as oneself. None should exercise self-will; in going here or there the will of the Lord should be submitted to.
James 5. The unrighteousness, self-indulgence, and oppression of the rich are solemnly inveighed against, and they are reminded of the day of retribution. The brethren are exhorted to patience in view of the coming of the Lord, while they are warned against a spirit of mutual complaint, lest they themselves should be judged. The prophets are held forth as examples of suffering and patience. Those who endure are called blessed. The end of the Lord, to which saints in trial must look, shows Him to be very pitiful and of tender mercy. A warning follows against the evil of swearing. Prayer is the resource of the suffering; singing psalms that of the happy. Encouraging instructions are given in relation to cases of sickness. Forgiveness and healing are in the governmental dealings of God. The saints are exhorted to mutual confession and to prayer, the efficacy of which is then enlarged on.
The epistle closes somewhat abruptly with a short statement of the result achieved in the restoration of any who had erred from the truth; a soul is saved from death, and a multitude of sins are covered.
The epistle was doubtless written by James the son of Alphaeus; from whence it is not known, and its date is only conjectural, varying from A.D. 45 to 60. In the common versions it is called “the general, or catholic epistle,” probably meaning no more than that it is not addressed to any particular assembly; but the word “general” is not in any of the earlier Greek copies.

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