James 1 “Pure Religion”
This is the James who was the half-brother of Jesus; being the son of Joseph and Mary (see Matthew 13:55). He was converted after the death of Jesus (see John 7:2-5; Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 2:9). The date of this epistle is uncertain, but some suggest that it could have been written as early as 50 A.D.
In James 1:1, he refers to himself simply as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He addresses “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad,” making this a “general epistle.”
- It is significant that the Joseph Smith Translation for verse 2 changes “diverse temptations” to “many affflictions”—which leads more naturally to James’s assertion in verse 3: “The trying of your faith worketh patience.”
- We now come to the all-important verse 5, which was read and pondered by the Prophet Joseph Smith when he was 14 years old—leading him to go into the woods to pray. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote of James 1:5, “This single verse of scripture has had a greater impact and a more far-reaching effect upon mankind than any other single sentence ever recorded by any prophet in any age” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:246-47).
- Read also verses 6-7. How do you think these two verses were also likely helpful to young Joseph Smith?
- Have you ever said something you wish you could take back? Have there been times when you were glad that you “tamed” your tongue? How does verse 19 help?
- Read verses 26-27. Why do you think James called this example “pure religion”?
James 2-3 Faith and Works
James continues his inspired counsel regarding our daily, practical gospel obedience. For example:
- 2:8-9 How would you express this “royal law” in your own words?
- 2:14-18 According to these verses, what does the difference look like between those who say they have faith—but really do not—and those who truly act upon their faith? (See also verses 21-24, 26.) Is your life a living testimony of what you profess to believe?
- 3:2-10, 13 Ponder these verses. Why are our words an evidence of our faith? A wise man once said, “The man who says just what he thinks, should think.” And Brigham Young taught, “If you keep silent, you can master your feelings and subdue your passions” (Journal of Discourses, 6:15).
- 3:16-17 Read also 4 Nephi 1:13, 15, 18 and Alma 7:23-24.
James 4-5 Taming the Flesh
James clearly understood that in his day—as in ours—the lusts, appetites, and passions of the flesh are among our greatest challenges:
- Read James 4:1-4. What is the remedy for these lusts, according to verses 6-8, 10?
- In James 5:1-6, he addresses the sin of seeking wealth in oppressive ways and for corrupt purposes. Note James’s warning to such people in verse 5: “Ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.” He is comparing their fate to animals that are fattened up as they eat to their hearts’ content—right up to their day of slaughter.
- James uses the words patient or patience five times in 5:7-11. In what circumstances of life is he counseling us to be patient? Besides the prophet Job (verse 11), what other prophets in the scriptures come to mind as you think of examples of patience?
- Read verses 14-16. Think of a time when you or a loved one was sick, but then “saved” (verse 15) by a priesthood blessing. Note that James declares in verse 16 that such blessings can also bring us forgiveness of sins.
- Verses 19-20 appear to teach that one who helps “convert” another not only “saves a soul from death,” but also can be blessed with forgiveness of his or her own sins. See also D&C 4:2, 4, which teaches that one who serves to bring others to Christ will be blessed to “stand blameless before God at the last day [and] layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul.” Read also 1 Timothy 4:16. Clearly as we strive to help save others, we also enhance our own movement along the path to salvation.
If you had to choose one verse from the epistle of James that you think the world most needs today, which verse would it be, and why?
Note: The first-century Jewish (turned-Roman) historian Flavius Josephus reported that James was stoned to death by the Jewish Sanhedrin in about 62 A.D.