NT Survey 111 Seminar 17 James Part 2
Andrew Hodge 7th September 2007
New Testament Survey NTES 111
The Epistle of James
Irving L. Jensen Jensen’s Survey of the New Testament 1981, Moody Press, Chicago Ch 20
Guthrie, Donald New Testament Introduction Apollos, Leicester, England 4th Ed 1990 Ch 20
John MacArthur, James, (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1998).
Compare the qualities and responsibilities of teachers 3:1-18:
An interesting question as this chapter is normally devoted to a study on the sin-influenced and often ungovernable tongue, revealing the real “us” when we would rather not have it out in the open. Nevertheless this is still relevant to teaching because it is the tongue which is the principal means of expressing what we wish to teach and the genuineness of our own faith, in spite of its proneness to running away with us.
Verse 1 is not God’s prohibition on teaching for He calls and encourages His godly children to share their spiritual insights and the experiences of their walk with Him. However the chapter opens with a warning to those Christian brethren who would be teachers, that they should think twice about exercising the authority of knowledge, for with the authority comes responsibility; if a teacher messes up, his condemnation is increased because he thought to elevate himself to a position of authority in the first place (v 1 and compare James 1:26), a position where others see him as ‘speaking for God’ (compare 2 Tim 2:15; 1 Tim 4:6-16 with 1 Tim 1:3-7; 2 Peter 2:1-3; Jude 8, 10, 16). Moses realised this (Lev 10:3).
The Greek for “masters” in v 1 is didaskaloi and is the same word applied to Jesus, John the Baptist, and those who teach in the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit - in other words a position of both high power and responsibility (eg John 3:10, 1 Cor 12:28, Eph 4:11).
Although everyone makes mistakes (and many more than we think - v2) as teachers we all have to start somewhere (ie in an immature state) and it is inevitable that someone will be offended by what we have said. In context I take this to mean that offence is given either by teaching an untruth, or by offending someone by how we have said it. I am not applying this to teaching truths that intrinsically cause offence eg the Gospel, for to the unsaved the full account of how the gospel applies to them is necessarily offensive.
Scanning this chapter reveals the following qualities that teachers should possess:
- Humility and responsibility v 1
- Maturity and self-discipline v 2
- No hypocrisy vv 9-12
- Wisdom and knowledge expressed in works v 13
- No inner envy or strife v 14
- Godly wisdom v 17
- Righteousness sown in peace v 18
And the following responsibilities:
- Acting responsibly so as not to attract additional judgment v 1
- Refraining from (knowingly, at least) offending anyone v 2
- Controlling our tongues so that they do not ‘defile the whole body’ or ‘set on fire the course of nature’ v 6
- Not to allow our tongues to express things that are contradictory vv 9-12
- To express our inner wisdom and knowledge by a Godly lifestyle v 13
- Never even give the impression that teaching could be for self-aggrandisement or the proposal of some pet theories v 14, because these come from our sin nature and by the influence of Satan v 15, resulting in confusion on the part of the taught and their incitement to do evil v 16
- To show the qualities of Godly wisdom which are purity, peace, gentleness, mercy, good works without partiality or hypocrisy v 17 (note how closely this list resembles the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Gal 5:22-23)
- To display the fruit of Godly righteousness in peace for it is the responsibility of a teacher to create an atmosphere of peace in order to effectively teach in the first place v 18.
Macarthur makes an interesting observation: “One pastor reportedly said of preaching what could also be said of teaching: “There is no special honor in preaching. There is only special pain. The pulpit calls those anointed to it as the sea calls its sailors; and like the sea, it batters and bruises and does not rest. … To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time and to know each time you do it that you must do it again.””
Discuss the various dangers of passions, evil speaking and rash confidence 4:1-17:
The context of this passage is to the brethren (James 1:1-2) of the twelve tribes scattered abroad (“you” of 4:1ff; the “brethren” of v 11) in spite of the subject matter and the public accusations, although perhaps one should allow for unsaved Church attendees and members (eg 2 Pet 2:10-14, 17-21; Heb 6:4), who may be those who qualify to be the adulterers and adulteresses of v4, etc.
Macarthur treats the whole chapter (except v 11, with some wriggling over vv 15 and 17) as being addressed to unbelievers, which in many places makes the interpretation somewhat easier to accept, though perhaps limited in application. In my view, there has been no church in which I have been involved which does not have folk who together would not display all of the following sins. (By the same token if this list were to be preached to unbelievers it would constitute a powerful call to salvation.)
The evils listed in this chapter are wars, fightings and lusts (v 1), killings (!), covetousness, the inability to acquire (v 2), the inability to petition God properly because of sin (v 3), friendship with the world resulting in spiritual adultery, therefore becoming the enemy of God (v 4), inability to understand the scripture (v 5), experiencing the resistance of God and failing to receive His grace (v 6), inability to submit to God and resist the devil (v 7), inability to see the fundamental of drawing close to God and the essential measures needed to do this (v 8-9), especially that of humility (v 10), speaking evil of and judging fellow Christians and in so doing placing oneself in the position of being critical of God’s Law - in effect being on a par with Satan (v 11 cf Jas 2:8; Rom 13:8), which no one has a mandate to do (v 12). Centring on self gives one the delusion that we are able to fix the future to our advantage, for in actual fact our lives are short and under God’s complete control (vv 13-15). If we rejoice in ourselves, our capacities and our accomplishments this is evil (v 16), and particularly so if as Christians we know what is good behaviour but deliberately do the opposite (v 17).
This chapter may be summarised from v 4 as “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” because it is based on human wisdom and such friendship is outward proof of unbelief (eg Titus 2:11-12). The notion of being self-sufficient is usually effective in excluding any need for God.
The root cause of conflict between people or within themselves is man’s sin nature and the way it is expressed. Even our prayer life is corrupted by sin in that we either fail to pray, or ask God for inappropriate things that will agree with our sinfulness (vv 1-3) and drag us down.
The “lusts” of v 1 is the Greek hedonon which has given the English ‘hedonist’ - described as “the uncontrolled personal desire to fulfill every passion and whim that promises sensual satisfaction and enjoyment” (see 2 Tim 3:2-4; Jude 16-18). Today’s drug addiction, suicide, alcoholism, road rage, domestic violence and abuse are obvious symptoms of this, to name a very few.
It is not as though actions such as these are not known to be wrong to those who do them (James 4:4) for both the saved and unsaved have God-given consciences (Rom 1:18-19, 2:14-15), the saved of course having additional knowledge and awareness that make them doubly jeopardised.
Quantify warnings to wealthy oppressors 5:1-6:
As discussed in James Part 1 this passage is not necessarily addressed to unbelievers, in spite of the evils the people described here are accused of, and could fall into the same category as Chapter 4 in being addressed to church members and attendees as a whole, and being applicable to both saved and unsaved. It is not reasonable to expect that every member of every church - even the limited number who received this letter from James - has conquered the evils of an abundance of possessions.
People who serve mammon cannot serve God (Matt 6:24). Those who are saved and wish to serve God need to be reminded that their God-given possessions are theirs to be Godly stewards of, and were not given to them to do whatever they wished with them without reference to God.
The delusion of worldliness makes us believe that possessions mean security, comfort, happiness and success. James 5:1 tells those folk that when our basis for health, wealth and happiness rests in things we are in for a heap of misery. Possessions on this earth rust, decay or are stolen (Matt 6:19) and we should be aiming for treasures in heaven (Matt 6:20-21). There are no pockets in a shroud.
The cry of the oppressed is always heard by God (v 4); those who profit by extorting money and labour from those who are unable to resist (vv 4-6) will experience God’s judgments as listed in vv 1-3.
Expound on the encouragement of the oppressed 5:7-11:
James addresses those of the Church membership who have or are currently suffering oppression (v 7). His advice in the remaining part of the passage could only apply to those who are saved, for only they would have the personal experience of God which make his advice intelligible (esp v 11).
James encourages the oppressed to be patient for the Lord’s arrival (v 8) in the same way as a farmer, having completed his role in ploughing and sowing, waits for the due and proper provision of the Lord for his harvest (v 7-8).
According to Strong’s enhanced lexicon, the English “grudge” of v 9 means “to express grief by inarticulate or semi-articulate sounds, to groan” with no connotation of nursing a grudge, although someone in an oppressive situation could be forgiven for thinking so.
James is specific in this verse about groaning against other brethren, rather than against an oppressor; but given that someone under an oppressor naturally complains, the only avenue of complaint is horizontally to peers, rather than vertically to the cause of oppression. Complaining to peers is of course unable to remedy anything, increases the angst of all, and most of all attracts the judgment of God who is in effect standing nearby and knows all.
The prophets of the OT afford an example of patience in suffering - they did it, so can you exhorts James (v 10). It is a Christian virtue to endure (v 11), and attracts the graces of God, including joy (1 Pet 4:12-13), compassion (the “very pitiful” of v 11) and tender mercy.
Analyse James’ teaching against oaths 5:12:
Expression of our sinful nature is most often seen in the naturalness of lying. We tend to lie to ourselves as often as to others, and our systems of so-called justice require us to take oaths in order to impress on us that a court is the place where you do not do what is natural, you must tell the truth instead. No court relies on any ‘natural honesty’ of the individual, even though in some individuals this may actually exist (Eph 4:25; Col 3:9).
James places the priority of telling the truth always as being higher than anything else that we do - our simple ‘yes’ should mean “yes” and our simple ‘no’, “no”. Obviously those that we are speaking to would take some time to realise that is how we approach things, if they themselves are used to the naturalness of lying. The father of lies is Satan himself (Jn 8:44) - the unsaved are in a sense in his power and he freely uses them.
Macarthur comments with regard to the Jewish readers of James: “Manifesting of this same dishonesty, the Jews not only swore according to Old Testament law by the name of the Lord (and occasionally violated such oaths), but also had developed the practice of swearing false, evasive, deceptive oaths by everything other than the name of the Lord (which alone was considered binding). They swore by anything other than the Lord for the very purpose of pretending to a truthfulness that they had no intention of maintaining. Jesus also condemned this practice (Matt. 5:33–36; 23:16–22).”
In times past in courts in a Western ‘civilised’ country, what we used to be asked to swear on was the Holy Bible. About twenty years ago when I was asked to give evidence, there was already the option of making an ‘affirmation’ instead ie the court accepted that reliance on oneself was as good as recognising that telling a lie in court would attract the judgment of God. Man’s word was as good as God’s. How far we have fallen.
James 5:12 lists some ‘big’ things that we might base the effectiveness of an oath on - heaven, earth - but if we have to recruit something else to make our word believable then by definition our word is not believable. Judgment is rightly ours if our “yes” and “no” cannot be taken to mean what they say, because it is essentially to take God’s name in vain.
James is not saying that taking any oath is wrong. Macarthur notes that: “The Bible does not forbid taking oaths, acknowledging that in a world filled with liars there are times when they are necessary. Certainly it is not wrong to take an oath when testifying in court, being ordained, or getting married. Oaths are wrong when they are misused with the intent to deceive others, or when taken rashly or flippantly. The Bible gives examples of godly men who took oaths, lists God’s commands that oaths be taken, and records instances of God Himself taking oaths.”
What Macarthur appears to mean by the latter is that God requires oaths in some situations eg Ex 22:10-11, Num 5:19-22, Num 6:2ff (the Nazirite vow), but does add Hebrews 6:13-17 as an example of God’s gracious condescension as He proves His integrity to man. Macarthur also provides examples of a number of prominent OT people who made oaths, and adds the apostle Paul (Acts 18:18; 2 Cor 11:31 cf 1:23, Rom 9:1) and an angel (Rev 10:5-6).
James is presumably allowing the swearing of an oath in the name of the Lord, but not in the name of anyone or anything else. Macarthur supports this view by quoting Jesus’ teaching in Matt 5:33-37 where it seems to me that a Christian’s “yes” or “no” is equivalent to the force of an oath because they carry behind them the integrity of God.
Discuss the power of prayer and Biblical healing 5:13-18:
The context of chapter 5 is how a Christian should deal with oppression and/or suffering. The theme of vv 13-18 is prayer, mentioned in every verse; the individual in v 13, the elders in v 14 and the brethren of the churches in v 16. The thrust of James’ exhortation is that if spiritual weariness or weakness is strengthened then it is much easier to bear afflictions and sickness. God never promised that becoming a Christian results in a bed of roses; rather that when the inevitable ‘fiery trials’ come, He will be there to help us resolve it, bear it, be victorious over it.
Macarthur notes that this passage: “discusses the relationship of prayer to comfort, restoration, fellowship, and power” then goes on to elaborate on these four.
The individual prayer of faith will indeed (spiritually) save the sick, and as a consequence the Lord will lift him up in every way - physically as well as spiritually - for “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” including the forgiveness of sins.
The prayer of Christians in leadership (the elders) - spiritually strong and mature - is there for weaker members to draw alongside for support, as Paul wrote in Gal 6:1. Macarthur allegorises the ‘anointing with oil’ to mean that a symbol of physical healing (practiced commonly at the time) points to a spiritual healing. Perhaps he is right in that the elders do this “in the name of the Lord” and it is the Lord who raises the sick. Discuss
Part of the necessity for Church members praying for one another is not just in supplication, but also to recognise and confess sin which may fester, spoil Christian fellowship and unity, and spiritually divide the body, destroying its effectiveness.
The power of prayer lies in the power of God. Spiritual health depends on our relationship with Him and the standards of our communication in prayer. Physical health and our capacity to survive our environment depends on spiritual health. A Christian may be accused of “being so heavenly minded that he is of no earthly use”, but unless there is solid heavenly mindedness, there can be no usefulness on earth. “For without me ye can do nothing” Jn 15:5. Prayer should ensure that we stick with Him.
Amplify the reward for helping the backslidden 5:19-20:
If the English in this passage is taken literally, it describes the blessing a Christian will receive if he leads a fellow unsaved Church member to salvation. Firstly, the person being saved is part of the brethren ( v19).
Second, salvation, not backsliding, is the end result because he is saved “from death” which would not apply to someone already saved. It is not impossible that a study of the Greek might alter this interpretation.
Third, the blessing rightly deserved by the one “which converteth the sinner” is published throughout the Church body (v 20) - everybody has the chance to rejoice.
John MacArthur, James, 150 (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1998).
John MacArthur, James, 186 (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1998).
James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : Showing Every Word of the Text of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order., electronic ed., G5804 (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996).
John MacArthur, James, 264 (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1998).
John MacArthur, James, 266 (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1998).