Larry Hunt's Bible Commentary

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James 1

Chapter 1

v. 6: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting….”  James has just been talking about asking for wisdom, but I think here in v. 6 he is describing a general principal that applies to anything we may ask for in prayer, not simply wisdom.  Concerning the man who asks God for something but doubts, James writes that the petitioner will receive nothing from the Lord.  What can this mean?  He cannot be speaking in absolute terms.  If he is, he contradicts the events of Mark 9:24.  In Mark, the grieving father asks the Lord for something, but harbors doubt (which he confesses), and yet he receives what he asks for.  And how does Christ’s simile of having faith like a mustard seed make sense if James is speaking absolutely?  Having faith the size of a mustard seed must be analogous to having a flawed, weak faith.  What then does James mean?  I think that he is referring to a general principle, something akin to a law of the created universe:  Any desired effect is more likely to become reality to the degree that we believe it will become reality.  Obviously, since we are not God, this rule has limitations.  Only God is the absolute arbitrator of reality, but he does allow us to shape reality in limited ways.  In fact, I believe he delights in watching us shape reality.  In this particular instance, James is speaking about prayer, and so he is confining himself to the subject of seeking supernatural aid in shaping reality, but the principle applies to any of our attempts to shape reality; belief in God can only strengthen our faith that we are able to shape reality according to our will.  If I want to become a good artist, I must believe in the possibility of becoming a good artist.  Beyond this, however, faith in God (that is to say, faith in the existence of a perfect being of supreme wisdom and power who loves me enough to die for me and who always looks for ways to bless me) can only augment my belief in the possibility of becoming a good artist.  The same general principle also applies to the attainment of wisdom or any other effect that we may desire to realize.  See also notes on Matthew 26:44 and Mark 9:24, 28.

vs. 9-10: This is a nice illustration of how the first shall be last and the last first.  If one approaches this saying with the idea of trying to figure out how he can be first, he soon finds himself in an unsolvable paradox.  I believe that is its purpose: to discourage our attempts to figure out how to be first since such attempts inevitably stem from evil motives.

v. 13: See Hebrews 2:18

v.14: James describes three distinct stages: temptation, sin, and death.  These three are conceptually different.  James says one is tempted when one “is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.”  This describes the period of time (however long or short) when one genuinely desires to do what one knows abstractly to be wrong.  Temptation is not sin.  All humans are subject to it[1]; even Christ was[2].  Sin is a conscious action of the mind.  One sins when one consciously chooses to gratify a desire that one knows abstractly to be wrong.  This is what James means when he writes, “When desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.”  Sin causes death; logically, then, it must precede death, and James describes their logical order here. Within time, however, the two phenomena occur simultaneously.  There is not a moment between sin and death.  Adam and Eve had already died a spiritual death before God cut them off from the tree of life.

vs. 23-25: To be a doer is to look in the mirror continually, i.e., to keep one’s identity and duty as a child of God constantly before one’s mind, to continue in it as v. 25 explains.  He who looks into the mirror and leaves it understands his identity and duty at some point but fails to keep it constantly before the mind by active obedience to God.


[1] See note on Romans 7:14, the first law described by Paul.

[2] The temptations in the wilderness represent only one episode in a lifetime of temptations.

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