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1:1 IntroductionDetailed Outline1a Author:JamesA servant of GodAnd [a servant] of the Lord Jesus ChristThe term
servantcan be translated
slavebecause the term means being under ownership and complete control
This is a standard term for Christian leaders, which many of the Biblical authors use to refer to themselves -cf. Rom. 1:1, Gal. 1:10, Titus 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1:11b Recipients:To the twelve tribesThis refers to the 12 tribes of IsraelIt my be literal, in which case, James is writing to Jewish ChristiansIt is most likely that James is using the term literally, and writing to Christian Jews, because tradition has James as the leader of the Jerusalem church of Jewish Christians, and Paul states in Galatians that he was sent to the gentile, and James, Peter and John were sent to the Jews.
Or it may be figurative, in which case, James is writing to Gentile Christians as if they were Jews, like Peter does in 1 PeterThose in the DiasporaDiaspora also refers to the Jews scattered away from the land of Israel
This also may be taken literally, i.e. to those living away from the promised land
Or it may be taken figuratively to refer to Christians who live in this world, far away from their heavenly home1c Greeting:GreetingsThis is a standard greeting in an epistle during this time period
It has the generic meaning
rejoiceand implies a wish for happiness given to the recipients
1:2-8 Trials and Wisdom
1:9-11 Be Humble in Any StatusDetailed Outline9 Let the humble brother rejoice in his high position/statusObviously, this is not a contradiction. Nor is it just wishful thinking. James is referring to two different standards of judgment and two different realities. In the world's estimation, a person of low status in terms of wealth or social class has a low status in everything. However, James points out that a person of low status, if they are in Christ, is heir to the greatest kingdom imaginable. Even if that person is currently living in poverty or obscurity, they can rejoice, by faith, in the reality of their calling and status in God's eyes, and in the future, full realization of their inheritance and high status.10-11 Let the wealthy brother rejoice in his low position, because his wealth is temporary10a [Let] the wealthy [brother rejoice] in his humble position/statusEqually obvious, this proposition is the opposite of the previous. The meaning of
rejoice/boastis somewhat different. Rather, they are not to rejoice and put their hope in their wealth or high status. Their hope and pride is to be in those things that appear humble and of no status to the world, because the things which the world holds in high esteem are temporary. cf. 1 Tim. 6:17
It is possible for a rich person of high status to be humble in heart. And God will often humble people for their own benefit and character growth. If a person truly becomes humble, then this is a cause for rejoicing.10b-11e Reason: Because he and his wealth are passing away, like a wild flowercf. 4:14 on the temporary nature of human life and all its glory
cf. 5:1-6 where the punishment of unrighteous wealthy people is elaborated10b-c Because he is passing away, like a wild flowerThe Old Testament regularly compares temporary human life with wilting grass, cf. Psa. 37:2, Isa. 40:6-810b Because, like a flower of wild grass10c He is passing away11 Reason: Wealth is as temporary as the beauty of a flower11a-d As the result of the sun's heat, the grass died up and perished, with its beauty11a For the sun rose with the burning heat11b-d Result: the flower of the grass dried up and perished, with its beauty11b And the grass dried up11c And its flower fell off/perished11d And the beauty of its appearance was destroyed11e In the same way, also, the wealthy will fade away even in his business pursuitsThe parallel should be obvious. Everyone sees the temporary nature of grass and flowers, because they wither in a relatively short span of time, and we notice the rapidity of its withering. Because human life lasts much longer than flowers, we rarely meditate on the corresponding temporary nature of human life.
But the Bible is good to regularly remind us of this reality so that we can adjust our lives - taking into account the end of our lives and the coming judgment
This is the point that James is making, that the rich should think about the coming judgment and take joy and pride only in those things that will truly last in the judgment, and not take joy and pride in those thing which will ultimately disappear and disappoint.
1:12-15 Trials And Temptations
1:16-18 Every Good Gift Is From GodDetailed Outline16 My beloved brothers, do not be deceived
My beloved brothersis a regular expression James uses to address his readers. He uses it so often, it may seem overkill, but James truly does think this about his readers. This phrase regularly introduces a new section as well as demonstrating James's affection.
do not be deceiveddoes not necessarily mean someone was telling them falsehood, and they were being hoodwinked. It can just mean to be mistaken in one's judgment. James doesn't emphasize how they may have come into a false view, but rather he emphasizes that the false view is possible and it should be avoided.17-18 All good gifts, and even our existence is from our gracious, perfect God17 Every good and perfect gift comes down from God, Who does not change17a Every good gift, and every perfect present is coming down from above - from the Father of lightsThere are actually two words for
giftused here and the word
everyis repeated with each. And therefore, I have translated literally
every good gift and every perfect present.But since the two terms are virtually synonymous, most translations have
every good and perfect gift.
from aboveis the same word used in John 3:3, 7 and typically translated
againin those verses. But its use here gives evidence that the translation
born from aboveis also legitimate there.
lightslikely refers to the heavenly bodies, such as the sun and moon. And therefore,
father of lightsmeans something like
creator of the heavensand is a reference to God's greatness, power, and inexhaustible ability.17b With Him, there is no change or shifting shadow
shifting shadowis a reference to the movement of a shadow as the sun goes across the sky. In other words, it refers to change over time. God is the creator of the heavenly bodies, but He is not subject to their movement or change. He is the solid reference point that gives definition to every changing thing. Even in modern science, with the idea of general relativity, God can serve as the fixed point from which everything else has reference and meaning.18 He brought us into being to be the firstfruits of His creation18a-b Because He chose, He brought us into being through the word of truth18a Reason: because He willedJames includes this proposition to make clear that our birth happened because God chose to do so. God was not compelled in any way.18b He gave us birth through the Word of Truth
gave birthis an infrequent word, used only in v. 15 of this chapter in all the rest of the New Testament. Outside of the New Testament it refers to literally giving birth to offspring. But here is it used figuratively to refer to bringing something into being, which did not exist before. This phrase could refer to God’s creation of the world. In this case,
the word of truthwould be God’s creative Word
let there be…in Genesis 1. Or (more likely) it could refer to the new birth of individual Christians, and
the word of truthis the Gospel by which people are born again.18c Purpose: so that we would be a certain firstfruit of His creationThe
firstfruitis a reference to the first portion of a harvest in the Old Testament. The firstfruit was a sign and guarantee of the full harvest, which would almost certainly come in. And (probably the connotation James is referencing) the firstfruit was given to God as his portion in order to honor Him.
1:19-21 Don't Give In to AngerDetailed Outline19-20 You should not act as if you were in control of the worldThe main message of this passage is to have a good, humble attitude as opposed to a selfish, arrogant attitude. A Christian should not behave as if the world revolves around them, because Jesus is the only Lord. Rather we should humbly realize our calling to be servants of all our neighbors, putting them before ourselves, because we serve the Lord, and expect our reward from Him.19a My beloved brothers, know this:This is a formula introducing an important statement, giving it emphasis. It functions as an attention getting device for what follows.19b-20 What you should know: You should forsake arrogance and wrath19b-c Let everyone be speedy to hear19b Let every man be speedy
speedyin this context probably has more the connotation of eagerness or willingness, not primarily the relative speed of listening. It is a contrast to
slowin 19d.19c Result: to hearJames uses a grammatical construction that is typically a marker of result
The point is that the person should be eager and willing to listen and learn, which is a sign of humility. It shows respect to others to be willing to listen.19d-20 Let him be slow to speak and slow to anger19d-e Let him be slow to speak19d [Let him be] slow
slowis the opposite of
speedyin 19b19e Result: to speakThis uses the same grammatical construction as 19c
slow to speakis the opposite of insisting that one's own opinion always be heard immediately. It is the valuing of other people's views and being willing to listen to them.
We have all probably experienced people who don't listen to others, but just look for an opportunity to hear themselves talk. And we recognize how selfish and off-putting that can be.
To be slow to speak is to recognize that we don't know it all, we don't have all the answers, and we need to give others the opportunity to share19f-20 Let him be slow to wrath, which is not godly19f And [let him be] slow to wrathTo be slow to wrath is the opposite of getting angry at the smallest provocation. Some people have a short fuse and are easily enraged. James warns his readers not to be like this.20 Reason: Because the wrath of man does not accomplish the righteousness of GodIt may seem like fighting back in anger will solve the problem. And it certainly feels good in the moment to do so. But two wrongs don't make a right. Yes, sometimes Christians need to fight back against injustice. But it is done in a Christian manner with sober, prayerful consideration, not under the control of violent passions. But normally, the Christian way is to overcome evil with goodness, trusting the Lord to administer justice. cf. Rom. 12:17-2121 Therefore: live as one dependent on God21a By putting off all moral filth and excess of evilThese are both fairly generic terms for moral uncleanness and wickedness. James calls his readers to cease doing all of it.
In this context, all types of evil are related to the selfish, self-centered attitude related above, and contrasted with the humble, repentant attitude described in the next proposition.21b-c Humbly receive the Word that can save your soul21b In humility, receive the implanted Word
humilityis defined as
the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one's self-importance(BDAG). This reinforces the opposition to the attitude described in the previous verses.
implantedconveys the meaning that the Word is permanently established within the Christian and will continue to develop - it has been plugged into our life, and James says we should let it have its way to change our attitude and lifestyle.21c Reason: Because it is able to save your soulThe power in the implanted Word is the power of salvation, just as Paul said in Rom. 1:16-17. James' point is that the Word has the power, not just the potential, and it will save the soul of all in whom it is implanted and does its full work.
1:22-25 Don't Just Listen to the Word, Do It
1:26-27 True Religion
2:1-26 Poverty and Wealth
2:1-13 Don't DiscriminateDetailed Outline1-11 Judge Rightly1-7 Do not judge with prejudice1-4 Do not prejudicially judge between the rich and poor1 Don't let your faith in Jesus - our Lord of Glory - be influenced by prejudicial judgment/partialityFaith in Jesus is incompatible with favoritism/prejudice (which is injustice/unrighteousness)2-4 Example: treating the rich and poor differently2-3 Condition: If you treat the rich and poor this way2-3a You look on the rich with special (unjust) favor2 The situation: A rich person and a poor person enter your assembly2a Rich man: A man enters your assembly wearing a gold ring and splendid/glamorous/ostentatious/bright [clean] clothing2b Poor man: but also a poor man [enters] with filthy clothing3a Your Response: You pay attention to/give favor to the one with the glamorous clothingYou give more attention to the one who is higher in your own standard of values. You judge the two solely on their clothes and the assumed underlying economic status. the implication is that you selfishly calculate those factors in others which show signs of how much benefit they may be to you. James was written to a culture characterized by reciprocity -
trading favors- as a standard of social conduct. It was normal to give benefit to someone in the expectation that they would benefit you in return. And to not return benefit was socially unacceptable. Therefore, James seems to be saying
You calculate that the rich man may benefit you with his money, so you pay more attention to him than to the poor man, who shows no sign of being able to benefit you.3b-f Result: You respond to each group in an unjust manner3b-c To the rich man3b You say:3c
you sit here in the good place/place of honorby giving him the place of honor, you show that you judge him worthy of this honor (or you are a calculating hypocrite)3d-f To the poor man3d You say:3e-f What you say:3e
you stand there3f or
you sit under my footstoolBy giving him the place of dishonor, you show that you judge him unworthy of honor, and so look down on one created in the image of God.4 Effect: You have made a preference in yourselves and are judges with evil thoughts4a You make a distinction among/waver within yourselvesThis is stated as a rhetorical question, but the force is a statement, assuming an affirmative answer
There are two possible translations here:1.
you are wavering, you are at odds with yourself, you are double minded- that is
you are combining your faith with a prejudice that is not appropriate, you are trying to hold together contradictory, mutually exclusive realities.This meaning fits with the use of diakrinomai in 1:6 and James calling the readers
double minded in 4:8
The instability mentioned suggests a person who is divided in his or her loyalties to God and the world. While faith means an unwavering trust in God,...doubt implies that the professed believer trusts in riches for security...The double-minded Christian is the one who fails to love and obey God wholeheartedly. Such a mind is characterized by doubts which are typical of those who lack authentic faith. A divided mind is evidenced by the different treatment meted out to visitors, especially along lines of social class.WBC en loc.
I you pay special honour to the rich, you are torn between the standards of the world and the standards of God and you can't make up your mind which you are going to applyBarclay en loc (although he argues for the 2nd meaning)
you are making a distinction, you are discriminating, you are making a judgment- that is
you are considering one person more valuable than the other.This meaning fits best the context of the next proposition which talks about them being judges
You are guilty of making class distinctions which in the Christian fellowship should not existBarclay en loc4b And you become judges with evil/corrupt/worthless thoughts/reasoningsThe emphasis here is probably not just the fact that they are making a distinction/judging (though that is important), but the emphasis is on they way they are judging - with evil/corrupt/worthless thoughts/reasonings
This fits well with the context of the next verses in which God's standard of judgment is contrasted
As highlighted above, these corrupt reasonings are usually driven by selfish motives, and justice is skewed toward the conclusion that we think will most benefit ourselves5-7 Reason: God's judgment standards of rich and poor are different than yours5a Challenge to hear God's verdict: My beloved brothers, listen5b-7 The content of God's verdict and its implications5b-6a Regarding the poor5b God's verdict: God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom which He promised to those who love Him6a The readers' contradictory response: But you have dishonored the poor6b-7 Regarding the rich6b-c The rich cause you hardship6b They oppress/dominate you6c They drag you into court/judgment7 The rich blaspheme the good Name [Christian] which is called over youYour verdict does not match God's verdict because your motivations are different (selfish) and your method is different (man looks on the outside, but God looks at the heart). Remember that when God became incarnate. He did not come as a rich and powerful ruler, but the King of the universe took on the nature of a slave, being obedient even to death (Phil. 2:1-11).8-11 Reason: Judging with prejudice shows you to be a hypocrite & lawbreaker8 If you love your neighbor, you do good8a-c Condition: If you fulfill the law by loving your neighbor8a If you fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture8b-c The Scripture quote - quoting Lev. 19:188b You will love the neighbor8c As [you love] yourself8d Effect: you do well/goodTo fulfill this law would be the opposite of showing the prejudice that James warns against9-11 But if you show partiality, you sin, and are rebuked by the law as a lawbreaker9 If you show partiality, you sin and are rebuked as a lawbreaker9a Condition: If you show partiality9b-d Effect9b You do sinLiterally
you work sin9c-d The Result: You are rebuked as a lawbreaker9c You are rebuked by the law9d as a lawbreaker [is rebuked]i.e. because you are a lawbreaker
Prohibition of favoritism in judging is part of God's revealed law (e.g. Lev. 19:15) and is to be avoided as much as murder and adultery10-11 Reason/Explanation10 Whoever keeps every law but one is still a lawbreaker10a-b Condition:10a Whoever keeps the entire law10b Yet stumbles/fails in only one10c Result: he has become guilty/liable of them all11 Explanation/Illustration11a-b Scripture/God says more than one command11a The One Who says
Do not commit adultery11b He also says
Do not murder11c-e The Implication:11c-d If you break one, even if you keep others11c Even though you do not commit adultery11d If you commit murder11e You have become a violator/transgressor of the lawUnless we are perfect in our obedience to God (which excludes everyone but Jesus) we have no grounds to look down on others in self-righteous condemnation12-13 Judge as those who will be judged12 Speak and act as those who are about to be judged12a-b Speak and act in this way12a Speak this way12b Act/do things this way12c As those who are about to be judged by means of the law of freedomThe
royal lawof v. 8 is also a
law of freedom(cf. 1:25) because the King of the law is both just and merciful. Those who have faith in Christ will not be judged strictly based on full compliance to the standards of God. If that were the case, there is no hope for any of us. Rather, God made a way to perfectly fulfill justice and yet still be merciful to us who deserve no mercy. God is just AND gracious toward us, and this realization should make a difference in the way that we speak and act toward others. We are told to take the log out of our own eye before we attempt to take the speck out of our neighbor's eye.13 The Reason:13a Judgment without mercy will be given to the one who does not exercise mercy-cf. Matt. 5:7, 6:12, 7:1-2, 18:15-35
There is an important distinction between making right judgments (good evaluations and decisions, even involving whether other people are to be liked and trusted) on the one hand and standing in judgment (self-righteously condemning or writing off a person as valueless) on the other hand. All Christians are called to be discerning judges in many contexts in our daily lives. However, only those with the given responsibility, proper authority, and demonstrated ability (not blinded by logs) should act as jury (pronouncing verdict) and executioner (carrying out the sentence)13b Mercy is more powerful than judgment-cf. Matt. 12:7, Rom. 3:25-26, 2 Sam 14:14
We should strive to make good judgments. But what we do with our conclusions is equally important. We can be honest and correct in concluding that a person has a speck in their eye. But instead of condemning them for their speck, we can help them remove it. We should imitate the character of Christ, Who did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. Yes, God is just and always remains so. But He also made a way so that His grace has the last word. He loved His enemies, and He has commanded us to do likewise. He has also enabled us to do so, by transforming us by His Spirit because of His love, shown to us when we did not deserve it.
2:14-17 Faith and Deeds
2:18-26 Faith is Validated by Deeds
3:1-4:12 Pure Speech
3:1-2 Teachers Meet Higher Standards b/c They SpeakDetailed Outline1 Speaking ministries are more strictly judged1a Brothers, not many of you should become teachersThe address
brothersis James' regular marker for a change of topic
The advice for few to become teachers may seem counter-intuitive. One would expect that more teachers would be better. But the reason given below explains that for teachers, quality is more important than quantity. It is better to have fewer teachers, who are good teachers, than many who are poor or false teachers.
Because teachers are so influential (because words are so influential, see vv. 3-8), teachers are of necessity held to a higher standard1b-c Reason: Teachers will experience greater judgment.1b Knowing that:This is a formula introducing the fact to which James wishes to draw their attention1c We will receive greater judgmentNotice the shift to first person plural. James placed himself as a teacher with them
judgmentis both the process of evaluation - which could generate either a positive or a negative verdict - and the imposition of this verdict by either reward or punishment
greater judgmentcould mean a stricter standard of evaluation
It could also mean harsher punishment for failing to meet the standard
Most likely, it is a combination of both ideas
Notice the future tense
they WILL receive- most likely referring to the final judgment at the parousia of Christ - cf. 5:82 Reason: Words are not only more important, but more difficult to control perfectly2a For all stumble in many things
stumbleis the literal meaning of the word, which is almost certainly meant to be taken figuratively as some sort of moral failure in sin and error
This proposition is a general statement acknowledging the sinfulness and failure of all humanity in order to prepare for the specific statement in the next phrase
It acknowledges sin in many areas in order to introduce the topic of sin and then highlight sin in one specific issue2b-c But our words are the most difficult things to control2b Condition: If someone does not stumble in wordThis proposition focuses on one issues - stumbling/sinning with words
stumble in word- certainly referring to speech, and most likely specifically referring to the speech used in teaching, as seen in this context, although the following context allows for a wider application
Notice that this proposition is formed in the negative - the person who does NOT stumble. This is to prepare for the point in the next proposition2c This one is a perfect man - able to exercise control over the entire bodyOne who does not stumble in word is call a perfect/mature man - one who has reached the pinnacle/goal of moral development
If someone can control his speech, he can control everything. He can control his entire body
The implication is that the tongue/speech is the most difficult thing to control -cf. vv. 3-12 esp. vv. 7-8
This is the reason that teachers are held to the highest standard - that their speech is difficult to control, and needs to be all the more carefully guarded
This, of course, leaves open the possibility that teachers can control their speech by the grace of God, for the good instruction and exhortation of God's people
So teachers should not take their calling lightly, but seriously strive to become careful and mature in their speech
3:3-12 The Tongue is Powerful and DangerousDetailed Outline3-8 Our speech is dangerous3-6 Speech is a powerful force for evil3-5 The tongue has great influence, disproportionate to its small sizeIn this section, the tongue could refer to speech in general
But in the context of v. 1, the tongue could refer more specifically to speech of teachers3-4 Just as small things can have great influenceJames uses two illustrations (a horse and a ship) of a large thing controlled by something small in order to make the point about the large potential of the tongue despite its small size3 A big horse is controlled by a small bit3a-b Condition: If we bridle a big horse with a small bit3a If we put the bridles of horses in their mouths3b Purpose: in order to make them obedient to us3c Result: we will guide their entire bodiesThere are two points of emphasis here:
First is the contrast between the small size of the bit and the large size of the horse that is controlled by it
Second is the bit put in the mouth (foreshadowing the emphasis on speech in the rest of the context), which controls the entire animal4 A big boat is controlled by a small rudder4a-b Even though the boat is so large and under such great power4a Being so large4b And being driven along by strong windsthe point is the size of the ship and the size of the power that propels it, compared with the smallness of what guides it, as seen in the next proposition4c-d It is guided by so small a rudder4c Behold the boat is also guided by so small a rudder4d Wherever the desire of the pilot wantsthe small rudder controls the large ship, out of proportion to their relative sizes5 A small tongue has great influence5a-b In the same way, the small tongue boasts of great things5a In the same way, the tongue is also a small member5b And it boasts of great things5c Behold, how small a fire sets ablaze how great a forest!6 The tongue is an instrument of evil and destruction6a-b The tongue is a destructive force in many ways6a The tongue is a fireJames does not explain this metaphor here, but from the later context, it is obvious that he is emphasizing the destructive potential of fire6b [The tongue is] the totality of evilLiterally -
a world of evil
Worldprobably has the connotation of sum total, tremendous amount of evil
Therefore, the emphasis is that all potential evil is contained in the tongue
There is no part of evil that is not available or possible for the tongue6c-f The tongue ruins all parts of our life6c The tongue is being brought about in our membersthis is a very literal translation - the tongue
happensin our entire self
this probably means something like,
the tongue makes its mark/makes and influenceon all our members
If the tongue refers to teachers, this proposition emphasizes that teachers influence the entire congregation (every member)
Its influence is elaborated in the following propositions6d-f The effects of the tongue are destructive and defiling6d [The tongue is] the thing defiling the whole bodyThis possibly refers to [bad] teachers leading the entire congregation into false doctrine6e-f The tongue is destructive fire6e And setting on fire the course of existenceJust like a forest is set ablaze by a small fire, so all of life is destroyed by the fire of the tongue
The tongue can (and often does) destroy every part of life6f And being set on fire by hellThis could possibly refer to the source of the tongue's evil influence -
It spreads the fire which it caught from hell
Or it could refer to the destiny of the tongue's evil influence -
It will experience the fire of hell as punishment for its evil deeds7-8 Reason: The tongue is uncontrollable7 All kinds of animals have been tamed by humans7a For every kind of beast and bird, reptile and sea creature are being tamedNote that it says every category of animal, not every species
James is using hyperbole to set up for the coming contrast
These are the main categories of animals that the Bible uses: beasts, flying things, creeping things, and sea creatures
Of course, these are not the same categories used by modern zoology, but they are still a valid and logical way to categorize animals based on observation
This first use of the verb states that they can be tamed in general7b And they have been tamed by human natureThis second use of the same verb goes to state not only that they can be tamed, but they also have been tamed
There is a word play here - the nature of the animals is tamed by the nature of humans8 But the tongue is untamable8a But no one of all humanity is able to tame the tongueThis emphasizes by contrast with tamable animals how uncontrollable the tongue is8b-c Reason: It is uncontrollable and deadly8b It is an uncontrollable evil
uncontrollablehas the connotation of restless and unstable - you never know what the tongue might do, cf. 1:8
evilis a generic term for all that is bad and harmful8c It is full of death-giving poisonFull in the sense of completeness, abundance, cf. v. 17
full of deadly poison, that which brings death
Careless words and false teaching have the potential to bring death9-12 The Conclusion: Our speech is insane9-10 Our speech is an unreasonable contradiction9-10a The tongue produces confused and contradictory results9 With the tongue, we bless God and curse men in His image9a Pos: By it, we bless the Lord and Father9b Neg: And by it, we curse men, who exist according to the likeness of God
in the likeness of Godis a reference to Gen. 1:2610a Blessing and cursing go out from the same mouthThis goes against what is expected and reasonable10b My brothers, these things should not be this wayThis a contradiction and hypocrisy, and should not happen
People do it, but only because they don't examine and realize what they are doing
When it is pointed out what a contradiction it is, James expects his readers to agree that this goes against what is right and reasonable11-12 Reason: This is an unnatural contradictionBecause this goes against logic and nature, it should not happen
This is a clear sign that something is wrong and should be fixed11 Can a spring pour forth from the same outlet fresh water and bitter?This question is phrased in such a way as to assume a negative answer12a My brothers, is a fig tree able to produce olives?12b Or a grapevine to produce figs?Both of these are referencing Jesus' words in Matt. 7:16-2012c Neither can a salty spring produce fresh water
3:13-18 Wisdom from GodDetailed Outline13 Demonstrate Godly wisdom with good works13a Who among you is wise and understanding?This is a rhetorical question, not an actual question. The meaning is "whoever is wise and understanding" and the purpose is setting up for the next proposition - connecting this wisdom and understanding with the works it should produce
wise/wisdomis an important term in James - it refers to putting knowledge into practice in appropriate and successful ways
understandingalso refers to more than just being knowledgeable, but also effectively exercising the knowledge with insight and success13b Prove it with good worksLet him prove/demonstrate his worksThis echoes the earlier section where James emphasized that true faith is demonstrated by good works (2:14-26)
In this section, James teaches that true wisdom is also demonstrated by good works - specifically in lifestyle and in attitudeFrom his good lifestyleThis term refers to habitual/typical behavior, not just temporary deeds, but long-term conductAnd in humility of wisdomThe connotation of this word is gentleness of attitude and behavior that comes from not being self-centered/focused
It does not mean being a pushover or milquetoast or not standing up for what is right14-18 Do not have worldly wisdom and actions, but Godly wisdom and actionsIn these following propositions, James will elaborate the lifestyle and attitude spoken of in v. 13b, first by what it is NOT, and then by what it IS14-16 Neg: Human wisdom14-15 Not by worldly, human wisdom, which results in evil, selfish actions14 Do not give in to base and sinful attitudes toward others14a If you have resentful jealousy and selfishness in your heart
resentful jealousyis a feeling of resentment against someone else, shown in a bitter and hateful attitute toward them
selfishnesshas the connotation of rivalry and selfish ambition over against someone14b-c Do not act on these base and sinful attitudes14b Do not boast over anotherThis term has the connotation not just of boasting, but of boasting at the expense of someone else - to look down upon someone and/or put down someone in order to raise yourself up by comparison14c And do not lie against the truthOf course, in one sense, every lie is against the truth. So why does James use this phrase? It may be to emphasize that every lie is not on its own, but is always in relation to an objective standard, which ultimately rests on THE eternal standard of God Himself. So, a lie is not just a misspeaking, but it is always against something, often with the same arrogant despising attitude mentioned in the preceding proposition15 Explanatory Reason: This is not Godly, but demonic15a Neg: This is not the wisdom that has come down from aboveThis is contrasted with the kind of wisdom that comes from God
James counseled his readers to ask God for wisdom in 1:5
And he says that every good gift comes down from above in 1:17
In v. 17 we are told about the true wisdom that comes down from God
And James says that this kind of selfish, sinful attitude breaks the
royal lawof loving one's neighbor mentioned in 2:815b Pos: Rather, this kind of 'wisdom' is earthly, unspiritual and demonic
earthlyas opposed to heavenly, and this word has the connotation of weakness and human limitation as opposed to the infinite wisdom of God
unspiritualis natural as opposed to supernatural, and also has the connotation of human limitation and weakness in contrast to that which is under the control of God's Spirit
demonicgoes further than just contrasting human weakness with God's perfection, but it clearly states that this kind of wisdom, not only is not from God, but it is ultimately from the devil - because the devil is the father of lies and selfishness and spite16 Reason: These sinful attitudes always result in evil actions16a For where there is resentful jealousy and selfishness,These are the same terms used in 14a16b There is rebellion and everything that is evilJames makes an inevitable connection between the sinful, selfish attitude and the evil actions that almost automatically come from them
rebellionis opposition to authority that shows itself in unruliness and violence, like a mob riot
everything that is evilis a generic term for any matter/event, modified by a generic term for all that is morally base, bad, and evil17-18 Pos: Godly wisdom17 Characteristics and results of Godly wisdom17a The wisdom from above is first pure/holyThe connotation of this term is being without any moral defect or shortcoming17b [The wisdom from above is] next, peacefulThere are two possible connotations of this term:
First, is an emphasis on producing and preserving relational harmony - making and keeping peace
Second, is an emphasis on freedom from anxiety - inner peace17c [The wisdom from above is] graciousThe connotation of this term is not insisting on one's rights, but being courteous and forbearing - gracious to others, without implying weakness or gullibility17d [The wisdom from above is] reasonableThe connotation of this term is being open to reason and willingness to comply with what is persuasive17e [The wisdom from above is] full of mercy and good fruitIt is characterized by mercy/compassion, and produces good results17f [The wisdom from above is] unprejudiced/impartialThe connotation of this term is freedom from judgmental and divisive attitude, and prejudice17g [The wisdom from above is] genuine/unpretentiousThe connotation of this term is freedom from hypocrisy, pretense or show
It is genuine and sincere - what you see is what you get18 The result of righteousness is sown in peace by those doing/making peace
result of righteousnessis literally
fruit of righteousness- cf. Phil. 1:11, Heb. 12:11
Doing what is right results from
being sown- activities and attitudes that produce righteousness
James states that these activities are done in or by peace, and they are done by or to those who are making peace and/or doing peaceful things
peacehas the same connotations as above
4:1-3 Wrong MotivesDetailed Outline1 Your selfish desires are the cause of your relational problems1a-b Q: What is the source of your strife?James is inquiring the reason for their worldly attitude and actions, in order to address, not just the symptoms, but the underlying causes, and then to offer solutions in the following passage1a What is the source of your conflict?1b And what is the source of the quarrels among you?These two propositions are fairly synonymous, reflecting Hebrew parallelism
The additional information in the second proposition is to emphasize that the fighting is
This could mean
within youi.e. between different people. This fits with the idea of
murderin later propositions as well as the general idea of the previous contexts1c A: Is it not from this - from your desires that struggle in your members?Technically, this is in the form of a question, but it is a rhetorical question. Its purpose is to rhetorically state where their conflict comes from, thus answering the previous question
This proposition has the same ambiguity as the previous two - It is referring to the struggle within an individual, or between different people
In the first case,
membersis the members of a body, similar to the way Paul uses the term.
In the second case,
membersrefers to the members of the congregation
desiresrefers to the experience of pleasure, usually referring to illicit, sinful desires for illegitimate pleasure gained by sinful means. Our sinful passions are the root of the problems and enmity2-3 You are unsatisfied because you are selfishThis is a series of four similar ideas, consisting first of a statement of what his readers do, and then how the result is against their hopes and expectations. The point is that their actions do not give the desired results, because they cannot, because they are the wrong actions. They are unwise actions, that are worldly. They are evidence that his readers still need the wisdom that comes from God, and they should submit to His ways and wisdom and righteousness. Sinful passions cause problems, and never satisfy.
This passage ends in an unresolved failure caused by sinful passions. Only in the next passage is the solution given, which can bring one out of this dead end.2a-b You desire but don't get what you want2a Even though you desireThe object of the desire is not state, and so is open-ended. It could be a desire for things or experiences, or status, etc.2a Yet you do not haveThis also is non-specific. It could refer to ownership, possession, control, etc.2c-e You murder and envy but cannot get what you want2c-d Even though you murder and envyIt is possible that these two terms are not separate ideas, but are one idea from the combination of the two, such as
you murder with envyor
you have murderous envy
This would be an expression of the temptation to vengeance whenever a desire is frustrated - to be jealous of those who realize the desire and wanting them out of the way, so that you may take it, or possibly even wanting violence toward them purely out of spit, stemming from this envy2c You murder2d And you envyThis word has a range of meaning that includes strong desire for something, zeal, and envy against someone else because of a strong desire for what they have
James does not clearly indicate which connotation is more emphasized in this context2e Yet you are not able to attainNo matter the extremes of action done, the desire is beyond your ability to attain for yourself. We are neither sovereign nor omnipotent. Therefore, we are unable to get what we want, no matter how hard we try2f-i You quarrel and fight but don't get what you want2f-g Even though you quarrel and fightThe desires spoken of in 1c were the cause of the actions spoken of in 1a and 1b, yet these actions failed because their foundations and powers were not from God's wisdom2f You disputeThis the verb form of the noun in 1b2g And you fightthis is the verb form of the noun in 1a2h-i But you don't get because you didn't askThe ultimate cause of the failure is now stated - they did not follow the advice James gave in 1:5 - to ask God for any wisdom that is lacking
And they did not even ask God for the thing desired - they failed to see God as the ultimate source of every good and perfect gift -cf. 1:17
Rather they was themselves as self-sufficient to gain their desires, but their desires gave birth to sin, and bore fruit in death -cf. 1:14-152h And yet you do not have2i Reason: Because you do not ask3 You ask with selfish motives and don't get what you want3a Even though you askIn the previous proposition, the reason was that they did not ask, and this proposition moves the argument forward one step. Even when they do ask, they don't receive, because they do not ask rightly.
this might seem like God is being picky and withholding good gifts until we get the right password for His gifts, but the reality is much different. It is because God is good and holy and will not be mocked.
Just like a good parent won't give their child something that will hurt the child, God refuses to give us what will feed our selfish pleasures, which will in turn feed our sin and strife3b-d Yet you do not receive because you ask selfishly3b Yet you do not receive3c-d Reason: you ask selfishly just to feed your pleasures3c Because you ask wickedly
wickedlyis a generic term for doing something in a morally bad or evil way, and usually with harmful results
From the context, this is usually translated as
with bad motives3d Purpose: so that you may waste it on your desires
desiresis the same word as in 1c
wastecomes from the word for
spend,but often with the connotation of lavishly. And in this context, it is spend on something that is harmful, and therefore, wasted
God will not give good gifts for them just to be wasted on sinful pleasures that draw His people away from Him.
Therefore, his holding back these things is actually an act of grace, rather than an act of stinginess
4:4-10 Submit to GodDetailed Outline4-5 Neg: Do not conform to the world's ways and human wisdom4 Do not choose friendship with the world4a-b You cannot ally both with God and the world4a Adulterous people, don't you know that:
adulterous peopleuses standard OT imagery for people unfaithful to God, cf. Hos. 3:1
James accuses them of being unfaithful because they lack godly wisdom (vv. 3:13-18) and they are giving in to selfish desires (vv. 4:1-3)4b Friendship with the world is enmity toward God
the worldis human existence without, and in opposition to, God
Godliness is to keep oneself untainted by the world, cf. 1:27, 1 John 2:15-174c-d If you choose the world, you place yourself against God4c Therefore, whoever whats to be a friend of the worldThat is, to conform to the world's wisdom and standards, and desires4d He is made an enemy of GodGod is an enemy to the worldly mindset that resists, ignores, and dishonors Him
Therefore, to choose the side opposed to God is to put oneself in opposition to God, and thereby to make oneself a victim of His enmity and wrath5 Reason: God is a jealous God-cf. Exo. 20:55a Or do you think that...?-cf. 1:265b-d What they think:5b that the Scripture says in vain:There is no Old Testament Scripture that says these exact words, but James is almost certainly referring to the passages that speak of God as a
jealous Godsuch as Exo. 20:5, 34:14, Deut. 4:24, 5:9, 6:15, 32:21, Josh. 24:19, and Nahum 1:2
James's point is that those who love the world fail to take this warning seriously!5c-d God's Spirit in us longs jealously5c The Spirit longs jealouslyThe point is probably that the Spirit longs to the point of jealousy
God is a jealous God, and desires His own glory and fame. And therefore, He desires that His people delight in His own glory and fame, more than in the things of the world.
The disputes among God's people are caused by their jealousy, which has its root in their selfish desire for ungodly things (cf. vv. 1-3). The solution comes from God's righteous jealousy for what is good.5d Whom God has caused to live in youGod's Spirit is resident with God's people, even as they love and pursue friendship with the world6-10 Pos: But God gives grace to change, to conform to God's ways, and God's wisdom6 God gives grace to experience God's blessing by conforming to His ways6a But He gives greater grace
greatercompared to what?
God's grace is more abundant than our sin and shortcoming and disputing. If anyone lacks anything, he should ask from God, Who is more than sufficiently able to provide all the grace that is needed.
In this context, it refers to His giving grace to the humble, overcoming the proud.6b-d Therefore, according to Proverbs, God confronts or blesses appropriately6b Therefore, it saysQuoting Prov. 3:34, cf. Matt. 23:126c-d God confronts or blesses, according to what is appropriate6c Neg: God opposes the arrogantThe arrogance can show itself in boasting against others and quarreling, like described in the previous passages. The arrogant are not demonstrating godly wisdom, but are characterized by wisdom that is earthly, human and demonic -cf. 3:15
And the arrogant think much of themselves over against others, and especially over against God. It is impossible to be arrogant if you are looking to God's greatness and wisdom to supply a personal lack
opposeis a strong word, involving not only an attitude, but also behavior. God shows hostility toward, and works against the arrogant.6d Pos: but He gives grace to the humbleWhen we acknowledge our neediness, and ask God to supply what is lacking, God is gracious and gives generously without finding fault, -cf. 1:5
Just as God gives favor to those who are poor in the eyes of the world (2:5), He gives favor to those who are poor in their own eyes, cf. Matt. 5:3
God's grace to the humble is a statement filled with hope. Some people historically have claimed James does not contain much Gospel. But statements like this and later propositions in vv. 8-10 are full of Gospel promise, even though not spelled out as explicitly.
The obvious implication, to be spelled out in the next section, is that James's readers should humble themselves.7-10 Therefore, conform to God and He will exalt you7-9 Submit and conform to God7 Overcome the devil by submitting to God7a-b Reject the devil by pursuing God7a Subject yourelf to GodResisting the devil is futile without first submitting to God. On our own, we are not strong enough to have any hope of success against the enemy of our souls.
But if we place ourselves on God's side, He will take up the fight on our behalf, and He will always win.
This subjection is a voluntary act of placing oneself under the authority of God willingly, even though, of course, we are already under His authority and control. Every knee will bow, willingly or unwillingly. But Christians are invited to submit willingly by faith, before God exercises His full authority in glory.
This subjection is an act of humility - not of falsely considering oneself lower than actual, but realizing one's true status compared to God.7b And oppose the devilThis is an active opposition to his lies and influence, coming from an attitude of mistrust, contrary desires, and enmity, cf. 1 Pet 5:9, Eph. 6:13, Gal. 2:117c Result: he will flee from youWe are promised that when we submit to God and resist the devil, he will go away in defeat, just as he did at the conclusion of Jesus' temptation.
This is by God's power and protection, and not by our power or anything inherent in us8-9 Convert and conform to God8a-b Come near to God and He will come near to you8a Come near to God
draw nearwill be defined more clearly below
This refers to intentional activity on our part to come into closer relationship with God
Every Christian should do what ever it takes to know and experience God more closely8b And He will come near to youAnd the promise is that whenever we make the effort, God responds with further revelation of Himself and closer relationship
This does not put us in control of the relationship, as much as it removes barriers on our part to the fullness of relationship, especially in light of the manner of drawing close, which is described in the next propositions8c-9 By repenting and conforming to God8c-d Conform to God's holinessCleansing of hands and purifying of hearts both draw on OT passage which use physical cleansing as a figurative symbol for spiritual purity and holiness.
Both of these are symbolic commands for people to conform themselves to God's ethical standards, typically by repenting and turning away from all unrighteous activities and attitudes.8c Cleanse [your] hand, O sinners-cf. Psa. 24:3-4, Isa. 1:168d Purify [your] hearts, doubters
doubtersis the same word as
double mindedin 1:8
-cf. Psa. 51:10, 2 Cor. 7:19 By lamenting and repenting9a-c Lament-cf. Eccl. 7:2, Isa. 22:129a Be sorrowfulThis term has the connotation of being miserable to the extent that the misery is expressed outwardly9b And mournThis term means to grieve in sorrow9c And weepAnd this term means to cry, obviously from sadness
-cf. Jer. 31:9, Joel 2:12, Luke 18:11, 2 Kings 22:19
Notice that all three of these terms do not specifically give the reason why they should be miserable and sad. But in context, it is clear that they should be sad for those things that are not in conformity with God. In other words, James is not commanding his readers to be miserable and sad in general, as if that is virtuous in itself. Rather, he commands them to be miserable and sad about their sin and idolatry, such as favoritism (2:1-12), impure speech (3:1-12), selfish envy (3:13-18), selfish quarreling (4:1-3), and friendship with the world (4:4-6) which is causing enmity toward God. These things SHOULD make us miserable, because they hinder our relationship with God and stand in the way of His blessings.
Two important passages from the penitential Psalms are illustrative of the kind of attitude James is commanding here:then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up any iniquity, I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD" - and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psa. 32:5) and
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psa. 51:17)9d-e Repent9d Let your laughter be turned into sorrow9e And [let your] you [be turned] into gloominessA number of times in the OT, God promised to turn His people's mourning into dancing and joy. -cf. Jer. 31:13, Psa. 31:11, 126:5-6
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted(Matt. 5:4)
Such passage speak about God's ability and willingness to change His faithful people's bad experiences to good, as an act of His justice. But the Old Testament also speaks of God bringing His people to justice when they are not faithful.
James seems to be turning the
mourning into dancingverses on their head to challenge his readers to turn back to God. If they embrace the sorrow of repentance for God's sake, they can expect God to turn their sorrow to joy. This is not forcing God to bless them, but it is placing themselves in the situation in which God promised He would freely bless.10 Therefore, be humbled before God and He will exalt youThis passage may seem very harsh, but it is actually very hopeful. The sorrow and repentance commanded in the previous context is not an end in itself, but is for a gracious and hopeful purpose. As we turn away from those things in enmity from God, we turn back to God. As we turn back to God, we experience God. And there is nothing better than that.10a Be humbled before GodThis summarizes the command of the previous context. Being proud before God is insane and inappropriate and offensive to God. The godly response is to be humble before God.10b And He will exalt you.But God's gracious response is to lift up His people who have lowered themselves. The paradox is that when people exalt themselves, they never ultimately find honor. But when people humble themselves and honor God, then God gives them honor. Jesus gave the perfect example of this dynamic, as described in Phil. 2:1-11.
-cf. Luke 1:52, 1 Pet. 5:6
4:11-12 Don't Slander One AnotherDetailed Outline11-12a Don't play God by judging a brother11a Do not speak disparagingly of one another
speak disparaginglyhas the connotation of defaming, slandering, or otherwise speaking evil of something. This same word is repeated three times in this verse in different forms.11b-12a Reason: To do so is to put yourself in God's place11b-e Disrespecting a brother is standing in judgment of the Law11b-c Condition: If someone slanders or judges a brother11b Brothers, whoever is speaking disparagingly of a brother
speaking disparaginglyis the same word as earlier.11c Or is judging his brother
judgingmeans passing negative judgment - arrogantly looking down on someone with disapproval for something they are or have done - finding fault with someone11d-e He slanders and judges the Law11d He is speaking disparagingly of the Law11e And He is judging the LawJames says that those treating their brother in this way are also treating the Law in the same way. It is to arrogantly place oneself above the Law, as well as above the brother - a place where only God is worthy to occupy.11f-h Judging the Law is not keeping the Law11f Condition: If you are judging the LawJames steps the argument forward from the previous proposition. Assuming that the reader has been judging a brother, which means they are judging the Law, then they are missing the point of the Law and not fulfilling it.11g-h You are not doing the Law, but judging it.11g Neg: You are not a doer of the LawThey do not place themselves under the Law, in obedience to it.11h Pos: But [you are its] judgeRather, they place themselves over the Law, as its judge. Again, usurping a position reserved for God alone, which is stated in the next proposition.12b There is One Lawgiver and Judge - Who is able to save and to destroyInsomuch as James' readers place themselves over the Law, they are wrong. Because that place is already taken by God Himself. God is the One Who gave the Law, and He is the One Who is authorized to judge. Therefore, we should never arrogantly exalt ourselves to a role that is only appropriate for God Himself.
God is the One Who is powerful to save, but also powerful to destroy. Therefore, we should humble ourselves before Him (vv. 7, 10) instead of exalting ourselves over our brothers.12b But who are you the one judging the neighbor?Finally, James confronts the underlying problem. We are not authorized, nor capable of standing in judgment of others. This is arrogance beyond our station and ability. It is usurping a privilege that God alone has.
It is important to keep the distinction clear. What James is prohibiting is an arrogant attitude of being better than others and being able to stand in judgment.
There is another type of
judgmentwhich means making reasonable determinations and decisions, which we are commanded to do. We can judge things about people without judging them. We can (and should) make judgments without standing in judgment.
4:13-5:6 Testing and Endurance
4:13-17 Don't Boast in Your PlansDetailed Outline13-16 Don't boast in yourself, which is pretentious pride13-15 You should not trust and boast in yourself13a Pay attention, now!James uses a term which serves to call for attention and emphasize what follows, cf. 5:113b-15 Don't trust in your own plan and ability, instead, trust God's plan and ability13b-14 Neg: Don't trust in your plans, which you have no control over13b-f You make your own plans13b You who say...This is a hypothetical situation for his readers, describing the making of selfish plans for selfish gain13c-f What is said:13c Today or tomorrow, we will go into a certain city
certainis an ambiguous, unspecified term,
such and such a city,which could refer to any hypothetical city which one might say13d And we will do things there for a yearlikewise,
do thingsis an open-ended term covering any hypothetical situation13e And we will be in business13f And we will profitThe hypothetical plan is to gain wealth through business. The implication is that this is for the purpose of selfish gain and self-aggrandizement.14 Even though you are not in control over your fleeting life14a-b You don't know what tomorrow will bring!14a Whoever does not know the things of tomorrowJames reminds them that they don't know the future, and that no amount of planning can guarantee what they planned.
Humans don't have the foresight or power needed to guaranteed the future. Only God does. And to assume that they could do so shows that this hypothetical person is mistaken about themselves and their relation to God - i.e. that He is God and they are not.14b i.e. what is your life?This could be translated literally as
what kind of thing your life is
Similar terminology is used in 1:24, where the person forgets what kind of thing they are after looking at themselves in a mirror and then walking away.
Not only do they not know the future, but they don't even know their own nature in the present - that they are not God14c-e Reason: You are like a fleeting vapor14c For you are a vaporThe term
vapormay be an allusion to the term translated
vanity/meaninglessin Eccl. 1:2, 12:814d-e Which is visible for a moment and then disappears14d appearing for a small [time]14e and then also disappearingThe term
disappear/vanishis a harsh reminder of the transitory nature of life and a reality check that they are not God.15 Pos: Instead, you should defer to God's will & purpose15a Instead, you should say:their statement made no reference to God. This is the definition of secular. It may believe in God in theory, but acts as if He did not exist. It is
practical atheism.James' correction of their statement puts the focus back on God as the prime reality and determiner of their life. This is the Christian worldview and wisdom - to acknowledge God and His role in everything.
This alludes back to vv. 1-3 where they desire but are never satisfied because they seek without reference to God and/or seek with selfish motives.
Only god is the source of all good things -cf. 1:1715b-d What they should say: If God wants, we will do something15b Condition: If the Lord purposes,The Lord's will is the determining factor for what happens to our future plans.
James (and the rest of the Bible) gives no explanation of why God wills one thing and not another, beyond the fact that He is God.15c-d We will live and do something15c Both we will liveOur continued existence is dependent on God15d And we will do this or that
this or thatis an open-ended formula that could apply to any hypothetical situation.
James makes anything we might do contingent on God's will and permission.
James' point is that it is wise to recognize our dependence on God and His will, and to attempt to live independently of God is not only idolatry, it is foolishness.16 You make evil boast in your pretentious pride16a But now you boast in your pretentious pride
boastis to take pride in something - it is a neutral term, which can be positive or negative, depending on what is boasted in, and if it is appropriate for the person to boast in it.
pretentious prideis a state of arrogance and haughtiness. This is not the content of the boast, but it is the manner in which the person boasts. i.e.
you boast in a pretentious, arrogant manner
The content of the boasting (from the context) is their plans to go somewhere and profit off commerce.16b Result: All such boasting is bad/evilThey are boasting in something that is not yet reality, and which may never come to pass, because it is outside of their control. And it is not theirs to boast in, because all good things come from God.17 Therefore: If he knows to do good and doesn't it is sin17a-c Condition: If he knows what to do and doesn't do the good17a-b If he knows the good to do17a knowingThe fact that this person knows something is specifically highlighted by James. Knowledge of God's will increases moral responsibility. This does not mean that ignorance of God's will makes a person innocent. Paul has excluded this possibility in Romans chs. 1-3. However, there are different levels of responsibility and punishment appropriate for different levels of knowledge, - cf. Luke 12:47-48. Inadvertent sins are punished less severely than high handed sins.17b to do goodThis is both knowing the moral imperative to do good, but also to know the good that should be done. In this context, it most likely refers to avoiding arrogant presumption, and rather, trusting God in every area of life.17c and not doing [it]Even though they know what to do, they make the conscious decision to refuse to do so, and thereby actively do the opposite of what God desires.17d Therefore [it is] sin to himNot only the active commission of misdeeds is sin, but also the passive omission of good deeds. -cf. Rom 14:23
5:1-6 Beware of Unrighteous RichesDetailed Outline1 Your punishment is coming1a Pay attention, now, you rich people!James uses a term which serves to call for attention and emphasize what follows
James addresses the rich. Based on the context below, it is likely that James is not addressing all people with wealth, but a certain kind of rich person, as defined below.
The Biblical teaching about riches is varied and complicated:In the Old Testament, riches were a sign of God's blessing.In this passage, James seems to emphasize judgment against unjustly gained riches and the fleeting nature of riches in this world.
But riches gained by unjust means were a cause for judgment.
In the New Testament, the idea is added that riches in this age will pass away, and should be used to store up treasure for the coming age.1b-c Weep, because your miseries are coming1b Weep1c Crying out in your miseries, which are comingThey are to express mourning in anticipation of the wretched misery, which James predicts is imminent to them.
The direct message is the inevitability of their misery if they don't repent. But the implied message is that they should repent and avoid this misery.
This entire passage is a prophetic pronouncement of judgment. But like all judgment oracles in the Old Testament, there is an implied promise that judgment will be turned aside if repentance happens.2-6 Reason: You lost your reward, you gained your punishment2-3 Your riches will fail you2a-3d The loss of your treasure is punishment against you.2a-3a You are losing everything you treasure.2a Your riches have rottedThe riches which they relied on and put their hope in have decayed. James speaks of this as if it has already happened. He is not speaking of a past occurrence, but of a future which is so certain that it can be spoken as a sure thing. Their wealth will rot or decay, because they will rot and decay in death, which is the certain destiny of everyone. Remember the Biblical theme that the things of this age will all pass away to nothing.2b And your clothing has become moth-eatenIn the same way, their clothing will certainly rot away3a Your gold and silver will corrode
corrodeis a general term for any kind of metal being tarnished by oxidation. One form of this is
ruston iron, which is the usual translation of this word.
All of these three propositions are referencing the saying of Jesus in Matt. 6:19-20,
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.3b-d The corrosion of your treasure will show your folly3b And their corrosion will be a witness against youThe corrosion of the treasures in which you put your trust testifies to their transitory and temporary nature. And therefore, it shows the stupidity of putting hope in something that is guaranteed eventually to disappoint. Earthly treasures are false gods, which will only leave their worshipers unsatisfied. And even worse, those who serve false gods will share in their punishment, which is the focus of the next proposition.3c-d And it will devour you like fire3c And it will devour your fleshThe corruption common to all of this world will eventually consume the readers as well as their treasure. Once again this is a reminder of the temporary nature of this age, and the foolishness of putting all hope in it.
But James seems to be saying even more here. There will be a double loss. Not only will they lose their treasure, they will suffer active punishment for idolatrously hoping in it.
And in light of the following propositions, which emphasize that their riches were gained unjustly, the riches will testify against their theft, and thereby be a gnawing form of judgment.3d As fire [consumes]3e You are treasuring up in the last daysThis statement is ambiguous. It could mean:
1) It is the last days, and you are storing up wealth (which is a stupid thing to do, considering the shortness of time).
2) You have stored up wealth (with emphasis on the hoarding) in the last days (which is stupid, considering how little benefit it will be in the last days).
3) Or it could possibly be intended ironically to refer to the judgment that they are
treasuring up, which will come to pass in the last days.4-6 The Reason you are being punished4 You defrauded your workersThese two following propositions should be taken together. They describe the readers acting selfishly and unrighteously in cheating their employees, for which they will be punished.4a The wages defrauded from the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against youThe word
defraudedmeans to take away by illicit means such as deception or trickery. It means to steal something that rightfully belongs to the workers. The verse does not address the issue of how much workers should be paid. It only addresses the issue of defrauding workers.
The main point of this proposition is that the crime testifies against the criminal in a way that cannot be ignored.4b And the cries of the harvesters have entered the ear of the Lord AlmightyThis proposition is parallel to the previous. Therefore, the cries of the harvesters are about them being the victim of criminal fraud.
Criesin an intensive word for shouting out, which elevates the meaning of the sound beyond ordinary vocalization. And this proposition intensifies the previous one by emphasizing that the Lord is the one who takes notice of the cries of injustice. The clear implication is that God will do something about it. And the God Who intervenes is called
the Lord Almighty- the Sovereign Lord over all the universe, with unlimited power is the One Who will exercise judgment. The unjust landowner is clearly warned that injustice will be punished.5 You indulged yourself with luxuryThese three following propositions should be taken together to describe a lifestyle of selfishness and lack of self-control, for which the readers will be punished.5a You lived in luxury on the earth
luxuryhas the connotation of self-indulgence, and living for pleasure as expressed in lack of self-control. The problem is not necessarily what we today would call luxury (although that may be a problem). The problem is most likely that their focus is on selfish pleasures in this world, which is causing them to ignore, not only righteousness and the needy people around them, but especially the pleasures of the world to come.5b And you've indulged yourself
indulged yourselfmeans to indulge yourself beyond the limits of what is proper. It has the connotation of intemperance and excess. So not every cheat on a diet puts a person under the critique of this proposition. This builds on the previous proposition to speak of living solely for one's own pleasure in a selfish way.5c And you have nourished/fattened your heart in the day of slaughter
nourishedmeans to provide food for ove an extended period of time. It probably continues the idea of selfishly spoiling oneself from the previous propositions.
day of slaughteris a time of destructive judgment
This could mean that the reader was selfishly feeding themselves when those around were suffering under judgment. The picture is similar to someone feasting themselves during a famine, when those around are starving - they might congratulate themselves on their ability to avoid hunger, but in reality they are only showing their selfishness, self-indulgence, and lack of care for others.
This could also be meant symbolically that the reader is
fatteningtheir heart for slaughter, drawing on the idea of fattening up an animal to prepare them to be eaten. In this case, this proposition is the ironic result of the previous two. The reader thought they were living large for their pleasures, but in reality, they were only digging their own metaphorical graves.6 You killed the righteous, who did not fight backThese three following propositions should be taken together to describe one act of injustice, for which the readers will be punished. It is another example of using power and influence for selfish unrighteousness.6a You condemnedThis word simply means to judge someone to be guilty. However, in the context of the next proposition, it likely has the meaning of illegitimately condemning a person who was actually innocent and undeserving of punishment. In this case, it is a tremendous miscarriage of justice, and an abuse of the authority to judge.6b You murdered the righteousTaken with the previous proposition, this probably means that the readers used a position of legal authority to condemn and innocent man and have him executed. This is called murder, even though it may have happened through legitimate legal channels, which were intended to uphold justice. The problem is not with the legal system, but with those twisting the system to the opposite of the justice the system was intended to serve.6c [Who] He is not resisting youAnd the innocent person who was murdered did not show hostility toward the unjust readers, even in their unrighteous judgment. And he did not even fight back against their injustice, or was unable to stand against their injustice. cf. 1 Pet. 2:18-25
5:7-20 Closing Exhortations
5:7-11 Be Patient
5:12 Don't Give Oaths, but Keep Your WordDetailed Outline12a Neg: do not take an oath by anythingMy brothers, first of all, do not take an oath.
first of allis not in terms of time, but in terms of importance. It could be translated
especially-cf. 1 Pet. 4:8
To take an oath is to swear by the trustworthiness and authority of something else to establish your own trustworthiness. The problem with doing so may be in involving God in our own (relatively) small concerns, and thereby bringing holy things down to a profane level. Or the problem may be the dishonor we give to God and holy things when we do not keep our oath. But in light of the later context (see below), James says the main problem is that we would be the kind of people who need to make an oath before they are trusted.The kind of oaths to avoid:Neither [swear by] heavenNor [swear by] the earthNor [swear] any other oath12b-d Pos. Rather, keep your word, in order to avoid judgment12b-c Keep your word faithfully and simplyLet your
no.In this, James is just repeating the teaching of Jesus from Matt. 5:37.
In other words, your speech should be so trustworthy that an oath would be unnecessary. This means that God's people should be so consistently faithful in keeping their word that their trustworthiness will be well established and unquestioned.12d Purpose: so that you will not fall under judgmentTo be unfaithful and untruthful is a sin, and therefore will bring judgment. To dishonor God by taking an oath in His Name and then breaking it would bring even greater judgment.
The way to avoid this judgment is not only to avoid taking oaths, but also to be a truthful, faithful person who never breaks their word.
5:13-20 Pray With Faith