THE LETTER OF JAMES – PART
- The introduction
to the letter describes the author as James, "the slave of God"
A. The term reflects
authority given by God because of faithfulness to Him. Leaders in the
Old Testament were often referred to as slaves (doulos in Greek) of
God. See, e.g., 1 Kings 8:53 (Moses), 8:66(King David); Jer. 7:25
(the prophet); Amos 3:7 (same). Likewise, St. Paul's letters
to the Romans, Philippians, Galatians, and Titus, as well as the second
letter of Peter and the letter of Jude refer to the authors as slaves
of God. Rom. 1:1, Ga. 1:10, Phil 1:1; Titus 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude:1.
- There is also a
general implication that complete service of God leads to true power
and glory, in contrast to service to the desires of the world.
See, e.g., Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:25-30; John 13:1-20; Romans 6:17-23;
Gal. 1:10, 5:13-15; 1 Peter 2:16. There is also the complementary
notion that we are friends and sons of God, but even that status comes
from obedience to God. See John 15:11-17.
- The letter addresses
Jews is the Diaspora, but by extension all Christians and the new Israel,
the new People of God. See, e.g., Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:29-30.
- The letter then
begins by reflecting on the rightful attitude towards suffering (here
called trials), seeing them as an opportunity to grow in perfection.
- It is not clear
right here whether the trials mean persecutions, or more ordinary difficulties,
or both. In any case, these trials lead through steadfastness
to greater perfection.
- Even Jesus in His
human nature grew more perfect through obedience. See Heb. 2:10.
Although He had no flaws, the greater suffering brought His human nature
- And Jesus spoke
of the blessedness and joyfulness that comes through suffering for God's
sake. See, e.g., Matt. 5:10-12; Luke 6:22-23.
- James likewise speaks
of the joy that should come from the suffering. This joy is not
an emotional happiness, but rather a thrill, a sense of love at being
in God's presence, and is in fact consistent with a certain sorrow
in the world and human sinfulness. See, e.g., Matt. 5:4, 11-12;
Romans 12:15. In the Old Testament, such joy was most frequently
accompanied by the common worship of God. See, e.g., Ps. 15:11,
32:9, 16; 149. There was also a common sense of joy as God's
blessings. See, e.g., 1 Sam. 18:6; 2 Sam. 7:11-22; Ps. 2:9, 14;
Is. 35:10; 65:13-14. That joyfulness leads to resentment by the
enemies of God. In the New Testament, there is also a strong sense
of joyfulness at suffering with Jesus. See, e.g., Acts 5:41; Col. 2:2:
1 Peter 4:13.
- The passage reflects
the idea of God bringing perfection to His beloved precisely by struggle.
See Wis. 3:5-10; Sir. 2:1-5; Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 1:6-8. Jesus
spoke of the need to endure the Cross with Him if we would be His disciple.
See Matt. 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-38, 9:49; Luke 14:26-33. Like Jesus,
the letter calls for nothing less than perfection. See Matt 5:48.
- The letter will
later cite Abraham, Job and the prophets as examples of those who showed
faith in the midst of suffering. See James 2:21-24, 5:10-11.
- The letter then
builds upon this comment on suffering to call for confident prayer.
- The letter says
that if any lacks this wisdom he should pray for it, and it will be
- Jesus had likewise,
often promised that prayers made in His names would be granted.
See, e.g., Matt. 7:7-11, 18:19-20; Luke 11:9-13; John 14:13. The
idea is that one in the deep relationship with God that is signified
by invoking His name will ask for good things and do so fittingly.
Thus, the prayers would be granted
- The letter here
and later addresses why prayers are often not answered. But here
there seems to be an absolute assurance that prayers for wisdom will
be granted if one asks in confidence. The reason is that this
wisdom is always a good thing, for it gives one more union with God.
- The idea of wisdom
- It can mean simply
the ability to understand a goal and accomplish it well. See,
e.g., 1 Kings 7:13 (wisdom in building); Is. 40:20 (wisdom in artistry);
Sir. 37:21 (wisdom to one's own advantage), 38:1-8 (medicine); Matt.
10:21. In this sense, wisdom can be good or evil depending on
the goal pursued. See, e.g., Is. 40:20; Luke 16:8 (dealing with
prudence in the world); James 3:15.
a higher level Wisdom means the ability to solve difficult problems
and govern and conduct affairs with deliberation. See, e.g., 1
Kings 3:10, Sir. 20:6; Daniel 1; Matt. 7:24, 25:4-8.
3. But wisdom
above all is the order through which God created the universe. See,
e.g., Wis. 9, Sir. 1:1-8; 24:1-8; Prov. 8:22-31. When God gives
people this wisdom, they perceive all things in light of this order
and conduct their lives accordingly. See, e.g, Wis. 7:13-30, 10:1-11:1;
Sir. 1:12-17, 4:11-19. And God gives anyone who seeks it with
a fear of the Lord, devotion and discipline. See, e.g. Prov. 1:1-7,
- Here, the letter
is speaking of what St. Paul calls the wisdom of the cross, the fact
that through suffering, and above all else the suffering of the Cross,
the love and law of God re-establishes the order of the world.
See, e.g., 1 Cor. 1:17-2:13. The forgiveness of God, reconciling
us to Him through the Cross is that wisdom beyond all comprehension.
See Rom. 11:33, Col. 2:1-3.
- The letter then
says one must ask for this wisdom with faith, not doubting.
- Here, there is a
dramatic contrast between the one who has faith and the one who doubts.
Certainly, one can believe, and yet ask for an increase in belief.
See, e.g., Mark 9:24. There can also be different levels of belief,
based upon the evidence needed. See, e.g., Matt. 17:20; John 1:50,
- But James
emphasizes that, in the end, there must either be this willingness to
put confidence in God or not; and if that willingness to believe is
not there prayers are ineffective.
- James uses the analogy
of a wave on the sea. The sea is a symbol of instability.
See, e.g., 2 Sam. 22:5, Ps. 42:8, 65:7-8, 88:7, 89:10-11, 124:5; 2 Pet.
2;17; Jude 13. In contrast, there is the image of the stable land
or mountains that reflect the providence of God. See, e.g., Ps.
125:1-2; Is. 2:2-4; Micah 4:1; Matt. 7:24-27.
- The call reflects
the ancient command to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind.
See Duet. 6:5; Mat. 22:37, Mk. 12:29-30.
- The letter then
turns to those who are least in the world, and thus most easily trust
- The idea is that
lowliness in the world, while not alone sufficient for faith, makes
one more understanding of the need for God, and thus more likely to
place faith in God. See, e.g., Ps. 102:18, 132:15; Prov.
3:34. The Old Testament does have promises that a certain type
of prosperity will flow from righteousness, but it is the prosperity
of enjoying the fruits of one's labor, not merely enjoying great wealth.
See, e.g., Duet. 28:11-12; Ps. 128:2; Micah 4:3-4. There were
warnings against the arrogance that can come from wealth. See,
e.g., Duet. 8:11-18, 17:17-18; Ps. 52:9, 62:11; Prov. 11:28, 38:8-9.
- Jesus took up this
theme, declaring the poor and especially poor in spirit to be blessed,
and those who consider themselves rich to be setting themselves up for
suffering. See Matt. 5:3, 6:24, Mark 10:24-25; Luke 6:20, 25,
7;22, 12:16-34. See also 1 Tim. 6:7-10.
- Reflecting this
view, the letter praises those in lowly circumstances and tells them
to rejoice in their high standing before God.
- The letter quotes
the beginning of Isaiah's prophecy of liberation. See Is. 40:6-7;
see also 1 Peter 1:24-25.
- There is thus a
call to a certain sense of joyful vision, recognizing that the wealth
and power that one has, and that the world honors one for, is nothing
in God's eyes, or perhaps even a joy at escaping from the traps that
wealth can create. See Sir. 3:17-18; Jer. 9:22-23; cf. Luke 10:20
(even power in the church is not important, but rather God's love.)
It is the joy Elizabeth, the wife of a well off priest felt, knowing
that Mary, the mother of her Lord, was coming to her, proclaiming an
end to the reign of wealth and power. See Luke 1:39-55.
- The letter then
returns to the original theme of trials, but with the additional insight
that temptations (a very similar, but distinct word in Greek) do not
come from God, but rather from human evil.
- The section begins
with a beatitude similar to those Jesus used in His preaching.
See Matt. 5:3-11, 11;6, 15;16, 13:16, 16:17; Luke 6:20-22. This
sort of beatitude has long tradition in wisdom literature. See,
e.g., Ps. 1:1, 2;12, 32:1-2, 41:1-2, 84:4-5, 112:1-2, 119:1, 128:1,
Prov. 8:34, Is. 30;18; Jer. 17:17, Dan 12:12, Rev. 1:3.
- The reward here
is symbolized by the crown that comes at the end of the contest.
This promise reflects both the idea of glory coming through struggle,
see 1 Cor. 9:25, Phil. 4:1, 2 Tim 2:5, 4:8, 1 Pet. 5:4, Rev. 2:10, 3:11,
and also the idea of an eternal kingdom that the faithful are promised
a part of. See Wis. 3:7-8; Matt. 25:14-46; John 14:2.
- But, using a subtle
word shift, the letter also argues that temptation, as opposed to trials,
do not come from God, but rather from flaws in human nature.
- The beginning of
the letter referred to trials (in Greek peirasmos, from the verb periamo.)
Here, the letter uses a similar but distinct verb to refer to temptations
(peirazo.) The former in James refers to trials that may come
from God, but temptations, either because of these trials, or because
of other things, come from sin, although even here they exist only because
God allows them.
- Building on ideas
from wisdom literature, the author is eager to avoid any implication
that temptations can be blamed on God. See Sir. 15:11-20.
St. Paul explains that God may test someone to increase strength, but
will not test one beyond his strength. See 1 Cor. 10:13.
It may seem that way on the surface. However, instead the order
of creation becomes tempting because of disorders in the human soul,
which then leads to sin if consented to; and sin then leads to death.
See Rom. 6:23.