Chapter 1

Roy Osborne
February 2014


In this first chapter James puts everything in perspective when he speaks of the rich and the poor.  The earth evaluates a man’s success by his money, his power, or his sexual attractiveness and ability.  The love of money may be the root of all evil, but sex plays a large part also.  However, James ignores the visible achievements of man and goes directly to the part of him that gives him real worth, his spiritual self. Spirituality does not simply mean how pious or religious a man may be.  It includes his sensitivity to those about him, his generosity and feeling for the less fortunate.  It includes kindness and mercy, love of fellowman and humility.  These are some of the spiritual qualities which make a man great, in spite of his physical achievements.  It is this that James is talking about when he says the poor man should be happy in his poverty, for lacking earthly riches, he can concentrate on the riches of God.   Also the rich man can realize that his riches are not great enough to make him a good person.  That is why there is never enough money for the rich to be happy.  But if he realizes that God will still love and accept him if he is willing to be a servant in the house of the King, that will bring true and lasting happiness.

In verse 18 James makes a very powerful and very important statement.  He says that God “gave us birth…that we might be the first fruits of all He created”.   Think about what this says.  It says that man was the purpose of all creation.  Let me emphasize again that God created man to be His personal companion.  The whole of creation was made for this purpose.  That is the meaning of your life.  James is saying over and over again that we should put everything else in the background and make our spiritual growth the primary concern of our life.  Why?  Because it is that part of our life which will determine whether we fulfill our purpose in being, or not.

As James concludes this first chapter, he addresses one of the most obvious problems that Christians in general face.  He begins his discussion with the admonition to be “quick to listen [and] slow to speak”.  People love to have discussion classes, where they can voice their opinion and be heard.  Most often they simply reveal that they are giving ideas off the “top of their head”, without having studied or listened to what the Bible has to say on the subject.  When talking about the Bible, no one has the right to his own opinion.  Only after much thought and study does one have the right to try to teach what God has to say, not what they think about it.

The illustration James uses is graphic as he speaks of one who reads the words of the Bible and then goes away and ignores their real meaning.  He says that one is like a man who looks at his image in the mirror and then goes away and forgets what he looks like.  Does that ever happen?  Yes, it does.  One’s ego often causes one to go away seeing oneself as better looking than the mirror actually reflected.  Just so, many people read the Bible and go away feeling pious and religious because they read it, but take with them none of the life-changing truths that it reveals.  Reading the Bible has no merit and carries no blessing, unless the reader strives to really hear what God is saying and, instead of mouthing pious words about it, tries to let it be the governing power of his decisions and his life.

At the conclusion of the chapter, James describes “pure religion”.  In contrast to going to church and observing all the rituals of our “religious” lives, James says that true religion is reaching out to care for the needy and keeping ourselves disciplined by the moral laws of God.  Jesus condemned the Pharisees for “tithing mint and cumin”, but ignoring the weightier matters of the law: love, mercy, etc.  The same applies today to those “Christians” who consider their church membership a guarantee of their righteousness, but ignore the love and concern for their fellowman, and the true worship of God in their daily lives as the personal presence of Him as the Lord of their lives.  And often, even their church worship is designed more as entertainment for them, rather than true devout worship of God.
The church is important, but only for those who bring Christ with them when they come and take Him with them when they leave.