The letter from James deals with many attributes important to Walking in the Way. Its firm conviction is believing in God and faith in His works, as well as the acceptance of his elder brother, Jesus, as Messiah.
From these foundational faith notions, James delineates relative to the practice and the proper pathway itself. Because of the emphasis concerning the practice or discipline, many Christians and others view James as minimizing faith and improperly accentuating works; this would be an incorrect viewpoint, as James clearly directs man toward constructive behavior combined with a unified faith practice.
James (Ya’akov) has always been considered the eldest of the brothers of Jesus, after Jewish tradition he is mentioned first in Matthew 13.55. James’ position as chief rabbi of the Messianic Jewish Synagogue (Jerusalem) defines his authority and accredits his status as a Torah teacher. He spoke for Nazarene adherents and was known as a Tzaddik, or wise man, even among those who were non-messianic Jews. Most scholars place James as a Pharisee and a Nazarite (see, Nazarite John). That opinion might require some adjustment. However, the family of Jesus was well-educated in traditional teachings, as was Jesus himself.
As to Jesus, since James is a Pharisee most scholars and religionists assume Jesus was also. The basic religion of Judea was Pharisaism, in Galilee less so. In the Hauron (northeast of the Sea of Galilee), Pharisaic influence may have been non-existent. Torah would have been presented in a traditional context, much as we see James exposit. Although James’ priesthood training may have been Pharisaic, the current of Messiah has carried past the roadblock of the Pharisees. Awash in purity laws that no longer have meaning, and with the ascension of Messiah’s teaching, the full breadth of Torah is expounded. The cultic practice of purity laws becomes extinguished.
Other influences were brought to bear in Jesus’ priesthood training (see, J. the Nazarene). If Jesus was at any time a Pharisee, he moved well past the limitations of current Pharisaic views as well as the strict interpretation of scripture, which in Jesus’ time had become the Pharisaic hallmark. No one mentions the lost years of James, but the ‘lost years’ of Jesus are filled with suppositions. However one wants to account for those lost years, it is demonstrated that Jesus came back a very different man.
As is indicated in John 7.2-5, James’ conversion did not come forth immediately. It seems clear that even in Galilee (Jn. 7.9) Jesus’ family and others feared the influence of “the Jews” (Jn. 7.13); that is, no one would speak openly on behalf of Jesus for fear of retaliation, such as being kicked out of the synagogue, or worse. It is not known when James converted to his brother’s ascendancy. However, in I Corinthians 15.7, he most definitely would have, for after appearing to the disciples and the five hundred, Jesus appears before James.
The Epistle of James is presented as Torah based, but with conversion to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Torah-based would describe the early church quite well, yet the exalted teachings of Jesus are all assumed: love before condemnation, mercy is to work with justice, from which justice is then observed, with a strong emphasis to treat all persons equally.
His address is intended to instruct from the viewpoint of familiarity, as many of his audience were Jewish. The epistle was written for those converts outside of Palestine. Therefore, his writing contains basic teachings found in the five books of Moses. Since the congregation is in its infancy, his speaking is instructional. The voice of the text sometimes chastises but at other times encourages. James 1.17 mentions, “every perfect gift is from above…” and, “with Him, there is neither variation nor darkness caused by turning.”
Misplaced criticisms miss the point of James’ importance. Trusted by Jesus, James would be the most knowledgeable in Torah interpretation and teaching. James will make the final decision concerning Paul’s ministry unto the Gentiles, as opposed to Peter who is sent out to the Jews. It is James who is the first bishop of the transitional church, not Peter. James will determine what Jewish laws do not have to be followed by Gentiles, thus assisting the structure of the formative church no longer Jewish. James is seldom mentioned as the pivotal logo of the early church.
James becomes potent within the Jewish community, it is the Sadducees and Pharisees along with an aroused populous who martyr James in AD 62.
For those who walk the enlightened pathway, perseverance cannot be emphasized enough. Perseverance reflects the core of faith, continuing on even while not-knowing. “Testing of your trust produces perseverance” (Jm. 1.3); and v. 4, “But let perseverance do its complete work; so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.”* Trusting in God yields greater perseverance, regardless of setbacks or emotional distress.
The King James reads:
Jm. 1.3, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
*The Complete Jewish Study Bible (recommended for accuracy); note, ‘complete and whole’ as opposed to ‘perfect and entire’; also, ‘perseverance’ vs. ‘patience’.
Perseverance is a powerful attribute of character. It can occupy the place of needed knowledge or wisdom until such wisdom arrives. Perseverance is an establishment of faith. No one argues the perseverance of Jesus.
For those in the midst of experiences that necessitate perseverance, it is sometimes wise to look at your manner of working. Some tasks require perseverance, other tasks might be misguided. Sowing seed for revelation or guidance is useful and allows a person to back away from circumstances, perhaps to get a fresh view. The Way is a pathway of flexibility, one that hopefully allows for sudden situations to be handled, or sudden change if needed, much as we see Jesus perform during his ministry.
Faith and Desire
Now if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all generously and without reproach; and it will be given to him (1.5).
Trust, and do not doubt, “for the doubter is like a wave in the sea being tossed and driven by the wind” (1.6). Doubt will fill the vacuum of faith should faith leave (omission), and doubt will eventually become a man’s companion. All endeavors in life should be undertaken with a measure of faith. Else the person becomes “double-minded*, unstable in all his ways,” (v.9). Thus, continuity and perseverance have much in common. Perseverance is considered continuing while under stress. Continuity assists daily spiritual expression and behavior in walking in the Way. Both perseverance and continuity rely upon faith as a foundation.
In 1.14, James refers to perseverance related to temptation, and “each person is tempted whenever he is dragged off and enticed by the bait of his own desire.“* Desire is denoted as bait, and the word of caution ‘dragged off’, lies underneath. In modern Christianity, desire is usually taught as simply not engaging the desire. James, however, defines desire as ‘bait’, he defines desire as the person having ownership, it comes from the individual. Sowing the seed to end desire or excess would be an action James would approve of.
James makes it clear that unrighteous desire comes from within, and remains at hand.
“Sin crouches beside you,” God warns Cain. It is beside us because it is of us, whether viewed as the ‘fallen’ nature, tainted nature, or fleshly nature.
Once the desire is conceived, birth to sin is given (1.15), and when fully grown (excess) “gives birth to death.”
So it is that by continued faith, including faithful actions, that desire (sin) becomes removed, and perseverance remains. “Don’t delude yourselves, my dear brother,” James concludes.
Words or Actions?
The attribute of faith relies upon a relationship with God, relating to His kingdom within, and further, the witnessing of His spirit within. To witness, or witnessing, does not mean by words only; in fact, actions speak louder than words. Faith without actions can turn brave men sour. As faith is ongoing, so the manifesting from within (of that faith) must also be ongoing. Faith will meet tribulation, no doubt, but faith instilled demonstrates a faith witnessed once more.
Remain faithful and realize a change may be needed. James illustrates a few good examples. In 2.13-17, (13) “For judgment will be without mercy toward one who doesn’t show mercy; but mercy wins out over judgment.” In this case, the action is directed toward judgment, which anyone can render, but the true or faithful action is to render judgment with consideration of the circumstance, or greater mercy. Within this process, the natural man changes into the renewed man.
(2.14) “What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but has no actions to prove it?”
Gen. 12.1: Now Adonai said to Avram, “Get yourself out of your country, away from your kinsmen and away from your father’s house, and go to the land I will show you.” Accepted commentary: Even Abraham had to “go to the land I will show you.”
Gen. 12.1 continues with a promise: (2) “I will bless you, and make your name great; and you are to be a blessing.” The correct action is to be followed by the blessing. This is a most important principle concerning walking in the Way, for harvest and blessing have much in common. Both follow the right actions or move with the right attitudes and motives—you sow for harvest so that you may garner the harvest. Blessing is instead received, so that you may become the blessing, whether your previous actions leading to the blessing are to you known or unknown.*
*Mt. 25.24, “You harvest where you didn’t plant and gather where you didn’t sow seed.” The Servant sees the master as a hard man, but the master, in fact, takes advantage of opportunity when he sees it, just as the servant should have done. This does not infer taking advantage of others.
Right actions are necessary to daily living, but the principle of the blessing to follow is seldom mentioned. The first principle, right actions, we all understand as doctrinal, or perhaps viewed by many as acting within societal or family standards; the second, concerning the blessing, is revelatory, for we cannot be sure where the blessing really comes from or when it may arrive.
Most people, if they are honest, know what the standards are, but the blessing seems no more than a whisp of the wind, not seen coming and not seen going. That you, yourself, may embody blessing is an unusual thought for most, yet it is a biblical standard, and which Jesus exemplified as well. Becoming a blessing to others refers to “you are to be a blessing.”
It is good to sow that you become a blessing to others. It tempers the soul greatly and softens speech. Humility will sit upon thee, for where you go, blessing follows. Within Jesus, you often see the shadow of this blessing, not only in his acts but in his person. We see compassion and then mercy; we see his actions with a blessing to follow. That you should become the blessing demonstrates qualities that measure the Way.
For those who admire the symbolic, perhaps Gen. 12.1 might read like this: “Get yourself out of [your country] yourself, away from your [kinsmen] closest values relative to self, and away from your [father’s house] spiritual childhood, where you started to grow up, and go to the land I will show you.”
How long do we spend fulfilling the mission of Abraham? Our similar life mission is to arrive at the blessing, just as Abraham did.
Cain struggles; Abraham fulfills
Similar to Jesus explaining how the farmer sows, which is with expectation, James in his own manner explains the faith of actions—take the basis of faith and renew your sowing, renew your good deeds, ask, seek and knock. Such active measures of faith bridge to further fields ripe for sowing and ripe for harvest. Countering the value of sowing, it is a vanity that one should expect good outcomes while having done nothing (sins of omission, lazy soul nature).*
Mt. 25.24-30, “You wicked, lazy servant!”
Of its nature faith extends itself into the circumstance, and performs much like the forerunner of things to come. For this blossoming to occur faith will require actions that bespeak faith. A person may have some substance of faith as a reservoir, but without expression in circumstance, faith remains dead. James goes on to explain in 2.20 that faith without actions is dead. Here an important principle is explained: that which is activated has life or is working; that which is not activated, remains potential, with the fruits of that second kind of faith delivered haphazardly.
Faith concerning deeds, more correctly interpreted as ‘actions’, operates within a relationship with God. Opposed is faith not acted upon, and not acting cannot further a relationship with God. From 2.23, “Abraham had faith in God, and it was credited to his righteousness;” and from 2.25, “Rachel the prostitute also declared righteous because of actions when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another route;” and in 4.8, “Come close to God and he will come close to you,” values and lessons all men can practice.
Faith is an emphasis of James’ written work, but not as we might at first think. No mention is made of Jesus as Savior, which will later become the predominant faith theme of the later Christian church; yet he clearly accredits Jesus as Messiah, but references only Adonai. James speaks of perseverance (Jm. 1.3, also patience), and having a faith that treats all men equally (Jm. 2.5-8). James 1.18 infers faith as the “Word that can be relied upon,”* and faith extended to make us as first fruits. In 2.1, James is clear, “My brothers, practice the faith of our Lord Yeshua, the glorious Messiah, without showing favoritism.”
*Jm. 1.18, “Having made his decision, he gave birth to us through a Word that can be relied upon, in order that we should be a kind of first fruits of all that he created.”
KJ 1.18, “With His own will He begat us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits for His creatures.
That James’ speaking moves from within the root of Jewish tradition, at first presents a perplexity for many Christian readers. James seems to speak from what was and not from what now is, at least as the true believer would observe it today. In 2.20-24, James writes, concerning Abraham, (22) “You see that his faith worked with his actions; by the actions the faith was made complete.”
How the Tongue Rattles
James 3.1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, since you know that we will be judged more severely. (2) For we all stumble in many ways; if someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who can bridle his whole body.” James 3.5, “So too the tongue is a tiny part of the body, yet it boasts great things. See how a little fire sets a whole forest ablaze! (6) Yes, the tongue is a fire, a world of wickedness… (8) …it is an unstable and evil thing, full of death-dealing poison!”
The reference to “the tongue,” is taken in the negative, such as gossip which soon turns to slander. Constant murmuring leads to constant doubt. Misuse of speech can lead to problems, among them that the “death-dealing poison” begins to reside in you.
All people are made in the image of God, they should be blessed not cursed, v. 9-10; leading to v. 13, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him demonstrate it by his good way of life, by actions done in the humility that grows out of wisdom.”
Selfish ambition is worldly, unspiritual, and even demonic if allowed to go too far (v. 14-15); (v. 17-18) “but the wisdom from above is, first of all, pure, then peaceful, kind, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. And peacemakers who sow seed in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”
James continues into chapter four still speaking about the tongue, when he writes v. 11, “Brothers, stop speaking against each other!” He admonishes that you will set yourself up as a judge when there is only one Judge. Throughout, the warnings of an ‘evil tongue’ are made clear. The solution lies in 3.10, “Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing!” This is another way of saying to practice blessing so there is no kindling for the next fire. Wisdom and the wise use of the tongue are emphasized throughout James’ epistle. Wisdom in all endeavors becomes the final assumption of the Way.
Ask to be blessed, ask to be anointed. Be willing to speak the Word in matters of importance or immediacy, and be willing to offer sincere prayer. Throughout his epistle, James directs us to inspect attributes of character, then directs us to proper actions. Sowing seed in peace, being open to reason, and being full of mercy is Christ’s character.
Quarrels and Prayer
Little has been mentioned on this website concerning prayer. The reason for this is that prayer is personal, each person does pray in his own way, and confession is both personal and private. However, James has a few things to say about prayer, especially prayer in the midst of strong disagreements.
Chapter Four begins with: “What is causing all the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it your desires battling inside you?”
This letter is for the burgeoning church, but it is directed to each person, as James intimates. “Quarrels and fights among you” could be as easily written as “Quarrels and fights within you,” for that in fact is what has occurred. The next sentence, “Isn’t it your desire battling inside you,” confirms the basic message of how the various congregations have lost their way. It is just as true that such quarrels and battling at times rage within us, and in doing so reflect the nature of the actual pathway someone has chosen or is engaged in.
(v.2) “You desire things and you don’t have them.” The article on Adam and Eve explains Desire to some extent. Desire to acquire out of season is a main complaint most commentators make concerning Eve. Adam’s desire was to release his responsibility so that he, too, may indulge. She blamed the Satan-serpent; Adam blamed her, but also indirectly blames God—”the woman you gave me.” Adam seems fine with his justification, and Eve is just as casual. The church faces a similar issue. The congregant’s justification, each person, wishes to establish the proper church through their reasonings, but not inspect themselves, nor are they moving through the spirit.
(v.2) “The reason you don’t have is that you do not pray.” Arguing had taken the place of prayer. In a similar manner, through prayer, for the individual, the same forces can be quelled. The congregation should confess this ill-tempered pathway and resolve differences, James advises, but so too is the exact situation portrayed in each person’s life. It could be asked, ‘Just what kind of a church are you running inside yourself, and why are quarreling and unhappiness continuing?’ Prayer moves the spirit forward, its proper position, so that the spirit can act within you, seen and unseen, and prepare your ground for good seed.
The kingdom within is much like a church. You live in that kingdom and you go to that church. The fundamental error of not attending to the kingdom is exposed, by the constant arguing, justifications perhaps, but not one wit of looking at self and then to seek, ask or knock. The element of prayer is powerful, for no matter what you know, no matter how much the spirit has witnessed for thee, witnessing and knowledge are not communion with God.
(v.3) “Or you pray and don’t receive, because you pray with the wrong motive, that of wanting to indulge your own desires.”* The Way directs you to deal with yourself first, then look at the issue at hand. Much like speaking from the spirit (speaking the Word), prayer should be employed for important matters or communion, for His presence, and oneness. Confession works wonders. Forming a church cannot be after “your own desires,” but must be after God’s desire. So it is within each individual.
*(CJSB footnotes) “You pray with the wrong motive. Not all prayers are pleasing to Adonai, especially when they come from selfish motives. All t’fillah (prayer) must be in line with God’s will and Scripture (I John 5.14-15).” (Comp. Jewish Study Bible)
(v. 17) “So then, anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it is committing a sin.” This scripture provides a basic principle of the Way. Moving toward spiritual enlightenment is part of the wisdom teaching of the Way, but this wisdom cannot be made real or accomplished unless you begin to do ‘right actions’, the right thing. These right actions are usually thought of as acting on more important matters. But James is writing to a whole congregation, one that is engaged in anger, recrimination, basic differences in understanding, and spiritual philosophy—we see this struggle in our own lives and with whom we congregate.
We cannot make one person a congregation, nor can we make a congregation one person, but James’ epistle lays down much of what Jesus would have us do. Gained by measure, your enlightened journey will be tested, life itself dictates that this is so. In James, we see churches being tested, but churches are made up of people. So it is that each person is receiving a test at the hands of his brothers, not so much by intent, but by the disagreements themselves and the apparent wrath which follows.
Chapter Five reveals a very interesting statement in verse twelve. “Above all, brothers, stop swearing oaths—not, “By Heaven,” not, “By Earth,” and not be any other formula; rather, let your yes be “Yes” be simply “Yes” and your “No” simply “No,” so that you will not fall under condemnation.” This passage indicates that James had Essene training. Commoners and including Pharisee and Sadducee priests, when swearing to tell the truth, would swear by Adonai, or apparently popular at the time, swearing on their mother’s grave.
Not so the Essene, they were expected to tell the truth at all times as their order required. By the Essene, any other oath was considered close to blasphemy, for your oath is now being convened with God—you have associated God with your own words, or your own workings. Much as YHWH was not written or spoken for the same reasons (Adonai was used), including God in your ‘fleshly’ business by swearing oaths becomes a convenience of familiarity which is inappropriate.
If James is issuing this plea for ceasing all oaths, and Jesus remonstrated on the same topic,* we have an acute rule that must be followed. This would lend the thought that both Jesus and James were Essene, as many believe. But since Jesus was called the Nazarene, both would have been a part of Nazarene Essene theology and practice. The priesthood maintained a fairly strict adherence to the Essene knowledge base and wisdom interpretation; learning this wisdom led to caution, and the fundamental rules James imparts.
The improper mixing of spirit and flesh was already widely known, with tales of the Watchers leading the way. Jesus comments on giving to Caesar what is his, and to give God what is His. Forgive others and make things right before you pray. If you judge and condemn, but cannot forgive, so you live with judgment as your parcel, and by possession, you will then be judged. For the teaching of the Way, Jesus speaks of not my will but thine, again separating flesh and spirit. This awareness as to values, and where value is placed, imparts clarity and a certain kind of spiritual precision, leading to sanctity, or more sanctified acts.
Verses 19 and 20 close the Epistle of James: “My brothers, if one of you wanders from the truth, and someone causes him to return, you should know that whoever turns a sinner from his wandering path will save him from death and cover many sins.”