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James 1 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
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The Righteous Life That God Desires

When King David faced his times of most intense persecution and danger, he frequently prayed a rather impressive request. On his heart was his need not merely for protection from his attackers but, even more, for protection from sin.

Show me your ways, O LORD,
   teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me,
   for you are God my Savior,
   and my hope is in you all day long. . . .
Guard my life and rescue me;
   let me not be put to shame,
   for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness protect me,
   because my hope is in you. (Psalm 25:4-5, 20-21)

Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD;
   keep watch over the door of my lips.
Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil,
   to take part in wicked deeds
with men who are evildoers;
   let me not eat of their delicacies. (Psalm 141:3-4)

It was a kind of praying we Christians need to learn: not just "Lord, keep me safe," but "Lord, keep me pure," because we abhor sin even more than suffering. This is the need the apostle James saw for the young Christians who had been scattered by persecution. He wrote in loving concern to strengthen them for clear-headed moral courage even when others were doing evil and even when that evil was being done against them.

But James is not merely a moralist. A moralist has a list of ethical guidelines by which to live a happy and respectable life. A Christian has a person, Jesus Christ, to whom the Christian owes everything, to whom the Christian surrenders everything, for whom the Christian lives in everything. Because of that relationship with Christ, the Christian becomes a person of deep moral commitment. That is how James writes--as a Christian of profound moral earnestness. Therefore what he writes now is not just a gathering of moralisms: "Be quick to listen and slow to speak, because it will help you get along better with people." James is writing about life in Christ.

He has just been telling his readers: When you face trials of various kinds, beware of the temptation to sin. It is not the suffering of the trial but the temptation to sin that is the most serious danger to you, because sin kills the sinner. Sin gives birth to death, whereas you have been given birth by the work of Christ to be delivered from sin and death. Because you have been given life in Christ, now live the righteous life that God desires.

There is both a grammatical and a textual issue to be decided concerning the first word. The textual uncertainty seems weighted in favor of the verb iste, "know" (as in the most ancient manuscripts and as agreed by most commentators), rather than the conjunction hoste, "wherefore" (in spite of Adamson's declaration that "iste is certainly wrong," 1976:78). The grammatical question is whether to render iste as indicative ("you know this") or imperative ("know this" or "take note of this"). Hiebert accepts the indicative as more probable (1979:123). Davids (1982:91), Laws (1980:80), Dibelius (1976:109), Lenski (1966: 557) and Ropes (1916:168) have preferred the imperative. This is the more likely intention, by the evidence of James's parallel construction in 1:16 and his predominant pattern of using the vocative brothers with an imperative verb. The result of these conclusions both textually and grammatically is to find 1:19 more forceful than in the other options. Apparently James does not simply pass on to his next thought with a connecting "wherefore" or a recognition that "you know this" or "of that you may be certain" (NEB). More than that, James urgently charges Christians to be sure to practice their faith by the specific behaviors listed in this section.

The urgency of this passage, then, is expressed (1) in his endearment (my dear brothers), (2) in his imperative (take note of this) and (3) in his inclusive application (everyone, anyone, the man who). It should be conveyed in exposition of this passage that all of this instruction is important, that it is for each individual reader and that it is for each reader personally to put into practice. The tone at the beginning of this passage is "Because you are very dear to me, I am urging all of you: be sure to do these things . . ."

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