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Wed, May 20, 1998

01 - Introduction

James 1:1 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:55 mins 58 secs

James 1:1

There are two kinds of testing, testing that involves adversity and testing that involves prosperity. It is the adversity test that is tough. Adversity we cannot escape, it is outside pressure on the soul and it comes in all kinds of different categories and shapes and forms. When we yield to that with our sin nature the result is stress in the soul. We can avoid stress through the use of the problem-solving devices that God has outlined in Scripture. James 1:4-8 says, "And let endurance have its perfect result," which is a bad translation, "that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. But if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, {being} a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." There we see that the one who is not applying doctrine in the midst of adversity isn't just unstable in some ways, but is unstable in every way. 

So we have two options in life. Job says that man was born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards. We know that we can't avoid difficulty, hardship, difficulty and trouble in life, and to think that we can is to live in a dream world. So we have two options. We can either live in the midst of that adversity and convert that adversity to stress in our souls, where we are living in carnality and are going to be unstable in all our ways, or we can learn how to use what God has given us in grace, all the tremendous spiritual assets He has given us, take the time to learn what they are, and the work on implementing them, so that we can grow to spiritual maturity and avoid the instability that comes from converting adversity into stress.

The first word in the epistle is "James." In the Greek it is IAKOBOS [I)akwboj]. We are not told in this first verse just who is this James. There are four different James mentioned in the Bible. 1) Scripture talks about James, the son of Zebedee in Mark 1:19. He is the brother of John the apostle, Mark 3:17; Acts 12:1-2. But this is not James the son of Zebedee because he was martyred under Herod Agrippa I, and that took place not too long after the birth of the church, probably in the late 30s. So he died too soon to have been the author of this epistle. 2) James the son of Alphaeus, Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18. He is a minor disciple, we don't learn much about him, we find his name listed a few times but he is never mentioned in the Scriptures other than a few brief mentions in the Gospels. Too little in known about him and it was probably not James the son of Alphaeus. 3) James the father of Judas the disciple (not Iscariot), Luke 6:16. Too little is known about him and he was probably not the author of this epistle. 4) The half brother of the Lord, Galatians 1:19. In Matthew 13:55 we find that Mary, the mother of our Lord had other children. Verse 56 implies that Jesus had sisters. This is important because James has the same lineage as Jesus. That means that through both mother and father his lineage can be traced back to King David. He is in the royal line, so James is a Jewish aristocrat, just as Jesus is. But we notice something about James in this because he doesn't name-drop. He doesn't mention that he is the Lord's brother or any of these others things. So that must mean that James is a man of humility, a man who is truly teachable, a man who is grace-oriented and doctrinally oriented, a man who is not going to focus on the physical aspects, because James realizes that physical birth means nothing. As far as the spiritual life goes, physical birth gives no physical advantage or spiritual advantage. A second principle that we can state here is that there are no assets related to physical birth whereby man can gain the approbation of God. No matter who we are we have the same problem that all have: we are born a sinner.

James is one of the most profound little epistles in all of the New Testament, and the writer is writing it specifically to challenge the believers he is writing to to keep pressing on to spiritual maturity. No matter how difficult is it, no matter how testing the trial may be that we face we have to keep pushing on. That brings up one of the key words that we will see again and again in this epistle, and that is the Greek word HUPOMONES [u(pomonhj], which means to persist, to endure, to persevere. (The KJV translates this "patience," but it is not patience, MAKROTHUMIA [makroqumia]). It means sticking with it, hanging in there in the Christian life, coming to Bible class even when you're tired because you've had a hard day and a hard week. That is just part of how Satan tries to discourage is from keeping our priorities together. Bible doctrine should be the highest priority in our life if we are going to press on to spiritual maturity, and that is our number one goal as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. So James is concerned about challenging every believer to press on to spiritual maturity no matter what happens. So the theme of this letter is going to be persistence in the Christian life.

One of the things we discover in reading commentaries on the epistle of James is that very few scholars and Bible students have a clue as to what this epistle is all about. Almost every commentary says that this epistle is like a New Testament book of Proverbs, there is no real unity to it, it is just a collection of different points for the Christian life to encourage believers to walk in obedience, and there is no real unifying theme to the epistle that James wrote. One of the problems that that engenders is that if you don't have a proper overview of James and understand that it has a very tight unity you are going to end up misinterpreting several critical passage. This is why people get so confused over a number of different passages here.

The key verse for understanding the structure of James is found in 1:19. What we discover when we examine James is that it has a perfect structure to it. It has an introduction from 1:1-18. Then it states the outline of the book. We call James an epistle, but James doesn't really have all the characteristics of an epistle. For example, there is no salutation or greeting or closing at the end of the letter that mentions greeting to different people, maybe some personal notes added, and we don't find any of this in James. By 45 AD James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem and worked closely with John and Peter. James was not an apostle but he served with two apostles and it is under their authority that his epistle goes out. The epistle is basically a lecture. He has an extended congregation beyond his church in Jerusalem, and he is going to put together a three-point sermon and send it out to be read to those congregations. Over and over again he refers to those he is addressing as brethren, and that is a technical word for other believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. So he is not writing to unbelievers, he is writing to believers.

James 1:19 NASB "{This} you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak {and} slow to anger." So there are three points. If you are going to persist in the Christian life to spiritual maturity, then there are three things you had better get control of. Get control of your ears: make doctrine the highest priority of your life and be quick to hear, always ready to go to Bible class. But hearing doesn't just involve the academic learning of doctrine. When the pastor-teacher communicates doctrine to the believer it comes into the believer's soul and human spirit. Only a believer, because he possesses a human spirit, can understand doctrine. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says that the unbeliever cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God because they are foolishness to him. They cannot understand doctrine, it is beyond them because they do not have a human spirit. The believer who is using 1 John 1:9 is filled with the Holy Spirit. That phrase in the Greek is EN PNEUMATI [e)n pneumati], "by means of the Holy Spirit." It means we are being filled by means of the Holy Spirit. But what is going in? What is the content? The parallel passage is found in Colossians 3:16 NASB "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you." The result of being filled by means of the Holy Spirit and the result of letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, "…with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms {and} hymns {and} spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God." Cf. Ephesians 5:17ff. If we look at what follows those verses it is the same thing. The result of being filled by means of the Holy Spirit and the results of letting the Word of Christ richly dwell within you are that you will speak the truth in love, husbands will love their wives as Christ loved the church, wives will submit to their husbands, children will respect, obey and honor their parents, servants will serve their masters, and masters will treat their servants with honor. That all follows what? Doctrine in the soul! In Colossians it tells us the emphasis is on the doctrine; in Ephesians the emphasis is on the Holy Spirit. These are the two power options in your life as a believer in the church age—the filling of the Holy Spirit and Bible doctrine; they work together, you don't have one without the other. The charismatics are the ones who want to emphasize the Holy Spirit without doctrinal content. In some churches there is an emphasis on doctrine and no filling of the Holy Spirit; they don't have a clue how to get the filling of the Holy Spirit. So we are filled with doctrine by means of the Holy Spirit. Our human spirit enables the mentality of the soul to understand Bible doctrine. Then it becomes GNOSIS [gnwsij], the Greek word for knowledge, and that is in the NOUS [nouj], which is the mind. This is the left lobe of the mentality of the soul. Then it is transferred by faith by the Holy Spirit, when we believe it, to the right lobe of the soul where it becomes EPIGNOSIS [e)pignwsij] or full knowledge. This is where it begins to circulate through our thinking where we can apply it. The Holy Spirit can bring it back to mind where it becomes a part and parcel of our thinking as we assimilate into in the "heart," the KARDIA [kardia], which refers to the right lobe or the innermost part of the thinking of the soul. Faith has to do with knowledge, and the Christian life is continually renewing our mind. All knowledge starts with academic knowledge, it doesn't matter what the study is, and then it becomes EPIGNOSIS, and this becomes the process of growth in the spiritual life. And James is saying we have to persist in this, that is his theme. We have to be quick to hear, and hearing implies doing, application.

James is going to talk about faith and works. This isn't saving faith. There are three stages in the spiritual life. Stage one takes place at the cross in a moment of time when we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Stage two is progressive sanctification where we are continually by taking in doctrine being saved from the power of sin in our lives on a day-to-day basis. Stage three is glorification, which is our salvation from the presence of sin. Now when we talk about faith and justification of faith to a believer in phase two, what we are really talking about is vindication. When we trust Christ as our savior nobody sees anything, it is something that took place inside of us. Five or ten years later we may do something as a result of apply doctrine and growing to spiritual maturity that gives evidence, vindication of our salvation. We also may not.

Winding back to our outline, the first section is the introduction. Then the first major section has to do with hearing, "be quick to hear." The second major section is chapter three, and it is "slow to speak." It has to do with sins of the tongue. If you are a believer and are going to grow to maturity you are going to have to deal with those sins of the tongue—gossip, maligning, vindictiveness, hatred, all of these various things are going to have to be dealt with. Then in chapter four is the fourth area which is slow to anger—mental attitude sins and how the worst sins that can be imagined are mental attitude sins. In chapter five, around verse 7, we come back to the main topic which is perseverance, patience and endurance.

James is a man who is concerned with grace orientation and doctrinal orientation, and we see that is his opening illustration. James 1:1 NASB "James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,  To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings." He says that he is a bondservant of God. The Greek word is DOULOS [douloj], which means a slave. He is a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. James is definitely oriented to grace and to doctrine and shows a tremendous deal of humility, he is not relying at all on any of his physical connections. He addresses the epistle to the twelve tribes of Israel, so there is a certain Jewish flavour to this epistle. There are also a lot of illustrations taken from nature. It was before a lot of church age doctrine was written, before a lot of it was revealed to the apostle Paul. He was writing to Jewish believers. At this stage of the church almost all believers were Jewish who were dispersed. The Greek word for the dispersion is DIASPORA [diaspora], the technical word to describe all of the Jews who lived outside the land of Judah and Palestine during the time of the Roman empire.