Notes on James 1:13-26

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:

Now James discusses genuine temptation, the darker side of a trial or testing. Did he have Jesus Himself in mind, knowing that our Lord had been tempted/put to the test in the wilderness? Satan came, maybe more than once, and offered the Lord various temptations (free food, fame, and rule over those whom Satan controlled) but Jesus refused every one, every time!
God does allow testing and trials, Another such example is Job, but God didn’t Himself afflict Job. He did allow Satan, after Satan accused God of giving Job preferential treatment (!) because Job was among the most righteous of his day. Satan had limits, imposed by God, and afflicted Job as much as he could and yet Job never cursed God or gave up on his faith.

There is not one instance in Scripture where God asks or tempts anyone to do the wrong thing. Testings and trials abound but not one time where God asks anyone do anything except His way.

14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

James gives the difference, right here, between testings and temptations. “Drawn away” may reference any number of figures of speech: bait, dropped in front of a fish; money, if offered to reward someone else for doing wrong; bribes (Proverbs 17:23); appeal to someone else’s vanity (Num. 25) or any other desire to lead a believer in God to worship anything else; prostitution (Proverbs has numerous mentions of harlots and “strange” women, foreigners who tried to seduce other men); flattery (as what happened to Joash, king of Judah (2 Chronicles 24:17-27), or any other means. Many fell victims to such temptations.

Additionally, note the parallel between what James wrote here and what Jesus had said in the Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus had warned His listeners about adultery, beginning with a look (Matt 5:27-30), then a longing, and ending up with an act.

15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

Perhaps James had Samson in mind, whose affair with Delilah led to his downfall (Judges 16); or David, whose affair with Bathsheba resulted in sorrow and the death of several people: Uriah (her husband) and the child of the affair (unnamed) per 2 Samuel 11, to name two; others lost their lives later on.

16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.

This is perhaps a transitional verse, between the warnings about trials and temptations with the new material James is about to present. See how he compares the trials and temptations in verses 12-15 with the promise of every good and perfect gift in verse 17.

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

James reminds us that God the Father gives every good and perfect gift. Many examples could be mentioned: the gifts of godly spouses to believers; daily provisions: witness the Israelites whom God sustained for 40 years in the wilderness; the land of Canaan to Joshua and the generation of his time; preservation of the Israelites, even in times of being scattered all over the known world; and the greatest gift of all which is salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord—alone!!

Even Paul would, later on, mention the gifts from God the Father when he preached to the people of Lystra in Acts 14. He reminded them of how God gave rain and harvests “. . .filling our hearts with gladness (Acts 14:17)”.

Another promise, even though it is not worded that way, is that the Father is not fickle. James said He had no variableness or shadow of turning. His immediate listeners may have been more familiar with that type of language or thought but one idea is that God is the same God in the day as He is in the night. He does not have multiple personalities or ways in which He presents Himself, is one opinion.

18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

This is a difficult verse. Some observations: first, James states that the Father “begat” us with the word of truth, by His own will. Compare this with John 1:13, where John wrote that the ones who believed on the Name of Jesus were born of the Will of God, and not by blood (parentage—each person has to decide for himself or herself whether or not to believe), nor of the will of the flesh (the flesh, being spiritually dead, can do nothing to cause birth), nor of the will of man (self-will, perhaps; Isa. 64:6 says all of human righteousness are like filthy rags).

First-fruits speak of part of the Law where every Israelite was to present the very first of the harvest or produce to the “house of the LORD thy God (Ex 23:19)”. One interpretation is that James is speaking of these early believers, relatively few in number, who were the first to have believed in Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Savior. These first fruits then kept the faith and shared it with others, even to this day!

19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:

“Wherefore” could also mean “therefore” or “because of this”. James makes another transition here, encouraging the believers to be “swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath”. He makes no distinctions but states every man (and woman) follow these commands.

20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
God’s righteousness will never come about because of man’s wrath.

How many times in the Old Testament did people’s wrath accomplish anything of eternal value?

21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Note how James links man’s wrath with all filthiness and naughtiness—the evils produced by the original or sin nature, apparently—and that he encourages believers to receive the engrafted word with meekness. Meekness was also mentioned in the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the meek . . .”, Matt 5:5) and of Jesus Himself, saying He was “meek”, Matt 11:29. That meekness does not mean the same as weakness is clear: Jesus Himself was never “weak” in any way.

The “engrafted” word probably refers to what the people have heard and understood. God’s Word never returns void (Isa 55:11) but it is up to each person to receive it or reject it. Those who had believed in Jesus as Lord had indeed received it; clearly those who did not believe had rejected the Word.

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

Here James is calling for believers to live by the Word and not just to hear it and then do nothing about it. Many people “hear” the Word, whether by preaching, reading, or listening to people speaking about the Word. Hearing is important: one must hear the Word in order to act or decide on which course of action to follow. More important than simply hearing is the actual doing. In the Old Testament, it would not have been enough to simply listen to the Ten Commandments and expect God’s blessings. Israel had to actually do what God had commanded.

In the same way, few people if any have become Christians without reading the Bible, hearing a message, or coming in contact with a believer in some way or capacity. The unbeliever may hear more or less of the Word but unless and until he/she acts upon it, or responds to it, that person is deceived.

23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth (therein), he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

Mirrors were not made of glass in James’ time. Even when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13 some years later, he said that we “see in a glass (mirror) darkly” or not the best. James said people who only hear the Word and do nothing are like those who look in the mirror and then leave—and don’t remember what they saw!

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion (is) vain. 27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, (and) to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Again James introduces a new topic, the exercise of pure religion. This probably does not refer to organized religion as such but one’s own daily life. He also gives the definition of the purest religion, namely visiting those who need help and practicing personal holiness.

This does not refer to salvation, which is always a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-10). James is writing in this letter to those who have already believed and received salvation.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)

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