Commentary by Kelly Gneiting
THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JAMES, Chapter 1
Preface to this writing of James:
It is with new eyes that I read the scriptures, armed with the knowledge of the two groups most widely referred to in the scriptures as Jews (or house of Israel) and Gentiles. These two groups see our Savior, Jesus Christ, quite differently. In the case of Gentiles, they do not and cannot see Christ at all, as Jesus himself mentioned in 3rd Nephi 15, “that I (Jesus) should not manifest myself unto them save it were by the Holy Ghost.”
While Jews are seen as weak, plain, and among those who walk the low road, they walk it strictly, caring not for the things of the world; Gentiles, on the other hand, are distracted by the vain things of the world—trying to impress each other, acquiring wealth, achieving the accolades of men, and the adorning of their churches.
My “new” view of the content in the book of James is meaningful, and I am compelled to write this commentary, by the voice of the Holy Ghost, that perhaps I might fulfill that last verse that is written in this book consisting of 5 chapters.
First, who is James?
While James did not specifically identify himself as to which “James” he was (James 1:1), the author is widely thought to be James the half-brother of Jesus. James was not a follower of Jesus during the Savior’s time on earth (Mark 3:21–35; John 7:5) but eventually became an apostle in the vein of Paul, as one who had seen and believed the Lord post-resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19). After witnessing the Lord’s resurrected body, James became one of the leaders of the church at Jerusalem. Peter singled him out among the other Christians there following Peter’s miraculous release from prison (Acts 12:17). James made the deciding speech at the Jerusalem Council (15:13–22), and Paul called James one of the pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9).
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
Beginning with the Book of James, the emphasis turns back to the Jews (or house of Israel) from a previous concentration on the Gentiles, through Paul.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
Paul would rejoice in his persecutions—even scourging and whippings—for the word’s sake, since these were evidences that he was counted worthy before the Lord; Paul’s standing before God mattered to him. Tangible proof that one is doing the Lord’s work is evident in the receiving of all kinds of adversity, including temptations.
3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
For each soul, temptations lose their power at an increasing rate with resistance to these temptations, until ignoring Satan’s requests is (or may be) commonplace. That invaluable characteristic of the godly—patience—is the result.
4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
It is the fool that says, “I had faith, and it didn’t work!” Later in James, he defines faith in great detail, expressing, “Faith without works is dead.” A clear assurance of the Lord’s ability and follow-through in what he says in His word is needed to tap into His omniscient wisdom, for “…the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor 1:25)
8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
A double minded man simultaneously holds two views at the same time, and expresses each according to his audience. Such a person serves two masters.
9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:
A brother of low degree seeks not to be exalted in the ways of the world, but rejoices in his lowness. A brother seeking to be exalted of the Lord must seek the “low valley” mentioned by Nephi: “May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!” (2 Nephi 4)
The reason why the Lord’s servants are so unrecognizable to the vast majority of the people is because they appear so lowly, so wretched, so of no consequence in the world, that no thought is given them by fellow travelers. The reason these holy people rise to acclaim or popularity among these travelers at all (scripturally), is because they have performed miracles in the sight of the people, as in the case of Elijah, Nephi (in the book of Helaman) and Jesus. Because of these miracles, witnesses are forced to conclude that these men either are sent from God, or are operating in the name of Beelzebub. (see Mark 3)
10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.
Nothing is more wretched to God than that man who lives richly, while the poor perish all around him. We are told, “But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.” (2 Nephi 9)
It is oft-quoted that Abraham was rich, Job was rich, and some few other righteous men. If one imagines that Abraham lived in a mansion, ate the finest foods, wore the finest clothing, indulged in expensive forms of entertainment, and lavished himself with frivolous vacations and other types of excess, then one’s assumptions do not match the scriptural record. Indeed, as Christ said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10)
11 For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
That rich man, even though he may give to others (to justify his conscious) “perisheth.” His lifestyle does not match that of our Lord Jesus Christ.
12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
I believe “lust” in this series of scripture describes anything that is enticing to the body, or “flesh,” as well as one’s ego, or pride. Satan’s temptations are always geared as either bodily pleasures or those pleasures that satisfy one’s pride—which can be defined as self-exulting above those others surrounding that man.
15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
Enduring the temptation itself is counted as joy, as already mentioned; but when one yields to the temptation, a conception of sorts takes place, as a woman would conceive the beginnings of the new life inside of her. Someone or something conceived is alive and therefore exists in a very real, tangible way, which existence in this case has but one purpose, misery and eventual death.
Temptation is thus a game of Russian roulette for Satan, since his subjects have the potential to gain or lose from it. Being tempted is a very good thing to the righteous, and a bad thing to the wicked; it may conceive patience and faith, or death, based on the decision of the tempted.
16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
That which is good—or those blessings which allow us to prosper—are always irrevocably decreed as being from God, and is governed based on “obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130) Thus we need not believe that gifts are given by whims or chance, since “luck” does not exist with God, nor is it in the word of God. For such blessings, thanksgiving should be rendered to God, for which the “gift” originated.
Also of importance is the emphasis on the “no variableness, neither shadow of turning” which defines God. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever; hence there is but one all-encompassing (scientific) proof as to who is counted as true believers in God; “…in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.” (Mormon 9)
“…Behold, all ye who are despisers of the works of the Lord, for ye shall wonder and perish.”
18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
I love this scripture! Because of pure grace, God voluntarily “begat” us—we who are less than the dust of the earth—we who are the vomit of pigs. The “begat-ing” or conception was in the uterus of the word of truth—the scriptures! His purpose is His work and glory, the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1). We who know this, we who live this, may we be the “firstfruits” of His creatures, fruits which grow rapidly tall, until we are like Abraham, who “…received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, [for he] hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne.” (D&C 132)
19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
May the word of God—or the true doctrine of Christ—be received with readiness, as a thirsty plant craves the sunlight and the nourishment of pure water, while at the same time rejecting poisons Satan would “nourish” us with—naughtiness, wrath, filthiness.
22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
Herein lies the key. I have often wondered what the ratio is in doing the word of God to hearing the word of God, keeping in mind verse 10 of the next chapter, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” Doers of the word have an allegiance to God that is total and complete. These people “bow down before him, and worship him with all [their] might, mind, and strength, and [their] whole soul.” (2 Nephi 25) Such a person only ignorantly sins, since when their sin is revealed unto them they quickly repent and continue their wholehearted “doing” pattern of righteousness. “Hearers only” of the word of God acknowledge that they are sinners, which sins they commit in full knowledge of the law—purposefully taking unto themselves darkness amidst the bright light of the Sun at noonday.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
“Hearers only” of the word has the witness of the Holy Ghost given to them at that time, and thus for a brief moment sees himself, but when he turns from that which he has heard (or read), the reality is that his experience was an illusion—something with the appearance of truth for a brief second. It is akin to one expressing “Lord, Lord” as opposed to doing the will of his Father which is in heaven.” (see Matthew 7)
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?”
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
James is speaking of the liberty of knowing and then doing all points of the law. For such a soul, obeying the Lord is at the forefront of his mind and heart, and he shakes at the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5); these souls work out their salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2) Nephi exclaimed, “Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin.” (2 Nephi 4)
“May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!”
26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
A man’s tongue, or what a man speaks, writes, etc., is the best indicator of his heart. In the case of modern-day Sadducees and Pharisees, their tongue betrays them also, for they commonly “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” which is evident in their preaching—yet this is apparent only to those who are well-versed in the scriptures. (see Matthew 23) Sadducees and Pharisees also speak flatteries in order to obtain their influence. Job said “He that speaketh flattery to his friends, even the eyes of his children shall fail.” (chapter 17)
27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Coming to the aid of one’s fellowman is keeping the second great commandment, to love thy neighbor as thyself (Mark 12). It is to think of your brethren like unto yourselves (Jacob 2). Unspotted from the world means being like Christ, it is “[being] ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5) To the righteous, perfection is obtainable since their soul’s perfection is in Him, in Christ:
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.” (Moroni 10)