13-14 In these verses, James uses the word tempted. Here he is not talking about the kind of trials that he mentioned in verses 2 and 12. He is talking here about the TEMPTATION or desire to sin. God, according to His will, may allow trials to come upon us for the testing and strengthening of our faith. But it is never God’s will that we be tempted to sin. The temptation to sin never comes from God; it comes only from our own sinful desires.
Sometimes Christians are overcome by temptation and fall into sin. Often they try to blame God for their sin; they say, “God tempted me, and I fell.” But we must never think such a thing. God never tempts anyone to sin.
Therefore, as we read this chapter, we must keep in mind that James is talking about two different things. First, he talks about trials, which arise from our outward circumstances (verses 2-3,12). Second, here in verses 13-14, he talks about temptations to sin, which arise from evil desires within us. God allows the outward trials to come in order to test and strengthen our faith. The inward temptations, however, never come from God. For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone (verse 13). The outward trials we must endure; the inward temptations we must overcome.
15 All Christians from time to time experience various temptations, that is, evil thoughts and desires (see 2 Corinthians 10:5 and comment). If we immediately throw them off, we will not fall into sin. But if we allow any one of these evil thoughts and desires to take root and grow, it will quickly result in sin—that is, it gives birth to sin. Even if these thoughts and desires do not lead to actual evil behavior, the thoughts and desires themselves will become sins if they remain in our minds and hearts. And the result of sin is death. Sin leads men to eternal death (see Romans 6:23; Galatians 6:7-8).
16-17 Don’t be deceived. God never draws men to do evil. He only draws men to do good. For those who love God, everything He does is for their benefit (Romans 8:28). Every gift that God gives is good and perfect. And every good and perfect gift is from God.
James here calls God the Father of heavenly lights. He means that God is the creator of the sun, moon, and stars. But God Himself is not like these “heavenly lights,” which keep changing between day and night. God’s light always shines; in Him there is no darkness (John 8:12; 1 John 1:5).
18 He (God) chose to give us birth. That is, by His will He created us. By His will He chose us to be in His family (see Ephesians 1:4-5). To be a Christian—that is, to have faith in Jesus—means to be born anew into God’s family (see John 1:12; 3:3). In other words, it means to become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
God created us through the word of truth. The word of truth can mean Jesus Christ Himself (John 1:1-3); or it can mean the Gospel of Christ (1 Peter 1:23). Both meanings are true.
Why did God give us birth into His family? He did this so that we might be a kind of firstfruits. Christ Himself was the firstfruits among believers (1 Corinthians 15:20,23). Believers, by the same analogy, are the firstfruits of all that God created. According to the Old Testament law, the Jews were required to offer to God the firstfruits of their harvest each year (Numbers 18:12). That fruit was considered to be best of all. Therefore, among men, Christians are to be like firstfruits offered to God—the best of the harvest. Such an offering is pleasing to God.
19 We should be always quick—ready and eager—to listen to God, to His word, and to each other. The man who is always talking and seldom listening is a proud man. He gives no regard to the thoughts of others.
We should be slow to speak; that is, before we speak we should first think about what we are going to say. Before speaking we should ask ourselves three questions: Is what we are about to say true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? If it’s true, kind, and necessary, then let us say it. If not, then let us keep silent.
In addition to being slow to speak, we should also be slow to become angry. Tobe angry is not always a sin (Ephesians 4:26). For example, it is not a sin to be angry against wrongdoing (see Mark 11:15-17). However, it is a sin to “blow up,” to lose one’s temper. We must not become angry quickly. Before we allow our anger to rise up, we must be sure whether what we are getting angry at is truly evil or not. Our anger must be God’s anger, not our own human anger. Our anger must never be personal; we must never desire vengeance. We must be angry with sin, but never with the sinner; otherwise, we ourselves will be sinning.
20 Human anger is never righteous. Human anger is directed against people, not against their actions. Human anger is selfish. Human anger arises because man’s interests are being threatened, not because God’s interests are being threatened. Human anger is for man’s sake, not for God’s sake. That is why man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent. Here James repeats the admonitions that Paul and Peter have frequently given in their letters (see Ephesians 4:22,31; 5:3; 1 Peter 2:1 and comments).
The word of God has been planted in us (see 1 Peter 1:23). We need to believe it, accept it, study it, nurture it. If God’s word grows within us, it will save us. However, if we allow God’s word in us to die, it will not save us (see Mark 4:14-20).
22 In verse 19, James wrote: Everyone should be quick to listen. But it is not enough only to listen to God’s word. We must also obey it. We are not saved by listening; we are saved by believing. And true believing always includes obedience (see James 2:14,17).
Many people hear God’s word and say, “What a pleasing word!” But even though they read God’s word and like it, if they don’t obey it, it will do them no good. In fact, they will be judged by it. People who don’t obey God’s word do not have true faith; they only deceive themselves.
23-24 Here God’s word is compared to a mirror. When we look in a mirror, we see our true face, our true self; that is, we see our sinful nature. God’s word, like a mirror, shows us our sin. But if we only listen to His word without heeding it, we will be like a man who looks into a mirror, sees his sin, and then immediately turns away and forgets about it. Let us not turn away from the “mirror” quickly. Rather let us heed what the mirror shows us—and then do something about it. We will need to wash our face! We will need to get rid of the sin that we see in the mirror.
25 Here James talks about the man who looks intently into the mirror—that is, who looks intently into the perfect law. The perfect law is Christ’s word, Christ’s GOSPEL. The Gospel is the power of God for man’s salvation (Romans 1:16). Therefore, the perfect law, Christ’s Gospel, gives freedom, because it frees us from sin and its punishment, which is death.
The man who looks intently into the perfect law—God’s word, the Gospel—does not forget it; rather, he heeds it and obeys it. Such a man will be blessed not only in this life but also in the next.
26 Many people suppose that they are religious; but, in fact, they are religious only outwardly. Inwardly there is much evil in their hearts; therefore, when they speak, evil comes out in their words. Such people are not truly religious.
One of the main signs of a truly religious person is that he can control his tongue. True religion gives one the power to control one’s tongue; false or outward religion cannot give that power. Such a religion is worthless.
Among Christians the commonest and most destructive sins are sins ofthe tongue, especially when we use our tongues to criticize and judge each other (see James 3:6,8). Jesus Himself taught how important our words are to God. Jesus said: “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).
27 A pure and faultless religion—that is, true religion—is this: first, to do works of love, such as caring for orphans and widows; and second, to keep oneself pure, to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (see James 4:4). In short, a pure life and a loving heart is proof that our religion is true.