There is no longer room for theology—thinking about G-d devoid of living in Him, because the life we now live in Messiah is a life beyond theology and its limitations.
1:1 Yaakov—James, a bond-servant of HaShem—G-d—and of the Lord Yeshua ha-Mashiach: To the twelve tribes (of Israel) who are dispersed--galut/golah, Jews in Gentile lands—throughout the known world: Shalom.
Most commentators agree that of the four Yaakov’s mentioned in the Brit ha-Chadashah—New Testament, the brother of Yeshua is most likely to be the Author of this book. A writing date of approximately 45-50 A.D. makes this the earliest of the writings of the Brit ha-Chadashah, with the possible exception of the letter to the Galatians.
Bond-servant can refer to a slave, paid servant or servant who has chosen to remain in his master’s service. I suspect that Yaakov is intending his reader to understand him as a willing servant of G-d in Messiah.
This letter is clearly written to Jews living in the diaspora—known world, outside the land of Israel. The Jews in question are probably Messianic—followers of Yeshua--but there is room for the suggestion that Yaakov is also addressing non-Messianic Jews. With regard to the dispersion or diaspora of the Jewish people there had been numerous occasions up until this point for such dispersion. On each occasion Jews were eventually able to return to the land of Israel--Eretz Y’israel. However a number of Jews remained in the lands of their exile, deciding not to return to Israel they instead continued a Synagogue-central form of Judaism in their new home lands. The closest exile recorded prior to the writing of Yaakov in approximately 48 A.D. was the exile of Messianic Jews who had been persecuted by Shaul—Paul—in Jerusalem, the account of this particular dispersion is found in Acts 8:1; 11:19.
Greetings? (As translated from a Greek form in most English versions) A Jew doesn’t say “Greetings,” he says, “Shalom.”
1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, ha-acheim sheli—my dear brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the proving of your faith produces maturity. 4 And let endurance bring completion, so that you may be mature and whole, lacking in nothing.
We could read, “Consider it pure joy my fellow Israelites.” Our joy is not found in the trial itself but rather in the knowledge of G-d’s greater plan and the hope of the Olam Haba—world to come. Our Joy is in knowing that G-d disciplines those He loves and that we are being brought to maturity in the midst of our trials. We are not being asked to dance and sing happy songs when we discover that we have cancer, on the contrary, we are being asked to consider our hope as a form of solace in the midst of the trials of life—which come to all people, not just believers: the difference for believers is that we have met the advocate of our souls--nefesh, entire being—and that He suffers with us. As the great poet says, “it’s funny how those who suffer together have stronger connections than those who are most content.”
It is important to distinguish here between “trials,” and “Temptation.” Yaakov chooses to use two related but different Greek words in this passage to help explain the difference between the trials G-d allows and the temptation we perpetrate through self-deception. Trials--peirasmos—from G-d prove our faith and build us up to maturity. Temptation--peirazo—which is born of our fallen nature or the evil inclination/yetzer ha-ra, results in sin and when it is complete it ends in both physical and spiritual death.
1:5-8 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of HaShem, Who gives to all generously—without demanding His gifts back, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without being indecisive, for the one who can’t decide is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 That person doesn’t expect to receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
In short, indecision equates to refusal. The first step is acknowledging that G-d is King, a double minded person can’t return/repent, because upon beginning his journey he is already planning to go back. He asks G-d for wisdom, but doesn’t consider G-d faithful enough to give it and so he leaves empty handed, not waiting to find out Who G-d really is.
1:9-11 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
Unlike the double minded person, the humble person is certain of his true position before G-d and is therefore able to consider it pure joy to undergo both his present and future trials. The rich person is more inclined to rejoice in his wealth, causing him to lose sight of HaShem, thus he is taken by surprise when the sun wither’s his wealth. However a dropped flower retains some potential in that its seed may bring new life. There is hope for all in Messiah.
1:12-15 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone (with evil). But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Perseverance doesn’t mean enjoyment. Some have suggested that we just praise G-d when our loved ones suffer or die, that we should rejoice mindlessly in situations of trial and desperation, what utter nonsense—and all in the name of G-d. Perseverance is the act of holding on to G-d in the midst of trial, the voice that says, “This sucks Father, but I choose to trust You anyway!” Glad handing believers will one day suffer through trials in disillusionment because of the terrible lies they have convinced themselves of regarding divine deliverance from all suffering. The prophets and Messiah Himself resist this idea with their very lives. We remain as light in a fallen world filled with trials.
May all trial bring us to glory, for perseverance—not built on our own strength but upon Messiah’s strength—results in the fruit of glory, eternal life, that is, the crown of life. What is the one requirement for receiving “the crown of life?” It is given to, “Those who love Him.” Do you love Him? Then it’s a done deal. You will receive the crown of life that is life everlasting!
Regarding temptation we see here that in cases of lustful desire temptation is self-deception. G-d cannot tempt with or be tempted by evil, therefore it is when we give in to our own fallen nature that we seed sin and if we allow sin to perpetuate itself in us then the eventual outcome will be both physical and spiritual death. “The devil made me do it,” just won’t cut it.
1:16-18 Do not be deceived, my beloved fellow Israelites.17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.
Every good thing—including the good inclination--yetzer tov—comes from G-d and is in opposition to the temptation that seeds sin and births death. That which is complete/perfect/full, comes from El Elyon—supreme G-d, the father of lights. The lights of the heavens, once worshipped themselves are subject to the G-d of Israel, He is the supreme King of all things. The good He gives does not waver, it is not indecisive like the action of the one who cannot receive wisdom. On the contrary, by His loving and gracious will He has given the ultimate gift, the gift that connects us again to Truth. He has imparted Himself, G-d with us, ha-D’var Emet—the word of Truth. Truth Himself has brought us out of darkness.
The Messianic Jews of both Eretz Yisrael and the diaspora had the opportunity to be first fruits of this filling of the Torah, once implanted in the soil of life, it is now implanted within their very being.
1:19-22 This you know, my beloved Israelites. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of G-d.21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
It is in our nature to push for our own agenda in life. We often neglect the helpful conversation of others in order to pronounce our own knowledge. We are—in our fallen state—inclined to allow the temptation to promote our own point of view to give birth to the sin of rash words and when confronted in truth we respond in anger. Even those filled with the Spirit of G-d must be tempered by the Instruction of G-d in this present world. We must instruct ourselves with these words and make a habit of choosing firstly to listen then respond with care and if challenged, to repeat the process so as not to allow human anger to birth unrighteousness.
Filthiness and wickedness are born of lust and pride, neither of which can receive anything because they compete within us and leave us undecided, we are then unable to choose the good. Humility, the act of recognizing of our own spiritual poverty, is the only state in which we are capable of receiving the implanted word of truth, which is able to save our entire being. This Word of truth is Messiah Himself, the very essence of the Torah/Instruction of G-d.
“Being doers of the Word and not hearers only.” This statement has been said to be contrary to the writing of Paul/Shaul and perhaps Yochanan/John. It is however consistent with the teachings of both writers and in addition it is probably a platform for there words, given that this book was written some 10 to 20 years prior to other New Testament writings. Yaakov is not saying that your actions save you, in fact he has just said prior to this that it is the humble receiving of the Word/Messiah that saves you. Instead Yaakov is simply saying, “Don’t return again to the bondage of self-delusion. Let the implanted word birth right action. Your actions will be the fruit of your new condition. If you allow the Word of Turth to send His roots deep into your being then you will no longer be those who observe the Tree of G-d from outside you will now become part of the very tree Himself. Your action is born of your being in Him.”
Only those who do not receive the Word of Truth with humility will find themselves in a situation where their actions prove them devoid of Truth. This is self-deception.
Some believe, and I agree, that this letter of Yaakov was a favorite of John and Paul prior to the writing of their gospels and letters to the early gatherings of believers.
1:23-25 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the complete Torah—law, the Torah—Law—of liberty/freedom, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
The mirror analogy is central to our understanding of this teaching. What kind of use of a mirror would cause a person to immediately forget what they looked like? The answer is, a fleeting use, a passing gaze, long enough to determine the basic outline of one’s features and nothing more. This is the kind of use that results in forgetting one’s self. On the other hand Yaakov suggests—as all great Hebrew poets might—that to gaze intently into the complete Instruction, the Torah of freedom and to dwell in its reflection, continually responding to what we see, will bring blessing in all we do.
In this analogy it is our eyes that hear and the intention of our gaze that either neglects or accepts what we hear/see. When we gaze intently into a mirror we see not only our imperfections and flaws—causing us to seek a covering for them—but we also see our inherent value. The Complete Torah of Messiah reveals our sin for the purpose of covering it and shows us our worth so that we will not deceive ourselves into thinking we are worthless. The mirror of G-d’s Complete Instruction is one into which we should gaze intently until all is complete. Yeshua said, “Not one notation or mark will be removed from the Torah until all is fulfilled.” The reason for this is made clear here in Yaakov’s letter, we need the Torah as instruction in Messiah, it is a guide for those who have the Word—Messiah—implanted in us. No longer is it seen as the punitive Law of those who merely glance at it, for us it has become our very worth and our discipline. The result of which—as Yaakov states—is maturity in Messiah.
We await the completion of all things, the day when all that exposes sin will evaporate from the Torah, leaving only that which is good. Messiah Himself the Word will be all that remains of the Torah. In the Olam Haba—World to come—we will return--tishuvah—to the state of Adam and Eve prior to the fall. We will again know only the good. Yetzer ha-tov—the good inclination, is the current indicator of a time yet to come when there will be no need to distinguish between good and evil, because there will be only good. In order for this to happen evil must be eternally incased in itself, this being eternal damnation (not temporary hell). In the Olam haba we will have no need of a mirror that exposes our faults because in Messiah in G-d we will be without fault. Until then we have the Complete Torah of Truth as our present help and guide. The Complete Torah of Truth is the written Torah revealed by the Living Word Messiah Yeshua our King.
1:26-27 If anyone thinks himself to be spiritually enlightened, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s spiritual enlightenment is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion—system of beliefs by which we live our lives—in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Three central Jewish spiritual teachings are alluded to here:
Firstly, Judaism did not have a word for theology prior to the Hellenization of Israel by the Greeks. This means that Judaism always taught faith in action rather than the use of the mind alone to philosophize over G-d concepts. A Jew cannot separate good concepts from G-d actions: the center of the Jew, being the heart, is not to be understood as the heart devoid of the mind, rather it is the intersection of all parts of the being made echad—one. Therefore hypocrisy is anti-Jewish, anti-G-d and anti-Messiah. One who thinks--that is theologizes, talks of G-d consciousness but does not birth it—that he is righteous, but doesn’t keep his tongue in check, deludes himself and his religion is worthless. Again, this affirms Yaakov’s previous warning not to allow lust to give way to temptation, sin and death. Our idle words are worthless, on the other hand our worthwhile actions are the very words of life.
Secondly, Yaakov reminds us that religion is not the problem, we are. He is reminding Jews in the diaspora to maintain a pure observance of the Torah in Messiah. He is not saying that observance brings salvation—he has already said that humbly receiving the implanted word brings salvation—on the contrary, he is calling the Jewish diaspora to return to their true identity as Jews in Messiah. Many lived in nations that worshipped false deities, practicing abominations against G-d on a daily basis. Yaakov reminds his fellow Jews of their worth as G-d’s chosen people.
Thirdly, Yaakov asks that his Jewish brothers keep themselves separate from the pagan practices that surround them. The Torah gives specific instructions for the care of Israel’s widows, her poor, her orphans and the foreigner living among her. Yaakov is calling the Jews of the diaspora back to these guidelines as a starting point for the all-encompassing loving action of the gospel. From the beginning G-d has asked Israel to be separate, called out ones, set apart, which is the very essence of what it means to be Holy. Here Yaakov reiterates this well-known Torah concept, connecting it to the Mashiyach—Messiah. In doing so he endears himself to both Messianic and non-Messianic Jews alike. Honoring the tradition of his culture and belief he then goes on to fill it with hope for the future. That hope is born in Mashiyach, the one we had long awaited.
The first chapter of Yaakov begins a book of unified spiritual-physical reality. We will see throughout this book the three concepts of shamor—observance--v’zakhor, remembrance--v’halakhah—and action. These concepts are a unity--echad, they are not able to function properly outside of their connected circle of existence. The Word of life—Messiah—in us, reminds--zakhor—us to observe--shamor, in turn our observance--shamor—causes us to remember--zakhor—what G-d has done, what He is doing, and what He will do. Both our observance and our remembering are action--halakhah—in and of themselves, but they also motivate action and so become intrinsically linked to one another. This is Halakhah, the way we walk. There is no longer room for theology—thinking about G-d devoid of living in Him, because the life we now live in Messiah is a life beyond theology and its limitations. We are worthy because we have worth. G-d has set our value in the life of His Son Yeshua. You are loved with an everlasting love.
© Alastair Brown 2014