The book of James has many wonderful insights and practical information for Christian living. In the book of James, the author writes to his fellow Jewish brethren who are suffering. James gives them encouragement and advice. This is an overview of James 1:1-18 that came from a school assignment.
Introduction James 1:1
James 1:1 James introduces himself as the servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ to his audience who are the twelve tribes of Israel (the ones living outside of Israel). God and Jesus are referred to equally here, as James is servant to both. James greets his brethren that are scattered abroad with a customary greeting that has the idea of rejoicing attached to it.
Trials that Produce Endurance James 1:2-4
James 1:2-3 James strongly exhorts his readers to count it all joy whenever they encounter various trials. They already know the reason for James exhortation and that is because they know that through those trials their faith is tested and they will build up their endurance to finish the race.
James 1:4 They need to cooperate and let that endurance be perfected so that they themselves can be mature believers and not lack anything in terms of their faith and spiritual journey.
Asking For Wisdom James 1:5-8
James 1:5 James lets them know that if they do find they lack anything and in this case it is specifically wisdom, then they must ask God. Not just any God, He is the giving God and He gives generously and does not rebuke anyone for asking.
James 1:6-8 James says there is a condition in a sense for receiving this wisdom from God and that is that one needs to ask in faith, in belief that God will give it. It does not work if the one asking does not have a singleness of heart or mind. That person is unstable like the waves of the sea being tossed about. He does not have full confidence in God and his loyalties are divided. Such a person must not expect to receive anything from God.
The Poor and the Rich James 1:9-10
James 1:9-10 Now that James has talked about the importance of faith in asking anything from God, he now discusses the proper attitude for the poor and rich believer. The poor brother has something to boast about because as a believer, he has a high position, but the rich brother needs to realize that his worldly riches are meaningless. What matters is one’s spiritual status. James points out valuable truth. The rich man’s life is fleeting and he will die as he is pursuing those things that add to, or maintain his wealth.
There are better things to boast of and better things to pursue than one’s wealth. A person’s most important standing is that which is before God. A rich man can only come to God if he humbles himself before Him in the same way as anyone else would need to be humble. (Because of the contrast with the rich and poor, it is best to understand the poor person here as being physically poor. It seems more natural to understand that “brother” is referencing both the rich and poor. A rich man who is a believer has good reason to boast in his humiliation).
Enduring Trials and Temptations James 1:12-15
James 1:12 James shifts to the topic of trials and temptation. Once the believer endures the trials and stands firm, he will receive the reward of the crown of life. God promises this to those who love Him. The believer is blessed as he is standing firm and enduring his trials. (Some take the crown of life as a reference to “life” and is understood to be life here and now, a life that is full and complete, but it is more natural to understand it as a future reward given to those who persevere. The church in Smyrna was also promised this crown if they remained faithful unto death. Some understand it to be the gift of eternal life, but there is not much evidence to explain James use her of the term).
James 1:13 In the midst of these trials, it is important for the believer to not fall into a trap of blaming God when being led astray. James speaks about the nature of God. It is against God’s nature to tempt anybody. He does not have evil motives. God Himself cannot be tempted to have anything to do with evil.
James 1:14-15 The problem lies with the person being tempted. When one takes one’s eyes off God and is enticed by one’s own desires then the trouble begins. Once the fulfillment of the desire is pursued, it leads to sin and that sin leads to death. (This is probably referring to physical death. John mentions a sin that leads to death in 1 John 5:16-17 and Paul speaks of those who died because of taking the Lord’s Supper in an improper manner in 1 Corinthians 11:30. James has previously talked about the physical death of the rich man. Some take death to be not meant in the literal sense here. Some relate it to the second death in Revelation 20:6. James does not go into any detail about what death he means).
The Giver of Good James 1:16-18
James 1:16-17 Sin deceives and James does not wish his readers to be led astray. He reminds them of the goodness of God, the God who cannot be tempted by evil. Every good thing given and everything that is perfect comes from God who is above and He sends those good things to those down below. He is the Father of lights and the Creator of all that is good. There is a consistency to God. This is in contrast to the doubter, that James previously mentioned, or the person who is led astray by desire. Creation undergoes changes such as a shifting shadow, but God does not. (The Greek is ambiguous, but James intention of pointing out God’s unchangeableness seems clear).
James 1:18 Previously James talked about desire giving birth to sin and now He continues his description of God by describing how God gave birth to the believers by the Word of truth (that is the Gospel message) and that because He wanted to do it. James refers to the “new birth” and pictures the Jewish believers as the first fruits among all believers. (The first fruits could refer to all believers, but considering James audience and background, it seems more likely he refers to the Jewish believers. They were the first to believe, the first members of the church).
Summary James 1:1-18
In the book of James, James writes to his fellow Jewish believers who are living outside of Israel. He writes to encourage them in the midst of their trials. These trials produce endurance and strengthen one’s faith. This process leads them to become mature and not lacking in anything, however if they do lack anything such as wisdom they can ask their generous God who will freely give it without rebuking them. The only condition to this is that they must ask in faith. They cannot doubt and be indecisive within their own mind. Such a person is unstable like the raging waves of the sea.
James next talks of a proper attitude for both the rich and poor believer. The physically poor believer should boast in his high position with God and the rich believer should boast in his low position because his wealth and the pursuit of it are fleeting, but his position with God is not. In his humility, he would have had to come to faith.
Once the believer has endured trials, he becomes approved and is rewarded with the crown of life. This reward is for those who love God and have endured the trials. In the midst of these trials, one might be led into temptation that would lead to sin and seek to blame God. This is unacceptable and totally against the character of God. He does not tempt anyone and cannot even be tempted by evil. People only have themselves to blame when they are led down a path of pursuing their own desires. This leads to sin and that leads to death.
Now that James readers know something about what God is not, they learn something about what He is. He is the giver of every good and of every perfect gift. He is also the Father of lights and He does not change though everything else in creation may. Simply because He desired it, He brought about a new birth in the Jewish believers by the word of truth that is the Gospel. They would serve as the first among God’s creatures to experience this new birth.
Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude. Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005.
Moo, Douglas J. The Letter of James: An Introduction and Commentary. Eerdmans ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.
Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck, and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty New Testament. Colorado Springs: Victor, 2004.