Fifth Sunday of Easter: James 1:16-21

James admonishes the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (James 1:1), that is, the scattered Christians of Jewish descent.  Under the Babylonians and the Greeks, the Jews had come to be scattered throughout the ancient Near East, which the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost shows (Acts 2:5-13).  This letter, then, addresses a wide audience.  As such, James speaks to a wide variety of issues applicable to many situations, making the letter especially important for our own day as well.  Even if we are not the natural branches of Israel, we too may “count it all joy” when we meet various trials as Christians (James 1:2).

The structure of the letter is reminiscent of Proverbs, which approaches the question of the fear of the Lord from a multitude of angles.  James is guided by essentially the same question:  what does it mean to live as a Christian?  The one who fears the Lord will not be merely a “hearer,” but a “doer of the word” (James 1:22).  To regard oneself as religious without actually walking in the way of God in concrete ways is self-delusion.

James speaks directly against any idea that temptation comes from the Lord.  “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).  The “hearer of the Word” imagines that the disparity between his confession and his actions is inevitable.  In other words, he imagines that he is righteous despite his unrighteous anger, and the temptations which arise supposedly come from God because they seem unavoidable.  However, this would make God the author of evil, and the danger of temptation arises from wicked desire, that is, from within.

On the other hand, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).  There is nothing good which we have that we have not received from the hand of the Lord (John 3:27).  Nor does the Lord give His own evil things (Matthew 7:7-11).  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  Even the calamities which come from the Lord’s hand work for His good purposes (Amos 4).  Temptation, producing evil, sin, and death, therefore cannot come from the Lord’s hand, because even when He kills, He also makes alive (Deuteronomy 32:39).

A living faith is one such gift from the hand of God.  The sons of God are not such because of blood, flesh, or human will, but because of the will of God (John 1:13).  Our living hope comes through Christ’s resurrection (1 Peter 1:3), and the mighty and living Holy Spirit speaks the word of truth into our hearts so that we hear and believe (John 16:13-15).  This implanted Word bears fruit thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold even in this life, because it is the living Word profitable for training in righteousness.

Therefore, one should earnestly seek the spiritual gifts of God, being long-suffering in the same way as the Lord is patient with our infirmities.  The anger of man is frequently self-centered.  It imagines that it has been slighted in some way, and therefore it seeks vengeance.  But vengeance belongs to the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19).  Thus, this self-serving anger is a fruit of the flesh, part of the temptation born out of wicked desire.  However, the fruit of the Spirit includes patience and gentleness (Galatians 5:22-23), being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).