Posted on 11 January 2011

A much neglected letter with an up-to-date message.



There are three James’ mentioned in the NT: James the brother of Jesus, James the brother of John and James the son of Alphaeus. Since the second was martyred very early and the last fades from the scene very rapidly in the NT and in view of the fact that the author does not give an extended introduction as to who he is (assuming, therefore, that he is well-known) the first mentioned is generally regarded as the ‘James’ intended by the introduction.


This being the case, it must have been written sometime during the late 30’s to 62 (when James was martyred). Some argue for a late date, assuming that James’ polemic is against a misinterpretation (by his readers) of Paul’s theology of salvation by faith. It can be argued, however, that James does not show a profound knowledge of Pauline theology and he could be opposing early errorists who were familiar only with Paul’s oral teaching. In fact, it is equally likely that the two wrote independently and the similarities and differences reflect a common background rather than actual interaction. This also would favour an early date. Perhaps, 40-45 AD is most likely: the very early years of the Christian church, perhaps the oldest NT witness. See further 1:1. It is tempting to suggest that the letter was written to the dispersed Jerusalem church after the persecution of Stephen, possibly in the early years of Paul’s ministry.


On the above assumptions, almost certainly Jerusalem.


Superficially it is a letter (1:1) but this seems to be a literary convention. Note, therefore:

i) Form: A variety of suggestions are made as to the overall genre, e.g. wisdom, paraenesis (ethical instruction), diatribe etc.. None quite fits the bill. Could it be condensed, codified or re-worked (by James or others?) sermon notes?

ii) Structure: This relates to the foregoing discussion. Some see it as atomised with many unrelated sections simply placed alongside one another.
Yet both formal structural links are discernible (e.g. catchwords) and there is an inner coherence. Perhaps, therfore, we have a relatively ‘non-linear’ homily.

iii) Content: A variety of opinions are expressed. Some see it as a Jewish tract which has been somewhat Christianised (this view is seldom advanced today); others see it as a Jewish-Christian work (Adamson, see 1:1) others a work intended for believers everywhere (see again, see 1:1).


James the brother of Jesus wrote the book about 40-45 AD. It is a distinctively Christian homily intended for the dispersed Jerusalem church. It interacts with the popular ethical instruction of the day (both Jewish and, in part, Hellenistic).


The Devil is always quick to act against anything that might endanger his cause…. so he has been very alert to see that the Book of James is either misunderstood and/or neglected.  Two very effective techniques have been adopted:

i)  To persuade people that it teaches a man or a woman is vindicated in the sight of God by their own deeds.

ii)  In reaction, to cause suggestible Christians to believe that there is little in James that is truly evangelical; that it speaks little of Christ and the Spirit and much about the law; that it is almost sub-Christian.

So efficient has been the Devil’s propaganda (Luther described it as a ‘right strawy epistle’, placed it in the third and last of his categories of the most useful books in the NT and, under his influence James was put last in the NT up to and including Tyndale’s English version of 1536.) that James’ book is much neglected today… and to our cost.


The epistle begins with a remarkable indication of the author’s humility. He is simply, ‘James, a slave’. The brother of Jesus and leader of the parent church in Jerusalem, describes himself very simply, in terms which he probably regards as true of every believer (rather than thinking of the way ‘the servant of the LORD’ was used of the greatest OT saints).

He begins his message by indicating those to whom he is writing. It is to ‘the twelve tribes of the dispersion’.

There has been considerable debate about this phrase:

i)  Some see it as literal equalling Jews of diaspora i.e. outside of Judea.  The problem is that it is clearly addressed to Christians (1:1; 2:1 etc.) therefore some argue

ii)  Others argue it is written to Jewish Christians i.e. the true Israel of God.

iii)  The New Testament consistently applies the Old Testament names of Israel to all New Testament believers.  Therefore this letter is best seen, so it is often argued, as it has been traditionally been, as a Catholic Epistle.

iv) Another attractive explanation is that it was written to the (exiled) Jerusalem church.

iii is, perhaps, the most popular. However, ii and iv are very attractive and may be the most likely.

‘God and the Lord Jesus Christ’. James makes an amazing statement here as the brother of Jesus: Jesus is God (Lord = Yahweh in LXX (the Greek Old Testament) always quoted by James). James may not mention Jesus much in the letter (the nature of his message does not require a full-blown Christological statement). However, there can be no doubt about his high view of Jesus: a remarkable testimony from one who had grown up with Jesus!


Verses 2-4 turn to one of the most vital areas of experience, to all believers: testing. Note:

i)  James emphasises the inevitability and the universality of testing.  This is seen by his reference to ‘when’ not ‘if’ and his address without exception, to ‘my brethren’ (as well as the universal scope of verse 1)  Thus old and young, mature and immature, week and strong, healthy and sick etc. are all alike addressed and told that they will certainly be tested.

ii)  What is the nature of testing?  James says 3 important things in this connection:

a)  He uses a word (‘testing’) which includes both inward and outward trials, the assaults of the devil and the ‘examinations’ of the Father.  (In this connection N.B. ‘temptation’ is not sin, acquiescence is sin.  Jesus was tempted 40 days cf Luke 4:1ff.  Temptation itself is not a ground for discouragement but of joy!)

b) He uses another word (usually translated ‘of many kinds’) which emphasises the unending variety of trials.

c) another word (‘you face’) emphasises the (frequently) sudden fierce onslaught of testing (which is, of course, its strength.)

Thus both temptations to sin and severe trials are alike included here. Each are unendingly varied - including every place and condition into which believers enter.  Note, too, that this teaching denies the suggestion that ‘if only I were…. I would be a better Christian’.

iii) James indicates the attitude Christians should have to such variegated trials:

a) Such are to be viewed against the lessons of common experience where the rigours of training and experience are the basis for progress and success; where testing along is the proof of genuine quality.

[Various interpretations are offered for, ‘testing…not lacking anything’ (3,4). Some argue that testing develops by perseverance, but NIV is probably best. It is also best to understand ‘its work’ as a reference to the fully mature man of faith.]

b)  More importantly, Christians are to observe that that character undivided in obedience to God and unblemished in life (‘perfect and entire, wanting nothing’), the believers supreme ambition, is alone realised by testing.


c)  testing is to be viewed and increasingly experienced as sheer joy (2) since God’s purpose and men’s spiritual ambitions are being realised. James does not suggest we are to enjoy them but reckon the experiences in the light of growth and eternity and thus derive great encouragement from them.


A question naturally rises in the mind: In the midst of such trials how can the Christian view things from God’s point of view and find the resources that are needed to reach maturity. Surely, supernatural assistance is required? James does not deny this and answers the question in this paragraph.

The key to understanding what he is saying lies in the word ‘wisdom’ in verse 5.  “Wisdom” in the Bible is not a high IQ or great skill or cleverness or experience.  Rather beginning with the fear/reverence of God (cf Prov 1:7 and parallels) it is that spiritual gift (for Luke 11:13 seems to be alluded to here) which enables the believer to reckon this experience from God’s point of view and act accordingly (cf Rom 12:2).

NB. Some observe that James does not mention the Holy Spirit in this letter. What is important to note, then, is that for James “wisdom” is the fruit of the work of the Spirit. It emphasises, too, a dimension of the Spirit’s work that we tend to neglect: where the Spirit is present a person will demonstrate it by a life of practical godliness based upon the illumined mind viewing circumstances and experiences from God’s point of view.

James begins by telling believers that they certainly ought to be wise (5).  There are two reasons for this. 

(i)  God’s character; for he:

a) ‘gives generously’. He is a giving God (the participle emphasises habitual action or character).  But not only so;

b)  He gives freely and to all, not according to merit but according to need. 

c) and He does so without upbraiding. This word is slightly ambiguous. It could mean without hesitation.  His commitment to his people’s needs is total and unqualified. Or, it could mean without ‘criticism’ - that is without harping on about past failures etc. The latter is more likely.

ii)  God’s purpose: in this matter of spiritual mindedness there is no question of God’s desire and intention.

Therefore, if the believer is not increasingly spiritual minded it is a very serious matter.  James gives us three reasons for this: 

(i)  It is a profoundly unhappy position to be in: ‘double-minded, unstable in all he does’ (8).  The worldly person has a degree of happiness, according to his lights, because he leaves God out of the picture altogether.  But James has in mind here the one who fears to take such a path (because of God’s judgement) but, at the same time cannot completely commit himself or herself to God’s way, perhaps, through fear of the cost.

The consequence is an ill-directioned, inconsistent and profoundly unhappy existence.

Not only so, but

ii)  it gives a person a fruitless, valueless prayer life (7).  No prayer is answered to ameliorate or render happy the conditions.  Foundationless experience continues.

Most seriously, however,

iii)  Such a condition raises very serious questions about a person’s Christian profession (5 and 6)

Observe what James teaches:  Spiritual mindedness is the result of a prayer prayed ‘in faith’.  NOT ‘with faith’ as an additive so that we ‘screw ourselves up’ to believe something or other - that is not Biblical faith, though there are requests we should never doubt receiving.  RATHER ‘in faith’ is a phrase which reflects the single-minded trust in God which is the mark of the true believer.

Verses 2-8 are fairly general in their teaching. They may, however, reflect a specific situation in which believers are despairing (even of prayer) because of their present difficulties.


We live (as James did) in a society which is dominated by the idea that social status and the accumulation of wealth is a mark of personal worth.  For many of us this is rooted in our educational values.  Thus we are, either, dominated by such ambitions ourselves, or, conversely as “non achievers” we are frequently envious and jealous of the “have’s” (the root of all divisions in society) and are often bowed down by the sense of failure and insignificance which attends this.

James knows all about both the pride and disillusionment which are the respective fruits of such attitudes, and, in these verses, he seeks to apply “Biblical wisdom” (the context) to the situation for both comfort and warning.

Attitudes and practices to such ‘worldly’ standards of thinking must be governed by God’s revelation.  In particular, by three things.

i)  The present dignity of all believers (compare Eph 1:3 and 1 Peter 2:9).  This gives us a status which means that we can sing:

“On all the things of earth with pity I look down”

ii)  The future glory of the children of the children of God.  compare Mt. 5:5; Rev. 22:5b etc.
- both these lessons are contained in verse 9 “that he is exalted”.

iii)  The ephemeral character of earthly status and wealth (10,11).  James’ language is vivid.  He recognises,

a)  the exceeding attractiveness of status and wealth. The language of these verses is that drawn from the short Palestinian spring with its riot of colour and beauty:  the anenomies, lupins and cyclamen in gorgeous bloom. BUT, he notes also,

b)  its transience. The language (‘scorching heat’) is either refers to the sirocco which withers up this glory overnight so that the dried plants are only good as fuel for fire (of hell?) or to the sudden scorching of the midday sun. 

c)  The impossibility that such status and wealth can be carried into the next world (11b).  In the midst of his riches the wealthy man is irretrievably separated from them.

All this is said not only as a warning to the rich, but (primarily) to encourage the poor not to become jealous of the wealth and privileges of the rich. (This supposes, perhaps, a people experiencing poverty as a result of their profession. It is probably best to assume the rich man is a non-believer.)

Thus, James argues that three attitudes, or practices, should result:

(i) The rich should glory alone in being humble at the foot of the cross (10a) even if (as is possibly implied) his wealth and status are lost in such a ‘humbling’. This seems the best interpretation of verse 10.

(ii)  Equally, the poor rejoice in their possessions in Christ (9) and with such ‘heavenly mindedness’ find peace and joy on earth.  What an antidote to depression and despair and the sinful thoughts of the nobody’s in society!!!

(iii)  Above all, (a subject James will return to) there should be no place in the family (of brothers: a favourite word of James’, 9) of God for worldly values of status etc.  Men divided in society are united in a true family and so it is to be with the people of God.  There is only one ground for boasting.


In the previous paragraphs,  James is addressing all believers (1:1) and seeking to set before them the challenge to and necessity of a life of practical godliness.  He has discussed the inevitability of testing (1:2-7), the necessity of spiritual mindedness and given an illustration (1:8-11).  He now returns to testing - but is less concerned here about the onset of such tests as the way in which testing is ‘handled’ by the believer when faced with the ‘moral’ challenge of suffering.

He begins on a note of encouragement by outlining the enviability of victory in trial (12). The word ‘blessed’ means ‘Oh! how happy’; “How much to be envied is ....“ (cp. Ps. 1:1 etc.)  James describes a state of which the believer should be rightly jealous.

He explains the reasons:

(i)  Perseverance in trial is evidence of true love for God.  Mere words or sanctified emotions are nothing except they are ‘proved’ in the fire of afflictions.

(ii)  By means of perseverance the believer is possessor of God’s guarantee - eternal life.  He (alone) will receive God’s honour in the life to come and (implied) experience true life in the present. Note that ‘crown’ amplifies all this. Crowns in the ancient world were not valuable but zealously sought after as symbols of an enviable status.

(B)  Thus TRIAL leads to PERSEVERANCE leads to LIFE.  But this is not the only possible option in the face of testing.  TRIAL may lead to SIN and DEATH is the other option.  James necessarily has to go on, therefore, and say some very solemn things.  BUT he does so out of a pastoral concern and love (16, ‘my beloved brethren’). 

He makes his point by emphasising the dangers inherent in trial.  He deals with this by

a)  Outlining the ways in which dangers originate and then,

b)  By setting out the consequences.

Trial may lead to perseverance but, says James, it may alternatively lead to sin and death.  It may constitute the complete shipwreck of any faith that we may have.  Hence, James’ seriousness here.

(i)  The danger may begin with some harmless desire (14). [‘evil’ is supplied in the NIV: it is not in the text and is an interpretation]. ‘Desire’ is not the negative word: it can include good and evil desires.  Thus says James, either in response to trial or as the onset of temptation harmless desires may be utterly harmful of spiritual well-being.

(ii)  The problem lies not in the desire, however, so much as in its over attractiveness.  (‘drawn away’ = allured) and in the way in which the believer is enticed by it (‘enticed’ - verse 14) or caused to place a false emphasis upon it.

(ii)  Not only so but when sin, or sinful emphasis has entered a person’s life it leads to habitual conduct.  (‘When it is finished’ verse 15).

(iv)  Finally, spiritual death is the result.  A quenching of the spiritual life in the present life which leads (if unchecked) to the ultimate spiritual death in the life to come.

Two relevant illustrations:

i)  ‘rest’ is a proper desire, but it can become an excuse for a path of sin in which it becomes the excuse for disobedience to God’s word, leads to spiritual declension and the encroaching of spiritual death.

Too many of us ‘sleep’ along this path of disobedience.

ii)  ‘trial’ to often leads to ‘self pity’.  This leads not to fortitude but opens the door to apostacy.  We all face trials - the mark of our spirituality is the way we handle them.  Often self pity is found in those who have been tried but a little.

But N.B. James utters another warning. (verse 13).  Too often people found in such situations make excuses to avoid personal responsibility.  Indeed this is a mark of spiritual declension itself.  A true believer will NEVER make excuses for excuse is the basis of inaction and not a stimulus to repentance and reformation.  Above all God cannot be blamed for he is (a) holy; (b) good (13b) and (c) unchangeably so (17, end where the contrast is between diurnal changes and the unchanging character of God. The details, much debated in the commentaries, need not detain us) and the sovereign father of his children (17, beginning).

These are not idle or abstract truths.  On the contrary (assuming a logical connection between 17 and 18) James emphasises that they form the very resources that enable trial to be faced and overcome (18).

Out of sheer and sovereign goodness (“of His own will”) the Father has bestowed the greatest good of all (Spiritual birth ‘begat us’: the reference to creation does not fit in well here: see the commentators) in order that (implied, by His power) His children might live lives of devotion to Him and in separation from sinful paths.  God could not have done more than He has done for us to keep us from sinful paths.

One commentator suggests that the background to this section may be persecution of Jews and the temptation for Christian Jews to join the zealot movement rather than accept the situation as allowed by God. It could, equally, apply to those Christians who were facing dispersion and hardship (even persecution) after the martyrdom of Stephen. They needed pastoral answers to their questions as to why the ‘righteous’ suffer. They needed to recognise that believers cannot escape evil days, but they can mature in their midst.


James’ great concern in this Epistle is to set out the marks of Christian maturity.  He has emphasised (verse 18) that this is, indeed, an obligation arising out of the very nature and intent of the new birth.

The question naturally arises:  How may such maturity be cultivated?  This section is intended to provide a comprehensive answer.

a) He begins by stating that maturity will be achieved by listening to God’s word (19a) and by avoiding that garrulity (19b) and sinful conduct (19c) which drowns God’s “still small voice”. Most doubt this connection. However, it makes good sense and cannot be excluded from James’ mind: listening to God is the supreme form of listening! See also verse 21.

The word of God has brought to life (18) “for it is the living word” - and it is fully able to accomplish the “righteous life that God desires” (20)

So the believer must listen… but not just listen!  For maturity comes:

(b) By receiving God’s word (21) James uses an illustration from gardening.  The “implanted seed” needs cultivation and the “rank growth” of sin which is ever ready to overwhelm needs careful attention and action. (21a)

..... And it is the word itself ‘accepted’ which is able to accomplish this (21b).

[How sadly deficient is our view of Scripture if we think it merely teaches necessary truth!  In fact it is the dynamite of God which is able to affect our maturity as believers!!]

Thus: by weeding out “rampant growth” and by glad submissive obedience the word is received and empowers.

But again, this is not the complete story for full maturity is only attained by:

(c)  Doing God’s word (22-27).  The commentators discuss endlessly the detail of James’ pictures here. However, the point is clear enough! The word that is listened to and received must be taken into life and acted upon (22-24) otherwise the ‘believer’ is involved in an inexcusable self-deception:  inexcusable because he has listened (23) self-deceiving (24) because he presumes such listening is sufficient, though the very word listened to denies it! 

- and yet, in reality, maturity is the work of a lifetime (25) since diligence (‘look intently’) and perseverance (‘continues to do this’) alone affect maturity.

- and yet (again) bondage to the Word will lead to true freedom (25) and an enviable life (25 end, cp. 12).  The path to freedom is not through lack of restraint but in bondage to the word.

d)  Finally, James notes that there are 3 marks of maturity, each of great significance (26-27) viz.

(i)  a reined tongue is the necessary effect of the implantation of the ‘Word of truth’;

(ii)  Care for the helpless as the helpless recipients of grace (NB not so much charity but friendship is emphasised);

(iii)  Purity of life as the firstfruits to God (cf. 18)

In seeking to discover the specific context for James’ words One commentator suggests that within the community to whom James was writing there were both religious formalists (who can still exist, even in a persecuted church) and (possibly as a consequence) some serious moral problems (see verse 21). In addition, he suggests that 19f. reflect a view in which some sought to bring about God’s kingdom on earth by force.


The subject of verses 1-13 is the utter horror of prejudice when found among believers. Most conclude the context envisaged is congregational meetings of the church. Martin thinks it more likely applies to a situation in which the congregation has come together to hear a judicial case.

However, clearly prejudice is in view. The context of the discussion amplifies this.  In 1:18 James spoke of the believers conversion from God’s point of view.  In particular he emphasised that God accomplishes a man or woman’s salvation “that we should be the first fruits of his creatures” i.e. that as His ‘new creation’ we might manifest the life of new creatures.  Thus in 1:19-27 the way to such holiness was set out as by the believer’s of

a)  Listening,

b) Hearing, and

c) Doing God’s word - an obedience that leads to true freedom (25).  The chapter concluded (26f) by describing 3 areas of practical godliness which arise from such glad obedience.

Here the second of these examples is picked up and emphasised. The reason that such an apparently insignificant matter is picked up becomes clear in the light of James’ argument.

James’ response to prejudice is threefold (1-4, 5-6a, 6b-7).

i) The sinful horror of prejudice among believers is established by the fact that Jesus is the Lord of glory (1-4). James does not often mention Jesus; but when he does it is with the highest Christology (see 1:1, _o__ was a Jewish periphrasis for the divine name) and with considerable effect, as here (see below).

The example of 2f. is concluded by the (to us?) unexpected statement of ‘Have you not become judges with evil thoughts’.  This apparently harsh judgment is explicable, however, in the light of verse 1.

The emphasis (see above) lies upon Jesus as ‘the Lord of glory’ a glory which is His not simply by virtue of His essential deity but is so through His humiliation and loneliness. (Phil 2:8-10): is His because of His identication with us in our lowly condition (Heb 2:9). This, says James, sets us the standard of true status and honour.

Thus the harshness of James’ judgment is explicable and justified and His assertion that prejudice and faith are mutually exclusive of one another is seen in its full light.  Moreover we speedily see how an apparent minor sin is treated with such severity since to indulge in prejudice is to have totally failed to grasp the essential character of the Gospel.

ii)  But James is not finished in making his point!  The horror of prejudice is also seen in the light of the will of God. (5-6a).

- God’s people were chosen of Him because they were neglected, abased and worthless;

-their present dignity is one grounded in faith and love;

-their future glory rests in - the promise of God to such persons;

-all this, again, runs flat contradictory to prejudiced conduct (6a).

iii) Finally, prejudice is absurd because of our new status (6b-7).  While James observes that all too often it is the powerful who make life hard for believers his essential point is found in verse 7 - in conducting themselves according to worldly standards they dishonour the status of believers.

Our status rests in the worthy name ‘Jesus’.  To conduct oneself after worldly standards is to indulge in blasphemy.


In the wider context James has been declaring the absolute necessity of those who profess Christ to show by their conduct the reality of their claim to be ‘new creatures’ in Christ (1:18).

More immediately, he has singled out partiality (2:1-7) and shown how such is a fundamental denial of the experience of salvation since the Gospel is God’s favour to the undeserving.

Here the same subject is under review (2:9) but, James seems to be answering an implied objection (? antinomian: this would link with his point in 14ff.) and, in so doing, deals with the larger subject of the Christians relationship to the Old Testament Law.

(It may be that the context for these words is that detailed in 1-7 and that legal pressures on the poor, rather than physical oppression, is in view. Such might have been based on a view which relegated to the ‘margin’ certain OT laws. Martin suggests that in the context of the political situation in C1 Palestine the reference to murder may not be figurative!)

Whatever the precise situation,

i) James teaches that all Christian believers are to obey the whole Law.  In verse 8 James seems to refer to the OT law.  Moreover, he seems to regard the whole law in this sense (citing both the ten words and the holiness code in this section).

It is a unity (cf. Matt. 5:18f. ; 23:23; Gal 5:3 cf. 13f).  Probably, the reference in Lev. 19:18 is to be seen in the light of Jesus’ use of it as the summary of the law fulfilled in His person.

However, James assumes, what the Old Testament itself teaches, that the Law is not a standard for works-righteousness, but a pattern of life for the already redeemed.  This he emphasises by calling it the ‘royal law’ (8) i.e. as both the ethical standard of the Kingdom and as that conduct characteristic of its citizens: being binding upon them.

ii)  The Law is fulfilled in love (8f).  Jesus taught the same with reference to both the Godward and manward commands (Matt. 22:34ff) here James deals with the latter.  N.B. He is not saying love may be set over against the Law but that the motive for obedience is love.  Believers are not slaves of the Law but delighted co-workers.  A mark of maturity is the extent to which this is true.

iii)  The Law, received by faith empowers for loving obedience (12).  Aside from loving trust the Law provokes enmity, but received as the wish of a loving Father it is a catalyst to conformity,

a) giving liberty to obey, and

b) liberty in obedience.

Faith mixed with law is, thus, spiritual dynamite!!

iv)  Such obedience to the Law is absolutely necessary to spiritual well-being (13).  David sometimes failed miserably but such failures were followed by repentance and were not characteristic of him.  He loved the Law and thus won God’s approval and mercy.  The same point is made by James:  ‘Love covers a multitude of sins’.  In judgment the believer shall receive mercy if he/she has showed that disposition to the Law which is characteristic of the new creation.


James has stated that the evidence of a person being a ‘new creation’ in Christ (1:18) is self discipline, loving concern for others and personal purity (1:26f).  He has highlighted the second of these in 2:1-13 and emphasised the need to do the works of the law.

But James now faces in 2:14-26 an objection to his teaching:  is not faith the essential mark that a person is in Christ?

The specific example which is given reads rather like an actual case known to James.


i)  James distinguishes between faith and ‘such faith’ (NIV - see verse 14, but cp. AV whose translation has encouraged an over-exaggerated contrast between James and Paul).

In other words James agrees with the objection BUT, he argues, the objection is failing to distinguish between true and specious faith.  Thus in the remainder of the passage he sets out the tests of true faith.

ii)  James begins by describing the character of false faith (14-20);

a)  He emphasises that ‘false faith’ is dead (17) or valueless (20- so the best manuscripts).  Indeed, he would doubtless argue that it is less than that: for it leads to self-deception and false assurance and provides the people of God with one of its most intractable pastoral problems.

b)  Such ‘faith’ manifests itself in e.g.;

1) bare assent (18-20), i.e. in the belief that merely to acknowledge the truth of Christian doctrine is sufficient for salvation.  This disastrous misconception is very popular in evangelical circles but the lie to it is given in verse 19:  Such faith is shared with those demons who are hostile in their opposition to God:  They know the facts, they even make some response: they tremble before them (!) but they remain unsaved!  To share the faith of demons is not to know salvation.  Mere assent does not bring a saving knowledge of God.

2) ‘selfish faith’ is not enough (14-17) i.e. that faith which rejoices in the supposed personal benefits of salvation but manifests no love for other Christians. Prayer and best wishes in the absence of remedial action which is possible is not true saving faith. It is basically selfish: faith because of personal benefit.

3)  Linked with this (14-17) is ‘faith of convenience’.  The ‘personal’ and ‘spiritual’ are divorced from the ‘social’ and ‘material’ so that faith becomes wholly undemanding, ‘Sunday’ faith.

Evangelical churches are full of people characterised by such useless, self-deluding faith.

iii)  The marks of true faith (21-26) are set out in two instructive examples, Abraham (21-24) and Rahab (25f).

Note 1)  From the example of Abraham that faith is characterised by:

a)  personal trust;

b)  wholehearted obedience;

c)  costliness;

d)  testing;

e)  perseverence and

f)  total commitment, holding nothing back.

Moreover, it has a twofold blessing attending it: i.e. a) justification (24); b) reconciliation (23).  True faith really brings the fruits of salvation - but only ‘true’ faith.

2)  is seen (as Rahab’s example shows) in seeking to meet the needs of others (and there are always many needs:  the shut-ins, nursing mothers, depressed, sick, etc.).  N.B. Rahab met the in-hand needs: they are always the most costly for the believer can’t do them by ‘proxy’!

3)  such faith is no optional extra.  That ought to be obvious already (!) but consider the deliberate choice of James’ examples: male/female: Jew/gentile; rich/poor; saint/sinner; great/insignificant.


James’ letter asks and answers some ever relevant questions e.g.

i)  What is a Christian?  Our answer is usually ‘One who believes the Gospel of the Lord Jesus’.  Not so James.  True faith, he says, is not mere belief but the fruit of the new birth manifested in action (2:14-26).

ii)  Another question he raises is, ‘What, then, are the true marks of a mature faith?‘  James’ astonishing response is found in 1:26f., viz. a controlled tongue, lack of partiality and personal purity.

In 2:1-13 James has established that partiality is to deny the impartial Lord whose disciples we are called to be:  hence its seriousness.

Similarly in 3:1-12 the controlled tongue is discussed in such a way as to establish that in this area also (so often regarded as a ‘peripheral’ issue with respect to true faith) a matter of vital importance to the existence of true faith is being discussed.  In this James agrees with Paul.

It is not unlikely that the original situation which James addressed was one in which there was serious abuse in the teaching offices of the church and that it is this issue which lies behind this entire section. Could the ‘body’ here be the congregation?

James begins this section by teaching that a controlled tongue is the key to holy living (1-4).  In James’ day there was an over emphasis on gifts of speech. In the Greek world orators were regarded like film or pop-stars today. In Judaism the rabbi was greatly revered. It was not surprising that such attitudes be carried over into the church and for believers to be keen to excel, if possible, in this realm of church life.

James does not deny the importance of a teaching ministry. Indeed he emphasises the responsibility to the point of discouraging those who would seek such a ministry inadvisedly (1b). There may be a double thought here: the teacher himself/herself will be judged by the higher standard of their own teaching (a teacher can scarcely plead ignorance of God’s will!) but also by the results of such teaching: the lapses of others may be the result of inadequate or faulty teaching.

The remainder of this section is seen by some to be primarily applicable to the teacher (indeed a similar claim can be made for verses 13-17 and see above). We should not lose sight of this powerful application. However, James’ words are widely applicable to all of God’s people.

Thus, since teaching is indeed a responsible ministry, James proceeds to remind his readers that the disciplined tongue is vitally important. Thus gossip, tale-bearing, slander, bad language etc. (but above all, false teaching) are never to characterise the people of God (especially the leaders).

This is important, he argues, because: a controlled tongue is both the fruit of (but more importantly here) the means to Christian maturity (2) and a healthy church. There is a simple reason for this:  a controlled tongue (and sound instruction) leads to a controlled life (3) (the reason is amplified in 5ff.). Some commentators seek to allegorise the illustrations given here. Thus, e.g. it is claimed that a controlled tongue effects victory in the storms and buffetings of life (4). It is probably best to avoid this and simply see 3,4 as two straightforward (though see the commentators!) illustrations of the main point.

James amplifies his teaching in the following verses (5-8). The details are somewhat obscure (the commentaries discuss the problems). However, James’ central thrust is clear enough! He teaches that the tongue is:

a)  like a fifth columnist in our bodies - ‘a world of iniquity’ i.e. the sinful world’s standing representative in our members (6: this seems the best explanation for this unusual phrase) - an unruly evil, full of deadly poison (8): a dangerous counter revolutionary. This is a typically Jewish way of thinking: the agent is identified with the cause.

b)  it is the fountain and source of all corruption ‘it defiles the whole body’ (6b) especially in its self deliberation.

c)  it continually infects and arouses to sin ‘sets on fire….‘ (6).

d) in a word it is the agent of hell in our bodies (6c) and

e)  by nature it is untameable (7f.).

Hence its wields enormous power (5) and James emphasises the absurdity of the nursery ditty ‘sticks and stones….‘ especially in our media manipulated and manipulating world! It is a salutary warning, too, if these words apply primarily (or even incidentally) to false teaching!

The horror of all this is amplified in the concluding verses of the section (9-12). Alongside of this James appears to teach that the tongue is the supreme measure, the acid test, of the heart, for part of our ‘new creation’ is that (he hints) the tongue is tameable.

James points to the inconsistency (10), improbability (11) and impossibility (12) of an uncontrolled tongue in the believer. Inconsistency (a theme prominent in James) is the mark of a spurious faith. In private devotions and church services the proper liturgical language may be used (‘praise’, NIV, is a weak translation. However, the same tongue not infrequently indulges in informal cursing (see again 5:12 for fuller discussion of James’ view of oaths). We should not press the illustration too far, for it is an illustration of the inconsistency in speech which mars so much of Christian conduct.

The other two illustrations are self-explanatory and the last (particularly) emphasises that in the matter of nature like reproduces like. The point is clear: the new nature will produce the fruit of the new nature not the crop of the old.

Once again, we see the penetrating analysis of James into areas of conduct which we so easily dismiss as peripheral to our maturing discipleship. For James the issue is vital. The tongue, above all, is a touchstone of the believer’s claim to a new nature.

It is not unlikely that the examples in 10f. are drawn from actual situations which James has in his mind as he writes.


This paragraph fits appropriately into its context. James has been concerned to urge professing Christians (especially leaders?) to a life of faith.  He has argued that in this matter they must not show partiality (2:1-12) and must have a disciplined tongue (3:1-12). It is possible that teachers are still primarily in mind (see above), though a more general reference is possibly preferable.

It is not unlikely that the factionalism pictured here is, again, a concrete example. Could it be that James has in view a politically motivated Zealot-supporting group? In such a situation James may well be offering the biblical answer to how the rule of God is to be established.

It is not inconceivable that some of James’ hearers would be getting impatient - anxious that he should specify a list of things that they should do as believers (leaders?).  These verses constitute his reply.

However, significantly, instead of giving a list of verbs (which would specify acts) he provides a catalogue of adjectives (indicating the sort of people believers should be (13)). It is not legalism that James is teaching.  Rather the right actions will flow from a right heart.  In different language Paul teaches the same in Gal 5:22f..

Wisdom (see above) is practical godliness. The person who is truly wise and discerning (the two words here are virtual synonyms) will show it in action, but above all, in the way those actions are performed. This goes beyond James’ point in chapter 2. Here he demands works as a mark of true faith but adds that true works are themselves characterised by a complete absence of selfishness. So, above all James looks for the attractive life which is the fruit of humility/meekness.

The remainder of the passage is intended to emphasise this first by:

1)  Asserting the necessity of meekness (14).  Here is no optional extra of the christian life - for in its absence the truth is denied (14b): this seems the best explanation of the ambiguous last phrase. Rather, the absence of meekness, reveals a person to be other than he/she claims:

a)  contradicting the message of the Gospel: since it is set forth to produce a new life and,

b)  contradicting the truth as definitely displayed in the Lord Jesus.

James then adds two short paragraphs (15f; 17f) intended to show both negatively and positively the marks of meekness, thus:

2) The nature, character and results of a life opposed to true meekness (15f).

Conduct opposed to true meekness is characterised by pride and selfishness.  in sum, by self on the throne.  Thus it speaks much of rights but little of duties.  Sensitive to slights it is blind to its own offences (16a).

Its effects are destructive (16b) even gangrenous.  And such fruit speaks eloquently of the true nature of the plant upon which it has grown! : it is man-made, even sub-human but, above all, from the pit (15): the lifestyle of hell. (For the detailed meanings of the words in verse 15, see the discussion in the commentaries).

3)  By contrast, meekness is set forth (17f.).

It is the breath of heaven, in response to prayer (1:5). This is so because it is a transcript of the divine character (‘pure’) which is manifested in an attitude which accounts others as more important than self.  Open to reason and submissive its great ambition is peace and harmony, and as such produces the fruits which legislation could not encompass.  Its end: the fruit of righteousness (a life utterly pleasing to God).


Christians are called to be holy, imitators of God (1 Peter 1:16).  James made the same point in 1:27c in giving his third essential mark of a believer, ‘keep… from being polluted by the world’.  A Christian is to have a distinctive lifestyle modelled on the nature of God.

But how is such teaching to be ‘cashed’?  Traditionally by the answer we give to the question, ‘What must I do to be holy?‘. 

Without denying that there are certain things which are inimical to a true Christian profession, James emphasises that there is another question which has a higher priority:  ‘What sort of person should I be to be holy?‘

This the the answer he tackles here. In so doing, he amplifes the teaching which is contained in the previous section.

Martin suggests that the situation envisaged is one of church members getting embroiled in the various ‘parties’ within Palestine prior to the fall of Jerusalem. Such has been fostered, he suggests, by the involvement of certain leaders in social and political movements. This is not unlikely (and see his detailed defence of this view).

In the context of the letter (and, possibly, the situation envisaged by Martin) James begins by emphasising that ‘worldliness’ is an attitude of the heart.  In particular all worldliness springs from personal selfishness (1-3).

‘I want’ characterises the worldly person and is seen as everything is subordinated to personal ambition and an exaggerated sense of individual rights.  Selfishness is always destructive, not edifying, as James’ example (so pertinent, as he appeals to church life) shows.

Selfishness (demonstrated even in the place of prayer, (3)) leads to prolonged animosity and sudden quarrels (1a) and this is the fruit of hearts at battle stations, red alert all the time (1b). This is always destructive of peace and harmony (2f.)..  It renders personal spiritual growth in fellowship impossible.  As such, it is an effective demolition job on God’s people and work.  James emphasises this in verse 3. Such conduct is impoverishing (3) rendering the prayer life totally ineffective.  Without peace in fellowship there is no peace with God and, therefore, no access to Him as Father.  Either believers must cleanse their hearts or stop their futile prayers. In fact, the believer ought to be seeking God for those things which are a priority with Him: then prayers will be answered.

More serious still is the fact that lack of peaceableness among believers shatters the law of God (4ff.). Lack of peaceableness is to break the sixth commandment and, since God is the other party, breaks the whole of the first table of the Law! It speaks of people who are estranged (worse, severed) from the people of God. This is traced out by James. Such conduct is tantamount to;

i)  a broken marriage contract (4a):  adultery. The word ‘adulteresses’ (4) has a long OT history. Characteristically, it was the word used of Israel when they turned from Yahweh to serve other gods. Here its use (especially the plural) exposes a similar situation in the life of every individual peace-breaker.

ii) hostility to the marriage partner (4b) which leads to

iii) a broken heart (5). This verse is a notorious crux. There is no obvious reference in the OT for this saying: perhaps the best explanation being that James here summaries an OT theme rather than cites a specific text. But the greater difficulty is its meaning! a) Does ‘envy’ or ‘jealously’ refer to God or man. The NIV assumes the latter. It could, however, the former. Thus, ‘God is jealous over…‘. The spirit could also refer to either man or God. I have taken it to refer to the spirit of man placed in man by God: the part of man created to look toward God and serve and worship Him. The thought then is that God is jealous when that spirit turns towards the world.

This said, it appears clearly that to commit adultery, not simply to a human spouse but to God Himself, cannot be exceeded as a breach of the sixth commandment.

As such the first table of the Law is also voided and thus the Gospel is denied for (6) the Spirit is given to believers to produce precisely the opposite.

4: 6-10

The last paragraph emphasises the sort of people believers are to be. This is undertaken negatively. James describes the disposition which is worldly.  It has four elements but all are, essentially, aspects of selfishness, viz.

a)  an exaggerated sense of ones own importance (1),

b)  and exaggerated sense of the importance of ‘things’ (2),

c)  a low view of others - who are regarded as dispensable, and there to exploit for personal advantage (2) and, finally,

d)  a low view of the character of God (4).

In 4:6 - 5:6 James emphasises that to evidence true faith in godliness (and, therefore, be acceptable to God) each of these four attitudes must be dealt with. Thus (to run ahead a little!):

i)  6-10:  James indicates how believers should walk before God.

ii)  The in 11-12 he shows how they should live in fellowship with their fellow believers.

iii)  In 13-17 he tacles the practical matter of how to develop a proper self-estimate.

iv)  Finally. In 5:1-6 he encourages a proper perspective as to how to view ‘things’.

To begin with James teaches several things which should characterise a believer’s attitude to God.  Thus:

i)  True religion is manifested in an active allegiance to God.  ‘Submit to God….resist the Devil’ (7).  Success in the Christian life is not accomplished by passive yielding but, as ‘soldiers of the cross’.

This involves two elements:

a) the positive rejection of the Devil’s advances (looking out the enemy and conquering him in the name of Jesus: ‘he will flee’) and

b)  a deliberately cultivated fellowship with God (8a). 

It is not a sense of fellowship with God which leads to godliness (as we tend to think) but that such fellowship is cultivated by a disciplined use of the means of grace.  ‘Come’ involves activity.  The believer will neither know God or holiness if he/she neglects Bible study, private and public worship, the Lord’s table etc.  Too often, Christians want God to draw near to them before they will live in conformity to his will.  The reverse is God’s way.

ii) Practically, this is outworked as believers actively sanctify themselves in thought and deed (8b).  ‘Sinners’ emphasises acts of sin; ‘purify your hearts’ emphasises inner attitude.  The latter is emphasised in Phil 4:8f., the former in active conformity to the will of God as revealed in his will.

iii)  True religion is shown, in sum, by a life of repentance (9f.): a daily turning from sin to Christ is evidenced in all these active steps taken.

In all these things the emphasis lies on what the believer must do to be godly - and such demands might lead to despair.  So James emphasises that as the Christian strives to accomplish these ends ‘He gives more grace’ (6)... and ‘will lift you up’ (10).  These two statements which are a parenthesis to the passage make the same point as Phil 2:13f.  As the believer strives, God is active both to produce that striving and to accomplish victory.


With these verses James moves on to discuss how holiness is to be achieved in the realm of inter-personal relationships (see analysis above). It is possible, to follow Martin’s thesis, that the Sadduceean party is in view.

James begins here by condemning the appalling fact of criticism among the people of God (‘slander’ verse 11a). But, NB. he speaks against all criticism not only unjustified criticism.  It may well be true what you say, says James, but it is no less evil or sinful to criticise.  Christians should not criticise one another (11b).

Four reasons (and very weighty ones) are advanced:

1) James gives a reminder as to who the person criticised is.  2 words, one deliberately repeated, are important here:

i) brother (11), twice, and

ii) neighbour (12)

The former is a reminder of Genesis 4:9 and of the moral obligation of God’s people to live in harmony (Psalm 133:1); it points to the example of Jesus (Heb. 2:10ff.) and the effects of the Gospel (Eph. 2:13f.).

The latter word points out the duty of believers to seek the common good (cp. Lk 10:25-37).

Criticism points the finger but does nothing to help, not going to the one whose needs are recognised and seeking to meet those needs.

2)  James puts in a reminder about the law of God (11b cf. 2:8).  The essence of the law is love for fellow believers.  Thus the whole law of God is shattered to smithereens when believers criticise one another. By selfish criticism a person indicates that he or she consider that they may evaluate the law for itself, may reckon certain values (‘free speech’) to be more important and may countermand the authority of God.

3) linked with this is the fact that the law is a transcript of the Divine character (12a, implicit).  He has required of His people nothing that He is not Himself or is not ready to do.  His own example (in incarnation) is a demonstration of how he regarded us as brothers and neighbours.  He did not speak evilly but undertook our salvation.

Thus, believers run the gauntlet of the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10) and are neglecting to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).

4)  Finally, James reminds his readers of who they are (12b).  They are all sinners saved by grace.  Who then are they to stand high and mighty and point the finger at others?


In this paragraph James offers practical advice as to how Christians can cultivate a true estimate of themselves (see analysis, above).

The worst case of sin is to know the right and not to do it (17).  It is possible to sin in ignorance but the greater sin is that undertaken wilfully.  Sin is thus not determined by its grossness externally but its wilfulness.  We need to grasp this Biblical emphasis.

James describes a serious manifestation of such a sin among the people of God (13-16).  Once again James shocks by his unexpected teaching.  He picks an example which all are easily inclined to and seldom regard as very important:  self presumption.  He explains what he means:  Often believers undertake and plan their lives but leave God entirely out of account (13).  They do this by;

i)  presuming that they are masters of their own lives: “we will go”.

ii) that they have right to such self mastery: “we will….“.

iii) They presume that they have the ability of themselves to undertake all in their lives.

At its worst this is seen in the disposition:  ‘My life is my own….  I have a right to do what I want ..... and I am going to do it’.

James’ words make it clear that there is no greater sin than the attitude which excludes God from all of life except worship.  The reason:  such an attitude is a flat denial of biblical revelation.  This is so since:

(i) there is none who controls the future but God alone (14a):

(ii) man is subject to abject frailty.  He can accomplish nothing but what God undertakes in and through him (14b).


(iii)  all are utterly dependent upon God for everything (15).

To live as though this were not so is, without qualification, evil (16) since it is to do the works of the Devil who is, above all, the evil one.


i) James does not exclude planning and forethought (on the contrary verse 15 presupposes this);

ii) He does not mean we should venture nothing because of our frailty;

iii)  He does not mean that we use ‘If God wills’ as a fetish.  It is how we live not what we say that is important.

iv)  James does mean that every action, step and plan in life is conducted in total dependence upon God and in humble submission to Him as the LORD OF LIFE.  We should go through life conscious of His provision and thankful for it.


James’ theme in 4:1-5:6 is “conduct that pleases God”.

In 5:1-6, by a negative example, he teaches governments, employers but, above all, ordinary Christians how they should view things (NB. Again James is not speaking of the standards of acceptance with God, he is setting out the sort of conduct produced by experienced salvation.)

In particular he teaches that Christians should be free from all covetousness.

As in the previous section which spoke of merchant traders, James is probably not addressing the rich in the church. Rather as with the prophets on occasions (especially Amos 1:3ff.) a group, unlikely to hear the words,  is addressed in order that the hearers might shun any possibility of identifying with the attitudes characteristic of such groups as a whole (though not necessarily every individual within the group). Martin graphically depicts (p174f.) the situation in C1 Palestine which seems to lie behind James’ words.

Thus, in language which is drawn from the vocabulary and style of the OT prophets, James begins by teaching that a Christian must be entirely free of a hoarding spirit. (1-3)  There are four steps to James’ argument: 

1)  He describes a scene in which things are hoarded for no good reason. NB. James is not simply speaking against the rich.  He uses the example of rich people who are most liable to this fault.  But all are in daily danger of it. 

2)  He emphasises the pointlessness of such an attitude:  material things decay.

3)  More seriously, such conduct must be seen in the light of eternity.  Our resources are not ours by right, they are entrusted to us as stewards by God.  On the basis of our stewardship God will judge us.  Hence to hoard up wealth is to ‘have heaped treasure together for the last days’ (see the commentaries for the variuos nuances of meaning in this phrase) when Jesus will return as judge.

4)  While there is a treasure to hoard up unto the last days (a treasure of faith and righteousness) this treasure only leads to judgment and the torment of hell (the language of verse 3 seems to be that of eschatological judgment).

The next stage in the argument is James’ assertion that covetousness is robbery (4). Resources are entrusted to mankind for the use of others and misappropriated is robbery, and fraud and (4b) the God of all resources (the Lord of Sabaoth, the hosts of Israel and the commander of the heavenly bodies: here the background is probably, especially, Exodus 2:23, emphasising His compassionate involvement with the oppressed) does not turn a blind eye to such robbery from Him.

Further, covetousness reveals a heart without grace (5) for such an attitude is earthbound (5a) and selfish (5b).  A gracious disposition seeks God’s glory.

Moreover, covetousness is murderous. It is possible that James has in mind the example of the one righteous man and is saying that it was ‘simple’ covetousness which sent Jesus to the Cross.  When covetousness exists a person sides with Judas Iscariot (6) cp. Jn 12:5,6; Matt 26:14-16. 

Possibly,  we have a somewhat hyperbolic statement that covetousness robs a poor person of the necessities of life. De facto, however, James is often literally right! It is not impossible that an actual example is in James’ mind in view of the contemporary situation of the author.

James hints at one final point, the greatest of all: covetousness reveals a fundamental failure to understand the Gospel of Jesus. For,

1)  It is the God of Sabaoth who plans to ‘freely give us all things’ (Rom 8:32).

2)  It is the same God in the person of His Son who ‘for our sakes became poor’ (2 Cor 8:9).


James has indicated in this letter that the new birth (1:18) is powerfully seen in the standard of conduct described in his epistle.  The grace of God which brings to birth manifests itself in the succeeding life.  This theme has occupied the bulk of his epistle.  One major question remains:  How can those who profess the new birth go on to that mature life described by James?  James provides the answer in these verses in a section probably specifically related to the sort of trials described in the previous paragraph but possibly provided to answer the broader question. James, typically, highlights his answer by two illustrations from the area of speech.

Before tackling his teaching we need to get one detailed matter out of the way: taking oaths. (see verse 12)

Motyer states “It is very unlikely that James would find any difficulty in taking an oath as required from witnesses in court, or that he intended any reference to such.  Apart from the fact that it is absurd to expect strangers to be able to recognise at once that stirling quality of character which could not tell a lie, and therefore the request for a spoken guarantee of truth simply reflects an inevitable involvement in a society of sinners, the formal oath is, in the context of a court of law, part of the way in which we safeguard that control of speech on which James is so insistent.  It is a solemn and considered use of the tongue which could come under no condemnation.  Mt. 23:16-22 fills in the background of a society in which oath taking was part of an evasion of responsibility… Solemn oath taking is countenanced throughout scripture.“ The Bible does not forbid oaths.  Thus God swears (Dt. 4:26) and encourages others to solemn oaths ‘by His name’ (Dt. 6:13, Jer 12:16).  The NT is no different 2 Tim 4:1 describes an ‘oath’ to be taken by Timothy.

The Bible does resist all oaths taken to evade the truth (cp. especially Matt 23:16-22) and emphasises that in an unfallen world oaths would not be necessary.

Since in swearing I solemnly emphasise the truth of my words I do exactly what James commends!

Christian maturity is not an ‘overnight phenomenon’ it is a cultivated fruit achieved only through patience.  This is the thrust of James’ words here (7f.).

Patience itself is the fruit of trial and suffering (see especially verse 10).  Maturity is generally only achieved by means of a bitter road.

Nevertheless, patience which leads to maturity ought to be aroused by:

i) the final reward (7a): the coming of the Lord and His words ‘well done, you good and faithful servant’.

ii)  the Lord’s return (8) as judge.  In NT the return of the Lord is not a ground for speculation but a call to holiness.  It must delight the Devil that he has confused and divided the church so much at this point that we avoid talking about it at all!

iii)  by the blessedness perseverance brings (10f. especially). Note, the points James makes.

Firstly, he seems to indicate that Job’s perseverance amid many trials (sickness, mental and spiritual anguish, doubt etc.) led ultimately to his personal blessing (11 and cp Job 42:5), notably in that God revealed Himself more fully to him. This, believes James, should arouse all spiritually minded people.

Secondly, personal usefulness especially in relation to others results. This is the point of 10, 11a.

Finally, the believer is to seek to avoid falling prey to that conduct which so often characterises those under stress (9): lashing out at those closest to hand.

All this is no optional extra.  Failure results not in the absence of blessing but of judgment and condemnation (9,12): again, in areas which are often dismissed as unimportant.

Again, a situation which arose from the high temperatures and revolutionary philosophies engendered by the contemporary situation in C1 Palestine may well offer the context to this passage. Could the oaths in mind be ‘revolutionary oaths’?


The following verses are closely related to the previous paragraph. James is answering for the last time the question, ‘Where does the key to ‘spiritual maturity’ lie (or, how is the kingdom to be brought in)?‘ He has already offered one answer in 5:6-12: patience. Here he offers a second: prayer.

Verse 13 is very important in understanding exactly what James means.

True prayer, says James, is characterised by 2 things:

i) By the fact that every experience of life is seen as a ground for prayer of some kind or another.  ‘Sorrow’ is a ground for lamentation and petition:  ‘Joy’ a basis for thanksgiving and praise…. and what is true of these two ‘extremes’ of human experience must be true of all those that come in between!!

ii) Put slightly differently, every experience in life is seen as a ground of fleeing to God:  a friend who delights to share every joy and sorrow of his children.

Lying behind these two attitudes is a further conviction:  God is the all sufficient friend of all His people. The true believer is no fatalist.  Rather his life is in the hands of a personal friend:  a friend who is utterly reliable and one we can humbly depend upon in all circumstances.

This is important.  A mature prayer life is not seen in the length or beauty of prayers, nor in the alleged answers to prayer witnessed.  Rather maturity is seen when the believer comes to utterly depend on God for all things and to live a life which is itself a prayer.

A mature prayer life has noble fruits.  It gives stability and with stability usefulness.  This is seen as:

1) We joyfully acknowledge the hand of our friend in all things: not only the ‘great things’. 

2) We are at peace even in the midst of pain and agony.  In sum, in true prayer, says James, we always rest content in His will for us. Thus in patient trust we will arrive at maturity and (for this is our incentive) personal blessedness in the knowledge of and dependence upon God.

Verses 14f. emphasise that even physical sickness (especially its severe manifestations - see below) are to be included.

This passage has been invariably interpreted in the light of prejudices either for or against divine healing:  this does not aid balanced interpretation!  Let us, carefully therefore note what is taught:

i)  There is, apparently, a place for the healing ministry in the present day church (14) since it is a task vested in the continuing office of the Eldership.  It is not, apparently, a ministry restricted to the Apostolic Age.

ii)  The ministry is not restricted to special ‘healers’ (who seem to have existed in the NT and may, sometimes, today - though we need to be very wary of many of the claims made).

iii)  The ministry is clearly complimentary to the medical profession.  In NT times elementary medicine was known (Lk 10:34), practised (Col 4:14) and encouraged (1 Tim 5:23).

iv)  What is described here is NOT extreme unction.  Although some severity of illness seems presupposed (the Elders need to be ‘called’) mortal illness is not singled out and the aim is not to prepare for death (the reality if not the theory behind ‘extreme unction’) but to restore to ‘life’.

v)  The healing ministry is, supremely, a ministry of prayer (see 15a especially in context, viz. verse 13):  the prayer of the Elders in particular (14) but, possibly, also the sick person.  The symbolism of the oil probably points to the declaration of the presence of God by His life giving spirit (see the discussion on this in the commentaries).  Thus verse 14 is a declaration of the ability of God and the total dependence upon Him of His children.

All this helps us to understand verse 15, ‘the Lord will raise Him up’. 


i)  This presupposes that healing will very often take place;

ii)  However, as with other unqualified statements regarding prayer (e.g. Mt 18:19; 21:22; Jn 14:13) the context is the thought ‘Thy will be done’.  The prayer is ‘in the name of the Lord’ (14) and therefore subject ot His will.  James does not suggest that we can force our will upon God or that where healing does not take place adequate faith has been lacking. Trophemus was left sick at Maletus.  True faith is not faith that God will h