Free Online Bible Library | Lecture 6: James - Part 2

Lecture 6: James - Part 2

Course: New Testament Overview, by Dr. Carl Laney

Lesson 6: James - Part 2

Hi, I’m Carl Laney Prof here at Western Seminary and it’s my privilege to give you a survey of the New Testament. We are focusing today on the second half of the Epistle of James, the theme of which is The Test of a Living Faith. Let’s pray and then we’ll get into our study.

Father we’re thankful for the letter that was written by James, the half-brother of our Lord. We’re grateful for the practical message of this important letter. Guide us as we study today and as we think through the practical implications of a genuine and saving faith. Bless our time we pray in Jesus name Amen.


A. Responsibility of Techers 1

Well we continue our study in James and we’re at the beginning of Chapter 3, in the Epistle of James. James has declared that faith without works is dead. Now he shows that works are not limited to actions, they include words as well as actions. In verse 1, he gives a warning, “Let not many of you become teachers my brethren, knowing that as such we’ll incur a stricter judgment. Since a teacher’s work is performed primarily through his or her words, control of the tongue is of utmost importance. I’ve wondered why teachers, like myself, will be evaluated by a stricter judgment. And I’ve concluded that we are held accountable for leading others into false teaching or error and so it makes us very responsible to make sure we study and accurately divide the Word of Truth. There is a big responsibility there for teachers because we’re going to be held accountable if we lead people astray. And then I believer there is also greater accountability for those who have been recipients of greater light, the greater the light the greater the accountability. As we take time to study the truth of God’s Word and to know that truth we are accountable for it. Jesus condemned the Pharisees as hypocrites, they knew the truth, but they weren’t living it out. That’s a real danger for teachers to know what you aren’t really living out personally to teach what you’re not living and applying yourself. So there’ s a great responsibility and a stricter judgment for teachers.

B. The Test for Maturity 2

Then he points out in verse 2, that a person’s ability to control their tongue is really a test case for spiritual maturity. Someone who cannot control their tongue demonstrates their lack of spiritual maturity. If you can control your tongue it indicates that you can control other bodily impulses as well.

C. The power of the Tongue 3-5

James to go on now to point out the power of the tongue. It’s amazing what a small organ the tongue is, but how powerful the tongue is as well. The illustrations all emphasize that something very small can affect something very large. It begins in verse 3, by referring to the bit in the mouth of a horse. It’s a small little instrument, the horse’s bit, but it’s able to turn a horse one direction or the other. Then he uses the illustration of the ship’s rudder. The ship’s rudder, again a small little appendage to the back of a ship but it’s able to turn the whole ship, an ocean liner turns by the use of the rudder. And then he mentions a fire igniting a forest, a small spark can ignite a forest fire. Something very small affects something very large. That’s like the tongue.

D. The Evil Nature of the Tongue 6-8

He points out in verses 6-8 the evil nature of the tongue. He says that the tongue is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It can be a source of blessing, but it can also be a source of cursing, and the ability to control one’s tongue reflects one’s spiritual maturity. So, we all need to work on controlling our tongue.

E. The Hypocrisy of the Tongue 9-12

What can we do to control the tongue? Well, one of the things that I suggest is to think about it before you speak it. You know we often fall into the trap of just kind of blurting what we’re thinking instead of thinking about it and being careful about what we say. I’ve found that writing it out is often better than blurting it out. Sometimes if I have something to say to someone, that’s really important, I’ll write it out in a letter and then I’ll take it home and have my wife, Nancy, read the letter. Then we edit it together and then we will carefully pray about it and then send the letter because I want to make sure that I don’t just blurt out my feelings and thoughts, but I write it out carefully. And then I’ve learned to avoid speaking every time I feel like it. There’s time I feel like I want to speak but I wait, maybe wait for ten seconds and maybe what I have to say isn’t as important as listening to what others are saying. In fact, I’ve sometimes taken a 3x5 card to some meetings and written on the card, “Just shut up,” just listen, just listen, and let others speak and learn from what they are saying. A pastor friend of mine said that he didn’t speak often at the board meetings of his church. But when he did speak people listened. If he was speaking all the time people wouldn’t pay attention to him, but since he reserved his voice for those special occasions, where it was really important when the pastor spoke, people listened. Practicing the disciplines of silence can help us to control our tongue.


A. The Demonstration of Wisdom 13

Beginning in verse 13 of Chapter 3 James talks about faith tested by its appropriation of true wisdom. He discusses wisdom and he begins in verse 13, Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. We all want to be wise but the wise person according to James is the one who applies his knowledge in producing good behavior. The wise person isn’t the person who knows it all, the wise person is the person who lives out the implications of what he or she knows. The Hebrew Bible in the Book of Proverbs calls it the fear of the Lord, the fear of the Lord is an active response to what we know to be true about God and that’s really what James has in mind here when he talks about wisdom.

B. The Character of Earthly Wisdom 14-16

James now contrasts earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. There is an earthly wisdom and the early wisdom makes no practical application of God’s truth. Earthly wisdom encourages pride, jealousy, and disorder. This so-called wisdom doesn’t originate with God. James says it’s sensual, it’s demonic. Your familiar with earthly wisdom, earthly wisdom basically leaves God out of the picture. Earthly wisdom says this earth was created by natural forces of evolution and that God doesn’t even exist and wasn’t involved. That’s earthly wisdom and it’s demonic it comes from Satan himself. It’s not based upon the revelation that God has given us.

C. The Character of Heavenly Wisdom 17-18

But then there’s heavenly wisdom and this wisdom comes from God. It’s a spiritual wisdom and he says it bears fruit, verse 17, But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. That’s the kind of wisdom that I want to have in my life, that’s heavenly wisdom. It’s wisdom that comes from God.


A. Manifestations of Worldliness 1-5

James moves in Chapter 4 discussing how faith can be tested by its reaction to worldliness. Here he declares that believers should submit to the standards of Christ rather than the standards of the world. Worldliness may be defined as an attitude which places self or things at the very center of one’s aspirations or activities. And James describes what this worldliness is like. It’s characteristic of quarrels and conflicts, 4:1, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? [b]Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” That’s worldliness. Lust of the flesh another characteristic in verse 2, Prayerlessness another characteristic of worldliness. Prayer with wrong motives, praying to God for things that are selfish rather than Kingdom oriented. James uses the image of adultery in verse 6 like the prophets used that image of a spiritual adultery, “you adulterous. Sounds like he’s prophetic doesn’t it. Sounds like the prophets, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility towards God. You know you can’t be friends with the world and be in a friendship relationship with God. They are incompatible relationships. You cannot be on good terms with the world and good terms with God.

B. The Remedy for Worldliness 6-10 V. 8 is the key!

So, what’s the remedy? What’s the solution to worldliness. We face it all around us. Well James gives us a number of bullet points that would help us deal with the subject of worldliness. I think verse 8 is really the key to this section, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” But he begins in verse 6 encouraging us to appropriate God’s grace, “But He gives a greater grace.” Appropriate that grace and as you appropriate that grace God will change your heart and turn you away from worldliness. Verse 7 he says, “Submit therefore to God.” Come under his authority and his leading. Verse 7 also says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Oppose him, say no to him. Satan can bring temptations our way, but we can say to him, “Satan get out of here. You have no authority over me, I’m a follower of Jesus.” Sometimes I’ve found it’s even helpful to verbalize that when I face a strong temptation. Just say out loud, “Satan get out of here you have no authority over me, I’m a follower of Jesus.” Just saying those words helps me to turn from the evil one and his temptations.

Separate yourselves to God verse 8, draw near to him in prayers, devotions and in fellowship and he will draw near to you. He will encourage you in your spiritual life. In verse 8 he says, “cleanse your hands, you sinner.” In other words, repent and turn away from your sin. Verse 9 you have to be careful you don’t take out of its context, he’s dealing here with the subject of worldliness but notice he says, “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” Not exactly a verse you would want to read at a celebration. Yet, what he’s saying here in verse 9 is get serious about God. If you’re involved in a worldly life style get serious about God. Repent through mourning and weeping instead of just living a party life that ignores God, get serious about God. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom as you get serious about God. Verse 10, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” We find that pattern throughout the Bible. Those that are humble are exalted and those that are proud are brought down low.


A. The Exhortation: Stop what is going on! 11a

In verses 11-12 James says that “our faith can be tested by the avoidance of slander.” Here he returns to the subject of speech and warns against slandering a brother. What is slander? Slander is anything negative that you say about another person without having the courage to say it to that person’s face. And James says here, stop doing it. Apparently, it was going on, so James uses the present imperative here, “Do not speak” could be rendered stop speaking against one another, stop what’s going on. It’s a command with a present imperative, stop what is going on, stop doing it.

B. The Reasons 11b-12

And then he gives the reasons why in verse 11-12 he says, in speaking against a brother you judge the brother and you become a judge of that person rather than a fellow believer with that person. You are a judge of that person. God’s the judge and let God do the judging. You know we need to be willing to put a stop to slander when we hear it going on. I remember I was together with some Christians who were having a conversation and I heard what was becoming slanderous against a pastor that I personally knew. You know I came to a point in that conversation where I said to the men gathered I said, “You know I think this conversation needs to stop,” and I just waited, and you know it did stop. I think all the brothers there sensed the conviction that we had gravitated into slander as we talked about this pastor. The conversation stopped, and it did not continue. Be bold enough to stop a conversation that you find is slanderous. If somebody comes to tell you something say, “you know have you spoken to this person about it? If you haven’t, then do that rather than telling me about it.” We need to be those who put a stop to slander.


As Chapter 4 concludes James talks about a faith tested by its avoidance of presumptuous planning. Someone has said you know how to make God laugh? Tell him what you’re going to do tomorrow, and God looks down and says you think that’s what you’re going to do tomorrow, I’ve go other plans for you tomorrow. So, what is James telling us about planning, Well James warns against the evil of presumptuous planning. The illustration that he gives is from the world of business, but I think there’s an application to every area of life. He’s says, 13 ‘Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” James says you don’t know what the rest of this years going to be like. You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You’re just a vapor that appears for a little while and vanishes away. James is not condemning intelligent planning but rather he is rebuking arrogant planning, planning that disregards God. Include God in the planning process. Give him the lead in making your plans. You can tell God here’s what I think that you’re leading me to do but I want to leave some alternatives for you to lead me another way. Paul had some plans on his second missionary journey. He wanted to go to Bithynia but the Holy Spirit said no. He wanted to go south to Ephesus, but the Holy Spirit said no. So, Paul just continued on his way, and ended up at Troas and there he received that vision of the Macedonian calling him over to Macedonia, and Paul began his ministry there in Europe and preaching at Philippi. Well Paul had a plan, but he was sensitive to the Spirit’s leading to redirect him as he continued making those plans.

Verse 17, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Notice the context of this statement. It’s talking in the context about the willful sin of presumptuous planning. I once heard this text applied by a preacher who was saying you need to be in evening church service and the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it to him it is sin. Well it was a misuse of this text. He was trying to motivate people to come to the evening church service, on the basis of a sense of guilt. The context here in verse 17 is presumptuous planning.


A. The rich are condemned 1-3

Chapter 5 James goes on to point out that faith is tested by its reaction to injustice. And it’s a bit troubling as James addressed his readers, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted, and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Who is he talking to here? Wow. Is he talking to Christians? Well there were some rich ones, James 1:10. He is talking to non-Christians? Well it could be. It might be like the Cretans, who professed to know God but by their deeds they denied him. Perhaps we’re asking the wrong question. Are they Christians or non-Christians. Perhaps we should regard this as a general warning to all people who had misused their wealth. All people who have resources but misuse those resources and take advantage of others with less resources.

B. Their conduct is described 4-6

So, he goes on to describe the conduct of these people who are taking advantage of the laborers and not paying them a fair wage. 4 “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you;” whether you’re a Christian or non-Christian it’s wrong withhold the proper wages from those that have worked hard for you.

C. The poor and oppressed are encouraged 7-11

For the oppressed experiencing poverty and oppression, he gives them a word of encouragement in verse 7, “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.” The Lord is coming and he’s going to make things right. When the Lord comes he’s going to establish righteous rule on this earth and all things will be right. He says in verse 9 “stop complaining, don’t complain brethren against one another or against those who are oppressing you. God is the judge and he will deal with them with justice.” And then he points out the examples of the Prophets who were faithful during times of trial, and Job who suffered a great deal of hardship and yet was without complaint. Be patient as Job was.


In Chapter 5:12 he points out that faith can be tested by its consistent honesty. This sounds a lot like what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, he says, “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no.” What God requires is constant honesty. We shouldn’t have to go around saying something and adding a phrase, “Scouts honor,” “I swear on stack of Bibles this is true.” If we are always speaking honestly no one will ever question our honesty. What is required here and what is expected by James is constant honesty. May we speak the truth and speak it consistently. Sometimes I’ve misspoken and had to correct myself. I had to go back tell someone I had a phone call with, I called them up again and said, “You know I spoke something in that phone call that wasn’t true, and I want to correct myself.” That person appreciated my honesty and I seek to maintain a reputation of being consistently and constantly honest.


Now we come to verses 13-18 where faith is tested by its resort to prayer. James encourages believers to recognize and respond to the needs of the church and to pray with those that are suffering. And to sing and rejoice with those that are being blessed and are cheerful.

A. The power of prayer 14-15

He points out in verses 14 and 15 that prayer is powerful as God answers prayer. God answers prayer and it’s a powerful resource that we as believers enjoy.

B. The prerequisite for prayer 16

He points out the prerequisite for prayer in verse 16, confess of sin. You know sin breaks down our communication with God. This past weekend my wife’s cell phone wasn’t working so we called on another phone, found out that a cell tower in our neighborhood was down. Therefore, there was no communication outside our neighborhood. Well that’s what happens when sin comes into our life, it breaks down our communication with God. So, we need to confess our sins and deal with the sin issue, in order to communicate effectively with God in prayer.

C. The example of prayer 17-18 Elijah 1 Kings 17:1ff

Then as he’s talking about prayer he gives a great example of Elijah, a man of prayer. Elijah was a man like us, he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Elijah prayed, and God answered. That, I think, is the real lesson from this text on the subject of prayer. Prayer changes things, God is a God who answers our prayers.

But as we examine the immediate application, in this particular context, it raises a question for us. Is James referring to physical sickness in this context or is he referring to spiritual distress. There’s two possible interpretations of this passage and most often it’s understood to refer to physical. Somebody’s sick, pray for that person and God will restore them from their physical sickness. Several years ago, a Portland area father and church official were sent to jail for refusing to divulge the whereabouts of a man’s sick daughter. They said they would abide by the church’s teaching regarding the treatment of the sick by prayer, the laying on of hands and anointing with oil. They rejected medical treatment. They said that the church’s healing practices were based on the Bible and they quoted James 5:14, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;” and, on the basis of James 5:14 and 15, they refused medical treatment. They said if God wants to person to be healed, God will heal them. Well many of these people were sick and some had even died, as a result of neglecting the medical attention that was readily available. I’ve wondered, is that a proper interpretation of this passage. Could this passage be interpreted possibly in a different way? And in fact, it can. It can be interpreted in a different way.

D. The Key Words

1. v. 14 “Sick” (astheneo)

It depends, first of all, upon the words and their translation and the context of the passage. Let’s look first at the words that are used. In verse 14, “Is anyone among you sick?” The word translated sick, astheneo comes from theneo the word for strengthen and the prefix alpha which means not strengthened and can refer to weakness. It is used of physical weakness in twenty texts of the New Testament, but it’s also refers to spiritual weakness fourteen times. So, it’s about half and half, physical weakness versus spiritual weakness and we have to determine by the context which is intended here in this context.

2. “Anointing” (aleipho)

The anointing, it’s not the chrio, sacred anointing but a profane or maybe common anointing. It’s the kind of anointing that you would give someone that you welcomed into your home and you take some oil and pour that on their head as they came into your home as a welcome and a refreshment for them. It was an encouragement, it was a way of saying I appreciate you, I want to encourage you and you would anoint them with oil to bestow honor and refresh them.

3. v. 15” Sick” (kamno)

Verse 15 uses a different word for sick and this word is used only here in the New Testament and Heb.12:2-3 where it speaks of growing weary and it’s a spiritual weariness that is being referred to in Heb. 12:3-4. It can carry the idea of physical illness but primarily it has to do with spiritual weariness and spiritual fatigue.

4. v. 16 “Healed” (iaoma)

Then in verse 16 it refers to the one who is healed, and that God will raise him up and the word healed is used elsewhere in the scripture of the healing of the heart. Heb. 12:12-13 a spiritual healing, a healing of the heart. Well, there’s an alternative interpretation of these words that would suggest a spiritual restoration rather than a physical healing maybe in mind.

E. The Context

The context also suggests this possible interpretation. The problem with these readers is that they were at the point of emotional and spiritual exhaustion and their struggle with poverty, persecution, temptation, and sin. The reference to Elijah in verse 17 would seem to support this. Elijah found himself spiritually weak and weary after his encounter with Jezebel and then he went off into the wilderness. This interpretation seems to be more consistent with the promise made in verse 16 where it mentions the healing, verse 15, “the Lord will raise him up” and then in 16, “So that you may be healed.” Many have prayed for physical healing for people they know to be sick and they have found disappointment instead of a healing. But there’s no question that God wants spiritual healing of those who are weak and weary as they struggle in their spiritual lives. So, this is an alternative reading of the text that I think seems to be more consistent with the words, the context, and our own Christian experience. Just a little over a year ago a dear friend of mine died after fighting cancer for two years and my wife and I prayed for those two years that our friend would be healed. We virtually followed the instructions here of this text and he was not healed. But every week I went to see my friend and prayed with him, brought him food, when he lost his hair to his cancer treatment, I shaved my head in identification with his struggle and he was encouraged. He said, “You know, Carl, nobody’s ever done anything like that for me before” and he was encouraged when I pulled off my cap and my head was bald as his was. You know as I visited him and encouraged him he was spiritually refreshed. He was encouraged. He died from his Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, but he was spiritually refreshed throughout his struggle with his cancer. So that, perhaps, is an alternative view that does have support from the context and the words. So, as we look at this passage then perhaps what James is saying is that the elders have a ministry of bringing refreshment and encouragement to spiritually weak and weary saints. The spiritually weak and weary are to call for the elders when they feel that need, verse 14, “is anyone spiritually weak and weary call for the elders of the church” and the elders have a responsibility to come and pray and encourage that saint. This is an effective ministry that the elders can have. I’ve been involved in hospital visitation and home visitation and I’ve always found that my visits bring encouragement and people say, “You know this is the first time a pastor has ever come to my home and visited me here” and they are encouraged, and they are refreshed even though they are struggling physically.

The anointing with oil. It may not be a ceremonial or ritual anointing that is in mind here that would somehow bring healing, but it could be metaphorical in the sense, bring the kind of refreshment that oil brought to people coming into your home in ancient times. It could be a metaphorical anointing bringing refreshment and encouragement to that brother. The anointing with oil might not help, but brining them some food, bringing them some soup. Bringing them a smoothie that would taste good and be refreshing that may be in mind here. Bring something that would encourage them. And then expect God to work and God to answer.

F. The Exposition

The prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is spiritually weak and weary. It’s not always God’s will for us to be healed physically but it is his will to be healed spiritually and to be encouraged.

James points out the possibility of a sin issue. Sin must be dealt with, sin must be confessed and addressed, bring it to the Lord for cleansing. Only after sin is confessed and forgiven can we experience spiritual refreshment. Well this is an alternative view that I think is well worth considering and I suggest that for your consideration.


The last thing that James wants to point out in his letter is, faith can be tested by its involvement in correcting the errant. What do you do for a Christian, the word among you there, who has strayed from the truth? How do we respond? Well we don’t just ignore them we reach out to them and intervene in their behalf. We seek to turn them back and by so doing they may be saved from physical death, James says. In I Cor 11, we find that some people were sick, some people had even died because they persisted in sinful behavior and God eventually took them home to Heaven. So, in turning back someone from their sinful life style, we may save them from physical death and help them to experience God’s forgiveness and cleansing rather than his chastening. So, what is James telling us in this letter? James is basically saying keep the faith, keep on keeping on. Don’t let your trials or persecution or poverty turn you from living the righteousness that is yours by personal faith. Demonstrate the living reality of your faith through your deeds of kindness, through your consistent good works. You know, we live in tough times and these tough times can make us bitter. Tough times can make us selfish, tough times can make us focused on our own needs rather than needs of others. I think James is really saying, “Don’t let that happen as you go through trials, keep on letting the Spirit of God lead you to make practical application of God’s truth as you interact with other people and seek to be a blessing to others and to the world.

Transcribed by BT Volunteer Sandy Whitfield