16 Do not be deceived, my beloved. 17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act -- they will be blessed in their doing.

26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.



  • God is in control! He doesn’t work in our lives (through testing) to ruin us, but to improve us. Follow the example of Job; don’t accuse God of wrongdoing (Job 1:22).
  • The “heavenly lights” in Jewish literature are the stars. Astrology was popular in James’ time, as it is today. The good news is that God is in control; the astrologers are dead wrong! Our fate is in God’s living hands, not in the stars, so keep yourself close to him.
  • One example of God’s goodness is his gift of rebirth. He gave us rebirth through obedience to the word of truth. As Peter makes clear (1 Peter 1:23) this occurs in baptism (1 Peter 1:3, 23, 3:21). No one can be saved apart from submission to the will of God as revealed in the word of God.
  • James’ message here: Don’t retaliate when times are tough. In the world, the adage would read: “Be slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to become angry—it’s your right!” But Jesus and James taught that ego must be crucified. Strive to be self controlled! James’ wisdom would transform many a relationship, if only it were put into practice. People retaliate in several ways: fits of rage, membership in a reactionary group, antisocial behavior, prejudging others, and fending off all other viewpoints as unreasonable.
  • True freedom isn't political freedom, but spiritual freedom! Remember from your reading of the gospels (John 6:15) how avidly the Jews sought political freedom? But the Zealots of James’ time were mistaken, as are the Marxists, Anarchists and Liberation Theologians of our generation.
  • Do we gaze into that perfect law (God’s word as in Psalm 119) and refuse to look away? When we do, God blesses us and we experience an awesome freedom. When we don’t, God opposes us and life becomes a burden. How do you feel about your spiritual life? Your answer is directly related to your relationship with God.
  • Religion without self-control is useless, a common biblical theme. This verse is useful for your churchgoing friends who, true to their worldly nature, still use their tongues for gossip, slander, cursing, swearing, flattery and deceit. But verse 26 is also useful for Christians. (If you are convicted, skim the Proverbs and find dozens of verses on the right and wrong use of the tongue.)
  • Looking after those in acute need—those bereaved of spouses (widows and widowers) and those without parents (orphans)—is a continual refrain in the scriptures. Maybe adoption is something you should consider.
  • True religion has a strong backbone of morality. Lack of social concern is a sign that a person is a false Christian, as worldly values and social apathy go hand in hand. (See the scathing denunciation of Judah in Ezekiel 16:49.) Do we really care about the needy and the disadvantaged, the “orphans and widows” of our day? True Christians care. Here are some possibilities:
    • Spend time with the bereaved. Visit a nursing home.
    • Pray about adopting a child. Don’t allow selfishness to hold you back.
    • Don’t be stingy; when the homeless ask for spare change; give it to them (Luke 6:30-38).
    • For your next vacation, visit the Third World. Keep your eyes and heart open.
    • Discuss with your friends what you can sell and use to help the poor (Luke 12:33).
    • Get to know a homeless person and have such a person in your home (Matthew 25:35).
    • Read the newspapers and follow up on victims of robbery, fires, accidents, etc.
    • Get advice in all these areas. Be wise, but find ways to show compassion.
  • Do you want to wear that crown? Then when pressures come, don’t frown. Determine to be part of solution. (Don’t remain part of the problem.)


  • "Quick to listen, slow to speak" - James seems to have taken over the quote from the apocryphal book of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus).
    • And yet the line has been modified; he adds "and slow to become angry." The reference is Sirach 5:11.
    • For further possible uses of Sirach by James, see 1:13 [15:11-12], and 3:10 [5:13-14], among others.
  • Matthew names James as one of Jesus’ four brothers, as well as mentioning “all his sisters” (Matthew 13:55).
    • Though James was Jesus’ junior, he was the eldest of the eight or nine other siblings. The brothers are all named, but in keeping with usual Jewish custom, the women are unnamed (Genesis 5, etc). Thus James and Jesus (surprisingly) came from a family of at least ten!
    • Surely we must conclude that Jesus’ love played a key role in winning over James and the rest of the family. Even on the cross, Jesus’ selfless devotion to family was demonstrated (John 19:26-27). As a result of this and the power of his resurrection, by the time of Acts 1:14, Jesus’ physical family, including James and Jude, was part of the nucleus of believers.
    • Jesus’ refusal to compromise paid off after a few years. We, too, are in the Christian life for the long haul. Do you have the patience to wait years, if necessary, to win over those whom you love? James was the direct beneficiary of Jesus’ love and unwavering commitment to the truth—even over his own blood relationships. Simply put, the great James was converted because his brother Jesus refused to be diverted.
  • Note: the material for our study of James has been adapted from James, Peter, John, Jude (IPI, 2006). For a complete study of the seven general letters (the epistles from James to Jude), please get a copy of the book.

Thought questions:

  • Do you receive the word of God humbly, with the attitude of 1 Thessalonians 2:13? What evidence is there that this is your attitude? Why is this attitude so right and so powerful? Do you expect those you are sharing the Bible with to have the same attitude?
  • Do you ever doubt that the word of God is “the perfect law that gives freedom”? What causes such doubts? Do you know of anything that works as well in people’s lives as the word of God?
  • What ideas in the list above regarding pure religion most challenge you?