Thirdmill Study Bible

Notes on James 2:21-4:12

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Considered righteous - James 2:21-23

What might seem like a contradiction of Paul’s soteriology is actually mirrored in James’ letter. Both apostles look to Abraham as an example of true, saving faith. Paul claims that Abraham was justified by faith apart from his works (Rom. 4:1-25; Gal 3:6-9). But, James writes, Abraham was justified by works. The key to understanding the relationship between James and Paul is defining the word “justify” in both contexts. Both use the same Greek word for “justify” (dikaioō), but in different contexts with different emphases. Writing to the churches at Rome and in Galatia about how to receive Gentile converts into the covenant community, Paul emphasizes the means and object of their justification, faith in Christ alone. Writing to established Christians about what a life of faith and wisdom looks like, James emphasizes the authenticity or fruit of faith. As an example, James cites Genesis 22:9-10, when Abraham offered up Isaac his son on the altar in obedience and faith. The proper fruit of true faith in obedience or ‘good deeds’ is also affirmed repeatedly in Paul’s writings (cf. Eph 2:8-10; Phil 2:12-16; Titus 2:11-14). See WCF 11; WLC 70-73; CD 5.6; BC 23.

Unfruitful faith, confronted - James 2:24

James used the word justified in a different context with a different emphasis from Paul (see note above on 2:21-23). Addressing the quality of true faith, James uses the definite article in 2:14 to mark “this kind of faith.” The kind of faith that James confronts is a dead, unfruitful faith without deeds (see notes above on 2:14-17). This kind of naked faith justifies no one because it is not a saving faith.

Rahab's deeds demonstrated her faith - James 2:25-26

James concludes this section with one more example. Rahab was also vindicated by deeds when she believed the God who sent messengers to her in Jericho and demonstrated her faith by aiding their mission (Josh. 2:1-15). James concludes this section with a proverb that compares faith apart from works to a human body without a spirit or breath. See WCF 11.2.

Wisdom and Peace. - James 3:1-4:12

In this section, James addresses the issue of division in the church. In 3:1-12, he describes how a lack of self-control over speech causes great harm in the church. In 4:1-12, he goes deeper to address the motivations of harsh speech and other forms of conflict, self-ambition. Between these two sections, 3:13-18 contrasts this earthly ‘wisdom’ or way of life, with heavenly wisdom. This “wisdom from above” (3:17) is “peace-loving” and “full of good fruit,” and can heal division, if human desires are submitted to God.

Take Control of Your Tongue. - James 3:1-12

In the first part of this section, James discusses troubles caused by the tongue, that is, harmful speech. With numerous images and proverbial examples, James shows though the tongue is small, it is powerful. Wisdom tames the tongue as an instrument of blessing, rather than a weapon of cursing, boasting or slander.

Teachers judged more strictly - James 3:1

Like legal testimony in a court, teaching is a highly responsible form of speech, because it transfers the wisdom of character with its content. Thus, James warns his audience not to become teachers on the grounds of a more severe judgment. God expects those with greater authority to meet greater expectations and higher standards (Luke 12:35-48; Heb 13:17).

We all stumble - James 3:2

According to James, a fully developed man does not stumble in what he says. Speech is an indicator of the inner nature of a person, revealing the heart. James’ proverbial saying is not an expectation of perfection, for he acknowledges that we all stumble. Rather, it is an observation that self-control in a person’s speech usually indicates personal discipline in other areas of life. See WCF 6.5; WLC 149.

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