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Faith Without WorksJames
By Edward (Les) Middleton
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2006 Thomas Nelson, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTrials and Temptations
Before We Begin ...
If you had to list just one concept you would most expect to be addressed or explained in the book of James, what would that concept be?
If you had to list just one personal quality (or character trait) that you would expect James to exhibit, based on what you've read in the past or on what we've said in this study guide so far, what would that quality be?
Greetings to the Twelve Tribes
In its first verse the book of James begins with one of the most uncomplicated introductions of all the epistles (i.e., letters) in the Bible. He begins by identifying himself in the simplest possible language: "James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ ..." (NKJV).
He follows this self-identification with one of the shortest addresses, again in comparison to the letters of Peter, John, and Paul: "To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad ..."
He then adds a single word: "Greetings." This simple introduction makes at least two things apparent from the very start. First, James has no need to identify himself beyond stating his name. Therefore, he must have been well-known to his audience, with enough authority to be sending a letter of this kind with no fanfare whatsoever.
Second, please note that James calls himself a "bondservant." For a further explanation of this term, see the sidebar "What Was a Bondservant?" elsewhere in this study guide chapter. That word implies a bit more than the word "servant," which is also used in some translations of this passage.
Also, take a good look at what James says in the last few words of the sentence that refers to himself. What does "of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" tell us about James's opinion of his own half brother's divinity?
What about James's usage of the word "Christ," which is Greek for "Messiah"? What does this tell us about his own beliefs?
What do you believe his single-word "Greetings" tells us about himself?
Profiting from Trials
James 1:2–12 deals with the "growing up" or maturation process that all believers need to go through. It can come about through various trials and temptations, if we see them in that light and respond accordingly. This is James's underlying assumption, as stated in verses 2–3:"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience" (NKJV).
However, there is more here than meets the eye! What attitude does James imply that we should have even before we "fall into various trials" (v. 2)?
Can you name any other attitude that might complement the one suggested above? Or can you say the same thing in different words?
Next, James identifies a certain knowledge that will also be crucial. Can you restate this concept, too, in your own words?
One additional word about the New King James Version we're using here. Verse 2 in the NKJV uses the words "when you fall into" various trials, while some other translations use slightly different words. For example, the New International Version says "face"; the New American Standard Bible says "encounter"; and the English Standard Version says "meet."
All of these translations suggest a slightly different dynamic, although several commentators agree that "fall into" is probably the most accurate. Thus, James tells us not to look for trouble but to be joyful when we "fall into" it through no fault of our own. Indeed, rather than counting it as joy when we avoid trials, James tells us to count it all joy when we are in the middle of them, which is quite a different thing.
Moving on from the attitude and understanding we should have ready before trouble comes, James next identifies what should result from each trial:
But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:4 NKJV)
This is perhaps the clearest statement of purpose anywhere in the book of James. How would you explain what he means in this verse? How would you express the same thoughts in your own words?
The next four verses work together to do three things. Please read them carefully, then answer the questions that follow:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5–8 NKJV)
Verse 5 extends the last portion of verse 4 by telling us what to do if the expression "lacking nothing" doesn't quite apply to us! In that case, what does James tell us to do?
How does he tell us to do it (v. 6)? Without what?
Finally, what does he tell us will happen—and why—if we don't do what he recommends in verses 5–6?
The Perspective of Rich and Poor
In verses 9–11 James puts some of what he has already told us in a different perspective. By looking at two extremes, he suggests two additional ways we could react to the trials he has already talked about:
Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. (James 1:9–11 NKJV)
It certainly seems as though James is saying here that we must exhibit hope along with our faith, no matter what our economic circumstances. So the question is, do you believe hope is a part of faith, or is it a natural result of faith?
Also, what does James mean by "glory in his exaltation" versus "in his humiliation"? What is he saying here, in simpler English?
Certainly James cannot be accused of lacking poetic ability, as shown in verse 11 with its gorgeous imagery!
Loving God under Trials
The four verses below begin by promising both a blessing and a reward (not necessarily the same thing!) to those who endure temptation. It then segues into a fascinating discussion of temptation, as follows:
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (James 1:12–15 NKJV)
What is the one thing James says temptation is not (v. 13)? Or where does he say temptation does not come from? Why does he say this is true (also v. 13)?
What does James tell us can lead to temptation (v. 14)? Whose fault would such a development be?
What is the sequence of events—and the inevitable result—that James identifies in verse 15?
In the next six verses, James identifies the source of all good things on earth and then draws some logical conclusions that all of us would be well advised to remember:
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures. So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:16–21 NKJV)
From where does James say that every good and perfect gift comes (v. 17)?
What does he then say about God Himself (v. 17)? How would you express this concept in your own words?
In verse 19, James admonishes us to "be" three different things. What are those three things?
And what is his reason (v. 20)?
What does James tell us we must do to accomplish what he has recommended in verse 19?
Be Doers—Not Hearers Only
To conclude this chapter, James begins the next section of six verses with one of his strongest commands of all. He then adds several more comments, partly to explain his directives and partly to define some additional concepts. Please read this section and respond to the questions below:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:22–27 NKJV)
What does he tell us to do—and not to do—in verse 22? How would you put this verse in your own words?
How would you explain the "mirror image" concept of verses 23–24?
In verse 25 James speaks of the "perfect law of liberty." Take a few moments, in the space below, to explain what you think he means by this. Also, ask yourself if you have tried "looking into" and living by the same perfect law in your own life. If so, what has been the result?
In the last two verses of chapter 1, James lays out two very stark bits of truth without holding anything back! First, he tells us in verse 26 that anyone who claims to be religious, yet doesn't watch what he says, is fooling himself. Then he offers his own definition of "pure and undefiled religion" in verse 27. The sentence itself is short and the words are few, but the meaning is quite profound.
How would you translate verse 27 into modern terms? For example, it might not be possible for everyone to visit orphans and widows, but what can you do instead in your own situation?
Likewise, given all the temptations of the modern world that were unknown in James's time, what do you believe it takes to "keep oneself unspotted from the world" today?
Pulling It All Together ...
James begins his book with an extremely simple introduction.
He writes in a spare style that complements his opening verses; he speaks as one with authority and launches immediately into the first message he wishes to convey.
He speaks of trials and temptations as patience-builders, and patience in turn builds character and helps refine us as Christians.
He admonishes us to ask God for whatever we lack, to trust Him totally, and to love Him always no matter what.
He defines some of the blessings that come to those who stand up against temptation, and he speaks of their one true source.
He admonishes us to listen carefully, not to speak too soon or too much, and especially to be slow to anger.
Most important of all, James tells us to be doers and not hearers only of the Word of God; to put what God says into practice rather than hearing it passively but doing nothing as a direct result.
Chapter TwoWhy Favoritism Is Wrong
Before We Begin ...
Christ taught us to love one another as we love ourselves. Knowing how practical James was, how would you expect him to boil that down for his readers? What do you think he might tell us to do to put Christ's Golden Rule into daily practice?
Knowing also how direct James could be, what kind of attitudes and actions do you think he might tell us to avoid?
Beware of Personal Favoritism
James begins chapter 2 with thirteen verses that could easily be expanded into entire books. In the largest context, they are concerned with how we, as believers, can best put our Christianity into practice and truly serve the Lord. This was always James's ultimate focus—the practical application of the concepts Jesus taught.
In a slightly smaller context, these thirteen verses are more directly concerned with how we treat others. And in the most focused and specific context, they are concerned with how we should avoid showing partiality, or favoritism.
Please read the first four verses and answer the questions that follow:
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1–4 NKJV)
How would you rephrase verse 1 in modern English? What is the basic command, introduced by "do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ," that James is trying to convey?
What about the greeting, "My brethren"? Is James speaking to everyone in general or to fellow believers in Christ in particular?
With respect to those brethren, was he speaking about the faith "of" Jesus Christ, or was he speaking about their faith "in" Jesus Christ? Which of those tiny words do you feel might convey James's meaning with the most precision?
In verse 2, what is the meaning of "gold rings" and "fine apparel"? How would you express this same thought using language we are probably more familiar with?
What does James mean by "filthy clothes" (v. 2)? Is he talking about clothes per se or about a larger principle?
What is the footstool reference all about? Again, James is using this reference to get what larger concept across?
Do you think it might have been a little extreme for James to use the expression "evil thoughts" (v. 4)? Why or why not?
To conclude this introductory section, let us look at several examples of partiality in our own society and our own lives. The table on page 27 is broken into three different sections. Section 1 deals with biblical laws; section 2 deals with modern civil (i.e., "legal") laws that deal with how we treat others in the workplace, the marketplace, and even in our private lives; and section 3 deals with our own personal standards of conduct.
To complete section 1, think of some examples of biblical characters who showed undue favoritism toward others. List the law each person broke, whether it was one of the Ten Commandments or something Jesus or Paul or one of His other representatives said. Then list the name of the offender in column 2 and the results in column 3. An obvious example would be King Solomon, who used his royal position to build a massive personal fortune and a huge harem, thus showing unmistakable partiality toward himself. The sad result, of course, was that his foreign wives eventually led him away from the Lord.
Next, do the same in section 2, thinking of (1) specific cases in history in which offenders broke current laws (which might not have been on the books then); (2) specific cases from recent times in which offenders broke current laws; or (3) examples of behavior that could break current laws.
Finally, in section 3, add some personal examples, from your own life or from the lives of people you know, that illustrate what happens when we show undue partiality to others.
The next section consists of four questions that James uses to show why favoritism is wrong. Please read these three verses and answer the questions that follow:
Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? (James 2:5–7 NKJV)
Notice how James begins by calling his listeners "my beloved brethren" (v. 5). This was probably something he did almost unconsciously, but even so, how do you think those words would have affected his first-century readers? For good or bad?
What does he mean by "chosen the poor of this world" in the same verse? Is that proof of favoritism on God's part, or is James simply confirming what Christ Himself said in Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25, that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (NKJV)?
Excerpted from Faith Without Works by Edward (Les) Middleton Copyright © 2006 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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